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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Streams of Income

It’s bad enough to initially depend on just one source of income, but it’s even worse to not invest it or diversify it such that you protect it over time. In other words, there is more than one way to diversify your income.

(1) You can diversify your sources of income so that you have, say, two or three jobs
(2) You can diversify the ways in which you earn income

It’s better to go with the second option, even though, strictly speaking, it can be considered a version of the first.

You can work three jobs if you want. That will definitely give you three different sources of income. If you get laid off at one place, you’ll still have the other two jobs. It’s great to keep your options open, after all. Maybe you’re moving up at one place and you want to give it some time.

But working three jobs is really no different than just working more hours at the same job. You’re still a rat running on the wheel – just a bigger wheel, and you’re running faster, or for a longer period of time, and you get a bigger piece of cheese to take home.

What you really need to do is slowly outsource your own income stream.

Progressively safer streams of income

1. Invest in high yielding dividend stocks that grow their dividends yearly.
2. Reinvest a portion of the dividends into more high-yield stocks.
3. Use the other portion to pay current bills (and debt servicing if you have it)
4. Repeat by reinvesting proceeds into a different asset class: real estate with cashflow.
5. Repeat by reinvesting remainder of RE cashflow into another class: a business of your own, for example.

You may want to change the exact order and the benchmarks at which you would buy an investment property, for example, but the idea is generally the same. Protect your investment income by diverting it into different asset classes with (ideally) less risk.

Your day job is the most risky form of income. Not only do you have just one, but you have to pay with your time and energy just to get a return. You need to take that most highest level of risky income and lock it in to less risky streams, like dividends. I think these are actually less risky than starting a business on the side, because that’s just going to take up more of your precious energy in the beginning. Some can do it – for various reasons. I think starting a business is an excellent idea, but I think you can get more leverage in the beginning with juicy dividend growers.

On this model, the more that your day job kills you, the more you should try to save as much of that money as possible and convert it into another, less taxing, source of income. Do the same with your high-yield stocks. Precisely because they are high-yield (especially if the payout ratio is high, or they’re high yielding because of a recent price drop), you’ll want to redirect those dividends into forms of money with less velocity, like the money market or a bond fund. Then I’d get out of the corporate sphere altogether and create my own source of cashflow by buying an investment property and renting it out.

If you have enough income right now, perhaps you can skip these steps and just purchase your rental property right away. But the idea is the same. Recycle that money into a system that can be set on automatic, but wherein your money cycles through progressively lower levels of risk (you can do the work to determine the order of risk for each opportunity). Once that’s done you can focus on how to increase it the velocity of these cycles of money

Friday, November 5, 2010

the bottom line on money printing

So, here’s the bottom line on money printing, or QE if you prefer. If nothing happens, the whole thing was a waste of time. If inflation takes off, the Fed will have to choose between holding bonds and letting inflation get worse or selling bonds and going bankrupt in the process. Since no entity goes down without a fight, the Fed will naturally hold the bonds and let inflation take off. Do not ask about the exit strategy from QE; there is no exit.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Do you need to build a portfolio that will generate cash?

Are you more concerned with paying your bills and having enough income than growing richer?

If so, you need to focus on something called income investing.

This long-lost practice used to be popular before the great twenty-year bull market taught everyone to believe that the only good investment was one that you bought for ten dollars and sold for twenty.

Although income investing went out of style with the general public, the discipline is still quietly practiced throughout the mahogany paneled offices of the most respected wealth management firms in the world.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Root of All Evil

Is the love of money the root of all evil? Or, is it the ignorance of money?

What did you learn about money in school? Have you ever wondered why our school systems do not teach us much—if anything—about money?

Is the lack of financial education in our schools simply an oversight by our educational leaders?

Or is it part of a larger conspiracy?

Regardless, whether we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, child or adult, retired or working, we all use money.

Like it or not, money has a tremendous impact on our lives in today's world.

At investingforincome.com we believe that all can live a properous life if we just save and invest in income producing assets.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fundamentals are Not the Fundamentals

If it is, then, primarily newly printed money flowing into and pushing up the prices of stocks and other assets, what real importance do the so-called fundamentals — revenues, earnings, cash flow, etc. — have? In the case of the fundamentals, too, it is newly printed money from the central bank, for the most part, that impacts these variables in the aggregate: the financial fundamentals are determined to a large degree by economic changes.

For example, revenues and, particularly, profits, rise and fall with the ebb and flow of money and spending that arises from central-bank credit creation. When the government creates new money and inserts it into the economy, the new money increases sales revenues of companies before it increases their costs; when sales revenues rise faster than costs, profit margins increase.

