Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing about the faulty wiring in the United States economy that will eventually result in an Economic Conflagration.
The faulty wiring that will ultimately lead to this economic firestorm includes the fact that the real economy is weak, the economy is crushed by profligate debt and that stocks are overpriced and due for a significant crash.
One of the reasons why candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were popular in the last United States presidential primary and general election is because people know that the real economy is weak. They know how much debt they have and they want someone to make radical changes and do something about it.
Unfortunately government has never been particularly good at creating wealth or prosperity.
Some people might choose to rely on politicians to fix things. This website is not for those people. HowIGrowMyWealth.com is for people who want to take some common sense steps to grow and protect their wealth.
Given the faulty wiring the economy it is more important than ever to grow and protect one’s wealth. It might take a while but this faulty wiring will eventually result in a fire that will burn uncontrollably.
I realize this isn’t necessarily very cheery stuff but fear not! There is plenty of room for optimism.
I’m not a doomsday “prepper” or perma-bear and I’m sure that entrepreneurs, if free to do so, will rebuild the economy and usher in greater prosperity that will not be funneled to the politically connected.
I’m also cognizant that the stock market has gone up nearly 300% since the great recession, there hasn’t been hyperinflation in consumer prices and on the surface the crisis seems to have passed long ago. I don’t have a crystal ball and being right early sometimes looks like being wrong.
Despite the relative calm there is faulty wiring in the economy and sooner or later it will spark and ignite blaze that will, to quote Peter Schiff, “will make the financial crisis of 2008 look like a Sunday school picnic.”
The politicians, if they even realize that there are systemic problems in the economy, simply aren’t willing to endure the short term pain and inconvenience of ripping out the faulty wiring in order to fix the underlying problems. So they will continue to kick the can until the economic house burns down.
The bright side is that this will present an opportunity to rebuild the economy based on a strong foundation as opposed to what we have now, a phony economy based on debt, cheap money and consumption.
There will be winner and losers. I’m very optimistic about the future and I want to be counted amongst the winners.
So where am I putting my money?
My asset allocation falls into three main areas. Value stocks, gold and cash.
Most people love buying things on sale and getting a great deal, expect when it comes to investing. When it comes to investing people want to buy expensive things and hope they go higher. Value investing takes that same common sense, buying things when they’re on sale and applies it to stocks and other asset classes.
The stock market as a whole is overvalued by a variety of metrics. But there are still good deals out there especially in non-US markets. I don’t doubt that value stocks will also go down in the event of a stock market crash but I think they will go down less and they will recover with more strength.
I could write entire articles on value stocks and I have. I’ve written about the value investing metrics I use when evaluating a stock and I also have my own value stock picks based on these metrics.
I share my value stock picks publicly. But I only share if I would buy them today or if I would hold or add to my positions with members of my free email newsletter. I will also let me email subscribers know when I buy or sell a stock first, before I publish that information to this website.
I don’t think you will get rich buying gold but it could prevent you from getting poor. Under relatively normal circumstances the demand for gold is fairly steady and the supply is fairly steady so for the most part the price of gold will rise with the level of inflation.
Gold is a way to save purchasing power. It’s a way to opt out of the financial system and wait for sanity to return.
If the dollar tanks loses it’s reserve currency status gold will still be valued.
I also think there has been significant effort to suppress the price of gold and depending on how much downward price manipulation there really has been, the price of gold could go up significantly from where it is right now.
If fiat currencies collapse that could very well induce a flight to the safe haven asset of gold that this influx of demand would be very bullish for gold.
Because of the absurd expansion in central bank balance sheets and artificially low interest rates I like gold presents a fantastic value at current prices.
What I write about gold applies to silver–another asset I think will do very well in a downturn. Silver has the added benefit of being an industrial metal that is more widely consumed.
Long term, like every other fiat currency, I think the dollar will go to zero. So why would I want to hold dollars?
First, I own a month or two of expenses in physical cash in a secure location in case there are capital controls. If there is a panic and people start withdrawing money from the banks the banks might in turn say, you can only withdraw $500 a week or something like that. Withdrawal limits could also be imposed if the US implements negative interest rates and people (very rationally) decide it is better to hold dollars in physical cash so they don’t have to pay interest to their bank for the privilege of loaning their money to the bank.
