Skip to content

Posts Tagged ‘index funds’

Where to Invest Your Money When the Stock Market is Overpriced

How do you tell if the stock market is too high? When do you sell? Or buy for that matter? Read this article to learn the right time to sell a stock. #wealthyaccountant #stocks #stockmarket #investing #investingtips #bonds #moneymarket Investing for beginners. Investing for wealth in your 20s or 30s. In or near retirement.The stock market is in nose bleed territory and doesn’t seem to want to stop climbing. Economic risks are everywhere. Debt levels are high, interest rates are climbing, a trade war is breaking out and the market valuations are at near record high levels.  In times like these investors get scared. The bull market is long in the tooth and “due” for a serious correction. But then again, using a gambling term might not be the best choice when investing your money.

It is rare when a client doesn’t ask me where to invest their excess funds. Virtually every client wants to pull money from the market but doesn’t know where to put the proceeds. Lump-sum payments and accumulated cash in money market accounts cause concern when the stock market would have been a much better choice.

At these level we might ask, How much higher can this go? How much longer before disaster strikes? And then the market indexes keep marching higher.

Retirement makes it even worse. If your nest egg is enough for a comfortable retirement, but lacks excess, the market climb causes concerns. Nobody ever lost money taking a profit, goes the old Wall Street adage. But is it a smart idea to sell when the market is high considering it is almost always considered high? And if selling is the right choice, where do you put the money? We will explore those important questions today, before catastrophe strikes.

Are You High

There is an advantage to age. Once you’ve lived through a few market cycles you begin to realize the best choice is to stay calm. Newscasts will tell you the sky is falling. It isn’t.

In the 1970s and 80s Joseph E. Granville was the guy to listen to on stock investing. When Granville spoke the market moved. He had a system for timing the stock market and a knack for promotion. (He had books to sell.) The Pinterest placard in this post of his 1976 book is from my personal library. (I’ve been reading investing books for a very long time.)

Robert R. Prechter Jr. is another guru from a past age (my age). Prechter published The Elliott Wave Theorist in the 1980s.

When is the best time to sell the stock market? Selling an investment is just as important as how you buy the investment. And where do you put the money once you sell? #wealthyaccountant #investing #indexfunds #retirement #selling #money #cash

The only way to time the stock market. Don’t.

Both Granville and Prechter were market timers; something we know is a bad idea when it comes to investing in the market. Warren Buffett doesn’t write books; he writes annual reports for his company. People write books about Warren Buffett. This opposed to market timers who write books on their system and sell it to the masses. See the difference. One makes money and people write about them. The others make their money selling you books on how they think you should invest. Think about that for a moment.

I bring up Granville and Prechter for a reason. These and others called for a serious market declines in the 80s. I remember watching the Nightly Business Report where a guest expressed with great confidence the Dow Jones Industrial Average would soon test the 1932 lows from the Great Depression because the Elliot Wave theory predicted it. People actually paid for that kind of advice!

When the Dow was under 1,000 it was overpriced. It was overpriced in 1932 then is bounced off the low 40s. (The DJIA closed at 41.22 on July 8, 1932; its all-time low.) You see, when the Dow was that low people had real reasons to believe the world was ending, at least economically. Even with the Industrials at 40 and change the market was high because these companies were losing money. Things were bad, really bad. And getting worse.

Then the Dow reached 10,000 and it was really high, overpriced and ready for a decline. Well, before the world actually ended the Dow notched 20,000. Of course it was painfully obvious the market had to decline. Just look at the political climate. How can it possible go higher?

Unfortunately we will have to wait for the permanent decline in the market. Yesterday (September 19, 2018) the Dow closed at 26,405.76. And you guessed it. Clients still want to know if they should sell their index funds and move to cash.

I provided plenty of links above to helpful sites on the issues I discussed. I didn’t link to Amazon for any of Granville’s or Prechter’s work. Granville actually published another book in 2010. I didn’t know that until I researched this article. It sounds like more market timing advice to me. And that is why I didn’t link to their work. I think it is terrible advice.

Perspective

Let’s bring the current stock market into perspective. At the last cycle market high the DJIA was around 13,930 at the end of October, 2007. If you had the worst of all luck and invested a massive windfall (the lottery sent you a gazillion dollar check) at the exact peak you would be up just shy of 90%! (89.55% for home-gamers.) Index funds make it easy to match the market. An all-market or S&P 500 index fund would have yielded slightly different results, but still good gains all the same.

When is the best time to buy a stock or index fund? Should you buy or sell at these levels? Inside are clear answers to investing your money in your 20s, 30s or any age. Beginners and experienced investors face the same question on when to sell and what to do with the proceeds. #wealthyaccountant #beginners #investing #tips #ideas #help #money #cash

Should you buy the stock market at these levels?

The lesson is learned. Even if today is the absolute worst day to invest, a decade down the road you still have pretty good odds it will still be a good call.

I’m not calling for the market to climb high, by the way. I might be crazy, but I ain’t dumb. I have no clue where the market is headed. Looks high to me and always does. So I bite my lip and keep invested, laughing all the way to the, ah, index fund.

The long game is always higher. Jim Collins has written extensively on the stock market and why it always goes up. Notice I didn’t say the market never goes down! The market does decline from time to time, but always climbs higher after the temporary pullbacks. The only time this will not happen is if civilization fails. If that is the case you have bigger problems than a stock market decline.

Liquid Funds

The information above doesn’t mean everyone should be fully invested! Those in or near retirement may need a few years of liquid cash in money market or bank accounts regardless the level of the stock market. Businesses also need working capital that is liquid. Money that has a five-year or longer horizon probably deserves to be in equities.

I intentionally left bonds off the list. Bond yields are low. Serious losses occur with long-dated bonds as interest rates climb. If rates stay low you still only get a meager return. I see no reason to consider bonds, except for pension funds, banks and insurance companies.

Alternatives to Index Funds

The S&P 500 and DJIA are up over 300% from the lows a decade ago. It is understandable some people have the jitters. Panic selling is the worst of all choices. If a market decline causes you to lose sleep it might be time to take a few chips off the table.

If you receive a bonus or other windfall it still makes sense to drop the lump-sum into a broad-based index fund and live with the results. The evidence is clear this is the correct choice. You might be unlucky and pick the worst day of the decade. Odds are you will not. But if you do you still have an excellent chance to enjoy nice returns in a relatively short period of time.

If your temperament doesn’t handle the market well at these levels there are options. First, pay off debt. You can’t lose retiring liabilities. The car and credit cards must be paid in full. The mortgage is always a tough call. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on paying off a low interest rate mortgage versus keeping the mortgage and investing the funds for a higher return.) I feel paying off the mortgage makes sense for most people. “Safe” investments don’t pay as much which makes them less safe than perceived.

Once all debt is eliminated you still need to invest liquid funds. There are few good choices at this time. Capital One 360 and Discover Savings offer competitive interest rates, but they are still low comparatively. Vanguard’s money market fund is another alternative worth considering.

