I often write on Quora.com, where I am the most viewed writer on financial matters, with over 293.1 million views in recent years.
In the answers below I focused on the following topics and issues:
- What are some good investment options in a low interest rate environment? Is the “game rigged” in the favour of wealthier people?
- Is the fastest way to make money in stocks always the best way? I look at how trading and using debt to grow can often be counterproductive.
- Is the UK, Germany or the US the best place to settle down as a long-term expat? How about those who are on short-term expat assignments?
- Taking calculated risks can be important, but does it guarantee success in investing or business?
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The game is rigged!
You hear that again and again. Now I don’t buy into any conspiracy theories, but what is true is:
- Historically some assets have always outperformed long-term.
- The game changed after 2008.
Now investments in stocks has always paid out long-term as per the graph below:
That was the basic thesis of French Economist Thomas Piketty’s book Capital and why he calls for a wealth tax:
His study is simple
- Stocks have historically done 5% above inflation per year, and US stocks have done more as per the graph above. Some other assets have also done above 3% per year after inflation.
- Wages have usually risen 1.5%-2% per year above inflation.
As a result of these two historical facts, owners of assets will always get wealthier, long-term, even adjusted for the violability and stock market crashes which come and go.
So, investing in stocks long-term is a great idea. Always has been. Always will be.
However, stocks have also been more volatile historically.
So, “playing it safe” in bonds or t-bill (cash equivalents) gave you 2%-3% more than inflation every year.
AND you didn’t need to deal with the more volatile yet productive asset (stocks).
Yet that changed in 2008 after this event:
After the Lehman collapse, interest rates have been below inflation for 13–14 years in most countries.
They further fell in 2020 after Covid. Central banks stimulated the economy, further increasing the gap between asset prices and cash.
Therefore, there is now no longer a realistic alternative to investing in a mixed portfolio of stocks, real estate investment trusts (REITS) and bonds.
Do you really think you’re playing it safe and staying away from making ‘risky’ investments?
You’re fooling yourself 👉🏼 and here’s exactly why:
1. If you only focus on working for money, you’re investing your time in return for money. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
2. If you save all your money in the bank or as fixed deposits, you’re buying into the sure (100%) risk of inflation and almost sure relative loss to more productive assets. You just feel more emotionally “secure” as these assets are less volatile.
3. If you only rely on your savings in retirement, you are therefore risking everything on false assumption that life will go according to plan and central banks will raise interest rates.
- Some risk is inevitable.
- Volatility isn’t risk. The Dow was at 60 in 1900, 2,000 in the early 1990s and 35,000 this year. Yet it has been very volatile and 100% of people who have invested in the Dow and S&P500 have made money if they have held long-term – even adjusted for inflation:
At least with a mixed portfolio, you aren’t putting your eggs in one basket (a currency) and you can have some control over the risk.
The fastest way isn’t usually the best way. That is because the fastest ways to make money, can also be the fastest ways to lose money!
Let me give you an example. Buying and selling a lot can be very profitable for a time, if you get it right.
However, the stats are clear. For the vast majority of people, the more you trade, the more you lose.
This works better
Buying and holding is
- Less risky
- More cost and tax efficient in most cases
- More rational because nobody can be right all the time, and one bad move can drag down your returns. I know several people who have been good traders, but got one “major” call wrong. That affected everything. One guy that I know who made a lot of money in the 1990s and got out of the market in 2000 at the perfect moment, wrongly thought that the stock market rises after 2009–2010 were a “dead cat bounce”. That one wrong move dragged down his returns well below a buy and hold investor.
- If you “win” for a few years or a decade by being clever, complacency will strike, which is partly related to point three. In reality, most traders think they are smart if they beat the market, but many just got lucky, and eventually realise that fact.
The same is true of leveraged ETFs and Lombard loans. Great on the upside, not so good on the downside.
So the fastest way to sustainably make money in the stock market is to invest today long-term.
I have only lived in the UK, but I have lived in six countries, so I can give some perspectives on this.
Firstly, if you can’t speak reasonable German, then the UK or the US is better for obvious reasons.
Taxes and wages aren’t usually more favourable in Germany to the other two places, with the exception of some industries.
