End-Of-The-World Money Moves

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End of the World

The coming financial crash always looms. End of the markets, end of civilization, end of the world. How do you prepare?

I, along with many other economists, agree with many of the concerns in these dire warnings. The growing debt and deficit spending taxes those holding dollars. The devaluation in the U.S. dollar risks the dollar’s status as the reserve currency of the world.

Obamacare is the worst legislation in 75 years. Socialism is on the rise and the National Security Agency abrogates vast portions of the Constitution. I don’t disagree with economists’ concerns; I disagree with their financial advice.

What will bring on TEOTWAWKI (survivalist shorthand for “The End Of The World As We Know It”) isn’t clear. Reaching the debt ceiling, taxes skyrocketing, governments crumbling, zombies roaming. Despite all the hyperbole, financial advice for pre-apocalypse preparation still offers tips that are worth a look any time.

Pay off your mortgage. Most TEOTWAWKI scenarios begin with the claim that the Federal Reserve prints money like there’s no tomorrow to devalue the dollar to pay off the national debt.

If the Fed increases the money supply they devalue the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar. This should cause inflation even if official measurements of inflation remain artificially low.

So you face a choice: Pay off your mortgage with dollars today or with easier-to-get, devalued dollars over the next 30 years.

In fact, a 30-year fixed mortgage hedges best against inflation, especially at today’s rates. For example, a $300,000, 30-year fixed mortgage carries payments of $1,368.15. Over 30 years’ monthly payments, the mortgage costs $492,534.

Paying cash for your house now does save you $192,534 but also costs you the $300,000 you could instead invest in the stock market.

Let’s assume that equities’ returns average 7% and therefore double investments every 10 years. Your $300,000 over three decades doubles to $600,000, to $1.2 million, to $2.4 million. You therefore save $192,534 only by forgoing the possibility of $1.9 million in growth.

Better to have a 30-year fixed mortgage at low interest rates. The key idea: Use your mortgage wisely.

Remember, an investment pays you money. If you would spend the equity in your house on something that isn’t an investment, you’re better off paying off your mortgage. You have to have financial discipline to purchase investments.

Get out of paper. One way to think of inflation: a tax on those foolish enough to hold on to U.S. dollars – a fiat paper currency, which a physical commodity does not back – while the Fed devalues the currency. Limiting your investment in paper currency makes sense, especially currencies actively devalued, such as U.S. dollars, euros and yen.

Survivalists mean get out of everything on paper – stocks, bonds and other securities – claiming that if you are 50 or younger you won’t see a dime of your market-based retirement savings.

Makes no sense. Yes, you own property via a paper deed and a car via a paper title. You own shares in Vanguard Real Estate exchange-traded fund (VNQ) on paper as well.

In that fund, you own shares of ownership in publicly traded real estate investment trusts that in turn own pieces of property by means of paper deeds. Similarly, if you own shares of Apple (AAPL), Coke (KO), Disney (DIS), Exxon (XOM) or Ford (F), you own a piece of these companies.

Even a global financial crash can’t change your ownership in shares of publicly traded companies (though it can drive down the value of shares). Diversifying holdings in a portfolio of global scope also insulates your wealth from a specific country’s turmoil.

Get out of debt. This is much better advice assuming that civilization continues rather than collapses.

Let’s assume we mean unsecured debt such as credit card debt. If civilization collapses, no credit card company can collect unpaid bills.

If civilization continues, avoiding, paying down or somehow dealing with your debt remains essential to building real wealth.

Buy gold. Easy to put your entire net worth in gold: Shops carry gold coins; you order gold coins online and they come directly to your door. There is no shortage of gold.

Gold runs about $1,200 an ounce. At that price, a million dollars in gold coins (about 800 coins) fits in a briefcase. Do you really believe a briefcase of pretty coins will carry $1 million in purchasing power if the money supply collapses?

Worse, if the global economy survives you’re stuck with the investment properties of gold bullion. Gold has a low expected return of just inflation and one of the highest volatilities as measured by standard deviation. That means that the optimum asset allocation to gold is always zero.

Even if the world ends, limit your investment in gold and silver to less than 3% of your portfolio. Unless civilization ceases entirely, publicly traded companies will continue to have assets that generate value. I especially like shares in companies in countries that are low in debt and deficit and high in economic freedom.

Get ready for the greatest buying opportunity of all time. This advice hinges on real goods going for pennies on the dollar after the dust settles from the failure of financial systems. Except hyper-inflation will multiply the price of real goods five times, not make those prices a hundred times cheaper.

Consider the change since 1970 because of inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $166,474 in 1970 bought what $1 million buys today. Your $100 in groceries today cost $16.65 in 1970.

Time in the markets beats timing the markets. How often do you wish you invested over any 30 years in the market? Time diffuses the market’s volatility and a globally diversified portfolio best protects you against cataclysms anywhere.

Start saving and investing today.

See also all the articles in the How To Prepare For The “Coming Financial Apocalypse” series.

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.