An Age-Old Puzzle

John Lim

John is a physician and author of "How to Raise Your Child's Financial IQ." He missed his true calling, which was to be either an economist or a financial writer. His hobbies include running and classical music.

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An Age-Old Puzzle

John Lim  |  Sep 7, 2021

ONE OF THE GREAT mysteries in finance is the reluctance of retirees to annuitize more of their portfolio. Annuities—and here I’m referring to plain-vanilla income annuities—provide a guaranteed income stream for life. Examples include Social Security and company pensions. Income annuities can also be purchased from insurance companies. When you buy an immediate-fixed annuity from an insurer, you exchange a lump sum for a guaranteed, monthly payout for the remainder of your life and,

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Running the Numbers

John Lim  |  Aug 31, 2021

I RECENTLY LISTENED to a podcast featuring Richard Thaler, the Nobel prize-winning economist. To say I’m a huge fan of his work is an understatement. Thaler has that rare ability to communicate a complex topic—behavioral economics—to a lay audience in a way that’s both accessible and enjoyable. His book Misbehaving offers a fascinating historical account of behavioral economics, a field he played a major role in developing.
But it was a casual comment that Thaler made toward the end of the interview that really caught my attention.

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Inflation Insurance

John Lim  |  Aug 23, 2021

ON AUG. 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon made the weighty decision to end the convertibility of the U.S. dollar into gold. By doing so, he drove a stake through the heart of the gold standard, a monetary system which fixed the worth of a unit of money to a specific amount of physical gold. Before that day, foreign central banks were able to exchange $35 for one ounce of gold from the vaults of the U.S.

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Three Thoughts

John Lim  |  Aug 17, 2021

“THE UNEXAMINED LIFE is not worth living,” warned the Greek philosopher Socrates. What has my examination turned up? Here are three recent thoughts on life and how money fits in:
1. What’s measurable isn’t always meaningful. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to our personal finances. We—along with our financial advisors—tend to focus on the size of our 401(k) or our net worth, in part because these are easy to measure.

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Making Sense

John Lim  |  Aug 8, 2021

I SUGGESTED a thought experiment in my last blog post—one in which the stock market shut down for six months at the start of the pandemic. I believe it helps explain why financial markets recovered with such a vengeance.
Today, I take a different tack, one based on financial theory. It’s easy to forget that stocks are not pieces of paper (remember stock certificates?) or ticker symbols on a computer screen. Rather, they represent a claim on company profits,

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Whither Inflation?

John Lim  |  Aug 2, 2021

THE RAGING DEBATE of 2021 is whether the inflation we’ve been experiencing this year will be transitory or more permanent. The Federal Reserve’s official stance is that the spike in inflation is a perfect storm of pent-up demand, supply-chain disruptions and year-over-year comparisons that are “inflated” relative to 2020’s pandemic-induced deflation, and eventually will revert to more normal levels.
Recent hotter than expected inflation data—including the consumer price index (CPI), producer price index (PPI),

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Looking Further

John Lim  |  Aug 1, 2021

IN MID-MARCH 2020, a friend and I were anxiously discussing the financial ramifications of the evolving pandemic. I posited the following question to him: Suppose the stock exchanges announced that they’d be shutting down for six months, starting the day after tomorrow. What do you think would happen to the stock market on its final trading day before closing?
Answering my own rhetorical question, I said it wouldn’t surprise me if markets paradoxically staged a huge rally—upward of 20%—the day before shutting down.

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Picking the Fruit

John Lim  |  Jul 24, 2021

LAST MONTH, the Federal Reserve released the results of its latest stress tests of major financial institutions. As an investor in Wells Fargo, I took special interest in the Fed’s findings. Why? If Wells Fargo passed the Fed’s stress test, it would be allowed to raise its dividend, which currently stands at a paltry 10 cents a share, amounting to a dividend yield of just 0.9%.
I’m fully aware that my obsession with stock dividends is less than rational.

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Leaving the Country

John Lim  |  Jul 22, 2021

ARE THERE TIMES when a near 100% international stock allocation makes sense? I believe there are—and that today is just such a moment.
Never in my life have I had such a low allocation to U.S. stocks. My overall portfolio is 60% stocks and 40% bonds. But the stock portion is comprised of just 15% U.S., with the remainder held in international stocks, split evenly between emerging and developed markets.
I realize that’s unorthodox.

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What to Expect

John Lim  |  Jun 10, 2021

IMAGINE A MARKET genie offered you the choice between knowing the stock market’s return next year or the stock market’s average return over the next 10 to 15 years. Which would you choose?
I’m guessing that most people would prefer to know how the stock market will do next year. After all, that seems like more actionable information, plus who has the patience to wait a decade or longer? But for those with an investing time horizon of more than 10 years—the vast majority of us—knowing the stock market’s return over the next decade or longer is far more valuable information.

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What a Drag

John Lim  |  Jun 3, 2021

ONE PERCENT is the average annual cost charged by actively managed stock mutual funds. One percent is also the typical fee charged by financial advisors for managing a client’s portfolio. Paying 1% means keeping 99% for yourself. What’s the harm in that?
Here are some pictures of Lower Manhattan. It’s dotted with the skyscrapers that comprise the financial district, home to some of Wall Street’s largest firms. Just the seven largest U.S. banks together are worth more than $1.5 trillion (yes,

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Why We Go Wrong

John Lim  |  Jan 16, 2021

I’VE LONG BEEN flummoxed by the difficulty people have managing money. It all seems so intuitive: Save, invest, repeat. Buy more when the market falls and a lot more when it crashes. Rebalance by adding more to losing asset classes—which today means buying value and international stocks.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m no financial genius. I’ve made my share of blunders. But I also know that being a do-it-yourself investor has saved me boatloads of money.

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Ten Tips for 2021

John Lim  |  Dec 30, 2020

‘TIS THE SEASON for making predictions and financial recommendations for the year ahead. Since everyone else is doing it, I figured I’d hop on the bandwagon. Here are my 10 predictions and recommendations for 2021:
1. The stock market will fluctuate, but company dividends will be relatively stable.
John Pierpont Morgan was asked what the stock market would do next. According to legend, he answered, “It will fluctuate.” If only financial experts were so truthful today.

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Evasive Action

John Lim  |  Nov 23, 2020

DEAR FAMILY, you know I don’t typically give unsolicited investment advice. But today, I’m breaking that rule, because I don’t want you to get hurt financially.
I can’t promise that, by following my advice, you’ll be better off in the short run. But I firmly believe that you’ll be better off in the long run, by which I mean in the next five to 10 years. Please take this letter for what it is,

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My Bad

John Lim  |  Jun 8, 2020

HUMANS ARE WIRED in ways that, alas, aren’t conducive to achieving our financial goals. Indeed, thanks to research by academics focused on behavioral finance, we now have a much better handle on the money mistakes that many of us regularly make. Want to become a better investor? Here are three insights into ourselves, compliments of behavioral finance:
The illusion of understanding. Once you’re aware of this illusion, you start seeing it everywhere,

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