Black Swan or Antifragile?

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb is topical again due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Taleb is the author of several books. The best known among his books are “The Black Swan”, published in 2007, and “Antifragile”, published in 2012 as an extension and culmination of his thought processes that included those outlined in “The Black Swan”. I have read both books. Both are pertinent to the Covid-19 pandemic, but which book has more to offer as we sit here now with the pandemic having hit and as we are debating the merits of reopening various states’ and ultimately the national economy? I argue that we should look to “Antifragile” as a guidepost for reopening.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Black Swan

The Covid-19 is being described in the media as a Black Swan, meaning a once-in-a-century or so event that nobody could have predicted. This is convenient because the pandemic that Covid is being compared to is the Spanish Flu, which was just over 100 years ago, right after the end of World War I. I disagree. There have been several diseases, including many that originated, as Covid has, in China, in the years since the Spanish Flu. What sets Covid-19 apart is that it seems to be more communicable than the previous flus, and also that someone infected can remain asymptomatic for several days while they are out there infecting other people. A bad flu epidemic doesn’t seem to be that unusual. What is unusual is the economic shutdown that we have forced ourselves into. I agree with Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins on this point. It would have been very difficult to predict that the governments of the US and many other developed countries would have voluntarily shut down their economies.

Taleb’s lesson in The Black Swan is that Black Swan events aren’t really that rare, and that while you might not be able to predict the specific details of a Black Swan event prior to its happening, you can predict and should be prepared that a plus or minus 3 standard deviation event will occur, perhaps when we least expect it.


Taleb’s lessons in The Black Swan may have been useful prior to the onset of the pandemic (say 6 months ago?), but now that we are here and “already pregnant”, so to speak, I think we need to look to Taleb’s magnum opus “Antifragile” for how we should proceed henceforward. “Antifragile” gets to the heart of the debate about the economic shutdowns, the shelter in place orders, “flatten the curve”, and how quickly or slowly we should reopen restaurants, entertainment venues, stores, and the remainder of the economy.

In “Antifragile”, Taleb argues that attempting to shelter people and other organisms from the daily phenomena of the outside world results in them becoming more fragile and less able to adapt once they are set free and launched into every day life. Think about a child who stays with their mother and close family for 5 years before going to Kindergarten. Do you think that child will be more able or less able to adapt to their Kindergarten classmates than will another child who has had a lot of prior interaction with other children their own age? Taleb argues that isolation makes one more fragile, not stronger.

Instead, Taleb writes, the way to strengthen a person over time is to launch them and expose them to all that the outside world has to offer, diseases included. A person builds up immunity to diseases they are exposed to at school or work so that the next time they encounter the disease, they will have some natural resistance to it and are able to avoid getting sick. A child who plays and interacts with a variety of other children will not only gain immunity to disease but will (hopefully) learn how these other people act and think and (hopefully again) learn some social skills. Exposure and interaction is the way one gains strength, not isolation and sheltering inside. Taleb couldn’t find an antonym for fragile so he made one up and called it Antifragile.

Shelter or Open?

Given this very general overview of Taleb’s two most famous books, how do you think Taleb feels about the debate as to how much longer to shelter in place? I think he would say “Antifragile” should be the blueprint and that the economy should open up sooner rather than later so as to allow people to acquire some level of immunity to this new virus. “Flatten the Curve” is saying a similar thing in a different way. “Flatten the Curve” was intended to slow but not stop the spread of the disease so that the medical system will have time to deal with all of the illness. Implicit in this notion is that people will continue to get sick with Covid, albeit at a slower rate, until either a good treatment or a vaccine is developed. By the way, a vaccine is not a sure thing. The common cold is viral and there is still no vaccine and this is the year 2020.


Parents cannot completely isolate their children from any bad things out there in the world, and if they try to do so, they are failing by not developing their childrens’ social skills. Likewise, governments cannot forever keep their citizens isolated. Citizens will abide for a short time but not for very long. We are social animals, and if we are bound (collectively) to acquire some form of Covid-19, let’s get on with it. With a few limited exceptions, “Flatten the Curve” has succeeded in keeping demand for medical services at reasonable levels, even below normal levels. Let’s hope that governments heed Taleb’s advice and undertake an “Antifragile” method of opening up our nation’s businesses, even if it is at a slow pace.

