blog21sep2008

Hot Off the Web- September 21, 2008

The hundreds of articles in the past week giving you advice as to what to do could be summarized, hopefully without doing them too much injustice, as: spend less or withdraw less from assets, save more, pay down debt starting with most expensive first, stick to your financial plan (if you don’t have one get one), don’t panic, don’t abandon the market- most people can’t avoid being in the market because they need the extra return (that equities provided historically and will likely continue to do so) to accumulate enough assets for a comfortable retirement or to insure that inflation does not erode their lifestyle while in retirement, take only as much risk as you are able, willing and need to achieve your objectives, and control risk with proper diversification. And, if all else fails, take tax losses if you have some gains that you would like to offset.

Still, here are a few you might find interesting:

Brett Arends in WSJ’s “Ten ways to protect your finances from the crisis” :Check that your bank  and brokerage accounts are insured, reduce spending, have cash reserves enough for one year spending, if investing for >5 years buy some stock.

Jason Zweig in WSJ’s “How to handle a market gone mad” tells you how to develop “ataraxia or imperturbability” : be a contrarian and buy during the period of maximum uncertainty, take inventory and perhaps pay off high cost debt, take baby steps in or out of the market depending how well you are sleeping.

John Heinzl of the Globe and Mail’s “Don’t let fear keep you off this ride” looks for the silver lining: oil prices and U.S. mortgage rates are down, Canadian banks are sound and with all the doom and gloom stock are on sale (though not yet wholesale).

Jonathan Chevreau in Financial Post’s “Swedroe on financial risk” reprints Larry Swedroe’s take on the current situation. It is a great read. If you find it too long don’t stop reading, just skip to Section 7- The Bottom Line: only take as much risk as you are able, willing and have to take, stocks are risky irrespective of your horizon, buy and hold a globally diversified portfolio get a plan and stick to it.

Ron Lieber in NYT’s “Taking control of your financial risks” also suggests no precipitous action: if you still believe in capitalism most have no option but build assets for retirement on stocks (cash won’t get you there unless you can live on your inflation indexed government/public-sector pension), reducing spending allow you to save more if you are still accumulating or slow asset depletion if you are in retirement, make extra payments towards your mortgage. (The returns you’ll get on the last two suggestions are guaranteed.)

And if all else fails, Jamie Golombek in Financial Post’s “Last resort: write it off” suggests you consider opportunities for tax loss selling and then buy it back after the required 30 days (if you’re worried about missing out on a rally in the meantime  buy temporarily a correlated stock or ETF).

And finally on the related topic of risk tolerance and asset allocation, Lewis Braham in BusinessWeek’s “How your career affects your portfolio” discusses how your appropriate asset allocation is influenced by the job you do. Examples given are tenured professor whose secure income is bond-like can/should have a added exposure to stocks, while a stockbroker whose income/job go up and down with the stock market should have a greater allocation to bonds. Even more sophisticated approaches factor in the specific industry that the investor is working in and hedge that exposure (rather than, as many in the telecom industry have done a few years ago, buying more stock in your industry or company they thought they knew and loved). By the way look out for my upcoming review of Milevsky’s new  book on similar topic “Are you a Stock or a Bond” that I just finished reading.

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