While at the used bookstore the other week, I stumbled upon this old book by noted Canadian real estate bear Garth Turner, all about the upcoming retirement crisis. According to Turner, by 2015 the Canadian Pension Plan would be bankrupt, and Canadians would be forced to rely solely on their own savings to enjoy a retirement not filled with dumpster diving or their son’s spare bedroom.
Obviously, Turner got that prediction wrong. It’s now 2015, and the CPP is in pretty good shape. In fact, the CPP looks like it’ll be around for decades to come, which means you should probably include it as part of your retirement plans. It’s nice to be able to say that you’ll just save so much that you won’t worry about CPP, but like I argued before, that’s not especially prudent. Why save more than you have to? Spoiler alert: your damn grandkids will just piss that inheritance away anyway.
But back onto the subject du jour. Turner obviously got his prediction about CPP very wrong. Does this somehow invalidate his opinions on Canada’s housing bubble?
Well, to begin with, I’m being a little unfair about how poor Turner’s predictions were. Yes, his call about the CPP going bankrupt was hot garbage, but he did predict that stock markets would shoot up, and that government bonds would be a good buy. He was right on both accounts. There might be more stuff in there he predicted correctly, but I never did read it. I have better things to do than to read a 20-year old book about investing.
In the world of predicting stuff — especially stuff about the markets and investments — there are two secrets that I’ve found work pretty well. Firstly, you should be bullish most of the time. Even if markets appear overvalued, it can often take years before they correct, meaning you’ll be wrong for a while before you’re right. Besides, most folks are long the market, and want it to go up.
Secondly, you’re only as good as your latest prediction. Look at Peter Schiff, who made billions shorting subprime mortgages. He’s barely even mentioned these days, probably because he’s turned into a crazy gold-hoarding guy who openly talks about the upcoming collapse of the U.S. Dollar.
When you make unpopular predictions, people will ridicule you. Turner’s call on Canadian housing has been attacked by critics for years, mostly because it hasn’t happened yet. Even when you’ve just been proven right about something — like Schiff — you’re still only as good as the latest prediction.
Besides, predicting stuff is hard. I recently admitted how wrong I was when I predicted interest rates would start to creep up in 2013, and that people should have locked themselves into a 10-year mortgage back then. And I like to think I’m reasonably informed about this stuff.
The bottom line is simple, at least when it comes to your finances. Feel free to listen to people who are making these grand predictions, but don’t take them entirely seriously. Instead, just keep on investing, whether it be through low-cost ETFs or individual stocks. Keep a diversified portfolio, and stay away from stuff that’s obviously overvalued. It’s really quite simple.