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WRITING TO TWO MILLION PEOPLE WHAT ITS LIKE FOR ME

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
By Gary D. Halbert
May 13, 2003

WRITING TO TWO MILLION PEOPLE –
WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR ME

Introduction

Last July, I was asked by the management of InvestorsInsight.com to become their second weekly columnist (in addition to John Mauldin).  At the time, InvestorsInsight was mailing their weekly briefings to apprx. 1 million presumed high net worth readers.  I began as their second columnist last September.  Since then, their audience has grown to over 2 million readers.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a weekly column (E-Letter) to 2 million people you don’t know?  It has been a very interesting experience for me.  This week, I thought I would share a little bit of what my weeks are like in bringing this information to you.  You can see it from my side of the fence.

From Monthly To Weekly Is A Stretch

I have been writing my monthly Forecasts & Trends (paper) newsletter for 25 years.  After the 911 tragedy, I began writing periodic e-mail updates to my clients.   Those periodic e-mail updates were what led InvestorsInsight to contact me.  So now, in addition to my monthly newsletter, I also write these weekly E-Letters.  It’s quite a challenge, in addition to my primary business.   As you’ve probably figured out by now, my company is a Registered Investment Advisor.  We have several thousand high net worth clients all across America.

My work weeks consist of three main jobs: 1) analyzing the investment markets; 2) talking to my clients and overseeing their investments; and 3) writing the E-Letters and, once a month, writing the F&T paper newsletter.  That one week a month when I write both is tough.

It’s a real challenge to come up with something interesting every week, especially with a hard deadline every Tuesday by late in the day.  Years ago, I learned that writing only about the investment markets each and every time was sometimes boring, not only for me but also for my clients.  As a result, I decided to write about a variety of topics including economic trends, monetary trends, world events, geopolitics, politics, etc., in addition to investments and financial planning. 

Specifically, I write about whatever is interesting to ME each week.  My hope is that it will also be interesting to you.  Of course, that will not always be the case.  But based on the many e-mails we get from you, most of you enjoy my information.

Writing To Strangers

As noted above, I have several thousand investment clients who live all across America.  I have never met most of them.  Most have come to me by way of third-party referrals. I also don’t know very many of you who are among InvestorsInsight’s 2+ million subscriber base.  It’s an interesting challenge to write to 2+ million people you don’t know. 

I have a lot of questions I wish I knew the answers to.  Like, most of all, I wish I could know exactly what most of you are looking for in terms of information and advice.  We assume that we have readers from all financial strata - from the very wealthy to middle class folks, from those who are very sophisticated investors to those who are just starting out, from those who are retired to those who are just starting to save for their retirement, etc., etc.

My goal is to provide a variety of topics, most of which are at least somewhat investment related, that will hopefully be helpful to a majority of this broad cross-section of readers, but also knowing that not everything I write will be useful to all of you week in and week out.

We Are Avid Readers

My editorial staff and I are avid readers.  We have to be.  We subscribe to dozens of financial periodicals (including some very expensive ones) and investment related magazines and newsletters.  In addition, we are voracious surfers of the Internet. 

Each morning, for example, one person on my editorial staff spends over an hour cruising our list of Internet sites, looking for interesting news and information that may not have been covered (or was mis-reported) by the mainstream media.  By mid-morning each day, he sends me an e-mail with a list of links to the stories he thinks I will want to read.  Some of those stories end-up in my SPECIAL ARTICLES section below.

On Monday of each week, I sit down and think about all the topics and reports we’ve read and decide what will be the focus of the weekly E-Letter.  Some weeks, there’s just so much to write about, I don’t know where to start.  On other weeks, the topic seems obvious.  And then on some weeks, I’m still scratching my head by Tuesday.

The Common Thread – Spotting Mis-Information

There is a ton of mis-information out there.  If you have been reading me very long, you know that I believe the mainstream media is very slanted.  Several weeks ago, I told you about a great website for tracking the bias in the mainstream media - the Media Research Center CyberAlert at www.mediaresearch.org.  Check it out.

I also believe that many in the financial media are also very slanted, in one way or the other.  Some analysts and publications spin the news and reports so as to only reflect their views on the markets and investing.  This includes the “perma bulls” on Wall Street.

And then there is the “gloom-and-doom” crowd for which the sky is always falling.  I call them “perma-bears” since they always expect the worst.  They missed the greatest bull market in stocks in history during the 1980s and ‘90s.  For them, the next depression is always right around the corner.

The common thread in my writing is that I try to bring you the real story, whatever that may be, whether it’s about the economy, the investment markets, world events or politics.  This is not to suggest that I am right all the time.  I’m not.  What I do is read a variety of respected publications and writers, in addition to the mainstream media, and I try to maintain a flexible attitude.  I try to give you my very best thinking every week.  And I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong. 