Specifically, how this comes about is that new money, created electronically by the government and loaned out through banks, is spent by borrowing companies.[7] Their expenditures show up as new and additional sales revenues for businesses. But much of the corresponding costs associated with the new revenues lags behind in time because of technical accounting procedures, such as the spreading of asset costs across the useful life of the asset (depreciation) and the postponing of recognition of inventory costs until the product is sold (cost of goods sold). These practices delay the recognition of costs on the profit-and-nloss statements (i.e., income statements).

Since these costs are recognized on companies' income statements months or years after they are actually incurred, their monetary value is diminished by inflation by the time they are recognized. For example, if a company recognizes $1 million in costs for equipment purchased in 1999, that $1 million is worth less today than in 1999; but on the income statement the corresponding revenues recognized today are in today's purchasing power. Therefore, there is an equivalently greater amount of revenues spent today for the same items than there was ten years ago (since it takes more money to buy the same good, due to the devaluation of the currency).
"With more money being created through time, the amount of revenues is always greater than the amount of costs, since most costs are incurred when there is less money existing."

Another way of looking at it is that, with more money being created through time, the amount of revenues is always greater than the amount of costs, since most costs are incurred when there is less money existing. Thus, because of inflation, the total monetary value of business costs in a given time frame is smaller than the total monetary value of the corresponding business revenues. Were there no inflation, costs would more closely equal revenues, even if their recognition were delayed.

In summary, credit expansion increases the spreads between revenue and costs, increasing profit margins. The tremendous amount of money created in 2008 and 2009 is what is responsible for the fantastic profits companies are currently reporting (even though the amount of money loaned out was small, relative to the increase in the monetary base).

Since business sales revenues increase before business costs, with every round of new money printed, business profit margins stay widened; they also increase in line with an increased rate of inflation. This is one reason why countries with high rates of inflation have such high rates of profit.[8] During bad economic times, when the government has quit printing money at a high rate, profits shrink, and during times of deflation, sales revenues fall faster than do costs.

It is also new money flowing into industry from the central bank that is the primary cause behind positive changes in leading economic indicators such as industrial production, consumer durables spending, and retail sales. As new money is created, these variables rise based on the new monetary demand, not because of resumed real economic growth.

A final example of money affecting the fundamentals is interest rates. It is said that when interest rates fall, the common method of discounting future expected cash flows with market interest rates means that the stock market should rise, since future earnings should be valued more highly. This is true both logically and mathematically. But, in the aggregate, if there is no more money with which to bid up stock prices, it is difficult for prices to rise, unless the interest rate declined due to an increase in savings rates.

In reality, the help needed to lift the market comes from the fact that when interest rates are lowered, it is by way of the central bank creating new money that hits the loanable-funds markets. This increases the supply of loanable funds and thus lowers rates. It is this new money being inserted into the market that then helps propel it higher.

(I would personally argue that most of the discounting of future values [PV calculations] demonstrated in finance textbooks and undertaken on Wall Street are misconceived as well. In a world of a constant money supply and falling prices, the future monetary value of the income of the average company would be about the same as the present value. Future values would hardly need to be discounted for time preference [and mathematically, it would not make sense], since lower consumer prices in the future would address this. Though investment analysts believe they should discount future values, I believe that they should not. What they should instead be discounting is earnings inflation and asset inflation, each of which grows at different paces.)

Excerpt From Ludwig Von Mises Institute

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Who Should Manage Your Money? Only You!

The typical stockbroker went from selling shoes or cars to hustling stocks after passing the exam.

Your financial future is not his or her concern; generating sales commissions is. Of course there is plenty of free advice out there, from Jim Cramer to Suze Orman. But, you will likely get what you pay for.

Finding good investments is very hard work. Buying them at the right price is even harder work. Having the patience to buy at the right time and sell at the right time is nearly impossible.

Your best bet is to invest in companies that pay monthly distributions. At least this way you get paid to ride things out or to recover your capital if your investment was poorly timed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Forced Investing

As we have seen, the whole concept of rising asset prices and stock investments constantly increasing in value is an economic illusion. What we are really seeing is our currency being devalued by the addition of new currency issued by the central bank. The prices of stocks, houses, gold, etc., do not really rise; they merely do better at keeping their value than do paper bills and digital checking accounts, since their supply is not increasing as fast as are paper bills and digital checking accounts.

"An improving economy neither consists of an increasing GDP nor does it cause the overall stock market to rise."

The fact that we have to save for the future is, in fact, an outrage. Were no money printed by the government and the banks, things would get cheaper through time, and we would not need much money for retirement, because it would cost much less to live each day then than it does now. But we are forced to invest in today's government-manipulated inflation-creation world in order to try to keep our purchasing power constant.

To the extent that some of us even come close to succeeding, we are still pushed further behind by having our "gains" taxed. The whole system of inflation is solely for the purpose of theft and wealth redistribution.