The Best Investment

I know how hard it is, kind readers, but a broad-based index fund is the best choice for money with an investment horizon of 5 years or longer. The market is high. It’s always high. The best time to invest has always been now.

Granville and Prechter convinced a generation they could time the market. Nobody does it consistently. The surest path to financial success is to tie yourself to the economic engine of virtually the entire economy. As the economy grows, so do you.

The best and only advice is to stay fully invested all the time without leverage (using borrowed money to buy the investment). The exception is working capital for businesses and liquid funds for household expenses of a few years, a bit more if retired or nearing retirement.

Close your eyes if it helps. Bear markets tend to end quickly.

 

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

 

Stalking the Accountant: Tax Plan Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Stalking humans.

A new tax guide arrived late last week: The Complete Analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It’s what I consider light reading on a Sunday afternoon.

Tax season is over, but tax planning is more important than ever with the new tax laws and changes. Consulting and planning with clients started May 1st and continues strong. I’m booked out until mid-July. If you own a business or investment properties you need to consider consulting with a tax professional to take full advantage of the new Qualified Business Income deduction.

One problem from earlier in the year has probably corrected itself. Withholding tables were adjusted in early February to account for the elimination of exemptions and the new tax brackets. The new tax tables overcompensated by under withholding. This meant people would pay less tax while getting a smaller refund or even owing! It was a timing issue of when you would actually pay your tax liability.

Mid-April brought revised updated withholding tables correcting the issues. Preliminary analysis of client files show the new tables handle around 60% of withholding correctly. The reason for the 40% error rate is the elimination of exemptions. The good news is that the withholding tends to err on the conservative side, creating slightly higher refunds than the original withholding tables.

It might pay to review your tax situation this year. The last decade or so had modest annual changes to the tax code. This year is radically different. New deductions, expanded tax credits and extended tax brackets created opportunities to reduce your tax liability if you plan properly. This extra money funneled into an index fund or reducing debt should have long-term positive affects to your wealth creation. You have a window of opportunity to reach financial independence and early retirement funded by the tax reductions.

All is not rosy. The limits placed on state and local tax deductions (SALT) coupled with the elimination of itemized deductions, subject to 2%, means some taxpayers will see a tax increase.

Contact me if you are interested in a consultation. Be sure to review Working with the Wealthy Accountant before hitting send.

I’ll need a copy of your 2017 tax return and a list of questions prior to our meeting so I can adequately prepare. Sometimes I can do more than just cut taxes. Several clients were able to reduce their expected larger refund and funnel it into a Capital One 360 or similar savings account where the interest on the lowered withholding will exceed my fee. Each situation is different so I need your information to provide the best advice. Keep in mind I consult on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week only. I sometimes open another day, but I do have other obligations consuming my time.

Winner’s Circle

We have three winners since the last Stalking installment. Gretchen D of Birmingham, Terry C of Dallas and Cindy M of Rapid City, SD saw some Amazon gift card love slide their way.

What I’m Reading

Bill Gates contacted me the other day to share a book he found interesting. He is well aware of my love for good books and was excited to share another gem. The conversation went something like this:

Bill: Hey, Accountant guy! I have an awesome novel you must read.

Accountant Guy: Bill, you know I don’t read many novels anymore. It better be darn good to break me away from my regular science and financial planning books.

Bill: Trust me! You’re going to love this book.

So I dragged my feet for a year before I decided I needed a comfortable summer novel to disappear into. Enter Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves.

Anyone for some light reading. The book only cost your favorite accountant $85.

Seveneves starts with the moon blowing up. The book alludes that it might have been a micro black hole racing through our neck of the galaxy. Regardless, people didn’t know what caused the catastrophe. The event split the moon into several large pieces. A few days later the first two large pieces smashed as gravity brought the pieces back together, creating smaller pieces. Scientists realized the collisions would continue breaking the moon into smaller debris. It also meant a large amount of moon debris would eventually hit the Earth.

Mankind has two years to get to space if it wanted to survive. The International Space Station was the beginning building block of a larger space habitat. A few thousand people were brought to space to wait out the Hard Rain that would turn Earth into a boiling inferno where no life could survive. To keep the Ark manageable, DNA and DNA data were transported to the Ark.

Space is unforgiving. The Hard Rain came and the Earth was destroyed. A safe haven was finally achieved by the Ark with one problem: only eight women were left alive. One woman had reached menopause. The seven Eves were all that remained of the human race and its hope for a future. The human race was all but extinct. These seven women would use technology brought from Old Earth to bring humanity back from the abyss.

The novel picks up 5,000 years later when Earth is ready for life again. I don’t want to spoil it for you so I’ll stop here.

Seveneves is hard to put down. It isn’t light reading either, as I teased at the open of this section. It is classified as hard science fiction, something I do enjoy. If you want a solid novel to fill a few sunny afternoons or early evenings, consider Seveneves. It’s worth your time.

 

 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Investing Alternatives When Index Funds are Unavailable

Note: This post is not intended as personal or personalized advice. It is provided for informational reference only and is the opinion of the author.

Anyone who has been around the FIRE, leanfire, FI blogosphere, podcasts and book tours know the demographic is heavily invested in index funds and for good reason. Active management’s record tends to be unflattering compared to index peers and with a heavier expense ratio for opportunity to enjoy underperformance.

People serious about building wealth as quickly as possible learn the index fund trick early on. But there are times when index funds are not an option.

Back in the 1990s I was a securities broker with H.D. Vest Financial Services down in Dallas as my broker/dealer. Broker/dealers have an obligation to monitor their brokers so they require all investments of brokers placed though the broker/dealer. Back then it meant actively managed funds only and the expense ratios were a heck of a lot higher back then. There was only one redeeming grace in the deal: all mutual fund trades were commission free with the exception of 12(b)1 fees which generally were 25 basis points of the account’s value. In a way all mutual funds looked like no-load funds for me.

My net worth grew significantly slower during my tenure with Vest. Actively managed funds with heavy fees caused underperformance. My choices were also limited. The worst part is the rule extended to my other businesses and immediate family. Mrs. Accountant and the girls couldn’t invest elsewhere either. Vest even wanted to know where I had money in the bank and a list of all income properties and loans. It was a pain in the tail. Now you know another reason why the dream of schlepping securities wore off fast.

 

Normal People with Abnormal Choices

Stock brokers aren’t the only people with restricted investment choices. Work retirement plans hold a large percentage of all investable funds in most households. 401(k)s and other work retirement plans are notorious for limited choices. The choices are frequently laden with fees driving down performance.

Matching and the ease of regular investing make work retirement plans the best options even when the choices are bad. I’m asked to help clients make the best choice in their 401(k) more than any other request. Most people are clueless to the jargon used to help employees invest their contributions and employer matching wisely.

In my stock broker days my investments were exclusively growth & income funds. Before I knew about index funds front-brain I already knew a basket of successful growing companies throwing off an increasing dividend was a solid decision. The advantage I had was the large basket to choose from. I had my pick of thousands of funds so I had options, even if they were limited to actively managed funds.

