We Are Comfortable

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you’re comfortable. There’s also a chance that you’re reading this on your phone or in a library or at work because that’s your only choice. Those may be two answers to one question I’ve heard recently; “Why aren’t more people marching in the streets?” Climate change, politics, social injustice, labor issues seem to inspire parades and marches more regularly in other countries, but less so in the US. A core reason for fewer marches may be poorer personal finances and whether people feel the need or the want to spend the time.

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Time is money, but time is more than that. Money isn’t time, but depending on how much you have determines how you spend your time. If you don’t have enough money, you may not have enough ‘free’ time to spend advocating for wages or benefits for yourself, or on community or global issues. For some with enough money to have plenty of free time, marching may seem disingenuous. It’s hard to advocate for a higher minimum wage when you can’t answer the question about what it’s like to not have enough in the modern age. Recollections from three decades ago no longer apply as social mobility has stalled. There can be an element of guilt if the comforts came from careers spent at corporations that funded a retirement while also causing the issue that inspired the march. Fortunately, many march regardless.

Marches are rarely convenient. They only catch the news when the numbers reach high enough, and that necessitates siting them in cities. There are enough million-people marches to show up on the evening news, but they show up because they are also rare. Large cities can have large marches, especially if they also have cheap mass transit. (Hello, rest of the world.) Parking a few hundred thousand cars isn’t feasible in most places. Just imagine the porta-potties. For smaller cities, imagine the commutes many must undertake to arrive at the scene. Imagine the traffic before and after, then interruptions in the middle. Very inconvenient.

There’s a personal cost, too. Take a million-person march as a simple example. Without cheap transportation or free food or paid time off, each person can easily spend $100 for the event in real costs or lost wages. That’s potentially $100,000,000 dedicated to a cause that may only result in at most a couple of minutes in the news. 

And then, there’s questioning the effectiveness. In some countries, governments listen – whether through duty or fear. 

Within the last few years there was an article about the D.C. police force’s shifting priorities. They continue to control parades, but except for a few major events, the parades are getting smaller and there’s less call to quiet them. According to the police officers interviewed, the politicians know how to avoid and ignore the protesters. The police now know how to relax – most of the time.

Unfortunately, the need for conversations may be even greater than before. Issues are now global, even if they seem local. We are affected by the price of tea in China (or at least I am. #TomTea)

With enough time and other resources it would be interesting to compare the amount of time and resources spent in a million-person march from a decade ago against the social media traffic about the same topic now. 

Activism online takes less time and money; and some would argue, takes so little effort to make many of the comments trivial. A new weird element in the modern world is that a tweet or a video made by one person can be the catalyst that necessitates change. Hundreds or thousands of similar posts can go by with only a few Likes and Shares, and then one stands out that brings criminals to justice, compels governments to act, educates populations of the necessity to change lifestyles and choices. The weirdest part is that researches have uncovered the unpredictable and chaotic nature of whether a post will go viral or not. A good reason to post, even if you think it will be ignored.

I have mixed emotions about what I see on social media. Too little of it is truly social. So much of it is about advocacy across an overwhelming diversity of opinions. (And yet, I know of none that perfectly match my perspective.) At the same time, the social posts connect me with friends, and I’m impressed with how many people actually critically judge and develop their positions. 

I rarely participate in a parade or a march for a cause. Too much of is seems like preaching to, or maybe just walking, with a choir. Solidarity is confirming, but if no one else is listening, that’s all it may be.

Mass marches, protests, and parades caused change. My hometown and its region are known for union activities that revolutionized industries: iron, steel, coal, trucking, teaching, et al. My house was within a few miles of the Homestead Massacre, where 10 people died. My Dad’s hometown was a coal company town, a concept that was eradicated because it was so unjust. Trucking strikes, teachers’ strikes, strikes from a time when strikes were effective, which I now recognize happened because of people who lived there, people who were far from comfortable and actually in deadly danger. 

People today are also in deadly danger. Some jobs remain that risky. Many lives are seeing increasing risk. The planet is in turmoil. There are occasional marches and parades; but about the only place we gather regularly is online. Maybe that’s OK. People today are also more comfortable or may not be unable to spend the time or money to gather anywhere else, two more reasons why people aren’t in the streets. But just because they’re sitting somewhere comfortable does not mean they feel comfortable. They’re parading, but individually, online, in ways they couldn’t before, possibly with results that were unimaginable. 

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Minimum Wage Housing

This isn’t about me and my personal finances directly, but it makes me think. Finally, the minimum wage is rising. Local governments are realizing that the people who run their cities and towns need to make enough to live in the cities and towns. The new norm is $15/hour. That’s more than twice the federal minimum wage. At least for where I live, that’s still not enough. I’m wondering about that. Welcome to a journey as my thoughts stroll through some arithmetic and realities.

Disclosure: There are experts in this field and I’m not one of them. I wrote a book about personal finance from my perspective (Dream. Invest. Live.)Dream Invest Live cover, and am a licensed real estate broker (with Coldwell Banker Tara Properties on Whidbey Island); but I am not a financial advisor. I’m just someone witnessing a social disconnect.

Let’s play with that $15/hour. Yay! Every hour make almost enough to pay for a movie and popcorn, or maybe a non-fast-food meal, or – well – not much really. That $15/hour is the total. Knock it down by taxes and life and watch it shrink. It’s easy for the first hour of the day paying for getting to work and the last hour of the day paying for getting home. Divide that income by two and four hours can be spent paying to get to and from work. Life is more than work, but with so little left, it becomes obvious why those with little see little benefit. They might just be getting from one job to another.

Let’s multiple that $15/hour by 2000 hours, roughly a full-time work year. The result is $30,000/year. That at least sounds better. Surely, that’s sustainable, especially from the perspective of someone in 1990. But not really. Median income in 1990 was $54,621. In 2017 it was $61,372. That isn’t much of a change considering that’s only 12% in 27 years.

Make that a monthly instead of a yearly number by dividing by 12 and get $2,510. At least that’s more than rent or mortgage in many places.

Ah, but there’s more to life than housing. The rule of thumb is that other bills eat up about 70% of non-housing expenses meaning people shouldn’t have to spend more than 30% of their gross income on rent or mortgage. That means $753/month spent on housing. In my work as a real estate broker I concentrate on people owning rather than renting, so I’ll concentrate on mortgages.

Pull up an online mortgage calculator (I just typed in “google home mortgage calculator”), type in $753 for a monthly payment, accept the 3.92% they auto-filled for a fixed 30-year mortgage, and find that results in a mortgage loan amount of $159,259. With 20% down on a ~$160,000 mortgage a person can shop for a ~$190,000 house.

