Perry Glasser

Archive for the ‘Personal Finance’ Category

TREES DON’T GROW TO THE SKY AND OTHER TRUTHS GRANDMA TAUGHT ME

In Business, Economics, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Political Economy, Wall Street on February 6, 2018 at 3:42 pm
(modified from a post originally written in 2017)

Simple Truths

  • The stock market neither advances nor retreats–though prices indeed go up and down.
  • For every buyer, there is a seller.
  • When buyers and sellers agree to prices, they set asset values.
  • Buyers buy with the expectation of future profit; sellers sell when they believe continued ownership of an asset constitutes a risk no longer commensurate with possible reward.
  • No one in a free market is under compulsion to sell, buy, or participate at all.
  • Wall Street is neither a battleground for territory, nor  an adversarial contest.
  • It’s a market.

Wizards require small investors to believe that generals understand the battlefield and so deserve your trust and your fees because they otherwise have nothing to sell.

Market Sentiment

After getting into the game by buying 3 to 5 broadly diversified vehicles, you should do nothing. Nada. Nothing at all. In 2017, if you followed that strategy, you made mere 20%. In January of this year, the froth of your beer bubbled up, but the winds of February blew them away.

Throw thyself off no bridges. You are still 20 percent ahead of a year ago.

Since the vast majority of investing operations on Wall Street and the bourses around the world are performed by networked machines that monitor every price tick and move great mountains of capital for millions of worldwide financial vehicles, there is no human sentiment involved. Understand: When you as a small investor get the news of sharp price movement, it is too late to act, unless you think and make decisions at light speed and happen to be a Cray computer.

  • Machines do not agonize over decisions such as Buy, Sell or Hold.
  • Machines have no hearts. Machines do not succumb to sentiment. Machines do not read the newspapers.
  • Machines do not hold on to send their kids to college.
  • Machines do not save pennies to accrue the down payment on a house.

Nevertheless modern Wizards want us to believe market sentiment exists and that they are plugged into that sentiment.

Yeah. Sure. Right. Got it. Roger that.

How do TV Wizards get away with recommending buying or selling new assets every day?

kramer7

Sells perpetual panic and urgency

A Warning

Dollar$ is aware that sharp price moves can be precipitated by events and non-events such as national elections, earthquakes, floods, train wrecks, and planet-killing asteroids. Only that last may have an impact on your buy and hold strategy, and Dollar$ is unsure of that.

If you think the US is going to hell in a handcart, do you also believe that after the crap hits the fan that the money you buried in the backyard will buy a can of tuna?

This is why reasoned investors await blood on the floor before buying, and unless you are within 5 years of a financial goal–retirement, your kid’s first year of college, that down payment on your house–sit tight, never sell, buy steadily, take advantage of dollar-cost averaging, and sip better whiskey.

  • Buy and hold.
  • Ignore alleged “corrections.”
  • Sleep at night.

(modified from a column originally published in December 201)

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CITIZENS & TUMBLING STOCKS

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Politics, ROBERT REICH, SOCIAL MEDIA, Wall Street on February 5, 2018 at 7:27 pm
jimmy-stewart

investor

Dollar$ readers have asked for a comment on the recent path of stocks falling off a cliff. Though Dollar$ seldom references perturbations in the market, in this case he will make an exception because any number of people with brains of tapioca or in possession of advanced degrees will point to this event to declare it political, a referendum of sorts on Donald Trump for whom they hold unsustainable rage.

 

THE AXE OF RAGE 

Rage as a political stance is unsustainable because it consumes its object as well as those who revel in it. We grind that axe at our own peril.

That won’t bother pundits such as Robert Reich at Berserkely. Expect his gloating to surface in a day or two while his cadre of unsalaried graduate student do his work for him.

After all, Reich persuaded thousands of Facebook followers that Spring rain, the demotion of Pluto from planet to rock and back again, and your most recent dose of athlete’s foot, were all ploys by the rich to separate you from your money because there is no bottom to the depth of their greed. (Except for St. George Soros, who sends wheelbarrows of Canadian cash to political causes in the United States out of simple generosity, something that most of us would find curious if the cash came from Outer Slobbovia or Russia.) The Professor has yet to mention the President’s promise to go after Big Pharma or his championing “the right to try” to give the sick access to medications stalled in the FDA’s long system for approval. How could Reich do so? His followers might dial back their rage, and then who’d buy the Professor’s books, subscribe to his videos on Netflix, or line up to enroll in his one class per year in a lecture hall packed with the beneficiaries of privilege, those students at Berserkeley who on cue wildly applaud before marching to deny free speech to someone else?

To be sure, Professor Reich will neglect to mention that the trillions lost on world markets in the past few business days have mostly been lost by the rich. Who did you think owned the shares of companies? Your barber?

Also, make certain you know, that Dollar$ believes our President to be at base a lout, a racist, sexist, and probably a compulsive adulterer who happened to revolutionize American politics by seizing on social media as a means to create a bridge between himself and voters when his own party and the American press gave him all the chances of a balloon in a pin factory.

Benjamin-Franklin-U.S.-$100-bill

Chastity?

None of that, by the way, makes him unfit to join the ranks of John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, or Bill Clinton. There were many others; the folks who brag about zero tolerance for white male sin remain eager to rewrite history by expunging ordinary men from the presidential rolls. God help us if they figure out what the Founders did with their time when separated from spouses for months, and that rascal, Benjamin Franklin, was not know for his chastity.

Fortunately, The Donald did not run for Pope.

