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What To Do In the Months Ahead

Last week, I shared a few thoughts on what I expect to happen in the months ahead - for those who may have missed this, please feel free to view:

https://drbenkim.com/new-normal.htm

Many thanks to all those who wrote in with positive feedback and questions on the points that were touched upon.  What follows are my answers to a few of the questions that I received.

Q:  I am wondering how the social-reform economies of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden in particular, fits into or is regulated by the global economy. 

A:  All developed countries are well integrated into the global economy and therefore not immune to financial shocks that occur in major markets abroad.

The main metric used to gauge the financial health of a country is debt to GDP ratio - for Sweden and Norway, this sits at around 37 percent compared to the high 50s for Finland, 88 for Canada, and more than 100 percent for the United States.  Japan has the highest debt to GDP ratio in the world at over 230 percent.  

But keep in mind that these figures are public debt to GDP.  If you wish to dig deeper into the state of your country's economic health, you can google your country's public plus private debt to GDP ratio - this would be the total government plus private debt that exists in your country relative to the total monetary value of goods and services produced in your country over the past year.  The higher this ratio, the more risk your country has of experiencing an extended economic downturn.

The single best action that each of us can take to bolster our financial health is to reduce any existing private debt - that is, how much we owe via mortgages, credit cards, and other loans, including credit lines.   Even those who are carrying debt on income-producing assets such as commercial and residential real estate are realizing the dangers of being over-leveraged - when much of the global economy suffers a significant downturn, income-producing assets can quickly become liabilites as tenants lose their ability or desire to make their monthly payments.

Q:  What do you think about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency?  

Bitcoin began as a digital way for people to send and receive money through a global network that isn't controlled by any one entity - such a decentralized network is maintained by many thousands of individual computers around the world that are constantly keeping record of all transactions on a public ledger.  About once every ten minutes, a new block of transactions are approved by the network and added to the growing ledger, also called a chain - this is why it's called a blockchain.  All transactions are mathematically encrypted.

Bitcoin was proposed in 2008 as an alternative form of money that cannot be devalued by unlimited money printing by central banks.  During its first several years of existence, there was significant risk from the many unknowns that surrounded blockchain technology, including government intervention and regulation. 

Today, Bitcoin has become a digital version of gold, a store of value that cannot be manipulated by central banks.  Computer scientists around the globe are working to develop scaling solutions that will allow Bitcoin to be an easy-to-use global digital currency.   

The price of Bitcoin continues to be extremely volatile, and we are likely 5-10 years away from its price stabilizing enough for it to be widely adopted as an everyday global currency.  So I don't consider Bitcoin a good choice for those who don't have 36 months of savings in their local currency. 

For those who do have ample savings, allocating a small portion of their assets -- 1 to 5 percent -- to Bitcoin and Ethereum may be a worthwhile investment and a bet on a future global monetary system that is far more efficient and fair than the current central bank-controlled system.  But it's prudent to learn all you can about blockchain technology before making any such investments.  

Please remember that none of this is financial advice.

In the near term, we can expect individual countries to bring out their own digital currencies to move away from physical cash and coins, but such digital currencies will still be prone to devaluation by unlimited increases in supply whenever countries experience economic downturns.   Eventually, we are almost certain to see a new world reserve currency that wll be pegged to a basket of assets like the USD, Euro, physical gold, and decentralized currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum (ETH).  

 
Q:  I'm extremely worried about my life savings and stocks and what will happen if there is a bank run.  What do you think will happen and what should I do?

A:  Please know that while I am keenly interested in global macroenomics and how people can be financially healthy, I am not in a position to give specific financial advice.  With that said, I can share a few thoughts that may be helpful to some.

The first and most important goal for everyone is to have enough savings to cover all basic needs for 24 to 36 months.  The standard recommendation to have 6 months' worth of savings as a rainy day shelter simply isn't enough in the event that there is a multi-year global depression, which is increasingly becoming a possibility.

