Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why You Are Speculating Instead of Investing

People buying assets—stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate—are ignoring the assets’ returns-on-investment, and instead pinning their hopes that what they buy today will go up in price tomorrow.

This isn’t “investing”—it’s speculating.

Why is this happening? Easy—read on.

Tell me if this rings a bell: You spent a lifetime putting together a little nest egg, and you want to invest it in something that makes a decent return-on-investment. Something safe and boring, because you don’t want to spend a sleepless night worrying about your money.

Instead, you’re tossing and turning at night because you are not investing—you’re buying assets and hoping they go up before you sell them.

Now imagine a million other investors
and you’ll start to get the idea.
In other words, you’re speculating—you’re gambling. You’re hopping onto a stock for barely-logical reasons—then dumping it at a moment’s notice—then rotating into bonds because of some dodgy tip you heard from a buddy of a friend—then rotating out of bonds in a panic because of what some idiot on CNBC just said. Then you wonder if you should buy gold? Uh, no wait, agro-commodities—no, no, no, wait, uh, industrial commodities? Or REIT’s—or, no, ETF’s? Which one? . . .

Christ, whaddo I do . . .

It’s frightening, isn’t it, this buying into and cashing out of different assets—this perpetual momentum-chasing and constant speculation. As frightening as driving a convertible down a twisty mountain road at 100 miles per hour, with no brakes and iffy steering: It’s suicidal—yet there seems no way to get off this horrible ride.

Why are you chasing momentum and speculating? Why is your broker making more money off of your portfolio by way of fees than you are from profits?

Easy: Because today, there is no asset class which is giving consistently reliable, mid-level returns-on-investment.

And this is a deliberate policy . . .

Let’s look at the current investment landscape as it really is: Bond yields are nothing, dividends of stock are pathetic, rents are ridiculous compared to prices. And if you go into mutual funds or any of the other “financial products recommended by my investment advisor” (i.e., “hellfire turds with infinite hidden fees peddled by my local minion of the Demon Bankster Oligarchy”), you’ll probably barely keep pace with inflation . . . assuming of course there isn’t another market “correction”.
Strategic Planning Group
Those black swans are coming . . .
In short, nothing and no one is giving a nice, safe 7% or 8% a year that lets a retail investor like you or me sleep soundly at night.

That’s all you’re asking: A nice, steady return-on-investment. You’re not greedy, you’re not asking for 15% a year, not even 10%—just a measely 6.5% to 7.5% return, and you’d be a happy camper. Am I right?

But at best, once you factor in fees (which are the profit-killers in retail investing), no retail asset class gives you better than 4% a year, maybe 6% if you’re very lucky. To put that in context, to earn a measely $24,000 a year at 5% after all fees, you need investable assets of almost half a million dollars. And that return would be before taxes. After taxes, that would be . . . $18,000? $13,000, if you live in a high state-income-tax state like California?

$13,000 a year of net return-on-investment off of $480,000 in liquid, investable assets. [Long slow heartfelt whistle . . .]

Note that number: Close to half a million dollars in investable assets—that is, liquid assets. According to Federal Reserve figures, less than 1% of households have that kind of liquid, investable assets. Not real-estate or other physical assets or property. Liquid. Half a mill.

Half a mill, invested safely and prudently, gets you . . . 13 grand.

Jeez . . .

That’s what’s driven normally prudent, cautious people like you and me to speculate wildly, to take insane chances with their nest egg: Chasing returns. I’ve been writing about bitcoin and cryptocurrencies as of late, in the hopes of dissuading people from piling on to that chimera. They have no idea about bitcoins, and they could care less—all they know and care about is that it’s going up. They are chasing returns. And these are not greedy people—they’re just desperate. Meanwhile—and I hate to say it, as this might be you—people who don’t know any better are starting to play options and get into way-sophisticated, way-dangerous financial bets that could hurt them badly.

All because they have money, but that money is not making much. These people chasing returns aren’t greedy or evil. But they realize that, as they grow older, they won’t be able to count on Social Security to get them through their old age. They’ll need a nest egg that will produce enough income to get them through the thirty years after the end of their working life.

Because it is thirty years—and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Most people, especially those working corporate jobs and getting through a career as opposed to those who own their own business, will likely be sidelined by age 50, 55 tops. That is the reality of Corporate America: Unless you are in the rarefied upper-echelons of your company, you will be cashiered or otherwise sidelined by the time you’re 55—long before you become a liability (i.e., a pensioner) to the company you gave your working life to.

If you get sidelined at 55, and the average lifespan is about 80, 85, so then you need income that will get you through 25 or 30 years.

Once again, and with feeling: Jeez . . .

The origin of this insanity is well-known, and can be summarized in two terms-of-art, six words in total: Zero Interest-Rate Policy, and Quantitative Easing.

ZIRP and QE, as they are known, are the Federal Reserve policies that keep interest rates low. Low interest rates mean asset-price inflation, which translates into low returns-on-investment across the board.

To explain in simple terms: Low interest-rates from the Fed allows banks to borrow cheap money and go out and buy assets. Since you have more demand for the same assets, those assets naturally go up in price. As they go up in price, their return on investment decreases as a percentage of their purchase price. If a stock costs $100 and delivered 10% a year in dividends, with the higher asset-price of $200, that ROI is halved. The same mechanism (basically) works across all other asset classes.

You know the easiest way to spot asset-price inflation? The art market, and the market in collectibles. Art and collectibles are the ultimate greater-fool asset: You will make no money off of buying art or a collectible until and unless you find someone willing to pay more than what you paid for it.

Notice how lately, contemporary art prices have become insane? A Francis Bacon triptych just went for $142 million, a Norman Rockwell for over $40 million. Baseballs are going for six figures, and other ridiculous collectibles—rock concert posters, vintage video games (I’m not kidding)—are also going for absurd sums of money.

But you don’t need to go to the rarefied world of Sotherby’s and Christie’s, or the webpages of eBay—you can go down to your local Century 21 and see how housing prices have “rebounded”.

Nothing has changed in the American economy since 2009—the economy is still struggling, unemployment is still high, debt loads are still monstrous. But home prices are surging like it’s 2006 all over again.

Why? ZIRP and QE. The fact is, asset-price inflation is the whole point of the Fed’s twin policies: The Fed wants assets to be overpriced, and thereby give the impression—the illusion—that the economy is better than it actually is. With home prices up, people feel rich . . . even if they really aren’t. With stocks overpriced, 401(k) accounts are higher than ever . . . even as the stocks underlying them give dividends that are microscopic.

And it’s working, too: This morning, I read what I call a Cheerleader-Headline: “US Household Wealth Reaches High of $77 Trillion”. It’s an Associated Press story, and it sure does sound great, doesn’t it?

The only problem is, it’s not real. All those assets underlying household wealth—home prices, stock prices, bond prices—have all been artificially inflated by ZIRP and QE.

Since assets are on the rise, and since returns-on-investment are paltry, people see the rising asset-prices and say to themselves, “If only I’d gotten into XYZ stock or ABC bond, I would have made a pretty penny when the price of that asset popped, instead of being stuck here in this 4% ROI grind.”

After all, the 4% ROI grind—cruddy though it is—wouldn’t be so bad, if inflation were zero. But it’s not. So the 4% ROI grind is in fact eking out a measely, microscopic 1.5% to flat-1% return-on-investment.

Meanwhile, speculators are making out like bandits.

Repeat after me, with a disheartened and defeated sigh: Jeez . . .

So ordinarily prudent investors like you or me join the bandwagon: They start to speculate. And soon they—me—you—are miserable, getting hammered with each “sure thing”, making increasingly foolish bets to recoup the losses on previous “investments”. In short order, what was once conscientious investing that had turned to impetous speculation soon descends into pure, mindless, panicked gambling

—and all of a sudden, your nest egg has taken a nasty hit: A loss of 20%, 30%, 40%.

And no one to blame but the guy in the mirror.

Jeez . . . Where’s the hemlock already.

They say that the first step to a cure is to identify the root cause of the problem. And we have: It’s the Fed creating an environment of cheap money. This is creating a “boom” market that is based on speculation—not real value. Returns-on-investment are exceptionally low, encouraging people to speculate, driving up the prices of assets, which in turn lowers returns-on-investment, further encouraging people to speculate. Rinse and repeat.

This spiralling asset bubble—because it is a bubble, and it is spiralling out of control (I mean, really, Twitter has a market cap of $25 billion on exactly $0 revenue?)—is why returns-on-investment are so paltry, encouraging speculation.

So! What’s the next step?

The first thing, after recognizing why we are in this period of irrational aset-price inflation, is to realize that this period will end. Like in a game of musical chairs, some players will realize this won’t end well, so they’ll scramble for a chair—and then everyone will be rushing for a seat.

When that happens, when this asset-price game of musical chairs finally ends, it will be nightmarish for all involved—but there will be tremendous opportunities after the crash.

Just as asset-prices have soared ridiculously, asset-prices will collapse more than they deserve, once this game of musical chairs ends.

Now, the next step is to figure out what to do. That’s what we do at SPG, try to figure out scenarios about what to do and how to invest once this period of cheap-money/asset-inflation ends.

But for now, in this essay, realize that you aren’t alone in having sleepless nights. Rest assured that it’s not you who’s crazy and the markets sane: It’s the markets—goosed by the Fed like a junkie high on heroin—that are insane.

Recognize the insanity, and prepare for the crash.

At my Strategic Planning Group, we’re working on what do when the SHTF. To see what it’s about, check out the SPG Preview Page.


  1. I agree. I'm fortunate enough to be working - the question I have is where should I be putting my money?

    1. That's my question too, as it seems like it's too dangerous to invest and there's practically no return on saving. I'm starting to think that the only "safe" investment is in stocking up on beans and bullets, but I'm a pessimist.

    2. Mr(DR) Mark Faber is quoted as saying that if one does their homework right as an investor , One would only have to change allocations in their investment portfolio two times in their lifetime.
      Based on 40 years of observation , I believe Mark Faber. I believe , one must look at money flows , history and look at Socio, Politico Economics and by that determine what will be the trend of the future .....Who is going to rule the world and the global economy 5, 10 , 20 years from now . How do they think . What do they believe ..........is sound . What are they buying . Do they have a cultural affinity to things PRECIOUS that are mined out of the earth , and therefore RARE. Who else has a cultural affinity toward PRECIOUS and Rare items that are mined out of the earth ? If you were thinking CHINA and INDIA.....we agree. For these people of these cultures , Gold and Silver have served and been perceived as money for three to five thousand ( yes , I said thousand) years. Their culture and affinity toward these metals hasn't changed in these thousands of years and THEY OWN THE FUTURE because of their sound economic policies. YOU CAN BANK ON THIS TREND ....there are over 3 billion Chinese and Indians and they all believe in saving in these metals and these economies are going to continue to grow , dynamically.
      It has been said that he who holds the gold makes the rules....CHINA has imported thousands of tonnes of GOLD in the year 2013 alone.......CHINA also just rejected the use of BITCOIN as a currency ....because they are going to build the future on the YUAN currency (the Chinese currency ) and they are going to replace the dollar as the reserve currency of the world . IN their international trade , they will be trading in a currency backed by GOLD ...WHY ? BECAUSE they believe that GOLD is sound backing for a SOUND CURRENCY ....and one that their citizens will be confident in .
      IN the last century there was a currency crisis in the far east precipitated by some one with great currency trading skills ( perhaps he employed by the cia) . It set China back .....China will never be hindered by a currency crisis again....but there will be currency crisies in the WEST.......Buy the Yuan , sell the dollar , buy emerging market funds for China , India. Buy Gold , Buy SIlver......Sell your Bitcoins at the top ......BITCOINS are not mined and they are not precious or rare, they can be created out of thin air just like the fed is creating dollars trillions of them out of thin air and debasing the dollar.. There is nothing similar about mining Bitcoins and MINING PRECIOUS METALS of which there is a limited supply .....If you have thousands of percent of profit on your asset ledger in Bitcoin investments .....SELL THEM AND TAKE YOUR PROFIT.