Now we need to learn how to pick the best investment from a limited pool. The right choice in your 401(k) could shave years needed to retire and add tens of thousands of dollars to your account value.

 

Needle in a Haystack

Employers offer more retirement plan options than ever before to limit their liability. However, most employers aren’t licensed to give financial advice so they steer clear. Large employers may bring in an investment advisor, but these advisors may not have your best interest at heart and they may not have the time to know you well enough to give quality advice.

Your best defense is knowledge. Certain choices tend to better than others. Specialized funds are almost always the worst choice as they usually have higher fees and are not broadly diversified. Sector funds are a good example. I know of no reason anyone would want a gold fund in their 401(k) portfolio.

International and aggressive growth funds also tend to have higher fees. They can outperform, but they still have a higher mountain to climb to offset the higher fees. All else equal, the lower a fund’s fees the better the long-term results.

Realistically there are only a few acceptable choices for most 401(k) investments. Money markets are out because you have no chance of growing your nest egg. Bond funds are a poor choice in a low interest rate environment and only a small percentage of the portfolio should be in bonds if you are approaching retirement and rates justify a modest investment. Company stock is not diversified and if your employer does poorly your job and retirement are both at risk. Insurance products are almost always the worst of all choices. That leaves broad based funds.

Acceptable choices (in this accountant’s mind) include: growth & income, growth and international or world funds. It is my opinion the largest investment in most 401(k) portfolios should be a growth & income fund when an S&P 500 index or total market index fund isn’t available. Growth & income funds will be the closest choice to an S&P 500 index fund and G&I funds tend to have lower expense ratios than other actively managed funds.

I’m content with one investment in a 401(k). A G&I fund is a diversified choice, grabbing a large slice of large growing companies. But it looks too barren to be correct so people want more. More isn’t always better.

Growth funds are similar to G&I funds with the exception that they can hold non-dividend paying stocks. Amazon is a large growing company that doesn’t pay a dividend. A growth fund can own Amazon; a G&I fund generally cannot.

You may also wish to have international exposure. BP (British Petroleum) is more likely to be in a world or international fund. (Some G&I funds may hold BP.) Toyota is another example. International funds have higher fees due to higher trading costs and travel expenses for the active managers.

G&I funds have the lowest expense ratio of my group followed by growth funds. Fees play such a large role in long-term performance that I have an allergic reaction to more than 10% or so of a 401(k) in an international fund.

If you can’t stand a simple G&I fund in your 401(k) there are a few mixes I approve of:

70% G&I; 20% growth: 10% international, or

80% G&I; 10% growth; 10% international, or

60% G&I; 25% growth; 15% international

Of course you need to modify to your personal situation. (I have to say that for liability reasons. Personally, I can’t think of a better mix than the first choice I offered unless index funds are an option.)

 

A Plethora of Choices

Studies have shown more choices aren’t always better. If you have a dozen choices in your 401(k) you are more likely to take advantage of the 401(k) than if it had 20 choices. The more choices added might reduce employer liability, but it also discourages employees from taking advantage of the 401(k) due to the apparent overwhelming nature of setting up the account.

I’ve seen this first hand in my office. Some employer retirement plans offer a small number of choices, but some come to a rabbit hunt with a bazooka! A hundred choices aren’t needed to offer employees quality choices!

When the stack of papers to sign up for a 401(k) plan exceeds an inch employees are lost. Even I need to spend time digging through the papers before providing reasonable options. Here is what I look for when reviewing employer retirement plan options.

First, most choices are junk. I dump all the specialty funds and insurance products. I’ve yet to see an insurance company fund outperform. The gold and bitcoin funds are removed from the list, too.

Next I separate my choices by investment house. I like Vanguard and Fidelity. If I’m unfamiliar with the investment house, but like the fund option I need to dig deeper. I want to feel comfortable with the investment house as well as the mutual fund.

Then I separate further into categories. I pray for at least one reasonable growth & income fund in the lot. If not, I have to settle for a growth fund.

Last, I review expense ratios. Once again, the lower the fees the higher the chance the fund will perform better. The change in the total stock market value is reflected in all investor accounts, minus fees. Unless you can prove you can outsmart the market, fees are a good determinant of return comparable to the overall market (peers). (Don’t even start with me. Even the pros can’t beat the market consistently.)

From my list I usually pick the fund with the lowest expense ratio with attention paid toward which investment house runs the fund.

 

The Final Choice

Employer retirement plans are often the best tool a person has to accumulate significant wealth. Many employers match contributions at some level. The money is tied up so it is difficult to withdraw; this prevents impulse decisions from ruining your plans. Employers are providing more choices than ever. This is a double edged sword. Move past the psychological deer-in-the-headlights response to a large number of options and hone the list to a workable few choices and then make the choice! Employer retirement plans also make it super easy to invest on a consistent and regular basis, the true foundation of any retirement plan.

Lack of an index fund as an option is no excuse to not invest in an employer retirement plan. Many people face the same problem. I did back in the 1990s and made the best of it. My current net worth would be well into the seven figures lower if I took a pass when I sold securities because of restrictions. The bank would have been a much worse choice.

Of course, you need to modify my suggestions to your personal situation. I think you will find the best choice for you will be very similar to what I propose. No choice is the absolute worst choice! Without investing you will never reach your retirement goals or financial independence!

It’s your life. You can get serious with whatever choices you have or work forever.

 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

The Greatest Secret Between Debt and Wealth

Learn the secret of the wealthy and how they start each day with a bonus while those in debt are subservient to their master.

There is a secret seldom spoken of by the financially independent. Those in the know can hear echoes of the secret periodically in the utterances from great financial leaders like Charlie Munger when he said the surest way to get in financial trouble is with the three Ls: liquor, ladies and leverage. Then Munger’s buddy, Warren Buffet, laughs about the comment in an interview saying Charlie was joking about the first two; it’s leverage where all the trouble lies.

Did you miss the secret? Unless you are loaded (financially, not with liquor) there is a good chance the greatest secret of wealth whistled past your left ear unnoticed.

Here is the secret for those who missed it:

When you are in debt the clock works against you. Every morning when you wake—weekends, holidays, sick days, birthdays and work days—you are already behind. The mortgage, credit card, car loan, et cetera, all tacked on interest the second after midnight. Long before you rolled out of bed and poured your first cup of coffee you need to work to pay the interest before you have money for food, clothing, shelter or entertainment.

Here is the secret if you weren’t paying attention:

Saddled with debt the clock works against you. Tally up all your debts and calculate the interest accruing daily. Now you know why it’s so hard to get ahead. It isn’t your wage; it’s you! You forgot to do the math and now the universe is teaching you a valuable lesson. If you survive. More on that in a moment.

Here is the secret if you were distracted by the bright lights:

If you have no debt you start each day with a clean slate. You owe nothing to anyone as you start your day. You still need to take action to cover your daily needs, but at least you are not behind before you start.

The secret again is:

Without debt, but with investments, interest accrues to your account before the coffee is brewed. Dividends were earned, wealth created.

