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It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe …

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.

I hope everybody is having a great weekend! Okay, away we go …

Money is stored labor. Labor is part of human life. To devalue money is to debase life.

— John Kenneth Galbraith

The last duty of a central banker is to tell the public the truth.

— Alan Blinder, former Fed Vice Chairman

Credits and Debits

Debit: Did you see this? A new survey has found that 49% of all millennials say their spending habits are driven by their friends bragging about their purchases on social media; compare that to just one-third of Americans in general. Sad. Hey … I wonder if the advertising world has caught on to this; if not, they’re missing out on a slam-dunk marketing opportunity.

Debit: In other news, the world economy has been in a significant slowdown for a quite awhile now. How slow, you ask? Well … the best way to visualize the dire situation that the world economy finds itself in is it to look at global trade, which has tumbled to levels last seen during the 2008 financial crisis. See for yourself:

click to enlarge

Debit: I see Uber went public last week. But as Bill Holter notes, “Never mind Uber has lost $10 billion over the last three years, and they really have no business plan to earn one thin dime going forward. But Wall Street peddles whatever crap they can peddle. In fact, over the last year roughly 80% of all new issues were for money-losing operations.” Then again, such shenanigans are expected when financial services exceed 20% of GDP.

Credit: Meanwhile, MN Gordon observed this week that, “After a decade of increasing wealth inequality, the masses have reached a moment of certain hopelessness. Currently, people are after an ounce of hope they can latch onto; a means to an easier way is in high demand. Hence, fresh pitchers of Kool-Aid like MMT are being served up to meet this unquenchable thirst.” Wow. That’s so poetic it would make TS Eliot jealous.

Debit: Last week the Fed warned that credit standards continue to slip, as loans to firms with especially high debt now surpasses previous peaks seen in 2007 and 2014. According to a Fed spokesman, “The historically high level of business debt and concentration of debt growth among the riskiest firms could pose a risk to those firms and their creditors.” Uh huh. Thanks for that wickedly astute insight, Captain Obvious.

Debit: Speaking of risk, the latest Social Security balance sheet update reveals that its liabilities are $43 trillion larger than its assets — that’s $9 trillion more than last year. No, really. As a result, America’s national pension plan is now underfunded by 33%; and funds are expected to be exhausted by 2035. The good news for millennials is that SS can remain solvent indefinitely if the retirement age is raised to 105.

Debit: Of course, America’s general fund has fiscal issues too. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that, starting in 2020, the US will never again see an annual budget deficit of less than $1 trillion. Considering the IRS will collect more than $3.6 trillion this year, it’s clear that the US isn’t in this predicament because of insufficient tax rates. The truth is: America has a spending problem.

Credit: Here’s another nugget of fiscal reality: deficits do matter. This week Michael Lebowitz warned that central bank policies “come at the expense of their currencies, since their value is what supports trust in the currency and allows it to retain its functional purposes — (but) current policy throws all trust to the wind.” Yep. Unfortunately, although the banking sharks are sowing the wind, we’ll all get to reap the coming whirlwind:

Sharknado 3 - funny scenes - YouTube

Credit: Don’t be fooled; despite the central banksters’ reckless fiscal and monetary policies, they’re macroeconomically “woke.” The proof is in their actions, as the world’s central banks have drastically reduced their purchases of US Treasuries, while simultaneously increasing their gold purchases. Why? Because they know the debt-based paper currencies they issue are in their death throes. Just don’t tell that to Ben Bernanke:

Ron Paul : Why do central banks hold Gold? Bernanke : Tradition - YouTube

Credit: The bottom line is that gold and silver are essential for liberty; they’re also unparalleled wealth protection, which is more critical than ever. As Alasdair Macleod notes, “Failure to control monetary debasement invalidates the concept of a state-issued (fiat) currency.” Precious metals have been used as money for 5000 years because they maintain their value over time. Despite his testimony, Ben Bernanke knows this. It’s imperative that you do too.

By the Numbers

This week Forbes released its annual summary of the world’s biggest 2000 companies. Here are the top ten industry sectors in terms of total companies that made the list. Do you notice anything in particular about three of the five biggest industries? (Hint: They make up 28% of the 2000 largest companies.)

10 Food, Drink & Tobacco (75 companies)

9 Utilities (84)

8 Business Services & Supplies (88)

7 Consumer Durables (90)

5 (tie) Materials (102)

5 (tie) Insurance (102)

4 Oil & Gas Operations (110)

3 Construction (123)

2 Financials (145)

1 Banking (308)

Source: Forbes

Last Week’s Poll Result

How much was your federal income tax refund this year?