The Oil Market

You may have read or heard that the price of oil went “below zero” earlier this week. Before you get too excited, this doesn’t mean that your local gas station will be paying you to fill ‘er up, instead of the other way around. Instead, the “below zero” relates to the oil futures market, and specifically to the futures contract that was to expire the next day. For all of you procrastinators out there, it means that those oil producers who waited until the last day to sell their product ended up getting screwed.

Oil Futures

Oil producers substantially sell their oil through the futures market. The New York Mercantile Exchange (the NYMEX) provides the major market for oil futures, and their futures mature every month. One futures contract is for 1,000 barrels or 42,000 gallons of oil. If you are “long” on a futures contract at maturity, you will take delivery of however many contracted barrels you are long.

The futures market functions so that oil producers have a market mechanism they can rely on to more smoothly sell their product and to lock in a price ahead of time so that they know what their revenues will be. For buyers on the other side of the transaction, through the futures market, they can book their price and quantities so as better to plan the amount of oil they will have in storage at a given time.

May Contract

With respect to the May contract, which is the contract that matured earlier this week and went below zero, the reason it went below zero is that there is very little excess storage capacity right now. Big oil storage tanks stateside and oil supertankers out at sea are mostly already full. Buyers of the May contract would have to take physical delivery of the oil in May, but with storage capacity already full, there was no place to put the oil, so sellers had to pay buyers to take it off their hands. My point is that the “below zero” aspect was a very short-term phenomenon due to the lack of storage capacity.


Why is storage capacity so chock full? The Coronavirus shutdown, of course. With so many businesses closed down, and particularly with airline travel way down, meaning jet fuel consumption is way down, daily demand for oil is down about 20% by some estimates, from about 100 million barrels per day pre-Coronavirus to perhaps 80 million today. As a physical product with long production and storage periods, oil has difficulty with a demand shock such as we are in today.

Investment Opportunity?

The opportunists among us might look at an upside-down below zero oil market and think that there might be an opportunity to invest and make a lot of money right now. They might be right particularly if they have an empty oil tanker or land-based tank system that can accommodate upwards of 42,000 gallons of oil and can hold on to that oil for a year or more before reselling it. As to other ways to profit from this anomaly, they are hard to find. Unless you are either a genius or lucky short-term trader, the only way for the ordinary investor to make money through this specific anomaly is to buy an asset now and holding it for the long term. The problem is finding an asset that you would own for the long term that was beaten down consistent with the “below zero” May futures contract. You could perhaps look at the USO, which is the US Oil Futures ETF, which has fallen to under $3. If you think it could soon return to say $5, that would be a nice return, and maybe worth a play. See the chart here:


What about your major producers such as ExxonMobil and Chevron? While they have of course taken a hit due to the Coronavirus economic shutdown, they did not seem to react badly to the “below zero” May contract. No big deal, say XOM and CVX investors. See the charts here:

You can certainly make the case to buy XOM, CVX, or any other oil-related company now at beaten-down prices and hope to sell higher as general economic activity improves. After all, if you by XOM now at $42-ish and it returns to the mid-$60s, where it was just 4 months ago, that would be a 50% return. However, my point is that the majors didn’t seem to be significantly affected by the “below zero” May contract issue.


As with most situations, it is better not to speculate short-term but to invest long-term. As long-term opportunities go, investing in major oil companies or other oil-related businesses may be a good one if you can see your way out of the downturn we are currently in. Then again, there are other economic segments that you might say the same thing about. If you have patient money and you can stomach an eventful ride, there are opportunities out there.

Recovery and Attitude

The S&P 500 fell about 35% from its late February high to its late March low. Since hitting the low, it has gone back up by 25% but is still 17% below the February high. Question: Are you encouraged by the partial rebound and hopeful for more in the future? Or are you still upset that the market and your net worth sold off and won’t be happy again until it recoups its losses? Similarly, new unemployment filings are at record highs. If and when this trend reverses itself and companies start to hire again, will you be hopeful when the trend is upward or unhappy until the unemployment rate reaches its previous lows?