The secret again:

Investments in interest baring accounts build slowly, yet daily. Investments in index funds means virtually every purchase by every man, woman and child added something to your nest egg. Each sale added to the coffers that pay you dividends. Each sale adds value to the companies you own in the index fund. Each sale is part of the wealth creation process.

In case you missed it, the secret is:

Without debt and a load of investments you have millions of people on your payroll managed by some of the brightest and most educated people in the world. They work hard for a salary. They work hard making you rich!

 

***In debt you are a slave; without debt you’ve broken the chains and ripped open the shackles and threw them into the abyss.

Without debt you are free; without debt and in possession of wealth, each day is yours to use as you chose.***

 

Pay attention! I will repeat the secret one last time:

Debt turns you into a slave! Every day you owe your master. Every day! He is a cruel, heartless master. When the clock ticks past midnight the interest for the day ahead is due.

Only those without debt and in possession of investments are free! Those with wealth are free to live each day as they choose. They can build or create more value or take time to reflect on a life well lived. You can share it with family and friends. Without a harsh master demanding your soul you can walk any path you choose. Any path.

 

I could go on for another 2,000 words, but it would be to no avail. This doesn’t need a long story. The message is short and simple. Even a child can understand it. It requires the poison of mass media to brainwash you into wanting more than you need on a short term of slavery, ah, easy payment plan.

 

Copy this post and paste it on the refrigerator door so you see it first thing in the morning.

Paste a copy on the bathroom mirror so you can read it as you brush your teeth.

Carry a copy in your pocket close to your heart.

Never forget the message. Read it again and again until it is internalized. Only then is the ultimate secret of wealth personally yours.

 

Now you know the secret:

1.) Get out of debt.

2.) Invest constantly in broad-based index funds.

3.) Live the life of your choice.

 

Now that you know the secret you are free. Perhaps for the first time in your life.

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Finance is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Finance is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Peer Street Review

Show me the money!

Note: I no longer recommend Peer Street. This post is only for reference.

Building wealth is simple when you understand the rules. Spending less than you earn provides seed capital for investments. Index funds provide the opportunity for superior growth with reduced risk due to diversification across the broad economic spectrum.

Once you have the basics it becomes clear you need additional cash management tools to serve your financial needs. Short-term cash for emergencies or living expenses are best held as bank deposits or in high-yield accounts like Capital One 360 or Discover Savings.

With long-term investments set in index funds and short-term needs covered by liquid money market type products it’s time to fill in the remaining gap. And there are some reasonable alternatives paying a respectable rate of return.

Business owners understand the need for liquid fund to cover seasonal fluctuations. In my office tax season fills the coffers used during the slow times of the year. November and December are traditionally slow in the tax industry while expenses tend to be high. Some year-end tax planning brings in some revenue, but the cost of mailing organizers, employee training and property taxes take an ax to the budget. This is the gap I refer to above.

Individuals face the same gap. Planning for a vacation or allocating funds for property taxes are an example. Individuals may also become uncomfortable with the level of the stock market. Selling index funds to store in a money market at a percent or two doesn’t make sense and becomes painful when the market continues climbing.

I never encourage market timing. However, there are times to take some chips off the table. Example: As you approach retirement (or if you are in retirement) I always recommend keeping about two years of living expenses in cash. If the market keeps climbing you can fund living expenses with dividends or small index fund sales. When the market has a temporary setback you can use the liquid funds to live. This assures you never have to sell at a market low! If the downturn becomes prolonged you can stop reinvesting dividends and capital gains to fund expenses. The goal is to never find yourself forced to sell in a down market.

Investing Gap Funds

Money market funds and online savings accounts at Capital One and Discover are good tools to store excess funds in retirement, for future investments or to pay large one-time expenses. The interest rate is low, but better than nothing.

For several years I used Lending Club and Prosper (notice I don’t include links because I no longer recommend these options) to serve as a high-yield investment for such funds. Then we had the Lending Club fiasco I was out the door. Where there is smoke there’s fire. I could be wrong, but I’d rather be a living coward than a dead hero.

Enter Peer Street.

Another bright idea.

Lending Club and Prosper issue unsecured loans you can invest as little as $25 in. The goal is to spread your investment over as many loans as possible to avoid one bad loan destroying your portfolio. There are lots of loans that default as borrowers have no skin in the game.

Peer Street offers loans in a similar fashion to the Lending Club/Prosper model with a few notable exceptions. Peer Street loans are backed by real estate with loan to value (LTV) typically below 75%. Borrowers have skin in the game!

The minimum investment is $1,000 per loan. This is still a micro loan, but not nearly as small as the $25 minimums at Lending Club or Proper. Since there is something backing the loan (real estate) the risk is likely much smaller. (Loans backed by assets default at lower rates than unsecured loan with rare exception.) You can still—and should—spread your investment funds over several loans to mitigate risk. (More below.)

Most Peer Street loans are short term (6-24 months) and generally yield 6-12% over 12 months. Peer Street periodically has very short loans (one month) that yield a lower rate, but more than Capital One or Discover currently. This can be a powerful cash management tool.

The short-term nature of the loans makes it easy to ladder your portfolio for consistent cash flow and liquidity. A small investment can provide a steady stream of available cash while earning a higher than average yield.

How I Use Peer Street

I don’t like to over-commit to any investment. My style is to dip my toe in the waters first and then stepping slow into the shallow end until I’m comfortable.

I started investing in Peer Street a few months back. Every loan I invested in is for the minimum: $1,000. So you understand my style, I currently have $6,000 invested with intentions of reaching $100,000 over the next year or two. As long as the wheels don’t fall off (remember the Lending Club issues) I’m happy. I’ll never put everything into Peer Street, but I will invest enough to move the needle eventually.

Every week or two I’ve been adding another $1,000 or so. Peer Street reports interest income and loan maturity funds on the 15th and last day of the month. The money appears in my account a few days later. I use this opportunity to add new funds to my account to bring the cash balance back to $1,000 so I can invest in another loan.

My slow approach is for two reasons. First, I can sample how Peer Street works before committing a level of funds that would hurt if I misstep. This allows me to acclimate to the investment. Second, the slow approach means I have loans spread out over a wide range. In a few months I will have loans maturing practically every month. Coupled with the interest stream I’m in a good position to benefit from the investment.

Investing in income properties can be a lot of work with plenty of risks. Peer Street makes real estate investing easier, smoothing the income ride along the way.

Taxes

Interest income is taxable. Landlords have several tax advantages due to real estate ownership. Peer Street investments are loans and income is treated as ordinary income. If you are familiar with Lending Club or Prosper you will find reporting Peer Street income looks a lot the same. The main difference is loan losses. Lending Club/Prosper have a lot of loans that default. This can play havoc on your tax return in some instances. Peer Street has had a few loans default, but according to a conversation I had with a Peer Street consultant on the phone, investors lost no money. The LTV metric does offer a level of protection to investors. (Loan losses would be handled in a similar fashion to Lending Club should they occur.)

