LET ME TELL YOU about Alvan Bobrow. His tale—and specifically his lawsuit—are important for every investor to understand. That’s because the legal loophole he sought to exploit is now a pothole for everyone else.
The first thing to know about Bobrow: He’s a tax attorney and, back in 2008, he had a clever idea. In need of cash, he took a $65,000 distribution—the technical term for a withdrawal—from his IRA. Ordinarily, a distribution from an IRA (unless it’s a Roth IRA or includes nondeductible contributions) is treated entirely as taxable income.
CONGRESS IS BACK at it, aiming to change the tax laws again. Just since 2017, there’s been the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the SECURE Act and the CARES Act, each of which contained tax provisions, some very significant. As I type this, Congress and the White House are horse-trading on another round of changes.
Because new legislation is still being negotiated, I think it’s too soon to change your financial plan. But there’s one strategy that makes sense for a lot of people,
AN MIT PROFESSOR named Edward Lorenz published a paper in 1972 titled Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?
It was a catchy title. Though Lorenz didn’t mean it literally, the basic idea was that events in the physical world are highly interconnected—more so than they might appear.
The world of investments is similarly interconnected in ways that aren’t always visible. Just like the weather,
ON FEB. 27, 1992, Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee from a McDonald’s drive-through. Moments later, as she attempted to open the lid, the cup spilled, causing a burn that sent her to the hospital. Her injury was serious but self-inflicted and not life-threatening. Nonetheless, she sued McDonald’s, and a jury awarded her almost $3 million. That award was reduced upon appeal, but this case is often cited as an example of an out-of-control legal system exploited by personal injury lawyers.
IN RECENT MONTHS, there’s been a lot of handwringing about the stock market. Thankfully, we seem to be on the back end of the pandemic, but things remain far from perfect in the economy. Millions are still unemployed. And the government has had to spend trillions to get us through, adding to a federal debt that was already enormous.
Today, the economy is far more fragile than it was pre-COVID. And yet the stock market just keeps cruising to new all-time highs.
IN THE INVESTMENT world, inflation is the topic of the day. There are four key reasons:
Congress. Since March 2020, the federal government has dropped more than a trillion dollars of cash into the economy via stimulus checks and the Paycheck Protection Program. While many of the recipients were unemployed and needed these dollars to meet basic needs, others were not. The result: More money in people’s pockets allowed them to spend more,
IS THE STOCK MARKET too high? It’s a question I’ve heard a lot recently. Each time, I’ve offered this recommendation: It’s impossible to predict where the market will go next, so your best defense is to have an appropriate asset allocation. But how exactly can you determine an ideal allocation?
The textbook method originated in the 1950s, with the work of a PhD student named Harry Markowitz. Up until that point, investors had mostly picked stocks and bonds in a vacuum,
SCOTT ADAMS, the creator of Dilbert, has this to say about making forecasts: “There are many methods for predicting the future. For example, you can read horoscopes, tea leaves, tarot cards, or crystal balls. Collectively, these methods are known as ‘nutty methods.’ Or you can put well-researched facts into sophisticated computer models, more commonly referred to as a complete waste of time.”
This is funny but, for the most part,
WHEN I WAS GROWING up, one family in the neighborhood lived differently from all the others. In their garage was a Rolls-Royce. When each of the sons turned 16, a new BMW showed up in the driveway. Because it was so out of the ordinary, it caught my attention. It caught everyone’s attention.
Looking back, this is what I find interesting: This kind of privileged upbringing looked like a guaranteed recipe for demotivating their children.
IN THE ONGOING battle between those who believe that the stock market is in a bubble and those who don’t, you may have heard mention of something called CAPE, short for cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio. Among market indicators, it has the strongest track record in predicting future market returns.
What does the CAPE ratio say about today’s market? It’s flashing red. According to CAPE, the U.S. stock market is more overpriced today than it has been at any time since the 2000 market peak.
AT LEAST ONCE A DAY, I find myself saying, “Another truism of financial planning is….” To be honest, I don’t know whether the 12 concepts below meet the strict definition of “truism,” but I’ve found them hugely helpful in navigating the world of personal finance:
1. There are always two answers to every question. There’s the mathematical answer and there’s the “how do you feel about it” answer. It’s okay—and, in fact,
FOR MORE THAN a year, veteran investment manager Jeremy Grantham has been arguing that the U.S. stock market is in a bubble. And not just an ordinary bubble, but “an epic bubble… one of the great bubbles of financial history, right along with the South Sea bubble, 1929, and 2000.”
And yet, despite Grantham’s concerns, the market has only continued to march higher. In a recent interview, Grantham reiterated his concerns in even stronger terms.
ECONOMIST JOHN Maynard Keynes once observed that, “It is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.” This is probably true in many realms. It’s certainly true in the investment world.
As the last 12 months have demonstrated, extreme and unexpected events can and do happen. But analysts whose job it is to make economic forecasts rarely go too far out on a limb. Sure, there are some forecasters who will take a chance with a view that’s far outside the consensus.
CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE coined the term “single story” in 2009. A novelist and a native of Nigeria, Adichie first came to the U.S. to attend college. Almost immediately, she was struck by the one-dimensional lens through which many saw her. It started with her roommate.
Knowing that Adichie had just arrived in this country, her roommate—an American—asked how she was able to speak English so well. Adichie had to explain that English is Nigeria’s official language.
BACK IN 2017, I wrote about an oddity in my portfolio—an actively managed mutual fund that I bought without much thought to how it fit with my overall financial goals. Today, I have a confession. That fund isn’t the only oddity I own. In the interest of transparency—and because I hope readers will find it instructive—here are five more oddities, plus the thinking behind each:
While I firmly believe that low-cost index funds are the best way to build wealth and I believe that stock-picking is a fool’s errand,