STOCKS

Dollar$ is happy to report the sky has not fallen, at least not in my neighborhood. If Jemima Puddleduck races past your front door, Dollar$ urges you to unwrap that shotgun you received as a gift from Grandpa. Go bag yourself an inexpensive cheap chicken dinner.

Responsible financial advisers will tell you to do nothing: Dollar$ agrees, unless you have a working crystal ball in which case Dollar$ would appreciate a call. All the elephants could not get through the door without the house collapsing. That’s what happened today.elephants

DECISIONS

What now? Better to ask: Where would your money be better off?

The world economy is peachy.

The American economy is also peachy, showing healthy signs of continued growth.

Do not confuse the economy with the stock markets. After a run-up of 21% in a year, market algorithms were bound to get nervous.  (Algorithms don’t properly get nervous, but the notion of market sentiment is a joke when upwards of 90 percent of all market transactions are conducted by computers.)

The American economy is in danger of suffering wage-inflation. Prices will rise because Joe Doakes, his cousin Joe Six-Pack, and their cousin, Jane Doe, are earning more.

O, the Horror! What will Reich say if people are earning more?  What fraud is being perpetrated that will need a decade to play out?

RELAX

The past week has seen a drop of 5 percent. More is coming.

Bear in mind that historically, a 7 percent gain in a year is good news. If after the carnage we saw today and can expect for a few more days your 401-k, your kids’ 509, and your savings ratchet back to a “mere” 12% annual gain, try not to swoon.

Stay  the course. There are bulls, there are bears, and there are pigs. People who try to time the market—that is, sell now with the hope and expectation of buying it all back when things have settled—are pigs , and like pigs will be slaughtered.

BITCOIN & SAD MILLENIALS

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance on February 3, 2018 at 1:18 pm

It’s hard to be sympathetic.

Several years ago, Dollar$ started plainmoneytalk to offer explanation and instruction about financial matters to the naïve and young. Someone had to.

Big honkin’ financial websites and advisory services run by Wizards have a vested interest in making what is basic seem complicated, the better to charge for magical advice no one should need.

buzzard

Credit Card Company

Personal Finance instruction at high schools is abandoned after explaining checkbooks, possibly because teachers themselves are uncertain of how banks, credit cards, car insurance and all the rest fit together. Young Citizens are left baking in the sun along the roadside, tasty meals strewn meal for carrion credit card companies who feast on the dead.

Dollar$ refrains from specific investment advice, the realm of Buccaneers and Wizards who cover their asses by couching advice in subjunctive mood: If XYZ Corp does not go up, it might go down!  Yes, well, other than standing still, there is no third alternative. There is, however, lots of deniability, and the advice applies not only to investments but to hydrogen airships navigating through lightning storms. If it does not go up like the Hindenburg, it will do just peachy.

hith-hindenburg-

Financial adviser: “But look how well they are doing at the front of the ship!”

The four personal financial functions – Saving, Investing, Spending, Insuring (SISI) — have been explained by Dollar$ in the past. Underlying the advice are a few principles, the hallmark of which is Get Rich Slowly.

BITCOIN TODAY

So it is with a heavy heart but some smug self-justification that Dollar$ observes that in the past two months, the eager sweaty Get Rich NOW! Millennials, nurtured on tales of college drop-outs making billions in weeks and because of weak toilet training remain puzzled by the concept of delayed gratification, have gotten kicks in the head and keister. (Why do we never read of the legions of Ivy League dropouts who lost Mom and Dad’s fortune by investing in systems to convert lead into gold?)

Bitcoin and other “digital currencies” took a beating, dropping a bruising 60 percent from a high of $19,783 in December 2017 to (gulp) as low as $7,700 last week. That’s 60 percent, and the fun is not yet over.bitcoin

Someone will offer a postmortem—increasing regulation around the world? invisible North Koreans getting out of the game until after the Winter Olympics?—but the fact is that at any time  they could have read Dollar$. With any luck, we have seen the last of this worldwide swindle put together for the greater glory of sex traffickers, arms dealers, dope runners, and terrorists.

Dollar$ does not like saying, “I told you so” because it is like kicking  corpse, but in this case will make an exception.

 

BITCOIN IN WONDERLAND

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, Personal Finance, Political Economy, Wall Street, Wall Street Journal on December 22, 2017 at 2:52 pm

“Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); ‘now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!”

Bitcoin Speculator

Bitcoin Speculator

Whenever Dollar$ believes the Bitcoin mania is safely dead, someone nibbles a few crumbs of Bitcoin Cake and we hauled back to Looking Glass Land where mad creatures believe strongly that “Jam yesterday, and jam tomorrow, but never jam today,” is an economic promise and not an explanation the White Queen offers Alice.

The Queen said. ‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.’
‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’

Beware of strange substances that are labeled Eat Me.

A Silicon Valley startup called Xapo is the White Queen of BitcoinLand.

If you think gains like these are sustainable or represent some sort of value, you must have been eating Alice’s cakes. Maybe you’ve got some of that jam from yesterday. You might also wish to contact Dollar$ who just happens to have shares in the Brooklyn Bridge he can be persuaded to sell to you, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

BTC-2010-lin

 

Xapo is headquartered in Hong Kong, safely away from pesky US regulatory agencies. Sure, they’ve got offices in California, but so does every other financial firm in the world. The Board of Directors boasts former bankers from Argentina and Brazil, not exactly world beaters for stable currencies.

Magic Beans

The bitcoin business proposition is like the story Jack and the Beanstalk. (When it comes to bitcoins, metaphors from fantasy and fairytales are unavoidable.) Give us your real cow, and we will give you magic beans! Overnight they will grow to the sky! When you get up there, you’ll probably encounter a voracious giant ! To survive the giant, you’ll need to be a thief and run like Hell! All you need is the heart of a thief!