In a world absent of government printing presses and wealth taxes, the armies of investment advisors, pension-fund administrators, estate planners, lawyers, and accountants associated with helping us plan for the future would mostly not exist. These people would instead be employed in other industries producing goods and services that would truly increase our standards of living.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

iShares That Pay Monthly Distributions

IShares that Pay Monthly Distributions

www.investingforincome.com

As an income investor I prefer investments that pay monthly distributions. For those that like exchange traded funds that trade on the TSX I suggest iShares.
Cash distributions for the eleven iShares funds listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange which pay on a monthly basis. Unitholders of record on the second to last business day of the month will receive cash distributions payable on last business day of the month. Details of the "per unit" distribution amounts are as follows:
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Cash
Fund Distribution
Fund Name Ticker Per Unit ($)
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iShares DEX Universe Bond Index Fund XBB 0.09828
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iShares DEX All Corporate Bond Index Fund XCB 0.08879
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iShares Dow Jones Canada Select Dividend Index Fund XDV 0.09638
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iShares S&P/TSX Capped Financials Index Fund XFN 0.07515
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iShares DEX All Government Bond Index Fund XGB 0.06154
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iShares U.S. High Yield Bond Index Fund (CAD-Hedged) XHY 0.13200
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iShares U.S. IG Corporate Bond Index Fund XIG 0.07016
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iShares DEX Long Term Bond Index Fund XLB 0.07347
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iShares S&P/TSX Capped REIT Index Fund XRE 0.05900
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iShares DEX Short Term Bond Index Fund XSB 0.08410
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iShares S&P/TSX Income Trust Index Fund XTR 0.06625
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Great Reflation

The Great Reflation:

The Mother of all Financial Experiments Chuck Prince, the former CEO of Citigroup, who presided over the bank’s collapse, famously remarked in July 2007 that "as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.”

Shortly after, the music stopped, the financial system broke, and Citigroup and other financial behemoths went under.

To rescue the economy and financial system from near‐total meltdown, the government created an unprecedented package of bailouts, stimulus, free money and massive fiscal deficits.

It succeeded, and a 1930s style debt deflation and depression were aborted. Liquidity, on a vast scale was unleashed into the financial system, demonstrating, once again, the power of such flows to drive up the prices of stocks, commodities and other risky assets.

In The Great Reflation we focus on how the authorities pumped air back into the balloon, and got the music playing again. Investors and banks, including Citigroup, are back out on the dance floor.

However, just because the system was saved, doesn’t mean it has been fixed. Why do we say that the system isn’t fixed? The major theme running through The Great Reflation is that we have been living through a multi‐decade period of money and credit inflation that started back in the 1960s when the post‐World War II global monetary system (Bretton Woods) began to break down. The Great Reflation is about this inflation and the consequences of the Act II, which is now unfolding.

From the late‐1960s until 1982 we had out‐of‐control price inflation; after that, a series of asset bubbles and mini‐crashes, leading up to The Big One in 2008‐2009. One of the implications outlined in The Great Reflation is that we continue to live in an age of money and credit inflation and a monetary system that is unanchored and has no brakes. Until that is fixed, monetary inflation and instability will be a way of life.

The great reflation can only be understood properly in this longer‐term context. It is a continuation of what went before, but with two main differences. The first is the sheer magnitude of the reflation this time—by far the biggest in peacetime U.S. history. The second difference is that the governments of the U.S. and other countries have had to transform collapsing private debt into a burgeoning public debt supercycle with projected government debt:GDP ratios heading to the stratosphere.

This effort to reflate—pump air back into the balloon—had to be on a scale at least as large as the bubble itself. It is an experiment never before attempted in the context of U.S. experience, and it will have consequences unlike anything seen before.

No one knows exactly where the great reflation is going, what is going to happen, and what the end point will be like. However, there are some things we do know. When new money is created on a grand scale, it must go somewhere and have some major consequences. One of these will be greatly increased volatility and instability in the economy and financial system compared with the roller‐coaster ride of the past 15 years when the private credit bubble was forming.

The Roller‐Coaster

It is critical for investors to understand that there has been a linked sequence of events since the 1960s that lead to the disaster of 2008‐2009. In particular, over the past 15 years, we experienced first the tech bubble, followed by a crash, then the recession and deflation of 2000‐2002.

Next came the Federal Reserve’s first effort at massive reflation to avoid a debt collapse. This led to new bubbles—in housing, exotic new financial products, commodity prices, energy, and world food markets. They were financed by an unprecedented credit bubble that was unsustainable. When the bubble burst, debt levels were much higher and more precarious than ever. In 2008‐2009 asset prices were crushed, causing the collateral behind the debt to evaporate. That, in turn, is what triggered the mother of all reflation experiments.

