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The sirens’ song

The sirens’ song

As the stock market suffers one of its periodic declines, promoters are predictably on every street corner with alternative investment strategies. Beware. With few exceptions, these products will enrich the promoters, and leave you with a severe case of regret.

First, a refresher. In Greek mythology, the sirens were dangerous creatures who lured sailors with their enchanting voices to shipwreck off the coast of their island. In the Odyssey, our hero Odysseus was curious to hear them. But he knew the risk. He instructed his crew to plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the ship’s mast so only he could hear. As the sirens sang, Odysseus begged his crew to untie him. They obeyed his original instruction and only bound him tighter. The ship and its crew survived.

Like the sirens, promoters of alternatives sing an enchanting song. ♬♬ The stock market is dangerous. ♬♬ But if you buy their products, you can have high returns without much risk.

The products? ♬♬ Stock picking where the managers can somehow avoid the “bad” stocks. Hedge funds. Variable annuities. Venture capital. Private equity. Managed futures. ♬♬ The list is long.

The products differ. But here’s what they have in common. The fees are outrageous. The recent performance has been good. And, almost always, the track record beyond a year or two is non-existent.

But there is long track record you can use to make investing decisions. It’s the stock and bond markets, best owned with low-cost mutual funds. Over the past century, that’s been a great way to invest. The future may be different. But I would not bet on it. So, as a reminder …

  • The market crashed in 1969 (taming inflation was blamed). It bounced back.
  • The market crashed in 1973 (oil and exchange rates were blamed). It bounced back.
  • The market collapsed in 1987 (it had been “too high”). It bounced back.
  • The market collapsed in 1989. It bounced back.
  • The market collapsed in 2000 (the dot com bubble). It bounced back.
  • The market collapsed in 2009 (the Great Recession). It bounced back.


We can’t tie any of our clients to a ship’s mast. But we can urge them – and you – to plug your ears when you hear the sirens’ song of an investment product promising no downside and lots of upside. Buy plenty of beeswax. You’ll avoid a shipwreck.


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