Yes, you may feel it’s a shame you don’t make more money. But you don’t want to make the mistake of being more aggressive with your portfolio to make more money. That’s a fool’s errand. Working more, saving more, and spending less guarantee you’ll make more money. Putting more of your money in stocks or commodities guarantees only one thing: You’ll have more of them. The market has zero interest in you making more money.
And don’t think the Fed is doing you any favors with the bubbles it has inflated. Easy money has decimated hedge funds and venture capital. Commodities and farmland may be next. If you’re in retirement, you need to protect your assets and not worry about keeping pace with the Joneses.
When you’re living on a fixed income, losing 10% of your portfolio value can be devastating. For example, if you retire today with $1 million and you begin 2011 by drawing down 4%, or $40,000, and then lose 10%, you’ll have $864,000 at this time next year. In January 2012 you take your 4% for living expenses, or $34,560. That’s a 13.6% reduction in income.
Don’t be thrown off course by wondering what the other guy is doing. Pay attention to your own situation. Consider what the allure of hedge funds did to investors. Back in 1996 there were only 130 hedge funds, managing $130 billion, according to International Financial Services London. In 2006 there were 9,000 hedge funds, managing $1.5 trillion. Managers collected 2% of their clients’ assets under management and 20% of their clients’ annual profits. It paid hedge fund managers to be aggressive with other people’s money. It would be a shame if that OPM were yours.
How about owning a piece of a start-up business? This has been a brutal 10 years for venture capital too. As of the end of June, the industry has a -4.2% annualized return over the last decade, according to the National Venture Capital Association. The Fed’s easy-money policy may have helped with the fund-raising, but it hasn’t guaranteed good business plans. It hasn’t been all Googles and Facebooks for venture capitalists.
Commodity prices are also through the roof. As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Mining Firms Race to Bulk Up,” several multibillion-dollar deals ranging from gold to coal in places from Canada to China have been sealed. There’s an element of herd mentality, with companies concerned about falling behind and “losing out,” according to Michael Chender, CEO of Metals Economics, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In the U.S. Farm Belt, land prices are sky-high as well. As The Wall Street Journal says, “The signs of a land-grab mania are everywhere. The Des Moines Register reported this week that two tracts in O’Brien County in the northwestern part of Iowa sold for $9,700 an acre, while one land broker estimated that farmland has appreciated on average by about $1,000 an acre since the end of the summer. Reports of bidding wars and $2,000 an acre premiums for top farms are common.” Don’t believe the common narrative that demand from China is boosting prices. For better or worse, farmers aren’t immune to speculation either.
If you’re worried about not making enough money, don’t speculate in stocks, hedge funds, venture capital, commodities, or farmland. Do yourself a favor and make sure you protect your assets. Working more, saving more, and spending less may feel like being hit with a wet blanket, but these are the only things you can control.