In the near term, there is an enormous shortage of US dollars (USD)  worldwide because almost all global trade is done in USD, and shelter-in-place policies have caused most corporate income to plummet.   Corporations that are engaged in global trade still have ongoing debt payments and expenses to meet in USD, and with massively reduced income, they are doing everything possible to raise USD.

So if you have savings in USD, in the near term, I believe it is one of the safest assets available.  Thinking more long term through the years ahead, in theory, the USD should lose significant strength due to the inflationary pressures of printing and distributing many trillions of dollars for bailout money.  But much will depend on how long it takes for the global economy to recover and how many governments and companies become insolvent.

Eventually, hard assets like gold, silver, and digital decentralized currencies with a fixed supply that are protected against inflation will become more valuable relative to USD and other fiat currencies.

For most of the rest of the world where debt to GDP ratio isn't out of control and money printing isn't rampant, it's likely best to keep existing savings in local fiat currency.  

The bottom line is that stagflation - a combination of high inflation, high unemployment, and low economic growth -  is already upon most countries and will likely worsen over the next few years.  COVID-19 and the resulting shelter-in-place policy adopted by most of the world was the pin that popped a balloon of excess debt that was ripe and needing to be deflated.  

Those who see all of this are prudent to reduce expenses, reduce debt, and save as much as possible.

Q:  In today's environment, do you think it's worth going to college?

A:  Clearly, there are some career paths that require systematic training in college, university, and even graduate school - obvious examples include careers in medicine and engineering.

For most other career paths and interests, it is more sensible to learn what you can online and through community or state colleges.  In Canada and the United States, tuition for college or university should be somewhere around $5000 per year, plus books and other expenses, give or take a thousand or two.  Wherever possible, you should choose an institution that you can commute to in order to live at home and save on housing costs.

The more important question is how to go about choosing a career path?  Here, it pays to be curious and pursue online learning of anything that is of interest to you.  Begin with anything you find fun or fascinating and see where the internet takes you.  Don't be shy in asking those in your circle of life who you respect for their thoughts on what arenas of life and what types of careers might suit your disposition.  

For most of human history, we did what we had to each day simply to survive, to get enough food to eat and avoid being eaten.  Today, many billions of us have the luxury of developing skills that allow for us to become financially independent while serving our communities.  Let's never forget that we are extraordinarily blessed, and that step number one in the life of a human adult is to learn how to be financially independent.  For those who can use a roadmap:

Learn how to create something or provide a service that others value.

Learn how to distinguish between what you want and what you need.

Save more than you spend.

Learn how to invest your savings in a way that doesn't hurt anyone and creates an additional stream of income.

This is the recipe for getting to a point where you can take care of yourself and even be of support to those around you.

As mentioned last week, if you know anyone or a small business that can use support via a shoutout or call for donations, please consider letting me know through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter:

Instagram:  

https://www.instagram.com/dr.ben.kim/

Facebook:  

https://www.facebook.com/drbenkim

Twitter:  

https://twitter.com/Ben_Kim

As always, if you wish to contact me with a question or a request to elaborate on anything I've shared, you can reach me directly at benkim@drbenkim.com.

With best wishes to all,

Ben

 
 

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Comments

Good morning Dr Kim
I have been following you for many years.
I am amazed at all the things you manage to do within your life.....Run a practice,herbal remedies,home school your children ,participation in tennis,being present with your parents,keeping fit,doing utube videos on different health matters etc,etc!Now an insight into the economy,please,please tell us followers how you are able to fit all of this into your life style.
Thank you so much for all the very useful reads and exercises, and may I add everything else you enlighten us with!
My very best wishes to you and your family.
Oriana

Thanks very much for your kind thoughts, Oriana. I actually moved on from outpatient practice in 2017 after 20 years of practice in the States and Canada combined. My work is now exclusively online, other than some of the consultations that I do here and there. I'm glad that you are finding our resources helpful!

With best wishes, Ben