Set forth below is the text of an e-mail sent to me by Jeff, the author of The Sustainable Life Blog, on October 25, 2013, followed by my response to him:
I just wanted to drop you a quick line and say how nice it was meeting you at fincon in St Louis this year. I don’t know about you, but I had such a great time hearing from all the speakers and meeting online friends (some for the first time).
It was great meeting you at Ignite Fincon and chatting with you about Value Index Investing. I thought it was really interesting, and I’d really like to know how you got started with Value Index Investing and what you enjoy most about it. I had such a great time meeting and talking to so many different people, I didn’t get much time to focus on the most interesting parts – like why they do what they do!
I remember that we chatted a bit about you being the most hated guy on investing forums and about you branding it as well. That was really great to hear about, and I think it’s so funny that people get so angry at you for those comments you left. Glad that you were basically proven right by the downturn though.
Please, don’t hesitate to email me if you’ve got any questions or need help with anything. I’ve been blogging for almost 5 years, and love to help out anyone that asks!
Once again, it was great meeting you..
That’s super kind! Seeing your e-mail brought a nice measure of good cheer to my Saturday afternoon.
I got started with Valuation-Informed Indexing when I was putting together an early retirement plan in the late 1990s (I left corporate employment in August 2000 and our family of four has been living off our investments for the 13 years since). When you are handing in a resignation from a big-paycheck job (I was a Director at the Ernst & Young accounting firm), you need to be SURE that you have enough to make it on your own. So I investigated a concept called “Safe Withdrawal Rates.”
I discovered (ironically enough, I discovered this by reading John Bogle’s book — this is ironic because Bogle is the lead advocate of Buy-ad-Hold, the strategy that VII replaces) that the conventional SWR studies get the numbers wrong (they fail to consider the effect of valuations). I was posting daily at a Retire Early board at Motley Fool and a retired government engineer there named John Walter Russell became interested enough in what I was saying to spend the next eight years of his life researching questions related to VII. John did HUNDREDS of studies backing all this up and published them at his own site. John died a few years ago and the right to publish all his research passed to me.
At some point, I started posting at the Vanguard Diehards board at Morningstar.com. An academic researcher (Wade Pfau — he has a Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton) discovered my posts and wrote me to ask if I would be interested in doing some research with him. Our paper has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. I believe that it is the most important research published in this field in the past 30 years. It shows investors that simply by taking valuations into consideration when setting their stock allocations they can reduce the risk of stock investing by 70 percent. Once we reach a point where we can publicize these findings, stocks will become essentially a risk-free investment class. This is a huge deal.
The thing that I like most about VII is not the investing benefits. I have made my living as a journalist pretty much my entire life (I was hired at Ernst & Young as a tax lobbyist because they learned about my work reporting on tax legislation on Capitol Hill — I also hold a law degree and a Masters in Tax Law). So I have a strong interest in public policy issues. VII is rooted in the research of Yale Economics Professor Robert Shiller (who won the Nobel prize a week or two ago). Shiller’s findings don’t just make stock investing a risk-free endeavor. They also have huge implications re stabilization of our economic system.
Shiller predicted the 2008 economic crisis in a book published in March 2000. Do you know how he did it?
Shiller’s research shows that EVERY economic crisis in U.S. history was caused by excessive stock valuations. There has never been a single exception. Take away excessive stock valuations and you take away economic crises and all the huge increase in unemployment that always follows from them. Shiller’s work has the greatest potential for easing human suffering of any research being done today. What he has found (and what I have been writing about for 11 years) is the financial sector equivalent of the cure for cancer.
How do we stop stocks from becoming overpriced? It is amazingly easy.
I have a calculator at my site called “The Stock-Return Predictor.” It applies a regression analysis to the 140 years of historical return data to reveal the most likely annualized 10-year return for stock purchases made at any possible price level. It shows that the claim you always hear from Wall Street that “you can’t time the market!” is 100 percent false marketing mumbo jumbo. It has ALWAYS been possible and easy and necessary to time the market.
There is a hyper-technical way in which what they say is so. It is NOT possible to engage in short-term market timing (guessing where stock prices will be in a year or so) effectively. However, it is VERY easy to engage in LONG-TERM market timing. You can know today (with a high but not perfect level of
accuracy) where stock prices will be 10 years from today. Using the calculator, you can know when stocks are worth buying and when they are not. This permits you to retire as much as 10 years sooner than you ever before imagined possible.
The Stock-Return Predictor reveals the price tag of stocks. Middle-class people who don’t practice long-term timing are essentially making the most important purchase of their lives (we spend more in the course of a lifetime on stocks than we do on clothes or food or housing or cars) without knowing the price! It’s insane. Why do they do it? Every industry that exists would love to have its customers believe that its product is a good buy at any possible price. The Stock-Selling Industry is the only industry that has ever been able to persuade its customers that this is actually so. They get away with it because most investors are intimidated by the subject of investing. They defer to experts. And the experts in this field get paid depending on how effective they are in persuading people to buy stocks. The conflict overwhelms most people’s sense of right and wrong and they rationalize saying all sorts of things that have long been shown to be nonsense by the peer-reviewed academic research.
Once people understand that stocks are not worth buying at high prices, guess what happens? That makes it impossible for high prices ever to be seen again. As prices go up, people sell shares. The sales of the shares pull price down again. If they go too low, people start buying more and that pushes prices up again. Stock prices are self-regulating. So long as people are told about the research!
The trick today is getting the word out about what the research really says. Most of the people who work in this field have built careers around promotion of Buy-and-Hold. There are lots of powerful and wealthy people who very, very much do not want middle-class people to learn about Shiller’s research and its implications. So we face heavy resistance.
But things have changed in a big way since the crash. I couldn’t get a guest blog published anywhere on the internet in the old days. Today there are lots of blogs that welcome me. Shiller’s research shows that there will be another crash in a year or two. I believe that the gates will swing wide open then.
You probably know that many blogs have been hit hard by Google. I believe that VII is going to prove to be the salvation of the Personal Finance Blogosphere. Bloggers are not as beholden to the industry big shots as are most others in this field. We are at least capable of independence. If we can get a small group of independent bloggers writing about these ideas, they will spread and spread and eventually gain recognition everywhere. I have spoken with LOTS of people over these 11 years. Lots of the big names in this field want to feel free to tell their readers and clients what really works in the long run. But they are afraid. They need cover. The more people who speak the truth openly, the less afraid all the others who want to do so feel. So this thing will gain momentum fast once we get the fire started.
Please come back to me and ask questions about this at any time. My site is today the only site on the internet that explores the implications of Shiller’s research in an in-depth way. There is room for hundreds of blogs doing this kind of work. And we would be helping millions of middle-class people by doing it. VII is safe, smart, simple investing. I have had THOUSANDS of people encourage me to pursue this quest. People need this. They need it badly. And the demand is going to go through the roof following the next crash, which is likely coming= in not too long a time.
I hope that helps a bit.
Thanks again for your exceedingly king and encouraging note.