My Main Themes Over The Last Nine Months

As noted at the beginning, I started writing for InvestorsInsight last September.  Let’s review my main themes since that time, starting with the economy.  It has been my view that the economy was not going back into another recession, despite all the negative analysis in the mainstream media and elsewhere.  I have maintained that the economy would continue a slow recovery barring any major negative surprises.

And what happened?  The economy grew by 2.4% last year and 1.6% (advance GDP estimate) in the 1Q of this year.  Most economists expect growth of 1½-2½% in the 2Q.   As discussed in my April 29 E-Letter, The Bank Credit Analyst believes the economy can recover to a 3-4% annual growth rate in the second half of this year.

The mainstream media would have you believe the economy is horrible.  The gloom-and-doom crowd has consistently predicted another recession/depression.  What else is new?

Another theme I have had is that consumer confidence would increase after the war.  It has.  The Consumer Confidence Index leaped from 61.4 in March to 81 in April, the second largest gain on record.  Since consumer spending accounts for over two-thirds of the economy, one might think the economy is off to the races after the April jump in confidence.  But that is not what I have said.  I have maintained that it would be a slow recovery, with good news and bad news along the way.  The jump in unemployment from 5.8% to 6% in April is just one example. 

Another theme of mine has been that consumers are not as dangerously in debt as the media would have you believe.   Yes, the debt-to-income ratio is at an all-time high, but we now know that 70-80% of all consumer debt is in the form of home mortgages which are well collateralized.  And home prices have continued to rise or hold fairly steady in most areas, despite all the predictions to the contrary.

Investment Themes

As for the stock markets, I have agreed that we have been in a bear market.  But since late last year, I have been expecting a bottom in the market and at least an intermediate-term recovery.  When it became clear that we were going to war, the stock markets predictably trended lower on “war worries.”  But as those who have been reading me for a while will remember, I predicted that we would see a great buying opportunity in stocks once the war went our way.

In late January, February and early March, I wrote a 3-part series of E-Letters - “The Mutual Fund Merry Go-Round” - designed to help investors know how to (and how not to) participate in the expected rebound in the markets. 

[If you were not a subscriber at that time, CLICK HERE and you will be taken to a web page listing all of my previous E-Letters. The Mutual Fund Merry Go-Round series includes the January 28, February 11 and March 11 issues. This is an excellent series, especially for newer investors, if I do say so myself.]

The stock markets did bottom as the war began and have since risen by 16% in the Dow, 17% in the S&P 500 and 21% in the Nasdaq.  Hopefully, you took my advice prior to the war and put some money back in stocks.  If you did, I would hold on for now.

Another theme I have maintained recently is that the bond markets will likely come under pressure as the economy recovers.  I have been especially concerned about Treasury bonds and notes.  So far, my concerns have not been validated.  Yes, bonds declined briefly (and sharply) as it became clear we were winning the war in Iraq, but they have since roared right back. 

I continue to recommend that you lighten-up in bonds, especially Treasury bonds and notes.  The current rally is an excellent opportunity to do so, in my opinion.  As discussed last week, I much prefer to be in corporate bonds, or better yet, with a professional bond manager like Capital Management Group which I discussed at length last week.

Political Themes

For many years, I have included political discussion in my writings.  Some ask why an Investment Advisor such as myself would spend time analyzing political issues.  For years I have maintained that political issues can, and do, have effects on the investment markets.  In addition, I believe that the mainstream media is perhaps the MOST slanted and biased when it comes to politics.

While I am not a member of any political party, and never have been, I am a conservative on most issues, especially when it comes to politics.  You may not agree with me, but that’s okay.  Hopefully, I’ll at least make you think.  One of my clients who is a die-hard liberal once said that he enjoys my political commentaries because they show him the thinking of “contemporary conservatives.”

Conclusions – Not A Stopped Clock

We’ve all heard the saying that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  In my view, many in the mainstream media are like a stopped clock.  Occasionally they get it right, but usually they don’t.  Many in the financial media are the same way.  I try to be flexible and base my predictions on information gathered and analyzed from numerous respected sources.  Other than politics, arguably, I try to be as unbiased as possible.  I am NOT right all the time, and will definitely be wrong from time to time (and will admit it when I am).  But I am not a stopped clock. I am not always optimistic, and I am not always pessimistic.  You get enough of that elsewhere.

I hope you find the information and analysis interesting, at least most weeks.  My staff and I put a lot of work into it.

I very much appreciate your e-mails. We get anywhere from several dozen to several hundred each week, depending on the topics discussed.  We try to answer them all, but depending on the volume received, it may be a week or even two before we are able to reply.  We also appreciate your comments and suggestions, especially the positive ones. 

Finally, I am NOT paid for writing these weekly E-Letters.  I do it because I hope that over time I will build an affinity and trust with you so that you decide to become one of our investment clients.  As noted earlier, we have thousands of clients all across America.  Hopefully, one day you’ll decide to become one of them!

Wishing you well, 

Gary D. Halbert


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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, Halbert Wealth Management, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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