Perry Glasser

Posts Tagged ‘Finance’

WHINING – A HOW-TO FOR MILLENNIALS

In Business, Economy, Political Economy, Politics on December 9, 2017 at 2:26 pm

One of the more frequent themes Dollar$ reads on social media is the ongoing complaint that the generation born between 1945 and 1970, those rotten Baby Boomers, are a bunch of louts who deliberately loused up the economy for everyone who came after them. Selfishness is something you develop by smoking weed through a bhang and

HENDRIX

SELFISH BABY BOOMER

listening to Jimi Hendrix. If they would all only die, housing would be cheap and jobs would open, easy, high-paying jobs with benefits that require no experience.

This theory explains why that kid who lives in your basement on a three-legged couch incessantly watches pornography on his cellphone. All the jobs out there are soul-sucking crushes, fruitless and stupid wastes of time. Even looking for that job is a waste of time. Fixing the couch isn’t worth the trouble, either. Glue? Nails? It’s all too complicated.

Facts

Facts only obstruct a good theory, but Dollar$ is not yet of the party that deems feelings should be the basis of policy because facts are no more than the legacy of the dying culture called Western Civilization, but our hearts never err and can only lead us to a better world. As Donald Trump and deconstructionist professors have taught us, facts are relative.

However, some facts are numbers.

  • In November 2017, the US economy created 228,000 new jobs
  • The jobless rate for non-high school graduates is 5.2%
  • The jobless rate for the overall US economy is 4.1%, the lowest it has been since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.
  • After years of lackluster growth of 2%, the economy is now growing at nearly 3%, a pace that means business expansion will require ever more new employees and—gasp—will need to pay entry-level employees well to compete for their heads and hands.
(figures from The Wall Street Journal, Dec 9, 2017)

By the way, Dollar$ also notes that the economic expansion these figures suggest is worldwide. The stock market is soaring because that confidence in the future is shared most everywhere. If Finance Buccaneers don’t screw it up by inventing products that have no basis in reality and then leverage that fantasy 100-fold before selling those vehicles to municipal retirement accounts, regional banks, and other suckers, your BitCoin Futures, for example, we are in for some good years.

Good news upsets ideologues who prefer to complain about their ongoing, constant anxiety even though that anxiety, at least in the economic sphere, is misplaced. Sure, things can go wrong, and eventually will, but the quality of life has never grown in a straight line. When things suck, wait a while. They will turn around. You don’t really need to check under the bed each night.

For example, Robert Reich, the Beserkely professor, former Secretary of Labor, and Facebook columnist, checks under the bed three to four times each day with columns and videos. His trauma at not being reintroduced to the corridors of power when Hillary Clinton failed to be elected must have been acute. Instead of running the world, he is on the sidelines where he generates a tsunami of media whose final point is that whomever is doing whatever, Professor Reich could do it better. He has the time to do this because California pays him in excess of $400,000 per year, requires him to teach no more than one or two classes, pays the salaries of a cadre of graduate students to assist him with his onerous work, collects $40,000 for speaking engagements, and has published a book called Saving Capitalism, which, if Dr. Reich’s situation were typical, would seem to need no saving at all.

At least not for him.

Baby Boomer Failures

  • The safe and cheaply available birth control that makes hook-up culture possible on that basement couch, thus eroding the moral fiber of our culture.
  • The internet that delivers porn directly to the basement couch.
  • The virtual elimination of several diseases, such as polio and smallpox.
  • The virtual elimination of famine because of advances in agriculture and the successful world distribution of crops like winter wheat.
  • The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
  • The Women’s Rights Movement that began again in the 1970s.
  • Passenger jets. How else can a Millennial go backpacking in Nepal before taking residence on the sofa?
  • Cell phones, that device that permits Millennials to snap selfies, cat photos, and up-to-the minute data on any Millennial’s location should they venture from the basement, all forms of narcissism previously never seen on our planet.
  • Digital special effects that bring believable visions of world apocalypse and intergalactic warfare to that cell phone or the game box beside the couch facing the flat screen TV on which HD pornography plays most of the day.
  • The rising preponderance of women in higher education as students, teachers, and administrators.
  • Automobiles that cost more because they are built to new standards of safety, airbags, seatbelts, and the like for passengers who strangely wish to live through collisions. Those doodads are constructed with materials other than steel to keep vehicles lightweight enough to conserve fuel. slow global warming, preserve energy, and keep that basement comfy.

