It's fun and easy to focus on macro stuff - we read or watch the news and see what's happening in DC and around the world. The media loves to write about such things because it gets readers/clicks and it's something everyone is going to find relevant (as opposed to micro stuff like your local real estate market, which is not important to 99.99% of the world).
In reality, however, the micro stuff is more important most of the time. Not all the time, of course - sometimes macro events can have such large (usually negative) impacts that they outweigh anything that is happening at the micro level. In these cases, you hopefully have built a strong and resilient existence to weather any storms that may have come your way.
The micro things are your day-to-day habits and your ways of living in this world - they may include things like
One would be well-served by focusing on the micro stuff while ensuring they are well-protected from significantly adverse macro events.
I've been investing since my late teens and I was just a young up-and-commer in investing during the Great Recession. I studied the markets since I was about 12 years old - I read a book my father had (but never actually read and applied in his own life) on investing (One up on Wall Street by Peter Lynch). The book fascinated me for some reason.
I've seen a fair bit, but I've studied the markets far more since then and what I've studied is a lot more than what I've seen. One has to study the markets well to be a good investor. History is important in investing.
The present situation with this over decade's long bull market is unprecedented, however. It's a record market - the longest ever. So, studying history won't help too much. In this case, good Risk Management is especially key!
The stock market is not some all-knowing being or entity that magically predicts how much publicly-traded businesses are worth. That’s an illusion and a story told in business schools and finance programs around the world.
The way things really work is very messy – you’ve got a ton of market participants buying securities, selling securities, and disseminating opinions (some good, some bad, and a small portion outright malevolent in intent). The price of a particular stock or security moves up and down based on these participants’ actions.
There is no single magical price, not even for a minute. There is no all-knowing entity that transforms the market into an accurate predictor of business value. The market as a whole is not a thinking being in and of itself – the market is a conglomeration of all market participants (including you, your neighbor, an Excel-based trading algo designed by a kid in a college finance program, and a sophisticated AI strategically positioned within a close radius to Wall St. computers for faster trade execution).
The uneven benefits arising from political certainty: A bad political environment will hurt your portfolio, but a healthy and beneficial political situation is only a prerequisite for investing success
A lot of people in finance and the investing world love to talk about politics and the geopolitical environment. They say how important it is for there to be a stable geopolitical environment for economies to perform well. This is true, but it leaves out too many vital details - a more useful understanding can easily be obtained.
Geopolitical certainty is less a beneficial item for investing and economic success - it's more of a prerequisite for a stable economy and an attractive environment for business. Geopolitical certainty is more of a necessary condition for good things to happen, NOT a sufficient condition. This means you need political certainty and a healthy geopolitical environment for business and the economy to be strong, BUT having a great political climate won't really help your portfolio.
The reason for this uneven distribution of benefits is because stocks aren't valued based on the geopolitical landscape - they are valued based on anticipated future cash flows, discounted at appropriate discount rates. Politics can influence this a bit, but far more so in the negative direction than in the positive one.
So, don't overdo it on how much you focus on politics, the global political landscape, and how this might impact your portfolio. A better approach is to monitor for signs of a terrible geopolitical situation on the horizon while prudently picking excellent investments to put your money in.
Economic recoveries and bull markets move slowly; recessions and downturns move fast. So, be prepared...
Do you think that once a recession looms on the horizon, you'll be able to make preparatory moves to sustain your financial investments and your portfolio? If so, you're probably wrong. You're taking on too much risk and not effectively managing the risk within your portfolio and your financial life if you naively think that pre-recession prep isn't necessary.
Recessions come too quickly for most people - it'll probably be the same for you
Too often, people fail to take prudent steps to prep for recessions, market corrections, or economic downturns - they think they'll see the signs close to it and will be able to make the needed financial adjustments. This is incredibly hard to do, however, and most people fail at it.
The main reason it's hard to do is that, unlike economic recoveries and expansions, recessions come quickly and don't tend to give warning signs until after things are already bad (so, they're not really warning signs in this case).