  • More than $1000 (48%)
  • I didn’t get a refund. (32%)
  • $1000 or less (20%)

More than 1500 Len Penzo dot Com readers answered last week’s survey question and it turns out that, just under half of them got a juicy tax refund from the IRS totaling more than $1000. On the other hand, more than a third didn’t get any refund at all, including yours truly; I actually ended up writing a small check to the tax man this year.

If you have a question you’d like to see featured here, please send it to me at Len@LenPenzo.com and be sure to put “Question of the Week” in the subject line.

The Question of the Week

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

Useless News: The Biplane Ride

Stumpy and his wife Martha went to the state fair every year.

Every year Stumpy would say, “Martha, I’d like to ride in that there biplane.” And every year Martha would say, “I know, Stumpy, but that biplane ride costs ten dollars, and ten dollars is ten dollars.”

One year, Stumpy and Martha went to the fair and Stumpy said, “Martha, I’m 75 years old. If I don’t get a ride in that biplane this year I may never get another chance.”

Martha replied, “Stumpy, that there biplane ride costs ten dollars, and ten dollars is ten dollars.”

The pilot overheard the old couple and said, “Folks, I’ll make you a deal; I’ll take you both up for a ride. Now … if you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say one word, then I won’t charge you — but if I hear so much as a peep, then it’s ten dollars.”

Stumpy and Martha agreed to the pilot’s terms and up they went.

The pilot did all kinds of twists and turns. Then the pilot did several barrel rolls and a couple of dives, but not a word was heard. So the pilot did all of his tricks over again.

Still, not a word.

After they landed the pilot turned to Stumpy and said, “By golly! Mister, I did everything I could think of to get you to yell out, but you didn’t make a sound.”

Stumpy replied, “Well, I was gonna say something when Martha fell out, but ten dollars is ten dollars.”

(h/t: Cowpoke)

Other Useless News

Here are the top — and bottom — five Canadian provinces and territories in terms of the average number of pages viewed per visit here at Len Penzo dot Com over the past 30 days:

1. Newfoundland & Labrador (2.10 pages/visit)
2. Quebec (1.78)
3. British Columbia (1.73)
4. Manioba (1.71)
5. Ontario (1.62)

9. Nunavut (1.50)
10. New Brunswick (1.39)
11. Prince Edward Island (1.33)
12. Yukon Territory (1.25)
13. Saskatchewan (1.13)

Whether you happen to enjoy what you’re reading (like those crazy canucks in Newfoundland & Labrador, eh …) — or not (ahem, you hosers living on the frozen Saskatchewan tundra) — please don’t forget to:

1. Click on that Like button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

2. Make sure you follow me on Twitter!

3. Subscribe via email too!

And last, but not least …

4. Consider becoming a Len Penzo dot Com Insider! Thank you.

Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach me at: Len@LenPenzo.com

After reviewing my article highlighting tips to consider before hiring a concrete contractor, Mrs. Wilson wrote:

You rock, Len!

Heh. I see what you did there, Mrs. Wilson … but thanks for the sediments.

If you enjoyed this, please forward it to your friends and family. I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.

Photo Credit: (coffee) brendan-c

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Everyone loves a good deal. But your shopping habits could probably use a little tweaking. Online shopping and apps have changed the way shoppers buy things. And with that, tried and true shopping hacks may have changed, too.

Of course, finding ways to get discounts online is one hack that everyone knows. But did you know that there are apps that can streamline this process? And there are other hacks you may be missing; here are ten you’ll want to try:

Price Matching. Did you know that major retailers like Target and Walmart will match prices advertised on other online stores? Some accept price matches from Amazon; but others will not. To try it out, go to the actual online store website and bring up the exact same product. Next, go to the service desk and show them the lower priced item.

Leave Items in Your Online Cart. Sometimes leaving items in an online cart will prompt the retailer to sweeten the deal and make you pull the plug. To prompt the retailer to contact you in a day or two, go to your online cart, and fill out the shipping and account information — but don’t complete the transaction. Instead, exit the website completely. After a few days, you may receive an email from the retailer trying to entice you to come back — often with a discount to complete your purchase. Just remember to check the box saying that you’d like to receive emails and offers. In addition, register with your own account — not as a guest. Otherwise, the retailer won’t have a way to contact you.

Dynamic Pricing. Dynamic pricing is a sneaky way to do business. But many sites utilize different factors like your browsing habits to set prices for an item you’re looking at. You can avoid this sneaky pricing tactic by clearing your browsing history or using Incognito mode.

