Us Weekly, your new financial advisor

Yeah, this just happened (h/t @yasher)

Of course, it’s delicious to see Sean Spicer get his comeuppance. It’s even more gratifying to see the basic insights from the index fund revolution penetrate the far corners of popular culture. Indeed the advice in that US Weekly tweet–Yup, that’s point #3 in my Index Card–beats the advice provided by many financial advisors, who channel clients into costly active funds, annuities, and other inappropriate products.

There’s a broader point here, too. Lifestyle magazines such as US Weekly, People, Ladies Home Journal, Teen Vogue, and Cosmo include celebrity gossip, fashion and hair tips, relationship advice, and so on. These magazines also include surprisingly serious fare on health policy, disability, LGBTQ issues, and more. Each of these magazines employs some excellent journalists. They reach millions of readers who care about important things, even if they also want the low-down on Johnny Depp’s latest whatever and that other person’s red-carpet fashion disaster at the Grammy’s. That’s human life, giving the important, the titillating, and the mundane what they are due.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

9 thoughts on “Us Weekly, your new financial advisor”

  1. Harold:
    Can you supply any insights into the reports that some of our major foreign creditors are beginning to back away from US Treasuries as an investment option? And do these reports reflect anxiety over Trump, or are they due to other unrelated market forces?

    Many observers were concerned last summer that the dollar had been the world's reserve currency for decades and similarly that US Treasuries were seen as safe investments around the world because it had been assumed that the US has a stable political system, and that these investors might reconsider that assumption if an unstable man took control of the executive branch of government.

    Any informed comment would be most welcome!

    1. This used to be the family business, so a couple of things. The foreign selloff of US treasuries has been going on for months. Might be a reaction to Trump, but it's also about the anomalous position that Treasuries assumed after the 2008 crash, when people were willing to get seriously negative real interest rates in return for what they perceived as stability and a currency that wouldn't crater. So in some ways it may be a return to the status quo ante.

      Now about that status quo ante: during the early 2000s there was a fair amount of talk about the dollar losing its position as the world's reserve currency to the euro (and a couple decades before that to the yen). And probably now to the yuan… But that's not entirely coincident with questions about holdings of U treasury bonds. The issue of reserve currency is (at least partly) not so much about other countries' holdings of longer-term sovereign debt, it's about what currency corporate debt gets issued in and what currency transactions get done in (and quoted in for the primary price). So you could have very low holdings of US Treasury bonds outside the US and still have the lion's share of international trade done in dollars. Not entirely likely, but not implausible.

      Meanwhile, issuing the world's reserve currency is both good and bad for a country. Bad because it means that domestic monetary and fiscal policy have to be made with world effects in mind, and that policy can be effectively nullified by things happening on the other side of the world (in ways that aren't true if your currency is mostly used within your borders). Good because certain kinds of power when things go right.

      International economists have talked on and off for at least the past 50 years about the value of an "N+1" currency that would not be tied to a particular country, or would be a basket of many countries' currencies or blah blah blah, but (except in a twisted abortive way with the euro) it's never come to pass.

      Hope that helps a bit.

      1. This does help a great deal; thanks for posting.

        I had seen some of the data showing the sales of Treasuries declining from about the middle of 2016; nevertheless, I wonder if there would be consequences of international worries about an unstable American president showing up in one or more world markets (not necessarily financial markets). A president who relishes being "unpredictable" could create uncertainties which, we are told, make certain markets nervous and irritable. There were reports that he had asked Mike Flynn whether a strong dollar was a good or a bad thing, and if I were a rich man with large assets in vulnerable markets, I would be a trifle itchy right now.

        1. Oh, absolutely. The thing to watch would be the mix of bonds. If I were managing a portfolio and worried about Trump, I wouldn't want to be in bonds whose value at maturity would be strongly affected by the value of the dollar (unless I was betting that he was going to "strong" because macho). But I might figure that the longer-term bonds would be largely unaffected unless Trump screwed things up for decades to come, and the really short-term stuff would be rolling over in any case. Asset holders might also want to be in cash so that they could take advantage of any sudden bargains. (In short, hold onto your hats.)

  2. I'm convinced that for 95+% of individual investors and most institutions and pension funds, index investing is the way to go. But I've had a nagging question no one has been able to answer: if everyone who should be in index funds moved into index funds, what would the indexes be indexes of? What would make the stocks composing the index go up or down? Would they be too thinly traded? Would there be liquidity enough for the index funds to function?

    1. AFAIK, most trading is already done by professionals in the US markets. Individuals are either irrelevant (because they buy and hold) or roadkill (because they are extraordinarily unlikely to get their trades done before the market has already moved).

      Many other countries, of course, have done pretty well with very thin markets.

      1. It's a tricky point, it seems to me. I haven't thought it through, or looked at any research on this, so I'm guessing, but could it possibly help the markets to eliminate some of the noise in prices?

        1. It is true that a constant background level of trades will eliminate some of the variability in prices. The question is usually how much of that you need. Back in 1980, average daily volume was about 45 million shares. Nowadays it's around 4 billion. There aren't 100 times as many companies trading on the NYSE, and there weren't a lot of complaints about thin markets in NYSE stocks back in 1980.

          (Anecdotally, I know a little about thin markets — when my grandmother died, she had about $100K in stock in a german insurance company, and it was recommended to sell it over the course of a few weeks to a few months to avoid cratering the price. But if a stock exchange is there as a way to allocate capital rather than as a source of profits in itself, thin markets are generally not such a bad thing.)

  3. It's a dubious point, it appears to me. I haven't thought it through, or taken a gander at any exploration on this, so I'm speculating, yet would it be able to potentially help the business sectors to take out a portion of the clamor in costs?

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