There's too much prep work to do pre-recession
There is too much to be done to prep for a recession, and there might not be enough time to do it if you wait for some sort of warning sign to begin. These things may include the following:
The above items are essential if you want to both protect your financial and non-financial worlds during a recession. It's also important if you're going to thrive post-recession because of recessions, market corrections, and economic downturns bring asset prices down. The smartest investors are those who are eagerly awaiting a recession with a list of quality firms and other assets to buy up at low prices.
It's hard to find great firms at any time
Generally, quality firms are those who have healthy balance sheets, strong and growing earnings, proper management, and are engaged in businesses that are not readily open to competitive entrants. This is an entire field of study, however, and there isn't enough room in a single article to even begin to delve into this topic.
Sometimes luck gets in the way of us achieving our financial goals. Other times, we get in our own way. Don't make these classic financial mistakes - they have significant long-term consequences to your financial life.
1. Buy into the financial markets during market euphoria and sell out during the middle of an economic downturn: Far too often, people buy high and sell low instead of the often-stated "buy low, sell high" mantra. This has a lot to do with behavioral psychology and cognitive biases. A surefire way to take substantial steps backward in your financial life is to buy stocks (or any other asset) during a boom only to sell during a recession - this will result in capital losses, which are devastating to your financial portfolio.
2. Keep no cash cushion for the unexpected: Without a cash cushion (often called an emergency or rainy day fund), you'll need to sell less-liquid assets during harsh times for you and your family. Harsh times almost always do come, so neglecting to have a proper emergency fund in place will likely mean you'll end up selling assets at non-ideal times. Non-ideal is a good scenario. In fact, you could end up having to sell during a market correction or a full-blow recession (where asset prices can quickly drop by 50%). You can't afford to sustain such capital losses - having a cushion of money set aside as an emergency fund will protect you from this.
3. Fail to invest your savings: The first step to building wealth is saving - if you can't put money aside, you're going to have a hard time building real wealth in a sustainable and lasting way. Some people can save well, but they are afraid of investing. These people are often diligent and reasonably hard-working adults who don't like to take perceived risks. What they don't realize, however, is that for the most part, saving alone is not enough - you must invest your money at reasonable rates of return so that it may grow. Without growth, your wealth will only depend on your ability to earn income, and every year your wealth will slowly be eaten away by inflation.
Whenever people who typically aren't involved in the financial markets get invovled because prices keep rising for a particular asset class or a specific asset, it usually means a correction looms. This has been true about stocks, and it's true about pretty much any asset, including gold, silver, bonds, other commodities, real estate, etc.
Crypto is no different - whenever people pour into the crypto asset class en masse (especially those who traditionally aren't involved in finance, investing, or the financial markets), it usually means we're reaching a local peak, and a correction might be in order.
Of course, a correction doesn't mean things are through. Corrections can be healthy, and after corrections, we often see assets rise again above their pre-dip peaks.
Take a look at Google searches for Bitcoin below - one can see peaks and dips corresponding to rises and dips in the price of Bitcoin (and crypto generally). Interestingly, the spike in late 2007/early 2018 overshadows a lot of other data around it. As of this writing (October 2019), this pre-crypto correction peak is the highest point so far. However, any prudent investor who has studied market history would know that this might not be the case for long.
What is important to understand here is that whenever there's massive euphoria surrounding any financial asset, things aren't generally going to be good in the short-run and medium-run. If there's a ton of euphoria, media coverage, and both your Uber/Lyft driver and grandma want to get in on the action, it might mean the market is saturated with demand. If this is the case, prices for the particular asset might be inflated, and a correction might be in order. This isn't always the case, but it's the case most of the time.
Luckily, it's not hard to know when mass euphoria takes hold. If you're an aware person, you'll likely hear about the new asset craze at the office, at the bar, on the news, or online. Everyone knew about the Bitcoin craze in late 2017. If you want to take things a step further, however, a lot of data is available online that can provide useful proxy information - the Google Trends graph below is a basic example of this.
Have cryptocurrency and/or cryptoassets become a proper asset class in the financial world? It's hard to answer. But, sitting at the end of the first 1/5th fo the 21st Century, it seems like crypto is on its way to becoming a real asset class if it's not already there.
There isn't some special or sacred list in finance houses in London's financial district or on Wall St. in NYC that has a list of all asset classes - it doesn't work that way. What's considered a proper asset class and what's regarded as an alternative asset class (and further distinctions at various levels of granularity) is more based on collective consensus.