The Xapo Proposition

Xapo claims to have constructed physical vaults, “the company says are in mountainous regions.” There are no physical coins, of course. What will be down there will be computers Xapo promises will never be connected to the Internet–you know, like your laptop with no wifi.  If so, that means an army of people doing data entry on a army of disconnected laptops, in mountainous regions that cannot be approached easily. The mountain locations are, naturally, top secret.

If this does not strike you as the premise of a James Bond plot to bring down the world currency markets, what does?

goldeneye_oddjob007_reloade

Bitcoin Security

Liquidity

The bottomless credulity of the cyber-community originates with vitamin deficiencies caused by a steady diet of cold pizza and Red Bull for breakfast, watching Goldfinger too many times, the conviction being that one can get rich without ever getting out of a chair, if armed with an unshakeable libertarian belief that the arms merchants, sex traffickers, and drug dealers MUST have an untraceable non-government issued currency for money laundering.

Bitcoin Banker

Bitcoin Banker

 

TAXE$ AND COMMON CENT$

In Business, Economics, Economy, Finance, Personal Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on December 21, 2017 at 4:24 pm
bert-lahr-imdb-630x459

SCHOLAR OF THE SUBJUNCTIVE

Dollar$ resents and excoriates finance writers who write in the subjunctive mood. For readers who stopped paying attention to their English teachers in the 8th grade, that means a statement that is conditional. Correctly constructed, the sentiment expresses and a condition that is either not yet true, will never be true, or the speaker wishes were true followed by an outcome that is also not true.

 

If this be treason, make the most of it! – Patrick Henry

In our times, the greatest use of the subjunctive mood is for Romance, handy for lovers unwilling to commit but nevertheless compelled to express what resides in their hearts. Is there a better love song than If I Loved You?

Many speakers flummox the niceties of this important use of mood, and while it is not Dollar$ purpose today to deliver a grammar lesson, he earnestly hopes readers will be afflicted with the dry heaves should they come across ersatz prophets who preserve deniability and protect their alleged expertise by abusing the subjunctive mood. Yes, the stock market may go up, a bold prediction that allows deniability. It may also go down. Dollar$ also notes in passing that Patrick Henry was not speaking archaic English when he addressed the Virginia House of Burgesses, but was properly employing the subjunctive mood of the verb to be. If you still don’t get it, consider that the Cowardly Lion of Oz fame sings “If I were King of the Forest.” Now you know why Bert Lahr never sang was.

THE 2017 TAX BILL

chicken-little-sky-is-falling-1a

SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERT

Dollar$ has until now said zero about the proposed tax bill because it was proposed. Details were open to negotiation. That, however, did not prevent the doyens of social media to claim the sky was falling and suggest that passage of the tax bill would end civilization as we know it.

FACTS IS FACTS

The corporate tax rate has dropped from 35% to 21%. Lest you read Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor so startled he is not advising Hillary Clinton in the White House that he has taken to Facebook to lead “The Resistance,” let’s note that despite Professor Reich this tax cut is does not pick the pockets of the poor to give money to the rich. After all, 35% of nothing remains nothing, not coincidentally the amount of taxes paid by Apple Computer and many other multinational American-based companies that have disincentives to bring their profits back to American shores.  The new tax law is a hope to repatriate funds, an overdue program first called for by John F. Kennedy. Short version: US corporate taxes now align with the rest of the industrialized world.

Apple and other corporations can bring billions back to our shores and suffer no financial penalty for doing so. The Tax Policy Center noted in 2014, “Despite its relatively high corporate tax rate, the United States raises slightly less revenue from corporate income taxes as a share of GDP than the average of other countries.”

TRICKLING.4.19.1-figure2_0
Facebook economists who took time from photographing their cats and their breakfast (or cats having breakfast) have been told repeatedly that Trickle-Down Economics does not trickle.  Dollar$, however, notes that several organizations have as of this morning announced raises for line workers and hikes in their minimum wage. Dollar$ is certain those responses are due to more than a rosy picture of future profits precipitated by a tax cut. Fact is, labor is getting scarce; like other valued assets, if you want to keep trained and skilled workers, you have to pay for them. That’s how markets work.

The Koch brothers may have a social agenda, but Facebook economists smugly predicting that the new tax codes will so reduce revenue that Social Security and Medicare will have to be sharply reduced may want to note that neither of those programs is funded out of general revenues but from separate trusts funds. That’s why your annual pay stub has separate boxes for Medicare and Social Security, Binky. They ain’t general revenues. Dollar$ bids good luck to any weasel who lays a hand on those monies, but since the first rule of weasel life is to remain a weasel, Dollar$ is losing no sleep over that possibility.

Similar dire predictions about how the poor will suffer because so many itemized deductions are now disallowed stagger Dollar$ for the hypocrisy or ignorance of how taxes work.

Itemized deductions are

  • also known as loopholes
  • seldom used by citizen taxpayers who do not own a home

LITTLE OLD LADY WHO LIVED IN A SHOE

woman-livedinashoe

TAX PLAN BENEFICIARY

The Little Old Lady who lived in a Shoe had so many children she did not know what to do will, if she itemizes, will get $2,000 per kid where she used to get $1,000. Unless her shoe is worth more than $750,000, her mortgage interest will remain a deduction. Chances are, however, since more than 60% of all taxpayers already use the Standard Deduction, the Little Old Lady will avail herself of that tax simplification because the SD has near doubled. That is, should she choose to itemize, she’d be a damned fool to do so unless he has more than $24,000 in deductions, something highly unlikely for any who works for wages.Look, that redoubtable working family never paid taxes anyway, and at year’s end looked forward to cashing a tax refund check, the sum of all that withholding tax. Under the new tax plan, her refund will indeed be less because week to week and month to month the Fed will be withholding less of her money. Maybe she can build an addition on the shoe, a playroom in the heel, perhaps.