Track Sales on Social Media. Some major retailers pre-announce sales on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Many companies post flash sales and coupon codes this way, too. So make sure you follow your favorite stores to snag special deals.

Coupon, Rebate, and Cash-back Apps. Using apps to get cash-back rewards, coupons, and rebates is a great way to save on shopping that you have to do anyway. Swagbucks gives you a chance to earn points by shopping through the app or website’s links. Ebates, on the other hand, gives you a little rebate for activating Ebates savings in your browser.

Ask for a Deal. Have you ever seen the “chat” icon on your favorite retailer website? Chat service customer agents are often privy to promotional codes and discounts not offered anywhere else.

Shop Farmers’ Markets Late in the Day. This may be counter-intuitive but, if you’re hoping for deals, it’s better to visit your Farmers’ Market later in the day because most sellers would rather not have to take their products home.You may see as much as 80% off if you don’t mind less-than-perfect produce.

Amazon Filler Finder. Have you ever shopped on Amazon only to find that you’re just shy of that free shipping amount? Some people simply suck it up and pay for shipping. But if you don’t have time to look for add-ons, let Amazon Filler Finder do the work for you. Simply enter the amount you need to qualify for free shipping. Then press “search” to discover a list of products that are at, or near, the amount you need.

Schedule Your Shopping Days. Most stores have their own sale schedules. Generally, stores send out coupons and discounts from the middle to the end of the week — as such most sales occur on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. For an extra leg-up, you can also join social media groups that track sales and savings opportunities.

Sales Bargain or Hype? Did you know that some websites inflate their starting price? They do this so it looks like you’re saving more money than you really are. So to make sure what you’re buying is the deal you think it is, add the item to your shopping cart. Next, open another tab and do a quick Google search for the product’s name and product type. You may find that the price you were going to pay isn’t really a deal at all — or you may find the same item at a much lower price.

Before You Checkout …

Finding the best deals takes time and patience, but ultimately, it’s up to you to do your due diligence. That means researching the products yourself, and maybe doing a little comparison shopping.

Lastly, you may want to try one of the cash reward or rebate websites for items you normally buy anyway. Not only will you receive a little money back, but it’ll be for something you already had to buy.

Photo Credit: stock photo

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Original oil painting by: Grandfather’s wife

Grandfather says he is a political anarchist, more than anything else.

Then he favors youths dressed in black and wearing masks and hurting people and breaking things, you ask?

No, Grandfather’s anarchy is not violent; it merely avoids government, whenever possible.

One must live apart to do that, so one must be able to stand one’s own company and that of a few others.

A hermit he is not.

“Experience has taught me that any kind of political grouping is oppressive. It’s the blind mass that crushes the individual.”

— Gao Xingjian

***

About the Author: RD Blakeslee is an octogenarian from West Virginia who built his net worth by only investing in that which can be enjoyed during acquisition and throughout life, as opposed to papers in a drawer, like stocks and bonds. You can read more about him here.

Photos: Courtesy of the Blakeslee Family

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If you’ve ever dreamed about working from home, this could be the best time for you to take the leap and start a business that allows you to make extra money while staying at home.

In fact, more and more Americans are turning to self-employment to keep their bills paid. More than eight million Americans primarily work from home and more than 17 million people spend at least one day a week in a home office.

Working from home provides you a number of advantages including relief from stressful commutes, a flexible schedule, and an unlimited earning potential.

Here are five home-based businesses that might help you escape from the confines of the traditional office:

Catering Business

If you love cooking and enjoy hosting dinner parties with all of your friends, consider starting a catering business. Use your culinary talents to cater parties both large and small, or other special events that require a large amount of food preparation. Work with a variety of foods offering a large menu of specialty dishes, or choose to specialize — such as authentic Mexican food or French haute cuisine. Gina Pace of Inc.com notes that picking a specialty within the catering field can give you an edge in the market.

Freelancing

As a freelancer, you’ll need little more than a computer, a telephone and a set of specific skills depending on the type of service you offer. Freelancing offers a lot of flexibility and offers great potential for making money from home; sometimes, the money you earn can far exceed the salary that you could make in a 9-to-5 job.

No matter what the job market is doing, freelancing offers a consistent base of opportunities. Here are a few freelancing careers for you to consider:

  • Writing, editing and proofreading
  • Graphic design
  • Public relations
  • Translation

If you want to choose a creative profession to freelance in, be prepared to show samples of your work. Create a website that showcases your work, or put together a professional portfolio that’s easy to send to clients when the need arises.