I reside in the United States and everything is priced in dollars so I need dollars to buy things. If I lived in the eurozone I would hold pounds or euros, if I lived in China I would hold Yuan. If I lived in the socialist paradise of Venezuela I would probably hold dollars (and try to get out).
Secondly, apart from physical cash I also hold dollars in a money market fund as a war chest. If stocks tank I expect there will be bargains to be had. I want to be buying stocks (if they are high quality free cashflow producing companies) when everyone is panicking and selling.
Now I fully expect the United States Federal Reserve to do what it has done in all other crises it has created–it will lower interest rates and buy assets to prop up the markets.
With interest rates already low once they cut rates to zero they will only be able to do things like Quantitative Easing and Negative rates. This is very bearish for the dollar and very bullish for gold.
But in the highly unlikely chance the US Federal Reserve does the right thing and lets the stock market collapse and lets the US government default on it’s debts this could be very bullish for the dollar. So holding some dollars is a hedge against deflation as well as a war chest to draw upon to buy undervalued stocks post crash.
What are some other possibilities?
While the bulk of my holdings are in cash, value stocks and precious metals I also dabble in some other alternative investments.
I’ve been a skeptic of cryptocurrencies for many years. I’ve also owned them for many years.
If there is a dollar crisis or collapse in the faith of central bankers then more people could turn to cryptocurrencies and could see it rise. Demand for cryptocurrencies could also rise for other reasons pushing the price upwards.
While I think blockchain technology is here to stay the value of any one specific cryptocurrency or token could very easily tank to nothing. Cryptocurrencies are very risky and 90% swings (both directions) happen.
You need to have an iron stomach but having between 1-5% of your liquid net work in cryptocurrencies isn’t the most outlandish idea in the world.
I would only speculate on cryptocurrencies with what you can afford to lose and I don’t considering buying cryptocurrencies investing in a technical sense since I am simply betting on the price going up.
I’ve shared with my readers my Group of Six cryptocurrencies that I’ve chosen to own and speculate on.
Net I’ve actually lost money trading options. I traded options while unemployed and failed to remain dispassionate and objective. I was so focused on making money that I opened positions when the conditions were not ideal and took risks I should not have been taking.
I do believe if you are disciplined and follow the appropriate rules, you can do well trading options.
During a stock market crash volatility spikes and selling options could be a good strategy. When the VIX (a volatility index) spiked up in early February I sold a few options and those positions are doing well as volatility has dropped and the market has recovered. Markets don’t move straight up or down for very long so even if the February selloff portends drops to come, the market doesn’t drop as fast as people think in the midst of the drop.
Unlike all the other assets mentioned above I do not and never have owned any real estate.
Lots of people have made lots of money in real estate. I am working to learn more about this asset class and hope to own my own rental property at some point.
What I like about real estate is that it is easy to use leverage and the tax benefits are ridiculous. You can effectively pay no tax on investment property income and borrow a lot of the money you need to get started.
You of course need to know what you’re doing.
My goals for owning real estate involve owning a multi-family apartment building. The key for me is a cashflow positive property. I don’t have any interest in trying to buy and flip, although some people are very successful doing this. There are lots of ways to make money in real estate and I recommend biggerpockets.com to learn about them.
I think cashflow positive real estate will do okay in the event of a crash. If you’re in an area that has stable employment prospects those workers will always need a place to live and have the money to pay for it. Of course real estate won’t “always go up” and there are a lot of risks and headaches associated with managing property (if you don’t outsource property management).
This is part 5 of 5 of what I’ve decided to term The Economic Conflagration series where I discuss the faulty wiring pervasive the global economy:
Part 1: A Deadly Electrical Fire you Need to Know About
Part 2: The Real Economy is Weak
Part 3: Crushing Debt in the United States Limits Economic Growth
Part 4: Stocks are Overpriced and Due for a Significant Crash
Part 5: Where to Put Money when the Stock Market is Overheated
“With Widespread Power Failures, Puerto Rico is Cash Only” reads the title of a recent New York Times article in the wake of Hurricane Maria. This tragedy in the “Rich Port” is a sad reminder of the importance of keeping some emergency funds in physical cash.