Common consensus may make sense, but whose consensus are we talking about. Generally speaking, whether a financial instrument is considered a proper primary asset class (like stocks, bonds, and cash) is determined by the conglomeration of the following people's/org's opinions:
It's the interplay between individuals in each of the above categories that determine whether an asset class is going to be considered a core/primary asset class in the general conception.
Another critical thing to think about is the size of the crypto market. The market cap of all cryptos can be viewed against the market cap of individuals asset classes and the entire finance industry as a whole. Questions like the following might be asked to understand better how big the overall crypto market is relative to all other finance-related markets:
Although there's no hard and fast way to determine whether anything is a core asset class definitely, crypto seems on its way to getting there. It seems likely that one day, gold will remain an alternative asset, but crypto will be a core part of most people's long term investing and retirement portfolios. One day, financial advisers may even find it imprudent to not include crypto as part of a proper diversified investing strategy.
1. Wealth allows you to obtain more comfort: Wealth and money allow you to have more things, better things, and get them faster. We all know that money doesn't buy happiness, but money can definitely buy you a lot of physical comfort(s).
2. Wealth allows you to make those you love comfortable: More important than making yourself comfortable, wealth allows you to improve the physical circumstances of those you love, whether that means helping your kids with a down payment, providing a good home for your family, taking care of your ailing parents, or giving a much-needed gift to a friend. Making the lives of those you love better is one of life's greatest joys.
3. Wealth allows you to affect the world: You can affect the world without having much wealth – some of the most influential people throughout history didn't have much in the way of resources, wealth, income, or power. But, having wealth does help make an impact on the world. If you've got a ton of money, you can help strangers by leaving large tips, or you can help college students by funding scholarships. With wealth, the options are almost endless.
4. Wealth allows you to demonstrate your value-creating abilities: If you're able to create value for other people, businesses, or organizations, you'll end up having money come your way most of the time. If you don't have any money, it's hard to argue that you've created a lot of value (of course, you could be a big spender). Real wealth, obtained in morally correct ways, is a big sign that you've done some things right.
5. Wealth opens up more opportunities for you: You surely don't need wealth to succeed, but having it helps a ton. If you have the money, a lot of doors open for you - they might be professional doors, they might be social doors, or they might be health-related doors. Wealthy people are able to utilize far more of this world's resources in getting the thigns they want:
The illusion that anyone can build wealth and reach financial success – a personal finance myth propagated by the personal finance media
Widely propagated on personal finance blogs, YouTube videos, magazine article, and on personal finance-related TV shows is the idea that anyone can get out of debt, save money, and build real wealth as long as they just try hard (both in educating themselves about money and in actually doing what's needed). This idea about personal finance and wealth building is a fiction, however. Not everyone can achieve financial success because financial success and lasting wealth depend, in part, on luck.
In modern Western Civ, people tend not to like to chalk up success (both of the financial and non-financial variety) and well being to luck. But, in many cultures around the world and in many periods throughout history, chance was understood better, and people didn't have as much resistance to accepting how much of a role luck plays in their lives. In finance, as in everything else, luck plays a huge role.
Whether or not you have a job that can provide you with enough income depends on so many factors, including whether or not you have skills that will provide value to other humans. To have such skills, you'd have to have gone to school or have developed them through some sort of apprenticeship (an apprenticeship could range from very formal to very informal). Whether or not you had the opportunity to develop skills, then, is at least in part determined by luck. What if you were born in a harsher place, to a more discordant community, or a less well-off family? Would you still be where you are today with a decent/good/great job? Maybe not. Likely not.
Beyond just the skills you possess, your disposition is dependent deeply on genetics and on how the first few years of your life went. Even the desires to save, to read personal finance blogs, to become better, or to move forward with your life may not be entirely yours – you might be lucky to have them, owing them in part to your parents (genetics) or your first few years of life.
Can a homeless man build wealth? Can a single-mom work three jobs while dealing with depression and build wealth? Can a crippled veteran who was deeply abused build wealth? Can a devastated black man who has only been taught that the world is dark and harsh build wealth? Can a family from the former Soviet Union whose members (especially the family's leaders) have deeply dysfunctional and ingrained problems understanding how to function in a capitalist society build wealth? Maybe, but it's not that easy.
