How The Fed And Wall Street Are Eating Their Seed Corn

When it comes to the stock market these days the overriding theme you hear from the financial media is “You’ve got to get in.” Another is, “Buy on the dips and average in.” Or, “You can’t profit if you aren’t in it” and more. So many more it would fill its own multi-volume set. However, there was some truth to many of those quips just a few years ago. Today, the amount of hidden reality to the actual destruction of one’s wealth is far more factual than any will let on. Let alone reveal.

I hear and speak to a lot of entrepreneurs who are absolutely mystified by not only the rise in the markets since the financial crisis in 2008. Rather, what many just can’t wrap their heads around is: “If the markets are a reflection of the economy. Then how in the world did we get up here?”  That line of thought I rendered down to be the overwhelming theme when discussing the current state of business affairs throughout the economy. This confusion is coming from a group of people who at one time would seek out Wall Street aficionados for insight or expertise. Today, they tend more to distrust what they hear. For what they lack in stock market expertise   – they make up in spades with an acutely precise B.S. meter honed by years of business acumen. And many confirm today; it’s off the charts far more than they can ever remember. So much so, as to avoid stepping in any of it – they just avoid it all together.

At one time entrepreneurs were not only sought out by Wall Street, rather, entrepreneurs did the same in kind. Before the advent of 401K plans and more it was entrepreneurs with the sale of their business, or profits from something else that fueled many a brokerage firms bottom line. And in many cases that relationship did well for both sides. There was true expertise needed to help one navigate the pitfalls of exactly how and where one was to put their money to work (usually a substantial amount such as after a business sale etc.) in relative safety as to finance the remainder of one’s years. Today, not only in much of that expertise gone – so too is the safety.

There’s probably no better example of this than what transpires at any bank branch today (those that are left that is). Opening a checking or savings account? You used to be incentivized to do so. But what this initial transaction is really designed for today is more along the lines of “a soft opening” to ask…”So, do you have a 401K account elsewhere?” Then the sales pitch is on by some seemingly just out of grad school quota seeking “financial adviser” with an array of pamphlets, jargon, and sales phrases anyone with any financial sense can see through. “Index this… diversify that…dividend paying yields ” and on and on. Along with whatever might be the latest tagline from the financial shows.

This is the true face of Wall St. today. As much as Wall St. would like to think of itself as it was in the glory days of a Gordon Gekko – that image is long gone. Today, what most people see is nothing more than some recent college grad trying desperately to say anything that might convince one to switch 401K accounts as to possibly make this months quota. For if not they too will have to join the hordes of recently dislocated tellers they once worked with. And the numbers show this to be true because not only is the vast majority not switching – they aren’t even staying, let alone “getting in.”

Let’s use a few scenarios that are emblematic to the challenges facing the likes of both the recently cashed out entrepreneur as well as a recent retiree of any sorts. I’ll use the dollar amount of $3,000,000.00 ($3MM). To some this may seem high, to others it’s not all that great. However, for many entrepreneurs it’s an amount easily understood as well as feasible. I also use if because it’s a representative amount even Julian Robertson of Tiger Management™ has used to describe the dilemma many entrepreneurs find themselves in with navigating today’s financial morass.

(The following of course is over simplified, I mean it as such. However, the questions, answers, as well as premise can not be over stated as to their importance.)

The “buy and hold” strategy. Sounds great, makes perfect sense – unless you can’t hold. Retirement for many means just that: no more working to generate income. Income is now derived via their stock holdings. If one doesn’t sell (e.g., their stocks) – there’s no money to eat. Better to “stay and hold” in one’s business and take their chances rather than try to “cash out” and place their livelihoods (i.e., money) in someone else’s hands. Especially what constitutes as today’s “investment adviser.”

“Buy stocks that pay out dividends!” Again, sounds great and seems to solve the problem of the above. Problem is, in a stock rout, what’s the first thing companies cut? Dividends. You had just better hope and pray the companies that do cut – aren’t the ones you were sold. Or, you’re now cut out. But not too worry, they say skipping a meal or two here and there is healthy. And that’s what you’ll need to remember when there’s no food on the table because – there’s no “dividend” in the mailbox. I’ll also add: it’s probably safe to assume in another financial rout, the “financial adviser” that sold you those “dividend” plays is no longer employed themselves. So calling them for further “advice” might be more challenging than it is frustrating.