The horrible devastation in this Caribbean territory of the Unites States is another reminder why keeping a few months worth of expenses in cash is a great idea.
It’s also a reminder to the anti-cash types that even in parts of the United States, power restoration can take weeks or months and a society without some cash is economically more vulnerable. This isn’t some abstract problem. It has a face, the face of people waiting in line, not being sure if they’ll be able to buy food or gas because they can’t access their bank account or use their debit card.
If there is a power outage I’m not going to want to spend my gold (the average cashier at the quick mart would probably stare at me dumbly even if I tried), I’m not going to be able to use a credit card, Goldmoney or bitcoin—I need cash.
If you think you’re going to be able to wait for a disaster and then go to an ATM at the same time as everyone else then at best you’re going to be faced with a long line. At worst the ATM won’t work or will be out of cash. Banks will have long lines and they could start imposing withdrawal limits to ration the cash they have available.
This isn’t my theory or some doomsday scenario, this is what happened (and is still happening as I write this) in Puerto Rico.
If people held a few months of expenses in cash then they would be in a better position to buy food, fuel, and start repairing their homes and businesses.
Of Course There are Downsides to Cash
I’m as bearish on US dollars and fiat money as anyone. So of course holding cash has downsides: Here are the main ones:
1) It loses value
The dollar has lost most of it’s value since 1913. So the wealth you have in cash will be inflated away as central banks inflate the money supply.
Carrying around a lot of cash is generally considered risky and not without reason. Looting and a general increase in crime is an unfortunate reality in the wake of disasters. There is also the problem of civil asset forfeiture. In the United States, the “freest country in the world,” if members of the law enforcement community suspect you of a crime, they have the means to simply take your money and/or other property and it will be up to you to sue the government and prove you’re not guilty and get your property back.
Civil asset forfeiture in the US is a black and white violation of the 4th amendment, but it happens all across the US and in 2014 more property was taken from US citizens by members of the law enforcement community than was taken by burglars. But I digress.
These Risks can be Mitigated
Think of cash as a form of insurance against: 1) Loss of electrical power 2) Capital controls 3) Negative interest rates
And like all insurance it comes at a cost. The cost of holding cash is inflation and the opportunity to put the cash to work in other investments.
I already own various hedges against inflation, such as gold, silver, stocks, and even cryptocurrency, albeit I remain very cautious of this last one. So the fact that a few months worth of expenses in cash losing value is of little concern.
The risk of theft can be mitigated as well:
1) Keep most of your cash in a safe or hidden place
2) Keep it in various locations around your home and perhaps at other locations as well
3) Don’t carry all of your cash at any one time
4) Dress nicely and be respectful to members of the law enforcement community
If two months worth of expenses is $2,000 I’m not saying carry around two grand. Maybe you keep $900 in a safe, $500 hidden someplace else in your home, and $500 with a trusted family member or close friend and a $100 in your purse or wallet. When you go to the store or gas station only take the cash with you that you need. That way if someone uses force to take your money, they won’t get all of it.
The Upsides Makes Holding Some Cash the Smart Move
1) I can be my own ATM. I’m not reliant on a bank or ATM allowing me to withdraw my money. I hold my money. This is vital when everyone is trying to withdraw cash at the same time.
2) If there is a power outage or communication disruption I can still buy food and fuel. Whether it is an EMP, ice storm, hurricane, brownout or cyber-attack, I can still buy the basics of life until things settle down. While fiat money is weak over the long term, in a disaster cash is still king.
Holding a few months of expenses in cash is a great idea. It can also double as an emergency fund in case you have an emergency repair to your car or home, medical expenses, etc.
Smaller denomination bills make more sense. Acquire $10s and $20s not $50s and $100s. Stores are generally more suspicious of larger denomination bills.
Not only that but it allows you to provide for yourself and help others. If I don’t have to go to the ATM or bank to withdraw cash that means there is one less person in line and anyone who would have been behind me in line can get cash faster. If 20-30% of people or more are prepared for a disaster it means there are much fewer people that need to be helped and there will be more resources to help a smaller number of people who need help. Maybe you’ll be able to share some of your cash with a neighbor and help them out.
