Diversification In Its Present Form Is For Suckers. So, Don’t Be A Sucker.


“If you have large cap, mid-cap, and small-cap, and the market declines, you are going to have less cap.” – Martin Truax

The financial services sales forces as mass storytellers, have morphed once noble, efficient constructs into treacherous fairy tales.


Tenured financial concepts which define the core of advice in the brokerage industry go relatively unchallenged. Investors, due to lack of experience about such matters, have a difficult time challenging the status quo or ask the right questions.

The easiest way to convince investors to “stick with an asset allocation or investment plan” is to use the past as a pacifier, regardless of current market cycle. In other words, if it’s broken there’s no need to adjust the guidance.

The industry just needs to isolate and showcase a cycle where the old confines worked, push that specific period of time into the present and extrapolate the positive, perpetually into the future.

Hey, it’s what the industry does best.

I believe nothing changes in practice on financial front lines, as the priority remains pushing products. Brokerage firm margins are embattled by the profit-draining effects of lower-for-longer interest rates.

I don’t blame the mouthpieces as much as I do the senior management and compliance departments that channel, reward or benefit from the behavior.

As a regional manager at Charles Schwab told me:

“It’s always about shareholders first.”

There are Holy Grail concepts that are rarely revisited except by academics and a select few in the private sector and for their work, I’m grateful.

From experience I’ve experienced how somewhere between academia and implementation in the field, updates or improvements to dogmatic strategies` get lost or ignored, especially when they conflict with the short-term focus on shareholder and analyst expectations.

The insidious or naïve (take your pick) roads most selected are designed to mollify fears and at the same time, leave investor wealth exposed unnecessarily to danger.

An egregious stretch of the truth emboldens the heavily-protected sanctuary of diversification.

It’s a word that makes investors feel good.

It rolls sweet off the tongue. It represents warmth of a blanket fresh out of the dryer, the scent of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.


However, don’t be duped. Today, diversification as pitched by your broker, is a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood. Many financial professionals have fooled themselves regarding its effectiveness. At least the way it’s defined, currently.

You must understand what diversification is and most crucial, what it isn’t. Certainly, it’s not the panacea it’s communicated to be.

The outdated definition of diversification requires a tune up. There’s no ‘free lunch,’ here, although I continue to hear and read this dangerous adage in the media.

The word gets thrown around like a remedy for everything which ails a portfolio. It’s the industry’s ‘catch all’ that can lull investors into complacency, inaction.

So, who buys into this free lunch theory, again?

After all, what is free on Wall Street? Investors who let their guard down, buy in to the myth of free lunches on Wall Street, ostensibly find their money on the menu.

Due to unprecedented central bank intervention, there exists extreme distortion in stock and bond prices. Interest rates ‘lower for longer’ and in several cases, negative, have created a frenzied reach for yield in dividend stocks. Global risk-averse investors have purchased bonds with a voracious appetite.

A way to effectively manage risk has morphed into two disparate perceptions. The investor’s definition of diversification and that of the industry has parted, leaving an asset allocation plan increasingly vulnerable.

Today, the practice of diversification is Pablum. Watered down. Reduced to a dangerous buzzword.

First, what is the staid, mainstream definition of diversification?

According to Investopedia – An internet reference guide on money and investments:

  • Diversification strives to smooth out unsystematic riskevents in a portfolio so the positive performance of some investments neutralizes the negative performance of others. Therefore, the benefits of diversification hold only if the securities in the portfolio are not perfectly correlated.
  • Diversification benefits can be gained by investing in foreign securities because they tend to be less closely correlated with domestic investments. For example, an economic downturn in the U.S. economy may not affect Japan’s economy in the same way; therefore, having Japanese investments gives an investor a small cushion of protection against losses due to an American economic downturn.

Now let’s break down the lunch and examine how free it is.


Unsystematic risk – This is the risk the industry seeks to help you manage. It’s the risks related to failure of a specific business or underperformance of an industry.

To wit:

  • This is a company- or industry-specific hazard that is inherent in each investment. Unsystematic risk, also known as “nonsystematic risk,” “specific risk,” “diversifiable risk” or “residual risk,” can be reduced through diversification.
  • So, by owning stocks in different companies and in different industries, as well as by owning other types of securities such as Treasuries and municipal securities, investors will be less affected by an event or decision that has a strong impact on one company, industry or investment type.

So, think of it this way: A ‘diversified’ portfolio represents a blend of investments – stocks, bonds for example, that are designed to generate returns with less overall business risk.

While this information is absolutely valid, the financial industry encourages you to think of diversification as risk management, which it isn’t.

Here’s what you need to remember:

Ketchup (consumer staples) and oil (consumer cyclicals) all run down-hill, in the same direction in corrections or bear markets. 

Sure, ketchup may run behind, roll slower, but the direction is the one direction that destroys wealth – SOUTH.

Large, small, international stocks. Regardless of the risk within different industries, stocks move together (they connect in down markets).


What are the odds of one or two companies in a balanced portfolio to go bust or face an industry-specific hazard at the same time?

What’s the greater risk to you? One company going out of business or underperforming or your entire stock portfolio suffers losses great enough to change your life, alter your financial plan.

You already know the answer.

Diversification is not risk management, it’s risk reduction.

  • When your broker preaches diversification as a risk management technique, what does he or she mean?
  • It’s not risk management the pros believe in, but risk dilution.
  • There’s a difference. The misunderstanding can be painful.

To you, as an investor, diversification is believed to be risk management where portfolio losses are controlled or minimized. Think of risk management as a technique to reduce portfolio losses through down or bear cycles and the establishment of price-sell or rebalancing targets to maintain portfolio allocations. Consider risk dilution as method to spread or combine different investments of various risk to minimize volatility.

Even the best financial professionals only consider half the equation.

Beware the lamb (risk management) in wolf’s clothing (risk dilution).

The goal of risk dilution is to “cover all bases.” It employs vehicles, usually mutual funds, to cover every asset class so business risk can be managed. The root of the process is to spread your dollars and risk widely across and within asset classes like stocks and bonds to reduce company-specific risk.

There’s a false sense of comfort in covering your bases. Diversification in its present form is not effective reduce the risk you care about as an individual investor – risk of loss.

Today, risk dilution has become a substitute for risk management, but it should be a compliment to it.

Risk dilution is a reduction of volatility or how a portfolio moves up or down in relation to the overall market.

Risk dilution works best during rising, or up markets as since most investments move together, especially stocks.Think about betting on every horse in a race.

  • In other words, a rising tide, raises all boats.

So, why is risk reduction but not risk management, the prevailing sentiment?

Sales Goals: Most financial pros are saddled with aggressive sales goals. Risk dilution is a set and forget strategy. Ongoing risk management is time consuming and takes time away from the selling process.

Diversification can be stronger than it is right now. Unfortunately, the financial industry as a whole, has watered it down and widened it so much, it’s become absolutely ineffective as a safeguard against losses. One reason is the sales targets that forces financial representatives to spend less time with client portfolios.

Compliance Departments: A targeted diversification strategy places accountability on the advisor and poses risk to the firm. A wider approach makes it easier to vector responsibility to broad market ‘random walks’ so if a global crisis occurs and most assets move down together, an advisor and the compliance department, can “blame” everything outside their control.

  • “Hey it’s not our fault, it’s the market!”

Convenient excuse, isn’t it?

Diversification requires a shake-up, a smarter approach.

The Clarity team decided to go back to the drawing board. Consider how investors perceive diversification, then create a thoughtful definition which incorporates part of the old along with important enhancements.

My revised definition of diversification:

  • A targeted selection of investments designed to manage risk within an allocation that’s behaviorally connected to who you are and the goals you seek to achieve. An allocation that fits the macro-economic environment driven by specific investment buy and sell disciplines.

That’s diversification for the new world, post-great recession.

Revised diversification strategies require actionable rules.

The following guardrails should help you identify and avoid the pitfalls that define diversification as it’s practiced in the field of financial services.

Random Thoughts:

Watch for over-diversification. Too much of a good thing can increase risk. That’s not your objective. Do not allow your financial advisor to spread your investment dollars too thin: All you’ll do is create an expensive index fund alternative.The more investments you own, the more a portfolio may mirror or move in unison with the underlying markets (you can do that on your own in a less expensive manner).

Control the number of securities you own or add. Proper diversification can be achieved with as little as 5 to as much as 15 separate investment to represent stocks and fixed income options. You must understand the reasons behind every new investment. Is it additive to increase return or lower risk, or is it duplication of an investment you already own? Most likely it’s duplication.

You don’t need to own every asset class at all times to be diversified from a risk management perspective. For example, where is it written that a portfolio must always hold international stocks when most domestic or U.S.-based companies have formidable international revenue streams?

Why must small, mid, or large-cap stocks be eternally represented in a portfolio, never to be fully liquidated? An active approach to risk management may exclude several asset classes. Frankly, at times it may help returns and reduce risk.

Think outside the box for real diversification. For effective diversification consider passive income from rental real estate, development of human capital (your skill set) to increase earned income, perhaps fund a privately-held business (a riskier option). Remember ‘owning ketchup & oil’ through turbulent markets may not be an optimum risk management strategy.

And speaking of risk management…

Without a sell or rebalancing strategy, diversification can only go so far. This step is more work for your advisor, but that’s what he or she is paid for. To help minimize losses, a portfolio requires periodic rebalancing to take profits and a liquidation component to reduce losses that may be tough to recover from.