Why are These Failures?

Dollar$ is glad you asked.

The work, you see, is not yet done. Those damn Boomers selfishly left the world imperfect. Some kids may have to get off the couch and build better infrastructure, get us renewable energy sources, find better batteries, silence jet engines, create hologram entertainment, and take the US out of rubber, concrete, and petroleum logistics.

You know, work and innovate.

Effort sucks.

Totally.
download

 

 

 

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Tulips and BitCoins

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on December 7, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Tulips

In 1636, Holland discovered the tulip. They were imported. People went crazy for them. Everybody wanted them. No one could get enough of them, and the more rare they seemed, the more valuable they became. The cost of tulip futures for some bulbs rose to prices worth more than 20 acres of land. I am not making this up.

It’s easy to laugh, but open your closet and count your Beanie Bag Babies stash. How many collectibles have you bought recently? Holy bananas, have you been buying fake money and stamps with baseball players on them from small Caribbean states as family heirlooms?!?

But God forbid, have you considered BitCoins?

The Wizards on Wall Street are fainting. They notice that Bitcoin rose above $15,000 this week, and is up from $800 a year ago.  Remember, always that Wall Street Wizards invest in nothing, but they want a piece of every transaction. They earn profits when money changes hands, and if that is when your kid’s college education turns to dust, well, that’s a shame.

BitCoins are an imaginary currency backed by the full faith and credit of nothing, not nobody, not nohow.  The dollar, on the other hand, is a currency backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, which Dollars$ admits may not be all that much more, but has to be worth more than a few beeps and blips on some kid’s garage in a Tokyo sub-basement. Sorry, Binky, but the gold in Fort Knox has not been seen for decades. Every bill in your American wallet is a promise to pay–later.

The US dollar is also the standard for several other currencies, small countries, mostly, that cannot risk having speculators manipulate their money. In  the currency markets where money floats, the US dollar is relatively stable.  On the other hand, people who invest in Bitcoins either live too far from a decent casino or think Monopoly money is tricky stuff. They plan on being the last person through the exit when the inevitable collapse occurs, but do you know what happens when all the elephants try to get through the door at the same time?

BitCoin is the preferred currency among drug dealers and computer hijackers, those rascals who are the cousins to that Nigerian prince who offer you millions if you’ll send just a few thousand. The Prince makes that offer by email; the BitCoin pirates fly the Jolly Roger  while sailing through cyberspace.

You get your choice.

bitcoin

look that them digits!

jolly roger

WEALTH INEQUALITY

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on December 5, 2017 at 10:40 pm

bossy sisterWhenever my big sister played Monopoly, if the game was going against her she would toss the playing board in the air. My hotels and houses would scatter across the living room carpet as she shouted, “Salugi!” (a New York-ism pronounced “suh-LOO-gee”)and lunged across the table to confiscate most of my deeds, especially Boardwalk and Park Place.

When I was able to read the rules of the game, I learned there was no allowance for tossing the game in the air or confiscating my property. My sister was cheating! But since I was 8 and she was 14, she was able to meet my accusation by beating me up.

The History of Wealth Redistribution

My sister was a revolutionary.

To be sure, Dollar$ reminds readers that rebels object to rules, but revolutionaries rewrite them. Rebellions are common; revolutions are rare.

The folks who threw the board in the air in the past have cried, “Justice!” not “Salugi!” They had names like Washington, Lenin, Mao, and Castro.

Note that political persuasion—Left or Right—has nothing to do with revolutionary status. Mao and Washington might have discussed military tactics, but Dollar$ suggests they would have come to no agreement about economic systems or the function of government.

The Function of Governmentpreamble-20532-20120118-55

It’s less complicated than Monopoly.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Washington (the dude on the $1) believed that the function of government was primarily to protect the rights of the individual, rights that most often needed protection from government itself. If no military personnel have been billeted in your living room, thank Washington.

