Despite good days here and there, things in the United States aren’t all that wonderful. At a time of great uncertainty here, the standard advice is to seek safety and to protect yourself against inflation and the almost certain future decline of the dollar. One traditional “safe” investment is bonds, especially Treasury bonds. Another haven is foreign stocks or foreign-company mutual funds, and — for the more venturesome and sophisticated — foreign currencies. Then there are commodities and “hard assets” such as gold, silver, copper, oil and diamonds that will presumably hold their value if the dollar’s decline continues and inflation rises.
None of those options — bonds, foreign stocks and currencies, and commodities — feels even remotely safe these days. But don’t despair. I do have one strategy that you might find useful and that I’ve adopted myself. We’ll get to it in a bit.
For an example of how wild and crazy the investment world has become, take a look at the U.S. stock market (assuming that you have a stomach strong enough to withstand the lurching). For the four trading days of Thanksgiving week, a normally sleepy holiday period rarely associated with turkey markets, the S&P 500 fell almost 5 percent. The next week it rose 7.4 percent. Then it ran up nicely, then down, and when last seen was about back to where it started the year. Whipsaw City.
One day the news out of Europe is dire — the euro is doomed, as are many European banks, with toxic fallout certain to hit the U.S. economy like a radioactive financial cloud. Markets swoon. Panic reigns. The next day there’s a supposed fix. Markets soar. Tomorrow or next week, who knows?
The U.S. economy, especially the job market, is also almost impossible to predict. Big American companies — make that big, U.S.-based companies, because “American” implies that the companies feel some loyalty to this country — are collectively showing record profits and record levels of cash but aren’t doing much hiring here. Thanks, guys.
That brings us to Washington. Those of us who longed for divided government — to stop politicians in our nation’s capital from going to extremes in either cutting or boosting taxes and regulatory levels — never wanted things to be this divided. We don’t have divided government; we have dysfunctional government, and at a time we can ill afford it.