Giving Tuesday

As you may know or may have deduced from your reading or from your social media, today is Giving Tuesday. It is a mostly undisputed good thing to give your money or your time to a qualified charity. You can deduct your contributions on your tax return if you give enough and you help out the less fortunate at the same time. Especially this year, if you are well-off while so many others are in bad financial shape, your charitable contributions can be even more effective.

How Much Should I Contribute?

If you are currently well-off and remaining employed, perhaps your good fortune has you thinking about how much you should give or about how much you might be able to increase your giving over what you contributed last year. There is no right answer, but there are rules of thumb and situations to consider.

Percentage of Your Income

The first consideration is to think about how much your give in total as a percentage of your income rather than a gross dollar amount. Some religious people “tithe” 10% of their income to their church. That’s very generous and on the high side of what most people give. According to this article from last year on Marketwatch, taxpayers donate about 2% of their income to charity. If you haven’t focused on the percentage of your income that you have donated, go back to your tax returns from the past couple of years and do the calculation. Then, if you have donated less than 3% to 4% of your income in prior years, consider increasing your donations to 4% this year. Even if you aren’t meeting the 10% tithe standard, at least you will have given more this year and you will feel better about yourself. Also you will have taken more of a top-down approach to your giving, which is a way of taking more control of your financial life.

Standard Deduction

Taxes are another consideration. Perhaps you like to donate because you can deduct your contributions on your tax returns. That’s great, but the bar to do so is higher now due to changes in the tax law. The standard deduction in 2020 is $12,400 for single taxpayers and $24,800 for married filing jointly. That means unless your total itemized deductions exceed $12,400 (for singles), you are better off not itemizing and instead taking the standard deduction. The most common itemized expenses are mortgage interest (limited to $750,000 of mortgage balance) and property taxes (limited to $10,000). If you own a home and have a mortgage on it, you should first add your interest and your property taxes. $12,400 minus that sum is the amount you need to give to charity such that it makes sense for you to file a Schedule A and itemize your deductions. Even if you do itemize, you don’t get a dollar-for-dollar reduction on your tax bill for every dollar you donate to charity. If you don’t itemize, you can still take a charitable deduction of up to $300, which is nice but shouldn’t affect one’s thinking. My point is that you should give to a charity because you like what the charity does and you want to donate to its cause, not because you want the tax deduction.

Limits on Giving

If, on the other hand, you are overly generous, there are limits on your ability to deduct your contributions. In 2020 you can deduct up to 100% of your Adjusted Gross Income as a result of the CARES Act, which is up from 60% previously. This is likely a temporary thing that is likely to be reduced with a new Democratic administration and the need to increase tax revenues to to the exploding federal budget deficit. Look for the 100% of AGI to be reduced. Those who work for a living probably aren’t concerned with giving 60% vs. 100% of their AGI, but retired people who are wealthy but have limited AGI may have an issue with this.

Required Minimum Distributions

Some people donate to charity through their retirement accounts. If they are subject to Required Minimum Distributions, they can satisfy their RMD requirements by donating their required amounts directly to qualified charities and thus not pay current income tax on their retirement account distributions. There are two new issues with this strategy this year. The first is that RMD’s are suspended this year as a result of the CARES Act. The second is that the age threshold for RMD’s has changed from 70 1/2 years old to 72 years old. These changes mean there will likely be minimal charitable giving through use of this tax law vagary likely until 2022. However, the government needs money, and so this issue may also be subject to change over the next several months.

IMO

My advice is to give and give because you want to give, not because the tax law allows you some benefit. Take a top-down approach based on how much of your overall income you donate to your various charities. Try to make an effort this year to increase your giving because this is such a hard time for so many. Participate in the spirit of giving that Giving Tuesday represents.

Employee or Freelancer?

This recent Wall Street Journal article is about people who made lemonade: they used the “opportunity” presented to them as a result of the pandemic economy to leave their jobs and start their own small businesses. They have transitioned from being employees to being freelancers.

