Last week, I talked about Getting Robbed at the Bank - how today's Low Interest Rates (0.1%!) combined with High Inflation Risk make this one of the worst times ever to build wealth via savings.
Thankfully, this may also be one of the best times to invest, as never before have there been so many well-performing alternatives.
Start with Housing: 95 of the 100 largest US Metropolitan areas have seen housing prices rise since last year, with CoreLogic’s much-watched Home Price Index showing an average 10.5% Year-over-Year increase.
This has mirrored a solid rise in the Public Stock Market, which despite its extremely Poor Long-Term Performance, is up 5.5% this year.
And for those that can still remember the 2008 talk of Doomsday and of the collapse of our financial system, it is heartening to note that the S&P is up an amazing 189% since its March 2009 nadir.
And as good as the news has been in the Housing and Stock markets, it pales in comparison to this Golden Age of technology and venture investing that we are currently experiencing.
Almost every day comes barely able to believe valuations on technology company financings, acquisitions, and public offerings.
From last week's news of Open Table being purchased by Priceline (itself once an incredibly high flying Internet darling) for a whopping $2B, to transportation service Uber commanding the highest pre-public technology company valuation ever, to the fantastic and quick riches made by the early investors in companies like Nest, Occulus VR, and WhatsApp, the list just goes on and on.
And while it is human nature to feel more than a little jealous of those lucky enough to be the Founders and the Early Investors in these companies, what we really should feel is gratefulness for their roles in helping to right our national economic ship.
Start with jobs - unemployment went from a very impressive low 4.4% in 2007 to a very discouraging 10% by October 2009.
But with the addition of another 217,000 jobs in May, Unemployment now stands at a very manageable 6.3%, and there are now more people with jobs in the United States than ever before.
And when asset values go up, when purchase and sales transactions occur that result in huge capital gains, when people are working and earning good wages, Tax Receipts increase too.
And, in turn, the National Credit Rating improves.
After being embarrassingly downgraded in 2012, S&P now says that they are prepared to increase the rating back to AAA as the ongoing evidence of the economic good times (and Congressional Good Behavior) continues to build.
So for investors, this is as good as it gets. Real Estate, the Stock Market, Technology and Private Equity, Jobs, the Deficit, and more.
All that is lacking now are those “psychological” final pieces of the puzzle: Optimism and Confidence.
There is still a holding back, an unwillingness to believe that all of it is real and not a mirage.
And as a result, when it comes to those very precious dollars that we do not spend, that we put away for the future, we are still saving too many of them and investing too few.
Yes, we must proceed carefully and deliberately - because investing always involves risk - but we most proceed.
Leaving money in the bank is not a viable option anymore, not when interest rates are so low, not when the threat of inflation is so high.
And certainly not when the investment pickings are so good.
To Your Success,
I took my six and eight-year old sons to the bank this weekend to open their first savings account.
It felt like the right thing to do - they are at an age where they can understand the power and importance of money, albeit if mostly from the perspective of the things that can be bought with it.
But the hope of course is that the habits of savings, of delaying gratification are ones that will stay with them for a lifetime.
So off we walked to our local Bank of America branch - both boys clutching around $100, and proudly announcing our intentions to the teller.
We were then escorted to a BofA “personal” banker, who graciously walked us through the account opening process.
All was going quite swimmingly, and then I did something that I knew I shouldn't but couldn't resist.
I asked what the interest rate was.
And our banker glibly informed me that it was one tenth of one percent. 0.1 %.
And then instead of feeling all fatherly and a great role model…I felt like a real chump.
Every year my boys will earn one dime in interest.
Let's say they really button down and build up their accounts to $1,000.
That will get them one dollar per year.
Heck, how about those folks that work hard and save for a lifetime and accumulate $1 Million in savings?
Well, in the bank they are now earning a beyond miserly $1,000 per year.
Sure there are savings accounts that pay a little more, but has there ever been a time where the risk – reward gap between saving and investing was greater than it is right now?
Let’s define savings as what I did with my boys this Saturday: Putting and leaving money in the bank.
And let's then define investing as pretty much everything else: Public and Private Stocks, Bonds, Real Estate, Commodities, Collectibles, and more.
When it comes to return (0.1%), the comparison is an utter and complete joke.
But, it is when it comes to Risk, well…
…Investing, of course, involves risk. Always has, always will.