This sequence of events has an ominous undertone. The great reflation effort has clearly given the economy a big boost, just as the preceding one did but it is very artificial, based on free money and unprecedented fiscal deficits and subsidies to spending.

Extrapolation of this out‐of‐control roller coaster suggests more bubbles in the short run. Hot markets have already begun forming in such things as commodities, gold, and world stock markets.

There are many assets that could be recipients of the new money created. However, a warning for investors: We don’t believe another inflation of asset prices will last as long as the previous one for several reasons. Private debt has been pushed to the limit; government debt will be pushed to the limit in a few more years; the U.S. dollar, as the world’s main reserve currency, will not be able to withstand open‐ended monetary and fiscal reflation; and finally, the world economy is too fragile to withstand another spike in energy and food prices which will certainly occur if monetary inflation continues.

The great reflation, if left unchecked, will run into a brick wall in the next few years, and another credit implosion and deep recession will occur. The result will be even bigger budget deficits and lower economic growth. Logic says that if the recent crisis was caused by excessive money and credit inflation, even more of the same should cause an even bigger crisis. The ultimate end point to this trend is
worrisome, to say the least.

The Engine of Inflation Inflation is the biggest enemy of investors in the long run. However, in the short term, inflation in its early stages is often a wonderful elixir, greasing the wheels of the economy and causing riskier assets like stocks, commodities and corporate bonds to levitate. Euphoria tends to build as people get
richer.

But, it is important to understand that inflation is an undue expansion of money and credit. It can have the effect of raising the prices of things we consume or the prices of assets that we own or want to buy. But those are the symptoms of inflation that, if extreme, tell us that a bust is coming. In the case of rising consumer prices, the central bank ultimately has to raise interest rates and curtail credit. Recession follows. Or, if asset prices rise on the back of credit expansion, debt servicing ultimately becomes unbearable and asset prices—the collateral—start to fall, but debt levels are fixed in the short term. When people can’t service or repay debt, panics and crashes follow, and the risk of a debt deflation and depression rises dramatically.

Too much debt and falling asset prices caused the depression of the 1930s and almost another one in 2008‐2009. One Important reason that debt rose to such extremes, both in 1929 and 2007 was that the monetary system had a built‐in inflationary bias. In the 1920s, it was called the gold exchange standard, whereby countries held both gold and currencies in their reserves. In the post‐1971 world, it was called the floating dollar standard or Bretton Woods II. Countries held mainly dollars in their
reserves. As a result, the U.S. could inflate at will and foreign countries had to buy the excess dollars on the foreign exchange market if they wanted to prevent their currency from rising. In a world of low and falling price inflation, as was the case after 1982, almost all countries want a cheap currency.

This is an important consequence of our flawed monetary system. Countries that buy dollars to keep their currency depressed, experience money and credit inflation. Bubbles result.

When those countries re‐invest their dollars back into the U.S., the U.S. financial markets remain highly expansionary. Lenders keep lending and borrowers keep spending beyond their means. In a fixed exchange rate system in which countries do not hold dollar reserves, a U.S. international payments deficit results in a drain on domestic liquidity until the deficit is corrected. In the current system, the U.S. can inflate and run huge balance of payments deficits with no pain and no mechanism to stop it, other than a financial panic. It is like a fast car with no brakes. Sooner or later a crash occurs.

This fundamental flaw in the international monetary system remains. The combination of this with the unleashing of the great reflation has created a toxic brew. There is little wonder that people fear even greater monetary instability in the future than we have experienced.

When looking for scapegoats to point the finger of blame for the crash, it is natural that people have looked to the appalling performance of the regulators. That is valid, and it is also right to highlight the greed‐driven excesses of lenders and the virtually criminal conflicts of interest of the ratings agencies. But these characteristics—greed, conflict of interest and criminal behavior—are always present when inordinate inflations and manias occur. It is the inflation that is the real villain.

The Long Wave and Deflation The money and credit inflation following the breakdown of the Bretton Woods I system in 1971 originated, we believe, from the deflationary forces of the long wave decline that became quite evident after 1973. The private debt supercycle build‐up and overspending in the 1982‐2007 period caused a countertrend, but artificial, recovery in some long wave economic forces.

Employment, earnings and wealth in industries that benefitted from the credit inflation, such as real estate, the financial industry in general, retail spending, technology (from the 1990s bubble) rose quite strongly, masking the continued downward pressure on capital intensive industries and particularly, but not exclusively, in the capital goods industry itself.

Growing excess capacity resulted. Middle‐class incomes on average continued to erode and the gulf between rich and poor widened dramatically as in the late 1920s.

With the end of the private credit bubble, the long wave decline has resumed its downward course. No one knows how long that will last until the natural, Schumpeterian forces of long‐term renewal take over. This would include the implementation of new technologies and the development of new industries. Our guess is that it could take another five years or so.

