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Archive for March 13th, 2020

One of my many maxims: 100% of financial advice is bad if the person giving it doesn’t know your personal financial situation. That goes for most of the money TV shows and columns, too. It often goes for real estate agents. It goes trebly for Jim Cramer. And it goes for ALL trading tips.

Now that the coronavirus has given the market its cold, let us consider the parallels. Both the virus and the markets likely have us so anxious that we distort the risk and actually do much riskier things (or at least unhelpful ones) rather than just relaxing and washing our hands (*and staying indoors). I’ve known CEOs who wanted to sell at the market bottom in 2008. It was not wise. But that’s what happens when the adrenal gland takes over a CEO’s body.

There are certain things to keep in mind about this market. If you have investments that lost value and are now thinking of selling them, you are going to lock in your losses. If your attitude is, “I was going to need that money soon,” you shouldn’t have been invested in stocks in the first place. Money earmarked for use within five years should be kept in a money market fund. Stocks (mainly those pursued through mutual funds) are there to grow over the long term. You take short term risks of failure for that almost certain growth. And a pandemic is one of those risks. If you are thinking of shifting money around hoping for some short-term rebound on a few hot stocks, keep in mind that the things best set to go up in value are the things that just lost you a lot of money. And what’s more, by trying to pounce on some hot stock tip, you have forsaken the responsible act of investing for the hell that is trading. Trading (let’s just call it gambling) is a world where 80-90% of people fail and those who succeed don’t realize the tax obligation they are generating in return for that big risk they took.

I’m not a doctor, but I hear a lot of risk distortion about the coronavirus as well. I still hear mortality rates being from 1% to 3%, which means I think a lot of people are giving in to the same anxiety that that CEO was. But when you move into certain cohorts and people with compromised immune systems, the mortality rate is much higher. My advice is to save your concern for the elderly. I was admonished by an older lady two months ago for covering my mouth the wrong way when I coughed. I thought it was funny, but I have to consider that that is a life and death problem to her. We also have to consider that our older relatives might need physical isolation, but emotional isolation also takes a toll on an elderly person’s health. So staying away is likely helpful–but so is calling them.

My wife has a master’s degree in epidemiology, but I’m not a doctor. If you are, feel free to correct anything wrong I’ve put in my post about medicine. But I’ve been writing about money for 22 years and get nervous seeing people make the same mistakes over and over on weeks like this one. If you are one of my friends who made a bunch of money on Apple since 1999 or have some “foolproof” personal strategy, feel free to keep that on your own page and off mine. Your information is incomplete and fosters the trading mentality. It might have worked for you, but again, it’s deadly irresponsible information for someone with a different risk profile who doesn’t know the pitfalls. It’s like you coughed around the wrong person the wrong way.

*I did not originally post that we should stay indoors and practice social distancing. I was catching up myself on the responsible behaviors pursued during a pandemic and it is now responsible of me to add these things I’ve come to understand about public safety amid health crises.

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