Beware the “lunch room effect.” You own 3 mutual funds from the same fund company, XYZ Financial. All have different names, different managers, and different objectives. Every day, the three fund managers have lunch. They discuss the weather, the hometown sports team, and their investment choices.

Manager # 2 based on the parameters of the mutual fund, likes what Manager # 3 has to say about Acme Corporation. She eventually decides, after further investigation, to add Acme Corporation to her fund holdings, too. This is stealth, industry-specific risk that destroyed tremendous wealth during the tech bubble. So the lesson here is to never own more than one mutual fund per fund group to avoid overlap.

The tendency is to perceive diversification a panacea, a Snuggie that allows portfolios to be forged then forgotten, as diversification is considered the ultimate free lunch (that’ll wind up eating your lunch).

Diversification today is a convenient cop-out or weak replacement for risk management.

Schedule a meeting with your financial partner to discuss your concerns.

Ask for a definition of diversification. See if you agree.

If not, it may be time to move on.

And save enough money through risk management to happily purchase your own lunches.


Ignore Business Insider’s Reading List: Focus Here Instead & Save Yourself.

Poor Business Insider.

No, wait! Poor you!

Most of the books on BI’s list are not going to get you where you want or need to be financially.

Not today. Not ever.

I’m not saying the books aren’t fine efforts.

What I’m saying is overall they represent a single perspective, one side of the investing coin. A philosophy that doesn’t effectively work through every stock market cycle.

The philosophy of “buy and hold” or “buy and sleep” as it’s eloquently described in one of the books on my best-of list (Cocktail Investing), is not going to help you to navigate a post-Great Recessionary period muddied by unprecedented global central bank overreach, negative rate scenarios, 8 years of below-average global economic growth and the second loftiest stock valuation levels (based on real earnings) since the tech bubble.

The advice from BI fits secular positive market periods like 1982-2000. However, through history, positive or upward cycles conclude and are ostensibly replaced by (as beautifully researched in another selection,) flat or down trending periods that work off bull excesses.

You see. Not every long-term market move is positive. On Wall Street however, every market is a bull. On Main Street, that buy-side mentality will place your household finances in jeopardy.

You must remember.

On occasion, it’s a bull-shit stampede.

As for Business Insider’s list? 


Check the bottom of your shoes before going in. It’s a perfect cycle for them to stink up the joint.

Oh there are several tomes of wisdom. I’ve read all the books listed. Took notes. I did learn from them.  I consistently read 10 books a year.

But through this market cycle, the pervasive wisdom of ‘buy and hold’ or ‘random walk’ where your portfolio trips and blows up your net worth, isn’t gonna fly.

You doubt me?

Ponder the following:

Warren Buffett repeatedly appears on BI’s list. I understand. Greatest investor of all time and all.

One problem. And it’s a big one.

It’s not realistic to think you can invest like Warren Buffett. It’s a romantic inclination. It’s what investors yearn to do but can’t.

Sure, you can prosper from an education in fundamental analysis – company cash flows, balance sheets, income statements, dividend growth, not chasing the hot investment flavors of the day. It’s called doing your homework and doing your homework is required.

In the brief period we’re given as investors, because we’re human – there’s a limited window of opportunity for appreciation. (Like 20-30 years if we’re lucky). Include the increased probability of a decade of below-average returns in stocks (our estimate is below 3%), and a set-it-and-forget-it mindset requires a wake-up call.

Now more than ever.

A new resource library.

You see, it’s close to impossible to match a human life (finite) with that of a market of stocks (infinite). Unless you’re Warren.

Think about it.

As Lance Roberts wrote recently:

“It is important to remember that we are not investors. We do not control the direction of the company, their management decisions or their sales process. We are simply speculators placing bets on the direction of the price of an electronic share that is heavily influenced by the “herd” that makes up the markets.

More importantly, we are speculating, more commonly known as gambling, with our “savings.” We are told by Wall Street that we “must” invest into the financial markets to keep those hard-earned savings adjusted for inflation over time. Unfortunately, due to repeated investment mistakes, the average individual has failed in achieving this goal.”

You don’t have a couple of hundred years like Warren Buffett who is investing not for just his lifetime, but for multiple shareholder lifetimes in Berkshire Hathaway.

So what if one of his investments doesn’t pay off for 30-50 years? He’s dealing with the luxury of that kind of time. The kind of time it takes to earn and book hefty market returns. This is not realistic for most of us. It’s a financial fairytale hawked as reality.

Thankfully, investors seem less receptive to the turd sandwiches they’ve been force fed when it comes to understanding how the stock market performs. It’s unfortunate too as this cyclical bull market we’ve enjoyed since March 2009, is one of the most despised I’ve witnessed. And I’ve been in this business for 27 years.

In part this negative sentiment is due to the continued lack of straight talk by pundits, an overhang from the pain of losses during the financial crisis (remember that?) and a painfully long (marginal at best), economic recovery.

So I share with you my library. My keepers.


A reading and learning treasure trove for the new world.

1). Investing with the Trend: A Rules-Based Approach to Money Management by Gregory L. Morris.


From Amazon: Investing with the Trend provides an abundance of evidence for adapting a rules-based approach to investing by offering something most avoid, and that is to answer the “why” one would do it this way.  It explains the need to try to participate in the good markets and avoid the bad markets, with cash being considered an asset class.  The book is in three primary sections and tries to leave no stone unturned in offering almost 40 years of experience in the markets.

Excerpt: The market from 1927-2012 was in a state of drawdown (loss of capital) for more than 95% of the time. In other words, the market was making new all-time highs less than 5 percent of the time.

Rosso’s take: Greg drags the mystical buy-and-hold unicorn behind the shed and destroys it. The book is comprehensive with data that obliterates the buy-and-hold myth and group think that has destroyed so many portfolios. You’ll be annoyed after reading this book. You’ll feel duped by a financial system that compels you to feel helpless. There’s more in control about money than you think, and this book will open your eyes -question your current portfolio management strategy.

2). Cocktail Investing: Distilling Everyday Noise into Clear Investment Signals for Better Returns by Christopher J Versace & Lenore Elle Hawkins.


Chris and Lenore focus on economics, demographics, psychographics, technology, policy and more. In other words, themes. Thematic investing. Their book allows you to tap into the flow and motivation for today’s consumer to spend and where they drop their cash.

From Amazon: Given today’s ever-increasing deluge of information, the average investor faces the challenge of sorting through the babble to decipher what it means, and learn how, where, and why they should be investing given the current economic environment and the uncertain future. This book provides an ‘off’ switch, helping readers apply an automatic mental filter to the incoming cacophony, to filter out only what they can use for smarter money moves.

Excerpt: Shifting demographics & psychographics shape and impact consumer behavior can force companies to make fundamental changes to their business to succeed. Identifying the root cause of these shifts, be they the fallout from a disruptive technology, changing consumer preference, or other pain point, helps you, the investor, identify companies that will profit from the pain as they administer their “soothing” medicine.

Rosso’s take: Talk about changing it up. How refreshing. The dynamic financial duo seek to help investors understand where demand is headed and then prosper from growing consumer trends. This book is an eye-opener if you’re investor looking to hook into the consumer mindset post-Great Recession.

3). The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth by James Altucher.


From Amazon: We are living in an epic period of change, danger and opportunity. The economy is crashing and booming every few years. People are getting fired and replaced by computers and Chinese workers. The stock market crashes with regularity. Every “fix” from the government makes things worse. The Old World has been demolished… and people are desperate for answers.

This is the field guide to the “New World” we live in. You can play by the old rules and get left behind, or you can use these new ideas and become wealthy. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Read at your own risk, because sometimes the truth is hard to take.

Excerpt: “The Save Big Rule.” Don’t save small. Save big. Big is a worthless college degree. Big is a house. Saving 10 cents on a cup of coffee is a poor man’s way to get rich. There’s a myth that “saving a dollar is the same as making a dollar.” This simply is not true. It ignores the fact that you start off with money. If you start off with $100 you can only save $100 but you can make a gazillion dollars.

Rosso’s take: James as a dear friend and mentor changed my life. He’s not mainstream but he’ll get you to step back, question everything. He’s a dogma destroyer when it comes to ideas of building wealth and healthy daily habits that seek to preserve and nurture the greatest investment: YOU.

James Altucher is the Ralph Waldo Emerson of our age. I promise you won’t regret this one. I can’t promise it won’t get you thinking. At times you’ll shake your head in resistance as James breaks down deep-set societal rules of wealth building and encourages new ones defined by passions and creativity.

4). Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism by George A Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller.

Princeton University Press.

From Amazon: Animal Spirits offers a road map for reversing the financial misfortunes besetting us today. Read it and learn how leaders can channel animal spirits–the powerful forces of human psychology that are afoot in the world economy today. In a new preface, they describe why our economic troubles may linger for some time–unless we are prepared to take further, decisive action.

Excerpt: The term overheated economy, as we shall use it refers to a situation in which confidence has gone beyond normal bounds, in which an increasing fraction of people have lost their normal skepticism about the economic outlook and are ready to believe stories about a new economic boom.

Rosso’s take: Markets are math in the long term. From day to day, they’re a hot mess of emotions. Markets are not rational. They’re comprised of people doing impetuous acts to grow wealth, usually at the expense of others. It’s a war between buyers and sellers with prices used as weapons. Best to understand the animal, the push-pull, the primal spirits which feed (and sometimes anger) them.