A latte-sipping college-educated person with a relatively healthy mind, decent health, a neutral disposition, and without deep financial/family/psychological burdens stands a far better chance than the people described above. When the financial and personal finance media propagates lies about what's possible and what's not possible, they are abdicating their real moral duty in favor of clicks, views, likes, or short-term gain.
When thinking about risk and probabilistic outcomes, potential gains and potential losses aren't the same things. Only hyper-academic people who aren't actually engaging with the real world or putting something at risk (eg. money, health, life, friends, family, reputation, dignity, etc.) would argue that downside potential should be regarded in the same way as upside potential.
Only entities that
Let's say you're a casino or a major corporation and have a ton of time and a ton of money – in that case, a binary 49% vs. 51% loss-gain distribution (49% chance of total loss; 51% of 2x gain) might make sense because you've got a 2% edge. In the long run, this edge will play itself out so that you come out ahead, assuming you stay around for the long run.
Most retail investors, small or medium-sized businesses, or other smaller orgs won't be around, however, especially if they keep sustaining losses. They should definitely consider the 49% vs. 51% probabilities, but they should also consider another key item: whether or not they think they'll survive for long if they keep engaging in these types of bets . Because, even if the odds are in their favor, a small entity has to be around in order to see those odds actually play out. If you're not around, it doesn't matter how good the odds are – to win the game, you've got to survive long enough first.
Thinking about risk, therefore, isn't a binary operation where you can simply compare probabilities – it's a far more complex exercise that has to take things such as the following into account:
How to use historical stock market data to build your investing intuition, and move one step closer to becoming an investing superhero
On Monday, October 17, 1987, the S&P 500 dropped a little over 20%. Going back to 1950, this was the single worst one-day drop in the stock market. It showed and taught a lot then, and it can still teach market participants and investors today if they are willing to listen.
Historical financial data can be magical - it can help you travel into the past and see the forests from the trees. By listening to historical data, we can more easily understand that a single-day drop of 20% in an index such as the S&P 500 is possible. By knowing that a 20% stock market drop is possible -- and by seeing the number present itself to us in the data -- we can better understand the risks we face by investing and participating in the financial world.
How do we know whats or of stock market drops are possible?
What exactly does possible mean in the context of investing and considering severe market declines? Sure, we know it's "possible" for the S&P 500 to drop by this amount or that amount. But until you ground your understanding in some historical data, you're not going understand this possibility at a deep level.
Observing the S&P 500's daily price movements will help you learn what sort of severe drops are possible for your portfolio
First, a quick note on using the S&P 500: The S&P 500 is a great place to start because it's a reasonable proxy for the market. The S&P 500 surely doesn't represent the entire market of equities, financial assets, and let alone of all assets; but, it's a reasonable and easily-manipulatable proxy for "the market."
If we care about how bad things can get in a single day (eg. an extremely severe yet plausible one day decline in your portfolio), we'll want to look at daily price data. This type of data is readily available online. There's a lot of free data, but you'll have to pay to access longer time horizons or more esoteric data.
Below, we have S&P 500 data April 3, 1950 to September 6, 2019. This represents an almost 70-year time horizon, a bit less than the expected lifespan of a person today. You can see this in the screenshots below (bottom and top of the table shown; table ordered earliest to latest).
The data has three columns - one shows the date, the other the closing price of the S&P 500 on that date, and the last column is the day-over-day change int he S&P 500 stated as a percent. The day-over-day change is easy to calculate - it's merely the one day change divided by the previous day's closing price. Declared as a formula, it is: [Day 2 - Day 1]/Day 1
This is called the arithmetic return. More complex return types -- namely the geometric return -- exist, but they are outside the scope of this discussion. The simple arithmetic return above is sufficient for our purposes.
