Welcome to the Curious Cat Investing, Economics and Personal Finance Carnival: find useful recent personal finance, investing and economics blog posts and articles. If you want to have an post considered for the next carnival please submit it to quixperito: money.
- How I live on $7,000 per year by Jacob Lund Fisker – “If I had to venture a guess, I’d say I’m more frugal (the way your grandparents were frugal—in fact what I do wouldn’t be considered very extreme by your grandparents or great grandparents—I’d probably be average from their perspective) and I adhere more to a do-it-your-self ethics.”
- Invest in Communities to Advance Capitalism by Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) – “It is no longer enough to serve customers, employees, and shareholders. As corporate citizens of the world, it is our responsibility — our duty — to serve the communities where we do business by helping to improve, for example, the quality of citizens’ education, employment, health care, safety, and overall daily life, plus future prospects.” [similar to Dr. Deming ideas from decades ago on the purpose of organizations, which I share - John].
- My dad taught me cashflow with a soda machine by Rob Fitzpatrick – “The vending machine didn’t magically make me want to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to be a video game designer, then an engineer, then a video game designer again, and then an academic. I get the impression kids are a bit slippery in that regard.
But when I stumbled into the startup world two decades later, the dots began to connect. Cashflow wasn’t a new concept.”
- Disability Insurance is Very Important by John Hunter – “When I would have had gaps in coverage from work, I have purchased disability insurance myself. I am all in favor of saving money. About the only 2 things I don’t believe in saving money being very important are health and disability insurance.”
- What Other Dividend Lists Exist Besides the Dividend Aristocrats? – “companies that have increased their annual regular dividends for at least the past 10 consecutive years and have met specific liquidity screening criteria… The members of the Dividend Champions List include, those stocks (not limited to the S&P 500) that have increased their dividend for the past 25 years.”
- Buying a New Home and Converting Your Current Home Into a Rental Property by Philip Taylor – “By refinancing our mortgage, we reduced our mortgage payment by enough to allow us to rent out the property by at least a hundred more per month than all of our expenses: mortgage, property taxes, insurance, home owners association dues, repairs, and property management fees.”
- The perils of near monopoly by Joshua Gans – “Had Qantas had market shares akin to airlines in more competitive markets, the shut down would not have had the external spillovers, publicity and also the ability to shield Qantas — both managers and workers — from personal long-term consequences of such brinkmanship.”
After World War II essentially the only significantly large industrial base was in the USA. The USA was emerging as a national power in the early 1900’s. The wake of World War I and World War II left a very odd situation. You had many formerly very rich countries that were devastated and one rich country that wasn’t. Devastation is not easy to overcome in even 20 years. So for a good 2 decades the USA got wealthier and wealthier even while other formerly rich countries were re-developing their countries rapidly.
This made the USA even richer as selling to all those around the world was pretty easy, just creating enough stuff was the hardest part. Almost none of the current emerging markets were doing much of anything economically. This resulted in the USA being able to live incredibly well and generate enormous wealth.
The main legacy of this is a huge benefit to the USA – enormous wealth and experience. However, it seems to have left people thinking the USA is just suppose to be enormously wealthy always no matter if we throw away hundreds of billions a year on a broken health care system, provide huge benefits to political donors (farmers or bankers or phone oligopolists or robbers of the public domain [preventing innovation through repressive, outdated "intellectual property" regimes]), spending many hundreds of billions yearly on military expenditures far beyond those of any other country… It doesn’t work that way.
You can waste huge amounts of economic benefit when you are the dominant economic power globally. And when you were as rich as the USA was in the 1950s and 1960s more and more people felt they deserved to be favored with economic gifts. So for a a few decades the USA used the excess wealth to pay off all sorts of special interests and still do very well economically. The only thing surprising is how long we have been able to keep this up.