5). Active Value Investing: Making Money in Range-Bound Markets by Vitaliy N. Katsenelson.

Wiley Finance.

From Amazon: A strategy to profit when markets are range bound–which is half of the time. One of the most significant challenges facing today’s active investor is how to make money during the times when markets are going nowhere. In this book, author and respected investment portfolio manager Vitaliy Katsenelson makes a convincing case for range-bound market conditions and offers readers a practical strategy for proactive investing that improves profits.

Excerpt: For the next dozen years or so, the U.S. stock market will be a wild roller-coaster ride—setting all-time highs and multi-year lows in the process. While the twists and turns of this ride are still to be written by history, the long-term, sideways “range-bound” trajectory has already been set by the eighteen-year bull market that ended in 2000. When the dust settles, only those who adapted their investment strategies to this range-bound market will have captured any meaningful profits.

Rosso’s take: Vitaliy is a master of long-term market cycle analysis (and they’re not always bulls). If half the time, markets are range bound, why does the industry ignore them or count them as insignificant? The narrative doesn’t fit well into the industry’s pervasive “set it and forget it” approach to portfolio and risk management.

6). Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton.

Simon & Schuster.

From Amazon: Happy Money offers a tour of research on the science of spending, explaining how you can get more happiness for your money. Authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton have outlined five principles—from choosing experiences over stuff to spending money on others—to guide not only individuals looking for financial security, but also companies seeking to create happier employees and provide “happier products” to their customers. Dunn and Norton show how companies from Google to Pepsi to Charmin have put these ideas into action.

Excerpt: Consumers would get more happiness bang for their ITunes buck if they forced themselves, after downloading their music, to wait – at least five minutes, better hours, and ideally days – before listening.   

Rosso’s take: Hey, you’re going to spend. Why not make the most of the experience, spend less in the process, yet gain greater satisfaction? Millennials seek experiences over stuff. How about you?

7). The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics: Lesson’s from Japan’s Great Recession by Richard Koo.


From Amazon: The revised edition of this highly acclaimed work presents crucial lessons from Japan’s recession that could aid the US and other economies as they struggle to recover from the current financial crisis.

This book is about Japan’s long recession and how it affected current theoretical thinking about its causes and cures. It has a detailed explanation on what happened to Japan, but the discoveries made are so far-reaching that a large portion of economics literature will have to be modified to accommodate another half to the macroeconomic spectrum of possibilities that conventional theorists have overlooked.

Excerpt: Although it has never been explicitly stated in the economics literature, the efficacy of monetary policy is based on a key assumption: the existence of willing borrowers in the private sector. Monetary policy loses all power if this condition is not met.  

Rosso’s take: Sound familiar? It should. You’ve lived through 8 years of a sluggish economic recovery and monetary policy that has had very little positive effect on economic conditions. According to Bloomberg, close to 500 million people in a quarter of the world economy are now living with negative interest rates. Negative rates are a sheer act of desperation. A hallmark of how far monetary policy can be stretched, warped, morphed into ineffectiveness. And guess what? You still can’t be forced to spend. Or borrow.

Richard Koo understood the balance-sheet recession that hit the U.S. better than anyone on American soil. Those in charge still choose to ignore his sage commentary. Global leaders fell for unprecedented central bank intervention as the wholesale solution to decades-long structural economic problems. Go figure.

8). Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy.


From Amazon: In this counterintuitive and insightful work, author Frank Partnoy weaves together findings from hundreds of scientific studies and interviews with wide-ranging experts to craft a picture of effective decision-making that runs counter to our brutally fast-paced world. Even as technology exerts new pressures to speed up our lives, it turns out that the choices we make––unconsciously and consciously, in time frames varying from milliseconds to years––benefit profoundly from delay.

Excerpt: An expert generally won’t need to delay a decision, but a novice generally should delay, as much as possible. The toughest part of the expert-novice distinction is that we can be experts in an area, with years of seemingly relevant experience, but then be confronted in the same area with a new twist on a decision that turns us into a novice. Not very many experts will admit, or even see, when they are novices.

Rosso’s take: Granted, a bit off topic. Or is it? Investing requires patience. Well, at least for those who follow a discipline, buy and sell rules. Let’s face it: Most financial firms are going to toss cash into the wind of the market because, well, it’s Wednesday and your account has cash in it. Little regard for current valuations. After all, you can’t time the market. Or is that just a convenient, overplayed excuse because financial representatives or investment specialists or whatever you call them, have sales quotas to fill, and financial firms have shareholders to appease? Your business is now booked. You’re history. Time to move on to the next target. Here’s a suggestion: After you finish this selection, recommend it to your broker.

9). The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Financial Turbulence by Benoit Mandelbrot.

Basic Books.

From Amazon: Mathematical superstar and inventor of fractal geometry, Benoit Mandelbrot, has spent the past forty years studying the underlying mathematics of space and natural patterns. What many of his followers don’t realize is that he has also been watching patterns of market change. In The (Mis)Behavior of Markets, Mandelbrot joins with science journalist and former Wall Street Journal editor Richard L. Hudson to reveal what a fractal view of the world of finance looks like. The result is a revolutionary reevaluation of the standard tools and models of modern financial theory. Markets, we learn, are far riskier than we have wanted to believe.

Excerpt: But whether guide or master, modern portfolio theory bases everything on the conventional market assumptions that prices vary mildly, independently, and smoothly from one moment to the next. If those assumptions are wrong, everything falls apart: Rather than a carefully tuned profit engine, your portfolio may actually be a dangerous, careering rattletrap.

Rosso’s take: Frankly, I don’t know where I would be without the work of Mandelbrot. He’s the reason I stopped drinking the financial services industry’s Kool-Aid. This selection is always within my reach. I refer to it often. Backed by rigorous analysis, Mandelbrot unwinds and exposes how markets flow (think gusts of wind). His work adds tremendous relevance to the field and exposes the underbelly of markets you’ll never hear discussed at major brokerage firms.

10). Irrational Exuberance 3rd Edition by Robert J Shiller.

Princeton University Press.

From Amazon: In this revised, updated, and expanded edition of his New York Times bestseller, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, who warned of both the tech and housing bubbles, cautions that signs of irrational exuberance among investors have only increased since the 2008-9 financial crisis. With high stock and bond prices and the rising cost of housing, the post-subprime boom may well turn out to be another illustration of Shiller’s influential argument that psychologically driven volatility is an inherent characteristic of all asset markets.

Excerpt: The efficient markets theory has been a fixture in university economics and finance departments ever since the 1970s. The theory has commonly been offered to justify what seem to be elevated market valuations, such as the 1929 stock market peak.

Rosso’s take: In September 2007, I asked many of the ‘experts’ at my former employer if stock prices were dangerously overvalued per Bob Shiller’s Irrational Exuberance. Naturally, I was told “no.” Bob Shiller tends to be early but always correct. Professor Shiller’s work is a haunting reminder of how hefty stock market valuations ostensibly correct and take your investments along for the plunge. Only to leave you spending the rest of your investing life attempting to break even. That’s not how the money management process is supposed to work.

Coming soon (available for pre-order):

11). Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America by Danielle DiMartino Booth.


From Amazon: The culture at the Fed–and its leadership–were not just ignorant of the brewing financial crisis, but indifferent to its very possibility. They interpreted their job of keeping the economy going to mean keeping Wall Street afloat at the expense of the American taxpayer. But bad Fed policy created unaffordable housing, skewed incentives, rampant corporate financial engineering, stagnant wages, an exodus from the labor force, and skyrocketing student debt. Booth observed firsthand how the Fed abdicated its responsibility to the American people both before and after the financial crisis–and how nobody within the Fed seems to have learned or changed from the experience.

Rosso’s take: As the books is slated for release in February 2017, I do not have an excerpt to share. However, I couldn’t wait to pre-order. Danielle was inside the Dallas Fed, but she also maintained an “outsider looking in,” perspective that is crucial for the masses to understand.

A keen observer of how disconnected the Fed truly was during the financial crisis and remains distant from structural deficiencies that still inflict Main Street household balance sheets today, Danielle has a mission to expose the Fed and their economists for what they are: Clueless.

A frequent national media commentator and guest of our Lance Roberts’ radio show, Danielle is razor-blade sharp, passionate and a voice of truth. We’re fortunate as a society she decided to take on the mission to share her observations of the inner workings of the Fed.

The goal of my feverish reading habit is to immerse in the journey of financial wizardly less practiced by the frontline sales-driven asset allocators located at every Charles Schwab or Merrill Lynch retail outlet across the country.

Candidly, there’s enough mainstream financial ‘educational’ material available to lavishly adorn every waste dump on the planet. The written, glossy garbage stinks worse than dead fish full exposed to a west Texas August high noon.

Don’t be fooled.

It’s time to shake up your knowledge base.

I’m honored to assist you on your path.

And help you to question the rotted words of the masses.

Side note: I have learned the rhythm of markets by reading fiction. James Altucher advised me it would be so. After all, the price of a stock is what a willing buyer and seller agree to, the future growth  potential of an underlying business, and educated guesses (a guess is a guess is a guess,) of price trends.

In addition, with the overwhelming response of global central banks over the last 8 years to keep rates low (or negative) investors have taken increased risk to reach for return, especially yield as witnessed in the dazzling positive performance of telecom and utility stocks. Thus, stock prices for dividend stocks and stocks in general, are now extended from underlying businesses fundamentals.