Oops.

Out of ~300 houses in my area, none are available at that price. Out of just under 190 houses sold in 2019, only 4 were in that price range.

Pausing and pondering – though your eyes will proceed much more quickly to the next paragraph.

I’m not the only one pausing and pondering. I’m thinking about many of my friends, friends who usually have more than one job, and who have more than the minimum level of expenses. Families must be raised. Some health issues can’t be ignored. Insurance increases every year as each of us ages. Education is expensive in time and money. Short term setbacks can take years to recover from. Making enough takes more than simply having a job.

I hear from people who have more than enough, who hear the economy is doing well, that unemployment is down, and that insurance is subsidized. Some of them don’t understand how anyone could be homeless or struggling.

A job is not enough.

Minimum wage is not enough.

Or maybe we should rename or redefine minimum wage. What would be the minimum wage to minimally sustain a reasonable life, a minimum livable wage?

Instead of looking at a $190,000 house, how much would it take to afford a $300,000 house? Go back to that same calculator, plug in $240,000 (assuming an extra $60,000 for the downpayment – and how they’re going to save that up is a mystery considering that it is more than one year’s gross income), and get a monthly payment of $1,135. Add in the other 70% of living expenses and get to $3,783 gross monthly income. Multiply by 12 for an annual salary of $45,400. And be looking at a number that probably exceeds the expectations of most people with service or low-skilled-labor jobs – frequently the people who see who are serving us food or mowing our lawns.

Of course, one answer is to rent, and possibly rent forever. That can work. But, again, that’s assuming they’re making minimum wage or better. For folks trying to only pay $753 per month, there are fewer than a half dozen apartments on the island. Even RV spaces in backyards are charging $1,000 per month.

Ponder.

Much of the housing debate discusses ways to provide additional housing. Perhaps the affordable housing issue has less to do with housing and more to do with what’s affordable. What’s affordable can be changed by making housing that is cheaper, or finding ways to help people make more money. There are places with housing shortages, but income shortages can be alleviated without infrastructure, environmental impact, or permit processes.

Personal finance issues usually have more than one side: assets versus liabilities, income versus expenses. If it seems like there’s a lack of progress on one issue, consider addressing its counterpoint. Maybe instead of building more houses we find ways to raise wages – and then let those people decide whether they want to rent, build, or buy.

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Hearing From Healers

I’m thinking about what the doctor said, and I heard it over a week ago. That’s powerful medicine. This was not a conversation with someone in a white lab coat who was wearing a stethoscope as if it was a necklace. This was a traditional doctor from different tradition. No needles required. A much smaller bill, too. Good health is a necessity, except in America where it is treated as a luxury. I’m glad I found a few frugal ways to help me through tough times.

I’ve written about the innovations and insights I’ve experienced at my naturopath’s office. Molly Fox’s office is part of Water’s Edge Wellness Center. I mention that by its full name because it can be difficult to call it a clinic, or to apply any other typical medical label to a place that happily isn’t typical. Sure, I have health insurance. It’s required. But, I rarely use it. At 1/5th the subsidized cost and about 1/10th the total cost, I get health care I can use. (Almost) anxiety-free. 

That ‘almost’ is my issue, brought on by the reaction and impersonal care from traditional western medical practitioners. They meant well, but their approach was like a steamroller driver apologizing for running over a body part. “Sorry, but I couldn’t stop this thing.” 

Frugality is different depending on whether it is exercised by choice or by necessity. By choice, frugality is fashionable. By necessity, frugality is a survival tactic that can be mistaken for style when it is really part of a struggle. The lessons linger because they’ve tested core values. Passing through such a time results in a deep appreciation of what really matters – also with an appreciation of true luxury.

I saw a McLaren drive past the office. That’s luxury for some. Not for me. That’s passing necessity, accelerating through luxury, and shouting excess. On the race track in a competitive race, it would be almost a necessity. On a road with speed limits and ‘No Passing” zones, it actually makes me a little sad. Imagine the work of those mechanics and engineers trying to maneuver around speed bumps and gravel parking lots.

Thinking about winning the lottery jackpot has changed as I’ve gone from middle class to millionaire to muddling by. The period after winning originally involved extended trips, philanthropy, and several other items probably listed somewhere in my millions of words online. Besides some necessities like taxes, top of my list now is helping others who helped me and others, and helping myself to better health. Financial troubles can encourage medical troubles. Maybe I’d fund a study to see if every year of too few funds takes months, years, or decades for recovery. 

A recent naturopath visit (something I typically do monthly because they encourage that to the point of making it a no-extra fee service) highlighted the opportunity for me to see another of the professionals in their office: Haley Lee, Intuitive & Healer. She practices Qigong, a practice that reaches back 4,000 years with a name that’s much more recent, as I understand it. And I can say that I do understand it, at least a bit. Decades of practicing karate continue to teach me about other perspectives. I respect them.

From what I can tell, chi, qi, and ki are names for the same thing but in different languages. Tai chi, Qigong, the ki in the kiai in karate – I’m sure deep practitioners in each discipline could make distinctions. I was comfortable enough to accept the suggestion from my naturopath for such a treatment. I’m glad I did.

Whether from natural talent, practice, or chance connection, Haley Lee managed to open a conversation that poured more of my life story into one hour than another other human has managed. She heard, then she got to work. Attempting to explain her practice would be like describing an elephant’s heart by talking about one of its ears. Yes, they’re connected, but too much is missed in the description. An ear flapping isn’t the same thing as a heart pumping.

The session was relaxing, but the discussion afterwards was invigorating and continues to resonate. She gave me and my subconscious a lot to think about. There are implications for more than my physical health. Stress continues to be an issue, though one that is abating. Her insights help with the why and the how, and my management and self-creation of stress. 

Thanks to Haley and Qigong, I’ve spent several evenings on the front deck at sunset wondering about me and the world. Until the mosquitoes chase me back inside.

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Ah, those were the days. Some day, again.

I’m not the only one working through issues in a world filled with dysfunctional conventions. 

Yes. The economy is improving. Unemployment is down. Interest rates are low. But. Much of the wealth gain is in assets unavailable to most. Wages are up, but folks without full-time employment may find they can’t get a job, or even an interview, and may have to combine five gigs to sustain one person. They’re employed, but they probably can’t afford a house or even rent; may not have benefits; and may find they can pay for insurance but spend so much on it that they can’t make claims against it. My two greatest expenses are the buckets for taxes and the buckets for insurance. They both exceed what I spend on mortgage interest.