Cash isn’t an investment and yes it loses value thanks to central banks, but holding a month or two’s worth of expenses in cash is a smart idea as part of a larger wealth and financial protection strategy. My thoughts and prayers are certainly with the people of Puerto Rico and it is a sad reminder of the importance of cash.
I’ve written about negative rates (potentially) coming to the US and the importance of holding cash. I personally hold about 1 month’s worth of expenses in physical cash stored in a secure location outside of the banking system.
Why would I do this when I know that Inflation Destroys Dollars and that in the long term the value of fiat currencies goes to zero? When I’ve written articles like the above and Downfall of the US Dollar you know I’m not a fan of paper currencies.
Two main reasons why I want some cash:
1) If the US adopts negative rates that means that banks will take interest out of your account. Instead of gaining a fraction of a percent of interest on your bank deposit like you get today (if you get anything) you’ll lose a fraction of a percent of your money on a regular basis.
2) Banks might impose capital controls, you’ll only be able withdraw a certain amount of money (if anything) from your bank account in the form of cash. That’s because the natural response when a bank imposed negative rates is to withdraw cash to avoid having your money taken.
Keep in mind that cash is just one tool in the toolbox. There are other important tools as well.
Tools like precious metals, cryptocurrencies (even though I’m a bit skeptical of this tech as investment pun intended), value stocks, real estate, options, the list goes on.
So would I want to be 100% in cash? No way. Bad idea. I’ve never said that or done that.
I reside in the US so I think in terms of dollars, but there are a variety of countries where I think holding physical cash would be a good idea. Negative rates have already come to Japan and parts of Europe.
Keeping a months worth of income in physical cash is something I’ve determined is a great way for me to protect my wealth, but it’s not all I’m doing.
In fact my physical cash holding is a small percentage of what I do. I withdrew some cash in $20’s (larger bills like the $50 and $100 are not right for me since some places won’t take them) over a period of time and I don’t think about it anymore (except to write some articles).
Holding cash is a defensive strategy that I do just to be able to buy gas and groceries in the event of negative interest rates, capital controls or natural disasters.
Holding physical cash makes sense in the event negative interest rates are implemented in the country in which you reside.
Physical cash only meets one of my Five Investment Goal Categories I consider when allocating capital.
Not only that, but it absolutely stinks on the other four.
The US Dollar has over a hundred year history of going down in value. The US Dollar does not appreciate or pay any interest, does not generate monthly income and is very vulnerable to geopolitical risk.
Why would I hold onto something I know will go down in value?
Even though the US Dollar fails in four out of five categories it excels at one: US Dollars are EXTREMELY LIQUID.
Cash dollars are accepted across the United States. US dollars are also the global reserve currency and accepted around the world.
I Want Cash if there are Negative Interest Rates
One of the things I believe is coming are negative interest rates. Negative interest rates would mean that a percent of the money in your bank account would be removed and given to the bank.
You’d be paying the bank to store your money.
If you think this is crazy you’re right. But it’s already being done in places like Japan and Europe.
Regardless of where I lived in the world I would want some of my money in physical local currency.
In the United States, the Federal Reserve has stated they aren’t investigating negative interest rates.
I take this denial as a strong contrarian indicator that they are in fact considering negative interest rates.
Negative Interest Rates
In a negative interest rate environment a person is better off holding cash as opposed to leaving money in a bank account.
I greatly dislike fiat currencies in general and the US dollar in particular. Despite my dislike of holding US dollars they are still needed to buy basic items like food and clothing and pay rent.
If the United States does implement negative rates, rational people would seek to withdraw their money from the bank in the form of cash and so the US government would naturally try to prevent this from happening by imposing limits on how much cash could be withdrawn per day.
I don’t want to be rushing out to the bank to make a withdrawal with everyone else when the Government announces capital controls. I want to be the guy that already has a months expenses worth of cash available.
I prefer smaller bills like the $10 and $20 because higher denominations like the $50 and $100 will likely be banned first as the war on cash intensifies.
Even if I didn’t think negative rates or capital controls would happen in the US (or the country in which I resided) I want to have extra cash available in the event of a natural disaster or when there are power disruptions and credit card readers won’t work.
Holding a months worth of expenses in cash is right for me and provides needed liquidity for my overall asset portfolio.