Are we BEAR yet?

Keeping your cool while others lose their minds over their investment losses.

Since 2009,  US investors have been enjoying the second longest running Bull market since WWII. But after closing once again at record highs on January 26th, 2018, the market started slipping into a correction. The two week period ending Friday February 9th 2018 saw a river of red on Wall Street. Historic losses occurred almost every other day, and the Dow closed down 1175.12 on Monday Feb 5th.  Less than a week later there was a second four-digit drop. In spite of all the excitement we are still ‘technically’ riding the Bull, despite the specter of the Bear periodically swiping at the markets and making the red ink spatter everywhere. So far it’s only a correction, and not yet a crash.  If you’re not sure of the difference:

  • A stock market correction is when the market falls 10 percent from its 52-week high.
  • A bear market occurs when the market falls 20 percent.
  • If the market falls 40 percent it’s considered a crash.  

So what makes the markets suddenly drop? The reasons are many, but usually it starts when large numbers of investors decide to ‘cash in their chips’ so to speak and lock in their gains. Perhaps companies didn’t make their earnings projections,  or investors are afraid that changes in legislation will affect profits. It does not matter but once enough people are selling instead of buying, stock prices start dropping. This spooks the second group of investors who now sell because the price is dropping, and they want to stop losses. This leads to a panic. Once a cascade sell-off effect begins, the only way to stop it is if enough potential investors decided to buy the dips, thus raising the price of stocks and ending the sell-off. Or possibly not. Prices of the shares may recover enough that a third group of investors decide that now they should sell and lock in the partial recovery of lost potential gains, starting a brand new sell-off. That’s why you start seeing these roller-coaster swings of market volatility.

 The key take away from all of this is that middle group of investors who sold out as the stocks plunged ended up losing their money.  It is impossible to time the market.  They were not in the market once it rebounded, which time has shown it will. The group who locked in at the market peak made money, and if they returned to buy the dips, they made even move money. When investing in stocks, you need to keep your head and make informed, intellectual trades. Emotional, panic sell-offs will hurt you financially.

Overtime, the stock market will continue to grow at an average return at about 12%. Crashes, corrections and Bear markets always lead to new Bull runs.  These market fluctuations are a normal part of the way the stock market grows and are not to be feared.  In September of 2017, stock guru Warren Buffet was widely quoted for stating that he believed that in one hundred years, the Dow would hit  one million points. When one of the eight richest men in the world tells you stock tips, you listen! Buffet didn’t get rich by luck. He recommends buying stocks when everyone else is liquidating their assets because you pick up bargains that given time, will more than likely rebound. He also recommends staying in the market and investing in passive, low fee index mutual funds and ETFs that track the markets. In many cases these index funds outperform the majority of actively managed mutual funds and offer a low-cost way for investors to track popular stock and bond market indexes while providing a diversified portfolio at the same time.

I’m getting too old for this excitement.

Although index funds and ETFs offer diversification they are still tied to the market. This is great news if you are young, because you can weather any storm clouds that the market may encounter. On the other hand, if you are nearing retirement and counting on your retirement nest egg being a certain amount, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re weeks away from punching the time clock for the final time only to have a sudden market crash wipe out 40% of your investments.  This is where a higher level of asset diversification towards less volatile investments will protect you.  Bond funds, precious metals and even real estate can provide a much more stable investment, just with comparably lower returns on investment. Only you can determine your individual retirement needs.

Two general rules of thumb based on age.

1) Take the number 100, and subtract your age. The remaining number is how much money you should invest in stocks.

2) Take the number 125, and subtract your age.  This number is the percentage of your investments which should be in higher risk stocks.

Some stocks are more volatile than others. This is reflected in a stocks beta number. The lower the number the more stable the stock. A beta number of 2.0 would fall twice as fast as the market, while a share with a beta of 0.5 would drop half as fast. Also you should research the 52 week highs and lows, as well as the P/E ratio and if the stock pays a dividend, how often it’s paid, and the what the ex-dividend date is. Bottom line, DO YOUR RESEARCH!  Financial matters are nothing to joke about. The wrong decisions early on will greatly impact you in your retirement years. 

