TGIF: Pandemic Ponderings

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“May you live in interesting times” is a famous curse, and current events are certainly showing why. This is one of the most interesting periods of my entire life. While I’ve certainly lived through numerous memorable events, they’ve been just that: events. Their aftermath might have stretched out, but the events themselves were over quickly. The current situation is quite different, and I suspect it will be one of the most interesting and memorable times of our lives.

While life has changed a bit, our family is doing well so far. Cooking every meal at home and spending a ton of time together isn’t a big stretch for us. The fact that every family member is a great reader helps a lot. There has been a good deal of video game time, but we’ve used it as a carrot to get the boys to do their schoolwork. We all miss socializing with a broader group, but I suspect that’ll make us appreciate it all the more when we’re able to see friends again. Compared to many, we are incredibly lucky, so we’re counting our blessings and wishing the best for those who are actually suffering right now.

I don’t have a lot of deep thoughts for today, so I’ll just gather an eclectic mix of observations and also tee up some of my pending posts.

Stocks Can Do Down? Really?

This bear market has been a rude awakening for many an investor. For years, folks have just dumped money into equities – especially U.S. equities – and watched it grow like weeds. Now, we could be facing one of the worst recessions ever, and the damage to the market might just be starting. No one knows if we’ll have a fast rebound or if this is the beginning of the Apocalypse. But that’s actually the nature of markets: the seemingly guaranteed steady rise of equities in recent years belied the wild risk that is inherent in them. 

I am slowing but steadily shifting some of my cash balance into equities. This is one of the darkest periods of investor sentiment I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve promised myself that whenever that happens I’d be buying. Plus, no one is joking anymore that stocks are on sale 🙂

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There are many people kicking themselves for not selling at the peak, and I’m sure there will be many more who are angry that they missed buying at the bottom (presuming we ever get to a bottom…). 

The problem is that no one can predict the future. But what if you could? That would be awesome. The potential returns are highlighted in a series that the Economist started over 20 years ago (see, there is value in following an older blogger!). You can read about the adventures of Felicity Foresight, who perfectly predicted which asset and which market around the world would offer the best returns each year and invested accordingly. It turns out that’s a lucrative strategy, as Felicity, from a humble $1 start, became the world’s first quadrillionaire 100 years later.

Sadly, no real person has Felicity’s skill, but we can all be Henry Hindsight. Henry had no foresight at all, so he invested in the best performing investment class from the previous year. That’s not as lucrative a strategy. Please don’t be Henry Hindsight.

The good news is we can also be Charlie Contrarian, who picked the worst performing investment class from the previous year. Charlie may have a lesson for us right about now.

You may need to register with the Economist to access, and reading them will use up all of your weekly free articles, but it’s good stuff.

Trip to Montreal

We managed to take a trip to Montreal for our spring break, and we arrived safely back home just before all hell broke loose. 

Montreal is an awesome city, and we had a blast. I’ll milk it for a post here shortly.

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The World’s Best Selfie Stick

I’ve gotten into the habit of not taking a proper camera anywhere anymore, but that makes full family pictures a bit hard. Either we’re squashed in at arm’s length from the phone, or we have to ask other humans to take our picture (and I was social distancing long before it became cool).

So as we prepared for our trip to Montreal, I bought a selfie stick. Normally you’d just laugh at me, and we’d move on, because selfie sticks – and the people who use them – are ridiculous. But this selfie stick was special:

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It’s not only a selfie stick; it’s also a tripod. And guess what’s become one of the most popular products in our household during the pandemic? We’re juggling it for videoconferences, and my son’s using it to record his band submissions. You can buy one here (affiliate link), and it might even arrive before the next pandemic. 

Me Versus Squirrel

As if things weren’t bad enough, I’ve discovered we have a squirrel in our attic over the garage. That’s the bad news, because squirrels can be pretty destructive to houses.

The worse news is that this squirrel appears to be smarter than I am, and so far has avoided all of my efforts to evict it.

However, I now have an awesome DIY project ahead, and I’m pretty excited:

Stay tuned!

I’m Starting a Book Club!

I read a lot, and my tastes run pretty broad. In my never-ending quest to fill these pages with the most delectable content, I’ve decided to start a book club. If I get fellow bloggers to join my club, the “hosting” of each review can rotate around to each site, which will be downright cute. It’ll hopefully be an easy way to produce a valuable post – you, my valued reader, will get recs on which books to read and (oft more importantly) which ones to avoid. 

Next step: find some friends. My first choice was Nelson, formerly of Financial Uproar and now of Canadian Dividend Investing. He has everything you’d want in a book club member: he can read and write, he has a rapier-like wit, and we’re good enough buddies that I’m totally comfortable ripping him when he recommends a dud. Nelson was super excited mildly interested and agreed to join.

Odysseus of Odyssey to Fire is also on board, but my next few choices for members didn’t work out as well. People declined because they’re slow readers, or too busy, or don’t like me. The blogger formerly known as Coco was interested but totally snobbed out when she found out I only have two friends. 

I’ve spent the last 3 months developing a review format – 2.99 months of procrastination, and then 10 minutes of pure inspiration. I’m posting the review format down below so Nelson’ll get off my back and I won’t have to write emails like a caveman to any newcomers. At Nelson’s recommendation, he and I (plus any others interested) are going to review Gladwell’s newest Talking to Strangers. To maximize the comedy of a bad recommendation, we’ll make sure whoever recommends a book doesn’t host that review, so I’ll host this first one.

The Market for President

The world pandemic poses one of the greatest challenges in living memory. The entire world is suffering, and the future looks dark.

However, take heart! When brilliant leadership is needed, the American people provide.