Washington may have noted that to promote the general welfare required some redistribution of wealth to insure equal opportunity and to insure domestic tranquility, but that does not guarantee equality of status among citizens.

Washington’s pal was the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton (the dude on the $10). Hamilton understood that wealth concentration in institution like banks were a social good, provided the bank used that concentration of wealth to fund the visions of a greater society, lending money to visionaries and giving stability to the economic infrastructure by protecting wealth from being squandered by a ruling class on personal indulgences. Hamilton, an orphan at 11 and the illegitimate son a British West Indies plantation owner, would likely not endorse a notion that the function of government was to protect the rights of the filthy rich to become obscenely rich.

The Situation Today

Some of Dollar$’s best friends sink into fuzzy thinking when talk comes around to how wealth is created and distributed in the United States. They lose sleep fearful that someone, somehow, somewhere, is leveraging assets to optimize profit.  They simple-mindedly believe that economics is a zero-sum game and cannot imagine economic growth. If an organization makes a dollar, someone must be a dollar poorer.

No. That simply is untrue. If it were so, you and I would enjoy the same standard of living as Washington and Hamilton. But the fact is that economies grow.  At issue is how they grow, not whether they should grow at all, though there are indeed some who think that a good idea, too.

The deluded friends of Dollar$ from time to time propose bold programs to redistribute wealth, programs they understand as pursuing Justice.

There two reasons those cannot and should not work.

1. Nowhere in the US Constitution will one find the word corporation. True, we reserve the right to free assembly, but that does not elevate any assembly of citizens devoted to profit a guaranteed right to speak lies in its advertising or compensate its directors and executive officers so rapaciously that shareholders who hope to partake of the boons of the system see their profit participation reduced by rapacious Buccaneers.

Oliver-Wendell-Jr-Holmes-9342405-1-402
Not Sherlock; not Mycroft, just Oliver

2. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. The idea is carved in stone on the IRS building in DC., but let’s note that corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them.  If you think they do not, you are submitting to a distraction. Dollar$ hastens to explain that citizens are consumers. Tax us, and we bleed money. Bleeding, we consume or save less, neither of which are good things, though it does not follow consumers should not be taxed. Civilization is messy, but must be purchased. But to a corporation, taxes are a cost of doing business, like labor, supplies, and logistics.

Raise corporate tax rates, and corporations will only raise their prices.

Guess who pays the difference?

Today’s  Lesson

Remember, friends, we cannot pursue social justice by confiscating wealth. We can, however:

  • Limit executive compensation by law to some multiple of the lowest worker in an organization;
  • Create progressive income tax brackets that limit the shift of American wealth to the rich from the poor;
  • Lower repatriation taxes so that companies that keep their money off-shore are encouraged to bring it home where they can invest in more factories and create jobs here–better to collect 15 percent of something than 30 percent of nothing;
  • Demand that higher education is a matter of national security, and so to insure the blessings of liberty are  free to all;
  • To insure the blessings of liberty on ourselves and our posterity, give tax breaks to organizations that train employees instead of demanding that future employees borrow so much money to gain perceived needed skills that students have no choice except a life of indentured servitude;
  • Regulate publicly traded corporations by disallowing aggregation of profits as cash without paying shareholder dividends, a means to share in that profit. Can we stop the nonsense that hoarding cash is good corporate financial strategy when all it does is spike share prices that are subsequently used to calculate executive performance compensation? (Are you listening Apple Computer?)
  • Return to personal income tax rates that  reflect the needs of our society. Under Eisenhower, we built the interstate highway system and taxed marginal income as much as 92 percent.

We don’t have to throw the game board in the air to start over again: all we need to do is play by the rules.

CONSPIRACY THEORY

In Business, Economics, Economy, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, Wall Street on February 12, 2016 at 1:09 pm
Janet Yellen

Wizard-in-Chief

Dollar$, always eager to explain the inexplicable world of Finance, that realm in which Wall Street Wizards and Corporate Buccaneers run rampant in their never-ending struggle to own, pervert, master, and control Political Weasels, has developed a theory.

 

Why should Plain Money Talk  be any different from every other blog?