Recommendations

Time for a reality check. Most loans offered on Peer Street hover around 7%. Yes, the sales literature says you can pull up to 12%. Real world experience says you will have plenty of opportunity to invest with a 7% return. Some loans are lower, more are higher. Loans paying 8% or more require a strategy.

Peer Street allows for automatic investing of funds in your account. What I do is keep $1,000 in the account and set the parameters of the auto-investing feature at 8% or higher, LTV up to 75%, loan term up to 60 months (I don’t mind a longer term investment, but you may wish to tighten this parameter) and $1,000 max per loan.

Peer Street sends an email when they invest in a loan automatically. If you don’t like the look of the loan you have 24 hours to cancel from time of notification.

New loans are available most business days. The higher interest loans usually are filled with automatic funds. The 7% and 7 ½% loans are frequently available for manual investing.

 

There you have it, kind readers. No fancy stories today. This is an idea I’ve been working personally on a small scale for a bit and wanted to share it with you. As a reminder, the links in this post are affiliates. Peer Street graces your favorite accountant with $30 for every new account I send their way. I have affiliate links for Prosper and Lending Club, but do not include them because I no longer support their programs. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I can’t make a real recommendation for you personally since I don’t know you personally, along with all the relevant facts. My only recommendation is to take it slow if you find Peer Street appropriate for your portfolio. No heroes; just another nice product to handle funds living in the gap.

It Never Pays to be a Bear

Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered! —Old Wall Street Adage

 

Back in the early days of my career the investment industry and the tax/accounting industry tried to merge. To be fair it was the investment industry’s idea. Tax offices were the perfect partner to sell securities (usually mutual funds with a respectable dose of insurance thrown in for good luck). Virtually every small accounting firm took the plunge.

Accounting offices are prime for solicitation. Tax professionals have a powerful relationship with their clients. Accountants also know a lot about their clients due to the data collected to file an accurate tax return.

Before someone got the idea to enlist the tax profession, it was common for insurance and securities salespeople to wine and dine the accountants in the area to build a relationship where the accountant fed ripe clients for plucking. (Did I say that?) Then H.D. Vest Financial Services changed the face of the accounting, tax and investment industry in one fell swoop. The world hasn’t been the same since.

As many firms did, I joined the herd of lemmings to the cliff. It wasn’t a bad choice. I learned a lot from my tenure in the field. I also discovered things I found revolting.

H.D. Vest Financial Services contacted me and I was a willing accomplice. The money was very nice, but I also had a massive interest in securities. If the opportunity in securities would have presented itself before taxes I’d probably be writing The Wealth Broker. (Sounds more like an oxymoron to me.)

H.D. Vest required we attend two major seminars around the country each year. (They had me with the traveling schedule.) Every December we met in Dallas (not far from the FinCon hotel last fall). The other event floated around the country.

A Story from the Brickyard

The keynote speakers at H.D. Vest events were influential members of the community. The one speaker who stuck out the most for me was Nick Murray.

Murray cut his teeth in an earlier age when hawking mutual funds took some effort. By the 1990s selling mutual funds in a roaring bull market was easier than taking candy from a baby. Murray’s advice and stories always stuck with me.

The age-old question was front and center: Where is the stock market headed? Clients are always nervous about investing. They’re afraid the market will tank the moment they buy. Murray had the perfect retort. He said he had no idea which direction the next 20% move in the market would be. He didn’t know the direction of the next 50% move, or 75% move or even 90% move. It could go either way. Up or down. But he guaranteed his clients the next 100% move in the stock market is up, not down. He ended by saying if he was wrong there wouldn’t be anyone around to sue him or complain.

A Story from the History Bin

Murray was on to something. Using the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as a yardstick we can check how well Murray’s advice stood the test of time.

Charles Dow published his first index, a precursor to the DJIA, on February 16, 1885. The current industrial average was first published on May 26, 1896. We will use the May 26, 1896 start date for our history lesson as before that the average was more a transportation index and in fact is the basis of the current Dow Transportation Average. The DJIA started with fewer stocks, but by the late 1920s had the familiar 30.

One thing we are familiar with is the sound of the business news broadcasts saying, “Today the Dow Jones made a new high . . .” It happens a lot. There are certainly lulls between new highs periodically, but the upward pace almost seems to be persistent.

With so many “new highs” in the DJIA (and broader indexes) have you ever wondered when the last time was when a new low was made? Well, I have the answer if you’re interested. On August 8, 1896 the DJIA hit its all-time low of 28.48. We haven’t heard a new low in the Dow for over 100 years! The last time a “new low” was made was in the late 19th Century. 19th Century!

The chart in this post illustrates the relentless climb higher of equities. Notice the pimple about an inch from the left side of the chart. That’s the 1929 Crash and Great Depression. The scab about an inch to the left of the year 2000 is the 1987 market crash where we shaved 22.61% off the market in a day! It was a good day to buy stock in Fruit of the Loom. Now I know why Warren Buffet had to buy the company with guys wearing fruit costumes.

The most telling trait of the chart is the parabolic look the closer to the right you get. But if you pick any time in the past it usually has a similar look! In the 1980s it looked straight up. Same in the 1960s. Same in the 1990s. You get the drift. As the market ratchets higher the older areas of the chart look smaller and smaller until even major fluctuations (from the viewpoint of people living through the event) are pimples on the chart if they can be discerned at all.

Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. Once again we are enjoying market highs. The market has been up a very long time. We’re due for a correction, prognosticators say. Then we get a mild correction, but we still fear every shadow. We’re due for a bear market!

To top it off, your favorite accountant mentioned what he thought was an interesting fact. He moved to his highest cash position in his adult life at 52%. Half his, ah, my money went to cash in late January. How lucky can a guy get!

I got lucky because I wasn’t timing the market. Another significant business prospect (a non-public company) came my way. I don’t like borrowing money so I liquidated some serious positions. If all the money isn’t needed some will find its way back into the market. Regardless, my retirement money is still going into Vanguard index funds 100% as it peels off my paycheck. I also automatically deposit money into my non-qualified (non-retirement account for non tax people) Vanguard index funds every month on the 7th. It’s the law!

Now, with my idiotic profession of good luck earlier this year, we must focus on the only way to invest in the market. Like Nick Murray, I have no idea which direction the next 20% move will be. Same goes for the next 50% move, 75% move or even 90% move. But I guarantee you, as did Murray, the next 100% move will be up! The stock market has been doubling again and again from the beginning.

Is it any wonder the DJIA made an all-time low a bit over two years after the average began reporting without ever digging lower? Even the Great Depression couldn’t break to new lows! Yet again and again we hear news of a new high. Maybe this time is different, but I wouldn’t count on it. Business and the economy keep growing with minor hiccups along the way. Bear markets are scary from the inside because somebody is in the corner crying, upsetting all the nice people milling about.

Bear markets are temporary; bull markets are forever.

Final Argument

There is one final argument to stay invested in broad-based stock index funds no matter where the market is at. It involves the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

For 13 days (always a lucky number to make you feel comfy when playing with nuclear weapons) the United States and the Soviet Union came within a whisker of a full scale nuclear confrontation over imminent deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba.  President Kennedy went on television to inform the American people (and warn the Soviets watching) the U.S. had target 50 Soviet cities with nuclear weapons. It was assumed the Soviet Union had targeted an equal or greater number of U.S. cities.