Now I’m still south of 50, I’m unmarried,  I have no children, plus I’m debt free. In my individual circumstance, knowing what I know and being willing to accept the risks, I  tend to have ALL of my investments in higher risk assets. Thus far, it’s made me the richest man in my family, although it does get unnerving at times when you watch your portfolio take a big hit during a correction. In the past two weeks, my net worth decreased by more money than some people earn working a full time job for an entire year. It will come back given time, but a  financial loss like that would have killed my mother.

TheCrash

True story

My father, George Henry Lawrence Oetting Jr. was an intelligent business man. He went to St. John’s University, was a CPA, and was the editor of a local Queens newspaper. He understood how money and finances worked. That’s him in the photo above. I used to think that the screaming woman in the picture was my very melodramatic mother, but I’ve since learned it was a just a family friend. But I do remember that look. Everything was a tragedy for my mother when things didn’t go her way.  Now my father was a newspaper editor, so he was always on top of trends in business and investing opportunities.  He owned 50 shares of stock in a growing company called McDonald’s.  I’m sure that this is why my mother grew obsessed with the cheap burger brand. My father was great with finances. My mother? Not so much. That woman couldn’t handle money to save her life. If you gave her a dollar, she’d spend two! Anyway my father died suddenly when I was young, so he never saw the grand openings of the first NYC McDonald’s in Manhattan. My mother got re-married to her boss a year after my father died. About that time, the first McDonald’s in Queens opened at  13832 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11435. My mother still owned the stocks at the time, and she was there with my stepfather acting like she owned the place because she was a share-holder! I remember there was a guy dressed like Ronald McDonald and he was signing these stuffed Ronald dolls and my mother was buying them for all my cousins. She probably blew $100 that day on food and memorabilia which says a lot considering at the time the burgers were ONLY 30¢ each. Anyhow, a year after that, my step father also died. A year later, my mother was dead broke.  Between 1971 and 1975 she’d lost 2 husbands, 2 houses, the lifetime savings of two men, and those 50 shares of McDonald’s stock, which if I still had them today would be valued at three-to-five million dollars. A fool and their money are soon parted. My mother may have cost me a fortune because of her foolish spending habits, but at least I managed to inherit my father’s good looks and intelligence, and those pay their own unique dividends.  I’d like to believe he’d be impressed and proud of the man I grew up to be. As always I wish you  happiness and success!

A Wall Street Fairy Tale

Is the sky really falling?

chicken

Chicken Little lived in Storybook Land. He had a nice government job working for the King, Mr. T. Chicken Little wasn’t born rich, but he was smart and read a lot. He wanted to be rich someday like his cousin Goose Golden-Eggs. Money just seemed to drop out of Goose. She left a pile of wealth everywhere she sat. It didn’t seem fair that some people were  born rich and had more money than brains, but no one ever said life was fair. Chicken had feathered his nest with Index Funds from the Stock Market. He hoped to have a very nice nest egg when he retired. He always paid attention to what was happening with The Stock Market.

The Stock Market was co-owned  by Mr. Bull and Mr. Bear. No one had seen Mr. Bear in years, not since 2009. No one liked it when Mr. Bear ran the market, but thankfully he only did so about once every seven years, and he never ran it for very long. Mr. Bull did a much better job running the Stock Market and always managed to clean up the mess left by Mr. Bear. He even had a new friend keeping him company on Wall Street,  Fearless Girl who just showed up one day and has hung around with Mr. Bull ever since.

Now Chicken Little was always running home from work each day, because he always wanted to see what the Talking Heads on TV had to say. Everyone in Storybook land watched different Talking Heads. There were many of them and you could always find one you liked. The problem was that they all said something different, so you had to be really careful which ones you listened to. Some of them said some very bad and dumb things, and if you listened to them too much, you grew very sad and jaded, like The Old Witch.

The Old Witch liked to tell everyone how  smart she was because she was very old, and she watched the Talking Heads all day long, so she knew everything. As Chicken Little was passing her home, she waved him over.