Policy and Markets In The Great Reflation, we look at the inflationary causes of the credit bubble and the ensuing crash of 2008‐2009 and the consequences of the massive monetary and fiscal program that was needed to abort an incipient debt deflation like the 1930s. The world, and in particular the U.S., will remain very deflationary for a few more years as the post‐crash stimulus will soon begin to dissipate. The recovery engineered by the authorities will face additional headwinds from the unwinding of the private debt supercycle, the resumption of the long wave economic decline and the coming massive fiscal restraint.

The U.S. and almost all other governments, at both national and lower levels (states, provinces, municipalities, hospitals, etc.) will rein in expenditures and raise taxes. That is the new imperative—no one wants to hit the wall like Greece.

However, massive fiscal restraint also carries risks, just as the lack of restraint causes risks of a different sort. The big issue is whether there exists a middle ground thatcould eventually bring us to stability. That will only be revealed in the fullness of time. Spending and borrowing excesses of governments and the public have a long and dangerous history, suggesting a deeper malaise is affecting the nation. Moreover, there are other serious signs of long‐term decline, and policy and leadership will have to be particularly adroit in steering the U.S. through the difficult few years ahead.

It has been documented that the latter stages of a long wave decline are parochial, nasty and politically unstable. People are fed up with the system, their loss of wealth, jobs, and income. Traditional politicians are blamed. People look for quick and easy solutions and are open to simplistic solutions provided by demagogues. It is difficult to sell the austerity, sound policies and pro‐growth strategies needed to transition through the long wave trough before really big crises occur. Countries in denial face the prospect of repeating Greece’s calamity.

The risk for the U.S. and other countries is that politicians will cater to populist
pressures and impose spending and tax policies that are counterproductive. In the aftermath of the Great Reflation, this could mean more government programs (e.g. health care), failure to raise taxes, where appropriate, out of fear of losing office, and excessive monetary ease because the Treasury bond market cannot absorb government funding on its own.

However, we should avoid the temptation to get too pessimistic. It is important never to underestimate the ability of the U.S. to recover from adversity, rejuvenate itself and get its house in order. Its long‐term track record is pretty good, and realistic hope should not be jettisoned too readily.

The question remains however, as to whether the U.S. needs an economic Pearl Harbour before serious action is taken. Investors have seen empty promises many times before and hence should be sceptical until they see clear, positive evidence that such action is being taken. Until then, they should take the attitude “show me”.

The Investment Challenge The great problem for investors in today’s environment is that there is no return on short‐term, safe assets yet the higher risk levels on longer‐term, higher return assets are too uncomfortable for most people.

They are the single most important force driving investment markets both up and down. Contracting liquidity caused the crash in 2008‐2009 and dramatically expanding liquidity since March 2009 has triggered one of the greatest bull markets in U.S. history. The next bear market will also be driven, at some point, by a contraction in liquidity flows. However, as long as the great reflation is doing its work, that day can be postponed. Chuck Prince, if he were to comment today, would probably point out that the music is playing again. People are back out on the dance floor. But, if the great reflation is as artificial as we believe, then this is still musical chairs. When the music stops, there won’t be a chair for everyone, just like the last time.

Tony Boeckh

Sunday, April 25, 2010

If You Are So Smart Then Why Aren't You Rich?

Are the Rich Smarter Than You?

"Well if you're so damn smart, why aren't you rich?"

I never knew how to respond to this. Still, it ingrained in us the notion that the rich must have a little something extra going on upstairs, otherwise we'd all be rolling in it. Right?

There is, in fact, some evidence to support this.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, there is a strong positive correlation between education and income. Over an adult's working life, high school graduates should expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor's degree, $2.1 million; those with a master's degree, $2.5 million; those with doctoral degrees, $3.4 million; and those with professional de grees, $4.4 million.

But here's the rub: Studies show that those who earn the most aren't necessarily the richest. To determine real wealth, you need to look at a balance sheet - assets minus liabilities - not an income statement.

We generally envision millionaires as Lexus-driving, Rolex-wearing, mansion-owning, Tiffany-shopping members of exclusive country clubs. And indeed, Stanley's research reveals that the "glittering rich" - those with a net worth of $10 million or more - often meet this description.

But most millionaires - individuals with a net worth of $1 million or more - live an entirely different lifestyle. Stanley found that the vast majority:

• Live in a house that cost less than $400,000.
• Do not own a second home.
• Have never owned a boat.
• Are more likely to wear a Timex than a Rolex.
• Do not collect wine and generally pay less than $15 for a bottle.
• Are more likely to drive a Nissan than a BMW.
• Have never paid more than $400 for a suit.
• Spend very little on prestige brands and luxury items.

This is certainly not the traditional image of millionaires. And it makes you wonder, just who the heck is buying all those Mercedes convertibles, Louis Vuitton purses and $60 bottles of Grey Goose vodka?

