Dear Mr. Berko: Half our investment club believes the market will crash this year and enter into a recession. We're thinking of moving to 80% cash. Your thoughts, please.
Another question: We all did well in our work years, and it's hard to believe how poorly our much-younger Americans are doing. Your comments? -- T.N., Oklahoma
Dear T.N.: There's a righteous chart created by Ryan Detrick at LPL Financial that may warm the cockles of your heart. The chart reaches back to 1950. It shows that when the S&P is up more than 10% for the first three months of a new year (like this year), the market will close higher at year's end -- sometimes a lot higher. The only miss was in 1987.
The slow decline of the importance of the individual in the early 1960s and simultaneous rise in the prominence of groupthink has discouraged creativity and individual responsibility. This is painfully evident in the decay of many government agencies, such as Homeland Security, the VA, the Department of Education, FEMA, ad nauseum.
This collapse occurs within groups of people when their desire for conformity and harmony in the group results in irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcomes. The most obvious examples of this failure are Congress, Medicaid and our public schools. And the public school system is the genesis of our future 20, 30 and 40 years hence. That scares the bejabbers out of me!
From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, the American Dream of a home, a white picket fence, a Ford in the garage and dependable employment was vibrant and alive. Then, with the postwar baby boom (4 million babies were born each year during the "fabulous '50s") and classroom integration, our eminent public schools became sociopolitical battlegrounds, condemning tens of millions of Americans to dull mediocrity. And the denouement is a phenomenon called "the dumbing down of America."
Several years ago, while teaching a class on capital formation, I asked a student how much he paid for his Chevrolet. He said it cost him $349 a month. I responded: "No, tell me how much you bought your car for." He responded: "$349 a month." We danced "ring around the rosy" twice again, and he finally said: "I have to make 15 more payments and I'm finished." He was 32 years old, married, with three children and a BS in business administration. What a dummy. I feel sorry for his children, who may mature in ignorance.
At Thanksgiving last year, I made several purchases at a greengrocer. The total bill with state sales tax came to $10.71. I didn't have a $10 bill and didn't want a bunch of paper currency in my pocket, so I gave the cashier $21, expecting to get back a $10 bill plus 29 cents in coins. The cashier couldn't understand the transaction and called the manager. Oh well!
Our infrastructure is crumbling, and there's enough critical work with good pay to be done to eliminate unemployment for 30 years. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says 15,500 of the country's dams and 56,000 of our bridges are hazardous and deficient. It estimates the U.S. needs to spend between $4.5 trillion and $6 trillion to rebuild crumbling country roads, provide safe drinking water, modernize air traffic control systems and improve inland waterways. We must rebuild our decaying 60-year-old electrical transmission and power lines and find a way to store hazardous waste that's edging too close to populated neighborhoods. There are 926 ports in the United States responsible for $5 trillion in economic activity that must be modernized. I can continue for pages.
If we can find skilled workers, they'll earn excellent wages that will generate increased consumer spending, higher corporate profits and a strong stock market. Be an optimist, not a pessimist; you'll get invited to more parties.
(Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at email@example.com.)