If any of her kids are planning college, despite the dire warnings of Facebook economists, the deductibility of tuition remains untouched.

So do her medical costs above a certain level—the same as the way things are now.

FLIES IN THE OINTMENT

Okay, Dollar$, a few of you still awake might ask what happens by 2028? Don’t these individual tax breaks phase out? That’s when we’ll be screwed, right?

Dollar$ asks the professional pessimists where it is written that a Congress controlled by Democrats in, say 2024, can’t tweak or change tax law? We change appropriations annually (it’s called a budget).

That is to say, Binky, if you think it is in your best interest, vote your convictions, but stop screaming like Chicken Little. Dollar$, you pestiferous fool, this tax law will raise the deficit!! We are going to hell in a handcart!” (Be careful though, you may start to sound like a Republican advocating fiscal responsibility.)

We have for a decade endured GDP growth in the 2% range, and we hunger for greater. Three percent is not unreasonable; up around 4% you can get a nosebleed and bet we are losing ground to inflation. But should the economy grow more quickly than it has, the deficit goes down. Bill Clinton demonstrated that by riding out Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts.

A country near 100% employment can afford a few risks, and if for a few years we put money in the hands of citizens, should we sweat it?

 

 

$$$

TREES DON’T GROW TO THE SKY or WHY RHETORIC WILL LEAVE YOU BANKRUPT

In Business, Economy, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Wall Street on December 17, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Simple Truths

  • The stock market neither advances nor retreats–though prices indeed go up and down.
  • For every buyer, there is a seller.
  • When buyers and sellers agree to prices, they set asset values.
  • Buyers buy with the expectation of future profit; sellers sell when they believe continued ownership of an asset constitutes a risk no longer commensurate with possible reward.
  • No one in a free market is under compulsion.
  • Wall Street is neither a battleground for territory, nor  an adversarial contest.
  • It’s a market.

Wizards require small investors to believe that generals understand the battlefield and so deserve your trust and your fees because they otherwise have nothing to sell.  Internet access to mutual funds, closed-end funds (CEF) and  exchanged traded fund (ETF) has made giving professional advice a media game.

Sell newsletters, attract viewers, collect advertising dollars.  You need not be wise or even right. Scare the piss out of customers, and they come back anyway, thrilled that you were wrong. If God-forbid the doom-saying prognosticators prove to be right, customers will come back chastened and ready to listen.

Market Sentiment

Basically, after getting in the game buy buying 3 to 5 broadly diversified vehicles, you should do nothing. In 2017, if you followed that strategy, so far you are making a mere 20%. Since the vast majority of investing operations on Wall Street are performed by networked machines that monitor every price tick and move great mountains of capital for millions of worldwide financial vehicles, there is no human sentiment involved.

When you as a small investor get the news of sharp price movement, it is too late to act, unless you think and make decisions at light speed and are plugged directly into markets.

  • Machines do not agonize over decisions such as Buy, Sell or Hold.
  • Machines have no hearts. Machines do not succumb to sentiment. Machines do not read the newspapers.
  • Machines do not hold on to send their kids to college.
  • Machines do not save pennies to accrue the down payment on a house.

Nevertheless modern Wizards want us to believe market sentiment exists and that t hey are plugged into that sentiment.

Yeah. Sure. Right. Got it. Roger that.

How do TV Wizards get away with recommending buying or selling new assets every day?

kramer7

Sells perpetual panic and urgency

The fact is that while our money trickles into pension funds, 401ks, college funds, health insurance funds, and all the rest of the vehicles invented by Wizards to lure us with illusions of safety in an uncertain world, machines–owned assets are being sold.  There’s a buyer for every seller, Binky. Remember that.

Machines sell in torrents. We pray for 7 to 10 percent each year, are happy to get 3%, but when the algorithms indicate “Sell,” prices drop 20 to 50 percent in minutes.
Sentiment? Level playing field?

A Warning

Dollar$ is aware that sharp price moves can be precipitated by events and non-events such as national elections. If you think the US is going to hell in a handcart, do you also believe that after crap hits the fan that the money you buried in the backyard will buy a can of tuna?

This is why reasoned investors await blood on the floor before buying, and unless you are within 5 years of a financial goal–retirement, your kid’s first year of college, that down payment on your house–sit tight, never sell.

  • Buy and hold.
  • Ignore alleged “corrections.”
  • Sleep at night.

IT’S BOOM TIMES IN AMERICA

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Personal Finance, Political Economy, Wall Street on December 23, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Dollar$ is back after an absence: the rarest thing is cyberspace is a blog with nothing to say. But it is time.

Many a financial prognosticator makes a living by predicting gloom and doom. People like a good scare. The problem is, this is no time to be terrified.

Things have never been better. There, I said it.

The oil price war going on between OPEC and the US is about market share. Oh, and be sure to understand it is a price war. Sweaty Wizards will call it a collapse in the market, but OPEC and the US are going toe to toe to own exports to China and Europe.

The beneficiary of this price war are Citizens. We are usually screwed, but we also put gasoline in our SUVs and warm our homes in winter.

