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Today we are faced with two opposite myths both of them wildly dangerous to your long-term financial health.
The “crypto/Lambo” myth is certainly much easier to understand and mock. This is the get-rich-quick myth that permeates all of trading. It comes in every flavor imaginable but the basic premise is the same. All you have to do is learn a few simple strategies and in a matter of months, you’ll be independently wealthy. It doesn’t matter what you trade -- stocks, options, forex -- the message is always the same. I. CAN. MAKE. YOU. RICH. Crypto is simply the latest incarnation of this age-old con, but equities work just as well. My personal favorite these days is a guy named Jason Bond (what brilliant scam name) whose Youtube ads are ubiquitous even on my five-year-olds Barbie channel (business rule 101 -- the faster someone talks, the more they are lying)
Of course, you can’t turn $1000 into $1 Million in a matter of years. Of course, you can’t make $10,000 per day every day in just a few hours of market trading. And no, of course, you can’t trade for a living with just $10,000 worth of capital.
But while the get-rich-day-trading scheme is easy to spot, the flip side can be just as deadly. This is of course is the you-don’t-have-to-do-anything to retire myth of index investing. The financial media constantly tells you all you have to do is drop 10% of your yearly income into an index fund and NOT DO ANYTHING. It will just magically compound to $1 Million! $2 Million! $5 Million! money pot and you will to retire to Boca and play golf with the sunshine boys for the rest of your carefree days.
Like all good myths, this one originated with a kernel of truth. Over the past 30 years the virtuous cycle of easy monetary policy (yes Virginia -- this is actually the MAIN reason stocks always go up -- check the 30-year bond for the past 30 years), massive technological advances and financial deregulation have created the perfect environment for the index investor. The financial press is full of gleeful stories of Mom and Pop savers eviscerating the Masters of the Universe on a daily, monthly, and multi-year basis. The “F-k me, I am a hedge fund manager” T-shirt, so popular in the early aughts seems as quaint now as the Lambo/crypto dream of 2017.
The message of the index myth is -- you don’t need to know anything, you don’t need to do anything, just buy the f-ing dip and money will grow like a magic tree.
I am not going to bore you with all the empirical data that I’ve already shared before how there are many, many periods in American history where that wasn’t true. I will, however, share just one interesting tidbit that I came across this week. Did you know that since 1962 (that’s 56 years) the return on Japanese equities is 2.72% per annum, for German equities it’s 3.46% and for Italian equities its … wait for it -0.38% per year! Now you can believe in American exceptionalism all you like but you would be beyond irresponsible to risk your financial wealth on that assumption.
In any case, there is something incredibly primitive about the index myth. What after all, is the difference between the indigenous people of the Amazon who perform the rain dance without understanding a thing about meteorological patterns and the index investors who perform the “saving dance” without understanding a thing about financial markets? Eventually, the drought comes. Eventually, there will be a time when 30 years worth of savings will evaporate in 30 days of the market meltdown and … the money will never come back. Don’t believe me? Just ask Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe who’ve never seen the Nikkei at its 1988 highs in their life.
So instead of falling for the get rich quick myth or the do-nothing-and-money-will-come-to-you myth, the reality is that we all need to become trader/investors. We all need to learn how to manage risk both in terms of size and stops. We all need to learn about algo trading. We all need to learn how to trade both sides of the market (not that there is anything with that). We. All. Need. To. Become. Active. Not. Passive.
It’s not glamorous to make 10 pips per day. It’s not easy either, but therein lies the true secret to long-term wealth. Because 10 pips per day will accrue to millions of dollars over years of trading. 10 pips per day is 25% per year -- which is huge if you understand the compound tables and even half that -- 5 pips per day -- is a pathway to financial security.
More importantly, it’s eminently doable. It’s doable not only from an absolute return point of view but from a volatility point of view. I can assure you that if you learn how to make 5 pips per day you will never put yourself in a position of losing 90% of your retirement savings in a matter of weeks. If you learn to trade actively, you will obtain the ultimate wealth building skill -- control.