“Buy the dips!” Sure, there’s only one problem. If there is a “dip” doesn’t that mean the markets lost value? So if one didn’t sell at the heights where is the money to buy on the dip? And if one is selling on the high to fund retirement as to eat and pay bills: That money is now gone. There is no money to now “buy the f’n dip!”

“A stock market correction of 20% to 30% is a gift to buy great companies that are now on sale!” No. A 20% to 30% market correction is a loss of $600,000.00 to just shy of  $1,000,000.00 of ones net worth. More than likely a “net worth” that was to be “worth” food to eat, and pay living expenses.

“If you’re nervous about the markets just be diversified.” This line means squat. Diversified as in what? Other markets? Other vehicles? Lot of good that did during the financial crisis of ’08 when everything was going down and coming apart together. And if one believes the markets to be more stable today, and better fortified to withstand another such calamity, even one only half as extreme – I have some beautiful oceanfront property here in Kentucky I’d love to sell you. Cheap!

Don’t like the “markets?” Don’t worry – you can be safe in bonds. Only problem? Today they pay next to nothing. The bigger problem? Tomorrow they may charge you. All while having to be willing to accept: if you want out sooner than later – it’s gonna cost you a plenty if that sooner is at the wrong time. But don’t worry. It’s not like you need to eat or pay bills anytime sooner or later, right?

Want to keep your money as safe as possible? “Keep it in liquid instruments such as C.D.’s or savings accounts here at our bank.” Unless of course it’s over $100K. Then depending on the bank not only might you have to pay for the privilege, if they deem you have too much they might ask you to take your money elsewhere. Why? Easy. Your “cash” is now a hindrance that needs to be protected as well as accounted for. And that’s not what a “bank” is in business for any longer. Silly you for thinking “bank” today means anything what “bank” meant in the past.

“Don’t like banks? Put you’re money in a money market!” Right. Only problem there is after the financial meltdown of 2008 where it was shown a great deal of distress was caused by funds needing to keep 1 for 1 notional values in their cash accounts, it’s now been deemed that pesky thing of trying to preserve someones cash balance was just too hard. So a new rule was implemented where this pesky detail is no longer relevant. Now if your “cash” value in a money market account resembles an equation of cents on the dollar rather than a dollar for a dollar – oh well; it is 2015 after all. And the times – they have a changed. I’ll bet you didn’t even get a toaster when you opened that six or seven figured account. So there should be no need to whine about not having any bread to cook in it. After all it’s no longer even clear when you may gain or regain access to it (if there’s anything left) in another market rout. For any doubts on this just look to the bottom of your latest statement. it’s written right there in black and white. (Just have your 10X magnifying glass at the ready is all I’ll say.)

I could go on and on, yet I believe, you get the point. Ask just one of the above scenarios to what constitutes a “Wall St. maven” today and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts you’ll hear more back peddling or more evasive, jargon laced, mumbo-jumbo – it will have you questioning humanity itself let alone just financially.

What both Wall Street in general as well as the Federal Reserve has wrought is a market so adulterated, so anemic, and so mistrusted the euphemistic “money on the sidelines” has more in common with nursery rhymes than it does with anything reality based. There is no money on the sidelines. Nobody wants “in” to this market. Anyone with half a brain and a modicum of common sense wants out – and the outflow numbers show it still to be true.

“Buying the right index, diversification, and thinking like a billionaire” is not only nonsensical in today’s marketplace. It can cause one a whole lot of pain when one is unable to fully comprehend as well as separate euphemisms for real world panic and dismay.  All one needs to do is look east to see just how well that type of thinking is doing in China today. For “bubbles” no matter the culture when it comes to one’s money “pop” the same way: First panic – then distrust – then the repeating of another euphemism that sometimes lasts for generations: Never trust a bank or the markets. Never, ever, ever!

© 2015 Mark St.Cyr