What a difference a year can make, especially if you have a 401k or other investments in the stock market. Now that the Wall Street bubble has burst, what's an individual investor to do? A new batch of books sets out to prove that even in bad economic times, you can turn your stock portfolio, bank account or retirement fund around and rebound financially.
Taming the Bear
Two of the best books are part of Wiley's Little Book, Big Profits series that focuses on all things financial, from investment strategies to long-term economic trends. My favorite is The Little Book That Saves Your Assets: What the Rich Do to Stay Wealthy in Up and Down Markets by David M. Darst, a managing director at Morgan Stanley. Darst says to thrive financially today you must practice asset allocation, compiling a financial portfolio with assets that make money when the economy is doing well, but also including assets that make money when the economy slows down. He says it's the approach the wealthy use to maintain their lifestyle even in tough economic times. Darst writes in a reader-friendly manner, often using football analogies to make a point. One of his strongest chapters is called "Building Your House," which compares a financial portfolio to a person's home. He writes that much like a house, a portfolio should reflect an investor's personality and should be "built" to have a mixture of assets that are functioning (steady and reliable, like bonds) and fun (riskier, but with a potentially bigger payoff, like stocks). In another compelling chapter called "The Road Less Traveled That You Should Take," Darst rightly argues that most people no longer have any choice but to be actively engaged in managing their financial portfolio because the days of a guaranteed pension are gone forever. Now all the responsibility rests on the individual.
Another recent book in the series is also well edited and on point. The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets: How to Keep Your Portfolio Up When the Market Is Down, by investment advisor Peter Schiff, is a playbook on how to preserve wealth even as the economy falters. After a brief history lesson on the U.S. stock market, Schiff outlines an investment plan that taps into the larger and financially stronger global economy. He particularly likes the money-making opportunities in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). All have seen their economies boom thanks to manufacturing; Schiff is particularly fond of China. Besides the BRIC bloc, Schiff likes Canada, Australia and New Zealand as good wealth-building opportunities through investments in raw materials, oil and minerals. He also recommends investing in precious metals such as gold (either in physical gold or in mining stocks). He closes out his book with a provocative look at the 2008 presidential election and argues that the American investor would be wise to wait until at least 2012 before re-investing in the market. Schiff wrote the bestseller Crash Proof, which accurately predicted the current Wall Street turmoil, so his words are particularly valuable now.
Another book that urges a more global approach to your financial portfolio is Game Over: How You Can Prosper in a Shattered Economy by Stephen Leeb. The book went to print just as the Dow began its tumble last fall. Leeb's premise is fairly depressing; he argues that the economy will take years to recover from inflation, the weakening dollar and, most importantly, runaway national debt. He spends more than half the book discussing resource shortages like oil and water (the latter being the more interesting read of the two) and emerging alternative energies. Leeb urges investors to create portfolios that are inflation-proof and to invest in industries that produce high rates of return in spite of high inflation. Like other authors featured here, he urges investment in gold through exchange-traded funds or individual gold companies. Another interesting nugget from Leeb: he says the last thing any investor should do is turn investments into cash. He contends that money in a checking or savings account will not earn nearly the amount of interest needed to compensate for the decline in its value because of inflation.
The Jubak Picks: 50 Stocks That Will Rebuild Your Wealth and Safeguard Your Future sums up the latest strategies of Jim Jubak, senior markets editor for the website MSN Money, where more than a million investors click on his monthly "Jubak Journal" for financial advice. Jubak asserts that investing in the right macro trends will make you money, and he includes specific, detailed stock picks for each of his suggestions. He says the best investments right now can be found outside the U.S., particularly in China and India; in food (which he calls the new oil), through agriculture and food-commodity stocks; and in technology. Jubak ends his book with a chapter titled "50 best stocks in the world." Exxon, precious metals companies and search engine Google are among those that make the list.
The Ten Roads to Riches: The Way the Wealthy Got There (And How You Can Too!) by Forbes columnist Ken Fischer might be the most fun-to-read book in this group because it delves into one of Americans' favorite topics: how the rich get rich. Fischer knows that road well; he's a self-made billionaire who's on the Forbes 400 list and owns a firm that manages $45 billion in assets. Fischer says there are 10 ways to acquire wealth a lot faster than the idealized "work hard, save your money" mantra. The richest road is also the most obvious and the one most people take—starting your own business. But there are other ways, including managing other people's money, owning real estate and even turning celebrity into wealth. Fischer points out that boxer George Foreman retired from the sport completely broke. An indoor grill bearing his name changed his financial status and now Foreman is not only a household name (at least in the kitchen) but also worth millions. Single women, and maybe some single men as well, will be amused and perhaps inspired by the chapter which outlines marriage as another way to acquire wealth. My, how times have changed. Fischer says you should forget about marrying a millionaire—now you need to marry a billionaire to acquire true wealth.
Most of these books rely on the premise that the reader has money to invest and time to wait out the investment payoffs. What they don't address are the day-to-day financial struggles so many people are facing as jobs vanish and the economy spirals downward. The need for help in those areas should create a bull market in financial advice books as the new year progresses.
This will be another tough year in the housing market, with foreclosures expected to remain at their highest numbers in more than a decade. Two recent books offer timely advice for those facing difficult choices about their homes.
Putting your house in order
How to Sell a House Fast in a Slow Real Estate Market by William Bronchick and Ray Cooper is a smart, fairly fast read on what to do to get your house sold quickly. Some suggestions are obvious: invest in paint, new rugs and curb appeal. Other advice is simply interesting, like knowing the supply quotient for your neighborhood (divide the number of homes for sale by the number of closings in the last 30 days). If you have the time and/or live in the home, the authors recommend you do the selling yourself—you'll get to pocket a real estate agent's three to six percent commission. And there are good ideas about what to do if several months have passed and your home still hasn't sold (try the round-robin strategy, which involves holding an open house over a two-day period and then taking bids from all prospective buyers).
If you're facing foreclosure, pick up a copy of Stop Foreclosure Now, by attorney and mortgage expert Lloyd Segal. Lloyd self-published Stop Foreclosure Now in 2007 with considerable success; AMACOM recently issued a paperback edition. For less than $20, the book is a wealth of information on the foreclosure process, walking the reader through every detail. Early on, Segal advises the reader not to panic because foreclosure is a lengthy process that can take anywhere from three months (in nonjudicial foreclosures) to two years to complete. He urges homeowners to use that time to figure out whether it's better to try to keep the property or lose it. There's a lengthy section on refinancing as well as a chapter devoted to members of the military on active duty who are legally protected from foreclosure and may actually be entitled to a lower interest rate. Foreclosure is complicated and while Segal argues that a homeowner can handle the process, the wiser move still seems to be hiring an attorney to help you navigate the system.
Susan Rucci is a TV news producer who writes from Washington, D.C.