For now, price discovery is overwhelmed by monetary policy response and momentum trades rule the day. In essence, price is built on story and story is fiction (at least in my opinion).

Sooner or later, this overvalued condition painfully corrects which makes my reading suggestions for you more important than a list of quixotic words and adages of old.

Be careful out there..

What I Learned About Life & Money From Binge-Watching The Revenant.


I’m here.

I’ll be right here.

But you don’t give up.

You hear me?

As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight.

You breathe, keep breathing.

Shallow breath that accompanies overwhelming grief, is as heavy as glass-jagged ice that packs arteries deep in earth’s wilderness.

Cut channels form and wind through an eternity of generations and flow with cold-spilled blood of friends now enemies, lost loves and soulful regrets which claw at a mind that yearns for redemption so a soul may continue the travails toward final peace.

Air thick and pliable as cold Plasticine moves like strands of bloated snakes. They steal their way into capillaries of the lungs and search for a moment to expand. The moves are stealth. The slither is in sync. The grief strands share a common goal – to suffocate a target from the inside out.

The plan is to pierce frequently, bleed out the spirit.

And for a time, they conquer. For as long as pain and anger are your focus, they thrive.

The compound shocks from an attack, betrayal in plain sight, and the overwhelming hunger for resolution, will consume you.

Thoughts of the world as it was before the massacre is a futile mind game. An incomplete circle eternally agape.

I traversed through harsh terrain of loss, deceit, bad decisions, and denial.

You have, too.

We’ve all lost someone special. There are people in your light who are now dark.  Even when people from the past fade into the reflection in a cold white mirror, you still see, feel them beckoning.


All the while you hear the words in solemn tone –

“I got the best of you.”

“Nothing is gonna bring you back.”

revenant bear

I opened up, exposed myself. I invited a cunning, powerful creature to slash and crunch down on every part of me, inside and out, with mighty teeth.

And after all the black pitch that sticks and stirs inside: From love, lust, and abandonment. A toxic burden to carry.

I was left for dead.

It’s through a frozen spray of loss and anger, that an entity larger and darker than yourself emerges from a gut-wrenching torpor. A suffocating shadow that seeks to overwhelm and absorb everything happy, anything good that you felt once.

Who you were before.

It will relentlessly follow until you consciously decide to let it go. And only then, as a revenant, you’ll understand death, a long, sterile absence, and return to the surface.

All you can do through this time is exist,  wait it through. Go through the motions. Eventually, one by one, frozen limbs will tingle with the warmth of survival. The urge to break free from a blood carcass calls. It whispers, then roars in your ears to get up. Continue your life’s mission.

The greatest obstacle I observe within me as I emerge?

Scars never heal.

Something inside is rotted.

A spark in the mind still remains, but it’s nowhere what it was before the…

revenant bear three

In the sweeping 2015 epic “The Revenant” Leonardo DiCaprio portrays a seasoned hunter and trapper guide for a rogue band of men seeking pelts through a harsh 1823 winter travail within boundaries of unchartered U.S. territories. Hugh Glass survives one of the most brutal, mesmerizing grizzly attacks ever created on film.

In a physical state near death, mentally alert but helpless, Glass witnesses a fellow trapper under his commission, John Fitzgerald, fatally stab his son Hawk. Years earlier, Glass lost his Pawnee Indian wife and vowed to always protect his half-Pawnee offspring.

This time he failed. The heartbroken hunter is left for dead (he wasn’t). Alone.

The entire movie is the searing trek of the main character from point A to point Z through hostile Indian territory, searing pain, frigid weather and harsh wilderness all for one reason.


The mission to find Fitzgerald and take him out drives Glass to survive overwhelming odds until a final bloody conclusion.


Fresh, cold air reaches my lungs because I am ready to allow it. The engagement with the nature of beasts I was no match against still hurts.

I won’t deny that truth.

Yet on the exhale I see clear. In a robust-to-fade puff of smoke, I know.

I am not gone.

I am damaged. I always will be.

After all, the long, extended sharp claws and front teeth of grizzlies with purpose, those marks never heal.

But I am still alive.

I believe it to be true.

And there is still pain. Lots of pain.

Much of a mourning continues.

As a dark spirit stirs and fades.

I emerge from a frozen cocoon, I used as a hiding place.

A place of comfort  I found to work things through.

I hear a voice emerge from inside what shielded me for months.

And in a message, there is the snap of power. Something bigger is telling me so. It absorbed the greatest punches so I didn’t need to, the rough stuff I couldn’t fight on my own.

Whatever it was, the energy it conjured, recently granted me permission to bust free.

Go forward with the rest of the journey.

There are missions and miles left, risks that need tackling, half-spirals that require a full spin before I fade into the mist of memory.

So, I am slower. Less steady. That’s fine.

Hey, cut me some slack. I’ve had several run-ins with human and corporate grizzlies over the past half decade. Swift, sharp claws (and they knew how to use them).

They’ve no doubt, left deep impressions. There are scars not healed. It feels like parts of my spirit is gone and I feel the pain from every second of it.

Good or bad. I like to leave an impression, too.

So I fight.

Do you?

For people I love and cherish, I hope there’s a spirit of charity, and most, important – loyalty. Because there’s just so little loyalty around these days.

Oh, there’s loyalty to things that in the long-run, don’t matter for shit. A company that every day is looking for ways to replace you and along the way asks for more and more until you’re spiritually broken.

An ego that thrives on empty calories as it feeds off emotional Cheetos, caloric platitudes which mean nothing except to the mirror that holds a gaze and is willing to stick its greasy, cheesy hands in places an ego doesn’t belong.

For the Fitzgeralds of this world (watch the movie), those who feign love, act like they care, lie. For people who stick knives in what you care about and all you can do is stand by helplessly?

For them?

I have zero expectations or hope.

The essence of invisible spirit that guides the cadence of the world, knows what to do with the blackness inside them.

But you, the keeper of the hate, or the past, must release it to the universe and let it work its power.

You must let the anger roll over, smash, so an entity, a spirit with cred in the cosmos, can absorb that energy and ostensibly do what’s required. Or not.

Either way.

It’s not in puny, human hands.

It’s not up to us.

It’s not in the black spirit of revenge or ‘get-even-itis’ you can live or die peacefully.

It’s when the dark ghost is cast, that your next move, a clear path, begins to expose itself.

Remember – The Fitzgeralds thrive on the sorrow they create.

So what did I learn from the movie “The Revenant?”


I think you can pick up a bit of wisdom, too.

Random Thoughts:

Flee from your Fitzgeralds

The ones who are cunning enough to create an illusion, a facade of care, friendship, alliance, love, a  false penchant for your mission. Sooner or later they expose themselves in an ultimate, final act of betrayal.

Those people exist but you don’t want to believe it.

Well, believe it.

Or you’re going to lose someone or something very important to you.

You cannot survive engagement with an army of Fitzgeralds. If you seek to live a long fulfilling existence, anyway. You won’t make it.

I’ve had 3 Fitzs in 7 years, so I’m not saying it’s easy. Even the best of hunters miscalculate. What I’m saying is your gut, your internal clock, will go off alarmingly and warn –

This person isn’t right. I don’t belong here. Someone is gonna die, and it’s most likely me!

revenant hawk

Spoiler: Fitzergald (Tom Hardy) kills Hawk

At that point, you must flee. Don’t fight unless necessary. Just go. Disappear.

Close them out.

Make a list today from inside out. Go with your intuition. Who in your life is cancerous? Who is setting you up for the kill? I bet you have five Fitzgeralds on paper already. Right off the bat.

Now move. Let these people go. Release them to their purpose.

I didn’t let go. I paid the price. So did Glass.

Steven Hendel, writer for and creator of one my favorite websites, http://www.theemotionmachine.com, penned a recent article titled How To Improve Your Intuition: Learn to Take Your “Gut Feelings” Seriously, that will help you detect the Fitzgeralds who roam through the wilderness you call life.

Discover the Fitzgeralds lurking in your financial mistakes

The enemy of money hides in plain sight and usually has to do with a positive pattern you break to appease another, not yourself. Recently, I broke my own rule about taking on a big mortgage mostly to make somebody else happy, which is a critical error I’m paying for and need to unwind. I had a Fitzgerald in my life unleash a treacherous moment in my net worth that I’m certain will take me back a year at the least.

When you make big financial decisions, make certain to keep a level head. Don’t allow emotions to creep in and overwhelm your fiscal status.

Again, get a gut check. Ask others for their honest opinions. Consult outside, objective sources and you’ll stand a greater chance of survival.

Forgive yourself for trusting Fitzgeralds but never forgive them for their egregious behavior

Cut yourself some slack, after all, you’ve been mauled.

When witness to a crime of the heart, especially when it’s yours, timelines, memories get muddied and overpowered by emotion.

Remember -These entities have a track record of deceit. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let yourself feel the sorrow, allow the darkness to consume you. It’ll be easier to release them that way.

So, forgive yourself for being human and trusting. Continue to trust the right people, however.

Over time you’ll get proficient at detecting and avoiding the Fitzgeralds.

Remain vigilant.

After the chase, after the amazing focus to survive, energy high on retribution, Glass confronts Fitzgerald in a bloody fight to the end, but it’s not what you think.

Glass could have but didn’t kill his foe.

Weary, he looked up from his anger and observed Fitzgerald’s future.