The US is probably better if
- You work in tech, finance or are inside the top 1%, because healthcare, education and many other things is top notch for those at the top. Take healthcare. It is a mess in the US for many people, but the best healthcare at the top level is in the US.
- Following on from the first point, you want many opportunities in tech. If you work in tech in say Dubai or Australia, your options for moving companies is much more limited than in the US, even if your salary is similar.
The UK is better if
- You want superior access to traveling opportunities in Europe and for that matter Africa and the Middle East. You can travel to two continents within a four hour radius to the UK, and three if you extend that to five or six hours. Almost anywhere in Europe is close and cheap to get to.
- You want a cheaper cost of living. These days, the UK is cheaper than the US if you do a like for like comparison. For example, London vs New York City.
- The idea of having so many hassles is alien to you. Getting a visa is a hassle in both places, but your finances will be more of a hassle if you move to the US due to FBAR, FATCA etc. It isn’t just for wealthy people. If you own assets internationally, your life gets more complex after migrating to the US.
Germany is probably best if you want to learn a new language, culture and working environment.
Either of the three places could be good for a short or medium-term expat.
I would also focus on some other places, especially if you are location independent (a retiree, wealthy or have an online income).
It is a big world out there, and there are other countries which have bigger benefits such as lower cost of living, low or zero taxes and opportunities to grow.
Often it is better to move to the “Next London, Singapore or Dubai” rather than moving to the real thing.
It is cheaper and you get to enter the party early, gaining more benefits than late comers.
Imagine your friend climbed Mount Everest.
After the trip they claimed that training for the event changed their life, and encouraged you to do the same.
Would it make sense to follow in their footsteps? Not necessarily. It might do, but you might also literally die!
We do have to remember that survivorship bias can cloud our judgement. Just because some people gain from taking risks, doesn’t mean everybody does.
This is especially the case when it comes to huge risks which aren’t even calculated “gambles”.
Very few people gain from these kinds of risks compared to the total, but the media focuses on them.
What is true, however, is
- Taking calculated risks is one of the keys of success
- Few people are willing to consistently take calculated risks, and instead give up too soon. Therefore, if you are persistent, it will increase your chances of success. The numbers game means that a portion of your calculated risks will really yield great results.
- Not many people properly assess risks. For example, in investing most people wrongly think that putting money in the bank is safer than investing it, just because investing is more volatile.
- Most people are too risk adverse. The average young graduate doesn’t need to worry about failing, unlike a 35-year-old with a kid and mortgage. In the latter case, being a bit risk adverse makes sense.
- It is (usually) good to stay nimble and avoid things like mortgages and marriage in your 20s.
- Failing, in addition to trail and error, is character building.
- There is no zero risk option in business, investing or indeed life. There is also indirect and hidden risks even with things which appear risk-free. So, ironically, people who think they are being risk-adverse are often taking hidden risks. For example, the 52-year-old career civil servant who has just been made redundant probably won’t find another job, but they probably stayed a career civil servant due to perceived security. Then maybe there was a financial crisis, reforms were made and changes came to the country.
- It is always better to take risks when you can afford to do so. So, yes this means when you are young, but can also mean when you get wealthier. Let’s take the previous example of the 52-year-old, recently unemployed, civil servant. That person would have been better off taking risks in their 30s and 40s, by paying for extra classes and learning new skills.
- Almost any successful person has taken calculated risks if they are self-made.
- We seldom regret calculated risks years later. We do regret not trying in the first place.
The bottom line? The right, calculated risks, can change your life and ironically be less risky than doing what you are doing at the moment.
Yet taking “a risk”, just once, is less likely to yield success compared to consistently taking many calculated risks.
Pained by financial indecision? Want to invest with Adam?
Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 293.1 million answers views on Quora.com and a widely sold book on Amazon
In the article below, taken directly from my online Quora answers, I spoke about the following issues and subjects:
- What is the most expat friendly bank in Germany in an ever-changing digital world? I give my take about who I would pick if I ever moved to Germany.
- What advice would I have given myself twenty years ago.
- The Chinese Government is now cracking down on some private educational institutes, after going after “big tech” and Jack Ma recently. What is going on, and does this mean that you should stay away from Chinese stocks?
- What are some of the best online platforms for jobs?
- Will more companies see Africa as a growth area? What can be done to change the narrative on Africa?
To read more click on the link below.