I believe most people fall in the category of being hopeful if the trendline is upward, even if things in the recent past weren’t so good. People don’t like the sense of continuing to fall, but they are ok once they have fallen and the situation stabilizes when they head back up again. They don’t have to reclaim the previous heights as long as they are moving in the right direction from their own perspective. If my belief is true, then optimism should return more quickly than expected and perhaps as quickly as the Coronavirus led to the shutdown of the economy. Once a few jobs reappear and maybe a few restaurants reopen, even perhaps on a limited scale with restrictions in place, I believe we will collectively be hopeful about the future even if it is perhaps not as good as it looked even 60 days ago. I realize I am venturing into the realm of Behavioral Economics in which I have no training other than personal experience and a couple of books I have read. Yet, I am an optimist, and so I am hopeful that others will share my optimism.


With respect to investing, the trick will be not to get too far over your skis and be too optimistic. Make sure you temper the level of optimism you might have with a sense of reality. In other words, go ahead and buy, but try to make sure the price you pay is reasonable. Use my advice or that of another trusted financial planner or investment manager to judge if you are jumping in too deep too soon. Conversely, if you are more of a Debbie Downer, run your thoughts by your advisor to see if perhaps you are too gloomy or if your gloom is justified and fits with your investment goals. As a whole, the stock market looks more to the future and future earnings potential than it does to the past. Use this Coronavirus situation to think about if you also look toward the future.


How much risk are American citizens willing to accept in order to go back to work again and to re-start the economy? This question will be debated a lot over the next days and weeks and will determine what our economy will look like.

Americans and Risk

Americans have historically been risk-takers. Think about the early settlers. 45% of the Mayflower Pilgrims died during their first winter in Massachusetts. Only 60 of 500 Jamestown colonists survived the winter of 1609-1610. Then think about those who ventured westward to settle the continent. Survival was anything but guaranteed. While we are probably less likely to undertake these levels of risks, we recall this part of our country’s history and understand that risk is part of life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Fast forward to today and the Coronavirus epidemic and related economic shutdown. The difference between the Early Settlers and today is that, while you might not believe or even care that you might get sick, you might infect someone else who does care, so these are not apples-to-apples comparisons. However, let’s do the exercise anyhow. How do you feel about reopening the economy? The completely risk-averse position is not to want to leave your house until there is a vaccine. The risk-accepting position is to go back to the way things were 60 days ago, with no restrictions – no “social distancing”, no facemasks, no required testing. Most people are probably somewhere in between. The exact point of where in between will be the result of the ensuing debate.


I think most citizens will accept more risk than the government and most political leaders will allow. Over time, our citizens have been regulated and lawsuited into accepting less and less risk. Safety has taken precedence over accomplishments. My concern is that this trend will accelerate with respect to this pending economic reopening. It would be nice to have a vaccine in place and know a lot more about the behavior and traits of Coronavirus before reopening the economy, but the unemployment rate is exploding and the task is urgent. We also don’t necessarily have to establish all of the rules on Day 1 prior to reopening. As the rules have changed as the Coronavirus threat has worsened, so too can the rules change as the threat lessens. Also, let’s not forget that the purpose of “flatten the curve” was to keep the healthcare system from being overrun, not to prevent everyone from being infected. Don’t move the goalposts on us. The curve seems to be flattening. Moreover, non-Coronavirus medical usage is down, so parts of the healthcare system have a lot of capacity. If the curve is flattening and remains so, then let’s get on with life. If most citizens agree with this thinking, then the future will include economic growth, and people can cautiously step out into the working and investing minefields again.

Battle To Reopen

I believe the battle to reopen the economy that we will all see and hear discussed during the next several weeks is going to be among the biggest, most high stakes political battles in recent memory. While it will be partisan, there are reasons for hope. Governors, in particular, should be very motivated to get their states back to work. The Media, particularly the national media, are perhaps more motivated to keep the current shutdown in place. It will be up to the American people to sift through all of this information and arrive at a consensus as to what is the best way and under what parameters the economy should reopen for business.


The current shutdown, however temporary and however devastating for those who have lost their jobs, is Nirvana for two groups: those who are advocates of greater central planning in our economy, and the media. For advocates of central planning, you have the bulk of the US economy shut down by Federal and State order. It’s not Communist China or North Korea-level control, but it’s more central control than we have ever seen here in the US. Citizens, afraid for their own health, are willing to go along with the government mandates for the time being. How long will they put up with it? As long as those in charge of the shutdown can keep the citizenry convinced that there is more danger in going out and going to work than there is in staying home.

