“As you can see, we’re experiencing rough air at the moment. But as a reminder, we can’t predict rough air,” said the Delta airline pilot ferrying me from St. Louis to Charleston (via Atlanta—always Atlanta), “so please keep your seatbelts on whenever you are seated.”
Thank you, sir, for giving me precisely the hint of inspiration I needed to frame this week’s note of encouragement while in the midst of one of the crazier market stretches we’ve seen in several years!
DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images
Of course, statistically speaking, this momentary bout of stock market extremism is more the norm than the exception. No, it’s not particularly normal to have thousand-point-up or -down days for the Dow Jones Industrial Index. But volatility—market ups and downs—is, indeed, more normal than, for example, what happened last year.
Did you know that 2017 was one of the least volatile market years in decades? The U.S. stock market was not only up for the year—but for every month of the year—for the first time ever. Who would’ve made that prediction late in 2016, in the middle of the craziest election cycle of my two-score-and-two-year lifespan?
When considering this aberration, I can say with confidence one of the very few market predictions I (or anybody, for that matter) can responsibly make:
The market is more likely to be volatile than not.
What better way to start off the New Year than in New York with the TODAY Show? Despite the 18 below windchill whipping through the city streets, I had a blast with Sheinelle Jones and Craig Melvin discussing the most damaging forms of debt, the top two budgeting apps, the best kinds of checking accounts, how you should respond to market highs–and lows–and how best to stay motivated to turn those financial resolutions into long-term habits!
Click HERE or on the box above to watch the segment.
“I just really wish I’d taken more risk in my investment portfolio,” said no one–ever–on their deathbed.
That may seem like an odd observation, unless you consider the fact that I had the privilege of spending a couple days recently with life planning luminary George Kinder. Among other benefits, I was able to reacquaint myself with his famous three questions, elegantly designed to progressively point us toward the stuff of life that is the most important–to us.
The final question invites us to explore what benchmark life experiences we would leave unaccomplished if we only had one day left on this Earth. And as you may suspect, even in a room filled with financial planners, achieving a more aggressive portfolio posture was, perhaps, the farthest from anyone’s mind.
Meanwhile, most of the items that people did list represented experiences (not things) that, individually, were outside of their to-date unarticulated–but now evident–comfort zones.
Participants almost universally wished they’d have taken more risks in life–personally, educationally, relationally, experientially, professionally and vocationally.
Similarly, those most meaningful experiences they had enjoyed thus far in life were the ones that pushed the boundaries of their comfort zones, expanding their personal risk tolerance.
But what about financial risk tolerance?
Just for fun, Google the words “market pullback.” There are over 2.2 million results–most of them market predictions–and the first page of results is dominated by calls for an imminent market reversal that the simple desk calendar has already proven false.
However, despite their worthlessness, market predictions remain as predictable as market opens and closes. (And I predict no end in sight.)
First, there’s a clear profit motive. Apparent urgency leads to activity, and activity is still how most of the financial services industry makes its money.
“Bullish predictions encourage investors to pour fresh money into the markets, helping asset management companies to enjoy rising profits,” the New York Times reported, noting that the Wall Street forecaster’s consensus since 2000 has averaged a 9.5% increase each year. They accidentally got it (almost) right in 2016, but in 2008, the consensus prognostication missed the mark by 49 percentage points (an outcome that makes your local weatherman seem like a harbinger of accuracy)!
But not everyone’s positive either. My colleague and the co-author of the new book “Your Complete Guide To Factor-Based Investing,” Larry Swedroe, analyzed Marc Faber’s perpetually cataclysmic proclamations and rendered the good doctor “without a clue.”
Much—too much—has been said and written about the relative superiority of Roth IRAs versus Traditional IRAs. The debate over which is better too often involves the technical numerical merits. In truth, the Roth wins in almost every situation because of its massive behavioral advantage: a dollar in a Roth IRA is (almost) always worth more than a dollar in a Traditional IRA. This is true regardless of one’s age, but the Roth IRA is even more advantageous for Millennials.
I must first disclaim that you can disregard any discussion of Roth or Traditional IRA if you’re not taking full advantage of a corporate match in your employer’s 401(k)—free money is still better than tax-free money. But after you’ve “maxed out” the match in your corporate retirement account, here are the top three reasons Millennials should consider putting their next dollar of savings in a Roth IRA:
1) Life is liquid, but most retirement savings isn’t.
Yes, of course, in a perfect, linear world, every dollar we put in a retirement account would forevermore remain earmarked for our financial futures. But hyperbolic discounting—and the penalties and tax punishments associated with early withdrawal from most retirement savings vehicles—can scare us away from saving today for the distant future. The further the future, the more we fear.
The Roth IRA, however, allows you to remove whatever contributions you’ve made—your principal—without any taxes or penalties at any time for any reason. Therefore, even though I’d prefer you to generally employ a set-it-and-forget-it rule with your Roth and not touch it, if the privilege of liquidity in a Roth helps you save for retirement, I’m all for it.
Investing is a pursuit best liberated from short-term analysis that tends to mislead more than edify. But 2016 was one of those rare years that provided a lifetime’s worth of education in a brief period.
