The other day a friend told me that his advisor was encouraging him to sell all of his investment assets to steer clear of the impending "fiscal cliff." The 'cliff' refers to dire financial consequences should our Congress fail to act on certain measures before the new year, any one of which has the potential to derail our economy. They include $1.3 trillion in automatic government spending cuts (most aimed at defense, arguably the more productive part of government spending) set by Congress as a failsafe measure should they be unable to cut spending through their normal legislative processes. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire this year unless Congress reinstates once again. A slow economy is an awful time to raise taxes. Additionally, significant tax and fee increases are set to begin next year, particularly aimed at investors as part of Obama-care. Further impeding the flow of capital investment through higher taxes and fees, again is the wrong thing to do during a slow economy.
People, particularly Americans, process an almost-constant stream of comparative judgments of things ranging from the mundane like appearances, clothes, cars, smart phones, jewelry, homes, and the like, to things on grander scale like status, accomplishments, influence, and respect. We are skilled at measuring ourselves against others, yet remarkably unskilled when it comes to truly evaluating our own potential. Worse, few of us have taken the time to understand our passion or purpose in life.
The financial services industry defines success quite simply in terms of returns – specifically by how much higher the winner’s returns are relative to all those others out there. With returns as the cornerstone of measuring success, the industry spends millions and millions of dollars bettering its methods of comparing the returns of investment choices, managers, and advisors in hopes that in selecting the best, their clients will be better served.
While officially the recession is over, that view is a tough sale for real estate people, furniture reps, car dealers, travel agents, city employees, waiters, barbers, or you fill-in-the-blank. The severity of pain varies, but even those with sufficient means to maintain lifestyle have curtailed their spending for reasons ranging from prudence to appearances. The result is an economy struggling to maintain enough forward progress to avoid tumbling back down the hill.