The DJIA only lost a mere 1.2% during the nuclear crisis. That didn’t mean panic wasn’t under the hood. There is the story of a young stock broker who started screaming to sell when an older, more seasoned, broker in the office told the young broker to calm down. The young broker yelled the world could end at any moment and he had to sell. The old broker put a hand on the young broker’s shoulder and said, “Buy. If the nukes don’t fly the market will rally.” (The DJIA added over 10% by the end of 1962.) “If the nukes do fly the trades will never clear.”

The same is just as true today. Could President Trump really cause the end of the world? Maybe. But if the world doesn’t end you’re going to look mighty foolish.

Human history is marked by perpetual growth for many thousands of years. The growth trend has been marred by periodic declines, even extended ones. In the end it was always a losing bet to bet against humanity. Progress has been unrelenting for a very long time.

It always looks like a top. Always! But then we go higher. And if I’m wrong the trade will never clear. (Or at least nobody will be around to tell me how wrong I am.)

And for the record, bulls make money. Bears and pigs both get slaughtered.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. —Winston Churchill

Could We Get a Single Digit P/E Ratio?

Recent volatility and decline in the broad markets in the U.S has people wondering if the correction returned the market to typical valuations. There are several tools used to measure the market’s value. One of the most widely used is the price/earnings (P/E) ratio, derived by dividing a stock’s price by its trailing twelve months (TTM) earnings.

The P/E ratio on the S&P 500 stands at 24.46 as I write (February 11, 2018). The ratio has been above 20 since early 2015.

When you take long periods of market data and shake them together you end up with an average P/E somewhere in the mid-teens. There is no hard and fast rule stating what a fair or reasonable P/E should be though plenty of opinions exist.

Another way to look at the P/E ratio is to flip it upside down where you divide the earnings by the price. This is called the earnings yield.

The earnings yield is an easier way to understand if your investment is paying enough to justify the risk and lost opportunity cost of investing elsewhere. The S&P 500 earning yield is 4.09% as I write. This means if all the companies in the S&P 500 paid all their earning out as a dividend you would have a 4.09% yield.

Again, there is no hard and fast rule on what an appropriate earnings yield should be. However, if Treasuries are considered a risk-free investment and yield more than 4.09% you might want to reconsider your strategy.

History of the P/E Ratio

The P/E ratio has been all over the map. We sit near record highs in the  ratio currently, but have been above 20 for several years. This in and of itself is a bit unusual.

The other side of the spectrum had the ratio in the single digits with the earnings yield double digits. (If the P/E is 10 then the earning yield is also 10%. If the P/E is 5 then the earning yield is 20%. Example: A $100 stock has a $10 per share profit. If they paid all the profit as a dividend it would equate to a 10% yield. If the $100 stock earned $20/share the P/E (100/20) would be 5 and if the $20 were all paid out it would equate to a 20% yield.)

The actual dividend is almost always less than the profits of the underlying company as a higher dividend would require borrowed money or liquidation of assets to pay. The earnings yield is the highest amount a company could consistently pay out. Realistically, most companies can’t pay more than 80% of profits in dividends so resources are available to invest for future growth.

The P/E ratio has climbed above 20 many times in the past. Concerns over high valuations based solely on the P/E is short-sighted and a poor investing barometer.

Up until the early 1990s when the P/E climbed above 20 either earning grew bringing the ratio back below 20 or stocks declined in price or some combination of both. Since the early 1990s the ratio has been above 20 more often than not. During the dotcom craze the ratio exceeded 40 and during the Great Recession (2008-9) the ratio briefly pierced 70 as earnings declined (especially in the energy sector) faster than the market declined.

In both cases the excessive P/E ratios returned to the upper teens in a short period of time. Earnings rebounded even as stocks advanced. The faster growth rate in profits reduced the ratio. The excessive losses due to falling oil prices eventually ended and the ratio declined.

Why is this Time Different?

Why have stock prices stayed so high for so long? Except for brief periods the P/E has been above 20 for twenty-five years! This has never happened before in U.S. markets.

‘This time is different’ is the battle cry just prior to bloodlettings. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Each era of stock market history has different events moving prices. If you dig down you will find the differences are only cosmetic.

What drove stock prices in the past drive them today.

The P/E chart shows the ratio climbing steadily from the early 1980s until shortly after the turn of the millennium where it made traumatic moves as it settled into the lower 20s zone.

What caused this steady ratio increase? First, the increasing ratio means the stock market has been climbing faster than earnings for a long time. People are paying more and more every year for the same dollar of earnings. At first blush this seems insane. But there is a valid reason for the activity.

Inflation was rampant (double-digits) in the late 1970s. Interest rates were increased repeatedly by the Fed until borrowing costs reached well into the double-digits.

After years of high interest rates to fight inflation, the price of goods and services stopped the rapid climb. The back of inflation was broken. Price increases moderated. Each economic hiccup reduced price pressures further until the 2008 recession when deflation (declining prices) made an appearance.

With each step lower, interest rates dropped in tandem with inflation pressures. It’s been so long since we felt the sting of inflation most people investing today don’t remember what it was like. A certain accountant in the room does, though.

Inflation and Stock Prices

Many factors drive stock prices. Earning top the list. But what is the value of those earnings?

Why did investors pay less than 8 times earnings in 1980 and now pay close to 25 times? Investors today pay three times what they did in 1980 for a dollar of earning!

In 1980 inflation was high; today inflation is low, almost nonexistent, and has been for a decade.

Inflation drives interest rates. The higher inflation the higher interest rates will climb.

If prices are steady (no inflation or zero inflation) and a company grows earning 10% the future value of those earnings are worth their full value.

If the same company were operating in a 5% inflation environment the discounted value of those future earnings are reduced by half. (This is an over-simplification to keep our story moving. Each successive year earnings are reduced by the risk-free rate of return. It has a compounding effect.) That means investors will pay less for those earnings. This is why investors pay three times what 1980 investors did for the same dollar of profits.

Future Growth Problems

When inflation climbs, interest rates follow and hence the risk-free rate of return.

As interest rates climb on the risk-free alternative (Treasuries for U.S. business and investors) it gets harder to justify many projects considered for future growth.

Value is created when the return on invested capital exceed the cost of capital. The cost of capital on excess cash held by businesses is the risk-free rate. When Treasuries pay almost nothing virtually every project projected to show any return is viable. Increase the risk-free rate to 5% or higher and many projects no longer make sense.

Of course, a margin of safety will be added by the company. In a zero rate environment a company will not accept a project with a projected rate of return of 1% just because it exceeds the risk-free rate. They will need a margin of safety to account for errors in calculated returns and to compensate investors for the risk taken.

As rates rise and fewer projects are approved, the number of goods and services eventually declines along with the number of jobs until equilibrium is found.