“Hi Chicken, did  you hear what my favorite Talking Heads said today?”

“No Witch, I was busy working all day so I could have more money to feather my nest.”

“They said Mr. T the King is an idiot, his son is retarded, and he’s going to destroy the world.”

Chicken Little was aghast! He couldn’t believe anyone would say such terrible things, much less listen to them, so he decided to quickly change the subject.

“Say Witch, you’re old and know everything. What’s the best thing to do with your money? I leave ten percent of  my money in  The Stock Market with Mr. Bull and he takes great care of it.”

“The Stock Market?!” she yelled. “You’d have to be crazy to leave money in the Stock Market. Do you remember the big crash of 1929? Humpty Dumpty lost everything  in the Market and leapt to his death because he was so depressed. Only idiots put their money in the Stock Market. I hide all my extra cash in my mattress,  it’s safer than a bank, and I own a nice house, it’s made of Candy and Chocolate.”

Chicken Little didn’t own a house, he rented a nice apartment with a great view. He eyed her home skeptically. “Isn’t candy bad for you? I heard it makes you fat and gives you diabetes.”

 The Old Witch scowled and gave him an angry look.

“What do you know? You’re not as old as I am, and you’re not as smart. I watch the Talking Heads all day. Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is a bean.  Candy is made with sugar which come from sugarcane. So both come from plants and therefore they are both vegetables and vegetables are good for you. Now scat! I’m busy, my favorite TV show is about to start.”

Chicken Little walked away shaking his head. Next he came to the house of the Pigs.

Practical Pig owned a house made of Gold Bricks. He and his brother Fifer were in the yard gardening as Chicken walked past. He called to them.

“Hey Pigs! I was talking with the Old Witch about money, what do you do with yours?”

“All my money is invested in real estate and precious metals.” replied Practical Pig pointing at his house made of gold bricks. Fifer said nothing, he just smiled. 

Practical was older and smarter than his brother Fifer. Fifer lived with his brother and slept on his couch. Fifer  used to own a house made of sticks. It was built on a foundation of sand, and financed with a ‘Ninja’ loan. It was a variable rate mortgage which inflated quickly. Fifer eventually lost his house of sticks when the housing bubble bust, so now he had to live with his brother.

“Isn’t gold and real estate expensive?” asked Chicken.

“It can be, but everyone has to live somewhere, and gold had never been worthless so both are great investments.”  Practical replied.

Chicken alternated looks between Practical Pig and his homeless brother Fifer.

“Say Practical, do you ever hear from your other brother Fiddler?”

“Oh yeah. I spoke to him on the phone this morning. He just moved into a huge expensive mansion financed by BitCoin and Ethereum. It’s totally built out of Ones and Zeros. I worry about him, some day he’ll be sleeping on my couch too.”

Chicken waved goodbye at the brothers and hurried home to his maintenance-free apartment.

The first thing he did when he got home was to turn on the News to listen to what the Talking Heads were saying about the day’s business news. They were all screaming that the sky was falling because the market plunged nearly 666 points and that it was probably the end of the world.

Chicken Little was so shocked by the news that he passed out!

After he recovered from the shock, he reviewed the various news clips to see why the market fell.

Some of the Talking Heads blamed Mr. T the King  for constantly letting his pet blue birds The Tweets fly free,  and said that he didn’t play well with others. Some of the Talking Heads said the Market Fell because The Wicked Witch of the West was the rightful ruler of Storybook Land and the throne had been stolen from her. A few others blamed it on The Man in the Moon and yelled at the sky. A few blamed the Russians. A few said they had ‘no idea why, it was a mystery.’ A few said it fell because the market fluctuates and it’ll bounce back. Uncle Warren the Wise Wizard of Wall Street said he was going to buy lots of cheap stocks first thing in the morning.  Little Jack Horner  sat in the corner eating his pie. The Cheshire Cat smiled until he faded away,  leaving only his grin. Everyone seemed to react to the news differently.