It isn’t rational to base expectations on periods when we were granted economic wealth largely by virtue of the world industrial production, other than ours, being destroyed. This isn’t the only reason we were wealthy, we do many things very well (compared to other countries) entrepreneurship, less corruption (still way too much but less than average), from 1950 to about 1990 an equitable distribution of economic gains, until recently a good advanced education system, a brilliant system to turn science and engineering breakthroughs into economic profit (that in the last few decades other countries are starting to do, but they are still way behind)…
From 1970s until say the 2000s we could use our accumulated wealth to live off and allow huge inefficiencies to continue (lousy job of regulating banks, lousy job of subsidizing farming, lousy job of subsidizing lousy food [making it cheap to eat unhealthy food and expensive to eat healthy food], lousy job of controlling the costs of higher education, lousy job of getting people to realize they cannot expect to live far beyond most everyone else in the world just because they were born in the USA…
There is a great deal focus recently on the “99%” (via occupy wall street and the like). The truth is these are mainly about the 5% or 10% (those rich, but not quite as rich as the richest 1% – and much further from the richest than they were a few decades ago). As I have written before, most of those in the USA (also Europe, Japan…) are rich (though this is changing, a greater percentage of the USA is not rich, looking globally, than maybe any point since the 1930s).
We get confused because many near us are even richer and think that means the rest of us are very poor. But those in the USA are often in the 5% or 10% – not the 30% or 60% or 90% they seem to think they are. $50,000 in annual income puts you in the top 1% globally. $25,000 puts you in the top 10%.
I agree with the desire to reduce the political and market corruption, as I have written for years.
For the 99% (or the 90% anyway), I really think the best things are government policies that reduce corruption and increase market forces. Letting actually capitalism work instead of political and corporate cronyism failing to let markets work as they should. Also giving education and the chance to build a better life for yourself are important. Thankfully many countries have been doing very well on this front: Singapore, Korea, Brazil, Ghana, China… That doesn’t mean there are not huge issues to still address for most of the 90%, there are.
Microfinance in general, and Kiva in particular, are one great way to help. Again it isn’t perfect. And those getting the loans are not given an easy life. They are given a chance to try and build there business to improve there economic condition. This isn’t a certain success. And I do worry that taking on too high an interest rate, or loan amount, can leave people worse off than before. But when looking at the system of microfinance I really like the opportunity it gives people, who haven’t been given many.
Those getting loans have to make smart personal finance and business decisions. If they do well they can greatly improve their financial situation. I made several more loans today, using money repaid by previous borrowers. I try to find loans where I am able to help fund a investment that will improve capacity (but that isn’t always possible) – a new machine that makes them more efficient for example. I also try to avoid loans where the interest rate is over 30% (which might seem very high, but rates below 20% are very rare given the economics of these loans – they are very costly to service). What Kiva does is provide the funds people like me lend as interest free loans to the partner banks. The idea is that this allows partner banks to provide more capital for loans (obviously) and at a lower rate because the bank isn’t having to pay interest on the funds.
My loans today went to: Mali, Honduras, Senegal, Ecuador, Togo, Philippines and in the photo above El Salvador. The Curious Cat Kivans group has now lent $12,925 in 320 loans. We now have 11 members, join up and help give people an opportunity to improve their economic condition.
Many talking heads and politicians try to sell their policies of allowing large market players to take profits by prevent markets from functioning properly as capitalist. They are not. Unless liaise-fare capitalism throws out the primacy of free markets being used to aid society by allocating economic resources efficiently it isn’t either. If it does, using the word capitalism is just obfuscation, because it isn’t capitalist.
Crony capitalism is a better phrase for what we have been practicing. Though using the word capitalism is misleading. Even better would be politically supported corporate cronyism. We have elected those that pursue this anti-market approach. And we watch them in great numbers on TV based on what is supposedly popular. But I really hope we can turn away the claims of capitalism somehow being consistent with the crazy things people have done.
Pushing a political desire that anti-government and calling it capitalism doesn’t make it so. Capitalism at the core is about a system that allows markets to efficiently allocate resources to provide the greatest societal good. It is based on markets working. Capitalists know market players will try to prevent markets from working to gain themselves. To support capitalism you need to design systems that deal with this weakness otherwise you are not talking about capitalism you are talking about something else. Something that where anti-market forces which undermine the basis for why capitalism is a useful method for societies to gain economically is subverted to a desire to support those that can buy political power.
I have written about this some, as I care about it: Economic Consequences Flow from Failing to Follow Real Capitalist Model and Living Beyond Our Means – A Free Market is not One with Monopolies and Oligopolies – Mis-representing Capitalism
High frequency trading is rightly criticized. It isn’t bad because rich people are getting richer. It is bad because of the manipulation of markets. Those being
- Front running – having orders executed milliseconds in advance to gain an edge (there is no market benefit to millisecond variation). In the grossest for it is clearly criminal: putting in orders prior to known orders from a customer to make money at the expense of your customer and others in the market. My understanding is the criminal type is not what they are normally accused of, of course, who knows but… Instead they front run largely by getting information very quickly and putting in orders to front run based on silly price difference (under 1/10 of a cent).