Here are the three big investing lessons of 2016 that can be applied to good effect over the long term:
1) Discipline works.
January was greeted with panic-inspiring headlines like, “Worst Opening Week in History.” While hyperbolic, the truth in headlines such as these may have been more than enough to scare off investors frustrated by seemingly unrewarded discipline in recent years.
With threats of international instability (Brexit) and domestic volatility (historically wacky election cycle), there were ready reasons to cash in even the most well-conceived investment plan, opting for observer status over participant. But to do so would’ve been a huge mistake.
Indeed, the S&P 500 logged an impressive 11.9% for the year, with small- and value-oriented indices pointing even higher.
American retirees are screwed. The 401(k) experiment has failed. Social Security’s going bust. Savers haven’t saved nearly enough and don’t have the means to improve the situation.
However hyperbolic, this is the message that has been sent and, for many, is indeed the way it feels. But how do the facts feel?
- Many companies have abdicated the role they once played in helping support employees’ retirements through defined benefit pension plans by promoting and then under-supporting defined contribution plans, like the 401(k).
- Most pensions that remain — even those run by states and municipalities — are “upside down,” lacking sufficient funds to pay what they’ve promised. The entity conceived to insure underfunded pension plans is also underfunded.
- Some large financial firms have filled many of the 401(k) plans they manage with overpriced, underperforming funds, and offered little in the form of substantive education for the masses now left to their own devices.
- After a six-year effort to ensure that financial advisors who manage retirement assets would be required to act in the best interests of their clients, there’s a corporate and political movement afoot for firms to reclaim potential lost profits if they were forced to do right by their clients.
- Even some of the individuals who initially conceived the 401(k) concept and lobbied for it have recanted their support, regretting it ever started.
Social Security Facts:
- The program intended only to be a safety net has become the primary financial resource in retirement for too many.
- The surplus funds received when the huge baby boomer generation paid in — which are now being used to help replace the inherent shortfall of smaller generations — are projected to run out in 2034, thereby reducing the system’s ability to pay benefits by 25 percent.
There — how does that feel, now?
We’ll know soon enough who America chooses as its next president, but the market has already voted.
Who does the stock market “want” to win?
Hillary Clinton. This isn’t a partisan statement, but simply a statement of fact. There may be several indicators to which we could point, but the glaring one is this: When the FBI announced last Friday that a new slew of emails had been discovered that could impact its investigation and shed further negative light on Clinton’s handling of classified emails, the market sold off. Period.
But why? Is the market more Democrat than Republican?
No. In fact, you may recall the George Bush/Al Gore recount in 2000, when the market seemed to cheer in Bush’s favor. But what the market really doesn’t like is unpredictability, and it has asserted its opinion that Donald Trump is a more unpredictable candidate than Clinton.
You’re no fool. But let’s imagine for a second that a major public figure said something—something false—over and over (and over) again. Regardless of its questionable veracity, is there a chance you’d be more likely to believe the proclamation simply because you’ve heard it often and recently?
Like it or not, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”
You and I are more likely to believe something is true when it’s readily available—that is, when we’ve heard it frequently and, especially, when we’ve heard it lately. This phenomenon is dubbed the “availability heuristic,” and even though it was discovered and named (by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman) more than 40 years ago, it likely hasn’t caught on in the broader public awareness because its title includes the word “heuristic.”
Nonetheless, the availability heuristic’s power to persuade is not lost on marketers, salespeople, lobbyists and politicians. They use it on us all the time. But let’s explore the errant biases in investing, in particular, that while readily available often lead to sub-optimal outcomes.
Active vs. Passive
The debate rages (and no doubt will continue to do so) over whether active stock pickers are able to beat their respective benchmark indices. The implications seem simple: If fee-charging money managers aren’t persistently outperforming their benchmarks, we likely should not be paying them for underperformance, right?
It’s that time of year again, where the heat of summer recedes, sweatshirts make a comeback and businesses lose billions in flagging productivity due to fantasy football. But it’s not just businesses losing out—fans and players come up short as well.
How, after all, can I truly dedicate myself to rooting fully for my beloved Baltimore Ravens if I took Le’Veon Bell—who, for those not acquainted with the best rivalry in football, plays running back for the Steelers—second in the fantasy draft? It can’t be done. It’s just wrong.
I’m kidding, right?
Partly. But there are more serious personal and financial implications to embracing fantasy (sports or otherwise). The danger in fantasy is its distance from reality. It’s “betting on a future that is not likely to happen,” according to Psychology Today.
Our fantasies tend to sensationalize what we’d prefer to imagine while ignoring what we’d prefer to not. Then, when our actual spouse, child, parent, friend or co-worker falls short of the impossibly high bar we’ve set for them, we—and often, they—are crushed.
“Emotional suffering is created in the moment we don’t accept what is,” says Eckhart Tolle, who, perhaps unintentionally, delivers a potent dose of truth that especially informs us in our personal dealings with money.
Here are a handful of financial fantasies, followed by their unvarnished truths: