It is often in the midst of economic despair that wealth is both made...and lost. While history often focuses only on the financial loss that transpires during recessions, it is also important to point out that these types of market environments have also provided individuals with the opportunity to make money.
Consider, for instance, some of the biggest companies we have today. Microsoft was started during the recession of 1975, Hewlett-Packard was born during the Great Depression, Disney was founded during 1923, and GE started during the panic of 1873. The founders of these companies were all able to thrive during times of economic turmoil.
Not an entrepreneur? No Problem. Recessionary environments also provide investors with investment opportunities. There will be opportunities to buy real-estate at undervalued prices, shares in companies at historically low P/E ratios, and perhaps even invest in start-up or emerging companies that might become the next Microsoft or GE.
But, before you start counting the wealth that you can possibly make during this recession, it is best to first start thinking about how you are going to protect it. Indeed, while a recession provides opportunities, it also creates an environment where many investors are often afraid to invest in value opportunities, or simply do not have the cash to participate. This, of course, makes perfect sense. After losing money in the stock market, real-estate or other investments, not many people will have the "contrarian" courage to purchase value investments. Additionally, many investors that have stubbornly held on to their present portfolio will simply not have the means to re-allocate their wealth.
As such, it is important to re-evaluate your financial situation and focus on protecting your wealth. While many pundits might still advocate buying into this market, I firmly believe that we are still in the early stages of a deep and long recession. The first step is to focus on protecting your wealth. Once you protect your wealth, you allow yourself to invest in potential value opportunities that will inevitably arise.
Is Cash King?
So how exactly do you protect your wealth? Well, for many investors, the answer is simply to liquidate their positions and move everything into cash, money markets, or treasury bills.
The basic logic behind this move is simply that "cash is king". In other words, while the stock market and real estate markets are declining substantially, keeping one's money in cash will at least preserve what they currently have. It will also allow them to have money to invest in opportunities down the line.
While this logic makes sense in a non-inflationary environment, it fails to address the de-valuation of purchasing power that occurs during rising inflation. Simply put, rising inflation erodes at the purchasing power of cash or cash equivalent investments. In other words, while you might think you are preserving your wealth...you actually are not.
Not convinced? All you have to do is take a look at your current costs and compare them to your costs from 5 or 10 years ago. You will quickly realize that you dollar does not buy what it used to buy. Consider, for instance, this hypothetical scenario.
Let's assume that 10 years ago you retired from your job. For the previous 40 years, you worked hard to put enough money away so that you would enjoy a comfortable and relaxing retirement. In preparation for your golden years, you put together a financial plan, calculated the potential costs of goods and services (using core CPI numbers), and decided that you had enough money to simply keep your wealth in a money market equivalent investment.
If you fast forward to today, you will quickly notice that the costs of goods and services are substantially higher that what you or your advisor had initially calculated. While you received some interest on your money, it by no means made up for the rising costs that have occurred around you. In addition to record food and energy prices, you are now paying for your prescription medication, your cable bill, recreational activities, and travel costs. You had even planned to help pay for your grandkid's education, but are now noticing that tuition costs are also rising at quick pace.
If are your living this above scenario, you are quickly understanding that cash- or any type of fiat money- does not preserve your wealth. Your wealth has eroded at a faster pace than you initially projected, and your purchasing power of your money has declined substantially over the past decade. Why is this? Well, a big reason has to do with the exponential growth rate of our money supply. While the Fed no longer reports the growth of the M3, the following chart can still give you an idea of the exponential increase of money that the fed has injected into our economy.
What is the result of an increase in the money supply? More money floating around. What is the impact of more dollars bills floating around? It dilutes the purchasing power of the dollar that you have in your pocket. There is now too much money chasing too few goods.
The Fed has cranked up the printing press since the mid 90's and the recent turmoil in the markets is forcing them to crank it up a notch higher. In fact, this is why I believe that the government's current bailout package misses the point. Flooding the market with liquidity is simply robbing Peter and paying Paul. Investors who did not participate in the speculative investments of the last several years are now forced to pay for them, whilst inflation will continue to erode the purchasing power of their savings. You can read my comments here:
So how exactly do you preserve wealth? And how do you keep your wealth so that you can participate from these potential value investments? Here are some ideas:
1) Short- Term Treasury Bills
Even though I have cautioned against holding all of your wealth in cash- especially for the long-term- I still believe that it makes sense to hold some of your wealth in cash during these volatile markets. In my opinion, you should not hold cash deposits that are higher than the FDIC insured levels. If you have additional money that you want to hold in cash, you should consider purchasing short-term treasury bills.
The price of gold has increased substantially over the past 7 years, but today might be one of the better times to allocate a portion of your portfolio towards gold. In the first stage of this gold bull market, many investors were too focused on their profitable stock and real-estate investments to allocate towards this sector. Today, it is becoming increasingly clear that gold's tangible qualities go beyond capital appreciation.
Historically, Gold has served as a hedge against inflation, a hedge against a declining US dollar, and a hedge against times of economic and political crisis. While many naysayers argue that gold is no longer money, but simply an archaic relic, gold's actions over that past several years clearly prove otherwise. Indeed, gold is the only currency in the world that has successfully preserved wealth for generations.
3) Look For Trading Opportunities
I have long argued that buy and hold only makes sense if you buy when you are young and sell when you are old. First, many investors that subscribe to "buy and hold" will often not be able to stomach long periods of declines. In many cases, these investors will often exit their holdings right near the bottom. And even if investors were able to withstand the substantial decline, they will often miss out on better opportunities. Don't be afraid to sell your losing positions if you feel that there are better investments to make. Also, consider trading for the short-term. While the markets are volatile, they are also providing investors with trading opportunities.
4) Commodity Trading Advisors/ Managed Futures
If you are not a trader or familiar with commodities, consider allocating money with Commodity Trading Advisors. The term "Managed Futures" defines an industry that is made up of professional money managers- known as Commodity Trading Advisors- that trade client funds on a discretionary basis using a variety of alternative investment strategies. This is somewhat similar to investing with a mutual fund manager that ultimately decides what type of stocks to buy and when to buy or sell the stocks.
There are, however, a couple major differences. The first has to do with the fact that Commodity Trading Advisors strictly trade in the futures and foreign exchange markets. Hence, the term- managed futures. The other difference is that the manager can use a wide range of trading strategies that are not available to traditional managers.
If you would like to learn more about the above strategies, please do not hesitate to contact me. This is not a time to be glued to the television- it's a time to act.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
While our economy first has to pay for the irresponsible lending practices, real-estate speculation, and wall-street greed that brought us into this situation, I fully believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, this tunnel is much longer than most people will anticipate. Instead of focusing on what the government might or might not do, investors should focus on what they can do to protect themselves from this prolonged recession and rising inflation. And perhaps, you might even be one of those investors who can profit from this tumultuous market environment.