Saturday, February 28, 2009

Progress Update

Well, like everyone right now, things are a little scary in this economy. So I'll take this opportunity to focus on some good things that are going on with my personal finances. In a huge feat, I've paid off the car loan (a year early). This reduces monthly outflow by 450 dollars (even though I was paying 600/month).

Given the current climate of the job market and the situation with the politics in this country and throughout the world, it seems to me that the safest thing I can do with my money is to pay off debt and give myself more options and mobility.

As for the net worth, that has finally come back a little bit with some big contributions for the 401k and the tax returns. Finally, after many months, its finally starting to come back. I'd encourage anyone who is worried about what to do with your money right now that looking at debt as a place to "store" your money is worth considering if you have a fully funded emergency fund (as I do).

With these changes, the only two outstanding debts that I have to worry about are the mortgage and the last student loan payment. Each debt paid-in-full makes me feel more alive and more grateful for each dollar I make. It is as if I have some sense that more and more of this money that I'm working for is actually mine for keeping and spending on things that I want, rather than making up for things that I've already taken/spent/used.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

WealthTrack Wrapup

This week's Consuelo Mack WealthTrack was particularly interesting with three notable guests: Tom Forrester, forrester value fund - only value mgr to make money last year 1/2800; Thomas Russo, Gardner Russo Gardner; Randall Forsyth, Editor in Chief Barrons.com

The main topic for this week's show was the credit markets. As usual for those who are investors, each felt that there was opportunities in this market. Even despite the negative return of the S+P over the past 10 years, there is even some sense among these experts that a reversion to the mean might actually indicative of decent returns in equities in the years to come.

Of particularly interest was the way in which Forrester managed to eke out a positive return last year. His secret was basic: avoid housing and financials. As a result he shifted a large portion to cash and overweighted in other sectors like healthcare.

Summarizing the reality of this past year, Forrester noted that 2008 was the 'year of the balance sheet'. Russo continued this theme by explaining that a major factor in the decline in price of stocks is a result of multiple contraction. Multiples are one way in which it is possible to judge how much investors value stocks since they indicate an amount of value placed on future earnings of the underlying companies.

In response to the idea of a more frugal future, there was a major indicator from Forrester's point of view: savings rates. From his perspective, savings rate is hopefully a bellwether. He thinks...(I'm summarazing and paraphrasing here).."let's see if we get back to 6-8% savings rate where the consumer is building a base and then you can grow earnings on these larger companies again. Once you do that, you can shift from 'balance sheet' mode to the 'income statement' for growing earnings."

All of this was compelling for me to hear, on both a macro and a personal level. The idea of 'hearkening back to the days of Ozzie and Harriet' rings particularly true for me. I think that it would be somewhat encouraging to see the average consumer savings rate increase. Perhaps that would be a mustard seed in what looks to be a series of troubled months ahead.