Observing financial market data can teach you a lot and help to build a bit of market-related intuition
Just observing stock market data like this can be useful. Exploring data visually without graphing it can give us some interesting and potentially-valuable preliminary insights. This is especially true for people who haven't done this sort of data analysis before. For example, we can observe that in the very beginning of our data set (the first few days of April 1950), the S&P 500 was around $18. This is in sharp contrast to the almost $3000 S&P 500 level we observe below for September 2019. This plainly shows us that there has been some dramatic growth over the last 70 years in absolute metrics.
Although we can see some things by observing the financial data, it's hard to determine summary statistics about the S&P 500 data set visually. Stats like mean, median, minimum, and maximum are hard to see because all of the data needs to be taken into account. Taking all of the data into account can't easily be done relying on the human mind - it's just not what it's made to do. The data set has almost 17,500 rows - that's simply too much to comprehend without the use of computing devices/methods (or without a considerable amount of time to devote to this endeavor). Luckily, such devices/methods are easily available for free (eg. Google Sheets) or cheap (eg. Microsoft Excel) in the form of software. More complex options are available that are both free and paid (eg. R, Matlab, Tableau, etc.). Something like Microsoft Excel would be enough for the vast majority of use cases, however.
Finding the minimum, or the worst stock market day over the last 70 years
Some relatively easy functions can be used in Excel -- the tool of choice for most finance people -- to get some stats on the data. In the screenshot below, you can see the average, the max, and the min. The min is what we care about most here - it represents the lowest day-over-day S&P 500 change; it represents the most severe single-day drop in the S&P 500 over the last 70 years.
We can see that the worst drop is -20.47%. That means that in one single day, the stock market effectively dropped by over 20%.
Black Monday - an over 20% one day drop in the stock market
We can see the drop occurred on Monday, October 19, 1987, by examing our data set in greater detail. By filtering the data from largest to smallest, we can see what date corresponds to the worst stock market drop. Once we have the date, we can observe what happened around it in the days before and after Black Monday, which is what Monday, October 19, 1987is called in the financial industry.
The image below is the copied and pasted data from around Black Monday. It's interesting and useful to observe what happened around that time. We can see in the 10 days around Black Monday, 7 out of 10 days were losing days. We can also combine the losses to see what the cumulative loss over the 10-day period would have been. We can see that it's even worse - over the 10 days, the stock market dropped over 26%.
That means you could wake up one day over the course of your investing life and see that your portfolio is down 20% in a single day. That event would be tough to deal with - you'd be in for a very rough day and rough week. It would take some time to recover from the loss, but recovery would definitely be possible. A mistake, however, would be to panic and deviate form your long term investment strategy for no real reason beyond the fact that you're freaked out.
Use this knowledge to avoid panic sales and other forms of freaking out during the next inevitable stock market disaster
We all get freaked out in investing - it's your money that's on the line, and you don't want to lose it. Even small drops can seem bad. Even times where there's no movement could be perceived as bad if you were anticipating gains. You can't let these investing difficulties make you make investing mistakes, however. You've got to do your best to maintain a long-term perspective on investing. Something that helps us do that is exercises like the one we just went through. Looking at historical market data, understanding how the markets have moved over time, and understanding how markets may tend to move int he future are all essential things that will buffer you from foolish investing mistakes made out of fear.
If you'd like to explore the Excel file form which the above screenshots originated, you can download the file here. You'll be able to copy and paste the S&P 500 data to do your own data analysis work, like finding the maximum one-day increase.
At the beginning of your wealth-building lifetime, it's your rate of saving and investing that matters more than your rate of return
People in the investing and financial world fetishize rates of return. Often cited and mentioned in financial articles is financial/investing genius Warren Buffet. Since 1965, Buffet has generated (thru 2017) approximately 21% annually. This is astonishing and deserves both praise and diligent study, but for most people who are in the early stages of their investing lifespan, it isn't relevant or useful.
The reason it's not relevant or useful for most people who are in the earlier stages of their investing timeline is that a focus on investing rates of return is useless and distracting. It's not the rate of return that matters most for a twenty-something or thirty-something investor. Instead, it's their rate of saving and investing that matters far more.