 FACTS

2015 saw:

  • unemployment drop to new lows,
  • minimum wage adjusted up,
  • auto sales rise to recent highs,
  • home sales rise to recent highs with no speculative bubble,
  • the cost of gasoline and heating oil sink to new lows,
  • the United States become an oil exporter.

The Fed is so concerned at all this good news that Janet Yellen has begun to tighte credit, a tactic employed to throttle growth and forestall inflation. Yes, the Wizard-in-Chief, Janet Yellen, is worried things are too good.

Some apologist is sure to point out that the second largest economy in the world, China, is hurting. Dollar$ will give that point of view some quick attention.

CHINA

China’s weakening economy should mean the cost of living in the US will drop, meaning you and I will have more money in our pockets to pay off debt or buy more stuff, everything from furniture to T-shirts at Wal-Mart. The US – China trade balance is heavily weighted toward China—the US imports far more goods from China than China imports from the US. If those good become less expensive, the American consumer benefits. This does NOT harm American business.  Maintaining profit margins at lower prices is easy to do. The cost of commodities the world over is dropping because of the slowdown in Chinese demand. Commodities are the stuff that comes out of the ground from tin to lumber and to gold, the stuff from which everything else is made. Everything should be getting cheaper. Every time Wizards predict that Apple will stop selling iPhones in Shanghai, Apple sells another few million units, but at a lesser price. With inexpensive gasoline, Citizens will be driving  to Disneyworld this year, and they will be able to afford the Mouse’s uptick in prices.

This phenomenon confounds the Wizards., who have learned that bad predictions are clickbait, and clicks drive revenues. No one watches CNN until the shit hits the fan and the shelter under the table grows crowded and cramped.

In the face of positive economic news, the US stock market should be soaring. Instead, the Dow-Jones average has stepped off a cliff in 2016, shedding 2,000 points in 8 weeks, more than a trillion dollars worth of value has been erased from the books.

THE CONSPIRACY

Cui bono?

For the past 30 years,  at every presidential election, commentators complained of the choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. But this year, it ain’t so.

weasel candidates in days of yore.

US Presidential Candidates Since 1964

 

This year, on the one hand, we have a wealthy, self-funded foul-mouthed injudicious narcissist celebrity never elected to anything anywhere who is much favored by people who have felt disenfranchised for a generation. On the other hand, we have a New York Jew now from Vermont who has never accepted a dime from Buccaneers or Wizards. An older man, his followers are youth because he demands payback from the banks and companies who were too big to fail and in the past 20 years have sucked the economy dry, indenturing students with education debt. On the third hand, we have a woman who is indebted to the old politics, and on the fourth hand, we have a clown car of interchangeable Republicans who lacking economic issues promise to disallow what your neighbors do in their bedrooms while coyly ignoring that for those promises to be fulfilled they will have to rollback several Supreme Court decisions by what by any account has been a conservative court.

Dollar$ sees the common threat. The two leading candidates are not in thrall to Wizard or Buccaneers. Should either get elected, the summer house in the Hamptons, the private jet, and the 10-room Manhattan  condo are all in jeopardy.

How to dissuade Citizens from voting for either?

Scare the piss out of them. Scare the piss out of them by manipulating stock prices downward. It’s only temporary, and it’s not as tricky as it sounds.

  • Claim good news is bad.
  • Threaten us with defunded pensions, evaporating college savings, and the elimination of savings toward the American Dream, a house.
  • Imply that unless Citizens vote the status quo and allow rapacious policies to continue, grass will grow on Main Street as economic activity collapses.

The stock markets should be soaring, but never forget that 90 percent of all trading is electronic and that computer algorithms engage in a global battle to take advantage of a quarter point’s worth of arbitrage. There is no longer any such thing as investor sentiment. As they now say in Wizard country, My algorithm can beat up your algorithm!

Fear is the most potent means of keeping the harridans out of the White House. Without the creation of synthetic Terror, Weasel Business As Usual will come to a halt.

O the horror!

 

DEFLATION, OIL PANIC, AND THE SKIDS #2

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on January 8, 2015 at 10:05 am
imagesHI5F8ZBL

Is the past our future?

 

 

Dollar$ gazes at the skid in oil prices and asks:  Does the precipitous drop in oil prices presage a worldwide deflationary spiral? Is the world economy contracting so as to calcify economic activity?

