Monday, I shared a conversion with my daughter. It continued…
If what I said didn’t make sense to you then don’t worry about it. With a lot of this stuff, I don’t really “know” it and I’m not sure where my ideas came from. It does fit a lot of ancient stuff I’ve read.
My head isn’t set up to understand situations where opposites are true at the same time.
Andy being here, and not here
Andy not-being, and being
Andy being nowhere, and everywhere
You know Buzz next door?
Well, we can understand what’s happening in Buzz’s life, better than he can. It could be like that with a lot of things in our own lives.
Our understanding has limits, which are difficult for us to see and experience.
We might be just like Buzz => unaware of a lot that’s happening around us!
So, Sweetie, if you can’t understand where Andy was, or where he’s gone to, then don’t worry yourself.
With a lot of important things, there isn’t a clear cut answer.
I started thinking about this with negative-yielding sovereign bonds. When something makes no sense to me, I pause and reconsider my assumptions.
The phenomenon, of not being able to understand buyers, has now spread across markets and asset classes. In markets I know well, I’m being out-bid by 20-25%. Missing by a lot, makes it easier to sit out.
The goals and incentives have shifted, and it’s taken me a long time to notice.
A big chunk of global capital sits as a hedge against the value of money declining. A decline in the value of money:
is seen as a risk for the financially wealthy – a very human trait of worrying about wealth that’s far above one’s requirements for a meaningful life
Over my lifetime, we’ve shifted to a society where wealth is controlled by:
People managing Other People’s Money, with access to debt and options on gains
Fewer and fewer people, managing more and more money
Toss in near-zero rates and we’ve reduced the incentive for investment discipline.
A shift away from treasuries is painful when they are yielding over 5%. Less so, today. The shift in attitude has happened very slowly – it took more than a decade.
For a species that worries about $4.99 shipping charges (when they save TIME from leaving the house)… Cash Returns Matter – the absence of cash returns gives an incentive to devalue safety.
With negative 10-year (!) rates, the European incentive (to flee safety) must be extreme.
It’s emotionally easier to own marginal assets when cash yields nothing (and you are seeing paper gains across most asset classes).
Risk has been rewarded and reinforced across a generation, maybe two generations.
While it started with good intentions, recent monetary policy has had the unintended consequence of rapidly inflating the assets of the already (super)wealthy. When I think about the resulting incentives for risk tolerance, government spending and borrowing, that strikes me as bad policy.
I’ve no idea how, or when, this play out. Fortunately, I’ve set my life up so I don’t need to be correct with uni-directional bets.
Careful with margin-debt and recourse leverage, it’s been one heck of a run.
With yields this low, there is tremendous leverage built into the system.
I’ll be back posting in 2021 – it’s been a solid year of writing.
I’m not young enough to earn it all back, nor am I old enough to lock-it-in and forego further capital appreciation. I checked our joint life expectancy and we’re 50/50 to get another 40 years.
Given that I’m debt free, I’m hurt more by a doubling, after selling, than a halving, and still owning.
Think that through – it goes against every emotion I have with regard to money (and I’ve had a lot of training).
Married, at 51, I need to be taking a 30-50 year view.
Accept the reality of my personal situation and remember the financial reality of near-zero rates.
Lean into severe downturns
Maintain options, and skills, to add value-added work
Stay debt free – while this is a great time to borrow against cash flow, borrowing against margin is nuts – at some point, the debt cycle will snap back and I do not want to get closed out in a sell off
Keep my spending choices in check – know that every choice I make sets a baseline for my kids to follow AND creates a cash flow requirement for the rest of my life
Here’s the key lesson from my early retirement => If I’d gotten spooked and sold out (I get nervous in rapidly rising markets) then I wouldn’t have had the capital to buy back my existing positions, which remain “good enough” for my needs.
In a Free Money Era, the risk many of us face is acting on our fears and being priced out of a portfolio we never needed to leave in the first place.
Control your risks by focusing on skills, spending, relationships and daily exercise. These are things I control. Global macroeconomic policy, less so.
Tomorrow, why the heck are people buying non-, and negative-, yielding assets at current pricing?