In the end, Chicken Little checked that his nest was still intact, saw that his index stocks were still up for the year, and discovered that despite what some of the Talking Heads claimed, everything was going to be just fine. He decided to listen to Uncle Warren and pick up a few bargains at the Stock Market, and knew that one day, he too would grow up to be a Wizard of Wall Street.

The End

Fairy Tales were a traditional way to entertain young impressionable minds while at the same time conveying a moral lesson. Even Jesus Christ occasionally turned to parables when trying to covey complex ideas to the crowd. There are lots of individuals who have difficulty understanding  how the economy, the stock market, and even personal finances work.  Throw in politics and religion and people get real confused quite fast.

February 2nd, 2018 marked one of the largest drops of the Dow Jones Industrial Average  since 2009. The thousand point plunge from the prior week’s high probably scared the novice investor to death. It’s not as bad as some of the ‘experts’ are claiming. Investing in stocks still results in far greater returns on investment than real estate, precious metals, or even the dangerous new gimmick, crypto-currencies like BitCoin. I’d stay far away from that last one, when that bubble pops, it’s going to burst loud and hard!

The bottom line is that there are many factors which impact our day to day lives, and just as many pundits, cynics, and fools with opinions. Everyone has an opinion.  It can become quite the task to filter out the many voices and distill all the information to refine a pure source.  What do singers , athletes, and movie stars really know when they speak on a topic? For every one celebrity with an actual college degree, there are at least a hundred who barely even graduated  high school.  Check your sources, check your information, and review your facts before making a decision which could potentially ruin your future happiness. Just because everyone around you is telling you what you want to hear doesn’t mean it’s the truth. You just might be in an echo chamber surrounded by sycophants.   Tread carefully.  As always, I wish you happiness and success!    

Will you be left out in the cold?

Security in your golden years is up to you!

” Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,  yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest..” Proverbs 6:6-8 NIV

Grasshopper

The Grasshopper and the Ant  is one of Aesop’s Fables and draws its origin from Proverbs 6:6-8 in the Bible. Aesop is thought to have been a Greek slave who lived about 600 B.C.  The fable describes how a hungry grasshopper begs for food from an ant when winter comes and is refused. The situation sums up moral lessons about the virtues of hard work and planning for the future.

Cradle to grave– A Ponzi Scheme

Charles Ponzi was an Italian swindler who ran a fraudulent investment  con operation where returns for older investors were funded through revenue paid by new investors. This is by and large how Social Security works.

 The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. In addition to several provisions for general welfare, the new Act created a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after retirement. The Social Security Administration will deny that it is a Ponzi scheme, even going into detail as to why it’s not a Ponzi scheme in one of its publications and again on its website. Social Security is part of a government attempt to provide ‘cradle to grave’ social welfare programs to provide for citizens of the USA. Relying on Social Security to support you in your old age is a terrible idea. It exists solely to provide funds for people too lazy to set aside funds for their retirement, and it will barely be able to cover basic needs. I have personally witnessed my mother and her sisters struggle and fail to make ends meet with Social Security. My mother would have been homeless without me bridging the shortfall left by her $450 a month SSA check the last five years of her life. My last living aunt is 76 and gets a meager $1060 per month.  She is constantly falling behind on the rent. She HAS been homeless, and will probably be again in the near future after alienating most of the family.   

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” – President Ronald Reagan

Your retirement is your business, not the governments!

The 401(k) provision was created in the 1978 Tax Revenue Act,  but went largely unnoticed for two years until Ted Benna, noticed that the tax clause in section 401, subsection (k), did not preclude pre-tax salary reduction when it stipulated that cash or deferred-bonus plans qualified for tax deferral.  It was a creative loophole that eventually led to rise of the 401(k) Plan as a major wealth-generating retirement tool.  Ronald Reagan had made personal saving through tax-deferred individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, a component of his campaign and presidency. (He went on to sign this new interpretation into tax law after he won the 1980 election. ) Payroll deductions for IRAs were allowed in 1981.