Glass realized.

“Revenge is in God’s hands, not mine.”

look up

“Go ahead. Get your revenge. But you’re never gonna get your boy back.”

Ironically, the first honest words uttered by the enemy.

A bloodied Fitzgerald (yet alive), is released to rushing waters only to join his fate, his death, at the hands of Indians on the other side of an icy creek. Earlier on, Glass had saved a Pawnee chief’s daughter from a marauding group of French trappers who repeatedly raped and beat her. And now, the hero was about to have his vengeance at the hands of those he assisted.

At that moment, the universe was ready to close the circle. Glass was smart enough to listen, observe, and release the object of his hate to its proper destiny.

We all must do the same.

Cast out your Fitzgeralds. Allow their pasts to catch up to their presents and black out their futures. Their dark spirits will destroy them soon enough. These entities wind up following a path you do not want nor should you admire.

Cast the revenge shadow to a great power. That energy knows where to go. What’s death to you is light and absorbed by another to maintain balance of a world’s turn.

It’s merely a matter of time.

And all you need to do?

Live your life.

That’s it!

Wait outside the tree line. Observe.

As you stare into a cold mist that hangs heavy in a blue steel sky.

See again the light of those who give you peace.

Learn to appreciate the lesson.

The true love of people who care will capture your attention again, will never stop shining.

As for the Fitzgeralds?

Well, they’re already dead.

A revenant life is not one of fulfillment.

There’s a point when that anger must be unchained.

And only you will know the moment it must occur.

It’ll fall upon what drives you inside.

At that release, so will your heart be free.

But first, you will wander through a brutal wilderness.

As you must be lost to be found.

revenge is not

What is a revenant?

A person who has returned, especially from the dead or a long absence.

Through a period, you’ve been there.

It’s time to emerge.

And breathe. 

Just keep breathing.


10 Questions to ask your Adviser. Right Now. Today.


He was annoyed with me after a while. He said I asked too many questions.”

It’s tough for me to imagine speaking these words to a client or anyone seeking guidance.

I don’t have the guts. Or the hubris.

Or the stupidity.

I wonder about (and I’m thankful) for complacency among some advisers. It allows me to continue to gain thoughtful, inquisitive clients who never feel that I’m annoyed by a passion to learn.

The noblest efforts we undertake as trusted financial partners are to listen, answer questions, validate good behaviors, empower improvement and communicate effectively to our audience.

How does a prospective client – One who has a genuine curiosity in her finances, a successful saver and investor, ask “too many questions?”

If you’ve been with an adviser long enough to feel comfortable together, or maybe you’re exploring a new financial relationship, asking questions should be encouraged.

There’s no such concept as “asking too many questions.” You query enough to satisfy your need for information requested. I’ve noticed how the more self-aware an individual is about their financial situation, the more questions that arise.

There’s no reason to feel intimated or stifled.

You’ve earned the right (and the money).

Channel your inner Columbo.

Remember Columbo?


The disheveled, inquisitive, seemingly frazzled (like a fox), detective was a master of detection. His questions on the surface were unassuming. Some appeared silly. However, underneath, there was a method to his madness.

Columbo knew the importance of questions no matter how insignificant they appeared

And when you were convinced he was done with the investigation.

There was always “just one more thing.”

It drove the perpetrators crazy.

Columbo was intrusive, occasionally annoying and he couldn’t care less. He was purposely oblivious. He felt he had the right to ask.

So do you. When it comes to your family’s financial well-being every question you have should be addressed.

Now’s the perfect time, too.


The market is complacent. Volatility is low.

Yet, dark clouds are forming on the horizon.

storm clouds

Political ill-wind is beginning to stir and capture the market’s attention, bond yields around the world are falling (some are negative). The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield is at it’s lowest close May 2013. A clear sign of economic distress. U.S. corporations are in their fifth quarter of negative earnings growth.

There’s never been a more perfect time to ask these ten questions: It would be a mistake not to.

Are you a registered investment adviser or a stock broker? There’s a difference.  A big difference. When people ask me I respond: “Well, I don’t really want to help you break anything. Most likely, I’m going to help you mend something a broker, broke.” You need to ask the question and comprehend the difference.

A registered investment advisor or “RIA” is held to a fiduciary standard. According to www.thefiduciarystandard.org, a committee of investment professionals and fiduciary experts who formed in June 2009 as advocates for fiduciary-level advice:

“Registered representatives of broker-dealers are subject to a suitability standard under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, while investment advisers are regulated as fiduciaries under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.”

What does that mean to you? Plenty.

Fiduciaries are held to a high standard of ethics and care which affects all the advice they provide. It’s a much stricter standard. There should be no conflict of interest and if one exists, it requires clear disclosure.

The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard outlines 5 core principles of a fiduciary:

  • Put the client’s best interests first;
    • Act with prudence, that is, with the skill, care, diligence and good judgment of a professional;
    • Do not mislead clients–provide conspicuous, full and fair disclosure of all important facts;
    • Avoid conflicts of interest;
    • Fully disclose and fairly manage, in the client’s favor, unavoidable conflicts.

 “Suitability” guides a broker to recommend an investment that is appropriates for your situation, is not held to the same standard. A broker is required to know your risk tolerance, tax bracket, and time frame for the money you seek to invest. All skeletal in nature. Yet legitimate. Well, it’s suitable.

Feels like something is missing, doesn’t it?

My belief, based on how brokerage firm compliance departments operate and an unpleasant experience with a former employer, is that suitability has been misaligned to protect the financial organization from lawsuits or arbitrations and NOT designed to safeguard individuals seeking guidance.

The Fiduciary Standard is a high calling. It’s there to position the client front and center in the financial advice model, as it should be for every professional who assists consumers with their financial decisions.

 On April 6, 2016, the outdated foundation of financial services was slammed and cracked to make ground for hopefully, a safer, increasingly objective industry with the issuance of the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule.

Mind you, it’s the genesis of a higher standard of care for brokers, so there’s much to be accomplished. I expect the Rule will be pushed, pulled, fine-tuned before it fully takes effect on April 10, 2017 and final policies put in place by January 1, 2018. My thought is this will be a continuous work in progress long after 2018. That’s ok. It’s a step in the right direction.

The new rule resurrects the definition of fiduciary from the 1974 ERISA – (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and expands upon it. ERISA’s fiduciary standard outlines how a retirement plan fiduciary must act prudently and with undivided loyalty to the participants. Obviously, the retirement landscape in 1974 was very different. The 401(k) plan wasn’t in existence. Defined benefit plans, or pensions, were the most popular retirement vehicles.

Crucial elements of the rule – advice provided must be in a client’s “best interests,” full disclosure of conflicts of interest, and charge no more than “reasonable compensation,” for services. Generally, the fiduciary must sign a “Best Interests Contract” with the client that outlines how he or she will provide advice in the client’s best interest.

A broker’s financial institution will also be subject to the rule. Ostensibly, sales quotas, contests, awards or special compensation that may tempt an adviser to stray from his or her fiduciary responsibilities, will be prohibited.

The message is growing strong (there’s a long way to go), to an industry driven by sales pressure: Change your culture. In other words, those ads you run that give the appearance of fairness, caring and client first that not one consumer takes seriously? Make them reality, not fantasy.

Ethical employees who serve financial clients in publicly traded brokerage firms are torn between serving clients holistically for the long term and at the same time are up against the wall every quarter, starting from scratch, to meet outrageous quarterly sales goals and tremendous pressure to sell the hot product of the day (these tactics still exist). The internal friction can generate great turmoil and perhaps push an employee to make sales first and fail to responsibly counsel.

The mixed message from senior corporate puppets to do what’s right for a client and oh, meet big sales targets (or you’re out), builds conflict and distress. Talented workers become discouraged, burned out and move on. It’s an ancient business model. Change is required and it appears to be coming.

Slow is better than no.

Unfortunately, the recent ruling only covers retirement accounts. For now. The Security & Exchange Commission is expected to release a fiduciary standard in 2016 which would cover fiduciary responsibilities for taxable brokerage accounts. Although a uniform fiduciary standard (with the DOL), would be welcomed, it’s too early to draw any conclusion that this will occur. Nor is there any assurance that the SEC will adhere to an October release.

While the Feds work to figure it out, ask the question. Keep in mind, not every professional you engage will operate in a fiduciary capacity regardless of federal rulings. My suspicion is you’ll be hearing interesting, articulate, creative responses but not a clear “yes” or “no.”

Based on the answers received, you’ll gain valuable perspective about what’s best for you and your family’s finances.

Think fiduciary over suitability.

How much will I pay for your services?

 Simple question deserves a simple answer. Unfortunately, not so simple. People share with me their frustration as they’re unclear how their current financial professionals get paid or are compensated for selling investment products.

It’s especially perplexing for mutual fund investors sold multiple share classes and perpetually unclear of how charges are incurred. A clear comprehension of the class share alphabet (A, B, C), is as thick and jumbled as the inside of Campbell’s Soup can.

B &C share classes are popular selections on the product-push list. They represent the finest alchemy in financial marketing. As consumers are generally hesitant to pay up-front sales loads like in the case of A shares (even though when taking into account all internal fees and expenses, they’re the most cost-effective choice for long-term investors,) B & C shares were created to mollify the behavioral waters.