Recently, someone going through tough times asked me how I got through my tough times. If there was one general rule for navigating my toughest times it was to respect conventional wisdom, but to continue on to the unconventional when the conventions weren’t working. We’re in a world that is changing. Chaos is common. Things don’t make sense. Trying to make them fit a model from fifty years ago ignores realities and advances in technology, society, the economy. 

I’m glad I found health care providers who focus more on caring for health than caring for bureaucracies. I enjoy the irony that many consider them unconventional when they’re practicing methodologies that are thousands of years older than conventional western medicine. There are advantages to healing the whole self, not just medicating the symptoms of the body. 

In my toughest times, I realized and witnessed the benefit of treatments considered non-traditional from a western perspective. They were cheaper, less invasive, and more effective than the far more expensive doctors and hospitals in insurance company brochures. 

When I couldn’t afford even those services I recalled an observation from the counselor who navigated me through my divorce. After a few months of sessions I asked him if I was nuts, or crazy, or whatever term they preferred. His response was simple. No. His insight was valuable. He acknowledged that most of what he does is listen, and that’s all I really needed. It’s a rare action in our active world. He pointed out that decades ago people were much more likely to vent, whether it was at the bar or at a car party. Those outlets became less available as the danger of drinking and driving became more apparent, and as people could or had to replace leisure time with working yet another job. Stress relief is healthy, we have fewer outlets for it now, and his business keeps busy simply listening. One of the most affordable and positive activities for improving health is to find a friend and listen to each other. Talk and listen. Acknowledge each other’s emotions and situations. Respect confidences. Build trust. The cost of a cup or a mug is far less than a psychologist’s session or a visit to the hospital.

Now, time for me to sit back and think. Watching Haley work inspired this blog post. Thinking about her insights inspires yet another cup of tea, glass of wine, puff on the pipe… It’s a good thing my session was in the summer. Sitting this much on the deck in winter would be a bit wet and chilly.

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Semi Annual Exercise Mid 2019

From my 2018 end of year portfolio review:

Within the next six months I won’t be surprised to hear good news from:

  • Asterias (under its new ownership of BTX) as their treatment for damaged nerves progresses,
  • Geron as it makes progress through its cancer treatments.
  • MicroVision because CES 2019 is near and management guided towards cash flow positive or profitability sometime this year. 

I don’t expect startling news from AMSC or NPTN because their technologies have already been developed and introduced to the market, and both are selling to commercial, not retail, customers that are more likely to grow without press releases or customer testimonials.

The ones I didn’t expect anything from delivered the nothing I expected, and even less. The ones I expected something from did the same; and true to form, MVIS failed to deliver again. 

Welcome to my semi-annual portfolio exercise. As others have advised, it makes sense to regularly revisit investment decisions to see if they continue to make sense. It’s too easy to buy and forget. Congratulations on investing, something so few do; but not following through is simply being forgetful, not something insightful. Of course, since my Triple Whammy about eight years ago, I can’t point to great success from attempts at proper attention to my portfolio. 

Back then I had a more diversified portfolio of about eight stocks. That was down from a dozen or so, but that number was reduced by my divorce. For several years, the portfolio was growing again; but then trouble hit DNDN (despite FDA approval for a cancer vaccine), AMSC (as a customer decided to steal the product and become a competitor), and MVIS (as a key supplier decided to supply materials for smartphones instead of pico-projectors.) So it goes. So it went.

My portfolio now is based on AMSC, BTX, GERN, MVIS, and NPTN. Even that is less diverse in some regards because I have BTX because they bought AST that was spun off from GERN; and I have NPTN because I bought back into an industry I was cut out of when GGOX which bought LMRA which was spun off from MVIS was bought out by a larger company just as MVIS’ technology became profitable. Basically, my portfolio is AMSC, GERN and spinoffs, and MVIS and spinoffs. 

stock family tree

This exercise, however, has helped me understand why I own what I own. This exercise makes it easier to keep track of those histories, and this exercise makes it easier for me to track whether my original rationales have changed. In general, I own these stocks now for the same reason I bought them then – but with some shifts. 

Dream Invest Live coverMy investment strategy worked for decades (details in my book that’s the basis for this blog, Dream. Invest. Live.), buy stock in small, positively disruptive companies that are overlooked and possibly undervalued, then sell when the companies succeed and the stocks trade at a premium. It worked with AOL, PIXR, SBUX, and several tech stocks. It almost worked with AMSC and DNDN. Despite being in green technologies, it didn’t work for GAIA and RSOL. It may yet work for all five of my current investments, hence my continuance of Long Term Buy and Hold (LTBH). 

In the meantime, however, each of these aging startups have seen drastic dilution and encroaching competition. A 50% dilution drops the potential gain by 50%, and some of these stocks have seen twenty-fold dilutions which continue. Encroaching competition means less market share for technologies that may finally be coming to market. 

The most common quick response to my portfolio performance is that I obviously did something wrong, but such responses are easiest in retrospect. Other possibilities are that the nature of investing has changed thanks to high-speed trading, rabid short-sellers, and an investment community drawn to mega-caps instead of micro-caps. It’s also possible, as some investment friends pointed out, that I simply had a perfect storm of bad luck. Statistically, it has to happen to someone. Oh goody. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it was me.

Maybe it won’t be my case forever. AMSC has lined everything up for profiting from improving the efficiency of electrical grids. AST’s (oops, BTX’s) proof of helping accident victims regain control over some of their limbs helps a powerful unmet need. GERN’s progress in fighting cancer slowly progresses, but it hasn’t stopped, either. MVIS was supposed to have very good news in June. Maybe they’ll post their press release while I’m typing and posting this. NPTN was undermined by a tweet and a trade war, which should be temporary. 

Eight years ago my portfolio was sufficiently large enough to re-retire me. Now, dilution and selling to pay bills has diminished my expectations. Yet, simply returning to my original cost positions would provide me with years of living expenses, a comforting cushion as I continue to regain financial freedom. 