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It appears that we will have a battle of brilliance between two elder statesmen this fall. Lincoln & Douglas will have nothing on these two orators. Who will win the spirited but respectful contest? Time will tell, but with either outcome, a grateful nation – and world – will know its fate is in the best possible hands.

That’s it for this week. Happy Friday everyone!



Format for Forthcoming Book Club Reviews

These are initial thoughts and will evolve over time; plus, any blogger who hosts a review can play with house rules and decide their own questions. But this at least gives a little structure – and even a hint of danger – for the reviews.

Has my opinion of [recommender] gone up or down after this pick?

This will be an important question. I have permanently downgraded my opinion of certain people because of books they like and recommend, so this will be a good way of calling that out. If you say, “I kinda liked this book,” it tells you little. If you say, “I like Nelson a lot less as a person for making me sit through this s***,” that tells volumes. 

[If you are the recommender, this question becomes: “I am [proud or embarrassed] to have recommended this book, and here’s why.”]

The point where I knew this was going to be a [good or bad] book was…

It’s fine to know if a book is good or bad, but it’s quite interesting to know exactly when – both how far in and the nature of the passage – that happened. 

What did I like?

What did I dislike?

These two questions are kinda boring and bland, but we need to remember this is a book club, after all.

This book was better than [fill in blank] but worse than [fill in blank].

People can answer this with whatever they like ‘cause it’s a free country. It was better than the author’s other work, better than the Bible, better than a ham sandwich, whatever. It was worse than some other book, worse than visiting the dentist, worse than staring at a wall. As long as the reviewer answers this truthfully without hyperbole, anything goes.

Was reading this book a good use of my time?

The true acid test of a book. Was it worth it? A long but extremely entertaining book does well on this measure, as does a shorter but lesser work. This question will hopefully call out those long, inefficient, boring books that make you want your time back. 

What value will this book have for me, long-term?

Re-readability, life lessons, paperweight, whatever. “Absolutely none” is a hard but acceptable answer.

So that’s it for now. Nelson – you are formally on notice to start penning your review of Talking to Strangers. Anyone else interested, let me know in the comments.

6 thoughts on “TGIF: Pandemic Ponderings”

  1. I keep telling myself that no matter how bad things get, stock prices can’t go below zero….

    At least I think that’s true. It’s a whole new world, and the rules are changing rapidly. Apparently landlords are frequently providing free rent now, so maybe shareholders have to pay dividends to the corporations now.

    Who knows!

    1. Don’t give them any ideas! Some corporations are doing so poorly, they may try to repatriate previous years dividends!

    2. Yes, we’re in wild times to be sure. It’s a good reminder that the only thing worse than things looking bad is things looking uncertain – when that happens, no one knows what to do and the added friction at each handoff throughout the economy brings the whole machine to a halt.

      It would be funny to see shareholders paying dividends to corporations – that might finally be the push I need to start shorting things 🙂

      Thanks for the note and happy hunting!

  2. Hi Paul,

    I share the some tough about what we are living now. This is the kind of experience that we’ll share with the grandsons in the future, telling them how we went through it.

    Good to hear that you and your family are doing well and having a good time together. Here everything is fine as well. Penelope is getting crazy trying to conciliate the usual tasks with homeschooling for 2 children. The elder one is more independent, even so demands some support. With the home office I have the feeling of being working more than in the office.

    On the investment side, I had 2 stocks with dividend cuts (WPP and MER, both from UK) that are not more in the portfolio. I somehow share the thoughts of Dividend Growth Investor on this. Freeze I can consider, cut/suspension not. I expect more to come, let’s see.
    I continue investing as usual. Just finished a screening on some stocks that I want to include in the portfolio, as well some that I’m considering selling due to not so good numbers. Let’s see how the month goes on this buy/sell activity.
    All in all. It is not a good sensation to see some years of salary melting so quickly…. 😊

    I was curious to know the name of the dish you posted. It looks quite “heavy”. Here we were planning some trip to the countryside of Spain, but due to the spread of the virus we had to postpone it to the future. The only travel planned is the one in our home country in December…and we hope that all this mess will be solved till there.

    Concerning the book club, I’m in 😊. I never have been to a book club before, so will be nice to learn something new and share it with you guys. I may contact you soon for some questions on the dynamic of it.

    Looking forward to listening to your squirrel adventures. I just imagined here some traps on the style Coyote/Roadrunner. I wish you better luck than Coyote.

    All the best. Stay healthy

    Cheers!

    1. Hi Odysseus

      Good luck on the home front – I hope you guys continue to stay healthy and happy. If we can make it through this with our health and our loved ones intact, I suspect we will look back with some good memories of this time and the unique circumstances we were in. Sadly, not everyone is going to make it through without major loss, and this underscores how unimportant money is compared to health and loved ones.

      That is great that you are continuing to invest. These are the times when being disciplined and having a plan are most important. I’m hoping that the punts I’m making now will look brilliant someday :-), but right now they’re like jumping out of an airplane and hoping my parachute is packed.

      The dish is poutine – a regional dish for Quebec that includes french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy (this picture also included meat). Heavy does not begin to describe it – eating it was like tying an anchor around my waist. I ate a lot of poutine on our trip to Montreal (“When in Rome…”) – I will include some more details when I write up the trip.

      I’m very glad to have you in the book club. It’s fun to discuss books you’ve just read, especially with a diverse group. We’ll keep it as a casual format, and I hope you’re able to join us for all of the titles – we’ll have you host a post review soon if you like. Please send me any questions you have.

      My trap is complete, but the squirrel is avoiding it for now. Hopefully I can eventually tempt him with better food than he can get on his own, and I can relocate him so he forgets my cozy attic.

      Thanks for the note – stay healthy as well!

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