As for the media, since everyone is staying at home working or not, what else are they doing? Watching the news. Viewership of all levels of broadcast news media is way up. The news media is central to daily life in the US more now than it has been in many years, particularly since the dawn of the internet age. For the media, keeping the economic shutdown in place is good for their viewership and good for their business. Why should the media be motivated to put forward stories that might cause the shutdown to relax or the make viewers more confident that they won’t get sick if they return to work and other semi-normal activities? The answer is that ad revenue could decline if advertisers remain closed, but I’m guessing that process would take a long time to play itself out.

Back To Work

That business owners (including owners of publicly-traded stock) want the shutdown restrictions to end and to get back to work goes without saying. People would rather get back to work than collect unemployment. People sometimes want to go out to eat in some capacity rather than eat at home every day. People need social interaction with other people.

Also, think about this: States can’t print money. The Federal government of course wants to continue to collect income taxes, but if tax revenues slow, the Federal government can make up for its shortfall by printing more money, which means borrowing more from the public including the rest of the world at historically low interest rates. The CARES Act shows that the US Government, including the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank, is not afraid to force the printing presses to work triple shifts.

States, however, can’t make up for budget shortfalls by printing money. States need tax revenues. Many states have balanced budget provisions in their state constitutions, and so tax revenue shortfalls necessitate cuts in state outlays. States, and the governors of those states, Democrat and Republican alike, should be motivated to get people earning taxable income sooner than later.

Who Turns On The Switch?

On Monday 4/13, a new potential front arose regarding whether it is the Federals or the States who have the authority to make the call to open up again. President Trump says it is the Federal Government’s role to do so, but the states mostly beg to disagree. There is hypocrisy on both sides of this battle. President Trump says it is his call to reopen the economy but he previously and repeatedly left the “closing” decision up to the governors. Many of those who now think each state should have the right to make its own decision previously argued that President Trump was wrong not to close the entire country down or to have uniform stay at home policies throughout each state for fear of spreading the virus into previously less-infected states. So it looks like we will see a battle even for who gets to turn on the switch.


I am optimistic that there are enough states, governors, and US citizens of any ilk that the back-to-work signal will be given in due course. Most people are sufficiently afraid of getting sick that they won’t take undue chances. How to address mass transit in big cities will be a tough challenge. If you have ridden the NYC subway system, you know at least that it is not conducive to social distancing. Perhaps employers in NYC will have to continue to allow work-from-home to continue. I believe state and local governments are much better equipped to sort this all out, just as I believe state and local governments are better equipped to make most decisions that impact their own states, cities, and counties. If I have to guess, we will go back to work in a limited capacity sometime during early May – Monday, May 11 is a good bet. Restaurants will be allowed to open with limited seating for a period of time. Same with retail stores – grocery stores are already doing this. Entertainment and sports venues are going to be difficult to reopen to paying fans. All sports leagues need to move forward with plans that involve playing for broadcast only with no (or very few) fans present. We will have to live and work under these parameters probably for the next 12 months, as more and more people acquire immunity and perhaps as a vaccine gets closer. Wish us all luck!

Living With Uncertainty

With respect to businesses large and small, one of the biggest issues if not the biggest issue is that we don’t know when the economy or at least large segments of the economy can be opened up again. If we knew that business could start up again on May 1 or May 15, then people and businesses could lay low during the shutdown and make it through to the other side. However, we are not being told anything like that. The end of the shutdown remains open-ended, and we are getting told things can start up again anywhere from Easter (President Trump, later modified) to 18 months from now (Ari Emanuel, an Obama advisor). That’s a large time frame to have to plan for.


Uncertainty drives people and businesses to idleness. They don’t know where to go or what to do so they don’t do anything. Tension builds. Even people and companies that ordinarily take leadership roles can’t do so now because of the government-mandated shutdown. The only thing that is certain is that we are shut down now and likely will be for at least a few more weeks. Yet, the stock market is showing signs of life, especially during the past couple of weeks. Why is that? Stock investors are looking at daily Covid-19 infection data from around the world and trying to discern the rate of infections. The jump in stock prices has reflected that we are “beating the curve”, meaning the number of infections and deaths have been well below what was originally projected, and even the revised projections. The shutdown and other measures have worked thus far, but an abrupt return to normalcy means infections will spike again. The uncertainty is what the governments’ (plural) policy will be as to how and when the economy will be opened up again.