The interviewees in the article discuss how much more money they are making now versus when they were employees, but they neglect to figure in some very important aspects about being self-employed and the income they earn therefrom. The most important are reporting all of the income that they receive and paying their taxes based on their income; paying into Social Security; and health care for the new business owner and their family. After all of these considerations, the newly self-employed may not really be making as much as they did when they were employees.

Report Your Income

The self-employed need to keep track of their income and expenses so that their income is above the table rather than under the table. It’s nice to get paid a lot of cash for a job but your Federal and State governments are likely owed a percentage of that cash haul. If the party who is paying you is keeping records on their side, it is even more important to keep records and report the income on your side. Otherwise you face penalties and even jail for evading taxes in the event you get audited at some point. Notice that your new job as a self-employed freelancer just got more difficult, as now involves some level of accounting and/or bookkeeping in addition to the skill central to your job. On top of that, filing your taxes also got more complicated. Now you have to file a Schedule C on your tax return and you also have to make estimated payments once every quarter. Perhaps you need to employ the services of a Certified Public Accountant for your tax filing and that would be well-worth the cost. The point is that comparing income you get from freelancing vs. wages you got at your old job is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Social Security

When you were an employee, you paid into the Social Security trust fund and your employer subsidized your payment. Now, as a freelancer, you can still pay into Social Security but you are not required to do so. My recommendation is to continue to pay into Social Security at the very least until you have vested in your Social Security pension, which is after roughly 10 years of working and making payments in. It is very tempting to keep the 12.4% of your reported income in your pocket instead of paying it to Social Security because it is a lot of money and because you won’t get it back for a long time if you are still a relatively young worker. However, if you are tempted not to pay your Social Security, you probably are also tempted not to save for retirement through an IRA or other retirement account. If so, ask yourself what you really are going to do once you retire to pay for basic necessities. Also, disability insurance is also part of Social Security. What will you do if you become disabled? Without paying into Social Security if you are self-employed, you are taking a lot of chances with your future wellbeing. Once you vest in Social Security it is a somewhat different issue and you can look at your personal Social Security statement (through ssa.gov) and calculate what you would receive by stopping payments vs. by continuing to pay in. However, you at least need to achieve the vesting. 12.4% of your income is a big bite but worth it if you want to have a decent life once you retire.

Health Care

Your health insurance becomes an issue once you quit your job to venture out on your own. You will have to figure out what to do. Here are your most likely options:

  • Keep your old insurance and continue to pay for it yourself out-of-pocket for 18 months through COBRA.
  • Go on your spouse’s plan.
  • Purchase your own plan through your state’s insurance exchange.
  • Perhaps you can purchase a group plan if you have any employees.
  • Consider purchasing a plan through a professional organization that you belong to if such a thing is available.

Health insurance is a costly item that you need to pay for yourself without your employer’s help that you got when you were an employee. It is very important to consider health insurance before you make any decision to jump from being an employee to being self-employed.

IMO

I like the enthusiasm that the newly self-employed have, especially the sense of freedom that they now feel that they didn’t feel when they were still employees. However, it is not a simple as thinking you can make a lot more doing your job as a self-employed person than doing it as an employee. There are a lot of other costs that one needs to consider before opting to go it alone. If you are also looking at self-employment, make sure you take all of these other costs into consideration.

Your Core Competency

Perhaps your experience with working during these trying times has been different than mine, but I have found myself and my time being pulled in many different directions, not always to my desires. I start something that I want to do but then I get sidetracked, and then sometimes sidetracked from my sidetrack. All of these tasks require different levels of attention and different personal and professional skills. Soon I have forgotten what I set out to do at the outset and my day is out of control. I find that I get sidetracked more now than pre-pandemic because there have been so many changes in the lives of the people that I interact with on a frequent basis.

Your Core Competency

Though it may not relate directly to your current plight, one way for you to prioritize tasks is to understand your “core competency”, meaning that thing or those things that you are best at. Prioritize and complete the tasks that require you to use your core competency and either delegate out everything else to others or complete them yourself once you get done what you are good at. This is a way to take control of your life when you feel like it is spiraling out of control. Do what you can do and leave the rest to others, if that is possible. Easier said than done.