The answer, according to Dr. Stanley, is "aspirationals" - people who act rich, want to be rich, but really aren't rich.

Many are good people, well educated and perhaps earning a six-figure income. But they aren't balance-sheet rich because it's almost impossible for most workers - even those who are highly paid - to hyper-spend on consumer goods and save a lot of money. (Unfortunately, saving is the key prerequisite for investing.)

In his new book, Stop Acting Rich... and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire, Dr. Stanley recalls an appearance on Oprah when a member of the audience asked the question - one he's heard hundreds of times before:
"What good does it do to have all this money if you don't spend it?" She was angry, indignant even. "These people couldn't possibly be happy."
Like so many others, this woman genuinely believed that the more you spend, the better life is.

Bear in mind, we're not talking about people living below the poverty line. We're talking about middle-class consumers and up who have lived beyond their means and have suddenly found themselves under enormous pressure in a weak economy.
Some were overly optimistic. Others didn't realize that they are up against an army of the best and most creative marketers in the world, whose job it is to convince you that "you are what you buy," that you need to outspend - to out-display - others.

The unspoken message behind the constant barrage of TV and billboard ads featuring all those impossibly good-looking men and women is that you are special, you are deserving, and you need to look and act successful now.

According to Dr. Stanley, "The pseudo-affluent are insecure about how they rank among the Joneses and the Smiths. Often their self-esteem rests on quicksand. In their minds, it is closely tied to how long they can continue to purchase the trappings of wealth. They strongly believe all economically successful people display their success through prestige products. The flip side of this has them believing that people who do not own prestige brands are not successful."

Yet "everyday" millionaires see things differently. Most of them achieved their wealth not by hitting the lottery or gaining an inheritance, but by patiently and persistently maximizing their income, minimizing their outgo and religiously saving and investing the difference.

They aren't big spenders. According to Stanley's surveys, their most popular activities include:

• Socializing with children/grandchildren (95%)
• Planning investments (94%)
• Entertaining close friends (87%)
• Visiting museums (83%)
• Raising funds for charities (75%)
• Attending sporting events (69%)
• Participating in civic activities (69%)
• Studying art (63%)
• Participating in trade/professional association activities (56%)
• Gardening (55%)
• Attending religious services (52%)
• Jogging (48%)
• Attending lectures (44%)

You'll notice the cost associated with these activities is minimal. Most millionaires understand that real pleasure and satisfaction don't come from the car you drive or the watch you wear, but time spent in enjoyable activities with family, friends and associates.

Yet they aren't misers, especially when it comes to educating their children and grandchildren - or donating to worthy causes. Although they are disciplined savers, the affluent are among the most generous Americans in charitable giving.

They "give" in another important way, too. According to the IRS, the top 1% of America's income earners pay 37% of the entire federal income tax bill. The top 5% pay 57%. The top 10% pay 68%. (The bottom 50% pay less than 4%.) It's a far cry from the populist complaint that the rich "don't pay their fair share."
Just how prevalent are American millionaires?

According to the Spectrum Group, there were 6.7 million U.S. households with a net worth of at least $1 million at the end of 2008. Very few of them won a Grammy, played in the NBA or started a computer company in their garage. Clearly, thrift and modesty - however unfashionable - are still alive in some parts of the country.

So while millions of consumers chase a blinkered image of success - busting their humps for stuff that ends up in landfills, yard sales and thrift shops - disciplined savers and investors are enjoying the freedom, satisfaction and peace of mind that comes from living beneath their means.

More often than not, these folks are turned on not by consumerism but by personal achievement, industry awards and recognition.

They know that success is not about flaunting your wealth. It's about a sense of accomplishment... and the independence that comes with it. They are able to do what they want, where they want, with whom they want.

They may not be smarter than you, but they do know something priceless:

It's how we spend ourselves - not our money - that makes us rich.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Age of Inflation

In this age of inflation, we are all forced to do many tasks that others could do better for us. The fact is that inflation impedes the process of civilization, which is brought about by the division of labor. While, without the central bank's continual monetary infusions, prices would gently fall as technology made all things and all people more efficient, we don't enjoy that luxury. Instead we're mowing our own grass, fixing the flappers in our toilet tanks, and managing our own retirement funds.

Now, pushing a mower requires little skill, is no more than an annoyance, and provides the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. But managing one's retirement funds is a different matter entirely. It is an especially cruel result of inflation that instead of simply being able to hoard money, people must "invest their money into the financial markets, lest its purchasing power evaporate under their noses," explains Jörg Guido Hülsmann in The Ethics of Money Production. "Thus they become dependent on intermediaries and on the vagaries of stock and bond pricing." And unfortunately most of us aren't neurologically wired well for the job.
But we can't just throw up our hands and trust the state to take care of us in our golden years. Saving money isn't enough. The state is continually making what you have saved worth less. And unless you're a government employee, most likely you're left with the assignment of making sure you have enough for when emergencies occur or you're unable to work.