Virtual Nursing

If you’re a registered nurse who’s tired of working hospital hours or have grown weary of the daily commute, keep in mind that specialized software and computers supplied by pharmaceutical companies, health-related organizations and insurance companies, now allow nurses to work from home. April LaJune, a writer for Yahoo Voices, explains that with the onset of new technologies, these companies are among many customers that hire nurses to answer patient questions by telephone or email explains. Virtual nursing’s flexible hours keep you connected to your profession while you work from home.

Virtual Concierge

People are so busy these days that they need people to help them with the simplest tasks. If you have good organizational skills and are willing to take on any task, make some great money as a virtual concierge. Similar to a hotel concierge, a virtual concierge takes care of everything that busy individuals need. You’ll pick up laundry, shop for clothes, make dinner reservations; you may even be asked to track down 100 red roses for a marriage proposal! As a virtual concierge you can work for a service like VIP desk or work for yourself. Either way, it’s a great way to start building a successful business and bring in additional income.

Sales

One of the oldest ways to make extra money from home is by selling items through a direct marketing company like Avon or Mary Kay. Direct selling is a $30 billion industry, and it can be a great way to earn some extra spending money. Sell a company’s items directly to your clients; this allows businesses to cut out the brick-and-mortar stores, saving them a ton on overhead costs. If you’re motivated enough, you can make a little money by simply selling these items to your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. The secret to making this type of home business a success is having an established network of potential buyers ready to make a purchase.

If you think that working from home would be a welcome place for a second or primary job, then you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are a number of unique opportunities that you can take advantage of. Working from home offers more freedom and a stronger sense of pride for the work that you’re doing. So find something that makes you happy and figure out a way to turn it into a profitable home business.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

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You might be one of many people who is getting tired of increasing and tricky bank fees. Perhaps you’re at the point where you’re even looking at switching to a “new” way of banking that’s different from the typical big-name bank you’ve used for years. The good news is that there are plenty of options available to make that switch.

Here are some of the best alternatives to traditional banking:

Online banking

Companies such as Charles Schwab, Ally and Capital One 360 allow you to open a bank account online. That’s different from “old school” banking because the companies save money in rent, paperwork and other costs associated with running a bank at a fixed location. As a result, they can pass the savings on to you, the depositor.

Since this is the 21st century, you probably won’t need to worry about dealing with a lengthy learning curve if you opt to open an online bank account. You’re likely already accustomed to online banking with your current bank, and the online-only institutions go out of their way to design a user interface that’s easy to navigate.

If you’re someone who prefers “in person” interactions, then you’re not going to find much solace with online banking. It’s strictly a technical experience. If you’re someone who does most of your banking online already, you’ll find the experience to be a relatively easy transition, and you’ll also save money with the new service.

Prepaid Cards

A prepaid card is great way to budget your money and depart from traditional banking inconveniences. These cards function like a credit card, but you’re limited to the amount that you put onto it.

A leader in this space is Green Dot. You can get a prepaid Visa or MasterCard from that company, and you can use your prepaid card anywhere Visa or MasterCard are accepted.

If you like to save money while shopping at a discount retailer with a prepaid credit card, consider using Bluebird. That’s a prepaid credit card which is offered as a result of a joint venture between American Express and Walmart.

High-Interest Prepaid Cards

When you read the phrase “high-interest prepaid cards,” you might have thought it meant a credit card with a high interest rate. However, the name refers to interest that’s paid to you.

A high-interest prepaid card is a card that’s tied to a savings account. You get interest on the savings account, and when you use the card, money is deducted from that account.

For example, Mango offers a prepaid high-interest MasterCard. The money that’s used for the card is tied to a savings account that typically provides an interest rate better than your local bank.

Keep in mind that for some high-interest credit cards, you’ll be required to set up a monthly direct deposit to qualify for the high interest rate. Also, there are often fees for usage — but they can be waived under certain conditions.

A Mobile Bank Account

Almost everything is mobile these days, so why not make your bank account mobile, too? Security is becoming less of an issue these days anyways (or do people just prefer convenience over security now?) but it’s still important to be aware of these concerns.

As the name implies, a mobile bank account is designed to be used entirely on your mobile device.

GoBank is a checking account service offered by Walmart. The service offers low fees and paperless checking, but they will send you paper checks if you really want them. In addition, the company gives you the ability to text — yes, text — people money via Facebook or standard text messaging.