Financial Planning Example

Understanding your own core competency is the first step in building a good working relationship with a financial planner. Let’s say you are really good at organizing information but not as good at big-picture goal setting or strategizing how to reach your goal. This is a perfect set-up for working with a financial planner because a financial planner needs a set of well-organized bank and brokerage statements as well as tax returns and other pertinent information prior to getting started on the financial plan. The better the information going into the plan, the better the plan will be. You as the client should choose their planner based on the planner’s core competencies, and hopefully they will complement your competency.

What if you aren’t so good with organization but still wish to work with a planner? Perhaps you can delegate the statement-keeping to a spouse or a family member who is a little more organized. It may cost you but the cost would be worth it if it leads to a better financial plan.

Good At Nothing

What if you don’t feel like you are particularly adept at any one part of the financial planning process? Well, at least you are good at recognizing your own shortcomings. In that case, hopefully you are good at getting up and going to work every day. If so, you are also probably good at following directions and completing tasks at work. You really can delegate all of the financial planning tasks. All you have to do is do what the financial planner asks of you. You can still have a good, achievable financial plan without having any real skill in the process. That is, if you work with a good financial planner that you like and trust.

Working During the Pandemic

What about my example of how difficult I find it to complete tasks during this pandemic? How can one use their core competency to feel like they have achieved something while being pulled in different directions? My suggestion is to drill down on what you really believe is your core competency. Rather than think in terms of a specific technical skill (such as writing, art, spreadsheeting, or something like that), take a step back and figure out what personal or interpersonal skills that you like that go into those technical skills. Perhaps you like and are good at relating to people, or you have a good level of focus at a particular time. Use those personal skills as a way to organize and take control of your tasks. You will feel better about yourself and you will accomplish more if you work according to your core competencies.

IMO

It is very difficult to keep control over one’s life. I believe this has become even more difficult during this pandemic because people are continuing to work at home and their “work” and “home” lives become blurred. Perhaps you even have children also trying to do their school from home, to complicate matters even more. Being able to understand your core competency is the first step to taking the control that you need. Perhaps you should buy a copy of “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by the Gallup Organization – it is a short read with a quiz just for you to help you determine your core competencies. Or not, but it is very important for your own success to figure out what you are good at if you want to accomplish something.

One Way To Achieve Your Financial Goals

I get a chuckle out of the number of blogs out there that are titled something like this:
“Ten ways to achieve this goal”
“Eight steps you need to take to improve this aspect of your life”
“The Six Best Pieces of Advice I have been given”

Financial Planning is a Process

Advice

Blogs that I read about how to write better blog posts suggest using titles such as these that suggest you are going to give your readers a certain number of pointers because these types of titles are good at grabbing the reader’s attention. Fair enough and probably good advice. However, there are a lot of bloggers who seem to use the same playbook, and that makes me chuckle. It also makes me think about how I can do a takeoff on the sameness of these blog titles for my own benefit.

One Way

My businesses are investment management and financial planning. Rather than citing numerous ways, there is really only one way for you to achieve your financial goals. The only way you can achieve your financial goals is to identify what those goals are and to establish a plan to achieve them and stick to that plan until you do. It is a lifetime process that involves getting up and going to work every day, even if your “office” now is in your laundry room. You can and should re-look at your goals every so often as aspects of your life change, and you of course should rebalance your portfolio based on its performance and your future needs. However, the point is that the planning and the achievement of financial goals is a process that you need to work through day by day for the remainder of your life.

Positive Attitude

The process of achieving your financial goals is something that you need to have a positive attitude about because you need it to get through each day. You may have a difficult client or a hard problem to solve at work at a given time, but if your mindset is that you are working through the process of achieving your financial goals every day, then it might help you to have some perspective on life at your workplace.

Ask For Help

What if you need help to figure out what your goals are or should be? What if you are so busy at work or home that you need help with investing and monitoring your investments? I am a Certified Financial Planner® and so I am trained to provide the assistance that you need. You don’t always need to do everything yourself and there is no shame in asking for help. In fact it is best you do so in areas that you are not fully proficient. Please contact me or any other CFP® Professional that you know so that you can get started or re-started toward your goals.

