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A Fistful of Trouble

Jonathan Clements  |  March 26, 2016

CONFRONTED BY A COMPLICATED financial world, the temptation is to fall back on rules of thumb. But are these rules any good? Here are five of the most popular:
1. Save 10% every year. There are two knocks on this rule of thumb. First, the 10% of pretax income is the sum you’re meant to save for retirement—which means those who have other goals, like buying a house and paying for a child’s college education,

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A World of My Making

Jonathan Clements  |  March 17, 2016

WRITING MAY PROVIDE ME with a livelihood—but it also provides me with an escape. Whenever there’s a ruckus in some other part of my life, it can be comforting to power up the computer and spend a few hours wrestling with my latest article or book. Each piece is a world entirely of my making, where I’m fully in charge. Like a puzzle, I can move the sentences and paragraphs around, until I’m happy with the flow of the words,

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Not So Pure

Jonathan Clements  |  March 12, 2016

THE LATEST MUTUAL FUND SCORECARD from S&P Dow Jones Indices had sobering news for buyers of actively managed funds: Just 17% of U.S. stock funds beat the broad market over the past 10 years. But for those who dug into the numbers, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope.
The so-called SPIVA scorecard analyzes actively managed U.S. stock funds in 13 style boxes. There are four categories for value funds, four for growth funds and four for funds that straddle these two investment styles.

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Tobin’s Q

Jonathan Clements  |  March 10, 2016

THE FEDERAL RESERVE just released its latest “Financial Accounts of the United States”—which sent nerdy stock market analysts scrambling to look at table B. 103, which details the “Balance Sheet of Nonfinancial Corporate Business,” and especially line 44. That line compares the stock market’s overall value to the current value of assets owned by corporations. Some of these corporate assets are listed at their market price, while others are valued at their replacement cost.

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Four Big Questions

Jonathan Clements  |  March 4, 2016

MY MARCH NEWSLETTER went out this afternoon to folks on my email distribution list–and I also just posted a copy to this site. The newsletter discusses four key questions that stock market investors need to wrestle with. It also describes an intriguing approach to retirement income, where you start by explicitly deciding how much longevity risk you’re willing to take. 

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Muddling Along

Jonathan Clements  |  March 4, 2016

TEN-YEAR TREASURY notes are currently yielding 1.9%. That means today’s buyers will likely lose money, once inflation and taxes are figured in—and yet demand remains robust, as evidenced by 2016’s rise in Treasury bond prices. The healthy appetite for Treasurys partly reflects the vast amount of excess capital sloshing around the global financial markets, as well as the tiny payouts on alternatives such as money-market funds and savings accounts. But it also reflects the current fear engendered by both stocks and lower-quality bonds.

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The $686 Million Man

Jonathan Clements  |  February 26, 2016

EXXONMOBIL RECENTLY ANNOUNCED 2015 earnings of $16.2 billion, just half of 2014’s level. That news sent me scurrying around the Internet in search of a decade-old article I vaguely recalled.
At year-end 2005, Lee R. Raymond retired as ExxonMobil’s chairman and chief executive after 13 years at the helm. The following April, The New York Times reported that Raymond earned $686 million during that stretch, equal to $144,573 a day. The article noted that,

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We the People, We the Problem

Jonathan Clements  |  February 19, 2016

WHY IS THE U.S. ECONOMY growing so slowly? Should we bar new immigrants—and toss out some of those already here? Can we afford today’s Social Security retirement benefits? These three huge public policy issues might seem unrelated, but they are connected by two demographic realities: The workforce is growing too slowly—and the retiree population is growing too quickly.
Over the next decade, the U.S. civilian workforce is projected to grow at 0.5% a year,

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Consider the Consequences

Jonathan Clements  |  February 11, 2016

WITH STOCKS IN TURMOIL, investors are once again fretting over risk. But what aspect of risk should we worry about? Whenever the notion arises, it’s worth contemplating three questions.
What are the odds of success or failure? Over the past 50 years, the S&P 500 (with dividends reinvested) has lost money in 11 calendar years, equal to once every four or five years. With odds like that, an occasional losing year should be no great surprise.

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Worth the Wait

Jonathan Clements  |  February 7, 2016

THE DEBATE over when to claim Social Security reminds me of the debate over index funds. On one side, there are those who have studied the issue—and on the other side are crackpots and those with a not-so-hidden agenda. Yes, you should index. Yes, most folks should delay claiming Social Security retirement benefits.
Elsewhere, I’ve written about the breakeven age for claiming Social Security, assuming you took your benefit and invested it. The upshot: Taking benefits at age 66 or age 70 is typically a better bet than taking benefits at 62,

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A Hollow Victory?

Jonathan Clements  |  February 1, 2016

VANGUARD GROUP founder John C. Bogle has an article in the latest Financial Analysts Journal where he reviews the growth of index funds over the 40 years since the launch of Vanguard’s first index mutual fund—and where he makes pointed remarks about their upstart cousins, exchange-traded index funds.
First, consider the phenomenal growth of index funds. They surged from 4% of stock fund assets in 1995 to 16% in 2005, and then kept barreling right along,

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The Importance of Importance

Jonathan Clements  |  January 28, 2016

A HAPPY LIFE can’t be built solely on relaxing, having fun and doing exciting things. To be sure, there’s pleasure to be found in all of these. But I have come to believe that, to lead a life that’s full and satisfying, there is an ingredient that is even more crucial: We need to devote our days to activities that we think are important.
Or, to frame it slightly differently, we want our life to count for something.

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Special Edition

Jonathan Clements  |  January 20, 2016

WELCOME TO THIS special edition of my newsletter. I hadn’t planned to put out another of these free newsletters until March. But with the S&P 500-stock index down 13% from its May 2015 high, it seems like an apt time to address market valuations and discuss what folks ought to do with their portfolio.
What’s Happening
Stocks started 2016 with a thud—and there’s been almost nowhere to hide.

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Almost Halfway to Heaven

Jonathan Clements  |  January 20, 2016

THE S&P 500 IS DOWN 13% from its 2015 peak–but it would take a further 17% decline before stocks reached average valuations. I’ve been getting a slew of emails about the market turmoil, so today I put out a special newsletter that discusses valuations and talks about what investors should do now.

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Financial Wellness

Jonathan Clements  |  January 8, 2016

RON LIEBER of the New York Times emailed me earlier in the week, asking for help with a special online feature. The task: Grab a 4×6 index card and, in Ron’s words, “write whatever you want on the *lined* side. A list of 10 things. Or 20 if you write small. A picture. A quote. Whatever. But it should add up to Clements’s guide to financial wellness.”
This was trickier than it seemed.

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