And while it is understood that while cash savings offers far lower returns, the tradeoff always was the assurance that your money was safe in the bank.
But in today’s economy, very unfortunately it simply is not.
Why? Because of massive inflation risk.
As in 10%, 15%, 20% annually or more.
And potentially coming not in the distant future, but very possibly in the next few years.
Since 2008, our Gross National Product has increased approximately 10%.
In that same time, the Federal Reserve has expanded the Money Supply more than 400% - from $800 billion in 2008 to over $3.9 trillion today.
As in four times as many dollars floating around here and abroad than there were six years ago.
Even generously taking into account the fact that the Greenback remains the reserve currency of choice the world over, this can only account for a fraction of the money supply increase.
Inflation – and lots of it – will eventually cover the rest.
And when it does, the savers amongst us are in for a world of hurt.
This is sad, because in so many ways the savers are the responsible ones - delaying gratification.
Planning for the Future. And for a rainy day.
But when the inflation deluge comes, our poor and pathetic savers probably won't even be able to afford an umbrella.
When I think of it like this, next week I'm marching my boys back to the bank and we're closing those accounts.
On the walk back, I'll teach them how to invest.
To Your Success,
Over the last three weeks, we have discussed the various factors that drive the 25% IRR return potential of the startup and emerging company investing class.
We then reviewed the various approaches to gain exposure to this return potential: Investing directly in operating companies, doing so through a Venture Capital Fund, or “Doing as Warren Does" and utilizing “The Berkshire Approach” of investing in an operating company that in turn invests in other operating companies.
Unfortunately, all of these approaches rely on something in exceedingly short supply in today’s financial marketplace.
Now, wouldn’t it be great if investing actually worked like all of those lovely ads that mutual funds, brokerage firms, and insurance company say it does?
As in, Trust Us and we will take care of it for you.
If this were really so, it would free up so much valuable time and energy.
For family, hobbies, volunteer work, and more…knowing that one’s financial future was in someone else’s safe and capable hands.
But it just doesn’t.
A big part of the problem is that "Us" is for the most part large Wall Street banks and brokerage firms.
And if the last few years have taught us anything, it is that banks and brokerage firms are NOT places where smaller investors (and today small is anyone with less than $100 Million) should be expecting anything approaching extraordinary and high trust treatment.
Now, let me be clear: I am not a conspiracy theorist nor do I see Wall Street as at the heart of our Country's ills.
But I am someone that has looked at stock market return records of the past 15 years and sees too many people on Wall Street making a lot of money while delivering extremely average returns.
The word that best describes a state of affairs like this is institutional.
Self-preserving, bureaucratic, slow, dull.
And what it creates is a just a lot of…Blah.
Tired, mediocre ideas.
Blah Results and Blah returns.
Think of it this way: How much of a fish out of water would an innovator and a wealth creator like Steve Jobs have been on today’s Wall Street?
Yet, for the very most part, it is to this world that most of us turn to manage our money.
So when results come back that are barely average, we should not be surprised.
Now, there are alternatives.
Let us not forget that the most famous and lauded investor of them all hails from Omaha.
And more to the point, the great entrepreneurs, the builders of businesses, those that actually create wealth…
…have always percolated at the edges and NOT in financial centers.
In The Silicon Valleys and The Silicon Beaches and The Salt Lakes and The Seattles and The Austins of the World.
The challenge is to see and act upon this reality.
To not be swayed nor frightened by the financial industry’s omnipresent marketing machine.
Because just like the greatest investor of them all became famous and fabulously wealthy far from Wall Street…
…We too can earn portfolio - transforming returns by doing something not any more complicated than thinking and acting for ourselves.
And when we do, a world of opportunities open up that are anything but institutional.
To Your Success,
There were a lot of Warren Buffett "hero worship" type responses to my posts last week on "Doing As Warren Does" and applying the principles utilized to make Berkshire Hathaway the most successful investment company of all time.
And it is understandable why so many people - from very different world views and levels of financial sophistication - rightly consider Mr. Buffett to be the “Perfect Investor.”
His qualities in this regard are almost cliché - honest, humble, frugal, opportunistic in the face of adversity, and possessing of an other-worldly foresight as to where and how to find outsized returns.
But there are a couple of problems.