To avoid having a difficult conversation or facing reluctance about opening your wallet and shelling out 1-4% in front-end charges that reduce the principal amount invested, the path of least resistance is to offer share classes with internal fees, marketing charges and deferred sales charges. Either way you pay. With B & C shares generally, you pay more. However, big fees reduce returns, they’re stealth. Thus, they feel less painful to invest in (even though they’re not).

Frankly, the only funds worth considering are no-load mutual funds where you can purchase or sell anytime without a commission or sales charge. Avoid the A, B, C’s all together. Meet with an hourly-fee based Certified Financial Planner or a fiduciary to help you assess your current mutual fund holdings and for recommendations based on your personal situation.

A financial professional may be compensated hourly, by annual flat fee, a percentage based on assets under management, commissions or perhaps a combination. Regardless, to make an informed decision, you must understand how your adviser puts food on the table. If you can, get it in writing.

 There’s no ‘right way’ to be compensated as long as it’s fair and reasonable for services rendered. You also want to understand what motivates your broker or adviser to recommend investment vehicles. If you’re not getting straight answers, well you know what to do. Move on.

How do you incorporate my spouse, life partner and children when it comes to planning for me? You don’t exist in a vacuum. An adviser should maintain a holistic approach to financial planning and that includes communicating with loved ones and teaching children how to be strong stewards of money. The meetings, communication must be ongoing. At least annually.

Why did you select financial services as a career? I recall vividly how the stock market intrigued me through my teenage years. I never missed an episode of Wall Street Week. As early as 13 years-old I was fascinated with how markets worked.

In grade school I enjoyed helping classmates understand how our passbook savings accounts (and compound interest) worked. Every Wednesday, a bank representative from Lincoln Savings Bank would meet with our elementary school class and collect deposits and stamp our passbooks.

This question should be used to gauge a perspective financial partner’s penchant for helping others and passion for his or her role as a mission, not a job. How do you know whether a professional sincerely cares about your financial situation and goals? You’ll know it, intuitively.

 What are your outside interests? A successful life is about balance. This question gets to the weekend and evening person behind the financial professional you observe from behind a desk, charts, book, and computers. You may discover activities you have in common and develop rapport on a personal level.

To gain a complete picture of the kind of person you’re entrusting with your investments is a crucial element of your interviewing process. By the way, it’s not prying. It’s curiosity. Ostensibly, you should like the individual you and your family may be working with for decades.

Can you tell me about your firm’s service standards? You want to know how many times a year you’ll be meeting with your financial partner whether in person (preferably), over the phone or web meeting like Go To Meeting. Is it quarterly? Every six months? How would you like to work as a client? What are your preferences? Will you be receiving calls and e-mails throughout the year about topics important to your financial situation like the market, economic conditions, financial planning, and fiscal changes that may affect me?

What is your investment philosophy? Recently, I meet a couple who was upset how their broker placed a million bucks into the market in one day. They believed there would exist a more thoughtful strategy for implementation especially in the face of the second-highest stock market valuation levels since the tech bubble. But THEY DIDN’T ASK. Are you ‘buy and hold?’  You seek to discover  whether the adviser is merely towing the employer’s line or does outside research and shares his or her personal opinion based on research and study.

Is there a portfolio sell discipline? What is it? Frankly, if the word no, or something like it comes up, excuse yourself politely and find another adviser. This investigation is over.

The dirty little secret in financial services is that ‘sell’ is a four-letter word. I’m certain you’ve heard about missing the 10 best days in the market (brokers preach this ad nauseam). How detrimental it is to portfolio return. And it is. But what about the other side of the coin? What about the math of loss?


Per Lance Roberts, Clarity Financial’s Chief Investment Strategist:

Clearly, avoiding major drawdowns in the market is key to long-term investment success. If I am not spending the bulk of my time making up previous losses in my portfolio, I spend more time growing my invested dollars towards my long term goals.

Markets can’t be timed. That’s true. However, risk management is about controlling the math of loss which can be devastating compared to possible gains. Your broker or adviser should have a strategy you believe in to guard against market storms.

Whether it’s a conservative portfolio or asset allocation right from the beginning, or a specific sell and re-entry discipline to minimize portfolio damage, a sell strategy is crucial.

Academics and influential financial service providers are on the band wagon when it comes to sell disciplines. Whether it’s Dalbar, the nation’s leading financial services market research firm, or MIT Professor of Finance Andrew Lo, there’s a growing body of work that shows how investors spend most of their investment life (20-30 years), making up for losses, playing catch up.

Investing, closing your eyes and hoping for the best is not a wise strategy especially in a market propped up by central bank intervention and a P/E 10 ratio at 25.7, the second-highest level since the tech bubble at 44.2. The historic average is 16.7. Real price/earnings over 10 year averages are not going to drive market returns in the short term. However, as an investor, you must be aware of the environment you’re dealing with. Placing 100% of your stock allocation into the market at these levels should be a strategy you avoid, especially if you’re 5-7 years from retirement.

How will I have access to you and your team? A caring adviser will make sure you have the ability to text, access to a cell phone number, the phone contacts and e-mails of support staff and make you feel comfortable to reach out at any time. You should also expect a prompt response to voice mails within 24 hours or less.

When can I meet your clients? Advisory clients possess knowledge and intellectual gifts they love to share with others. Intimate client gatherings provide clients opportunities to communicate, generate business, form friendships. It’s rewarding to witness. The ability of clients to gather and know each other also helps new retirees transition to their next life adventures easier by hearing the life stories from people who have been there already.

Questions are an integral part of any relationship. As a friend recently taught me – not asking them in a timely fashion can create resentment and anger.

You’re not being nosy.

You’re not a nag.

You’re seeking information to make an informed decision.

About a topic close to your heart.

Financial well-being.

No questions asked.

Unless you’re Columbo.

Then keep asking.

How To Survive a Retirement: The 3 Questions.


In the AMC’s hit drama “The Walking Dead,” where the world is overrun by rotting corpses with a desire to feed on the living, there’s something even greater to fear.

The survivors.

negan two

Staying alive in a post-apocalyptic society appears to bring out the worst of what’s left of humanity. People are ruthless killers. Strength in numbers is the best defense, yet poses an interesting dilemma.

One wrong move, one bad decision, and you’re history.

Just like that.

Sometimes, overcoming the most complicated of challenges comes down to the obvious. Nothing’s perfect however complexity fosters confusion which can shift focus, divert your attention. And when your enemies, especially within, outnumber you, it’s only a matter of time before.

Well. You know (it isn’t good).

negan three

The good guys devised a simple screening method.

An initial shield to determine if strangers they encounter are worth entry into their community.

Three questions.


Let’s see how you do. Will you pass or fail?

Are you team material?

Or are you best left alone to fend for yourself?

How many walkers (corpses with an appetite for the living), have you killed?

To safeguard others, a survivor must be willing to take out the undead (a shot or blow to the head does it). Plain and simple. If your zombie kills are minimal or non-existent there will be doubts about your contribution to the survival of the group.

How many people have you killed?

Unfortunately there are instances when tough decisions must be made for the sake of self-preservation.  Best the number of walkers taken out exceed the number of people otherwise you may become a victim yourself.


Tread carefully. The reasons for taking out the living best be because of personal survival. Or request. You see -There are sad instances when victims of zombie bites would rather die honorably, in their control, rather than expire from the disease they carry.

They would rather not wake up. Walk around.

zombies walking

As I ponder the power of simple questions, whether in fact or fiction, I have come to realize how most situations, no matter how serious, can be broken down to three questions you ask yourself or others ask you.

When it comes to preparing for retirement, there are so many differing rules, theories, planning tools –  in my mind I need to consider retirement similar to a zombie apocalypse.

Sort of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

If today, you could clear all the noise, reduce retirement planning to what concerns you the most, what you need to do to protect yourself – What three questions would you ask?

As I work with individuals to formulate personalized retirement strategies, three questions emerge consistently. As a matter of fact, it’s rare when one of these queries doesn’t arise.

Once you strip out the confusion, target the basics.

Focus comes down to three main concerns.

Random Thoughts:

A confident retirement comes down to the money coming in to a household.

Cash flow is everything.

Question #1: How much spendable income may I have on a monthly basis post-tax to keep me, or me and my spouse comfortable for 20 years? Simply put, how much can I have?

Why 20 years?

Let’s face it. The odds of becoming a centenarian are as slim as the dead coming back to life. OK, not that slim but infrequent enough to understand that age 100 shouldn’t be a default setting for retirement plans.

Everyone I counsel is asked to complete the thorough, thought-provoking life-expectancy calculator exercise at www.livingto100.com.  Eight out of ten outcomes come in between 80-85 years old. Women average longer life expectancies at 83-86 years old. Per calculator results, men rarely live past 84 years old.

Thought leader Dick Wagner and author of the new book “Financial Planning 3.0,” in a recent interview with the Journal of Financial Planning, stated “financial planning is very, very young as a profession. If you believe that 1969 was the first year for the profession, then we’re into our 47th year. That’s not very many years if you compare it to other authentic professions.”

So who are we as advisers to indiscriminately assume that retirees are going to live to 100? I’m not sure why I see this occur so often. Maybe it feels safe. Perhaps it’s CYA. Regardless, it’s inaccurate.

Candidly, even if the profession were a thousand years old, longevity analysis would remain a slim, educated guess at best. I am 100 percent certain however that establishing retirement income plans to conclude at age ‘unrealistic’ is an exercise in disappointment. People won’t adhere to goals, milestones they find impossible to achieve.