GoBank does offer direct deposit, which is convenient for payroll. However, if you want to physically deposit money, you’ll have to visit a Walmart. That can be a big inconvenience if you don’t live near a Walmart.

If you’re finding that your traditional bank is giving you sub-par customer service, it might be time to make a switch to a banking option that isn’t so traditional. To that end, consider using a banking alternative that can save you money in fees, give you a more pleasant experience as a consumer and possibly offer you some additional cash with a higher interest rate.

***

Anum Yoon is personal finance blogger who started and maintains Current on Currency. You can catch her on Twitter to follow her updates.

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver

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I think grocery store self-check stands are both a blessing and a curse.

When multiple shoppers, loaded up with enough groceries to, say, sustain a family of four through a nuclear winter are queued up in front of a human cashier, self-check kiosks are a godsend.

On the other hand, self-check stands aren’t so hot when the guy in front of you has 57 varieties of fresh fruits & vegetables in his cart — and he’s struggling to find the produce codes for everything from tomatoes and cucumbers to arugula, kohlrabi, salsify, and bok choy.

I’m telling you this because, on a recent trip to my local grocery store, I decided to take advantage of a rare short line at a checkout stand occupied by a human cashier. In fact, for once in my life the grocery store gods seemed to be genuinely smiling on me because, on this particular day, the only person ahead of me was a nice lady who was watching the cashier run the last three or four items of her modest order across the scanner.

After the last item crossed the scanner, the clerk cheerfully announced the final total: $43.32.

With that, I figured the nice lady would have done what most people do: whip out her debit or credit card, swipe it through the machine, push “accept,” and then write her signature on the electronic pad. It’s easy and convenient. Best of all, it can be done in about 15 seconds. On a good day I can do it in less than ten.

But she didn’t.

Of course, the nice lady had other options; for example, she could have given the cashier four sawbucks and a fin. She then would have been handed $1.68 in change — probably in the form of a dollar bill, two quarters, a dime, a nickel and three pennies.

That didn’t happen either.

And although it’s rather archaic, the nice lady most certainly could have pulled out a check too.

Nope.

Instead, she opened up her over-sized purse and pulled out … a large Ziploc bag full of loose change.

The good news was the bag wasn’t full of obsolete pennies; it was loaded with quarters. The bad news was it still takes 174 quarters to pay a $43.32 bill.

So I had to wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Then I had to wait even longer while the cashier called the manager over to take away the loose change — so he could send it to wherever loose change normally goes when it isn’t being hoarded by the nice lady.

I wanted to tell the nice lady that there was a Coinstar machine in the store that would have quickly converted all of her quarters into a receipt that she could have used to pay for her groceries, but I bit my tongue.

In fact, if she had thought to convert her change into a gift card she could have even avoided the 11.9% fee Coinstar normally charges for its service. That’s right; Coinstar waives the fee if you choose to donate the money to charity or convert your coins into a gift card.

Even so, I think the 11.9% fee is more than reasonable for people looking to convert large amounts of small change into easily spendable bills. Frankly, I don’t see how anyone could possibly disagree — unless they’re the type who enjoys carrying two pounds of quarters on their person.

Or a boatload of dirty laundry that’s ready for a trip to the laundromat.

Photo Credit: jdnx

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It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe …

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.

I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend! In the meantime, let’s get this show on the road so I can start mine …

The English language has 112 words for deception, each with a different shade of meaning: collusion, fakery, malingering, self-deception, confabulation, prevarication, exaggeration, denial.

— Robin Marantz Henig

A farmer returning home in his wagon, after selling a load of corn, is a better indication of the economy than a nobleman riding in his chariot to the opera.

— ancient proverb

Credits and Debits

Debit: A new study by the Netherlands’ Central Bank found that, “Loose monetary conditions strongly increase the top one percent’s income and vice versa. In fact, following an expansionary monetary policy shock, the share of national income held by the richest 1% increases by approximately 1 to 6 percentage points.” File that little factoid under ‘D’ for ‘duh!”

Debit: In other news, it only took the S&P 500 just 215 days to reach a new all-time high after its December mini-bear-market nadir — thanks to a desperate Fed agreeing to permanently backstop the market in order to maintain the wealth-effect illusion and avoid a financial crisis. Unfortunately, as the debt continues to pile up faster than the economy expands, that’s going to be an ongoing — and growing — challenge.