“Perseverance pays” versus “Doing the same thing but expecting different results is a form of insanity.” I’m a fan of nature. I see evidence of waves eroding cliffs, and forests sprouting from a few seeds. I’m a patient person with a tendency to endurance endeavours. (Check out some of my other books for some examples.)BarclayforDrew

I also understand arithmetic. Investing is basically trusting to simple yet un-intuitive ideas like compounding principal. Several times I’ve built savings, spent them, then built them again. Save up, go back to college and get a masters in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. Save up, and get a house. Save up, and retire at 38. Save up, and finally buy a home instead of a house. Save up – and oops, hit a Triple Whammy and a Great Recession. There has been a slight – nah – significant delay. I am now working back to making enough that I can spend less than I make so I can have enough to invest. I won’t be starting from nothing. I have a wealth of experience, a very clear understanding of my wants and needs and resources, and a clearer knowledge of what the world may compensate me for and with. 

A regular review reviews more than its superficial goal. Whether it is stocks, or something else, conducting such an exercise becomes a catalyst for reviewing a life; and an examined life is truly living. Now, excuse me before I start typing about “Why are we here?”. I may be thinking it, but that’s a bonus I enjoy for myself – for my self – for now.


Here are the links to the discussion boards I use. Those discussions are less philosophical and hopefully more practical. Feel free to comment here or there, and to pass along links to others. The bigger the discussion, the better the chance of valuable insights (as long as the trolls and flamers are moderated appropriately.) Pardon the paywalls. If there’s enough interest, I can repost those posts here.

Investor Village

AMSC

BTX

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

The Motley Fool

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

Silicon Investor

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

Reddit

MVIS

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Perfectly Imperfect Plans

A friend reminded me;
“Better is the enemy of good enough.”
which brought to mind,
“Humans are imperfect. So, if you think you’re perfect, you’re not human.”
and,
“No plan survives contact with reality.”
But it would be so nice if things were done right. Right. But striving for the perfect version of right means many things don’t get done – and there’s so much that needs to be done personally and globally.

My plans certainly haven’t worked out. Conventional wisdom holds that “If you imagine it, it will happen.” (Assuming certain levels of effort, of course.) I planned to work on the second generation space shuttle, which I did, but we didn’t build it. Alas. I planned to retire early (which I did) by living a frugal lifestyle (which I still do). It looked promising to such an extent that many people thought I was too positive. Then, partly thanks to my Triple Whammy, I was un-retired; at which point many of those same people told me I wasn’t succeeding because I was too negative. (Do they listen to themselves?) And yet, I will give myself credit for accomplishing a lot. (Now, if only I could get paid for it!)

Life isn’t dull. Ideas run around me thanks to friends who are artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and creatives. Ideas, plans, actions, accomplishments. It’s a natural order. Ideas are in great supply. Plans are fewer, which means each plan is an accomplishment; but unless they lead to action, the accomplishment or goal is less likely to be met. Actions are impressive. People actually doing rather than just talking tend to get noticed, even if they’re working quietly. Accomplishments make the news, frequently with a suggestion that it was inevitable and that anyone could’ve done the same thing if they’d followed the same steps. Life is more complicated than that.

I enjoy planning. Want a multi-level, multi-year, program plan for your multi-million dollar project? Sign me up! I actually enjoyed drawing out plans for designing, building, certifying, and operating new types of vehicles for Boeing. It wasn’t directly my job. My job was to design to them to fly safely. Between a sketch of an outline of a concept and something airlines would buy and operate was a great gap of “invent something here.” I’ve done similar things for non-profits, and those creatives I mentioned above. A plan can be scary because it looks like it is set in concrete, but it is written in sand that will shift as soon as anything happens near it. But, without that plan, accomplishments rely on luck (or very flexible goals.)

As I mentioned in a Facebook conversation recently;

But hey, I’m the guy who bicycled across the US without a route, and walked across Scotland based on a flight in and a flight out.” That worked because I had no expectation that I’d reach Key West or Aberdeen. They were vacations based on day-to-day plans redefined every evening. But there were still plans, and actions.

Personal finance is intimidating. Someone in their twenties understandably doesn’t want to have to think about what their life will be like in seventy years. There’s no way to plan for that, especially in this time and place. Within the next seventy years the planet, technology, society, and the economy will shift. That does not mean not planning. It does mean planning for the long term by making continually updated short term plans. Spend less than you make and invest the rest will continue to be applicable as long as spend, make, and invest are applicable. Maybe they won’t be within that time. It’s easy to imagine changes to climate, weather, computers, artificial intelligence, justice and injustice, financial inequality, and even the nature of currency. If a plan assumes life in 2019 is a good guess of life in 2089 and never changes, well, that’s unimaginable.

Planning for life in 2089 is unimaginable, but look around and see how many people in 2019 are trying to plan and act as if it is 1949. Don’t get stuck in any particular period. Period.

At the other extreme is the classic “paralysis by analysis”. Prepare a plan, and before it’s acted upon notice that things changed, so go back and plan again. That can be done forever. It’s a great way to procrastinate. While I was encouraging someone else to act, I realized I was doing the same thing on another of my projects. I had a plan, but wasn’t getting to it because I didn’t want to get started until I knew the plan would succeed. Nice idea, but nothing was getting done.

So, last night I ignored my normal plans, sat down at the computer late which is not normal, and simply started even though I didn’t know exactly how I’d finish. Two hours later I produced a two minute video based on my most recent photo essay, Twelve Months at Maxwelton Beach. I was supposed to have that done months ago. I put off two hours of work for over a hundred days. It was one more item on my To Do list that was gathering electronic dust. Now, it’s available on YouTube.

Photos aren’t finances, but the principle applies. I had an idea. I had a plan, but I wasn’t acting on it. As soon as I did, the plan changed (oh, the vagaries of shifting software, or at least my memory of it), and a short time later I’d accomplished the task. Is it perfect? No. But, it’s good enough. How about plans for my finances? Sure, I have some. Working as a real estate broker means personal finance plans can shift with every sale, and with every gap between sales. 1) My goal is to get back to making more than I need to spend so 2) I can get back to spending less than I make and then 3) investing the rest. Then, I’m planning to un-un-retire or re-retire. You see, I’ve got these plans…

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My Mortgage Modification – Five Years Later

Almost five years ago I reached a major milestone.

“The short story: I get to keep my house, and here’s how it happened.” – My Mortgage Modification Chronology

This month I have progress to report. What? You thought that was the end of the story? Even episodes in our lives have sequels, and sequels have plot twists.

The Good News

I’m still in my house, my only residence in forty years that feels like home. It is the smallest and the best. I also feel sorry for it. While my financial situation is dramatically improved, there are more than enough maintenance projects to keep me and my budget busy for months or years. Even winning the lottery would mean taking a while to get everything done. That’s okay. In my time as a real estate broker, I’ve yet to find a property I like more, regardless of price. I can imagine something sweeter, but so far it is only in my dreams.