The typical stockbroker went from selling shoes or cars to hustling stocks after passing the Series 7 exam. Your financial future is not his or her concern; generating sales commissions is. Of course there is plenty of free advice out there, from Jim Cramer to Suze Orman. But, you will likely get what you pay for. Finding good investments is very hard work. Buying them at the right price is even harder work. Having the patience to buy at the right time and sell at the right time is nearly impossible.

Austrian business-cycle theory can give investors ideas on when to invest and what to invest in, but the Austrian School provides little in the way of analyzing specific companies and stock prices. What Hayek and Mises are to the business cycle, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd are to value investing. In their famous treatise, Security Analysis, Graham and Dodd painstakingly lay out their method for valuing stocks, looking for deeply depressed prices.

"Saving money isn't enough. The state is continually making what you have saved worth less."

While the average amateur investor may be excellent in their own career field, it doesn't mean they know what to invest in, or how to pick stocks. In fact being very good at your field can give you the false sense that whatever stocks you pick or your broker picks for you must be good, because after all, you picked them and you picked your broker — and you're smart. So, no doubt those stock prices will go up.

But the smart and talented stock-picking neophyte is not investing at all but speculating. "An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis promises safety of principal and an adequate return," Ben Graham wrote. "Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative." The vast majority of people just don't have the time or possess the patience to thoroughly analyze an investment opportunity. In The Millionaire Next Door, authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko point out that the average person tends to spend more time on purchasing a car than on looking at potential appreciating investments.

So for those who are interested in accumulating wealth and willing to put the time and hard work toward that end, Joseph Calandro, Jr. has masterfully melded the work of Graham and Dodd with Austrian business-cycle theory. The result is a very readable how-to guide for value investing, aptly named Applied Value Investing: The Practical Application of Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffet's Valuation Principles to Acquisitions, Catastrophe Pricing and Business Execution.

One can see by the title that the book is not for someone looking to take the next step after Stock Investing For Dummies, but it's not the handful that the title implies. The beauty of Calandro's work is that he teaches value investing through case studies. The reader can follow along while the author does his own valuations of Sears, GEICO, and General Re. These of course are not made-up theoretical cases, but real-life deals made by value investors Eddie Lambert and Warren Buffett.

Calandro first provides the reader with the basics of Graham and Dodd valuation in order to be "approximately right rather than precisely wrong." The author does this by valuing Delta Apparel, Inc., as a potential investment in 2002. When his analysis indicated that Delta was undervalued, Calandro bought Delta stocks and immediately offered to resell them at a fairer, higher price. This exercise is all about making money, not falling in love with stocks and their stories.

Much of Graham and Dodd's analysis is in assigning different valuations to balance-sheet items to determine what the real value of a company is beyond the accounting. This requires much more art than science.

"Finding good investments is very hard work. Buying them at the right price is even harder work. Having the patience to buy at the right time and sell at the right time is nearly impossible."

A couple of reviewers of Applied Value Investing have taken Calandro to task for the assumptions he makes in his case studies. Although the author doesn't provide much explanation of many of his assumptions, readers should understand that the talent of investing comes through experience and training. Reading one book will not provide all the answers, but Calandro does give us a roadmap. Investors must still make their own judgments.

These reviewers may not have made it to the book's conclusion, where the author reminds us that applied value investing is all about "identifying what you know and what you do not know, and then taking steps to quantify what you do know in a conservative yet rigorous manner so that a disciplined valuation can be formulated."
In chapter 5, the author draws upon an article he wrote for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics to give the reader/investor insights into the best times to buy and sell from a macro perspective. He breaks the business cycle into eight stages by "synthesizing [George] Soros's boom–bust model, Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT), and behavioral characteristics."

In an interesting appendix to the chapter, Calandro writes of Warren Buffett's criticism of the efficient-markets hypothesis (EMH), which is the Rational Expectations School of the investing world. EMH posits that prices on assets traded in the market already reflect all available information. The Oracle of Omaha refuses to donate money to his alma mater, Columbia, because of the school's research in the area of EMH.

After applying Graham and Dodd valuation to make a catastrophe valuation, the author applies his tools to firms' business strategies. Next he circles back and discusses the important aspects of each layer of value-investing analysis, emphasizing that the key to long-term success is "research, checking, rechecking and cross-checking of assumptions."


