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The Fuzzy Math Behind COVID-19: Part I

Fear is the most powerful weapon in war. Hitler deployed buzz bombs against London in an attempt to destroy resolve and heighten fear during World War II. It nearly worked, if not for the even greater resolve of the British people and their leader, Winston Churchill. 

Fear is such a powerful weapon that nations will go to great lengths in war to manipulate the news reaching the people. During World War I, only Spain had a reliable free press reporting the deadly flu ravaging troops and populations. No army wanted the world to know they were taking heavy causalities from what would later be called the Spanish Flu. Yet every nation, on the battlefield and at home, were taking a hard hit from the disease. The U.S. was particularly hard hit. But when the absence of daily news on the deadly flu was only to be found in Spain, it was felt it the virus originating there. The truth was far from it.

Today we are facing a similar, though less deadly, threat, and the disinformation machine is in high gear. This time the media seems to want fear cranked to the highest level.

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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.

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Hidden Treasure in Altria*

I don’t know if Warren Buffett could actually deliver on his promise of 50% annual gains. I do know that arbitrage is an excellent way to spike your investment returns.

A Peter Lynch style review of Altria reveals massive unrealized value. It is easy to forget Altria is more than cigarettes. There is a dash of wine in the portfolio, non-combustible tobacco products, Juul, Anheuser Busch inbev NV (BUD), Cronos (CRON) and on! Nicotine Pouches in the product line as well. 

Let’s take an impossibly negative approach to Altria and see if the company survives or is loaded with large hidden treasures. 

For starters, let’s value Juul at zero. I know, I know. It is worth at least something, but we take no prisoners around here when we tally up a business’s valuation under a worst case scenario. 

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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.

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Where to Invest Your Money When the Stock Market is Overpriced

The stock market is in nose bleed territory and doesn’t seem to want to stop climbing. Economic risks are everywhere. Debt levels are high, interest rates are climbing, a trade war is breaking out and the market valuations are at near record high levels.  In times like these investors get scared. The bull market is long in the tooth and “due” for a serious correction. But then again, using a gambling term might not be the best choice when investing your money.

It is rare when a client doesn’t ask me where to invest their excess funds. Virtually every client wants to pull money from the market but doesn’t know where to put the proceeds. Lump-sum payments and accumulated cash in money market accounts cause concern when the stock market would have been a much better choice.

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Could We Get a Single Digit P/E Ratio?

Recent volatility and decline in the broad markets in the U.S has people wondering if the correction returned the market to typical valuations. There are several tools used to measure the market’s value. One of the most widely used is the price/earnings (P/E) ratio, derived by dividing a stock’s price by its trailing twelve months (TTM) earnings.

The P/E ratio on the S&P 500 stands at 24.46 as I write (February 11, 2018). The ratio has been above 20 since early 2015.

When you take long periods of market data and shake them together you end up with an average P/E somewhere in the mid-teens. There is no hard and fast rule stating what a fair or reasonable P/E should be though plenty of opinions exist.

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The Real Reason the Stock Market is Going Up

After nine years of steady growth in the economy and stock market both indicators have taken a sharp turn north. Economic stimulus in the form of tax cuts in an already good economy holds the possibility of destabilizing the whole economic structure.

There is ample concern over the staying power of the advancing stock market. Valuations are at or near record highs in all measures. All news seems to be good news. Predictions for future gains have reached nosebleed territory.

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