IMO

Planning and achieving one’s financial goals is a process that takes every day. Rejoice in that process and take it head on by working with a CFP® Professional so that you can see your goals clearly and that you have a roadmap to get there.

Zoom

Pfizer’s news on Monday that its coronavirus vaccine candidate achieved 90% efficacy in a phase 3 trial has been well received on Wall Street. The S&P 500 rose over 3% and the small-cap Russell 200 Index was up over 5% on Monday alone. The hope is that the vaccine will enable the economy to return somewhat to pre-Covid normalcy.

Source: Stockcharts.com

Zoom

That said, not all sectors participated in Monday’s rally. In fact, the Pfizer news was bad for companies whose stock has “zoomed” since the Covid outbreak during the first quarter of 2020. One of the hardest hit on Monday was Zoom Video Communications (ZM). The Zoom technology that enables groups of people, schools, and companies to continue to function through remote video calls and meetings has become synonymous with the Covid world. Most everyone in the US now has experience with Zoom, either through business meetings, classes, social events, remote cocktail parties, or any other reason to get together. Even the 2020 NFL Draft was conducted through Zoom and it was a great success. Zoom is a free app download for users (with an upgraded for-pay option available), which has enhanced Zoom’s appeal and has resulted in widespread adoption for its technology.

Zoom’s rapid adoption rate resulted in an explosion in its stock price. As the chart shows, ZM went from the low $70’s pre-pandemic to a high of about $580 in late October 2020. ZM has since eased off its high and with a 14% decline on Monday it sits at about $420, which is still an approximately 470% increase since pre-pandemic.

Overvalued? Or Buy the Dip?

So, as an investor, what should you do next? The “buy” argument says that the Pfizer vaccine is great but it will take a long time for the vaccine to be manufactured and rolled out nationwide and worldwide, and there could be hiccups along the way. Moreover, even if the vaccine is widely adopted (a question which is open to debate), it is unlikely that everyone will go back to school and work as they had before the pandemic, and a significant portion of the population demand to remain in the cyber world because it will be easier for them in the future. Therefore, Zoom technology use will remain an important and needed part of life for people hereafter. The recent price dip is a great buying opportunity, say ZM bulls.

The “sell” argument is that ZM remains too highly priced even after its Monday pullback. According to finviz.com, ZM has a market cap of over $140 Billion, which makes it the approximately 60th most valuable company in the US, and more valuable than both ExxonMobil and Chevron. Its price/sales ratio is over 100 and its forward P/E ratio is about 170. Perhaps Zoom technology will remain important and even grow if a vaccine is successfully implemented but there is no way Zoom will perform well enough to justify its stratospheric multiple metrics.

IMO

As you probably guessed, I am not a ZM bull. My issue is that there are a lot of other technologies that offer a similar experience – products from Google and Microsoft among them. Zoom is great but I don’t see it as a “killer app”. More likely, if its management is smart, they should look to find a buyer now at this inflated price. I see Zoom as an excellent addition to a company like Google. Although Google already has Google Meet, it would really enhance its profile in the videoconferencing space by purchasing Zoom. I don’t see Zoom’s value as a standalone company at this current inflated price, even with its recent pullback.

The Republican Senate

As I write this, mid-day Thursday, two days after the Presidential Election, the winner of the presidential vote is still not fully counted and is likely headed to the courts. It looks like Biden is the winner but it is very close in a number of states and Biden has yet to bust the ball into the end zone. Sounds like the high level of uncertainty that investors loathe. Yet the stock market is way up in the last two days: the S&P 500 Index is up about 4% since Tuesday’s close and the Nasdaq 100 Index is up nearly 7% since then. If, as we are told, investors hate uncertainty, how can it be that the major stock indexes are up between 4% and 7% with the question of who is going to lead our nation still undecided two days after the election?

Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Majority Leader

The Republican Senate

The stock answer is that “Investors like divided government.” That’s true, and it looks like we will have divided government for at least the next two years. However, I will take it a step further. What investors like about this election is that the US Senate will remain in Republican control, and this will work no matter who ultimately has won the Presidential vote. If President Trump prevails, then it will be at least two and probably four more years of what we have had for the past four, which was, pre-pandemic (and that is a really big qualifier), great for the US economy and great for the stock market. The House of Representatives will remain Democrat-controlled, and so we will have divided government no matter what.

On the other hand, if Joe Biden is proven to have won the Presidency, his and his Democratic Party’s ambitions will be checked by the Republican Senate. Tax increases for individuals and businesses, increased regulations on businesses, aggressive policies to address the environment, all of which investors consider to be anti-business and anti-economic growth, will be much harder to get passed by both houses of Congress if the Republicans continue to control the Senate.

Unexpected

If you believe pre-election polls, the Republican win in the Senate was unexpected. Democrats did flip one net seat, plus, if Biden wins, the Democrats get the tie-breaking vote. However, Democrats were expected to win in places like Maine and North Carolina and they did not, nor did they win in other states where their candidate was behind in the polls. Therefore, the Republican win was a surprise, and one that investors like, if the past two days are any indication.

IMO

Last time I wrote that you should not let your political bias get in the way of making good investment decisions. That said, it is easier to make good investment decisions if the environment is in your favor, and that appears to be what you have here for the next 2-4 years. A likely Biden Presidency with its more damaging inclinations being held in check by a Republican-led Senate should result in a relatively inactive legislative session going forward, and investors like that.

Flush It And Forget It

If you make a mistake or if something doesn’t turn out the way you thought it should have, what do you do next? Does the bad result make you think that perhaps you aren’t up to the task? Do you think the cards are stacked against you? Or do you remain confident and move on to the next endeavor unaffected by what just happened? Of course, it is best to move on looking forward with a clear head, but that is easier said than done.

Flush It and Forget It

I’m a sports fan, and this phrase is used by coaches everywhere to get their athletes to focus on the future and not on the past. One manager just used it multiple times in an interview during the recently-completed MLB Playoffs, which is what caused me to think about it in broader terms. You will make mistakes. Something you do will not turn out the way you thought it should have. To be successful in life, even to be able to get up every day and go to work or school or just function in some capacity, you need to develop the ability to move on. Learn from what just happened, of course, but move on nevertheless. “Flush it and forget it” means just what you think it means, in the literal sense.

Investing

Moving on after ill fortune could take a number of forms. Let’s take investing as an example. What if you did all of your fundamental financial analysis on a stock and invested at a price that you thought was a good value, but the stock went down? (By the way, this happens all of the time, even to the best). “Flush it” probably means that you should sell the investment and recognize your loss. (I like to sell if the price goes down 10% from where you bought it at). But how do you move on from there? If you are confident in your ability to analyze, then make the same move again on the next stock. If you aren’t confident, then move on by investing in a different way, perhaps by working more closely with a professional adviser or someone else with whom you can develop ideas before putting them to action. Either way, you move on from the bad result.

Hard To Do

It is hard to move on in life after the suboptimal occurs. If yesterday was a bad day at work, it’s hard to get up and want to go back there today – that is, assuming “work” is someplace other than your home office. However, that’s what you have to do in order to earn your paycheck. Moving forward is a learned skill and unfortunately you will likely have a lot of opportunities to learn over the course of your life. Everyone has different ways to move forward, but a common denominator is not to take failure or mistakes too personally. Getting down on yourself will result in a negative attitude and that will result in more failure. Instead, if you can learn not to fault yourself too much and instead blame the fates, then you will be more resilient and in a better frame of mind to undertake the next challenge.

IMO

Perhaps this blog is more New Age than most of mine, but the phrase “Flush it and forget it” touches a chord with me. Professional investors are forward-focused in that they buy and sell based on the future prospects of companies. Price/earnings multiples reflect the projected future earnings of companies more than the past performance. Likewise, with your job or with your financial investments and life, you should be future-focused. Dwelling on past mistakes is not healthy and likely will not cause you to achieve your financial goals.