It’s boom times in America. That’s no equivocation. It is fact.

Citizen

Citizen

Once again innovative technology befuddled Malthusian nitwits. We are not running out of natural resources before next week. Movies based on this mythology, notably the Mad Max series with Mel Gibson, were based on the popular notion that civilization would collapse for lack of energy resources. It had to be true. Didn’t Tina Turner sing about it?

Thomas Malthus, an early Wizard, in 1798 predicted the world would eventually starve because while population increased geometrically, food supplies could only increase arithmetically.

Ponder that as you sink your teeth onto your next pizza. Get it gluten-free, if you must, and but note no people driving are dune buggies across the desert and warring for women except in the wanker fantasies of adolescent boys.

Frack!

Frack is not a profanity left over from Battlestar Galactica.

Now it happens that fracking to withdraw oil from shale is a process more expensive than simple drilling, so if you were a Saudi Arabian sheikh and terrified that the US was about to once again become an oil exporter, you’d be hoping to squeeze those Allah-be-damned cowboys in North Dakota out of business. You’d drive the price down. You’d drive the price down by producing more oil than the world needs. You’d create a glut of dead dinosaur juice and put it on the open market at prices not seen in a decade.

You’d not-so-incidentally screw over Iraq and Iran, two places where fundamentalist loons pack their asses with C4 and wish they had atomic bombs for atomic bums. It’s not polite to say ill of those loons, but no one expects Saudi Arabia any time soon to invite fundamentalists into the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Since Iran and Iraq have nothing to offer their populations, they feed them a steady diet of hatred for Israel, far less nourishing than building an economy, but also far easier. The chief exports of the region–other than petroleum–are pistachio nuts.

You accept a little civil unrest to stay in power, so instead of throwing the rascals out, the legions of unemployed fire automatic weapons into the air, lately killing each other in a contest to see who is crazier to keep 21st century mores away from people who have never experienced the Enlightenment, keep their women kept covered, and, because vagina’s are dangerous and mysterious, still ritually mutilate their daughters.

The OPEC strategy is to make fracking too expensive. Pump oil, pump more oil, keep pumping oil. The cost of a barrel of liquid dinosaur has dropped 40% in months!

Meanwhile, the US consumer will pocket about $500 per year not being spent on gasoline. They’ll spend that cash at restaurants, Disneyworld, at the movies, maybe buy that new refrigerator—all those products called consumer discretionaries. We will enjoy this for a while.  Cruise liners should be lowering prices; so should airlines. Buy stock—don’t be a dope. It’s boom times in  America.

Wizards, a timid lot for whom equivocation is a habit, at first believed the drop in oil was the harbinger of evil, the precursor of worldwide deflation. They advised the very rich, the kinds of people who throw billions at hedge funds, to sell. If everything was about to get cheaper, you’d want cash, too. World markets wobbled, but quickly recovered.

Wizards are still advising caution, but anyone attuned to Wizard-Speak will note how often the words, if, may, and perhaps show up in Wizard epistles. “Yes, we at Binkwater Investments are fairly sure that if the markets don’t go down, they may go up. Make your check payable to Binkwater! Subscribe to our newsletter!”

Deflation is indeed evil, but note, too, that Wizards hate the US Weasel in Chief. That sumbitch won’t deregulate! There’s money to be made, dammit, and just because we nearly bankrupted the world economy in 2007, that sumbitch won’t forgive and forget!  Wizards would choke before publically taking note that  the US economy is just grew 5% in a single quarter, faster than any time in the past eleven years, that employment is going up, and that consumers have all just gotten a bonus in the form of cheap oil. The stock market is at record highs.

It’s hard to find bad news for American investors.

True, the US economy is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the world. China’s growth rate is slowing; Japan’s is still flat-lining, Europe may be in trouble.

In other words, the market for oil is adjusting to world economies that need lower prices while the only place in the world offering significant growth and low risk is the United States.

Call it American Exceptionalism.

ESCAPE THE STUDENT DEBT TRAP??

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, Personal Finance, Wall Street Journal on June 14, 2014 at 10:04 am
St Milton, Nobelist  in Economics, Doyen of the Right.

St Milton, Nobelist in Economics, Doyen of the Right.

Finding new ways to pump money into education as Miguel Palacios seeks to do in today’s Wall Street Journal, is no more than leaning on the bicycle pump with greater vigor to inflate the tire. We saw it in real estate with substandard loans: now we are seeing it again with financial schemes that do little more than bleed profit from students ill-equipped to endure debt no matter how it is structured. Income-share agreements a la Milton Friedman will not rescue higher education until higher education rescues itself, and higher education will not rescue itself until it has incentive to do so. Friedman’s idea was fine, 5o years ago, but the pump today is attached to a balloon already stretched to contain trillions. How much longer can it inflate?

First, let’s address the proliferation of “professionalized” administrators whose experience of classrooms is nil, and let’s limit their compensation to a single-digit multiple of teaching personnel. We can do this at any US school accepting US money—which is all of them, public and private. Should any private school express horror, all it needs to do is stop accepting Federal funds in the form of student loans: then the Trustees can then pay a president anything they wish.  If it is good enough for Harvard, it is good enough for Oral Roberts University.

Second, let’s reconsider what we want higher education to be. Do we have the courage to stop equating “education” with “training?” Are our children empty vessels to be filled so they may take their places at the machine, or do we want to train our children to be thinking leaders?