Credit: As Jesse Colombo warns, “Although central banks have created an unusually long economic cycle by keeping monetary policies so loose for so long, there’s no escaping the eventual correction of the tremendous excesses and malinvestments that have built up. Believing that the Fed has tamed the business cycle is extremely naive and will be disproven in the not-too-distant future.” I agree — but I’m also beginning to wonder.

Credit: This week MN Gordon surveyed the US economic landscape and assessed it thusly: “The unemployment rate is currently 3.6%. Real GDP increased 3.2% (last) quarter. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq recently hit all-time highs. Given these numbers, shouldn’t the Fed be normalizing monetary policy?” Of course, they should. The $222 trillion question is: Why aren’t they?

Credit: According to financial analyst Jeffrey Snider, the Fed’s decision to stop raising rates is glaring proof that the “booming economy” is a sham: “The financial system isn’t fixed and it never was. And without a monetary system in good working order you better believe the global economy is in danger. Again.” Speaking of shams, here’s one that never had a chance:

Insurance Scams Fail Compilation || MonthlyFails 2017 - YouTube

Credit: If you dig beyond the rosy data we’re being fed, it’s obvious that the economic decline is accelerating. Why? Because, as Brandon Smith notes, “Governments and central banks deliberately promote certain indicators as the signals we should care about while ignoring a host of other fundamentals that don’t fit their ‘recovery’ narrative. (And) when these indicators don’t read well, they rig the numbers.” Imagine that.

Credit: The government wants us to focus on GDP, the U3 unemployment, and the CPI, which make things seem like all is well; but it’s no coincidence that these figures, which are dutifully reported by the mainstream media, are also the most misleading economic indicators. However, more useful data showing full warehouses, slowing cargo traffic, and rising debt delinquencies reveal what’s truly happening.

Debit: Meanwhile, the percentage of banks reporting stronger demand for corporate and industrial loans tumbled to the lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis. So, as Zero Hedge notes, “Either nobody needs debt to fund expansion and new projects anymore, or businesses are so worried about the future and their ability to repay that they’re refusing (new) loans.” Um, it’s just a hunch, but … my money is on the latter.

Debit: Here’s one more negative indicator: Nearly 7% of US home sales in the last quarter of 2018 were sold by flippers — that’s the most since 2002. Uh huh; even higher than during the last insane housing bubble. And the percentage of flippers who saw their investment backfire is the highest since 2009. In fact, 45% of all flippers in San Jose lost money in the fourth quarter. Heck, it’s gotten so bad, even dogs are impersonating them:

Pitbull Puppy Holding Bag For Owner - YouTube

Debit: And, finally … the median income of private-sector and self-employed workers in 2017 was $46,797 and $50,383, respectively. Meanwhile, government workers had median earnings of $53,435 — yes, 14% more than the private sector. That’s odd, because public servants earn far less than those in private industry … or so they say. Then again, in today’s make-believe world, it’s hard to believe anything we’re told anymore.

By the Numbers

The latest US unemployment data continue to indicate that all is well with the American workforce — but is it really? Here are a few more data points for your consideration:

13 Consecutive months in which available jobs have outstripped the number of people out of work and searching for a job.

3.6% The official unemployment rate; this is based only on the percentage of Americans who are actively looking for a job.

7.3% The unemployment rate if you include those who can only find part-time positions and discouraged workers who stopped looking entirely.

22.4% Percentage of Americans over age 55 currently in the US workforce.

16.8% Percentage of Americans over age 55 who were in the US workforce in 2006.

63% The current labor force participation rate.

1979 The last year that the labor force participation rate was as low as it is today.

Source: Forbes

Last Week’s Poll Result

What percentage of your investment portfolio is allocated to stocks?

  • 51% to 75% (31%)
  • More than 75% (22%)
  • 1% to 25% (19%)
  • 0% (17%)
  • 26% to 50% (10%)

More than 1600 Len Penzo dot Com readers responded to last week’s question and it turns out that slightly more than half of them have more than 50% of their portfolio committed to the stock market. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, almost 1 in 5 have no exposure to equities.

The Question of the Week

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Useless News: Accountants and Engineers

Three engineers and three accountants were traveling by train to a conference.

At the station, the three accountants each bought tickets and watched as the three engineers bought only one ticket.

“How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?” asked the Chief Accountant.

“Watch and you’ll see,” answered the Chief Engineer.

And with that, they all boarded the train and the accountants took their respective seats, but the three engineers all crammed into a restroom and closed the door behind them.

Shortly after the train departed, the conductor came around collecting tickets. He knocked on the restroom door and said, “Ticket, please.” Then the bathroom door opened just a crack and a single arm emerged with a ticket in hand; the conductor took it and quickly moved on.

