Sunday, January 28

Week 343 - Raise Cash For The Crash

Situation: By now, you know that many are predicting that we are in the late stages of a bull market. Euphoria is the last stage, and in the present climate, one would expect that euphoria will begin happening as the new tax bill takes effect. Two or 3 years later, the stock market will over-correct to the downside and recession will likely soon follow. Now would be a good time for small investors to begin to protect themselves. One way to do that would be to “bulk up” on cash equivalents and Treasuries. The money you still have in equities will need to move in the direction of high-yielding Dividend Achiever type stocks. 

Why should we start making these changes now? Because the yield curve is flattening (see Appendix below), which is the best indicator that Financial Services professionals have to predict a market crash.

Mission: Draw up a portfolio of stocks and bonds that will carry you through a market crash relatively unscathed.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: There are 4 ways to raise cash for a crash.
   1) Have a Rainy Day Fund that covers 6 months of expenses and is inflation-protected. All of us resist maintaining this “Dead Money Account.” Why? Because it keeps taking money away from spending as our income increases. The trick is to make it painless by a) eliminating transaction costs, tax payments, and inflation risk, and b) paying into the Account automatically. Sounds great, but how? By going to the US Treasury website and directing that a transfer of $25+/mo be made from your checking account into an Inflation-Protected Savings Bond (ISB). Follow a First In/First Out (FIFO) policy when cashing-out your Rainy Day Fund, since you’ll lose an interest payment if you cash-out sooner than 5 years. Taxes are only due after you’ve drawn down the Account.

   2) Increase your Cash-Equivalents Allocation: dollar-average into 2-Yr Treasury Notes. Normally, this allocation is whatever cash cushion you like to maintain in your Savings, Checking, and Brokerage Accounts. But now isn’t a normal time. You need to plus-up those cash holdings and build a “backstop.” Why? Because there’s a material risk that your household will soon be living on less income (that is, a reduction upwards of 5%/yr). The easiest way to build a temporary backstop is to go back into and invest $1000 every 2 months in a 2-Yr Treasury Note. After 2 years, you’re done. You’ve allocated $12,000 that will start paying $1000 into your Checking Account every 2 months. Meantime, you can track the value of this investment through the ticker SHY (iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF -- see Line 20 in the Table),  

   3) Reduce your Equity Allocation but retain Dividend Achievers with above-market yields. This week’s Table has suggestions that may assist you. Those stocks were chosen largely on the basis of a) high ratings from S&P, b) above-market yields, c) the likelihood of payouts continuing to increase in a recession, d) P/E ratios at or below market, and e) predicted losses in a bear market (see Column M in the Table) that are less than or equal to those predicted for the S&P 500 Index (at Line 20). When the crash hits, you will be tempted to sell these (your most crash-resistant stocks) because you’re afraid they’ll fall further. Don’t. Instead of reinvesting dividends, just have the dividend checks sent to your mailbox. If you aren’t a stock picker, simply invest in VYM (Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF at Line 17 in Table) and XLU (SPDR Utilities Select Sector ETF at Line 14).

   4) Increase your Fixed-Income Allocation: dollar-average into 20+ Yr Treasury Bonds. In a Bear Market, you may need to raise cash by selling assets. You might want to sell assets that have temporarily spiked upward in value because stocks are crashing. Only one asset that will predictably do that for you: 20+ Year Treasury Bonds, which are already being bought up and flattening the yield curve (see Appendix below). These are the Treasuries you’ll be buying, and later turning around to sell. So, you’ll need to have a brokerage account that is fee-based (that is, you’re charged ~1% of Net Asset Value/yr in return for transaction costs being waived). Then dollar-average into TLT (iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF at Line 15 in the Table). Sell those when you think the stock market has bottomed, and spend the proceeds on stocks in that Fire Sale. 

Bottom Line: To avoid sleepless nights and migraine headaches, pull in your horns now. Stop gambling (but restart after the market collapses). Build up your Rainy Day Fund, and invest in cash equivalents, high-yielding high-quality stocks, and long-term Treasuries. When the crash hits, people will tell you to stop buying stocks altogether. Why do they say that? Because nobody can say for sure how long the market will keep going down. But Walmart (WMT) and McDonald’s (MCD) will be booming, even while layoffs in the Industrial Sector continue to make headlines. The End of the World isn’t happening. Get over it. Read the Wall Street Journal. When the Bear looks to be getting tired, call your stock broker and buy.  

Risk Rating: 4 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-cost average into NEE and TGT, and also own shares of PEP, PFE, HRL, and MO. I am executing on the 4 suggestions above for raising cash.

APPENDIX: The yield curve is Flattening. What does that jargon term mean? Savvy investors are moving money out of growth stocks and into Long-Term Treasuries, even while the Federal Reserve is raising Short-Term interest rates. It doesn’t make sense. Long-Term rates would typically move up in tandem with Short-Term rates, provided the economy is truly gaining strength. 

You can follow that increase in Long-Term Treasury Bond prices (which move in the opposite direction of interest rates) by going to Yahoo Finance and entering TLT (for iShares 20+ Yr Treasury Bond ETF). Click on “chart” and select the 2 Year chart. Then on “indicator” and choose a 200-day moving average. That will show the steady upward movement in the price of those bonds—because buyers outnumber sellers. That results in a steady downward movement in the rate of interest being earned by new buyers, which flattens the yield curve. 

There are several explanations why Long-Term interest rates might fall even as Short-Term rates are rising: “the the simplest: markets are losing confidence in the Fed’s ability to raise [Short-Term] rates without inflation sagging.” You might want to learn more about the falling yield curve, so read on.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune

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