First, Mr. Buffett, for all of his amazing track record, is 83 years old.
And he is on record as saying that he rarely invests in technology companies as he does not feel qualified to properly diligence and understand them.
Both of which beg the question as to whether the “Buffett Way” is still the way to win in this global, technological age of ours?
And if it is not, then who will be the The 21st Century Warren Buffett?
The Perfect Investor for our era?
While the identity of this person will be almost impossible to discern before the fact, he or she will almost assuredly possess these characteristics:
They Will Love Risk. Relative to the Mid-Century America in which Warren Buffett developed his philosophy and approach, our era of global and hyper-warp speed technological change requires a much different approach to uncertainty and loss.
While Mr. Buffett was able to build an alpha-performing portfolio without significant risk-taking on any one position, the modern investor simply does not have this luxury.
Instead, they must be far more comfortable and proficient with an “Outlier” approach, where a few big wins offset middling performance - and even complete loss of principal - on the significant majority of held positions.
They Will Focus on Market Opportunities More than on Execution. While quality, determined execution will always be at the heart of successful business-building, our Modern Day Perfect Investor will recognize this as a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition for business and investment success.
Far more important will be “visionary” assessments of global markets, specifically as to which types and forms of technology will disrupt these markets over the next 5 to 10 years.
They Will Possess a “Modern” Morality. The idea that that which is moral and right needs to be updated alongside the wild, rapid, and continuous updating of our technologies is a hard one for those of a certain age and era to accept and embrace.
Yes, perhaps “prudent” and “conservative” in this Brave New World of ours are as much barriers to success as they are emblematic of it?
Maybe pomp, flash, celebrity - as opposed to being things to be frowned and looked down upon - instead are assets to be nurtured and promoted.
Maybe morphing one's business model on annual, quarterly, or even monthly basis is not a sign of scattered focus, but rather a necessary competence to survive and prosper in our modern conditions of permanent uncertainty.
It may sound and be unsettling.
But to paraphrase an old but yet very modern philosopher it is sometimes only chaos that can give birth to a dancing star.
In short, our Modern, Perfect Investor will probably not look anything like Warren Buffett.
Other than in the one quality that matters above all else…
…outsized results earned over time.
That never goes out of style.
To Your Success,
P.S. Like to learn how to apply these principles to your portfolio? Then attend my webinar this Thursday, “What the Super Angels Know about Investing and What You Should Too.”
Click Here to learn more.
Many were of the genre that “…Yes these companies you describe sound amazing - awesome technologies, exciting markets, management with knock-your-socks off resumes, but when it comes to actually investing them….”
…How do I even have a chance of separating the wheat from the chaff?
The superstars from the also-rans?
Or, more to the point, the ones that will make money from the ones that won't.
This is the ultimate question, isn’t it?
First of all, we are certainly not referring to “stock picking” to beat the markets. Everyone knows that this is not possible. (And if you have even a sliver of remaining doubt on this point, read this article).
And we're not talking about high profile, private companies that have already raised tens (and sometimes hundreds) of millions of dollars and are deep in the investment news cycle.
For these companies and hundreds of others backed by venture capital firms, by the time the public knows about them, almost always the best opportunity to invest in them has long past.
And, for the most part, we are also not talking about businesses or projects competing in mature and well-covered like Real Estate.
For sure, there are lots of solid real estate investment opportunities, but as it is such an efficient and well-covered market – with tens of thousands of investors seeking projects and deals of all sizes that the likelihood of finding those that offer returns even slightly above average is pretty low.
And let’s also cut out investing in “things” like art, collectibles, and commodities. While in places interesting for sure, statistics over a long period of time show that their average investment returns is significantly less than that of an S&P index fund.
So what investors seeking alpha are left with almost exclusively is that most special segment: startups and emerging companies.
Companies almost always with these characteristics:
They are Small. As in less then $10 million in in revenues and less than 30 employees. Not hard and fast rule, but holds true 95%+ of the tie.
They have an Ambitious Leader. At the beating heart of these companies is almost always a charismatic individual that leads big and manages small.
A leader with an articulate “point of view” on where a market and an industry are heading.
And who can then translate this vision to the day-to-day small business discipline required to turn dreams and visions into objective reality and results.
They Compete in Big Markets. This one is easier than ever before. Why?