In a word: No.

No one will be selling apples on the street any time soon.

 

Oil.

Oil is a commodity, which is to say, like lumber, cattle, gold, and copper, it comes out of the ground to be used to create more sophisticated products like jet fuel, gasoline, nylon, and plastic. Like all commodities, oil’s price is strictly set by supply and demand, a fact less true for many goods and service where supply and demand can be artificially manipulated.

Hatless in the cold.

Hatless in the cold.

Slide11-1024x767

The entire Marketing industry, Prevaricating for Profit,  is devoted to creating false demand. When in 1933 Clark Gable wore no undershirt, the men’s underwear business went into a tailspin. John Kennedy in 1960 insisted on wearing no hat when he spoke at his presidential inauguration; the men’s hat industry has never recovered.

To be sure, hats and undershirts are not commodities. Their worth changes as a matter of fashion, not supply and demand.

OPEC

OPEC is the international oil cartel that has controlled oil’s supply for a generation, but the game changer is a recent innovation. Fracking, it turns out, is cheap enough and ideal in north central United States and southern Canada.

The cartel is losing its grip. The US is going from oil importer to oil exporter. To compete for those petro-dollars, OPEC and especially Saudi Arabia can no longer manipulate supply, but pumped as much as it could. Supply soared. Oil has become a glut on the market.

But at $40 per barrel, fracking becomes uneconomic.  Make no mistake, OPEC would like to see a price for oil that once again leaves OPEC as the only game in town. If that means bankrupting oil exporters not part of the cartel, such as Russia, so be it.

Bye-Bye Putin!

Winners in a Price War

It’s an old-fashioned price war, nothing more. As with all price wars, consumers benefit. Estimates put as much as $1,500 per year in the pockets of ordinary American citizens.

Never forget that the US economy is consumer driven—we like to spend on stuff because we are blessed to be in a places where there is stuff to buy. Expect discretionary products to fly out of stores. That new refrigerator is coming home soon.

The demand for stuff made in the USA will increase in the USA; expect hiring. Elsewhere, not so much because that strong dollar will make US goods seem expensive.

When you read dry-mouthed dire predictions of European disaster because hard-working Germans are tired of supporting spend-thrift Greeks, remember that the GDP of Greece is about 25 percent of New Jersey’s GDP. The drama is interesting, but the world economy is not going down any drain in Athens.

Since the US is an oil exporter, the US dollar grows stronger every day. Would you rather own dollars or euros?  You can’t pay for US oil with euros–it’s really not a choice. For the American consumer, tourist destinations overseas that were prohibitively expensive last year are going to seem to be on sale. Book the flight! Greece needs you money!

Big US oil consumers can lower their prices and still make big profits. Airlines and cruise lines will soon compete on price, instead of competing on service.

Losers.

What’s that Binky? You ask who are the losers? You ask why the stock market plummets with  the price of oil?

Well, oil companies aren’t happy. Along with Big Oil  the losers are the very rich, the institutions and people that had been positioned to enjoy high oil prices. Sheiks and hedge funds are madly selling to gather cash, the better to buy US stocks  when they believe oil prices have bottomed, which will be about $43 per barrel which is where OPEC can comfortably reinstate its hegemony. Much higher than that, and North Dakota gets rich–again.

So the stock market plunge does not presage a deflation spiral, but it seem that for a while we can expect a new set of winners.

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.

STUDENT DEBT – THE NATIONAL ROAD TO PALOOKAVILLE

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Political Economy, Politics on May 7, 2014 at 11:05 am

Buccaneers, those captains if industry who have offloaded their training costs to trainees, are sending themselves and the United States on a one-way trip to Palookaville.

If we create a generation that cannot afford new housing, cannot afford new cars, are unable to purchase or  enjoy the fundamental goods and services our economy provides, hesitate to marry, delay child-bearing, we will arrive in Palookaville.

The American economy is choking itself to death, and is doing so at the expense of youth.

The Crisis

Evidence that we face a crisis abounds. Dollar$ does not have to work hard to make the case. Student debt is now greater than all credit card and mortgage debt, surpassing a trillion dollars.

student tuition earning Fortune Magazine

student tuition earnings
Fortune Magazine

 

Dollar$ does not imagine this calls exclusively for a financial remedy.