Sorry about the dud link yesterday at the bottom – it was the same as the one at the top of the page, which worked. Here is is again, it’s the link to a calculation which led to some major changes in my life. Putting a price on my time.
15 years of hitting it and you’ll be ready to change gears by your 40th. The combination of finance, accounting, STEM and programming makes you robust in a rapidly changing world.
This assumes you can’t get into Med-School and don’t feel a calling towards a Military Academy.
No matter who you are, get formal training in finance, and financial accounting, before you are 25.
Every family I meet would have done better, at ZERO happiness cost, from starting financial education earlier. My earliest financial memories are from Grade Six. I started my kids in Kindergarten.
150 hours of formal instruction will change the trajectory of your financial life. It’s unlikely to happen unless you sign up, complete the course work and get tested.
Getting this done will shorten your working life by a decade.
In my own case, early financial education enabled me to shift to flex-time consulting after a decade of traditional work. Coming up on 52, I’ve had 20 years of self-directed time and a wide range of careers.
Tomorrow, what the Free Money Era implies for families with middle-aged Dads. 🙂
PS: following this outline is main reason I have an influence on my family. My first child was born two months before my 40th birthday and I was in a position to change gears. More on “pregnancy to middle school” once I finish this series.
PPS: the 2014 article is essential reading for grown ups. It makes the trade-off between time and money real.
Yesterday, I described the forces creating rapid lifestyle, luxury good and financial asset inflation.
What to do?
Aspire to skills, ignore asset-driven status.
Near-zero yields have created a very different world than I grew up in.
The skillful can easily lease their needs, at a tiny fraction of the cost to acquire.
Businesses, like property management, that charge based on a %age of revenue are bargains, for both sides of the relationship. Managers can scale valuations at PE ratios over 50x net earnings. Owners pay 0.1-0.25% p.a. (of capital) for expert services. Both sides of this equation were unimaginable 30 years ago. Another way to look at this => “Vanguard” pricing is moving across asset classes.
In a world with tiny cap-rates and huge PE ratios, Human Capital is very, very valuable.
Let’s look at an example.
I like to follow real estate, particularly Luxury and Vacation markets. In these markets, there are many people who own $1-10 million places.
Annually, these places cost $15,000 – $100,000 p.a. (cash) to own and, often, sit empty. The cost to hold is not a big deal for these owners because they can afford it.
I’ve always wanted to visit Jackson, WY so I jumped on Airbnb and had a look around. I can lease a Jackson Hole penthouse, roughly equivalent to my net worth, for a few days.
My cost is…
1/20th of the annual cost to own,
1/1000th of the capital cost, and
maintenance is someone else’s problem.
Thanks to Airbnb, there’s real value here, especially as I am the one who keeps his freedom.
freedom to leave
freedom to change my mind
freedom to allocate time, share of mind and capital elsewhere
This will be rolled across every under-utilized (negative-yielding and/or depreciating) asset class within our economy. Airbnb’s $100 BILLION market cap, Free Money and the 1000-fold increase in VC gains will make it happen.
Don’t get caught up in the ridiculous valuations we are seeing – what’s important is understanding the process of change.
In a micro-yield world, it costs me 1/1000th of the capital value to get all the annual consumption I desire.
The only reason to buy is to show off, and that’s what humans do. Actually, there is another reason to buy and I’ll touch on that in a couple days.
Given we will stay human, I do not see these changes as a bearish case for asset values, which are driven by the price of money, mood and scarcity.
However, I do think it changes the mental calculus for a young person. In a highly mobile, rapidly changing environment, the assets your (grand)parents aspired to own are a lousy place to put your financial capital.
Tomorrow, some nitty gritty for 16-21 year olds.
PS – I didn’t book the penthouse. I went for a (refundable) 3-bed condo across the street from a playground. I make most decisions assuming they will be multiplied (x3) by my children when they grow up. I like to leave my kids room to (hedonistically) improve on my choices.
Watching DoorDash and Airbnb go public this week, brought home how much markets have changed from the 90s.
Big deals are up 1,000-fold in 40 years.