    3. Well, there are several options as to where to put them but I will leave that up to you. I came across an article the talks about some of the major investment options hopefully you find it as useful as I did: http://www.mutualfundstore.com/investing-education/understand-investment-types

  2. Hey, it's not so dismal. Rents are much better than you make them out to be. My wife and I just bought some rental property, a four-plex. We are first time investors in this line. The property is worth just over 400K, bought with a mortgage. However, we aren't getting just 13K or 18K a year from it. The three renters cover the cost of the mortgage, management fees, and costs of repairs, and cost of doing business. That's 36K a year in equity right there, and then we don't pay any rent for our own space, which means we get to save a lot more of my paycheck. So essentially we are looking at a 48K per-year boost in income. And then tax rates on income from property are well below income tax rates. Rents are pretty good. (Though you may have to live in a part of the country where the economics favor such an investment. Some places require you to be ultra-wealthy to buy into the real-estate market.)

  3. The "music stops" crash isn't the worst case scenario.

    The worst case scenario is that the music plays forever.

    That any and all cash flows that come into being are immediately brought forward into the present at about zero percent discount, and hence not fit for purpose as "investment" or "savings".

    That "saving" itself is transformed from prudent virtue into "selfish hoarding" in the culture.

    They will say: who do you think you are, to hold claims agains future consumption - let alone some expectation that those claims should actually grow? And grow exponentially, no less! The nerve, the hutzpah!

    Izabella Kaminska is enthusiastically cheering the demise of capital itself, Keynes' euthanasia of the rentier. Capital, and goods, exist in excess; it is supply that is scarce (in her reading). She writes in the Financial Times, not the Guardian. Nota bene. The elites are all on board with this.

    Capital no longer needs Labor so much, and Labor's income share is dropping with respect to Capital - an unprecedented collapse.

    But the joke is on Capital, because Raw F*****g Power, Baby no longer has much use for Capital.

    The "1 percent" hoard not assets, or income. They hoard convexity. For the rest of us, our lives, our possibilities are bounded. Determinism. From each in kind, to each in kind, according to whatever metrics are imposed on us.

    The road to serfdom was paved by Diocletian, millennia ago.

  4. Unfortunately, most middle-class Americans, even the smart ones, have learned that EVERYONE on Wall Street is a crook. We don't trust you. So we buy freeze dried food, ammo, gold. Once an industry convinces its customers that the customer is going to get cheated, the industry ultimately loses.

    1. Given the incestuous relationship between Wall Street and our current regime, shelf stable food, bullets and survival hardware buried in a hidden vault in the backyard may be the most prudent bet.

  5. If money is just sitting it isn't working, 12 years ago I decided to take ten thousand and make it work for me. I started by searching out items such as you describe, buying them cheap and then selling them on high. I regularly double my money each year and there have been a couple of years where I have tripled it, and there have been a couple where I only made about 50%, but never have I lost.
    Only the lazy allow others to create their wealth for them.
    Money sitting still is an easy target for broken investment sellers, and shysters.

    1. I call bullshit: At the rate of investing success that you’re claiming, you would have amassed over $4 million from those first $10K. You'd be the most successful investor since Warren Buffet.

      And BTW: It's not the “lazy [who] allow others to create their wealth for them”—there are many people who are very good at making money, but not so good at investing it.


    2. I didn't claim that I kept the money, and I don't invest per se, I buy and sell. I buy cheap and sell high, from antique stores, auctions and rummage sales.
      Last week I bought a bunch of vintage audio, it's now on eBay at four times what I paid for it.
      That's what I mean about money working for you, sticking it in a big pile and watching it shrink is a crap idea,
      Next time, try not to be so rude as it only makes you look and come across as an oaf.
      Giving your money to someone else to invest for one, is as dumb as it gets.

    3. MrSnudge wrote, “Giving your money to someone else to invest for one, is as dumb as it gets.

      I insist, there are many people who are good at making money, but not so good at investing it.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, to belittle people who don’t do their own investing is the oafish behavior your deplore, because it encourages people who aren’t good at investing to literally gamble away their hard-earned money.


  6. The coming crash you speak of is not going to be like the 2008 financial meltdown or the housing market bubble popping or like the dotcom crash. No, this is going to be much, much worse. It will end in blood.

  7. Hello meen, I've been following your blog for almost 6 months now without leaving any comment so I decided to quickly say hi today, just so you know you've got a fan somewhere. LOL. Your blog makes sense to me just like http://danieluyi.com, another similarly interesting blog that I'm also a fan of.