Uncertainty has been a part of the human fabric forever. Google “living with uncertainty” and see how many links pop up. I believe that the current generation is less able to deal with uncertainty than earlier generations. As forecasting and forecasting tools have improved, the current generation has become accustomed to a more certain level of belief as to what might happen in the future. Yet, Black Swan events such as Covid-19 still happen, and these wreak havoc with the forecasting models. As difficult as it is for many people, we need to accept that there is a level of uncertainty out there that we cannot enumerate or control, get comfortable with that, and go on with our lives. Better to move forward in more uncertain circumstances than to be rendered idle and unable to act because we don’t know when or how we can have a life again. With respect to our government, especially national and state governments, people and businesses really need a time framework as to when we think we can reopen the economy in whatever capacity. The current open-ended situation must end sooner rather than later.

Oil, Toilet Paper and Inventory

Are we seeing the end of “Just In Time” inventory management? Or is the Coronavirus shutdown just a temporary glitch that will get ironed out and right-sided soon? What people do going forward with toilet paper may shed some light on these questions.

Just In Time

It is in the best interest of companies not to carry a lot of inventory in their warehouses and on their balance sheets. Inventory costs money to purchase and to store. The quicker companies can throughput their inventory and sell it, the more likely they can “cash flow” their operating expenses, and the less likely companies will need to draw on banks or other outside financing sources to purchase needed inventory. Nirvana for a company is to be paid for a sale of a product on or before the date that the company needs to pay its own suppliers for that product.

It has taken decades to hone the process and has been worked on by some of the best and brightest minds in business, but the world economy, particularly the US economy, prior to the Coronavirus shutdown was getting closer to the ideal of Just In Time inventory. And it has done so in the course of offshoring a good part of the manufacturing sector to places like China and other Asian countries. Corporate inventory management is the best it has ever been – or at least it was the best ever prior to last month. With much of the world now shut down and with the virus having originated in manufacturing centers in China, inventory management is bound to be affected.

Two Examples

I offer two examples of products whose inventory management has been disrupted on a large scale in the last month or so. One is due to a sharp decrease in demand and the other is due to a sharp increase in demand.

Oil: The first example is oil. As a result of Coronavirus (decrease in demand) and also due to a dispute seemingly between Saudi Arabia and Russia (increase in supply), the price of a barrel of oil fell from the $60 range in early January 2020 to $20 recently, although new developments may help. As a result, oil storage tanks and tanker ships are full of oil that is not much in demand. Now, to be fair, inventory management in the oil industry has never been a smooth process and there have always been supply and demand issues to smooth out. Nevertheless, this is a big shock in the oil industry that will likely result in some poorly-financed players going out of business permanently.

Toilet Paper: The renowned toilet paper shortage has been a humorous thread on social media. However, the shortage is an example of Just In Time inventory management gone awry. Think about your own personal experience. Prior to a month ago, did you just keep enough toilet paper in your house to make it until the next time you planned to go to the grocery store? And did you ever think that when you went to the store that there wouldn’t be toilet paper available? When people, fearing the Coronavirus worst, started stocking up on toilet paper, the Kimberly Clarks of the world who make the toilet paper and who rely on Just In Time management themselves, were not able to keep up with the surge in demand. As of this writing, some stores still are not stocked with toilet paper and other paper products.

So I ask you, once the present crisis is over, do you think you will go back to your own Just In Time toilet paper management, or do you think you will remain skeptical of the system’s ability to supply the stores with what you need and therefore stock up more than you used to? And, if you do plan to stock up more yourself, how long do you think you will continue to do that? Now, let’s transpose that thinking to companies whose supplies of needed goods have been severely disrupted by this crisis. How do you think they will react? If they react as you might with respect to your own toilet paper, that means they will need to spend more money on inventory to stock up, and that means their profit margins may go down. Moreover, as you have seen with toilet paper, you might see other products in short supply because companies will need to alter their thinking with respect to inventory and supply chain management. For example, we may see this in the auto industry soon, especially if we see a relatively quick turnaround in the economy because all of the Big 3 have suspended production of new autos so that they can produce other products such as ventilators that are more needed today.