The Mortgage Reality

Thanks to Parkview Services free counseling services I was able to navigate the HAMP program and renegotiate my mortgage from about 5.75% (as I recall) to 2%. 2%! My monthly payments dropped to something affordable as long as I maintained my frugal lifestyle (and deferred some maintenance.) Everyone agreed I just needed more time to rebuild my career, business, and financial situation. That process continues, which ironically involves helping other people buy and sell homes and land. I’ve been a millionaire, and I’ve fought foreclosure. I have clients at both ends of that scale and in the middle, too. An interesting sweep of perspectives.

Browse back through those links above for how I (and Parkview) did it. Basically, HAMP would try a variety of financial mechanisms to make a mortgage affordable. Drop the interest rate to 2%. Lengthen the period to 40 years. Forgive the interest on some of the debt. Select in order as needed to make it work, if possible. My mortgage became a 40 year, 2% mortgage, with the interest for a few thousand forgiven.

I let it all slip into history as I worked and worked. A wakeup call came from a financial news interview a couple of years ago. It wasn’t a job interview, it was a news interview (Nerdwallet.com). They interviewed me to better understand why someone would accept a 40 year mortgage. Long mortgages drop monthly payments, but increase interest payments overall. Read My 40 Year Mortgage for that story. The interviewer pointed out that my new mortgage wasn’t a fixed rate. It was an ARM, a dreaded ARM, that was due to increase in 2019. Vague memories remembered that detail.

Fine by me. Interest is only a part of my monthly payment: interest, principal, taxes, insurance. The ARM has limits. This month it jumped from 2% to 3%. A large percentage increase but on a much smaller number than the whole. The difference is about what I spend on gas for my truck each month. The ARM is due to jump next year, too; but that’s only another 1% at which point it should be capped at 4% – a historically low number. It will happen about the time my pension drops, but my income should compensate by then.

The Bonus

One aspect of HAMP is a series of bonuses for good behaviour, or at least paying the mortgage on time. Every year, so quietly that the Customer Service people have to look it up each time, HAMP pays down my principal by $1,000 for a total of $5,000. That’s months of principal payments every year. It confuses the mortgage company, and requires me to double check my bills; but I’m happy that it happens. For a mortgage like mine, that’s equivalent to ~ 2% the value of the remaining debt. Thanks.

The Market

EQ6V-5rTMeanwhile, the real estate market moves on – impressively so since 2014. Remember 2014? The Great Recession? How quickly and easily we forget. For a house under 1,500 square feet (mine’s 868 square feet), the median sales price in 2014 was $191,200. May 2019, $327,200. That’s $136,300 in five years, or about $27,260 per year. My house has made almost as much as my business has made – and with a lot less effort. Basically, for every month I’ve been in the house I’ve passively accrued a month’s living expenses. Real estate can be quirky. (Understatement.) Compound growth can be phenomenal. (Another understatement.

Some people ask why I don’t sell. Easy. If I sell, I lose housing that I love, at a price that’s more affordable than renting something drearier, and I miss out on the additional appreciation without making enough to buy. Will I sell? Not if I don’t have to or want to; but I won’t say never because never isn’t a word to rely on.

Taxes

The market is up. Great! So are tax assessments. Oops. At least for now, that’s acceptable. I don’t mind paying for government services. Let’s hope my income grows faster than those taxes.

Bankruptcy

No. Not mine. Not me. I think I’ll be fine. My mortgage company, however, has filed for bankruptcy. Plot twist! Aren’t you glad you kept reading? Yes. A few months ago I received a letter with their name on it, the word ‘bankruptcy’ and I wondered if somehow they were going to make me go bankrupt, or they thought I had filed for it. Nope. It’s them. Considering some of their business practices I saw in practice, I’m not surprised. In a dream world, their bankruptcy would clear my debt; but in the real world debt operates differently. If you want a window into that weird world, check out John Oliver’s video. Still, I can dream.

What’s Next

I don’t know. Isn’t that the classic question with the impossible answers? No one knows what’s next. All we can do is guess. On a personal finance level, my income, asset, expenses, and liabilities will all shift. That’s all I know. Act as if tomorrow will be like yesterday, work and hope to make it better, repeat. I do have a new dream property in mind. It sits there with my thoughts of winning the lottery jackpot. In the meantime, I have a house that I can call home. Too few can say that. Now, about that paint, and that roof patch, and that window, and that dishwasher…

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Affording Housing

The topic came up again. How can working people afford housing? I’ve always been aware of the choices too many people must make to find a place to live. Going to school (Virginia Tech) next to Appalachia will do that. Now, as a real estate broker, I’m hearing about it much more. Thanks to the talks I’ve given at the local libraries, I was invited to yet another meeting of people struggling to help people who are struggling. The meetings have been about Whidbey Island, but one factoid from the most recent meeting proved the issue is pervasive.

One estimate suggests the nation needs 11 million affordable housing units, but only 4 million are available.” – More About Too Little Housing

As they pointed out in the meeting, this isn’t even about homelessness (which is bad enough). This is about finding places for people who have jobs.

By common guidelines, incomes under ~$60K can be considered low income, especially when measured against housing costs. From a quickly typed tweet; “a $36950 annual means a $923 rent target but $1600 is the market rate.” ” – More About Too Little Housing

It’s enough to make some people think about moving across the country. I’ll use my family’s house near Pittsburgh and my home near Seattle as examples. Zillow estimates my family’s 925 square foot house at about $130K. Zillow estimates my 868 square foot house at about $340k. Sure, mine has a view; but similarly sized houses on Whidbey without views are at about $295K. Take that $295K and go to my childhood neighborhood and get a house four times larger. I’m not planning to make that move, but others might – especially if they are driven by necessity.

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But, who wants to move? Businesses, careers, and jobs don’t pack and ship as easily as movers can move a household. Young families in dynamic industries may be able to do so; but older folks may not. Besides, sometimes culture does matter. Don’t be surprised to find members of the LGBTQ community who purposely left their family’s community, and who don’t feel welcome, or even safe, in similar regions.

Several years ago I almost lost my house. Thanks to a lot of work, government programs, and a volunteer organization I was able to keep it. (More about that soon as a critical long-term milestone approaches.) While going through that I had to consider my options in case we didn’t succeed.

Sell the house

That’s an obvious first consideration, but keep in mind that the mortgage, sales costs, and commissions get subtracted from the sales price. Even if there’s money left over, the issue of relocating work and life will cost money, too; and includes the risk that the move will not succeed. But, for some, they may find that they have been land rich while being cash poor. I can think of several people who can retire sooner than expected – but they’d have to give up their home, a view, a garden, a lifestyle.