Please plan for reality. Not fiction. A reach to age 100 will most likely lead to unsuccessful plan outcomes. You won’t feel secure enough to retire or you’ll wait too long thus placing the quality of life in retirement, in jeopardy.

If you believe, based on family longevity and state of health, that there’s a great probability of living to 100, by all means, don’t ignore preparing for the possibility.

The topic is challenging and uncomfortable to discuss. It requires acknowledgement of our own humanity.

A seasoned adviser doesn’t overlook or dance around the topic of longevity. He or she should handle the conversation with grace and honesty. After all, we are all going to die (and hopefully not return to life like in The Walking Dead).

It’s something we all have in common. We don’t seem to like to think about it happening before age 100, especially when it comes to retirement planning.

In the same interview financial futurist Dick Wagner continues his thoughts on the financial planning profession:

“The mission and purpose of financial planning is to work with individuals and families and their personal relationships with money and the fearsome forces that it generates. There’s something about ‘fearsome forces’ – it’s terrifying. I mean, it’s a quintessential challenge of the 21st century: just try to survive with this money stuff. People do something that’s really hard, which is to anticipate their needs of the last 20-30 years of their lives. Now how do you do that? You have no idea what your health will be, you have no idea what your date of death is, you have no idea how long you can continue to earn a living.”

Financial planners deal with plenty of their own fearsome forces. One source of angst is to have straightforward, yet sensitive discussions; balance the thin line between a portfolio and human life because as Dick Warner lamented, there are plenty of unknowns.

Take it from me – we’re not fond of zombies in the planning process but they do exist.

Before you look to have a retirement plan completed, take it upon yourself to go through a life-expectancy calculator. Sit with the outcome for a while. Do the results make sense?

Once you’re at peace with the information, share it with your financial planner. Incorporate it into your analysis. You’ll both be in sync. You’ll tackle fearsome forces together. The synergy will lead to reasonable goals, follow up and fulfillment.

Question #2: Will Social Security be there for me?

The assumption that Social Security is a dying social program, regardless of the generation, runs pervasive. Don’t underestimate the importance of properly integrating Social Security into your retirement arsenal. For the majority of Americans, this is their sole income for life.

So, let’s clear up several misconceptions.

According to financial planning thought leader Michael Kitces in a recent voluminous Kitces Report on the topic, the Social Security system is often considered “going broke” by 2034. At that time it’s believed the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted.

Most planning clients have a difficulty believing the funds will last that long. Per the analysis, the majority of benefits will still be paid through tax revenues on workers paying payroll taxes at that time.

Social Security recipients usually receive Cost-Of-Living Adjustments each year. An added bonus to an income you cannot outlive is inflation protection. Unfortunately, COLA is not in the cards for 2016 (a rare occurrence), however overall, Social Security remains the best lifetime income deal available to the masses.

It’s best a retiree in good health plan to wait until at least full retirement age (66, or 67) or possibly later to apply for Social Security. By the time I’m consulted for formal retirement planning, many recipients have already applied for benefits early – at age 62, in fear of not being “grandfathered” into the system and losing future benefits.

Unfortunately, unless a household is cash-strapped or a recipient’s health is poor, there’s rarely a reason to apply for Social Security before full retirement age.

Starting early will have a lasting impact to monthly payouts. For example, a person with a full retirement age of 66 who started Social Security at age 62 would experience a permanent 25% annual reduction in benefits.

When I began my career in financial services during the great bull market of the 80s and 90s, the numbers worked out favorably for a Social Security recipient to apply for benefits early and invest the difference.

Since the year 2000, this strategy has been less effective. Over the last sixteen years I’ve witnessed improving life spans, people working longer and unattractive returns on investment assets, which has made Social Security a formidable hedge against longevity and adverse portfolio conditions.

In addition, Social Security has become a stealth, forced ‘savings’ program for a majority of households stressed to save for retirement in the face of rising college costs, financially caring for elderly parents and adult children, underwater mortgages and chronic underemployment.

For most recipients, waiting until age 70 to take advantage of an 8% delayed retirement credit is a smart strategy. In a majority of cases a retiree should seek to postpone Social Security, enjoy a permanent 8% bump in benefits, along with annual COLA (Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments).

Question #3: What should I be afraid of? I don’t really know.

This retirement game is unfamiliar territory. You’re outside the safe or familiar zone (which in The Walking Dead, is a dangerous place to be). Don’t be shy. Nothing is off limits. After all, this is a new experience. You’re not an expert (yet) at this next life phase.

Why not ask a tenured planner what you should fear? Better yet – ask friends and associates who have been retired – what did they find scary about this new world? What had they overlooked? What are the mistakes they’ve learned from? What were their greatest oversights?

There could be enemies hiding in plain sight (it’s tough to trust anyone in a world overrun by zombies), that may be overlooked because you’re too close to the situation.

Frequently I receive questions about fear in retirement. They usually have little to do with money. Ostensibly, information regarding Social Security, healthcare costs in retirement and other crucial topics, is widely available. A comprehensive retirement plan will cover all important financial concerns as well.

What’s difficult to find because a person needs to live it to learn it, is information on how emotionally challenging it is to navigate from the accumulation side of the household balance sheet to the distribution mindset – The new reality where a retiree must depend upon his or her assets to survive. Being outside the protective walls of a job or career is rarely discussed in financial planning circles.

From my experience, it takes at least a year for a retiree to gain comfort with a change in lifestyle, a satisfactory portfolio withdrawal rate, a new purpose for a life away from the office.

Never lose sight of the power of simple questions.

If they can keep the survivors of a zombie apocalypse alive.

Think about what they can do for you.










Watch For Dust People: 5 Lines Of Defense.


“You don’t have to try to keep the tears back.

You couldn’t cry if you wanted to. You couldn’t cry if you wanted to.

Even your thoughts are dust.

Even your thoughts are dust.”

Lucinda Williams

The Dusters thrive among us.

In the misty whirlwind of false, trenchant phrases and gut-hemorrhaging head games you’ll be captured.

The haze created by the escape, their false feelings that conclude in emotional entrapment, will set the outer reaches of your soul ablaze like high velocity, ghost-pepper shots to the eyes.

The singed ends of nerves you never knew you had will explode in dry fire, like staccato firecrackers going off in a cloying sulfur-mist tethered by a humid summer sky.

The lies will choke off your oxygen.

Your capacity to think straight will evaporate.

You’ll feel yourself shrivel from the inside out.

shriveled man

Because you’re gagging on dry death. 

Helplessly falling into the cracks of the parched splintered arteries.

Ground into a foundation of splintered bones and pulverized hearts.

And you won’t. Even. Know. It.

By the time you get it, you’ll be dried out completely.

The hour, the minute, the month, the year you’re shaken from their lives.

As they move to the next dirt destination.

You’ll re-live each terrifying moment.

So you see.

Sadly, you must understand.

Fresh victims are plentiful.  Always close.  In the wings. Waiting to be dried and shaken while you’re stirred.

Before a Duster rolls down to a new pubic town (population YOU).

Before they release you to a wind that flows on apathy and stinks with the rot of deceit.

Another poor soul is near.


This group? Get to know who they are.

Society is overrun with them.

They feed on on others to build themselves. They fire up egos. Their own.

The Dusters.

Beware of them.

Let me show you the way.

Let me help you understand.

Allow me to help you avoid the dusters.


If you’re a victim?


dust people two

                  You’re gone already. 

It’s called an expiration date and it’s on your head right from the get go.

Random Thoughts:

Dusters don’t feel remorse. Apathy. Or anything.  The antics, every thought they possess, is based on an end game first. the grand exit. They re-live the escape plan. The goal for them is to leave with more than they entered your life with. Their timing is perfect.

Right from the start you are in a burning house with the door padlocked shut.

Dried meat. Turned into a jerk(y).

Oh who knows what keeps them around, sometimes for years.

I rattle this around in my head every day.

Good sex, a sympathetic ear, a travel bud, shared business contacts, an image boost, outright free stuff, a paycheck for nothing, a friendship controlled for personal gain.

Who knows?

The Dusters are indeed a diverse bunch. The breed is a non-partisan feeder.

They come from all walks of life.

Frankly, they represent an epidemic. One that’s going to be around a while because the ongoing deterioration into a Tinder culture demands it. And I fear it’s just begun.

I fear there are more of them than us, now.

So the odds are they will come for you, too.

You’re gonna get dusted.

It’s just a matter of time. The day you’re shaken, swept out to the dustbin of the past.

Once Dusters have gotten what they need from you or something/someone else to play with, you are dust (dead) to them.

And if  you’re stupid or unfortunate enough to fall in love with a Duster, you’ll ignore the signs because nobody can be that evil, right?


So. So. Wrong.

Dust storm #1– Dusters create grandiose exit-preparation stories. It’s a first assault. An initial test of your resolve. It’s an attack on your sanity. A Duster wants to gauge the power of your commitment to stick with them long enough to be damaged. Because you see, it’s not a conscious effort to hurt.

It’s a part of who they are.

So, let me ask – How much can you handle?

Duster victims are steadfast suckers.

Others are smart and flee quick.

Who are you?

stop stop

Dusters swirl words into flirty-dirty demons that revolve around and within you. It’s a tactic designed to confuse a victim before the slaughter.