Yes, for a decade and more, the cost of higher education rose faster than any other sector of our economy. Policies pump money into Education with no incentive on Education to reduce costs. Administrators proliferate, non-teaching personnel pop up faster than toadstools in Oregon after rain, the teaching-productivity of professors decline.

But blaming the greed of higher education for the debt crisis is like complaining that ticket prices at sports events are too high because professional players are overpaid.

This is America: wages and compensation are set by markets, and the rule of markets is whatever the traffic will bear. Every CEO loves that rule.

Mortgage and Students

Consider: when money was pumped into the mortgage market, the resulting balloon and eventual collapse rocked the world economy in ways from which it has still not recovered.

The similarities between that mortgage market and the market for student debt are breathtaking—quasi-government agencies, favorable loan rates, and loose regulation.

But there is a difference: a mortgagee can walk away from real estate and leave banks owning worthless property, students cannot walk away from their education. They get to keep what is in their heads.

In fact, we have passed laws that safeguard student debt — not students — even in bankruptcy.  Should a former student go broke, they can seek financial relief in Bankruptcy Court, but no court will release anyone from student loans.

The only way out of student debt is death.

So with apologies to followers of Senator Elizabeth Warren, other well-intentioned Weasels, and the legions of Wizards ever-eager to brew a new potion of loan and grant combination to foist on youth, Dollar$ maintains the solution is not to make higher education “affordable.”

The solution is to champion higher education as an entitlement.

Education must be free.

The Platform

Access to two years of higher education is a right of every citizen.

This is no money giveaway, though the usual Blue Meanies will choke on it.

The program is necessary for the preservation of our democracy, the maintenance of our standard of living, and to liberate forthcoming generations from a lifetime of debt.

In 1944, The United States passed the GI Bill, which promised every veteran free tuition and living costs while in school. Who among us would call that bad policy?  The United States embarked on a rising tide of growth that benefited every economic class.  The lesson was plain: general education benefits us all.

If Buccaneers tell us the United States is engaged in economic war, why are we taxing only youth in our war effort?

Why do the same patriots who grouse that in terms of education “America is falling behind,” insist that the cost of keeping educational pace with the rest of the world is one that must be borne by students?  When did accruing debt to the point of guaranteeing a lifetime of indentured servitude become an act of patriotic obligation?

Why do the same Buccaneers who grouse they cannot find sufficient employees with the “right” job skillset insist that the cost of training be borne by trainees who are speculating about what higher order skills will be needed in the near and distant future?   When did the phrase “will train” drop from the language of employee recruitment?

 Dollar$ calls for free higher education through the 14th grade.

 

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.

FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS: INVESTING – THE DON’TS

In Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS on April 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

OK, Binky, let’s check.

  • You have:
  • Paid off your consumer debt;
  • Are paying off your leveraged debt, such as student loans;
  • Measured and understand risk tolerance as a function of age and psychology;
  • Have wrestled the Beast of Consumer-Celebrity Culture to a stand-off and so are able to resist its psychological hold on you to impulse-buy consumer goods you neither want nor need,
  • Have for emergencies banked at least 3 months of expenses in a purely liquid account (6 months is better);
  • Insured against catastrophe—possibly through your employer; and
  • A reliable flow of revenue.
  • Accepted the Dollars$ plan to GET RICH SLOWLY.

Should you lack any of the above, Dollar$ wishes you well, but advises you to take control of your financial life before attempting to aggregate wealth by investing.

SHOULD NEVER HAVE SET SAIL

SHOULD NEVER HAVE SET SAIL

You do not want to attempt to sail across a stormy ocean in a vessel that leaks. If you are sailing with a partner, you may also risk thinking you need to jettison the love of your life—but that won’t plug the leaks in your boat.

Dollar$ is well aware of the gazillion investment gurus offering all manner of “free” advice designed to give the Clueless investor an illusion of control by suggesting investment strategies that invite Wizards into their lives. Wizards cast arcane spells that universally reduce to one spell.

Binky, since you are too stupid to be a Wizard, give us your money and for a modest fee we will take care of your investments for you.