Get a roommate

Getting a roommate works if the house works. Adding an extra person to an overworked septic system isn’t a good idea. Every house has quirks, but if everyone adjusts to them, then there’s a bonus of a pile of stories to tell later. Ideally and mathematically it can work, but divorces can happen because two people in love can’t manage to live together. Two strangers might have the same issue. Another bonus: increasing the number of people living in a house dramatically reduces the carbon footprint.

Become someone else’s roommate

Same logic, but flipped, and comes with the freedom of being able to move on if something better arises.

Go communal

Communes never really went away. They’ve resurfaced in a variety of forms: intentional communities, co-ops, community land trusts, commons, etc. Gather people with similar goals and situations, gather their money, and build to fit on common land. At least this way everyone can have their own place, share common ground and resources, and share the costs. Economies of scale don’t just apply to corporations. Ironically, corporations are now providing such services, primarily for young people. Businesses are offering dorm-style living to people just graduating from college and dorm life. It’s an option.

Get small

Sometimes affordable housing comes down to square footage. Tiny saves money, one of the prime drivers for many people buying and building tiny houses. Many Americans continue to think that bigger is better, but enough are waking up to spaces that are just big enough that governments are changing regulations. Find a friend or family member who’ll let you place an ADU (Auxiliary Dwelling Unit, or Accessory Dwelling Unity, or Another Done Undercover) on their property. Build it on wheels and if you have to move, you can. Land is required, though.

Live aboard

No. Land is not required. People have lived aboard boats, ships, and floating houses for centuries. Moorage, however, is required; but it’s probably cheaper than rent. Oh yes, and your house could sink; so, expect to use some of those savings for some very non-trivial maintenance. But, you can also move it too, as the waters and officials allow. Get rocked to sleep, whether you wanted it or not.

Buy land and build

All of the houses are too expensive? Land is usually cheap(er). Building a building isn’t cheap in time, money, or frustration; but design a house for your lifestyle and it may be so efficient that you save money – eventually. Finding a place to live in the meantime can be an issue. In the time it takes some to shop for a house, other could buy and build. Just make sure you get the right permits, and make sure you find the Fountain of Patience to get you through the process.

Buy lottery tickets

Hey. It can work. In the midst of everything else, a $1 ticket can feel as likely as the other options.

Those aren’t all of the options, but they’re the ones I hear about from those who have as they talk about those who have not. Those who have not are already exercising other options, the ones that make the news like homeless camps, living in cars, couch-surfing, squatting, sneaking back in to sleep at work, and maybe even moving back in with the folks – regardless of everyone’s age.

As I mentioned above, these are most of the options I considered when I almost lost my house. After I considered them once, I find myself continuing to consider them. The only constant is change and I realize my situation can change in a moment. Both good and bad news can happen without warning. I hear echoes of those quandaries in every housing meeting I attend. Think back to the first statistic at the top of this post. Millions of people are pondering the same thing. If the answers were easy there’d be more time to consider other big issues like health, family, and the much larger community.

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This week’s meeting’s title was “Issues That Matter – Housing, Where will we all live?” Housing is difficult, but maybe we’re talking about it because it is easier to mention than the core issue. Don’t blame the house. Lacking wealth or income is the core issue behind affordable housing, not housing. Take a look at the options above. Given enough money, people can exercise their resourcefulness and make a home for themself. Wage growth, income inequality, wealth inequality, economic issues are critical issues; but they are issues that are harder to address than finding some land, some contractors, some inspectors, and some homeowners.

Don’t blame the house. Don’t blame the homeowner.

 

Formal Disclosure:
I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Tara Properties in Bayview.

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What Is My House Worth

My house can’t really be worth that!” – exclamation from a friend

Believe it or not, I steer clear of writing about real estate because there are more things in life than houses. Yet, I’m drawn back to the topic just like I’m drawn back to mentioning MVIS when I’m writing about stocks. This blog is about personal finance; and I had to remind myself that I was writing about personal finance and real estate and estimating the value of my house for years before I even considered becoming a real estate broker. Dream Invest Live coverThere’s one chart in particular that reaches into both topics, and that comes up in conversations. What’s a person’s house worth? So, building from what I’ve written about before, and adding a bit of what I’ve learned as a real estate broker, here’s some data about how hard or easy it is to estimate a house’s value.

(Apologies to renters, but keep in mind that if you ever want to own, this may be useful.)

If you’re trying to understand your personal finances, it’s important to understand your assets and liabilities. For most people that’s their house and its mortgage. This is something worth doing.

Real estate is weird. Have you noticed that? It’s almost as if it is more art than science.  Both are correct. It’s possible to throw math at the problem and crunch through to find an answer that has some mathematical basis as well as plenty of assumptions. Quite objective. Think of it as micro-micro-economics. It’s also important to realize that markets are driven by people deciding to sell and people deciding to buy, which means people are involved. Psychology becomes important, as well as emotions like fear and desire. Quite subjective.

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Just about four years ago I wrote about Will Zillow Make Me Move. My finances were struggling, but Seattle’s real estate market was bubbling. Those bubbles were about to surprise many by frothing up into much higher levels, rising over 73% until it recently settled down to ‘only’ being up 71% in that time. It wasn’t dramatically apparent, but Clinton swung up over 66%. Then, I was relieved that if I sold I would at least be debt-free, homeless, but debt-free. Now, if I sold I’d have enough to buy something small or questionable somewhere off the island, probably away from a paycheck, and debt-free. No surprise, my goal is higher: a comfortable and sustainable lifestyle.

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The most common resource I’ve seen people use is Zillow’s Zestimate. The most common resource I use now is – me. Hey, it’s my job. Frequently, I get to bridge the gap, if any. I’m a geek. Some may bridge that gap with denial or a bit of arm-waving. I decided to use data, too.

Since September 2018, I’ve usually started my day by checking Zillow, Redfin, and a couple of industry sites for estimates about my house’s estimated value. I won’t walk you through the drama of the daily swings, but just look at that chart. At first it seemed like every estimate was within $20,000. Not bad, considering no art was involved. By the middle of January, the disagreement was over $70,000. That’s a big difference in post-sale lifestyle. Then, Zillow rose up beyond them all, then dropped tens of thousands in a day.