Since Dusters don’t trust their own actions, naturally they can’t trust yours. In addition, they have not completely shaken the packed-on remnants of past particles (which is interesting) because they abhor how some of their victims have moved on to healthy relationships.

How dare they???


You can’t make Dusters feel bad because they can’t feel. Anything. People who can’t help them and those who have outlived their usefulness are swiftly discarded.

You’re an ash in a flash.

Their love is not permanent. Frankly, there’s no such thing as love (outside of self) for this cancerous spin-off of the species. Oh, they’ll say they love you, they’ll promise long term just to keep you in the storm, as they’re not quite done with your bloody carcass, yet.

It’s like that monster grizzly. You know – In the DiCaprio film “The Revenant.”

Just when you’re convinced he’s finished tearing out your neck, ripping open your back, dragging you like a puppy toy, THE BEAR RETURNS. THE MAULING RESUMES. NO MERCY.

Each lie, a claw to the face: They’ll be a friend forever (slash). They’re working for you (slash #2). They have your back (final gash). Actions prove different. Over and over again.

Love does not reside in their core. It’s not at home there. It dies before it’s able to breach the wall.

The warm fuzzies are icy-knife-ies.

The world is indeed their stage and you’re merely rolling across, stuck in it, used in it, then released from it.

dust world They’re comin’, they’re comin’!

Dust storm #2: Duster emotions are fleeting, float light on the breeze, subject to change in a blink. There’s nothing in the soul when it comes to feelings.

Remember – Duster’s are always on the move even when still, constantly searching for exits. Lusting for the water of another’s life because the newest victims are the juiciest!

It’s how they prosper. Duster victims are flesh commodities.

Dust a dozen.

There are so many choices, so many people they can dry out, it’s like a feeding frenzy.

“Harvest time, all the time,”is their motto.

And surprise!

Look who’s on the menu..

human menu

Dusters are ghosts, shells of humans with important stuff missing. People are nothing to them unless you have something they desire. When a Duster shakes you off, it’s done with rehearsed platitudes, false language of leaving they’ve recycled from the dusty remnants of other departures. They’ll even fool your relatives. Suck in the kids!

Dusters thrive deep in finances.  They’re the cuts you never do anything about. They’re stealth hits that keep on hitting. Recently, I received an e-mail for fees, an auto-renewal from a service it took me 3 hours to cancel.

Most would rather have their money turn to dust before they halt this auto-finance terrorism. Take a day. Stop all auto-payments. Gain control. I know consumers who have lost hundreds, thousands, robo-paying for services they never use because it’s easier to pay than to stop. Huh? No.

Dusters rarely say “I’m sorry,” or admit mistakes. And why should they? You should bow. Die noble in their grace. Just dust, bury yourself before they get to it. After all, they’re terrific. You’re the reason they’re fucked up, remember?

As a matter of fact they’ll make you feel wrong for being right.

Remember that line from the classic film “Love Story?”


Yea, it’s nothing like that.

Not at all.

Identify Dusters with 3 simple inquiries. No kidding. To kill a Duster you must be the Duster (not for long because that’s not you).

Keep it simple. The best deaths occur in plain sight. Every minute. Not even Kojak would be able to figure it out.


Keep sucking, buddy. You won’t catch me!

Tell me about your long-term friendships. Dusters have few close friendships to speak of. That’s not a bad thing on the surface. Loners can be cool. You just want to get a handle on the quality of the relationships. How a Duster defines them.

If you can’t adequately get a handle on why and how these friendships are maintained, step back. If there appears to be a pattern of breakage and it’s always the fault of others, well you know what to do, right?

Describe your last break-up in detail, please. Dusters are expert ghosters. They refuse to face a victim in person, or communicate verbally, on a forever departure. They conjure up lame-ass, re-hashed excuses through e-mail or other electronic channels. This query is your most insanity-driven dive into the Duster psyche. Stay strong. You’re going in deep.

Break-ups aren’t perfect. You’re not looking for clean, neat separations. You’re seeking to identify respect for a former partner in the throes of a heartbreaking life episode.

Dusters hold below-zero respect for people who love them, especially at goodbye time.

Remember, this is their heart, a life code: They want to slap-clap you off their tails. Like they would from their jeans after a long journey on a dirty mud-cut of ground.

Tell me about something, an incident, you’re sorry about. My personal favorite. You know why? Because Dusters are rarely sorry. About anything! After all, it’s never them. Be sensitive to a consistent string of “remorse code.”

Let me explain.

Remorse codes are strings of negative roads well traveled.The same circle patterns of mistakes. Ghost-like breakups, busted engagements, cheating. Could be they’re tough heartfelt lessons. Perhaps your Duster has vowed never to do this to you. Or maybe you’re delusional and the next stop on the heartbreak express.

Have you fooled yourself, convinced yourself that it’ll be different with you?

Question: Are you up for the risk?

Are you willing to take the chance?

Well, if you do.


_ _ . _ _ _ _.. … ._ _. . . _ ..

(Morse Code for Godspeed).

morse code

It’s not Morse Code, it’s Remorse Code. Silly.

Dusters feel guilt but it’s merely an odd form of self-flagellation. A seemingly strange internal coping mechanism. A futile effort to connect with what’s shoe-string left of their humanity (who am I kidding?). There’s a peculiar sadness that arises their victims move on. Re-hydrate.

The ones who escape really irritate them. So much so they can’t visit the ground zeroes, the towns, where these survivors survive.  They feel something odd – REMORSE. Well, only because the ones left behind made it through the pain parlor. Their happiness, their recovery is Kryptonite.

Go figure.

Dust storm #3: Dusters will lament to you about the love or friend who got away. How they’ve mourned. How bad they feel. Really? They don’t. Take it as a warning. A brief wet spot they sit in with us three-dimensional mortals. It’s a worm hole you must crawl through. Listen. Discover. Run!

Dusters relish the stories they create. With disparate mental fragments of dark plot-lines, they form a sick square-fits-in-a-hole puzzle designed to validate an exit strategy, a distrust, even a hatred of their prey.

Dusters believe all people are bad so they must strike.

Destroy them first. Always.

Dusters are narcissists who frolic with sharp blades yet never cut themselves. They are expert slicers, compart-mentalists, molders.  They’ll work diligently to galvanize fellow Dusters against you to protect their personal lack of accountability and courage.

I tested this theory recently. I placed my head on the chopping block. It’s in the bloody basket. Rotting. It turned out exactly as I figured it would.

They are steadfast cowards at intimate human interaction, connection, above all else.


Great movie from the 1980s: Basket Case.

It’s personally rewarding to discover people who are so damn good at Duster detection and deft at avoiding attacks from Dusters and their fuck-flunkies (not a dance move from the 1970s, or is it?).

I unfortunately, am not one of those special people, proficient in these skills.

Dusters will push, twist you into a different person. A human you’ll no longer recognize. The ultimate betrayal, the way they depart, the manner in which they leave frayed ends dangling like bloody entrails on a clothesline at a zombie laundry party, will drive you insane, out of your own skull.

You won’t recognize yourself. Your pets will avoid you. You smell different.

It’ll take time to return to the light, the living, the waters. The clear. The still.

Like a storm on the plains they’ll lift, carry, then drop you like a rag doll.

One day it’ll happen, you’ll look up. You’ll stop dragging what’s left of yourself across a gravel road and start all over.

You’ll be boarding the life train again. Sniff the spice off a summer breeze.

The light of day will no longer feel like night.

Oh, you’ve been there.

Sometimes it feels like exposed nerves are rubbing against broken and infected parts of my heart.

I wish Johnny Cash were still alive.

I would have loved to share my dust theory with him.

Would my thoughts be set to lyrical magic?

How would he take the words. Improve them?

Hmm, maybe this?


In this world.

As a new day bursts blue. Clear-on-clear.

They have their smoke eye on you.

For now.

I’ll wish you good thoughts.

I’ve walked there. I fear the footfalls.

And when the time arrives for you to be a target.

Or no longer play with the player.

Perhaps you’ll remember my words.

Heed the warnings.

Consider and respect my ongoing torment.

And dust the Dusters at their own dirty game.

I’m on your side.

Breathe in deep.

As deep can be.




Now you’re steady.



Dust free.

And a connect with the universe again.

Where it’s cool and clean.

And calm again.

dust free


Sidebar: The Dusters know who they are. They know this post is about them, don’t they?

They’re reading right now. In denial. Ready to strike. 

Listen. Learn:

Lucinda Williams’ Dust.

Writing is part of my healing process . A closure activity.

I hope ya’ll enjoyed this lil’ ditty.

Dedicated to my very clever friend – Tami Denny. 

Five Lessons from an Urban Supermarket.

Random Thoughts of a Money Muse

Damn you Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Detectives: Damn you all to hell!

heston damn you

The first/best “DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!” ever. The original “Planet of the Apes.” I believe Hollywood has had the balls to remake this film like three times. 

Eckhart Tolle, known as the “father of inner peace” should be arch nemesis of this Google invasion of privacy, but I’m thinking he’s way too self-actualized to even sweat the effort. I can hear him – “who needs this Google you speak of?”

To arrest a mind troubled by the lambasting of ego, an individual must seize the now, the present. Today. This moment.

I’m sorry ET – I’m a work in progress. Always evolving. BUT THAT DAMN GOOGLE.

Tolle ego

Allows me, so easily, to scope out the physical landmarks from my history. It tempts me to unlock doors I prefer remain closed. Behind that granite-like barrier in my mind…

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