Well, with a 7 billion person strong, $84 trillion global economy, almost every business – even those in the smallest of niches - has a large global opportunity.
Of course, to profit from them opportunities requires great leadership and management (see above) but the opportunities are everywhere.
Companies with Thoughtful Revenue Models. This is where the ability of a company's leader to think and act both “big” and “small” are so critical.
Quite simply, companies that build asset and equity value for their shareholders are vigilant in ensuring that their monetization strategies are built around long-term customer retention and satisfaction, and NOT short-term gain.
Companies that are Lucky. The new and eternal mantra of our age is luck. Books like the Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and the Age of the Unthinkable profess on it.
Aspiring entrepreneurs who seek their name in lights pray to it.
And the average man unwilling to step outside of his box gets none of it.
Yes, as it has been true since Roman times in our booming deal economy for investors and entrepreneurs like Fortune does Truly Favor the Bold.
The question, of course, is will it favor you?
Remember the bull markets of the 1980s and 1990s, when everybody was making money in the stock market?
Bad News: Those days are GONE… and they’re not coming back
Click below to discover mine and Growthink’s exclusive report on WHY today’s stock market is broken -- and what you can do about it:
http://www.growthink.com/stock-market-dead <-- Click here
It’s almost hard to imagine how strong stock market returns used to be…
Just look at the average annual returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1982 to 1989:
• 1982: 19.61%
• 1983: 20.27%
• 1984: -3.74%
• 1985: 27.66%
• 1986: 25.58%
• 1987: 2.26%
• 1988: 11.85%
• 1989: 26.96%
The good times continued in the 1990s. On January 1, 1990, the Dow Jones was at 2,810. By December 31, 1999, it had exploded to 11,497 -- an increase of 409% in just 10 years.
But today’s stock market is BROKEN.
From 2000 to TODAY, the Dow Jones has only moved from 11,078 to 16,700 (only 40%). And INFLATION has reduced purchasing power by 37%... which means the net returns of the Dow Jones have been close to ZERO.
Download this report and discover why the stock market is broken – and what you can do about it.
With 41% of all U.S. venture capital investing activity, Silicon Valley is the nation’s unrivaled tech early technology investing epicenter.
As the innovations and wealth that have flowed from Valley Tech companies - from Apple to Cisco to Ebay to Facebook to Google to HP to Netflix to Pixar to Oracle to Yahoo and thousands more - have enriched the world beyond measure.
And since the start of this year, almost impossible to believe stories of fortunes being made there have inspired us all (and provoked more than a little jealousy, too!).
I profiled a pair of these stories - Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital parlaying a $58M investment into WhatsApp into a $3B fortune when in February Facebook purchased the messaging app
And Super Angels Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, who through their Founder’s Fund invested $16 million into virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR, which returned more than $740 million when Facebook bought the business last month.
Great for them.
But it does beg the question: Has Silicon Valley become so dominant - has it so separated itself - that the best opportunities can only be found there?
Of course not.
In fact, the argument can be made that the worst place to invest right now is in Silicon Valley.
As the stories above illustrate, deal prices there are high, and there is more money than ever (including $7 billion in fresh capital raised last quarter) chasing fewer and fewer deals.
So smart money is starting to look elsewhere.
Like in Los Angeles.
Long renowned as a digital media and entertainment hub, LA Tech investing activity has never been greater, with both funding and deal activity at a five year high.
Smart investors are making a lot of bets on young LA companies, with 70% of all area investing activity happening at the Seed and Series A stages.
Like in the Valley, Internet and Mobile-related businesses dominate - with close to 80% of all venture activity being concentrated in these areas.
These investments are paying off, with 59 recent venture-backed Tech Exits, including Demand Media (IPO), Cornerstone on Demand (IPO) Riot Games (Purchased by Tencent), Edgecast (Purchased by Verizon), Servicemesh (purchased by CSC), LiveOffice (purchased by Symantec) and Integrien (purchased by VMware).
And many, many investing “win” stories like these can be found in Tech Centers like New York, Boston, Chicago, Austin and more.
Yes, the Valley is great but it is far from the only game in town.
And there is a strong case that its best investing days may be behind it.
The word to the wise here is to look elsewhere.
To Your Success,
P.S. Click here for a recording of my private equity investing webinar: What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too.