Automated estimates - 8199 Cultus Drive, Clinton, WA

No. My house wasn’t hit by a tornado, earthquake, or volcano overnight. Something in the data or algorithm changed and whomp and whoops, there goes an estimated tens of thousands of dollars in my estimated net worth. Fickle?

Look at the other algorithms. They, too, see swings of tens of thousands of dollars in a day. How does that saying go? “The person with one watch knows what time it is. The person with two watches doesn’t.” Ignorance can be bliss. A bit of extra knowledge can actually be confusing. No wonder people who are proud of having one clear, declarative statement to live by don’t want to hear that someone else has a different clear, declarative statement for them to live by. I’m tracking four estimates and know the only real answer would be how much someone would pay if I put my house up for sale.

Something so important to managing finances as a house’s value in such a money-driven culture means understanding such things, yet there are no perfect tools to apply to the task of estimating a credible number.

The world continues despite imperfections.

Here’s where I should shout-out to my fellow real estate professionals. Real estate brokers and appraisers prepare analyses regularly. Appraisers typically talk with bankers, so they’re more conservative. Real estate brokers typically talk to homeowners, which can mean being conservative in some cases and generous in other cases. Some want to maximize profit while others want to minimize time to sell. The answers can include a bit of the subjective (from “oh the smell” to “look at that view”) as well as the objective (square feet, number of bedrooms, acreage, et al.) That’s also why the estimates can cost more in time and money. It is a hard estimate to ask for on a daily basis.

Fortunately, there are lots of sources to check. I picked Zillow and Redfin out of habit, and because I  wrote about them regularly in a previous writing job. In the nature of capitalism and competition, something else out there may be doing a better job.

Each tool is developed by a different team, possibly with different goals in mind. I’m sure they guard their algorithms and assumptions, and change them without warning. That makes them a mystery; but hey, they’re free.

I check daily because clients made me curious, and because I’m a data geek. Whether you’re updating your Big Wall Chart of personal assets, liabilities, income, and expenses; or just trying to get an idea of your net worth; or wondering if you can retire by selling your house; estimating your house’s net worth is a worthy exercise.

There’s also a difference between what we hear on the news, and what such real estate sites tell us. I recently gave a series of talks about real estate and affordability trends on Whidbey Island. Thanks to the Sno-Isle Library system, I’ll be doing so again in the autumn. The talks started with a version of the chart I showed above, the bumpy, fickle, bouncy chart of values for my house. The rest of the talks are smoother, more general, covering larger areas, and longer time spans. They also are based on actual sales, not estimates of would, could, and maybe. The smoother data is what shows up in the news. If the news needs something more dynamic, they can look at smaller datasets or shorter time spans or more particular neighborhoods. Both perspectives are valid, but they were developed for different needs.

The market data shows my hometown (Say Yay for Clinton!) median sales prices are up ~6% since September 2018. Zillow estimates my house as down ~2.6%. Redfin sees my house as up~ 4%. Three watches. Hard to know what time it is.

Can my house really be worth between $342,000 and $372,000, when

“Zillow estimated a low point for my house’s value at $236,000 in October 2014. Whether because the threat of foreclosure is removed, or because Seattle’s market is rising, or because of some fluke in their algorithm, Zillow now shows a Zestimate® of $323,838.” – Will Zillow Make Me Move

?

For my personal finance purposes, I’ll guess somewhere in the middle because the final decision will be made sometime later probably involving strangers and a market and economy that is only a guess.

If I was to need, not just want, an estimate, I’d use those other tools plus my experience.

If I just wanted to satisfy my curiosity about my house and the market, I’d use a bit of free, quick analyses, plus some general market trends.

Pick the tool that meets your needs.

If you want to know more about real estate trends on Whidbey Island, check out my previous posts based on the talks, including the videos and presentation slides – or call me. Hey, it’s my job, eh?

What’s your house really worth? Let’s find out. I’m curious.

 

Formal Disclosure:
I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Tara Properties in Bayview.

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Corporations Meet Owners MVIS 2019

Photo on 2016-06-01 at 16.08

Another year, another annual stockholders’ meeting for MicroVision (MVIS). I’m somewhat speechless; but not entirely so, which shouldn’t be a surprise to people who know that I speak through writing. (In the real world I prefer to listen unless I’m in the role of public speaker, but I digress.) Ideally, annual stockholders’ meetings are for the benefit of the stockholders, an opportunity for them to hear from the people they’ve hired (the board) about how well the people they’ve hired (the managers) are managing the company and the people they hired (the employees.) In some companies it is that. In some, like MicroVision, either by choice or necessity the discussion is an exercise is ambiguity and obfuscation. You know it can be radically improved when the independent shareholders are a better news source than the official conduits. I came away wondering if these well-paid and supposedly learned people haven’t learned from the Greeks, the French, the Russians, or late night talk show hosts.

For my notes about the company and the meeting particulars, head over to the Motley Fool, Investor Village, Silicon Investor, and if I have the emotional resilience, Reddit.

This blog is more about the personal side of personal finance, what it’s like to be an independent shareholder. Don’t expect pom-poms and cheers, but don’t expect me to say stay away. Stock ownership remains an avenue for passive income or at least semi-passive asset growth in the US. If you’ve visited this blog often enough you’re probably familiar with the old refrain; “Spend less than you make. Invest the rest.” Investing doesn’t have to be hard, but it benefits from a bit of work and critical judgment.

IMG_0417MicroVision has been a story stock for the twenty years I’ve known about it. They rarely state their case this way but to me, they have the potential to revolutionize displays. Remember CRTs? They were everywhere, and within a few years were booted out by flat LCD screens. LCDs also expanded the possibilities. Only Dick Tracy had a CRT in his wrist watch. The iPhone wasn’t really possible until LCDs (and Gorilla Glass, which has an anti-MVIS connection) became possible. Now, displays are so common that some appliances and vehicles don’t have buttons. MicroVision’s technology enables tiny projectors, which could be equally disruptive and expansive. But not yet, evidently.

It’s that ‘not yet’ part that inspired many of the questions at the meeting. Why not yet? Why not now? How long do we have to wait, or is there something fundamentally wrong which means never not when?

Startup companies rely heavily on their first customers. Companies with big ambitions get involved with big customers. Big customers don’t want little suppliers besmirching their brand. So, companies like MicroVision can be constrained by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). No news doesn’t mean no news, it just means no news that they can relay. Unfortunately, no news can mean no news, as has frequently been the case for several years at MicroVision. Deals fall through. Technology isn’t available or costs too much. Stockholders hear far after the fact, if at all – while the stock reacted as if someone else already knew. Very frustrating.