What Could Cause Inflation and Lower Stock Returns?

For 35 years investors have watched stocks climb faster than earnings. Deflationary pressures were more common in the 19th Century as prices swung wildly with the economy’s ups and downs. Over long periods prices were stable with the exception of the wild internal fluctuations.

Refer back to the P/E ratio chart. You will notice three times in the last 150 years the ratio dropped below 10 for an extended period: after WWI, after WWII and during the late 1970s. The starting point of the chart showing a low ratio came right after the U.S. Civil War.

At first glance you might think war was the cause of low P/Es, but you’d be wrong. Then you might wonder why the most pronounced period of low P/Es was the only one not following a war.

Well, the 1970s low P/E ratios followed a long war in Vietnam. War seems once again the cause of a low market ratio.

War does funny things to an economy. Both World Wars had price controls as the U.S. dealt with the economic stresses of fighting the war. Pent up demand and a higher savings rate allowed people to chase goods and services they were denied for a period of time. Business ramped up production and prices stabilized. With prices under control investors calculated the future value of earning at a higher rate causing the P/E ratio to climb.

The 1970s had additional issues pushing prices higher. Spending to fight the Vietnam War primed the pump for price increases. The first oil embargo in 1973 sent energy prices rapidly higher. President Nixon took the U.S off the gold standard further unleashing prices as the Federal Reserve had no real limit other than self control on how much money they could pump into the system.

Stubborn inflation was pushed even higher with a second OPEC oil embargo in the late 70s.

Now inflation became entrenched. Killing the beast wasn’t going to be easy. People expected wages and prices to climb. It felt normal so the tendency was to push prices higher.

This may seem strange to people living in a world of remarkable stable prices. But that could all change and rather fast.

Fixing Inflation

Stagflation was a new animal for economists in the 1970s. A stagnant economy still generated large price increases. It made no sense.

The newly elected President Reagan had an idea. He built a tax cut around combating stagflation problems with supply-side economic theory.

Supply-side economics has received a bad rap at times, but it was the perfect medicine for low economic growth and high inflation.

What the 1981 tax cuts did was lower rates for business and individuals. This could cause inflation to flare higher. Buuuuuut . . .

For businesses some expenses are depreciated. Back then small businesses had to depreciate assets expecting to last more than a year and costing more than $100. This kept businesses from increasing production as costs came 100% out-of-pocket (or from borrowed money) while it took years to depreciate the entire asset.

What Reagan did was genius! Before the two big tax changes of the 1980’s small businesses could elect to expense assets (IRC Section 179) up to $10,000 with certain limitations instead of depreciating. The tax law was changed to increase this to $20,000.

Small business owners could now write-off more of their investments immediately. Businesses responded. Capital investments increased requiring more employees. The extra supply brought down pricing pressures.

Over the next decades Section 179 asset expensing was constantly increased until it was well into the six figures. Bonus depreciation is similar to Section 179, allowing for additional current deductions for asset purchases. Section 179 and bonus depreciation are so high now any further increases have no real effect at sparking additional economic growth.

Primed for Inflation

The medicine needed to kill inflation worked. Unfortunately, the same medicine was used again and again driving down inflation until deflation was the issue.

Supply-side economics has run its course until the next round of inflation appears. Supply-side tax bills don’t have the desired effect to the chagrin of politicians. Might I suggest to the elected officials in Washington to think of something new once in a while.

Back in 2008 the Fed’s balance sheet was under $1 trillion. It now stands at $4.5 trillion! This is one of the biggest, if the not the biggest, percentage increase in the nation’s money supply in such a short period. Even major wars didn’t create so much additional money.

Once again, this time was different in the details. All the excess money creation was sopped up by central banks around the world and the Fed. (Yes, the Fed holds much of its own money! The offsetting entry in the ledgers is held by the balance sheets of money-center banks to make them look solvent when they had lots of bad loans.)

Lots of new money didn’t cause inflation because it never hit the economy; it’s like it didn’t exist. Money in bank vaults might be a neat gimmick to make banks look sound during an economic crisis, but it does nothing to spur economic growth.

All the money in bank vaults didn’t disappear. It was waiting for a spark to be release it. That spark came late last year with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Gas was thrown on the flames with an additional $400+ billion in new spending in a bill meant to keep the government open.

To Infinity and Beyond

The money is printed and the match lit. It is of vital interest to investors what happens next.

When the P/E ratio climbs as it has over the last 35 years the stock market advances at a rate faster than earning growth. The opposite happens when the ratio declines!

I have no crystal ball. Predicting where the stock market goes next is a fool’s errand.

With the facts listed above there is ample concern for an underperforming stock market for an extended period. Those most at risk are those in retirement, just entering retirement or retiring in the near future.

History is clear. Inflation causes higher interest rates and lower market multiples. Higher earnings can keep the market ratcheting higher, albeit at a slower rate as investors pay less and less for each dollar of earnings as inflation increases.

Excess money thrust into an economy has a high probability of affecting prices. The current economic experiment is gargantuan. The pile of new money waiting for freedom has a green light. As money flows through the economy at normal velocity, the effects of the new money are magnified.

It could be self-feeding; it could be an old accountant reading the tea leaves wrong.

Ah, who am I kidding? My cup of hot tea is just fine! Massive new spending by the government means the balance sheets at banks look better so they can now lend out all that money they’ve been dying to earn a profit on.

I don’t know the future, but I bet it’s going to be one helluva ride.

Dealing with the Emotions of a Volatile Stock Market

Recent volatility in the stock market has people reassessing their appetite for risk. Investing in a bull market is easy as it seems the only way equities go is up.

The recent bull market has an added way of lulling people into a false sense of security. Last year many indexes never saw even a 5% pullback even once. Some didn’t see a 3% decline at any point! This is a highly unusual situation confirming for some people the stock market doesn’t test your resolve as often as it does.

In the past week we’ve had a > 5% intraday swing in the market indexes. Many individual stocks had even greater moves!

The first shock wave most investors put on a brave face. The constant chatter on social media meant it was all an act. The market caught people’s attention.

The broad market didn’t even close down 10%, a level considered a normal and expected pullback in the broad market, before the clichés were pulled out.

I didn’t Lose Money Because I Didn’t Sell

This is the stupidest thing I hear every time the market pulls back or a correction is discussed. If you don’t sell you don’t have a taxable event, but your net worth has declined!

If you believe stupid clichés to keep you from making bad investment decisions you might want to consider money market accounts before you experience a bloodletting.

There are people who refused to sell Enron. They NEVER actually sold Enron. Does that mean they never lost money? Heck, no! The Enron Scandal destroyed many life savings. Not selling didn’t make it better!

Granted, index funds are different from an individual stock, especially Enron. But the lesson is learned. Whether you sell or not doesn’t change the fact your investments declined at least temporarily.

The worst part about these old worn out clichés is that it focuses your attention on the wrong details.  Refusing to sell because you know it’s the wrong thig to do in a down market is radically different from thinking about what you SHOULD do!