- Putting in false orders to fake out the market – you are not allowed to put in false orders. It is clear from the amount of orders placed and immediately withdrawn they are constantly doing this. Very simply any firm doing this should be banned from trading. It wouldn’t take long to stop. Of course the SEC should prosecute people doing this, but don’t hold your breath.
Several things should be done.
- Institute a small new financial transaction tax – adding a bit of friction to the system will reduce the ludicrous stuff going on now. Use this tax to fund investigation and prosecution of bad behavior.
- Redo the way matching of orders is done to promote real market activity not minute market arbitrage and manipulation – I don’t know exactly what to do but something like putting in a timing factor along with price. An order that is within 1/10 of cent for less than 1,000 shares are executed in order of length of time they have been active (or something like that).
- Institute rules that if you cancel more than 20% of your order (over 10 in a day) in less than 15 minutes you can’t enter an order for 24 hours. Repeated failures to leave orders in place create longer bans.
- Don’t let those using these strategies get their money back when they do idiotic things like sell bull chip companies down to 20% of their price at the beginning of the day. You don’t get to say, oh I didn’t really mean to buy this stock that lost me 50% the day I bought it, give me money back. There is no reason high frequency traders should be allowed to take their profits and then renege on trades they don’t like later.
Speculation is fine, within set rules for a fair market. Traders making money by manipulating the system instead of through beneficial activities such as making a market shouldn’t be supported.
To the extent high frequency trading creates fundamental buying opportunities take advantage of the market opportunity. Just realize the high frequency traders may be able to reverse you gains (and if you lose you are not going to be granted the same favors).
The truth is the billions of dollars high frequency traders steal from others market returns matters much less to true investors. For long terms holdings the less than a cent they steal from other market participants is small. It is still bad. Just people really get more excited about it than they need to. I would love to just get 1/1000 of cent on every trade made in the markets, I could retire. But they are mainly stealing very small amounts from tons of different people. Now the fake orders and trades that go against them that they then get reversed are a different story.
I believe long term disability insurance is a must for a safe personal financial plan. The risk of not being covered isn’t worth it. An office worker should have a very low risk of something happening that qualifies you for receiving benefits (even with fairly serious injuries for a hunter-gatherer or farmer they can earn a living).
That is actually the perfect situation for insurance. Insurance should be cheap when the risk is small. You want insurance for unlikely but very costly events. You don’t want insurance for likely and inexpensive events (paying the middle man just adds to the cost).
I believe, other than health insurance it is the most important insurance. For someone with dependents life insurance can be important too. And auto and homeowners insurance are also important. Insurance if an important part of a smart personal finance. It is wise to chose high deductibles (to reduce cost).
In many things I believe you can chose what you want to do and just deal with the results. Forgoing health or disability insurance I think don’t fall into that category. Just always have those coverages. I think doing without is just a bad idea.
When I would have had gaps in coverage from work, I have purchased disability insurance myself.
I am all in favor of saving money. About the only 2 things I don’t believe in saving money being very important are health and disability insurance. Get high deductible insurance in general (you should insure against small loses). And with disability insurance you can reduce the cost by having the insurance only start after 6 or 12 months (I chose 12). As you get close to retirement (say 5 years) the risk is much less, you only have so many earning years left. If you wanted to save some money at that point it might be ok if you have saved well for retirement and have a cushion (in case you have to retire 3 year early). Long term care insurance may well be wise to get (if you didn’t when it was cheaper and you were younger. Long term care insurance is really tricky and very tied to whatever our politicians decide not to do (or do) about the broken health care system we have in the USA. The cost also becomes higher as it is moving toward a likely event, instead of a unlikely event (as you age you are more frail).
It is very simple. Adam Smith understood it and commented on it. If you allow businesses to have control of the market they will take benefits they don’t deserve at the expense of society. And many business will seek every opportunity to collude with other businesses to stop the free market from reducing their profits and instead instituting anti-competitive practices. Unless you stop this you don’t get the benefits of free market capitalism. Free markets (where perfect competition exists, meaning no player can control the market) distribute the gains to society by allowing those that provide services in an open market efficiently and effectively to profit.
