On National Public Radio, a woman talked about her affliction called GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder. It refers to the condition of people being extremely anxious regarding events over which they have no control. Some health insurance providers are developing programs to help alleviate this stress because real health problems are precipitated by the condition.
At the same time, I have been receiving emails recently from people concerned about what they learn from books like "Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown" by David Wiedemer.
Another in a similar vein is Porter Stansberry, who sells a newsletter for $1,000 or more that promises to provide people with a list of special investments that will protect them from the coming doomsday scenario.
Then there's Richard C. Young's "Intelligence Report" to which I've subscribed for many years. Young offers sound, track-able financial advice that seems to run on a separate track from his personal thoughts on the economy. For investments, he recommends big-company stocks that pay dividends. He's also a fan of Vanguard Wellesley Income and Vanguard Wellington funds -- generally good advice.
Regarding the economy, however, he thinks the Fed is just printing money and should be abolished before it does any more harm. In the meantime, everyone should have their own electric generator, some weapons, a motorcycle and plenty of food and water in storage.
If these writers could ever get their hands on a mailing list of those suffering from GAD, it would be worth a fortune to them. The bottom line is that most of the people continually predicting an economic collapse never actually manage money for people. There is no actual record of the amount of damage they create as people taking their advice hunker down in gold bullion and the like miss out on major gains in the overall stock market.
The book "Aftershock," for example, was published in 2009 and suggests that readers sell all of their stocks, real estate, collectibles, etc., and consider investing in Long-Term Equity AnticiPation Securities (LEAPS), which are options that bet that the market will fall. You have two years for the bet to pay off and the option expires. When that happens (and it has), you lose 100 percent of what you invested in the option.
The book also recommends the mutual fund family ProShares, which offers so-called "bear funds" that buy options or sell stocks short. Both are techniques for making money when the stock market falls.
In the light of that suggestion, let's look at the performance of ProFunds UltraBear (URPIX). Its 10-year average annual return shouldn't be too bad considering that the span included the greatest single crash since the 1930s. In fact, its average annual return was a minus 22.26 percent per year.
Here's what that means to an investor who bought in with $1,000, 10 years ago: In that 10-year period a 22 percent annual loss per year pulverizes that $1,000 down to $96. It would take 25 years earning 10 percent compounded to be even again.
Any sustained bet against economic history has never withstood the test of time. It only serves to sell books to people with generalized anxiety disorder. Years like 2008 or even 2002 amount to nothing more than a stopped clock -- correct twice a day.
All of this is not to say that today's anxious investors shouldn't consider rebalancing assets at the market's latest high-water mark. While long-term market averages tend toward 10 percent annual returns, 7 percent of the total takes place during the winter and 3 percent are spread out over the summer. The market has never had a 12-month period that didn't experience at least a 10 percent drop in values, and most of those past "soft spots" have occurred in the months ahead.
Most of us are a year or two closer to retirement than we were the last time we made any portfolio adjustments. This alone could plant a small seed of anxiety in some of us. If so, it might be comforting to recall that a 60/40 mix of bonds and stocks only lost 9 percent during the last great cash a few years ago. Acting on that tip could be the best antidote for GAD sufferers.
Stephen J. Butler is CEO of Pension Dynamics. Contact him at 925-956-0506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.