First, a little background: Martin D. Weiss is the president of Weiss Ratings, a company that rates financial institutions, and charges for it as the only major rating company that has no conflicts of interest. He is also the publisher of the SECURE MONEY REPORT, a newsletter on how to invest money safely. It is a cheap lead product for more expensive financial advisory services.
Chances are good that his mail order promotions for SAFE MONEY REPORT have arrived in your inbox. From about the late 1990s to just a few years ago, his lead generation packages were written by top copywriter Clayton Makepeace, and they greatly expanded his newsletter business. Mr. Makepeace knows how to get your attention and arouse great emotions in you.
Martin Weiss predicted stock market and economic disasters, including widespread Y2K problems, through much of the last bull market.
I subscribed to the SECURE MONEY REPORT in late 1998 or early 1999 and was bothered by some advice he gave for long-term stock market purchases that expired in December 1999. I explained that if 2000 would bring widespread disaster, then it is a logical time for these packages to expire in January 2000 or later.
So I emailed him and he or – probably – some staff responded that they were “comfortable” with their recommendation to buy packages that expire in December 1999. Remember, that was BEFORE the midnight strike on December 31, 1999. he – and many others – he said it would bring disaster to the world.
There is no explanation, nothing but their “consolation” with that recommendation. So I’m tagged. I think he has now followed a strategy of trying to profit from the fear of Y2K that people would have before it really happened – just in case it didn’t happen. Some people believed that only the fear of Y2K would lead to a market crash even before January 1, 2000. If so, it shows that he did not actually believe that Y2K alone would bring economic and stock market collapse. He counted on fears before Y2K, which would make those in December 1999 profitable.
Yet, in my mindset, a top-notch distributor of lead generation money management advice packages should justify their specific recommendations with something clearer than their “comfort”.
This book is worth reading, but it’s good to remember that Weiss made a lot of money by driving people away and selling them financial protection tips. Although the “Technical Wreck” of March 2000 justifies some of his warnings, you should also remember that he predicted other disasters. This includes widespread problems with Y2K and, following the Asian currency crisis of 1997, that deflation would bring economic problems to the US
You should remember that this book is basically another form of potential client generation for his financial rating services and his newsletter business.
As for this book in particular – it contains a lot of interesting information about how high-tech and telecommunications companies deceived investors during the late 1990s. He uses a fictional company called UCBS (say it out loud to make a joke) and leads us through meetings of its CEO with both consultants and accountants who have advised him on how to cook books.
Reading it now, you have to keep in mind that he had to write it in 2002 since its publication in 2003. Time is relevant. Most of the information harps on the same topics as his mail-order packages that promote SECURE MONEY REPORT subscriptions.
The opening chapters touch on the topic that people should follow the advice of their brokers. I agree with that heart. I totally agree that people should decide for themselves which stocks to buy. Brokers are sellers and, although I am sure that many are trying to help their clients, they are also under pressure to sell the shares that their companies want to relocate. There is a built-in conflict of interest.
In addition, he reveals that large brokerage firms have a conflict of interest built in between their financial banking business and providing reliable financial analysis for their clients. They are looking for work from the same corporations that their researchers are analyzing. If their researchers publish negative recommendations, companies get angry and take the business somewhere else.
Weiss also talks in detail about how corporations hid their real earnings by shifting problems to subsidiaries and abusing pension funds.
I’ve heard of some of it about Enron, WorldCom, etc., but I didn’t realize how incredibly bad it is. As an accountant, I can tell you that such manipulations were an obvious fraud. I graduated in accounting almost 30 years ago and I am sure that my teachers will be shocked and amazed that any large corporation will try such tricks and that large accounting firms will certify their audits.
Accounting firms are caught in a conflict of interest after their consulting work has become more profitable than auditing. So their advisors taught corporations how to cook books, and their auditors went or had to go out. It documents how all large accounting firms have overlooked poor accounting practices. They gave clean health bills to companies that went bankrupt soon after.
Through a financial advisor in the book, Weiss advises readers to move off the stock market if the current trend declines. It also gives the names of some companies that are now absolutely being sold. Of course, by the time you read the book, they may or may not be in financial trouble.
As for getting out of the market – and for later tips on investing in negative index funds (they grow when the market declines – and vice versa!) – you should remember that he wrote this book during the bear market.
You have to decide for yourself how much of his advice currently applies to you and your portfolio.