Barring ridiculously large and deeply improbably investing returns, getting more return won't be as beneficial as saving more. Imagine you have $1000 today, you can get an astonishingly high 50% return, or you can save another $1000 and get a100% gain effectively. If you've got $10,000, this becomes harder to do unless your income is very high. At $100,000, it's very hard to save an additional $100,000 - you'd likely want to start giving proper focus to investing returns. At $1 million, you'd likely begin to see more gains from investing than from saving. Obviously, these numbers need to be adjusted depending on income, but the core principle remains the same - if you don't have a lot of capital to work with, stashing away more capital is going to be better for you than trying to finesse something with the small amount of capital you do have.
One of the most significant risks related to house flipping is holding period market risk - it's the risk that during the time in which you're holding the property you intend to "flip," the property value will decline.
The decline in property value can be caused by a variety of reasons (macro recessions, localized events, etc.), but that's not the point of this short piece. The point being made here is that house flipping exposes the "flippers" to significant market risk.
Not taking this real estate market risk to which you're exposed to when pursuing a house flipping strategy into proper account and consideration may have some serious negative consequences. The negative consequences are rare - they only arise in market downturns, which happen once every number of years. But, although the chances of the risk coming to fruition are small, the severity of the negative consequences (should there be a real estate market decline) are severe. The consequences can be severe enough to wipe out investors that are not well-capitalized and in positions of strong liquidity.
This is pretty easy to see if we think about a hypothetical example. Let's say you're doing house flipping and you buy a $200,000 property. The timeline might look something like this:
The risk exposure continues until you sell the house. So, in the above example with the relatively rapid renovation and resale (likely in a good real estate market; very unlikely in a real estate downturn), the investor or flipper would be exposed to market risk arising from adverse moves in the real estate market for at least a few months. If the investor is new, inexperienced, or doesn't have a lot of capital/liquidity in reserve, things might be over in one serious real estate or economic downturn.
If you're holding a property that's worth less than you bought it for -- even with the improvements you made or might make -- you'll have to (1) either accept a loss on this investment or (2) you'll have to continue making mortgage payments on the note until the market recovers.
In the first case, you'd lose real money - you'd possibly lose your entire down payment and in the worst scenarios you might be so underwater that you'd have to add additional funds to be able to get rid of it. This isn't far-fetched. Many people all across the United States experienced this during the Great Recession that started in 2007/8.
In the second case, you'd avoid having a severe capital loss, but you'd have to outlay money every month to keep the mortgage note current. This can be costly, especially if this is done for many months or even many years.
Of course, you might have bought the house in cash - in that case, you still may experience a severe loss (you'll just never be underwater on the mortgage). Renting might also help mitigate the risk - if there's a downturn, you might abandon your initial house flipping strategy and put a tenant(s) in the property for several months or years to help with the mortgage payments.
A prudent house flipper or potential house flipper would take these risks into account. Everything is exposed to risk, so this article isn't attempting to say that real estate investing in general, or house flipping specifically, are imprudent investments or that there's undue risk in a house flipping strategy. The article simply attempts to highlight a particular type of risk that house flippers are and will be exposed to.
Can investing in your career provide more financial benefits than investing in the financial markets? Maybe...
For most people -- especially for those in the 1st half of their working lives/careers -- investing time, energy, and even money into their careers might prove to be very valuable investments. For many, investments in their careers might prove more rewarding than typical financial investments.
The reasons why this is the case for many people are two-fold. First, most people don't have a lot of initial capital to start off with - saving and investing is key for them, but with so little capital there's not much that can be achieved in the short run for the typical retail investor. Second, investments in your career (e.g., investments in your skills and knowledge) have compounding effects over time as one progresses in his/her career.
It's hard to give a useful guide on what to pour your money, your time, and your energy into because each job is different and careers are diverse. However, it's a safe bet that building the following skills/attributes within yourself will prove very beneficial over time:
And now, given the rise of cyrptocurrencies and crypto assets to quasi-mainstream financial assets, we're dedicated to providing quality, relevant, and interesting material on cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets. Articles on Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Cardano, and many more cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets can be found on Pennies and Pounds - all that in addition to a plethora of information on what cryptoassets are, how the entire crypto industry came to be, blockchain/immutable ledger technology, mining, proof of work, proof of stake, and how to prudently invest in crypto if you are so inclined (based on your risk tolerance and ability to withstand the volatility that will come with a crypto portfolio).