Those that conflate freedom in every form and free markets don’t understand that free markets are a tool to and end (economic well being for a society) not a good in and of themselves. Politically many of these people just believe in everyone having freedom to do whatever they want. Promoting that political viewpoint is fine.
When we allow them to discredit free market capitalism by equating anti-market policies as being free market capitalism we risk losing a great benefit to society. People, see the policies that encourage allowing a few to collude and take “monopoly rents” and to disrupt markets, and to have politicians create strong special interest policies at the expense of society are bad (pretty much anyone, conservative liberal, anything other than those not interested in economics see this).
When people get the message that collusion, anti-competitive markets, political special interest driven policies… are what free market capitalism is we risk losing even more of the benefits free markets provide (than we are losing now). That so few seem to care about the benefit capitalism can provide that they willingly (I suppose some are so foolish they don’t understand, but that can’t be the majority) sacrifice capitalism to pay off political backers by supporting anti-market policies.
Allowing businesses to buy off politicians (and large swaths of the “news media” talking heads that spout illogical nonsense) to give them the right to tap monopoly profits based on un-free markets (where they use market power to extract monopoly rents) is extremely foolish. Yet the USA has allowed this to go on for decades (well really a lot longer – it is basically just a modification of the trust busting that Teddy Roosevelt tried). It is becoming more of an issue because we are allowing more of the gains to be driven by anti-competitive forces (than at least since the boom trust times) and we just don’t have nearly as much loot to allow so much pilfering and still have plenty left over to please most people.
I am amazed and disgusted that we have, for at least a decade or two, allowed talking head to claim capitalist and market support for their special interest anti-market policies. It is an indictment of our educational system that such foolish commentary is popular.
This is exactly the type of behavior supported by the actions of the politicians you elect (if you live in the USA).
It is ludicrous that we provide extremely anti-market policies to help huge companies extract monopoly profits on public resources such as the spectrum of the airwaves. It is an obvious natural monopoly. It obviously should be managed as one. Several bandwidth providers provide bandwidth and charge a regulated rate. And let those using it do as they wish. Don’t allowing ludicrous fees extracted by anti-free-market forces such as those supporting such companies behavior at Verizon, AT&T…
Related: Financial Transactions Tax to Pay Off Wall Street Welfare Debt – Extremely Poor Broadband for the USA (brought to us by the same bought and paid for political and commentary class) – Ignorance of Capitalism – Monopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make
We collect useful recent personal finance, investing and economics blog posts to help you find useful information.
- How to Create a Million-Dollar Business This Weekend (Examples: AppSumo, Mint, Chihuahuas) by Tim Ferriss – “Don’t get me wrong–I’m not opposed to you trying to build a world-changing product that requires months of fine-tuning. All I’m going to suggest is that you start with a much simpler essence of your product over the course of a weekend, rather than wasting time building something for weeks… only to discover no one wants it.”
- The True Cost of Commuting – “In other words, a logical person should be willing to pay about $15,900 more for a house that is one mile closer to work, and $477,000 more for a house that is 30 miles closer to work. For a double-commuting couple, these numbers are $31,800 and $954,000.”
- Looking for Dividend Stocks in the Current Extremely Low Interest Rate Environment by John Hunter – “A huge advantage of dividends stocks is they often increase the dividend over time. And this is one of the keys to evaluate when selected these stock investments. So you can buy a stock that pays a 4% yield today and 5 years down the road you might be getting 5.5% yield (based on increased dividend payouts and your original purchase price).”
- I Stand With the Protesters by Lee Adler – “Stop the fraud, return to the rule of law, prosecute the bankers, punish the guilty, figure out what our assets are really worth and pay us a fair return, and most importantly, return basic standards of fairness and ethical behavior, something that many in society must relearn.”
- The Depression: If Only Things Were That Good by David Leonhardt – “In the short term, finance, health care and housing provide jobs, as their lobbyists are quick to point out. But it is hard to see how the jobs of the future will spring from unnecessary back surgery and garden-variety arbitrage. They differ from the growth engines of the past, which delivered fundamental value — faster transportation or new knowledge — and let other industries then build off those advances.”
- Banks Have a Right to Make a Profit; Customers Have the Right of Choice by Ryan Guina – “I encourage you to explore your options and find the bank which meets your needs, and won’t nickel or dime you with fees. I use USAA, which is an incredible bank. And there are a variety of fee free online savings accounts, free checking accounts, and hundreds of credit unions which don’t charge as many fees as some of the larger banks.”