I graduated university in early 1990s, and was born in the late 1960s => part of the first generation to come of age after the very inflationary 70s.
The mentors, and wise-old-men, of my early career had been heavily influenced by their experience with price-inflation. In turn, when those vets had been young stallions, they were influenced by survivors of the Great Depression.
I received a very conservative financial education.
These days we’re told we don’t have enough inflation.
I’m not sure about that => the price to buy $1 of cash flow has skyrocketed.
I’ll post the last 40 years of price inflation below.
Watching Airbnb/DoorDash/Bitcoin/Tesla, and looking at luxury real estate, I see inflation at work, but differently.
Inflation is not necessarily a bad thing – there’s never been a better time to be world-class at solving problems for people. More on that later.
I see a tsunami of money.
At market tops, it is easy to find people congratulating themselves for their vision. A favorite quote (from a very successful friend of the family) is “some see, others saw.”
Something I failed to see, when I was on the inside, was the benefit received from:
The global money tsunami
Constantly dropping long term rates (the current 30-year rate implies a PE ratio over 50x)
Increasing investor allocations to our sector
Add non-recourse leverage, ring fence the deals/funds and there was no way to lose.
Of course, we didn’t see it that way => we were smart, we worked hard and we were visionaries.
Now, I’m not so sure.
Tomorrow => what this era might mean for my kids, effectively, two generations behind me.
If you didn’t see Scott G’s opinion piece in USA Today then you might want to give it a read. LINK
Across the constant noise of 2020, Scott’s been mostly right. You can track back through his writing on Twitter. I’m amazed at the hate directed to him, and others who have been making best efforts to help.
Three data points that caught my eye.
1/ After coming down with COVID, Giuliani (76) checked in (Sunday) then out (Wednesday) of the hospital. Rudy appears to be another high profile, high risk, survivor.
Less high profile, a very good friend’s father survived COVID. His son, my buddy, had a pulse oximeter delivered for home monitoring. The pulse ox enabled him to get to the ER before he became critical. He had a very tough 12-hour block but turned the corner with treatments you might have read about (dex, remdesivir, oxygen and prone sleeping).
Pulse oximeter’s are cheap and easily obtained. I use them on myself, my kids and carry one in my first aid kit. You should own one.
2/ FDA meeting today to consider the Pfizer vaccine.
3/ UK vaccine roll out continues.
Tens of millions of will have been vaccinated, for a while, before anyone offers me a shot. I’ll continue to watch the rollout and see what happens.
Our school district is asking the community to volunteer to be in-class monitors. This is an effort to keep schools open, when staff have to quarantine.
So you’ve got a ~90% White population that’s mostly left, lean left and moderate.
It’s a homogenous external reality, different from where I grew up (Vancouver).
Locally, we are following a wide range of initiatives in an effort to more towards a more Diverse, Inclusive and Equitable society (DIE).
The challenge with these initiatives is they can default into visible measures of DIE.
That’s a shame.
The useful part of diversity is invisible.
I started my career working in the most diverse investment team in London (1990s). We were diverse across nearly all measures (ethnicity, sex, age, wealth, BMI, politics, home country).
I say “nearly all measures” because we were united in respecting experience, intelligence, work ethic and reality.
Our diversity, and a ton of Type-A personalities, created conflict. We didn’t mind the conflict as it, eventually, led to better decision making.
Our conflict was not about driving out people who thought differently – a key risk for homogenous groups. Our conflict was about seeking to make better decisions.
Our true diversity was impossible to measure => diversity of thought.
The ability to generate an idea outside the local consensus.
The strength of character to share that idea.
The skill to present the idea in a way others could understand.
The capacity of the group to re-consider its own position in light of this idea.
The ability to let go of our own position and follow the lead of the more experienced.
This measure of diversity is where the competitive edge lies.
Smart people, proven doers, who think differently.
They will drive you crazy.
That’s OK, you can work on your tolerance while you make better choices!
PS – We have a very bright spot locally. Our local school district. The District has a “no place for hate” initiative, and an overall culture, that has provided an essential education (in tolerance) for our kids.
PPS – Where can I find the best thoughts from the other side? First, seek to understand.