Third, outsourcing job training to prospective employees has to stop. “Hit the ground running” is a metaphor drawn from images of troops dropped into combat from helicopters, but business leaders whose strategic horizons rarely extend beyond the next quarter have to close their copies of Sun Tzu and stop thinking of employees as conscripts. At these prices, youth will eventually not enlist. When that happens, business throughout America will go into a death spiral. Who will be buying the goods and services when an entire generation is already so underwater no one can borrow to buy houses and cars? Before we demand that youth borrow tens of thousands of dollars to mold themselves to a vision that business itself will discard in a heartbeat, and before telling laid-off employees to “retool,” let’s see the return of ad that read, “College grad wanted. Will train.”

Another productive college grad.

Another productive college grad.

Fourth, scrub campuses clean of cruise ship personnel, those pleasant folks who for 10 months each year deliver non-teaching services to students. They account for more payroll than all teachers. Can’t a campus go forward without offices devoted to diversity, racial and ethnic education, and the rest of the panoply of politically correct educational goals with no cognate in the real world? Can an academic year pass without barbecues, fairs, or Frisbee competitions?No wonder kids are lured into majoring in Women’s Studies or Conflict Resolution: they’ve gotten the notion that such careers exist.

Finally, for those of us who demand American employees be competitive and fear they are not, consider the long view on American education. Literacy meant mandatory education through 6th grade, then 10th grade, then 12th grade. Do we have the vision to acknowledge that American prosperity and security at this time requires a population that can access education through the 14th grade? Are we brave enough to say it? — education is an entitlement because it promotes a public, widespread good.

The question is not whether we can afford it, but whether we can continue to pretend that we cannot.

FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS: INVESTING –THE EIGHT DO’s

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Wall Street on April 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm

If you are unsure you should dip your trembling toe into investment waters, reread FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS: INVESTING – THE DON’TS right here at Dollar$.

 CAUTION TO THE HARDHEADED 

If you are persuaded that the game is rigged and that age hates youth, deliberately having made money management and life-planning a cruel losing joke, consider that the bad guys will someday kick the bucket.  When they do, will you be among ageing schmucks still claiming injustice or do you want to position yourself to take your place as a leader?

The choice is yours.

If you are a twenty-something ready to grow up, or a thirty-something ready to take your share of the American Dream, you have  come to the right place.

Dollar$ will not equivocate. Here is what you must do to GET RICH SLOWLY.

Should you discover you need to get rich quickly, Dollar$ urges you to bet on race horses. At any racetrack, you will breathe fresh air, find friendly company, free parking, and can probably purchase a half-decent meal. You will quickly go broke, of course, but during the 1:12 it takes for a decent thoroughbred to run 6 furlongs you can scream yourself silly and dream of riches. Quarter horse racing is even faster!

OPEN AN ACCOUNT

Choose a brokerage like Schwab or Ameritrade, any organization that fits your digital lifestyle. Investigate apps or web sites; choose the brokerage that seems most navigable to you for research, purchasing, and tracking your holdings. You will want more as you learn more, but you need to be comfortable with an interface.

The Internet has leveled the cost of doing business, about $7.95 for any online stock trade, so in terms of costs brokerage firms are interchangeable.  At issue for you is service and minimums.

Most brokerages require a minimum amount to open an account: as this is written, Schwab is asking for a measly $500—perfect for the Clueless.

FEATURES

  1. Options. If you can get approved for Options trading, get it.  You will not use this until you have considerable wealth, but it costs nothing to check a box.
  2.  Margin.  Again, check it off and leave it the hell alone until you know what the hell you are doing, and even then think very, very, carefully about borrowing money from your broker to make an asset purchase—which is what Margin trading is about. Remember, your broker is not your partner. Your gains are your gains alone (W00t W00t!), but your losses are your losses alone. If you owe a margin debt, you will owe what you owe no matter what happens.
Margin accounts may have uses, but can be dangerous.

Margin accounts may have uses, but can be dangerous.

You know Tony down at the docks? The guy who lends money to people with no collateral? He is happiest when you pay him, but he does not care if your team lost, the deal went south, or your honey made off with your boodle—he only wants his money and interest back. When he does not get it, he becomes surly. He makes you sell your car, cash in in your kid’s college fund, and if necessary persuade you to these measures by realigning your knee caps with a baseball bat he keeps handy for just that purpose.

Think of your Margin account as Tony. Don’t let anyone get medieval on you.

3. Check Writing. Take it.  Add a measure of liquidity to your assets. You can write an emergency check if you need to—which you should not, but shit happens.

4. Reinvest Dividends. Absolutely. Dividends are how companies share profits with shareholders. Dividends are not interest, but in effect, reinvesting dividends is how your account will draw compound interest.

“He who understands compound interest , earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.” Einstein

“He who understands compound interest , earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”
Einstein

 

THE EIGHT DO’S AND WHY

1. Buy stock in at least 3 companies traded on either the New York Stock exchange or the OTC (Over the Counter) markets. Be sure these companies are in very different economic sectors. In other words, do not buy 3 media companies, or 3 retail companies, or 3 technology companies, but perhaps buy 1 of each.

You require a measure of diversity. You can buy diversity in a mutual fund, of course, a basket of stocks managed by professionals, but then you pay fees for professional management. Dollar$ cautions the clueless, who by definition are starting small, that the fees will bleed you white. Why start your financial life with a tapeworm?

Diversity is insurance against misfortune. While one sector of the economy may take a hit from unexpected circumstances—such as a change in a government regulatory posture or a political event in a faraway country— the only circumstance that will affect all 3 of your sectors are changes in the overall economic picture, such as a change in interest rates.  For the investor who wants to GET RICH SLOWLY, those dips can be shrugged off because unlike you and me, companies that sell goods and services can within limits raise their prices to recoup what was lost. The price of lumber goes up, the furniture business takes a hit, but next year the price of furniture rises. It’s not as though people will start sitting on the floor.