In February of 2005 Republican President George W. Bush outlined a major initiative to reform Social Security which included partial privatization of the system, personal Social Security accounts, and options to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into secured investments.  In essence, he wanted to wean the populace off the teat of Social Security and move them into more financially lucrative personal IRAs. Democrats opposed the proposal and after gaining control of both houses following the 2006 Midterm elections, effectively killed the plan for the remainder of Bush’s term in office.  The Democrats created the failure that is Social Security, and they will fight to keep us under its yoke. The path to fiscal independence is paved with the gold bricks of IRAs and 401(k) plans. Countless fortunes have been made by investing in the stock market. No one have ever become wealthy by collecting monthly SSA checks.

IRA vs. 401(k): What’s the difference?  

Both 401(K) plans and IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) allow you to save money in the stock market through tax deferred contributions. Anyone with a job can contribute money to an IRA. You can only contribute money to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan if one is offered by your place of employment. In many cases employers will offer matching contributions. In other words: FREE MONEY. You should commit to contributing 10% of your salary to these plans as soon as you are eligible to enroll, and you should always be sure to contribute enough to  max out the employer match. Again, it’s FREE MONEY! There is no funding match for IRAs. As of January 2018, the maximum employee contribution for 401(k) and similar plans is $18,500. The max for an IRA is $5,500, but if you’re 50 or older you can add another $1000 to that as a catch-up fund.

 Retirement plans offered by employers include:

  • 401(k) plan – a retirement savings plan sponsored by an employer. It lets workers save and invest a piece of their paycheck before taxes are taken out. Taxes aren’t paid until the money is withdrawn from the account.
  • 403(b) plan – also known as a tax-sheltered annuity (TSA) plan, is a retirement plan for certain employees of public schools, employees of certain tax-exempt organizations, and certain ministers. The basic difference is that a 403b is used by nonprofit companies, religious groups, school districts, and governmental organizations. The law allows these organizations to be exempt from certain administrative processes that apply to 401k plans. In other words, administrative costs for a 403b are lower.
  • 457 plan –  a kind of defined contribution retirement plan available to state and local public employees, but can also be offered by certain nonprofit organizations. They work much the same way as 401(k) plans.
  • TSP Plan – Federal employees and members of the uniformed services participate in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a retirement savings plan similar to 401(k) plans offered to private sector employees

Both IRAs and 401(k) plans may be available as ROTHs. Roth IRAs and now the new Roth 401(k)s are named for Delaware Senator William Roth and were established by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. There is no pre-tax savings on these, they are funded by after- taxed income, but they grow tax free.  

IRAs give you the largest number of personal investment choices, they are quite similar to a brokerage fund. 401(k)s tend to limit your investment choices to up to as many as twenty different funds, which may be passive index funds, or actively managed funds which will have periodic fund maintenance fees associated with them which will eat away at your returns.   

EXAMPLE: My company TSP Plan offers 6 funds:

G Fund: Government Securities Investment Fund (no risk bonds)

F Fund: Fixed Income Index Investment Fund – is invested in a separate account that is managed to track the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index

C Fund: Common Stock Index Investment Fund – tracks the Standard &Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Stock Index

S Fund: Small Cap Stock Index Investment Fund – a stock index fund that tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market (TSM) Index.

I Fund: International Stock Index Investment Fund – a stock index fund that tracks the MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.

L Fund: Lifestyle Fund – diversifies participant accounts among the G, F, C, S, and I Funds using professionally determined investment mixes (allocations)that are tailored to different time horizons. The L Funds are rebalanced to their target allocations each business day. The investment mix of each fund adjusts quarterly to more conservative investments as the fund’s time horizon shortens.

The Bottom Line

I have been paying into Social Security since I got my first paycheck at my first job. It’s mandatory. You can’t opt out. I have been actively and intentionally contributing to my company TSP plan since I became eligible. It’s MY option to do so. No one is forcing me to do this. I can check the balances of both programs online. Needless to say, the mandatory government SSA plan which I am forced to pay into has far less in it than my personal TSP plan which I have been overseeing myself.  You will come out far ahead of the rest when you take a hands on approach to your money, and your retirement. A fool and his money are soon parted. Do you want to be wise, or is it your intention to be a fool? It’s your life, it’s your money, it’s your choice. As always I wish you  happiness and success!