Category Archives: dot.com

Economic Growth Does Not Kill People – The Opposite is the Case

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust, noted that members of the elite press are telling the people that they had better get used to slow growth.  That economic growth actually kills people.

Two weekend articles, in major US newspapers, left us shaking our heads. The Washington Post wrote that “economic growth actually kills people,” while The Wall Street Journal published a piece saying, ironically, we should get used to slow growth – it’s normal.

Both are ridiculous.

First, The Washington Post cited statistical studies that blame premature death on economic growth (more pollution, more work and more risk).

The statisticians found that pollution and alcohol were the #1 and #2 causes of death as economic growth accelerated. We couldn’t help but think about the Soviet Union, where pollution and alcoholism were rampant in the 1970s and 1980s, but economic growth was non-existent. Economic growth does not cause pollution; to say it does is a red herring. The air in Boston was much worse in the 1800s when wood-burning fireplaces were used to heat homes. Public health was a serious problem before sewage systems and water purification.

 

 The articles in the Post and the Wall Street Journal try to make the case that Americans need to forget about growth.  Rather, the government should focus on making the social safety net bigger, on rule-making, and making everyone more “equal.”  In fact, we are told that growth is a killer.

Evidence of the opposite exists.  Stagnating wages and loss of jobs in this country has been followed by alcoholism and rampant use of heavy-duty drugs like heroin, leading to an increase in premature deaths in America’s heartland.

There is no reason why the American economic engine cannot be revved up to the benefit of all.

Roughly 70% of the US economy depends on consumer spending.  The return of good paying jobs to communities thoroughly the country would result in a significant surge of economic growth.  And by good paying jobs we are not referring to the jobs created by the internet economy on the East or West Coasts.  The jobs produced by companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet based “infotainment” companies produce great wealth for their creators but no actual consumer product.  What has surprised many economists – but should not have – is that they have not produced nearly the number of jobs that were predicted.  Meanwhile, industries that produce actual goods that people need to live – food, clothing, housing, fuel, medicine, cars – industries that once produced good paying jobs – are being outsourced or automated.

The country needs to focus on this issue or face increasing unrest among people who feel disrespected and marginalized.  Reviving American industries – in America – can be the spark that leads to a better future for everyone.

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The Trend: Fewer “Self-Directed” and More “Advisor-Reliant” Investors

According to Cerulli Associates more households rely on advisors than ever before.

Since 2010, the households classified as “self-directed” investors had shrunk from 45% to 33%, while households termed by Cerulli as “advisor-reliant” investors — regularly consulting with an advisor — had grown from 34% to 43%.  What drives this trend?

I can think of several reasons.  Two that come readily to mind are:

  • the increasing complexity of financial markets and
  • the number of dramatic financial shocks that people have experienced in the last 15 years.

I can remember a time, back in the 20th Century, when “investing” meant calling a well-know investment firm and buying a stock, like General Motors.  Well, good old GM went bankrupt a few years ago and since then about 25,000 mutual funds have appeared.  In addition there are options, derivatives, structured products, and – of course – ETFs (exchange traded funds).  And that’s just here in the good old USA.  But there’s a whole world out there that people can invest in: foreign stocks, foreign funds, world stock funds, emerging markets, commodities, to say nothing of foreign bonds and currencies.

Few people have the time to study all of these, so the rational thing to do is to find a financial advisor to help you make sense of it.

And then there are the financial disasters that decimated many self-direct portfolios.  In the year 2000 the dot-com bubble collapsed, devastating the portfolios of those riding the tech boom.  And who can forget the housing bubble that led to the financial crash of 2008, wiping out some of the major banks and investment firms and ending the dreams of a comfortable retirement for many people?  Professional advice should be concerned with risk control as their first objective, followed by getting a fair rate of return on your invested assets.

During all this time, financial advisors who were once employees of the major investment firms decided that they could best serve their clients by declaring their independence.  They set up their own firms, becoming Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) offering fiduciary services.  That is another development that has helped to make financial advice more accessible to individuals and families, the mom and pops of the investment world.

If you’re one of the shrinking do-it-yourself crowd, check us out and see why you may be much more comfortable with us as your advisor.  And if you are one of those with an advisor but wonder if you could do better, feel free to get a second opinion.  We’re a family firm.  We deal with several generations of families that look to us for guidance.  We look forward to hearing from you.

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It took 15 years, but the NASDAQ is back.

Fifteen years after it soared to its peak at the height of the dot-com era, the Nasdaq Composite Index cruised to a record closing high yesterday.

In the year 2000, the NASDAQ, driven to ridiculous heights by the technology stock bubble (often referred to as the dot.com bubble) collapsed, taking lots of people’s dreams with it.

A spike in stock prices driven by greed collapsed as people fled the technology sector in fear. As an aside, it provided a great opportunity for those who had the courage and skill to find outstanding bargains amidst the rubble.

The tech bubble of the 1990s is a great lesson in investor psychology. When values are driven by hope rather than by reality, people stop being investors and turn into speculators. The sad story of that time is that even mom and pop investors were caught up in the frenzy. And the collapse ruined many plans and some lives.

We read today about how great index investing is. It cheap, it’s effective and it works … until is stops working. Those who bought the NASDAQ index in 2000, if they had the fortitude to stick it out, would have found themselves breaking even after 15 years of being financially under water.

A good investment strategy always looks at risk. We know that “trees do not grow to the sky” and things that look too good to be true … are not. The first rule of making money is not losing it.

Our investment philosophy is focused on risk control. What that means in real terms is that when the market takes one of its periodic tumbles, it won’t take us 15 years to get even.

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