To conclude, the author tells the reader to ignore economists shilling for newspapers, TV shows, political parties, the government, or financial institutions. Calandro quotes renowned Fidelity Fund manager Peter Lynch, who said, "If you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you've wasted 10 minutes." However, Calandro recommends, in addition to a number of other books, Murray Rothbard's America's Great Depression, Roger Garrison's Time and Money, Ludwig von Mises's The Theory of Money and Credit, and other Austrian titles. With all due respect to Peter Lynch, Mises — a real economist — wrote that economics "concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen."

And while the practice of value investing the Graham and Dodd way is more prudent than throwing money at that stock tip you overheard at the bar the other night, always remember what Mises wrote in Human Action: "There is no such thing as a nonspeculative investment.… In a changing economy action always involves speculation. Investments may be good or bad, but they are always speculative."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Investing for Income Rethink

For many years we have been taught that our investments should be split between stocks and bonds. Stocks for growth, and bonds for income. With extreme volatility in the stock markets in recent years and record low interest rates on bonds, many investors have questioned their asset mix.

Investors are increasingly looking for alternative income-generating investments, that give more than the meager returns on bonds and GIC's and greater stability than the stock market has given them.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Financial Chaos

John M. Templeton
Lyford Cay, Nassau, Bahamas


June 15, 2005


MEMORANDUM


Financial Chaos – probably in many nations in the next five years. The word chaos is chosen to express likelihood of reduced profit margin at the same time as acceleration in cost of living.


Increasingly often, people ask my opinion on what is likely to happen financially. I am now thinking that the dangers are more numerous and larger than ever before in my lifetime. Quite likely, in the early months of 2005, the peak of prosperity is behind us.


In the past century, protection could be obtained by keeping your net worth in cash or government bonds. Now, the surplus capacities are so great that most currencies and bonds are likely to continue losing their purchasing power.


Mortgages and other forms of debts are over tenfold greater now than ever before 1970, which can cause manifold increases in bankruptcy auctions.


Surplus capacity, which leads to intense competition, has already shown devastating effects on companies who operate airlines and is now beginning to show in companies in ocean shipping and other activities. Also, the present surpluses of cash and liquid assets have pushed yields on bonds and mortgages almost to zero when adjusted for higher cost of living. Clearly, major corrections are likely in the next few years.


Most of the methods of universities and other schools which require residence have become hopelessly obsolete. Probably over half of the universities in the world will disappear quickly over the next thirty years.


Obsolescence is likely to have a devastating effect in a wide variety of human activities, especially in those where advancement is hindered by labor unions or other bureaucracies or by government regulations.


Increasing freedom of competition is likely to cause most established institutions to disappear with the next fifty years, especially in nations where there are limits on free competition.


Accelerating competition is likely to cause profit margins to continue to decrease and even become negative in various industries. Over tenfold more persons hopelessly indebted leads to multiplying bankruptcies not only for them but for many businesses that extend credit without collateral. Voters are likely to enact rescue subsidies, which transfer the debts to governments, such as Fannie May and Freddie Mac.


Research and discoveries and efficiency are likely to continue to accelerate. Probably, as quickly as fifty years, as much as ninety percent of education will be done by electronics.


Now, with almost one hundred independent nations on earth and rapid advancements in communication, the top one percent of people are likely to progress more rapidly than the others. Such top one percent may consist of those who are multi-millionaires and also, those who are innovators and also, those with top intellectual abilities. Comparisons show that prosperity flows toward those nations having most freedom of competition.


Especially, electronic computers are likely to become helpful in all human activities including even persons who have not yet learned to read.


Hopefully, many of you can help us to find published journals and websites and electronic search engines to help us benefit from accelerating research and discoveries.


Not yet have I found any better method to prosper during the future financial chaos, which is likely to last many years, than to keep your net worth in shares of those corporations that have proven to have the widest profit margins and the most rapidly increasing profits. Earning power is likely to continue to be valuable, especially if diversified among many nations.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stocks for growth and Bonds for Income

For many years we have been taught that our investments should be split between stocks and bonds. Stocks for growth, and bonds for income.

With extreme volatility in the stock markets in recent years and record low interest rates on bonds, many investors have questioned their asset mix.

Investors are increasingly looking for alternative income-generating investments, that give more than the meager returns on bonds and GIC's and greater stability than the stock market has given them.

REITs are a way of getting a decent way to earn income and protect capital. However, stocks may be the income vehicle of the future.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Investing for Income is Still Your Best Strategy

The big driver of investment returns over time is not figuring which sector is going to be best, or which country is going to be best, or which style is going to be best over the next year or three – the big driver is income and the reinvestment of income.

The baby boom generation is now retiring (or attempting to retire) and will begin to take a closer look at their investments ability to generate income without liquidating their portfolio.

I still maintain that you must begin building a income portfolio as early as possible. My retirement account presently generates over $3,000 a month in income and I am still in my early fifties.

Every asset in my account generates an income.

I started this strategy in my mid forties. I wish I would have started earlier.
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