The board and management control the information, which is a powerful position. It is also a well-paid position. Compensation packages annually worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are passed around as the company loses millions of dollars. Some of those people are making several times my net worth every year. Power and profit, a nice business model. MicroVision, as well as other small companies, can mint millionaires while shareholders watch portfolios shrink. That microcosm of forty people in a room becomes a mini-play displaying wealth and income inequality in a manner that is ingrained in our economic model.

The Greeks watched hubris demolish powerful reputations. The self-confidence of empowered managers may be a sign of marvelous news yet to be released, but it can also be mutually-reinforcing as board members nod at board members while giving each other applause and raises. One reason to show up at such meetings is to assess for oneself whether management is confident for a good reason, confident as a style, (or sadly as the SEC has proven, sometimes just conning.)

The French and the Russians both saw regimes fail because one group of people saw themselves as apart from another set of people. Us versus Them is a common human characterization, but take it to an extreme and extreme things happen. Unfortunately, small company regime change rarely happens from outside the boardroom. Fortunately, independent investors can judge those characters and decide how best to invest.

The late night talk show hosts are teaching millions of people the value and folly of the recorded and repeated word. Say something this year, say something else this year, and others can compare consistency. That’s the value of attending every year and taking notes. Recordings would be better, but they’re not allowed.

My notes from 2018 MVIS ASM; “Before the Q&A period, the COB interjected and emphasized that they see the company passing from possibility to probability, hopefully with profitability in 2019.”) When asked about it this year, the board and management said the ‘discussion’ about profitability in 2019 was more along ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, etc.; not intended to be guidance. Legally, probably true. Realistically, is such a statement and distinction a reflection of desirable communication skills? You get to decide.

Dream Invest Live coverI’ve attend most if not all of the MicroVision annual meetings since 2000. Someone walking in now for the first time gets a different impression than someone who has heard the same or similar story for about two decades. I’m glad I showed up that first time, and kept coming back. I just wish MicroVision’s situation was better. If you want examples of investments where the stories were successes, go buy my book; Dream. Invest. Live. Whichever way it goes, MicroVision will be in the sequel (assuming I finish writing it.)

I built my portfolio with many local stocks precisely so I could see the company and the people in person. Sadly, MVIS is my last remaining local stock. SEC filings are official. Company press releases are too. But only a small fraction of communication is text or numbers, or even hearing them instead of just reading them. Humans communicate much more through body language. At a meeting like an ASM, that body language is amplified by everyone in the room. I attend to watch the presenter and the presentation, but I sit in the back to watch the body language of the presenter and the reaction of the crowd. It doesn’t cost much, isn’t captured in any report or analysis, and yet is valuable.

Despite my concerns about MicroVision’s communication style, I continue to hold the stock and may even buy more (after a few more house sales). The technology, industry, market, and potential impress me. I don’t expect perfection, and maybe the only thing I have to do is trust that ambiguity is by necessity, and that this year truly is different. As to us versus them, well, that would require individual revelations, a bit of compassion, and hopefully not revolutions.

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Trade Wars Ugh

Trade wars. For many people they are abstract news items, reasons to cheer or complain. They’re real, and sail past my house and cruise through my portfolio. Global news can affect personal finances, even if isn’t your job that’s affected. What to do? I’m pondering that.

My little house looks out across Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains. Nice. I like it. That also means it looks my view includes the shipping lanes that lead to the harbors of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett. It is more like an interstate than a backroad, but instead of long-haul trucks the traffic is dominated by container ships. Container ships work best when their holds and decks are full. Since the trade wars began, the ships are floating a bit higher as they leave the US and head to Asia.

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(photo taken from nearby Maxwelton Beach when I was there for Twelve Months at Maxwelton Beach)

Maybe they were going to add more containers somewhere else along the way. I doubt it.

One weird result from similar trade imbalances created unexpected opportunities in other regions. Lots of containers coming in with few going out means lots of containers piling up. The price of the excess containers goes down. Resourceful people buy them up. Hello, affordable housing. But, I digress. (If you want more about innovative housing on Whidbey Island check out my post on one of my other blogs, AboutWhidbey.com).

Watching the fairly empty ships burn fuel to cross the ocean has a direct effect, but only emotionally. Indirectly, it hurts the economy and the environment; but those effects admittedly aren’t perceptible in my life. For others, the effects are direct.

And then came yet another mis-informed tweet about tariffs, as if they somehow make money rather than penalizing people. I try to steer clear of politics because it is too easy to get too distracted. But, tweets from the last few days imploded one of the stocks I was considering selling to pay some bills.

Screenshot 2019-05-17 at 17.44.01

NPTN, the stock for Neophotonics, dropped as much as 44%. They have business relationships with Chinese businesses, and investors ran away from the risk. Assuming everything eventually comes back to normal, a 44% drop is a buying opportunity and a lousy situation from which to sell. The direct effect for me may be a greater reliance on my credit card for some truck maintenance. The indirect effect may be greater because Neophotonics builds the switches that helps the internet stream without buffering.

This is an echo, for me.

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AMSC’s fall is part of my Triple Whammy that I’ve mentioned before. About eight years ago, one of AMSC’s prime customers decided to become a competitor – using AMSC’s technology without permission. Hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue vanished. The stock dropped from over $70 to under $4, and stayed there for years. It’s only within the last year or two that it has climbed back up to over $10. It’s fall wasn’t the result of a trade war, but the pursuit of justice was curtailed by diplomatic concerns over trade policies. Why upset an economy the size of China’s over damages measured in less than a billion?

Now, my concern extends to MicroVision (MVIS). They, too, are heavily dependent on Asia and China for customers and producers. The MVIS stockholders’ meeting is Wednesday. There’s been too little news to prop up the promises, pardon me, ‘forward-looking statements’, from previous calls and meetings. I wonder if there’s yet another event that will impact their projections (pardon the pun, fellow shareholders.)

We live in a connected world. We are interdependent as a species and as a series of economies. Personal finance requires at least some awareness of the impersonal influences that are beyond our control. Predicting those influences isn’t easy. If it was, all economists and investors would act in unison prior to politicians making proclamations.

In the short term, international trade disruptions mean shifting my personal choices about which stocks to sell. With enough cash, it would also mean possibilities of pursuing opportunities. I won’t say I am happy about the situation, but the situation is a good example of the value of a diverse portfolio and a frugal lifestyle.

Let’s just hope my truck gets me to the MVIS ASM without requiring me to sell some AMSC while waiting for NPTN to recover.

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