What constitutes a sector is very subjective. Is Walt Disney a service company or a media company?  Different online research will yield different sector guides. Here is one website that will allow you to bore down to Market Cap leaders by sector.

The final arbiter of what is what is you, Binky, so give special considerations to companies that are conglomerates. General Electric, the oldest company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, founded by Thomas Edison, makes washing machines, jet engines, and runs an insurance business.  What sector is that?

2. Buy stock in companies that are at least 20 years old.

Ten-year-old companies have a modest track record of survival; twenty-year-olds are even better.

Yes, Dollar$ is aware that young companies are set to grow quickly, but they frequently are headed by untried management and are closer to going broke. Most corporations live little more than a person’s lifetime though the exceptions are remarkablebecause they embrace a culture of change and innovation. 3M Corporation was founded in 1902 to make sandpaper; now they make Post-It notes and Scotch Tape.

Young companies will also gather imitators, which mean ever-increasing competition will drive revenues, but not costs, downward. Someone is bound to improve on the original idea.  If the good Lord in 1985 had whispered in your ear, “Computers,” you may have chuckled at the Divine Wisdom that loaded your portfolio with Kaypro, Atari, Commodore, and Wang. Like last winter’s snow, those companies are now gone.

Avoid the bleeding edge.

3. Buy stock in at least two companies that are multinationals.

DSC_0230Doing business in places where general economic growth is not dependent on the value of US currency is simply prudent. Dollar$ would never bet against the financial muscle of the United States, but Dollar$ is aware that infrastructure build-out in the 3rd world is inevitably followed by consumer demand for a higher standard of living. You do not have to buy stock in a Chinese company to participate in the Chinese economy; you do not need to need to buy stock in a Chilean company to participate in the Chilean economy.  Logos and trademarks Americans see every day are all over the world: UPS, Disney, Starbucks, Pizza Hut… the list is endless.

If you have qualms about such things and think they are imperialistic, ask the folks in Red Square how they like burgers at McDonald’s, or ask Chinese citizens if the prefer iPhones to ‘Droids.

4. Buy stock in companies that pay dividends or, even better, have a history of raising regularly dividends.

Many companies do not share their profits with shareholders via dividends because managers hoard cash for future business investment. While Dollar$ respects the managerial strategy, Dollar$ notes such companies do not suit a strategy to get rich slowly. The Clueless want an opportunity to have their dividends accrue ever more stock.

Better yet, companies that pay dividends suffer less in a downturn because their dividends offer investors a yield, a cushion against losses.

5. Buy and Hold—even if it means going white-knuckled.

On September 16, 2008 the general stock market as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average crashed 10 percent in a single day. The Buccaneers who ran major financial institutions were competing to take greater risks for greater profits than any responsible bank should, fudging on what “banking” meant. On Sept 12, 2008 the DJIA was at 11,421.99.  By November 21, it was down to 8046.42 a breathtaking loss of 29 percent in 6 weeks.

Iceland went broke, Lehman Brothers went out of business, and for the first time ever, US citizens heard the phrase, “Too big to fail.”

Anyone who sold to defend his or her assets for fear of total ruin took themselves out of the game. They may have felt safer, but by doing so, they gave up any chance of recovery.

As Dollar$ writes, the DJIA stands above 16,000—which means sellers in 2008 have missed 100 percent gains measured from then, only six years. By selling into a panic, they gave up every opportunity to gain back all they lost and more.

True, if you owned stock in Lehman Brothers you took it in the neck, but if you had a diversified portfolio, over all, you survived and may have even made money.

A wise man once said, “You can’t go broke on a small profit.”

6. Buy shares and add to your portfolio regularly.

Ideally, you may be able to invest with a check-off system from your salary, an arrangement that will allow even those of us lacking personal discipline to take advantage of the maxim: Pay Yourself First.

Regular investing will allow you to take advantage of “dollar-cost averaging.” When stocks are up, you’ll buy fewer shares: when stocks are down, you’ll buy more shares. On average your cost will be somewhere in between. Free yourself from trying to guess if today or tomorrow are better days to buy; let time be your friend.

If your companies thrive and move steadily upwards, your average cost will always be below their current price level.  Over the long haul, stocks historically have gained 7-9 percent annually. Never try to time the market—just be a steady buyer and Get Rich Slowly.

7. Buy Mid and Large Cap companies.

“Cap” refers to capitalization, the sum total of the value of all the shares issued by a company.  Every company issues a different number of shares, so a company floating a million shares priced at $100 per share is worth $100 million dollars, but a company with 5 million shares priced at $50 per share is worth $250 million.  That’s right, the company trading at the lower price is worth more.

Large Cap companies are slow as battleships, but not likely to sink quickly; Mid Cap companies are more nimble and want nothing more than to grow to be Large Cap. They will take more risk, but have a record for taking risks and winning because they really were once Small Caps.

There are plenty of Small Cap companies, and investing in them is a respectable strategy, but Dollar$ does not recommend that to the Clueless: one needs a larger portfolio to overcome the inevitable losses small companies encounter. While a few Small Caps will experience spectacular growth, more will fail or stay stagnant. On average, an investor might do well, but only if the investor has a sufficiently diverse portfolio, unavailable to the Clueless without professional management—which must be paid for.