- Remember when rare earth stocks were hotter than magma? Well, they’re 50% cheaper now by Jim Jubak – “The growing demand for rare earths from new technologies plus China’s moves had two immediate effects. First, prices for rare earth minerals, especially the rarer heavy rare earth elements soared with prices for some rare earth elements climbing ten times from 2009 into 2011. Second, the scramble was on for alternative sources of supply. Suddenly there was plenty of capital available to restart mines that had closed because of low prices and stricter environmental regulation outside of China.”
- Fighting Civil Forfeiture Abuse – “The net effect of these three factors [profit motive, standard of proof, innocent owner burden] is to increase the use of forfeiture by law enforcement agencies by incentivizing forfeiture through making it profitable for the agencies that engage in it, by making it easier to keep seized property (by lowering the standard of proof) and by making it more expensive and difficult for owners to challenge the action (by shifting the burden of proof to the innocent owner).”
In my opinion is has never been more difficult to plan for retirement. It is extremely difficult to guess what rates of return should be expected in the next 10-30 years. It might have actually been as difficult 10 years ago, but it seemed that it wasn’t. Estimating a 7-8% return for your portfolio seemed a pretty reasonable thing to do, and evening considering 10% wasn’t unthinkable, if you wanted to be optimistic and took more risk.
Today it is very hard to guess, going forward, what is reasonable. It is also hard to find any very safe decent yields. Is 4% a good estimate for your portfolio? 6%? 8%? What about inflation? I know inflation isn’t a huge concern of people right now, but I still think it is a very real risk. I think trying to project is helpful (even with all the uncertainty). But it is more important than ever to look at various scenarios and consider the risks if things don’t go as well as you hope. The best way to deal with that is to save more.
In the USA save at least 10% of your income for retirement in your own savings (in addition to social security) and it would be better to save 12% and you might even need to be saving 15%. And if you waited beyond 30 to start doing this you have to save substantially more, to have a comfortable retirement plan (obviously if you are willing to live at a much lower standard of living in retirement than before, you can save less).
Other factors matter too. If you don’t own your house with no more mortgage payments you will need to save more. Ideally you will have not debts at retirement, if you do, again you need to save more.
Vanguard founder Jack Bogle has a slightly more upbeat assessment. He expects stock returns of 7 percent to 7.5 percent over the next decade. He assumes no expansion in the market’s price-earnings ratio, dividend yields of 2.2 percent, and earnings growth of at least 5 percent. Bogle expects bond returns to be about 3 percent. For a balanced portfolio, that produces a net nominal return of slightly more than 6 percent. A higher forecast is T. Rowe Price’s estimate of 7 percent; until this year it had used 8 percent.
I also suggest using high quality high yield dividend stocks for more of the bond portfolio. I wouldn’t hold bonds with maturities over 5 years at these yields (or if I did, they would be an extremely small portion of the portfolio). I would also have a fair amount of the bond portfolio in inflation protected bonds.
I also invest in emerging economies like China, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the continent of Africa… To some extent you get that with large companies like Google, Intel, Tesco, Toyota, Apple… that are making lots of money in emerging economies and continuing to invest more in emerging markets. VWO (.22% expense ratio) is a good exchange traded fund (ETF) for emerging markets. I also believe investing in real estate is wise as part of a retirement portfolio.
For the first time ever average 30 year fixed mortgage rates have fallen under 4%. My guess about interests rates have not been very good the last decade or so. I can’t believe people actually want to lend at these rates but obviously I have been wrong. The risks of lending at these rates over the long term just seem way too high to take a paltry 4%. But obviously I have been wrong.
So if you didn’t refinance when I suggested it (and refinance, myself), previously, you may want to look at doing so now. Or you may believe that listen to me about interest rates doesn’t seem very wise.
I have even read that banks are reducing fees in order to encourage refinancing. Seems crazy to me, but what do I know.
You do need to have a decent loan to value ratio (certainly no more than 90%, and probably 80% would be better). That can be difficult for those that have had large decreases in their homes value. Also you need a great credit rating and a stable job situation. But if you qualify refinancing at these rates should be a great financial move for many. I’m perfectly happen to have done so earlier, I didn’t quite pick the bottom but I still think over 30 years these rates (the current rates and earlier rates of 4 1/4% or 4 3/8%) will seem like a dream.