Skip to Content

The Financial Agony of COVID-19: Part II

Five months ago COVID-19 was just getting started. Fear was rampant. People and businesses made rushed decisions with long-term consequences. In the U.S. fewer than 10,000 people had died from the virus, yet fear was many more would die. 

Over concerns clients and readers (that is you my kind friends) would make poor financial decisions, I published an article encouraging caution and recommended people relax, breathe deeply and think before making a decision. By thinking before acting, I felt my people would be in a better position to make decisions that would serve them well. 

Then I watched my readers act and react on social media. The spread of COVID-19 should have run a chill down the spines of any normal human being. But social media does not bring out the “normal” in people. Some over-reacted with the attitude everyone should shelter in place forever. But as always happens, the disease became “normal” as we saw it every day. Before long people wanted to get out and act as if nothing was wrong or that the risk had ended. The middle, sensible, ground somehow lost out. 

It is sad the intelligent solutions lost out. Again, social media was rife with conspiracy theories, questionable remedies and outright lies. Social distancing, washing hands and masks are three simple things everyone can do to slow the spread of the virus until a vaccine can end its rein of terror.

Logic didn’t work 5 months ago, so now I have to get blunt. This is a financial blog so there is a reason for the focus on a medical issue. Your reaction to COVID-19 is a large part of the way you think. If you conduct stupid, risky behavior with your life, you probably do even worse when it comes to money. The best way for me to convey this message is with the good cop/bad cop routine. 

There are two parts to this post. Part 1 is a mild comedy sketch of the facts. In Part 2 we will put it together and pull out meaningful and valuable data you can use. This value will increase your wealth and allow you to live long enough to enjoy it. Remember, Part 1 is dark comedy and not my opinion. I don’t want hate mail before you read the whole story.

The faulty logic used in our dark humor skit is more than a risk to our physical health; it is the same mindset that harms you financially. We actually have people who believe 1,000 or more dead Americans a day isn’t that bad. There are people who think it is okay to carry on as if nothing has changed because only old people suffer the consequences. They forgot their Hemingway: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (For exact quote use the link.) The clock keeps counting for all of us and since I see no old people saying, “I don’t care if young people do stuff that might kill me,” I assume today’s young people will want respectfully behavior from the future’s youth.

Read More about The Financial Agony of COVID-19: Part II

How Much Money Should You Keep in Cash?

Rules of thumb are an easy way to quickly see where you stand financially. Once you reach 25X your spending in liquid net worth (the 4% rule presented as a multiple of spending) you are assumed to have enough to retire under the 4% rule, regardless your age.

However, as we are seeing with the current market turmoil, the simple rule of thumb has one fatal flaw. If you reached your 25X goal a few months ago and decided this was the time to step away from traditional labor, you now face a withdrawal rate from your index funds a third higher than expected. This will reduce the account value early in the distribution phase, lowering the total amount you can get from the investment over your lifetime.

Another rule of thumb is to keep 6 months of spending in cash in case you become unemployed. Under a normal job loss or economic decline this would be a reasonable policy to follow. Unemployment insurance can provide additional cushion to the 6-month cash reserve.

Black Swan events (unexpected negative economic events such as the housing crisis or pandemic) throw the whole rule of thumb out the window. Black Swan events do not happen often, but they do occur every decade or so. Looking back at U.S. history, it seems something always happens every decade to knock the markets lower and slow economic activity. The 2010s are the only decade to avoid that fate and 2020 seems to be making up for the oversight.

Read More about How Much Money Should You Keep in Cash?

The First Real Test of the FIRE and FI Communities

There is an adage on Wall Street many have repeated over the years and more so in the last month:

BUY THE DIP

What so many forget is another Wall Street adage similar to the first:

BUYING THE DIP WORKS UNTIL IT DOESN’T

I have warned this is not over yet so don’t get too excited about buying the first decline.

My opinion is unchanged. Unless something drastic changes, the events put in motion will play out until their logical end (the end all panics end in).

Most readers of my blog have never experienced a prolonged decline in many markets at once. It has been 12 long years since things were really ugly. This will be the first REAL test of the FI and FIRE communities. Unfortunately, most leaders in these communities have also never experienced a real market panic when they had meaningful money invested.

Read More about The First Real Test of the FIRE and FI Communities

How We Are Addressing Climate Change All Wrong

The old story of the frog tossed into boiling water and immediately jumping out comes to mind. With climate change the warming is so gradual (and sometimes welcome) we don’t notice we are getting boiled. Yet the temperature inexorably continues to climb. Like the frog, we will stay in the stew until the meat pulls away from the bone.

Change can be good. And profitable! If only we have the will. Otherwise another kid with a cute message will get a good jab in on Congress thirty years from now when the problem is still unresolved and much worse.

Read More about How We Are Addressing Climate Change All Wrong

Why You Should Rent to Your Business

There are no drawbacks to separating the real estate and business into separate LLCs that I’m aware of. Every attorney I’ve ever spoken with agrees on this. Real estate should never be held inside an S corporation or LLC treated as such. Any tax negatives are easily resolved with elections.

The issues involved with combining real estate and a business under an S corporation are many. Legally you limit your option and put asserts unnecessarily at risk. The tax problems are hard or impossible to resolve without inflicting additional tax pain.

Structured properly your business and assets can enjoy legal protections while basking in the light of lower taxes.

Read More about Why You Should Rent to Your Business

Finding Under-Valued Stocks

Jack Bogle gave us the index fund. Warren Buffett has said most people should put their money into index funds.Personal finance bloggers—especially in the FIRE* community—spout “index fund” like it’s a nervous tick. And you might have noticed this blog has the same nervous tick.Some are worried about all this index fund investing. The concern is index funds will control so much of the market that it will lose its efficiency. I remember the same concerns in the 1990s when I was a stock broker about mutual funds in general, most of which were actively managed.Index funds will not break the market any more than actively managed mutual funds did. For one, there will still be plenty of people investing in individual stocks. And the hedge fund guys will do their share providing liquidity.

Read More about Finding Under-Valued Stocks

The Coming Collapse of China

When the Western economic world collapsed in 2008 there was only one beacon of light: China.

For decades China has grown at nose-bleed speeds and looked like an unstoppable economic miracle. Now the foundations of that miracle are exposed and the house of cards is in peril. Shadow banks and ghost cities are only the tip of the ice berg.

Speculation over the years of fudged official economic numbers coming out of Beijing is starting to haunt the government there. As 2018 came to a close the government reported the slowest growth in 28 years. This was still a bit north of 6%.

Unfortunately, these slower growth numbers are probably a wildly exaggerated lie. Recently, a former chief economist for the Agricultural Bank of China mentioned a report that two recent studies show China’s economy growing at a mere 1.67% and another showing the economy actually declined.

Read More about The Coming Collapse of China

Do You Need an Investment Adviser/Financial Planner?

Once again we see the market throwing a temper tantrum. On the way up it was tempting to handle your investments on your own. Now with the horizon less clear and a modest correction in the books as I write, you wonder if professional help might be worth the extra expense.

Those most knowledgeable about money resist the advice of commissioned (or fee-based) professionals. As everyone know, fees have serious consequences over long periods of time. The lower the fees the more you’ll have 10 years down the road.

But when the market gets schizophrenic confidence in one’s abilities declines. Worse, you can make serious mistakes well in excess of what you would pay a financial professional.

Read More about Do You Need an Investment Adviser/Financial Planner?