I agree, panic selling is a bad idea. But BSing yourself into thinking you haven’t lost money when your portfolio dropped $87,000 is industrial strength stupid.

Another line of reasoning has people backtrack to the last time the market traded at the lower level and then saying if they hadn’t checked their account since then they wouldn’t even know the market went through a conniption fit. But you do know and your brain is in overdrive trying to preserve the previous old highs!

A Better Way

There is a better way to look at the stock market when it declines. Instead of focusing on denial (refusing to sell in a down market only to succumb when it gets super bad at the ultimate low) focus on value.

The underlying value of the businesses you own a fractional share of (that is what stock ownership really is if you didn’t know) probably didn’t change much in value since traders blew out their backside timing the market.

Once a decline begins a lot of selling is forced by margin calls! Sanity or reality has nothing to do with it. Leverage increases risk magnitudes of order. When you borrow to invest it’s not if, it’s when the boom will be lowered. Pray to every god ever known you don’t get lucky the first time using debt. Debt also magnifies gains. If you win the first round you are either addicted or lulled into digging in deeper next time. Either way the carnage will also be increased.

I hate it when people say they refuse to sell into a down market. Has anyone considered putting new money to work during a decline? Just asking.

There are tricks, games you can play, to reduce the sting your psyche experiences, especially when you are starting out. We’ll go there next before we discuss good reasons to sell.

Let’s Play a Game

My 18th birthday came less than month after I graduated high school and I couldn’t wait. I had a veeeery modest nest egg in a passbook savings account (remember those) at the bank. Shortly after I reached the age of majority I pulled most of the money out and dropped it into growth & income funds.

I timed my age perfectly. In August 1982 the market took off like a streak and never looked back. Until 1987.

Even in an advancing market there are down days. As the 80s bull market got longer in the tooth volatility increased. Record highs meant larger point losses if not actual percentage records.

Not immune to the emotions of market moves I knew I had to find a way to short circuit my brain to avoid the fear and pitfalls of down days.

I devised a game from watching my account grow. A down month was never as bad as the overall market because automatic deposits muted the losses. Up months really looked good! Using an old spreadsheet (I think actually used Excel 1.0 at one time (gawd, I’m old)) my account values took on a stair step pattern as each new investment jumped the account value and dividends kept ratcheting higher.

My game only works with small accounts, but it sure helped me when I was building my first million. What I did was this. When the market declined I would do everything in my power to increase new investments so the actual value of the account didn’t decline.

An example would be if I had an account value of $100,000 and the market pulled back 3% I would try to add at least $3,000 of new money during the month. I worked hard to always keep my account value at the old high water mark.

Big declines are hard to offset and as the account grows larger even small declines became hard to offset.

The game was still the same. I might not offset the whole market decline, but I sure put a dent in it.

Then 1987 showed up.

Market volatility increased as the bull market aged. I wasn’t a millionaire at the time, but my accounts worked deep enough into the six figures to make constant investments as the market declined from a top in August to the gut-wrenching losses of October more and more difficult.

I’d be lying to you if I said I controlled my emotions during the market turmoil of 1987. My guts were a disaster. The only good news I can report is that I was so scared $hitless I never sold. I was numb all over. At least I did my job keeping the economy afloat with regular purchases of Fruit of Loom.

What I didn’t understand as a young adult was that my game actually prepared me to think about market prices differently.

Market declines were not about willpower NOT to sell, but rather an opportunity to reassess value.

In down markets there will be companies on sale. Not all of them, but a few.

All those mutual fund/index fund investments also go just a smidge further in a down market, too, buying more shares with each dollar invested. The other game I played was to track the number of shares owned. Philip Morris might be down, but I still own my pro-rata share of the company. That part is mine. My part of the revenue; my part of the assets; my part of the profits; my part of the dividends.

Strangely, the dividend stream never dipped much so I changed my game as the account values increases to add new money to maintain the income stream only.

Isn’t money a fun game?

Market Timing

Smart people will tell you to never try timing the market. I think I’m a relatively smart guy! It could be delusion, but it’s my fantasy so I’m sticking with it.

In late January I mentioned on social media (Facebook) that I moved to my highest cash position in my adult life. I was promptly jumped for market timing. A few days later we had the current market pullback.

So what gives, Sir Accountant?

Well, in my defense, I wasn’t timing the market. My gains over the last decade have been nothing short of astounding. Second, when I calculated the discounted future value of earnings with higher interest rates due to the tax law changes the numbers no longer added up.

I had no idea my selling would be so well timed. But . . .

My timing wasn’t timing! And even if I was so lucky to time the market so right I still need to pick the right time to jump back in!

For the record, I didn’t sell with the intention of buying back at a lower price.

I sold because the value of future earnings were not high enough to keep eight figures and over 80% of my net worth in index funds and individual stocks.

Since the market DID decline I might return some of the money from where it came. A 5% decline isn’t enough to change my mind. Now if we see blood flowing in the streets I might bite. It’ll take at least a 20% decline to accomplish that. I’m not holding my breath.

I hope this ends all discussion of my mighty stocks timing skills which I don’t possess.

What to do and Where To

So what should you do in volatile markets?

First, DON’T PANIC!!!

The broad markets have always come back and always will. If I’m wrong there will not be earth to live on so it will not matter. You’ll have to sue me after the collapse of civilization if I’m wrong.

If you are a millennial and your account is small enough, try playing my game. Cut every possible expense and add to your regular investments until your account value has little or no change.

If your account is getting bigger play the first game with an eye toward keeping the dividend stream pointing north. This is easy so far as dividends are rising nicely as I write.

I sometimes tell people not to look at their investments when the market falls, but I am assuming there are no adults in the room. I recommend you know exactly where you stand so you can make intelligent decisions like adding extra to the pile while stocks are on sale. And it’s okay to have cash available for just such an event. Some crazy accountant from Nowhere, Wisconsin told me that.

The best way I know to visualize your holdings is with Personal Capital. The best part is there is no cost to open an account and kick the tires. Seeing your investments performance live can provide additional encouragement to play the games I outlined above.

Negative attitudes about declines are caustic! Willpower alone will not help you sleep at night and may actually get you to wait for further declines before selling! Playing a game with your mind to recognize value is a powerful tool.

The last thing I want to touch on is what I plan on doing with the cash balance I built in January.

There are alternative investments available for those in the know. One investment I’m testing is PeerStreet.

PeerStreet works a lot like Lending Club and Prosper but with what I consider less risk since you invest in real estate loans with at least 25% equity whereas Lending Club and Prosper are unsecured loans. Returns are comparable and if recent personal results are any indicator, PeerStreet does better.

This is only one alternative investment I’m considering. With the better part of eight figures in cash I’ll need a few more ideas. I’ll share them when I know more.

I’ll be publishing a PeerStreet review, but there are compliance issues. PeerStreet is only for accredited investors (PeerStreet has the details on their site if you follow the link above). Once PeerStreet’s compliance department grants permission I’ll share my review..

 

So there you have it. How to control your emotions when the world turns into a raving mad mob of Chicken Littles.

Anyone up for a friendly game?