Dollar$ maintains that  the basics of money management are simple enough for a carrot; he is also certain that Wizards blow smoke the better to separate the Clueless from their money. Further, he does not doubt for a moment that their pals, the Weasels, elected officials, structure American education so that Citizens remain ignorant of how they are getting screwed by Buccaneers.

Dollar$ fights the Power.

Expensive Necromancy

Wizards who take what seems like a pittance: 1.5 percent each year for money management are parasites sucking your lifeblood.

But they are not stupid. If they bleed you to death, they will require a new host. It is far better from the Wizard’s perspective to keep you walking around in a weakened state. That way, they feast forever.  They have this philosophy in common with tapeworms.

If the stock market goes up 7 percent in a year, but a Wizard takes 1.5 percent of that, the Wizard is skimming more than 20 percent of your gains. By the way, if the stock market goes down, the Wizard will mumble apologies, and still take his percentage, accelerating your losses. Your Wizard partner wins even when you lose.

Avoid Wizardry!

It’s your LIFE we are talking about!  If you are unwilling to take control of it, someone surely will!

DON’T hand your money over to someone or some institution, not even a mutual fund manager. If the benchmark of a mutual fund performance is, say, the S&P 500, or the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it stands to reason that managed funds MUST do worse almost every year because no manager is taking a percentage. In fact, 70 percent of all managed mutual funds under-perform their unmanaged benchmarks.

The Exceptions

Nothing beats an employer-sponsored retirement plan—a 401k for example. 401ks have rules that require professional money-management, so accept that.

Nothing beats an enforced, pre-tax investment vehicle for wealth accrual. Pony-up every dime you can up to the employer sponsored maximum. Tattoo on your leg the Dollar$ maxim: LEAVE NO MONEY ON THE TABLE. If your employer is matching even as little as $.25 on the dollar, why would you leave it in your employer’s pocket?

Even better, since a 401k is pre-tax money, it reduces your Federal taxes. Look, Binky, if you are in a 20 percent tax bracket, you have no other investment that pays a guaranteed 20 percent the moment you make the investment.

So let professional money management manage your 401k. If you are young, this is no time to be timid. Create a mix of aggressive mutual funds. When you get to 45-ish, you can become more defensive. But there will only be one time in your life when you can sustain and endure bad luck–NOW.

The other exception to resisting professional Wizard management is after you accrue $100,000 in investable money. Dollar$ would then reconsider your portfolio, as life will get complicated and you do not want to be worrying about finance while you are sipping rum drinks from coconuts on your vacation.

Then again, if you accrued $100,000, you are no longer among Clueless, are you?

DON’Ts

DON’T shake with envy over someone making a killing on a hot stock—your goal is to get rich slowly. Congratulate them; take solace in your slower but surer path to a comfortable old age or to aggregating the down payment for that first house.

DON’T pay attention to TV personalities who nightly scream about investments: they are under compulsion to say something new 5 nights each week. Surely, the investment landscape does not change so radically every 24 hours that yesterday’s strategy should be thrown out today.

DON’T pay attention to annual columns in magazines, online, or newspapers in which a bevy of Wizards name their top 3 or top 5 picks for the coming year. How is it that no two Wizards name the same list? Are they throwing darts or do they have a strategy? Could it be the publications want to annually run a second column about how they offer great advice because one of their professional touts will pick winners?

DON’T churn your portfolio. Make strategic plans and review them every 3 years. Markets will go up and down. Hold for the long haul.

DON’T sell in a sharp downturn: they call such moments “Panic” for a reason. Once you sell, you cannot recover. Investors who panicked in 2008 when the markets dropped and the Dow Jones Industrial Average left investors gasping after a plunge from above 14,000 to about 6,500 saw losses of 55 percent! Aaaagh!  Barf!  Rats! If they sold to defend what was left, they missed the subsequent rise that a mere 6 years later has the DJIA over 16,000.  What might have happened if they’d stayed the course and at deep discounts bought more?

If you are among the Clueless but setting out in a secure rowboat, pull at the oars and do not let the occasional storm swamp you.

There will be storms.

You will survive them.

 Coming Soon: The Dollar$ The Dos!

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.