When the stock markets were imploding, so was my 401k by a magnitude of about -30%. My net worth probably took an equal percentage hit because of my holdings in real estate. Good thing it’s hard to mark to market real estate values given the lack of transactions. To make myself feel better, I often joked I was catching up to the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Carlos Slim given they lost billions.
Traffic in San Francisco was lighter back then. I could get a reservation on a whim at my favorite steak house and I no longer had to hear every Dick, Nancy, Lisa, and Raj tell me how much money they were making in the markets. 2008-2010 was a time for reflection. There was a reprieve from cacophony that felt wonderful.
Now that we’re at all time highs with the S&P 500 at close to 2,100 in 2015, I’m afraid the noise will return again.
YOU DON’T WANT A BULL MARKET
Wealth inequality is a growing issue in America and many countries around the world. Those who own equities and real assets are getting rich while those who can’t get their money working for them are falling further behind.
The reason why you don’t feel wealthy with stocks at record highs is because the majority of the population owns the minority of equities. Although this chart is from 2007, the present day percentages are about the same. Wealth is only going to get more concentrated within the top 10%.
The 10% own an incredible 80%+ of all the stock market wealth. As you’ve seen from a previous post on top income earners, the income split to decide the top 10% is around $115,000 a year. The top 20% (~$85,000 and up) own 90% of all stock market wealth.
If you’re making less than $85,000 a year as a household, there’s just not that much left after food, clothing, shelter, and tuition to dump into the stock markets and hope you’ll make a return. Compounding things further, there are many $85K+ income earners who don’t even bother to invest their money. The real level of dismay may therefore be much greater than 80%.
It helps to talk in extremes to make a point. Imagine if stock markets went to zero and the government confiscated all our property. The rich would be just like everybody else, making us all equal again. Now imagine if the Dow rocketed to 100,000. We’d all turn into slaves.
ENVY CANNOT BE CONTROLLED
It’s one thing to lose money when everybody else is losing money. It’s another thing to gain a little more financial security while others start making boatloads of money. If someone you know has a million dollar stock portfolio and returned $160,000 a year in 2012, you’ll be hard pressed not to feel envy when your $100,000 portfolio only returned $16,000. The percentages are the same, but the absolute return of $160,000 is enough to support a family for well over a year. Meanwhile, your $16,000 can’t even buy you a new Honda Civic.
Money envy leads to bubbles. Nobody wants to fall behind in an upswing, which is why you are now seeing a herd of buyers come out of the woodwork in search for real estate. Why such folks didn’t pick up properties for the cheap in 2009, 2010, 2011, I have no idea. I’ve been roaming the open houses in San Francisco for the past six months and things are not looking good for prospective buyers given the lack of inventory and lots of competition.
The one great thing about a bull market is the positive effect stronger corporate earnings has on the labor market. For the large majority of people, working is the only way to make a living. It is an inevitability employment will improve as companies struggle to meet demand. Soon we will see bidding wars for talent again. Just make sure you don’t compare yourself to someone else who doesn’t even have to work for a living.
To the 90% majority, start getting unhappy now! The top 10% are going to make everything from tuition, to real estate, to vacations, to getting a reservation at your favorite restaurant that much more expensive and difficult.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO BUILD WEALTH
* Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best way to become financially independent and protect yourself is to 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 how my net worth is progressing. I can also see how much I’m spending every month.
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In the long run, it is very hard to outperform any index, therefore, the key is to pay the lowest fees possible while being invested in the market. Wealthfront charges $0 in fees for the first $15,000 if you sign up via my link and only 0.25% for any money over $10,000. You don’t even have to fund your account to see the various ETF portfolios they’ll build for you based off your risk-tolerance. Invest your idle money cheaply, instead of letting it lose purchasing power due to inflation.
About the Author: Sam began investing his own money ever since he opened an online brokerage account online in 1995. Sam loved investing so much that he decided to make a career out of investing by spending the next 13 years after college working at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse Group. During this time, Sam received his MBA from UC Berkeley with a focus on finance and real estate. He also became Series 7 and Series 63 registered. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $175,000 a year in passive income. He spends time playing tennis, hanging out with family, consulting for leading fintech companies, and writing online to help others achieve financial freedom.
Updated for 2016 and beyond.