The accountants saw this and they all agreed it was a quite clever idea. So, after the conference, the accountants decided to copy the engineers on the return trip so they could save some money too. When the accountants got to the train station, they bought a single ticket for the return trip. That’s when the accountants noticed, to their astonishment, that the engineers didn’t buy any tickets at all.

“How are you guys going to ride without a ticket?” asked one of the perplexed junior accountants.

“Watch and you’ll see,” the Chief Engineer replied.

When the six professionals boarded the train, the three accountants crammed into a restroom, and the three engineers crammed into another one nearby.

The train departed and, shortly afterward, one of the engineers left his restroom and walked over to the restroom where the accountants were hiding. The engineer then knocked on the door and said, “Ticket, please.”

(h/t: Mikey)

Other Useless News

Here are the top — and bottom — five states in terms of the average number of pages viewed per visit here at Len Penzo dot Com over the past 30 days:

1. Hawaii (1.68 pages/visit)
2. Connecticut (1.64)
3. North Carolina (1.63)
4. Louisiana (1.60)
5. Arkansas (1.58)

46. Illinois (1.23)
47. Delaware (1.21)
48. Montana (1.20)
49. Alaska (1.13)
50. Wyoming (1.03)

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Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at: Len@LenPenzo.com

After reading my article on the ethics of keeping found money, Chester summarized his own thoughts on the matter:

The government finds no remorse in stealing from taxpayers. Politicians find no remorse stealing from their constituents … And considering the government has stolen almost $75,000 from me during my lifetime, I say ‘finders keepers.’

Only $75,000, Chester? If that’s true, please send me your accountant’s phone number.

If you enjoyed this, please forward it to your friends and family. I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.

Photo Credit: brendan-c

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Have you ever looked at your social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and wondered why none of your posts, videos, or music tracks have gone viral?

Have you ever turned green with envy when you see someone else with an inferior product bragging about having tens of thousands of followers?

If you’re trying to monetize your accounts to make a living off them, it becomes more than just emotions, it becomes a matter of survival. Accounts with no followers don’t generate enough revenue to pay for a candy bar, let alone the mortgage.

The answer may be to buy online followers. I know … but before you freak out, let’s study it a bit; you may just change your mind.

Selling Followers

You can’t buy followers unless you can find a place on the web that’s selling them. One of those places can be found at https://socialmediadaily.com/soundcloud/followers, where the company promises live users rather than robots — or “bots” as they’re better known.

They pay their users in bitcoins, or occasionally, real money to “like” and comment on various pages. Although they may not actually like your product or page, these are real people using real accounts, not zombies. This means their posts and comments on your page can’t be filtered out as fakes. Since there is plenty of third-party software available to do just that or detect fake accounts, this gives you a tremendous leg up on the competition in your field.

How Much For That Song?

It’s been a long time since the Beatles’ “White Album” came out and the rules of the music industry have changed too much since then that it’s become a legitimate, and hard to answer question to ask: “What’s the value of that song?

You may have written and recorded the best song since Abbey Road, or bought it from the artist, but unless people like it and buy it, the value of it is precisely … zero.

So much for that investment.

What you want is for people to tell all their friends and family that your song is one of the best things they ever bought. As we all know, business generates more business. No one wants to eat in an empty restaurant or be the first to buy a new song. There are a few outliers of course, but most people follow the herd.

Pros and Cons

Buying followers is an investment and all investments have their risks; like any investment, they also have their pros and cons. Let’s take a minute to examine them, starting with the cons.

Reasons Not to Buy Followers

Businesses live and die by the numbers, but to paraphrase George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some numbers are more equal than others. Here is an example of why not to buy followers.

If you have 30,000 paid followers:

  • How many of them engage you regularly?
  • How many lists have they added you to? On Twitter? Pages on Facebook?
  • How many actual leads and sales are they generating?
  • How much traffic are they driving to your website(s)?

Your account might look good to the occasional visitor at first glance, they’ll soon notice that none of your umpteen gazillion followers are actually saying anything other than a generic “Great!”or “Love it!”

The herd mentality may be real but so is the distaste for phonies. People can spot them from a mile away, and pretty soon they’ll let their friends and families know to avoid you — exactly the result you don’t want.

Reasons to Buy Followers

In spite of all of the above, if you can purchase a social media entourage of real people, there are some definite advantages to buying followers.

