Building your nest egg and managing it successfully takes more work than it did six years ago, but it isn’t a Sisyphean task. You can build a portfolio that will last the rest of your life.
Waiting for the political class to come to its senses is futile.
In 2008, Bloomberg reported:
“The S&P 500 slid 60.66 points … extending its 2008 tumble to 32 percent in the market’s worst yearly slump since 1937. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 508.39, or 5.1 percent, to 9,447.11, giving it a 29 percent retreat in 2008 that would also be the worst in 71 years.”
Cut to the Fed’s economic rescue mission: anyone considering retirement found himself in bizarre world. Traditional, conservative investment options were wiped off the map. Millions of investors had no choice but to make drastically riskier investments and hope for the best. Which begs the question: Who was the Fed rescuing? Certainly not seniors and savers!
The recent book by John Mauldin and Jonathan Tepper, Code Red: How to Protect Your Savings from the Coming Crisis, confirmed my suspicion: the government forced us into this position by design. The authors write:
“Negative real rates act like a tax on savings. Inflation eats away at your money, and is in effect a tax by the (unelected!) central bankers on your hard-earned money. … Negative real rates force savers and investors to seek out riskier and riskier investments merely to tread water. … In fact, Bernanke openly acknowledges that his low interest-rate policy is designed to get savers and investors to take more chances with riskier investments. The fact that this is precisely the wrong thing for retirees and savers seems to be lost in their pursuit of market and economic gains.”
No wonder the stock market came back so quickly! Where else were seniors and savers going to go? Zero-interest-rate policy (ZIRP) means the yield on our safe CDs or Treasury bonds is negative, when inflation is factored in: we’re becoming poorer every day. Code Red tells us, “In a ZIRP world … savers are screwed.”
Hey, we get the point; we live it every day. There’s seemingly nowhere to go for ultra-safe yield. No matter how hard the government propaganda machine tries to convince us that happy days are here again, we know better.
The Federal Reserve has been telling us what to expect for the next several years.
In November 2013, Bloomberg reported:
“Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the Fed will probably hold down its target interest rate long after ending $85 billion in monthly bond buying, and possibly after unemployment falls below 6.5 percent.”
We are the targets. We are tired of inflation confiscating our life savings and damaging our standard of living. Our very economic survival requires a proactive stance.
Pushed by the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy, investors have poured billions into the stock and bond markets, creating a bubble.
The market is not trading on fundamentals. Savvy investors know the market is on thin ice, and as each passing month brings more treasury debt being bought by the Federal Reserve – , the ice gets thinner. But what is the alternative? Hope we are smart enough to get out ahead of everyone else when the bubble bursts? It’s as though the market has a hair trigger.
Look what happened when, in the summer of 2013, Chairman Bernanke hinted at “tapering.”
ShareCast tells us (emphasis in original):
“America’s three key US equity benchmarks ended the trading day firmly lower… after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled that the central bank could taper its quantitative easing program…
The Dow Jones Industrial Average contracted by 206 basis points to end the day at 15,112 while the Nasdaq Composite slid 39 basis points to 3,443 and the S&P 500 dropped by 23 basis points to 1,629.”
Talk about a hair trigger! He barely got those words out of his mouth before the market tanked. But this became a blessing for those who choose to look at reality. The Federal Reserve has now resorted to a much softer message in order to calm the markets. While they have decreased their rate of tapering, the fact remains they are still buying up $780 billion in US debt. Many pundits are already predicting that, by mid summer, the Fed will pause their tapering as they realize the economy is not as strong as they may think. We are a long way from having the market trade on business fundamentals.
How to Win in the New World Order
Some pundits suggest riding it out with a portfolio of the biggest, safest worldwide companies. After all, these companies have stayed in business through good and bad times and continued to pay their dividends. However, in a strong outgoing tide, even the best companies can take a beating.
If Bernanke’s comments can spook the market so easily, how can we expect investors to “hang in there” when the real bubble bursts? Can we count on a downturn of only 32%, as it was in 2008? Or will it be worse? Can we count on the market recovering in five short years? How long can investors hang on, hoping their stocks will come back?
The Dow peaked in September 1929 and didn’t fully recover until November 1954. Hang on for 25 years? Maybe younger folks can do that, but it’s much too risky for baby boomers and retirees.
Here’s my take-home statement: there is a better way.
The Lay of the Land
Let’s quickly review potential ways to invest.
- Fixed-income investments alone will not do the job. Why tie up money for the long term when those investments are guaranteed to lag behind inflation?
- Bonds have appreciated tremendously as interest rates tumbled. Should interest rates rise—which they will—our interest income will be overshadowed by losses in the share prices of the bonds in the aftermarket. Then we would have to hold the long-term bonds at below market interest rates or sell them at a loss; I’m not in love with either option.
- The stock market is trading less on fundamentals and more on stimulus; it’s in a bubble and could easily collapse, and quickly. When everyone decides it’s time to head for the exits and beat the other guy, the computer trading platforms will not only put in sell orders, but also take massive short positions.
Margin debt is now at an all-time high; margin calls will trigger, and brokers will automatically sell from clients’ accounts to bring their margin back into balance. With computer trading, this could all happen in a matter of minutes… if not seconds.
Here’s how Code Red sums it up:
“If the government benefits from stealth taxes (meaning inflation), then who is the loser? … The biggest losers are savers and older people who rely on savings. Try retiring at 60 at today’s interest rates and watch as your buying power slowly erodes as you get older. It is down close to 25% in just ten years. But your taxes and fixed expenses will have gone up! … The Fed is not going to change its policy to help retirees and pension funds, so older people are left to fend for themselves. …
When central bankers give us words to describe their financial policies, they tell us exactly what they want their words to mean, but rarely do they tell us exactly the truth in plain English. They think we can’t handle the truth.”
Who Is Screwed?
Three groups will be hurt. The first group will be those who don’t realize that the old ways of doing things no longer work and actually make things worse. Regular readers are familiar with the old “100 minus your age” rule. If you were 65, then 65% of your portfolio went in CDs and Treasuries, or so the story went. Try that today and watch your buying power vaporize by the hidden inflation tax!
The second group is those who go all in to the market. Their rationale is that stocks have outperformed other investment classes over the long term. This group will fly high while the Fed keeps them propped up, but will be taking huge risks when everyone tries to get out at the same time. With retirement money, you shouldn’t bet the farm hoping the market will recover quickly.
And finally, the third group is anyone who doesn’t see the writing on the wall and fails to take immediate, appropriate action. Unfortunately, this includes a lot of people.
So What Can Income Investors Do?
There are a number of solid investments out there that offer good return, with a minimal amount of risk exposure and that won’t move because of an arbitrary statement by the Fed. It’s not always easy to find them, but there is hope for people wondering what to do now that all of the old adages about retirement investing are no longer true.
There are three important facets of a strong portfolio: income, opportunities and safety measures. Miller's Money Forever helps guide you through the better points of finance, and helps replace that income lost in our zero-interest-rate world – with minimal risk.
Pre-crash, if an investor bought a CD at the prevailing rate, and then interest rates rose during that period, he would not lament his loss in net asset value. He would be satisfied with the interest, and when his CD matured, he would buy another one at the current rate. So why do we look at bond funds, see our net asset value go down, and worry? Because most bond funds are always busy selling, baking in those losses along the way.
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