Cleaning out my office recently, I found an old USA Today newspaper dated May 8, 2006, that I had not read. Glancing at the Money section, I came across an interesting array of articles. The headline of the Money section read, "Dow Closing on Record High".
The article began: "New York, October 9, 2002. The Dow Jones Industrial average, battered by the worst stock market meltdown since the 1929 crash, hit bottom. It closed 4,437 points below its January, 2000, all-time high." The story continued: "Three years, seven months, and 4,291 points since the Dow's low, the comeback is almost complete."
"Imagine that," I said to myself as I read the article. "For nearly four years, some stock market investors have been "holding and praying" that their ship, in this case their portfolio, would get back to zero -- back to where they were four years ago. While they were holding and praying, they missed what "The Economist" magazine called the biggest financial boom in the history of the world, the global boom in the real estate market."
Post-Makeover, Not Much Has Changed
Putting down the paper, I asked myself, "I wonder how many people did that? Who told them to hold, pray -- and miss out on the real estate boom? Turning to page 4 of the same newspaper, I found a possible answer in a section called "Couples and Their Cash". This was one of a series of articles USA Today ran about financial makeovers. The couple in this article earns a combined income $130,000 a year, invests in 28 mutual funds, has 20 credit cards, four savings accounts, and seven retirement accounts. They have $44,000 in debt on just three of their credit cards, transferred over from a home equity line of credit and from car loans.
Their question for the financial planner was, "Are we on the right path or do we need to be more aggressive?" After their consultation, they decided to cut back on the funds and save more money. They reduced the number of mutual funds from 29 to 24 and stepped up their savings. They also own a home, valued at $750,000, and owe $200,000 on their mortgage. After their consultation, they realized they may not be able to retire by age 60 and may not own their vacation home in a warmer climate.
Maybe I missed it, but I never did find out if they thought their new plan was more or less aggressive? I thought their plan hadn't changed much. Were they simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? And what would have happened if they had fewer mutual funds and invested in more real estate, even that vacation home, in the late 1990s?
I don't think this couple is doing much of anything different, even after their makeover. In fact, I think they might be in trouble and, instead of retiring comfortably, their retirement may turn out to be a long financial struggle, even if they think they're doing the right things today. Their makeover is hardly aggressive. They may never save enough. Their plan may sound good today, but will it survive tomorrow?
Bearish on the Greenback
As the New York Yankee Yogi Berra said, "The future ain't what it used to be." The reason I believe they're in trouble was found on page 2 of the same section of that newspaper. Near the bottom of page 2, almost obscure enough to miss, was an article that I believe points to the future. The article is headlined, "Buffet Puts Money to Work Abroad" and begins: "Warren Buffett says he sees greener investments overseas -- and he backed up his belief by announcing a controlling stake in an Israeli tool manufacturer."
As I read that, I asked myself, "Does this mean he's getting off the Titanic?" I'll let you answer that question yourself. But the fact that he's finally, for the first time, investing outside of America is not my reason for concern for the couple featured on page 4. My point is found in the next paragraph, where the article quotes Buffett: "The company [Berkshire-Hathaway] will look increasingly overseas as it seeks to reduce its cash to about $10 billion, down from $40 billion now."
So the couple on page 4 is working harder to save more in U.S. dollars while the richest investor in the world, Warren Buffet, is trying to reduce such holdings. Granted, $10 billion is still a lot to have in savings. Nonetheless, my question is: As an investor, who are you more similar to? Are you more like the couple on page 4 or Warren Buffett on page 2? Are you trying to increase or decrease your U.S. dollar holdings?
I have been bearish on the U.S. dollar for years (see "Investing: Go for Gold and Silver, Not Green"). I've also been saying "savers are losers" for a long time (see "Why Savers Are Losers").
I want you to think for yourself, rather than blindly follow the standard financial planners' line of "save money, get out of debt, invest for the long term (in mutual funds), and diversify." My question to you is, 'Why would the financial planner referenced on page 4 say the couple needs to save an additional $1.75 million dollars -- while, on page 2, the Oracle of Omaha is dumping his U.S. dollars? As the article on Buffett states, the famed investor "continues to be bearish on the dollar."
Who would you listen to?
Lowering a Lifeboat?
Although Buffett doesn't say this, I believe he's bearish on the greenback because he may be losing confidence in the management of the U.S. After all, America is fighting an expensive war for oil, energy prices are going up, our balance of trade is not balanced, our national debt is getting heavier, and the first of 78 million Baby Boomers is getting ready to retire.
Years ago, Buffett was buying silver when it was low, in the late 1990s. He was severely criticized for doing this, instead of taking part in the tech bubble, which burst spectacularly. Today, I believe he's the largest single owner of silver in the world -- and prices are rising.
Now he's dumping his dollars and buying businesses overseas. What does this signal? Is Warren rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic or lowering a lifeboat? So my question remains: Which expert is right? The expert on page 4, who recommends saving more in U.S. dollars, or the one on page 2?