8. Sell when the reasons you bought a company change or the fundamentals of the business change.

You selected  XYZ company for your portfolio for reasons. Maybe you personally liked the product or the service; maybe liked the company’s competitive position; maybe you liked the company’s record for paying dividends; maybe you read and were persuaded by  the company’s strategic plans; ideally, you liked some combination of all of those.

But if those any of those change, why are you still holding the company? Never fall in love with a stock; review your portfolio regularly, at least every 3 years. Save your loyalty for a lover.

NOW WHAT

Discovering companies that fit the Dollar$ profile from the universe of thousands of companies is, in fact, easy.  You chose your broker because it offered digital tools for Research. Try the “screening” or “filtering” system—pick an economic sector, indicate your requirements in terms of dividends, choose from Large Cap or Mid Cap, etc.

  • Read about the company’s businesses. If you do not understand what they do, go no further. Invest only in what you understand.
  • Invest only in companies that sell services or products you would buy whether you were a business or a consumer.
  • Buy shares in companies that are ranked first or second in their industries.  
  • Be disciplined. Avoid trendy and hot stock tips, whether from your Uncle Fred or a TV pundit who is obliged to scream “news” at an audience every evening. Near term, they may be right: let someone else make that money while you sleep soundly.
  • Invest and relax—let your money work while you sleep and pay no attention to daily, monthly, or even annual trends. You are going for the long haul, and the long haul is steadily upward and has been for hundreds of years.

PERSONAL FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS: INVESTING, THE CAPITAL MARKETS

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Wall Street on March 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Dollar$ is well aware of the gazillion resources online where some union of Wizards and Buccaneers blow rhetorical fog that is an alleged explanation of stocks and bonds.

Dollar$ submits that these explanations are deliberately arcane, part of the investment community’s strategy to hunt and bag the Clueless. After making what is simple appear complicated, up pops a talentless sales goon who for a small fee offers to manage your money.

 

WHERE WIZARD HIDE

WHERE WIZARDS LURK

Dollar$ seeks to dispel the fog.

When the Clueless understand what anyone can see, the Clueless are no longer clueless. No situation terrifies Buccaneers and Wizards more.

These are the same stalwarts that over a generation persuaded America that job training is a cost to be borne by the trainee and that education and job training are synonyms. An entire generation has accrued so much debt that they are indentured servants.

It is time to turn the table on the bastards.

Leap beyond the jargon of P/E ratios, large cap, small cap, technical analysis, book value and all the rest, grasp the basics, get started, refine your wisdom as you accrue wealth, seek financial and emotional independence.

A Fantasy

Suppose you are downloading 3 seasons of the Walking Dead because you are far too cool to watch broadcast TV at scheduled times, planning a long weekend of beer, pizza, a fluffy blanket, and a lover watching monsters eat brains. What could be more romantic?

Suddenly, as if in a vision, you imagine a way to supply the world with a new and better widget. Your lover shows up, you describe your plan, and your lover enthusiastically says, “We’ll need some money to get started, but eventually we will make wheelbarrows of dough.”

Hot damn!

Nothing comes easy, but after two years of running the business on a shoestring at 16 hours per day, you’ve proven the concept. You can make and deliver a quality widget for less. You need now to expand enough to get out of the basement. You want to hire some old-school experts in widgetry, and you need 10 employees. You are figuring with the profits that are forthcoming, eventually you will have 10,000 employees. The sky is the limit.

Scariest start-up ever

Scariest start-up ever

Do not laugh. This is how Amazon.com started, with Jeff Bezos sitting on the floor wrapping packages. This is how Facebook started, with Mark Zuckerberg gathering a cadre of code-writing geeks in a Harvard dorm. This is how Hewlett-Packard began—in a garage in Palo Alto. Maybe the scariest start-up in recent history was Fedex: on the first day in business in April 17, 1973, Fedex required 14 jets and 389 employees to deliver 186 packages to 25 cities. The idea was to compete with the US Post Office by charging MORE.

What lunatic would invest in that????

Ideas turn into goods and services that make our lives rich and our wallets fat. This is the miracle of America capitalism.

Capital Markets – Access the Money!

Participation in the public capital markets are the only way for Citizens to partake in that miracle.

Businesses go to the Bond Markets to borrow money. When a Citizen participates in the bond market, the Citizen becomes a lender. Lenders are guaranteed income determined by the face value of the bond, interest based on the rate of return, and an eventual return of principal at a predetermined date. Since part of the investor’s risk is the bankruptcy of the issuing organization, the rate of return (interest) is determined by how solid the issuing organization is.

Note that the investor does not participate in the growth of the issuing organization.

Note, too, that some organizations are not businesses promising interest based on future profits, but are municipalities promising interest payments based on future tax revenues.

Dollar$ hastens to point out that bonds are appropriate for investors with low risk tolerance—the aged and the nervous.

 

Citizen

Citizen

Dollar$ also points out that no investment is without risk. Ask Citizens who held bonds issued by the City of Detroit. Mostly, those bonds are held by large organizations such as labor union pensions funds, but when the fog lifts, those are Citizens. Instead of interest and eventual payment of principal, investors in Detroit’s bonds hope to get twenty cents on the dollar.

Businesses go to the Stock Market to sell shares in the company to willing investors who expect or hope that the good idea will make the value of the shares rise with the good fortune of the company. At some point, if the shares of stock are traded, the investor makes a gain or, if the value of shares goes down, incurs a loss.

For citizens to participate in the stock market requires only that the citizen have a broker, a clear idea of the advantages and disadvantages of different stock investment vehicles, and an investment strategy.

Dollar$ will be writing more soon.