It’s safe to say that a vast number of American voters are disappointed with the way things turned out in the presidential election, but the news is not all bad. At times like this, I find solace in the Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” One of the verses went, “In your life expect some trouble;
When you worry you make it double.” So let’s walk on the sunny side of the street.
To spend $550 billion on infrastructure is commendable. It is more than the previous administration tried but was unable to push through a then-penny-pinching Congress that was too concerned about the deficit. But it made a lot of sense then — and it still makes sense now.
The devil is in the details, however, in that many of those who are unemployed make up what are termed the “structurally unemployed.” These are the people who cannot be trained or who will not move to where the jobs are. To make much of a dent in what’s left of unemployment, which is half what it was in 2009, we’ll just fix failing roads and bridges in people’s hometowns.
As for investing, the news is probably good in the immediate future. American companies continue to make record profits, and interest rates remain low for reasons having to do with the hoarding of cash on corporate and personal balance sheets. Historically, the stock market dislikes uncertainty and finds solace in a deadlocked Washington. The past seven years is a good indication of this phenomenon, as we have experienced the second-longest bull market in history while living through the most contentious period that Washington has ever delivered.
For the next few years, investors will be experiencing one of the purest expressions of the famous Wall Street axiom “the market rises on a wall of worry.” The point of this saying is that when the world stops worrying, it means everyone has bought in and there’s no one left to create further upward pressure.
Paul Sullivan, in The New York Times, explores the litany of worries that plague wealthy investors trying to make an educated guess as to what they could stand to lose in a major downturn. This includes everything from an interest rate shock (not likely any time soon,) the implosion of China, ISIS resisting defeat, the Middle East turmoil in general — the list is long.
Protecting against the downside is pretty simple. You lean toward profitable, dividend-producing, large, established companies and stay away from so-called growth companies that borrow as much as they can get their hands on. Mutual funds describing themselves as large-cap value funds make this decision easy.
Then, some bond funds of up to half of a portfolio will cushion any downdraft, but the sweet spot is to maintain about one-third of the total account in bonds to get maximum protection while giving up as little as possible of the upside. Leaving room for the upside makes sense, because all that worry may turn out to be for nothing. Most funds in the so-called “balanced fund” category adopt this one-third bonds/two-thirds stock mix.
Finally, to my way of thinking, consider the possibility that for some period of time, you may have to endure as much as a 20 percent or more loss of market value on the equity portion of your investment mix. Think about it now so you can shrug it off when it happens. After all, at least 10 percent of what you have now is a gift — the product of a great bull market caused, in part, by intransigence and dysfunction that created a predictable status quo in Washington.
A “black swan event,” as some consider the election itself to be, could take those gains away. Investing more carefully, however, is a better antidote than sitting in cash trying to second guess what will happen next.