First of all, you’ll increase your general visibility online. Any social media page that has thousands of followers will attract attention. Some of it will be the stop by and see what the buzz is about type that is here today and gone tomorrow. But the others may be the ones that will do more.

If they see active users engaging with you (and you responding back!), if they see real comments, even weird off-the-wall ones, and a growing list of posts, they’ll be more likely to stay and scroll down to see more. The longer they stay, the greater the chances they’ll buy what you’re selling.

In the case of a song — yours or one you bought the rights to — enough plays can turn into a wave that will do what everyone hopes to see on their page: a post that goes viral.

Photo Credit: sburke2478

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Direct sales companies have been around for generations, but they have recently seen a resurgence with the increase in social media usage. The Internet allows people to easily contact potential customers without time-intensive, door-to-door sales. Rather than join a company where a person can only make a small portion of sales, people are turning to entrepreneurship and the flexibility of working for themselves.

Choosing a Product To Sell

There are dozens of products to choose from when starting your own business. It’s a good idea to choose one close to your own heart, as it’s much easier to sell a product you use and believe in. An up and coming industry is private label supplements, such as vitamins for humans or animals. Another popular industry for direct sales is jewelry and/or clothing. In this case, you would act as a stylist or fashion designer to offer unique styles to your customers. Other options are direct sales of purses, books, or kitchenware. Regardless of your choice of industry, pick something you can be passionate about.

Setting Up a Business

Once a product is chosen, you need to set up your company as a business. It’s best to consult a lawyer and tax advisor to find the most appropriate business type for you. They can fully explain the tax consequences and requirements of each business type, as well as to explain how to register your business with the state. A lawyer is also a good person to consult about your supply chain. For example, if you choose to sell supplements, they might recommend making sure your supplement manufacturing services take place in an FDA registered facility.

Marketing Your Brand

Part of the fun of creating your own business is to come up with a marketing and sales strategy. Even if you are the sole salesperson at first, you should be consistent when selling your product. This often starts with setting up a company website where people can contact you or even buy your product online. It should be informative and reflect the culture you would like to set for your business. After the website is set up, it’s time to start selling directly to your customers. In some cases, this is through social media, and in others, it’s setting up meetings or groups to tell people the benefits of your products.

At first, setting up your own direct sales business can seem like a daunting task. However, if you follow the steps outlined above, you’ll be enjoying the rewards and flexibility of owning your own company.

Photo Credit: Mark Morgan

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Get rich quick schemes are all over the Internet. They promise you unlimited wealth for minimal effort, while you work from the comfort of your own home. And those websites drive their point home by showing a picture of flashy cars and luxury vacations. It all sounds great, but we’ve learned by now that it’s all just a scam, and you’re more likely to lose money than make it. The lesson? There is no such thing as a get rich quick scheme; if there was, everyone would be doing it.

However, with hard work and patience, you can actually earn a considerable income while working from home through the Forex market.

What is Forex? Well, the term Forex is short for “foreign exchange” market.

Trading Forex is a type of investment. Essentially, you watch the prices of currency move up and down, and speculate on whether you think they will increase or decrease. You can then buy or sell the currency in an attempt to earn a profit. If you buy a currency that then goes up in value, it’s worth more than when you bought it, so you’ve made a profit. It’s a relatively simple concept, but it’s extremely important to learn as much as you can before you try it out.

Fortunately, you can learn absolutely everything you need to know for free on the Internet. There’s no need to pay for some sort of learning program, just put the work in to find the information you need.

The main reason Forex is so popular is that it’s easy to access. You can do nearly everything you need to do from anywhere with an Internet connection. Most people will have a dedicated software platform on their computer at home, but will also be able to use browser-based programs on their laptops, and even apps on their smartphones. And as the Forex market is open constantly throughout the working week, you can trade whenever you want. Remember how I said this wasn’t a get rich quick scheme? Well, a great many Forex traders will be at their desks for longer than the average worker.

Investing is clearly very different from most methods of income because you are always risking your capital; you have to have money to make money. Despite this, people from all across the world make their living through hard work on the markets.

You don’t actually need a huge amount to start with. Many online brokers will let you open an account with as little as $200, and you don’t need to risk it all at once; you can slowly increase the amount you invest as you become more confident.

Forex also benefits from leverage, which means that whatever you put in is scaled up, so you can make a profit as if you’d deposited a much larger amount. However, this can also work the other way and you could end up losing more than your initial investment.

Forex isn’t for everyone, but if it sounds like something you’d like to try, then do your research, find yourself a broker, and open up a demo account.

Photo Credit: m4d group

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