How High Can Unemployment Go Before We Derail?


The S&P 500 index has rallied 40%+ from its March 2009 low, and is up 8% Year To Date. Despite this solid performance, unemployment has surged to 9.7%, and many forecast the increase will continue until 11-13% unemployment. We’ve got 12% unemployment here in California already.

The question I have is: How high can the unemployment rate go before the bull market derails? Is the level 15%, or is the level as high as 20%? I cannot imagine being unemployed and desiring employment in this market. There’s just so little out there and the competition is tremendous. For those who are already employed, things seem hopeful that with earnings rebounding from 2008 and less people to pay, 2009 could be a big year.

Is the market currently being driven by the “90% employed” segment of the population who thinks the other 10% doesn’t really matter to the economy’s bottom line? With consumer spending consisting of 70% of GDP, how can we ignore the fact that 1 out of every 10 are not working, and likely another 10% are underemployed and looking for more work to survive? Am I looking backwards, since unemployment is a lagging indicator, and the stock market is a leading indicator?

It absolutely perplexes me that euphoria is back in the markets. We shouldn’t be surprised if we double dip in 2H09, and see a long drawn out recovery until mid 2010. Personally, I’m raising cash by pulling money out of the market. We’ve had a great rebound and I don’t want to get greedy.

Readers, where do you think unemployment levels are heading and what are your arguments if you think the markets are going higher?

Update: At 10.2% unemployment as of Nov 7th, 2009, apparently very high!

Keigu,

Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

Going Broke to Win Big! The Ultimate Way To Budgeting

To err is human and frugal living is a necessary element to building long term wealth. At the very least, one has to spend less than one earns to accumulate savings and give oneself a chance of making profitable investments. The financial community has beaten to death basic financial practice such as: Paying oneself first, saving early and frequently to maximize compounding, and budgeting. Hence, we’ll skip these common sense practices here on Financial Samurai, and go for a new method of building wealth: Going Broke to Win Big.

The concept of Going Broke to Win Big is simple. Essentially, if you see nothing in your bank account, you’re going to do the darndest to try and build some savings and wealth. You’re also not going to be tempted to spend frivolously, either. I don’t literally mean bankrupting yourself, but simply create three separate banking accounts, and not just three separate accounts within one bank.

If you are like me, you’ve blown yourself up through dumb investments and unscrupulous spending in the past. The key is to protect yourself, from yourself, and create that renewed sense of urgency to forge ahead and stay disciplined in your finances. You may laugh at the concept of protecting yourself from yourself, but everyone of us has the means of blowing ourselves up financially every single day. We are bombarded with temptations and we have collectively taken down the economy with overspending in recent years.

Below are the basics of “Going Broke To Win Big.” Create three separate bank accounts as follows:

1) The Go Broke Bank. The first bank account is for working capital needs, namely where your paycheck goes, and where you pay all your bills. This bank is your operationally efficient bank which has the best tools for bill pay with the most branches for accessibility. Citibank is a good example, a ubiquitous bank with good online tools, but provides ridiculously low savings rates and horrible credit card rates. Bank #1 is where you are constantly “Going Broke.” Your paycheck must be managed so that it lasts to cover all your expenses. But before you pay all you expenses, you must pay yourself first by transferring your target savings automatically to a Bank #2.

2) The Freedom Bank. The second bank is strictly for long term savings via money markets and CDs. This bank may not have as big of a footprint, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t need to access money from this bank. That’s what bank #1 is for. Due to lower overhead, Bank #2 provides better long term savings rates. Online banks such as Ally, and boutique banks such as First Republic provide fantastic rates, often 500-100bps higher than the competition. Do not tempt yourself by creating a checking account. You want money to easily come in (ever notice tellers don’t require IDs when depositing?), but very difficult to go out.

3) The Lockdown Bank.
The third and final bank is for your debt, namely mortgages, personal loans, and car loans. By loading the majority of your debt with one bank, you compartmentalize your debt which may relieve you of any mental stress related to this debt. It’s easier to tackle your debt at one bank and employ the “Snowball Method.” Furthermore, from the bank’s point of view, you may get better rates given you are such a good debtor customer. You’re buying debt in bulk from Costco if you will, and in normal times, they want your business and will give you discounts. During crisis times, it’s also good to have all your debt in one place b/c your bank doesn’t want you to cause a default cascade and will do their best to work with you.

For insurance purposes, one should set up a “checking plus” account which serves as an insurance mechanism just in case you go past $0 in your main checking account.  I’ve come close, and have breached zero multiple times over the years, and the $5,000 checking plus account I have has served as a handy buffer.  I’ve never been over by more than $300, and interest on $300 for one day is nothing.  A checking plus account should be free. If it’s not free, ask for it to be free, and if they don’t budge, find some other “go broke bank” to use.

CONCLUSION

All banks strive to cross sell as many products as they can. They try and capture you with rewards points and so forth. The goal is to protect yourself from spending unscrupulously with the commingling of monies through one bank, and to force yourself to actively manage your budget. Humans are weak, and we need to constantly remind ourselves to focus on our finances.

After using the “Go Broke” system for the past 5 years, I know exactly what’s going into and out of my checking account within 10 dollars. When the fuel tank is running low with only $200 left for the month, I should probably go on a nature hike than go play poker with the buddies this weekend. Lavish spending has gone out the window since employing this method as well. I pretend everyday that all I have left in the world is in Bank #1. The dearth of money keeps me motivated to work hard, keep on budgeting, and focus on my finances. Meanwhile, the growth of savings in Bank #2, and the decline in debt in Bank #3 is optimized and automatic.