The President and the Stock Market

Next Tuesday, November 3, is Election Day, in case you have been in a media-free zone with the exception of my blog. President Trump says the stock market has been great during his term and it would be a disaster for the stock market if Biden is elected. Many Trump supporters buy that argument. The narrative is that the Republicans are the pro-business party and therefore stocks do better with a Republican President. Do the facts bear this out?

No They Don’t

The data shows that stocks do not necessarily outperform during a Republican administration and do not necessarily underperform when there is a Democratic president. Check out this website: Macrotrends.net Performance By President. This interactive chart shows the performance of the S&P 500 Index during the last 15 presidencies, back to Hoover. It shows that the best two performances occurred under our most recent two Democratic presidents – Obama and Clinton, and the worst two are during Republican administrations – George W Bush and Hoover. Here are the results, ranked, with approximate gains or losses:

  • Obama (D) +200%
  • Clinton (D) +175%
  • FDR (D) +150%
  • Eisenhower (R) +130%
  • Reagan (R) +125%
  • Truman (D) +75%
  • Trump (R) +50%
  • HW Bush (R) +50%
  • Johnson (D) +40%
  • Ford (R) +40%
  • Carter (D) +30%
  • Kennedy (D) +20%
  • Nixon (R) -30%
  • W. Bush (R) -40%
  • Hoover (R) -80%

Generally, the stock market appreciated during each of the last Democratic administrations since Hoover, while the only 3 administrations during which the S&P 500 went down were Republican administrations.

Different

Each Presidential administration is different, with different economic circumstances and different geopolitical issues. Also, of course, you have long administrations – FDR – and short administrations – Ford and JFK – so the time comparisons are different. Lastly, although it encompasses a time period of almost 100 years, it is really a small period of time from which to draw conclusions.

IMO

My point is not to predict that if Biden wins, the stock market will go up, or that it will go down if Trump wins. Rather, my point is that the stock market is apt to go up no matter who is President, and that therefore you should not buy or sell the stock market based on your own political bias. Who resides in the White House is only one factor that affects corporate and stock performance, and one should keep that in perspective as they make buy or sell decisions with their life savings.

Risk Avoidance

In the insurance world, the best way to mitigate a risk is to avoid it altogether. Don’t want to get hit by a hurricane? Live in Nebraska. Don’t want to be flooded out? Live on high ground. Don’t want to get in a car accident? Don’t buy a car and live somewhere where you can walk anywhere to satisfy your needs. You get the picture.

Stay Home

It’s the same way when it comes to Covid. Don’t want to get sick? Stay home and minimize or eliminate contact with other people. Have your needs delivered to your front door. As I continue to talk to people, there are still a lot of people out there who are still extremely reluctant to venture outside of their own homes. Discussions of therapies, vaccines, mask-wearing and politics aside, staying home and avoiding the risk of coming into contact with someone who might be contagious is the best way not to get sick with Covid.

The Problem

While this approach may work for you or your family for some period of time, the problem with it is that if everyone stayed home until the All Clear siren wails, then the economy would substantially collapse. This is why the US GDP declined by nearly 33% during the 2nd Quarter of this year – a lot of people were ordered to stay home and so commerce wasn’t getting done. Risk avoidance in a collective sense is not a sustainable strategy. Too many people would lose their jobs and there isn’t enough government money to make up for the collapse of private industry.

Common Problem

The concept that what’s good for one individual is not necessarily good for the whole of society is common. For instance, it may be good for you to sell all of your stocks and move 100% to cash, but what if everyone did that? There would be no investment in companies, which means there would be no companies, and a lot of people holding on to a lot of cash with nowhere to spend it. Afraid of flying? Then don’t fly, but if nobody flew, it would be really bad for the economy.

Trade-Off

There needs to be a trade-off in order to get people back employed and the economy moving forward again. The ramifications of this trade-off continue to work themselves out every day in the stock markets. People collectively are more risk-averse now due to Covid, and so the ups and downs in the stock market are substantially about how it is perceived that people are ready to undertake more risk with their own health in order to get back to work and return to spending at or near the level they were at prior to Covid. Of course there are other issues involved – Presidential election, stimulus bill, individual company management issues – but the shifts in the economy as we move through Covid and how and to what extent consumers reengage going forward and what individual corporate earnings will look like is the most important issue for the stock market.

