EARLIER THIS YEAR, before the coronavirus hit, my family visited an amusement park. Everyone had fun—except my nine-year-old, who complained about the injustice of the rigged “down the clown” game.
You have probably seen this sort of thing: You’re given a handful of baseballs. Then, standing from about 10 feet away, the challenge is to knock down as many mechanical clowns as possible for a chance to win a prize. It doesn’t appear difficult—you aren’t that far away and the clowns are tightly spaced—but most people walk away empty-handed.
I REMEMBER the first time we met. Josh—not his real name—and I went to rival high schools in the Washington, D.C., area. During our senior year, we competed in a track meet. Someone mentioned that we would be going to the same college in the fall, so I went over to introduce myself—a little awkwardly, as he had just annihilated me in a race. A few months later, knowing few people on campus, we were happy to discover that we’d both enrolled in the college’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program.
CONVERSATIONS on Twitter aren’t known for their civility. Still, it came as a surprise last week when, out of the blue, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb launched a broadside against investor Clifford Asness, calling his work “crap,” along with other insults.
Asness wasted no time firing back, calling Taleb “very wrong and clearly both nuts and a world class terrible person.”
From there, the insults escalated: nasty, overrated, unoriginal, illogical, pretentious, emetic. That last one I had to look up in the dictionary.
IT’S BEEN AN UNHAPPY few months. Stepping outside means risking our health. One out of six U.S. workers is unemployed or soon will be. The stock market has suffered its worst decline since 2007-09. And while we can take steps to help ourselves, the situation is largely out of our control.
Feeling glum? One of my abiding interests is happiness research, and that research offers ideas that can make our current situation a little cheerier.
WHEN THE COLLEGE where I work switched to a remote learning platform for the remainder of the academic year, I suddenly found myself out of work. The majority of my job responsibilities revolve around preparing laboratory classes for students—students who are no longer on campus.
Thankfully, I’m still receiving a paycheck, but only time will tell whether I’ll be furloughed or have my hours cut back like so many other employees at colleges and universities.
ARE YOU PLANNING to withdraw funds from your Roth IRA? If you aren’t careful, you could owe both taxes and penalties, even though you’ve already paid taxes on the money that went into the Roth. At issue: the IRS’s five-year rule. How do you sidestep its unpleasant consequences? Bear with me while I explain.
First, a word of caution: You don’t have to take distributions from your Roth IRA during your lifetime. Withdrawals are strictly up to you.
DID I GET SPOOKED? Or did I respond rationally? Possibly a little of both. After buying as the stock market plunged from its Feb. 19 peak, I sold shares into the rally from the March 23 low, though my portfolio remains strongly tilted toward stocks.
Waving the caution flag may even turn out to be the right call over the short term. Still, most of us—me included—shouldn’t be in the business of making market calls,
DUTCH DISEASE. Sound like something that might devastate your garden? In truth, it’s an economic term coined in by The Economist magazine in 1977—and it refers to the economic fallout that followed the 1959 discovery in the Netherlands of Europe’s largest natural gas field.
The natural resource was initially a great boon to the economy, causing the value of the Dutch currency—then the guilder—to rise sharply in the foreign exchange market. All good?
WORKING ON a trading floor has its perks—or, at least, it did back when we were all in the office, instead of toiling away from home. The trading floor where I work is small, but it still houses perhaps 50 people.
As you’d expect, we have TVs all around, tuned to CNBC, Bloomberg and—my personal favorite—The Weather Channel. My colleagues often talk stocks and portfolios. What’s neat is you get a good sense of investor sentiment being out on the floor and among finance folks who are geared to day-to-day market movements.
WITH EVERYTHING that’s been going on recently, one story that’s received less attention is the ongoing spat between the White House and the board of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). As of a few days ago, there had been a ceasefire in the debate, but it isn’t over. It’s worth understanding what’s at stake—because the underlying issue has been a recurring theme in the investment industry.
If you aren’t familiar with the TSP, it’s one of the retirement plans available to federal government workers.
THIS SHALL PASS—just not as quickly as any of us would like.
I’m talking about the bear market, but the same sentiment applies to both the coronavirus and the economic slowdown. Indeed, the three are inextricably entwined, with share prices the twitchy indicator that tells us the mood of the moment.
Amid the swirl of news—the latest fatality count, the unemployment claims, the Dow’s daily action—it’s easy to get unnerved and start second-guessing our investment strategy.
I LIKE TO THINK of myself today as a pretty savvy investor. But I wasn’t savvy when I started out. Despite attending business school and earning a master’s degree in computer science, I knew nothing about managing money or saving for retirement, so I initially made a number of blunders—but also one particularly lucky choice.
My first real job after college was in 1987, as a systems programmer for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
I OFTEN BLOG about mistakes I’ve made. Why change now? Looking back over my 76 years and the many poor money decisions I’ve made, it’s a wonder I’m in better financial shape than the Social Security trust fund—and yet I am. Here are 10 of my more memorable decisions:
In 1961, when I started working at age 18, I got hooked on the stock market. With little money and earning a bit more than minimum wage,
SHOULD YOU CONVERT your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA? Below, you’ll find five questions to help you decide. If you answer “yes” to the first three questions, you’re a good candidate for a Roth conversion. If you answer “yes” to all five questions, you’re an outstanding candidate.
Question No. 1: Are you taxed at lower rates today than you will be in future?
Roth conversions make sense if your federal and state tax rates today are below what they’ll likely be when you have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your traditional IRA.
IN HIGH SCHOOL, I worked at a local roller-skating rink to save money for college. I calculated that, if I kept working at the same rate once I was in college, I could make it through my four-year degree without taking on any student loans.
I was determined to make it work.
In my freshman year, my plan started with a budget—and that budget included this simple edict: Spend the least amount possible on everything.