How Did My Dogs Become My Decorators? | Kanebridge News
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How Did My Dogs Become My Decorators?

Dog-food bowls and chew toys always underfoot? Leashes hung like nooses to greet guests at the front door? Columnist Michelle Slatalla wonders if there’s a cure for her problem.

By MICHELLE SLATALLA
Wed, Jan 18, 2023 7:52amGrey Clock 4 min

AT A DINNER recently, my friends were ticking off their home-décor-related New Year’s resolutions. I was feeling pretty smug. After all, I’ve spent years repainting, reupholstering, rearranging and refinancing my house to make it comfortable.

Later that night as I was lying in bed, my little papillon Pigeon gently pawed at me. Then with his adorable, black dog lips he gave me a quick kiss on my nose. This is one of our many, many sick bedtime routines, but I love him so much. So I crawled out from under the covers to help him make his evening bone selection.

Suddenly, I saw my bedroom through a stranger’s eyes—someone who perhaps doesn’t love Meester Smeedge-Smeedge or Larry (my other papillon) as much as I do.

Specifically, in the corner of the room, next to a beautiful forest-green mohair sofa where I sometimes work, was a squalid, dank, metal dog crate which no dog has slept in ever. Inside it was a bigger pile of bones than you’d find in Dr. Lecter’s backyard. It also contained a dozen, greying, chewed-up chew toys, including the disemboweled remnants of a squeaky stuffed squirrel. Splayed on top of the crate—where no dog could ever reach—was, inexplicably, a pet mattress (fleece, unused).

The whole scene looked disgusting.

Then I started to notice other pet-related décor problems in my house. An assortment of water bowls and food bowls had transformed the kitchen into an obstacle course of spilled kibble. A dozen tiny rubber balls created a tripping hazard in the living room. A tangle of leashes hung like nooses in the foyer to welcome guests to our home.

“I can’t pinpoint exactly when this happened, but somehow my dogs have become my decorators,” I complained to Peter Scott, chief executive of the American Pet Products Association in Stamford, Conn.

“Don’t worry, you’re not the only one living like this,” said Mr. Scott, pointing out that 70% of U.S. households own pets, a figure that has been increasing steadily since 1988, when his trade group began surveying pet owners annually.

Over those 35 years, pet owners’ relationships with their animals also have evolved. Nowadays, animals are likely to be treated like full-fledged family members, Mr. Scott said: “It’s the humanization of pets. We’re seeing more young people who may not be ready for a kid, but they are ready to come home after work and take care of a dog or a cat.”

Along with more pets come greater decorating challenges. Last year, in fact, pet owners spent nearly $100 million on toys for dogs and cats, Mr. Scott said.

“That’s a lot of slobbery rubber balls to litter living room floors across America,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m tripping over them everywhere at my house,” admitted Mr. Scott, who it turns out has an adorable mini goldendoodle named Tucker.

What’s the solution? “We’ve started having conversations about whether we should be doing educational programs for architects and designers about how to create seamless, pet-friendly environments that go beyond having a doggie door,” Mr. Scott said.

Actually, many design professionals already are coming up with innovative solutions for clients who have pets.

Dog-washing stations in mudrooms, pullout drawers for food bowls in kitchens and “dog caves” built into nooks under staircases are becoming common, said Laura Sockrider, a designer at Martha O’Hara Interiors in Austin, Texas.

For a client who has two beagles, Ms. Sockrider recently designed a foyer that can be closed off with a waist-high pocket door—“it’s like a disappearing metal dog gate,” she said—to prevent the dogs from rushing the front door when visitors arrive.

“Another thing I like to do in an entryway is accessorise a console table with boxes and bins that have lids,” she said. “Your dog’s super-duper-slobbered ball might not be the first thing you want to see when you come in the front door, so it’s good to have a place to stash toys and leashes.”

Andrew Hill, co-founder and an architectural designer at Studio for Architecture & Collaboration in Toronto, recently designed a built-in dog nook—complete with a peaked roof like a traditional backyard doghouse—to take advantage of an awkward space in an L-shaped kitchen-cabinet unit. “This kind of design is very functional because otherwise that dog’s bed would have been thrown in the corner of the room, and that would have been unfortunate in such a small space,” he said.

“Catification” is always an emerging design trend. “Cat owners also are doing some cool things, like putting in kitchen shelves at heights that create levels for cats to climb,” said Molly Sumridge, an assistant professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. “Having high spaces to hang out in is something cats intrinsically need as a species and it’s also a design that works well for humans—it keeps cats off the counters.”

This reminded me why I am not a cat person.

So, getting back to Pigeon—as I type, he is sleeping next to his bone collection, with one paw pressing against my foot as if a nap overtook him when he was in the process of giving me a nudge.

“He’s so cute, I wish you could see him,” I said to Prof. Maggie O’Haire, an associate dean of veterinary medicine at the University of Arizona. “But it would have been great if I thought of all these clever design ideas when I was remodelling my house a decade ago. Then I could have hidden all physical evidence of him and Larry in my house.”

“But is the mess really a problem? After all, pets themselves are almost a design element in a house,” Prof. O’Haire said. She pointed out that studies show that seeing your pet—or even your pet’s stuff—can improve your mood. “The sight of your dog resting on a chair can change your emotions,” she said.

Similarly, the sight of a dog crate “is like seeing a crib for a baby—it can bring back memories of when you first brought home that pet,” Prof. O’Haire said.

“Oh, yes, he was eight weeks old, and so little and fluffy, with huge ears,” I said, making a note to email her a photo after we got off the phone.

“On the other hand, people like to have some sense of order in their homes,” she said, steering me back on topic. The idea was to take back control. “So maybe you could get a basket for the toys,” she said.

“And bones,” I reminded her.

At that, Pigeon (whose English isn’t perfect), jumped up and brought me one of his squeaky balls.

“Sorry, got to go,” I said, and hung up.

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Equities are often seen as expensive after promising start to 2023

By CAITLIN MCCABE
Mon, Jan 30, 2023 7 min

A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe

 

Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer

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