Don’t you just love these booming markets? Well, if you don’t, try on these IPO, M&A, and financing stats from 1st Quarter 2014:
Initial Public Offerings: 72 companies went public in the U.S. in the 1st quarter - the largest number of new issuers since 2000 -raising a total of 11.1 billion. And, as of Monday 54 of the 72 of them were trading above their IPO price.
Mergers & Acquisitions: Global mergers & acquisition activity totaled $710 billion (Thomson Reuters), up 54% from last year.
Private Equity. Private equity firms did 850 deals, representing investments of greater than $152 billion (Pitchbook), up 11%.
Venture Capital. 1,348 companies raised more than $15 billion from venture capitalists, up 36%.
They also raised $10.3 billion for 578 funds in the 1st Quarter, up 51% from last year.
After many years of ongoing economic and investment dreariness, isn’t this so refreshing?
And aren’t we heartened that the doomsayers have been proven so fundamentally wrong?
Wrong about the U.S. economy.
And wrong about what is so clearly the dominant leadership position of this country in all of the great technologies growth industries of the 21st Century - software, biotechnology, energy, digital media, and more.
And beyond the numbers, there are some great stories.
Of new industries being built, of fortunes being made. Here is one of my favorites:
Last week, Facebook acquired virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR for approximately $2.24 billion.
Among the investors were Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, of PayPal and Napster fame, who through their VC The Founder’s Fund last year invested $16 million into Occulus.
Upon Facebook’s purchase of the company and correspondingly of their shares, their position is now worth more than $740 million, or a return of close to 50X on their invested capital.
How did they do this?
What selection strategies did they utilize to identify companies with this kind of return potential?
Well, attend my webinar Thursday - What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too - to find out.
On it, I will share:
- Why the majority of investors presented the opportunity to invest in Occulus declined to do so
- How Thiel and Parker and their fund partners diligenced the deal and decided to invest in Occulus instead of in the dozens of virtual reality technologies then and now in the marketplace
- How Big Data and Black Swan portfolio theory and modeling were critical to their valuation analysis on the deal
- How today’s booming IPO and deal market, discussed above, is affecting (positively and negatively) the technology deal marketplace
Register now via the below link:
To Your Success,
P.S. Interested in the topic but can’t make the webinar time? Well, do register and will make sure that you get a recording of the presentation.
Global Technology Mergers & Acquisitions Activity is now at its highest year-to-date level since 2000 (in terms of both dollar volume and deal number).
Overall there has been $65.2 billion of M&A activity announced year-to-date (Thomson Reuters).
And then layer in the the crowdfunding boom (both donations and investment-based) and the exploding growth of peer-to-peer lending sites like Lending Club and Prosper.com, and never before have there been so many and so good “digital” places for those seeking and those providing capital to connect and transact.
More entrepreneurs and businesses having access to outside capital than ever before and...
…for the first time investors having the ability to efficiently build diversified portfolios of private equity and debt investments with strong, positive expected value.
Now compare all of this freshness and innovation against the ongoing dreariness of the “public” markets.
From 2000 to today, the Dow Jones has risen from 11,078 to approximately 16,268 (as of 03/26), or approximately 42%.
During that same time inflation has reduced the dollar’s purchasing power by almost exactly that same amount (38%).
So basically 15 years and ZERO real investment return.
Now what do these two fast diverging worlds, the increasingly innovative and transparent one of private investing on the one hand, and the flat and more opaque than ever one of the traditional public market returns on the other, mean for the entrepreneur and for the smaller investor?
Quite simply, it is all good.
For investors, it means access to higher returns.
Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing study, compiled by Robert Wiltbank, have demonstrated that the "...average angel investor (across the U.S. and UK) produced a gross multiple of 2.5 times their investment, in a mean time of about four years.
And for the entrepreneur, it means more, quicker, and cheaper access to capital, especially in smaller amounts.
Which leaves more time and energy for what entrepreneurs want to do and what we all need them to do…
…starting and growing profitable and innovative companies that make the world a better place.
Amen to that.
To Your Success,
P.S. To listen to a replay of my Thursday webinar, where I explored some of the key lessons learned from Sequoia Capital's $58 million investment into WhatsApp - and subsequent $3 billion windfall - upon Facebook's purchase of the messaging app last month, click here.
A version of this article originally appearedin Entrepreneur Magazine and can be seen here.