Recommended Action For Increasing Your Wealth

* Manage Your Finances In One Place: Get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and when my CDs are expiring. I can also see how much I’m spending every month. If you are interested, they can even provide tailored financial advice for much cheaper than traditional wealth managers.

* Check Your Credit Score: Everybody needs to check their credit score once every six months given the risk of identity theft and the fact that 30% of credit scores have errors. For over a year, I thought I had a 790ish credit score and was fine, until my mortgage refinance bank on day 80 of my refinance told me they could not go through due to a $8 late payment by my tenants from two years ago! My credit score was hit by 110 points to 680 and I could not get the lowest rate! I had to spend an extra 10 days fixing my score by contacting the utility company to write a “Clear Credit Letter” to get the bank to follow through. Check your credit score for free at GoFreeCredit.com and protect yourself. The averaged credit score for a rejected mortgage applicant is 729!

Keigu,

Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

The Less You Have, The Less You Lose

In October of 2008, Warren Buffet lost about $9.6 billion on paper. Put it another way, that’s a freaking a lot of money! To also put it another way, in my chase to match Warren’s wealth, I caught up to him by about $9.599 billion dollars.

Many of us have lost a lot of money in this market, but we could have lost more if we were already very wealthy. I am absolutely positive that it hurts much more for some poor rich CEO losing $50million of his net wealth, vs us losing $50,000 of our own.

Now is absolutely the best time to be relatively young and buy all the assets we can. And since we have such a wonderful opportunity, it makes wasteful spending that much more expensive because of the potential returns down the road.

Who knows whether we are going to double dip in the 2nd half as unemployment marches to 11%+. What I do feel strongly about is that if we don’t buy some distressed asset now, we are going to be kicking ourselves in 20 years. Personally, my site is set on a vacation property in Nevada, Lake Tahoe. I hope to pick up a foreclosure that is 50% off of peak values, and that can provide a 8% rental yield vs. the current government risk free 10 year treasure of 3.54%. In 8-10 years, i plan to move there and pay 0% state income tax, vs. 9.6% here in California.

Readers, what do you plan to pick up for cheap in this recession?

Rgds,

Sam

To MBA or Not To MBA

I remember the moment I got my college diploma, I swore I’d never go to school again. At the end of the day, we forget the majority of things we learn and who wants to do homework anyway? All this changed when the Dotcom bubble exploded and I was left wondering whether I’d be the first person let go given I had recently joined my current job in 2001. Last in First Out, or LIFO as they say.

We had gone through 5 rounds of layoffs in 1.5 years, and I heard the 6th one was just right around the corner. As long as the firm would have me, I’d keep on working, but just in case, I needed a backup plan. I decided that surfing back home in Hawaii was not the proper backup plan so I came to a compromise and applied to the nearest part-time MBA program, which so happens to be ranked Top 10 in US News & World Report and the WSJ. The program promised the rigors of the full-time program, with the same professors and international opportunities all within 3 years. Upon looking further into my company’s policies, they offered to pay for my MBA so long as I was in good standings. The MBA program was a hedge, just in case I was one of the casualties, as one could potentially transfer to the full time program once accepted.

The 6th round came and went, and I was still left standing. Unfortunately, the company tuition reimbursement policy was canceled just two weeks before my acceptance. I decided to join anyway b/c at the end of the day, the economy was still shaky, and I didn’t want my application time spent go to waste. What the heck I thought. Be grateful for the opportunity.

Make 10% More Per Annum Forever – Move to Nevada.

With California heading towards the abyss, and taxes rocketing to the moon, I’ve toyed with the idea of leaving the state. Here’s an article in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighting homeless 24 year olds and rising unemployment even in a rich suburb such as Marin County.

From this other article, we learn that from the first stimulus package alone, the gov’t has borrowed $10,000 from each individual so far, and it is doubtful that the majority of people have felt a return on their $10,000 loan yet.  At any rate, it’s clear that taxes are going up in California and perhaps NYC, and we residents in troubled states should think long and hard about whether to stay or go.

Did you know that seven states have no state income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming? Two others, New Hampshire and Tennessee, tax only dividend and interest income. Alaskan residents even get an annual oil credit for goodness sakes.

If you’re earning $100,000 a year, you’ll automatically save $10,000 bucks just by setting up shop in another state. Multiply this by 20 years, and bake in a 4% annual return, you’ll come out with $310,000 more in the bank! Even 10 years provides you with about $125,000. Hey, who wouldn’t want an extra $125,000 laying around. I could finally buy that Porsche 911 Turbo I’ve always wanted! Must resist temptation.

Obviously relocating is easier said than done. Hence, another strategy should be to simply set up residency in one of the 7 states after one retires. This is one of the key benefits of retiring early. Amass the nut, and save 10%/annum on your interest income every year for the rest of your life. Setting up residency is easy. Just buy a place, or rent some cheap studio… maybe even a habitable closet and call it home. The more money you make, the more you should consider moving.

Seattle, Incline Village in Lake Tahoe would be my top two choices. I’ll just get in trouble in Vegas!

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Regards,

Sam, Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”