Just In Time inventory management works very well for companies during more stable times but does not work as well when there are supply or demand shocks in certain products or with the general economy. I believe it will take many months or years to smooth out the glitches we are seeing and will see in the near future with respect to inventory management. All of this points to a bumpy recovery that is not consistent with the hoped-for V-shaped recovery. I don’t think the stock market is going straight back up; it will take months and likely years to get back to where we were just a short time ago.

RecoVery or RecoUery?

Economists are debating now whether, once we get to the other side, the recovery will be V-shaped or U-shaped. I admire Brian Wesbury of First Trust Advisors from Chicago. In this video presentation, Brian explains how he sees the difference as being a function of how long the enforced economic shutdown persists. A longer period of shutdown = a longer period of recovery = more likely a U-shaped recovery. Brian states most smaller businesses have about 28 days of cash on hand, and if the shutdown lasts longer than that it will force more and more businesses to close down. Brian believes the shutdown will begin to be lifted sometime in late April, and so the graph of the recovery will be somewhere between a V and a U. A V…U, maybe. I disagree with Brian somewhat.


Smaller companies just don’t have the access to equity or debt financing that larger companies do. This is true throughout the spectrum of private and publicly-traded companies. The increase in regulation, including but not limited to Sarbanes-Oxley and regulations such as those that have increased capital requirements among banks, favor big companies getting bigger and keeping potential competitive upstart companies from ever getting funded. With respect to smaller private companies, your restaurants, hair salons, yoga studios and the like, many of them battle with cash flow even during good times, and they are not equipped to last through a long shutdown. We are already 3 weeks into this imposed shutdown and nobody is saying it is going to end any time soon. The end of April is probably a best-case scenario right now. Businesses in some areas of the country that are less affected by Coronavirus may be able to open sooner than others, but that is a different argument. Brian Wesbury’s 28 days of cash is a macro argument, and I would bet there are a lot more small businesses that are below the median on that than are above the median. Look for a lot of your favorite restaurants not to reopen, especially if we go into May with the shutdown.

Turn On the Lights

Secondly, once the All Clear siren sounds, it won’t be easy just to turn on the lights and start up again. If a company has furloughed workers, they need to be rehired, and maybe those workers can now find a better gig somewhere else, so it won’t be easy for employers just to send a few text messages and expect their old staff to reappear. If they are being nice and abiding by some state mandates, landlords are foregoing rent during this shutdown, or at least waiving late fees. Once the all-clear is sounded, these landlords will want to be paid something before these businesses are able to start up again. Supply chains are being disrupted and they won’t be restarted immediately especially if your company is reliant on supplies from China other parts of Asia – cargo ships are big and move slowly. Just In Time inventory management was the name of the game prior to this shutdown, and it will take quite a bit of time to sync all of the factors together so that inventories work the way they used to. Just as baseball players need Spring Training to get back in shape, so too will this economy need a period of time to train for it to get back into shape.

The Great Recession

According to Yahoo finance, it took about 5.5 years for the S&P 500 to regain its highs after it hit its pre-Recession high in late-2007. There were a lot of fits and starts along the way. The Great Recession was different in that it involved a bubble in the real estate and mortgage markets that needed time to work itself through. However, my point is that large corrections such as that we are in now take time to resolve. I don’t think that this time it will take 5.5 years but I am not as optimistic as Brian Wesbury that the recovery will be V-shaped.


As an investor and looking at this as an opportunity to “buy low”, fret not. You will have more opportunities to buy low. I am not saying we will re-test the low that we hit on March 23, although that is possible. I am saying you have not missed your opportunity to buy low, and you will continue to have opportunities to do so for the next several months, in my opinion. This shutdown will continue to have economic ramifications for several months even after the Coronavirus threat is deemed to be minimized. Rather than a V or a U, I look for the graph of the recovery to look something like a W or a cup with a handle (look it up). Rather than 5.5 years, I believe it will take 2 to 3 years to retake the highs in the S&P 500 that we reached in late February, which is only 5-6 weeks ago, which is breathtaking in the rapidity in the fall that we have had since. For me, it points to having a long-term investing strategy and sticking to it, especially if you are not about to lose your job or otherwise need the money invested in your savings and retirement accounts.