    Keep it up.

    1. I thought that was Sergio for second, but it isn't. Perhaps Lee Haney or Coleman, not sure...

    2. OK, this is SPAM, how did you let that one slide by, Gonzo?

  8. Hi, Mr. Lira! Instapundit sent me.... OMG. I know nothing about investments or the markets (I put my 403b into mutual funds and pray), but you have just confirmed what I have suspected for a few years. What I can't figure out is: Why are we essentially devolving to a semi-feudal system - deliberately, it seems - under the administration of the Tribunes of the Poor? Would love to have your take on this question.

    1. I fear that our path into socialism is, in reality, a path into a one party totalitarian aristocracy.

  9. Insane alright. More salt in the wound: you buy an asset (property), then that's taxed to death. You buy gold, it's dangerous to store, it's at risk of being looted by desperate pols. What we really need is another planet to hop to, out of reach of the zombies.

  10. I don't get it. What's the point of this article presented with no solutions?

    1. Good point: I'll be posting my thoughts about how to avoid this speculative mania is a few days.


  11. Where can I get 4% annual return in a safe investment? I would be happy with that.

    1. It looks like you simply can't.

  12. People who are disciplined and consitent in putting money into a diversified allocation of equities and fixed income, over the long haul will end up significantly ahead. The problem is when people try to time things and shift form one asset class to another willy nilly. The classic example would be the person who sold out of their stocks in 2008 and moved to fixed income at the bottom of the market cycle. They would have lost 40% of thier assets and then missed out on all the upside over the last few years. Those are speculators. Those are the people who are dupes. People who did nothing to their investment allocations in 2008 are the ones who are still ahead of the game.

  13. Hi!, Patrons Of Gonzalo Lira Et Al:
    Much of this subject was covered by Dr. Franz Pick in his 1987 book: The Triumph Of Gold. This book has a picture on the front of a tombstone bearing the epitaph: US $: Advanced Obituary. Dr. Pick who during his lifetime was the world's greatest currency expert and counselor to bankers around the world, says in Triumph Of Gold that all bonds are certificates of guaranteed confiscation through inflation. He says that the number 1 product of the United states is corruption having an annualized income 5 X that of the entire American Automobile Industry with one exception and that is corruption pays no taxes. He also says that the governments will crawl into everyone's safety deposit boxes to get OUR gold. He said let them have a few troy ozs. so that they think they have it al but have your main hoard out of sight. There are no investments or speculations worth their weight in gold regardless. If the US $ eventually mimics the 1923 German Marks what's the point of either investing or speculating anyway? The price of hamburger here in the US has evolved from 3 lbs. to a $ to 5 $'s per lb. which is more than a 1,500% increase sense President Nixon closed the US gold window August 15, 1971 some 42 years ago. If we divide 42 into 1,500%.we get an average price increase of around 35.71% which is far above any inflation rate being toted by any media isn't it? So, young people take on student debt, in order to graduate with their credentials to supposedly upgrade their overall annual incomes, but what happens instead? Someone is saying to them in effect in my opinion: go ahead and earn the money so we can take it away from you in OUR pricing of goods and services. How can these younger people actually get far enough ahead to become property owners paying their fair share of property taxes etc.? As one of my late mentors pointed out to me decades ago: the liars can figure but the figures can't lie!! Younger married couples today we are told are suspending having children due to the high costs of both birthing and raising children causing a population implosion here in the US. For those of you who say our present economic circumstances can end on a good note, please contemplate the fate of young people's present lives right now!!

    RUSS SMITH, CA. (One Of Our Broke, Fiat Money States)

    1. Actually, 33 cents compounded for 42 years at 6.69% is 5 dollars.
      Sorry, it's just numbers.
      .33 x (1.0669)^42 = 5.00.

    2. 1500% is 15-fold, over 42 years you need to take 42th root (interest/inflation are exponential functions!),
      which results in a calculated 6.66% annual inflation over the last 42 years.
      Which is even a bit lower than my rule of thumb "the purchasing power of the US Dollar halves every decade since 1970 (and now actually every 8 years since 2007.)"
      Otherwise: spot on!

