Two days ago I looked forward to writing this post to celebrate significant progress in my recovery from my Triple Whammy of August 2011. Back then, three major events imploded then depleted my net worth. My net worth has not regained those levels, but within the last 18 months my net worth improved enough for me to begin relaxing anxieties. One bureaucratic mistake two days ago severely threatens enough aspects of my life that I do not, and to some extent can not relay them here. This blog, however, is about personal finance; and not just personal finance but personal finance that challenges taboos to some extent. It’s easy to tell the stories when the news is good. The lessons from when news is bad can be more valuable.
As someone put it,
“If you want to learn about sex, don’t ask someone who has always been celibate.”
(Variations on that theme can be tuned to your needs.
I know I can think of several alternatives.)
Hindsight is handy. In 2011 my bad news seem to come from several directions, each largely uncoupled from each other. Back then a friend researched instead of just reacted to the parts of my news. As they put it, I was hit by a perfect storm of bad luck. The odds that someone is bound to have five dice rolls all go their way is about the same as someone having those dice rolls go the wrong me. (Bad) lucky me.
Ironically, this happened after the Great Recession began. I’d just released my book on personal finance (Dream. Invest. Live.). After the initial global market impact, my portfolio began to rise because three of my investments were in positively disruptive technologies that weren’t affected by the markets as much.
Then (and pardon me for forgetting the exact order),
American Superconductor (AMSC), a developer or more efficient electrical infrastructure components, found that their biggest customer decided to steal the intellectual property and become a competitor. The loss of several hundred millions a year almost eliminated the company. Fast forward and find that AMSC won the court case; but only after several years and only receiving a fraction of one year’s revenue. I lost about 40% of my portfolio within weeks.
Dendreon (DNDN) developed an FDA approved cancer vaccine. Reread that one that most folks don’t know. They were succeeding, though at a somewhat slower pace than expected; not surprising considering how revolutionary their treatment was. Shareholders commented on machinations that seemed criminal. Regardless, a takeover of the company bankrupted the company. Fast forward and find that the takeover was challenged in court, it was confirmed that some were found guilty; but the damage was done. Allow me to copy and paste the closing line from the previous paragraph. I lost about 40% of my portfolio within weeks.
MicroVision (MVIS) was expected to produce a projector that could fit in a smartphone, a projector only slightly larger than the cameras already showing in them. According to a Wired interview, the CEO of Corning was going to demonstrate to the CEO of Apple the key subcomponent that Corning was developing with MicroVision. Apple felt that a stronger glass was more important and MicroVision’s effort was stalled. Shareholders didn’t know why things were delayed until years later. MVIS eventually fell to as low as $0.15 in April 2020. (Thankfully, it is recovering, but that’s a much longer story.)
As those three issues played through, all of my fallback positions of getting a better job or selling my house, or various other “lines in the water” fell through thanks to the Great Recession. Soon, I had to sell off almost my entire conventional and IRA portfolios. I ended up down 98%within a few years. I almost lost my house. (Another long story.)
As I wrote in various posts within the last 12 months, my net worth has been increasing thanks primarily because of my house’s value and MVIS’ recovery.
Within the last few months, I also learned that my credit rating has recovered to almost the maximum possible. That meant it would be easier to refinance, or get some equity out of my house, or generally relax and celebrate at least that accomplishment. I also started receiving Social Security, another anxiety relaxer.
Here is where the celebration has been postponed.
I don’t know all of details yet, which is why I will write about those later when they are facts rather than speculations. But, from the high of an anticipated celebration to a low from a surprise pronouncement – well – I feel devastated. The oddest part remains that I don’t know the entire story, either.
I have become a larger proponent of loosening that taboo about talking about money, at least with close friends. In today’s internet, revealing much more can put assets and livelihoods at risk. In person, however, and as I asked for help, people shared their situations, too.
There are far too many having to deal with problems that are too large, but which have no ready resolution. Move to a better job? That takes money. Pandemic hurt your business? You’re not alone, and the recovery may be painfully slow. As lifestyles change because of health care and housing issues, the solution may be to move – which again leads to ‘move where?’ I only have me to worry about. Others are dealing with families, generations, and generally compassionate responses to others without support.
I’ve been described conflicting ways. Some say they are impressed with my optimism. Some say they are dismayed by my pessimism. Maybe I can carry both of those perspectives in my head simultaneously. I’ll go with that.
Learning about the biographies of many famous people, almost all mention some bit of good luck that was out of their control. We get to hear about the people who’ve benefited from such encounters. We don’t get to hear about the others as readily. Luck, whether good or bad, can happen in an instant. Some developments take longer. I wish I wrote down a phrase someone used earlier today. Something like, “Plans are useful; and you have to have them; and all you can do is what you can when it’s necessary because you don’t know what’s really going to happen.” They extended that old adage more eloquently.
It is difficult to ascribe everything to luck. It is also unrealistic to ascribe nothing to luck. The world is too chaotic and random. We are not in as much control as pundits may make it sound.
I’ll continue the blog. Only the Triple Whammy updates will end. Ten years are enough, I’m now over 60, the pandemic changed so much, and I am sure the pandemic will not be the largest change I’ll witness. I think technology, economy, climate, and society are all being redefined by necessity. Each is a big enough topic to overwhelm most people. Combined, I think their effects become a guessing game.
How’s my life, our lives, going to turn out? It’s a guess, but I intend to continue writing about it. Stay tuned.