IMO

Complete risk avoidance may work for you but it is not sustainable in the whole for a long period of time. If you in a high-risk group with respect to your health, then do what’s best for you. However, if you have no comorbidities, then consider what ramifications there are to society and the economy as a whole if everyone else followed your example. People’s jobs, incomes, and lives depend on commerce, and so we should all consider that as we make our decisions as to how to act in the face of this Covid pandemic.

Should You SPAC?

Special-Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPAC’s, are the hottest thing on Wall Street. In 2020 alone, the year of Covid, SPAC IPO’s have raised over $57 Billion with two months to go, dwarfing the previous high of $13.6 Billion, raised in 2019. By investing in a SPAC IPO, investors are giving a “blank check” to a management team to go out and purchase a business and operate it as a publicly-traded company. The acquisition target is likely not identified at the time of the IPO. Does this sound like a good investment opportunity to you? It may be, but unless you really do your homework, you are setting yourself up for failure.

SPAC’s

SPAC’s are sort of a way for average investors to invest in private equity-type deals. Only institutions or accredited investors are eligible to invest in traditional private equity, and they do so because returns can be high, but so can corresponding risk. Often, in private equity deals, a business is targeted followed by a search to find a team to manage the business, but it can also happen the other way around.

Anyone Can Invest

Anyone can invest in a SPAC – you don’t need to be an accredited investor. In a SPAC, as opposed to traditional private equity, the management team comes first, followed by the business acquisition after the IPO money has been raised. That’s why SPAC’s are referred to as “blank checks” – investors are giving money to a team and it’s up to the team to spend it how they want. The valuation and the fundamentals of the acquisition target are not known to the SPAC investors at the time of the SPAC IPO. SPAC investors are therefore giving over the right to analyze and negotiate a good deal to the SPAC management team. Of course, the SEC has guidelines for how SPAC’s are to spend their IPO money, but, still, an investor has to take a leap of faith to entrust their investment just in a team of people and let them go for it without your pre-approval.

Is It Really That Far-Fetched?

Though investing your good money with a management team in search of a business sounds different, it really isn’t. Think about mutual funds, which most investors own in some capacity. An actively-managed mutual fund operates somewhat in the same way: investors give money to the mutual fund managers, who in turn take the money pool and invest it typically in publicly-traded companies that they believe to be undervalued or that they believe have potential to appreciate such that their returns will outperform market returns. Investors trust that the mutual fund manager is superior at doing their investment analysis better than they can working on their own. Though mutual funds diversify by investing in many public companies, SPAC’s typically are less diversified, investing in only one or a couple of businesses. That said, the concept of delegating the acquisition and investment decision to someone who is more able is not that strange, and is a common element between actively-managed mutual funds and SPAC’s.

Should You SPAC?

Should you invest in a SPAC? In my opinion, if you do so, you better have a very strong knowledge, belief, and experience with the management team in charge of the SPAC. Since you can’t do your homework on whatever company they plan to acquire, you had better be darn sure that the team are comprise of people with integrity (so that they won’t just make off with your money) and acumen. Beyond that, there are other things to consider. For instance, typically a management team has experience in a certain type of business or industry. You as a possible investor should consider whether there are good opportunities in that industry for acquisitions. If it is a “hot” industry, perhaps there are a lot of other money pools out there trolling for potential acquisitions, in which case the price of those acquisitions could be bid up. On the flip side, perhaps this team’s experience is in a market that is petering out. If so, is there a catalyst within that market that could cause it to either stabilize or turn back in the right direction? These are the type of questions that you should consider before you invest.

IMO

Caveat Emptor – buyer beware – is very appropriate for investors who are looking to invest in a SPAC because they think they can earn private equity-type returns. While there are other types of investments out there that fit a similar profile, SPAC investors have to be extremely comfortable with whoever is in charge of the SPAC. While the investor may not be able to do their homework on the target company, there are elements they can bone up on, and so there are ways they can and should get more comfortable before they open their checkbooks.