  14. Mr. Lira, your diagnostic of the current economic and financial environment is dead on. However, how do we know that the solutions your group proposes make sense and can generate positive return? I am not asking you to give away everything for free but it would be nice to have a sense of what we would get from a membership. Do you have sample recent newsletter that you could make available on your site for people to get a preview?

  15. "at best, ... no retail asset class gives you better than 4% a year, maybe 6%" - GL

    Not true. Methodical investing in undervalued, stable stocks which pay and regularly increase their dividends can provide better returns than that over the long term.

    See this example, which is a real portfolio using real money, started in June 2008 just before the market meltdown:


    This portfolio has returned 51% in the past 5 1/2 years (with dividends reinvested) for a compound growth rate of over 7.7% net of expenses. No money was added to the portfolio over that time span. Further, the annual dividend income received over that time span has roughly doubled.

    As a comparison SPY has returned 7.2% over the same span (also with dividends reinvested and net of fees). Dividend income for this ETF has increased roughly 25%.

    GL is correct in saying that the downfall of the regular Joe is more due to excess activity and speculation than it is due to lack of investing. The constant attempts at getting rich quick are what ruin the opportunities to build wealth and income at a reasonable, and less risky pace.

  16. In my view, what is so disheartening right now is lack of truth. No one - save for insiders, really knows what is going on. Just have a look at some of the financial articles from day to day - from respected sources and individuals no less. The sentiments are 180º opposite of each other. How can this be? How can highly respected analysts, economists and investors be so out of sync, or in disagreement with regard to the future of the economy? Sadly, in addition to misallocation, mal-investment and moral hazard, the policies of the financio-politico power structure have also destroyed Truth - for the time being anyway...

    I would agree however, with some of the posters above, in that the ramifications of this next economic go-around are going to have ~much~ more of a societal impact than before - which rather neatly explains why real solutions continue to be put off into the future, because the political structure is aware the magnitude of what lies ahead. It also rather neatly explains why the DHS, and several other governmental law-enforcement agencies are 'gearing up' - literally, for an event, or series of events likely to take place and escalate as time goes on.

    Perhaps ~the~ best investment is not a return on your savings, but a way of turning those savings into a tangible means of survival for what lies around the corner...?

  17. The one thing that i remember the most clearly over the past 40 years of my school days at Brandeis University in 1970's are my student adviser's words that when he was growing up that his grand parents and parents used the term "‘goyishe kup,’" meaning that the "Non-Jews are Stupid"
    Later in life I learned that the exact translation of "GOYISHE KUP" means that the "Cattle are STUPID"..
    I remember him recalling what his father told him when he was growing up in Eastern Europe. One of them being that when his father was in high school he and a group of friends would skip school early on Fridays and go over to his friend's father's butcher shop. That they would buy at cost any cows , that had not been butchered by the end of the day on Friday before the start of Shabat . They would take the cow home and wash it and then the boys would procede to "beat the udders of the cows so that they would swell up and turn pink" so as to sell them to the "GOYISHE KUP" as milk producing cows.
    The part that I remember him asking me if the East Europeans are so "naive, so gullible and so stupid" to buy an old "non milk producing cows" from a bunch of young Jewish Boys.
    So re-thinking of it now I agree with the Jewish saying that the "GOYISHE KUP" are indeed" Stupid" as they believe that a Bunch of Arab Moslem Kids who were not able to Fly a Cessna Airplane took it upon themselves to FLY a Jumbo 747 and outwitted the US Militaryand Civilian authorities. The "Jewish Lightning Insurance Scam" of the 1960's is still alive and well has been put to good use by Larry Silverstein in putting 15 million down and comming out with 7 billion dollars for buidings that no one wanted to buy because it would have cost a billion dollars to remove the asbestos from. Then on top of that the people in America actually believe that they actually decide who is elected President or for that that actual VOTE is really counted and makes a difference in deciding who represents them in the White House and congress.




    AE911truth.org, Rethink911.org, fromthetrenchesworldreport.com






    whatreallyhappened.com rense.com

    undergrounddocumentaries.com, http://www.brasschecktv.com


    Oy Veh, I agree that the American Non-Jews are indeed "GOYISHE KUP" or "STUPID CATTLE"!


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