One of my problems with this book is the implicit support for marketing time. He says with so many companies doing such bad things, a conflict of interest on Wall Street and a government unable or unwilling to regulate, the market is declining.
When you read this. . . maybe he will, but maybe he won’t.
His advice to keep money only in Treasury funds is no doubt good. All money market funds are much safer than the stock market, but conventional money market funds would be risky if there is the terrible economic collapse that Weiss so often predicts.
Weiss’s comment on the federal budget deficit is interesting. Of course, many people from it also predict disaster, and have been doing so for at least 40 or 50 years. Unfortunately, he does not go into details about the upcoming “Age Wave” – how the retirement of a baby boomer will destroy Social Security and Medicare.
He describes how a bond market collapse would also be a financial disaster for the economy, although people pay much less attention to bonds than stocks.
The next chapter talks about the impending decline in real estate. He seems to have greatly underestimated that when people stop investing in stocks, they will start investing in real estate. So we know that the real estate bubble was accompanied by a stock market crash. But he points out well how unhealthy it is for people who take money out of their homes. His historical figures on how Americans owe much more to their homes on average, despite a large increase in value, suggest that many people are at risk of losing their homes.
It’s good to know that there are things like reverse index market funds or bear funds that will grow when the market falls. The big problem, of course, is that no one knows when the market will go up or down. You can protect your stock portfolio by investing money in such a reverse index mutual fund, but to fully protect your risk, half of your investment money must go into it. Then your bull and bear money would be canceled and you would stay flat. . . it would be better for you to leave the cash in a money market fund, because at least that would pay you some interest.
There is a chapter on derivatives and how they could bring down the economy, but I wish it was more concrete. In general, I know what derivatives are and I am not comfortable knowing that large banks are exposed to a risk that is greater than their total capital. But what exactly are these derivatives? What financial transactions are they related to? Are they protected? Do big banks use them in their financial business or do they just trade? And how are they interconnected so that a large loss of one bank could expose the entire financial system?
After all, a big loss for one player is a major gain for another. Weiss has been warning about the risk of derivatives for years. I would like to know something more concrete.
Weiss then argues that when a financial collapse occurs that predicts (there are no “and” or “negative” ones in this book), the government may respond in one of two ways. Fight it and so extend it. Or let the system collapse and erase debts and surpluses.
I find it inconceivable that a modern U.S. government would consider a second alternative for more than two seconds. It would be politically incorrect for the Nth degree. If we couldn’t deal with such an approach in the early years of the Depression, we certainly can’t now, 70 years after the FDR imposed so many big state programs.
The biggest weakness of this book is that the section on how to make a real profit from a fall – by buying a market index – is incredibly short and weak. He gives a few tips, but no one should try to buy sticks without a lot more education than you are here for. If you didn’t know you could bet the stock market would fall, it’s good to learn that. But learn a lot more than Weiss tells you before you put in the money.
Overall, Weiss does a good job of presenting the dangers to the economy from a perspective when he wrote the book. Although it must have been after 9/11, he does not seem to be worried about the threat of further terrorism. I find this puzzling, given that one atomic bomb would land in one major city in America or anywhere else in the world, it would be a major economic disaster in that regard. Of course, this is unpredictable and therefore you cannot profit from it.
And he also ignores the threat of a baby boomer retiring.
Also, my perspective of an income investment advocate adds to me that you could have avoided most of the problems it raises by simply buying dividend-paying stocks. Those stocks fell during the bear market, but not as much as the high-tech and telecommunications stocks that Weiss rightly denigrates.
Furthermore, companies that pay dividends cannot afford to engage in the same bad accounting practices that Weiss rightly condemns. I can’t say that all companies that pay dividends are honestly white and white, but even if they adhere to some rules to increase earnings, they still have to come up with money to pay dividends to stockholders. This imposes a form of discipline that dot com companies did not have to face in the late 1990s.
For investors who buy stocks to collect dividends, lower prices are really just paper losses. . . as long as dividend checks continue to arrive in the mail.
In addition, although corporate bonds would certainly be at risk in real decline, government bonds would still pay their coupons. Yes, their principal will fall if interest rates rise. Yes, the bond market could collapse. So don’t sell. Collect interest checks.
If you have a crystal ball and you know exactly when the next stock market will happen, then of course you should buy market indices and make money.
The rest of us should invest for income and sit on our investments until the dividend or interest check jumps.
Book review by Richard Stooker