According to government statistics, there were more than 4.2 million divorces between the years of 2006 and 2011, about half the rate of marriages in the same period. Statistically, about 40% of first marriages end in divorce, while almost three-quarters of third marriages fail.
Divorce is often costly, and can be devastating for all parties involved – partners, children, parents, and grandparents. According to the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale, only the death of a spouse is a more traumatic, stress-causing event; divorce is more stressful than separation, a jail term, the death of a close family member, or a personal injury or serious illness. Fortunately, time does heal all wounds, and understanding the healing process can help speed the path to recovery.
Going Through the Grief of Divorce
Many counselors believe that divorcees go through the five stages of grief that are also experienced after a loved one dies. The stages, first enumerated by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying,” include:
. This may start while your marriage is still intact. It’s a defense mechanism to cope with pain, usually because you can’t believe divorce is happening to you.
. It’s natural to feel furious with yourself for being a fool, or your spouse for rejecting you, but uncontrolled anger can make a bad situation worse, especially if there are children involved. Unfortunately, many attorneys capitalize on this anger to extend divorce proceedings, or gain a negotiating advantage. While it’s natural to want to punish your spouse, it’s ultimately counter-productive to a satisfactory conclusion that allows you to move on and rebuild your life.
. This is the stage where you try to “fix what happened,” to go back and try again without the prior mistakes. It’s rarely logical, and inevitably unsuccessful. Divorces are the culmination of dissatisfaction over many issues and many months, the likelihood of resolving them quickly or fixing what happened is not high.
. The reality of divorce is that there are significant losses experienced by everyone involved: the presumed-happy future, financial security, affection, and love. As a consequence, it’s natural to feel sad and abandoned, to even withdraw from day-to-day life. When depression becomes significant, or begins to affect your children, it’s time to seek outside help.
. The last stage of grief occurs when you finally accept that your marriage is over, and you put the hopes and dreams you shared with your former spouse behind you. While you may still feel anger, guilt, or depression from time to time, the episodes wane in intensity and frequency, signaling that you’re ready to pick up the pieces and move on. This is also when you recognize your own strength to set a new path to happiness. You gain a level of indifference about your former spouse, having separated your personal lives. Even when you have children together, you learn to co-parent without rehashing old hurts or using the children as a weapon against one another.
To progress through the stages of grief, eventually achieving acceptance and even forgiveness, you must reconcile certain feelings before moving forward and rebuilding your life. Dr. Phil McGraw, the widely respected psychiatrist who gained fame as Oprah Winfrey’s adviser, details the variety of emotions that most people feel during and after a divorce in his bestselling book “Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Most Challenging Days of Your Life.”
A friend of mine and fellow financial blogger,James Molet, recently interviewed me for his blog RetirementSavvy. James provides good information and advice over his blog. He is also the author of Rendezvous With Retirement. Here is a portion of the Interview:
What was the catalyst that started you on the road to fiscal fitness?
As the beneficiary of an industrial engineering degree and a unique 2-year training program on Wall Street, I was able to grasp the importance of financial matters early in my career. By age 35, I had founded several publicly traded companies, primarily in the oil & gas industry, providing me with a high 6-figure income and a net worth in excess of $10 million. In the oil bust of the early 1980s, I lost everything, declaring personal bankruptcy as a consequence.
Realizing that the acquisition (or loss) of wealth was a consequence of luck as well as effort and intelligence, I determined that knowing when to sell was just as important as the decision to buy, especially if you dealt in volatile investments. As Kenny Rogers sang in his song The Gambler, “You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.”
Those experiences forced me to examine my investment practices and realize that there are no guarantees in life or investments. It is, as Warren Buffett famously claims, the first Rule of Investing: Don’t Lose Money. Today, I always analyze the downside possibilities before I consider an investment.
What is the one personal finance concept you believe someone seeking financial freedom should understand and practice?
While a cliché, every investor should realize that the path to financial freedom is a marathon, not a sprint. Chasing immediate rewards requires assuming inordinate risks and increases the possibility and probability of loss. Wealth is built by the constant application of tested financial principles: consistent savings, diversification, tax minimization, and expense control.
Malcolm Forbes is credited with the phrase, “He who has the most toys wins the game.” According to a People magazine article written at the time of his death, his hobbies included the acquisition of wealth and “flaunting what it could buy.”
His memorial service featured displays of his vast collection of art, including antique model boats, toy soldiers, and manuscripts. Forbes owned eight homes around the world including a private island, 2,200 paintings, a 151-foot yacht, and a Boeing 727. He also owned more Russian Imperial Faberge eggs than the Russian government. Since his death, Mr. Forbes’ philosophy has been attacked by both preachers and pundits, some of whom cited the Bible’s question: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
The Impact of Accumulating Stuff
Ironically, studies suggest that the pursuit of material possession makes us happier than its actual acquisition. Dr. Marsha L. Richins, a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri, says that materialistic consumers derive more pleasure from desiring products than from actually owning them. In his book “Stumbling on Happiness,” psychologist Daniel Gilbert says that satisfaction and joy from owning an object quickly wanes, an effect psychologists call habituation and economists call “declining marginal utility.”
Materialism – Socially Destructive and Self-Destructive
A series of studies published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in July 2013 indicates that as people acquire more, their sense of well-being diminishes. As they acquire less, it rises. Another study published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research states that materialism fosters social isolation, and vice versa. The relationship creates a vicious cycle – the more lonely you feel, the more likely you are to seek possessions, even as a greater amount of possessions crowds out your relationships.
Investors who like maximum leverage and lots of action rely upon technical rather than fundamental analysis and are willing to accept regular short-term losses to make a single out-sized gain. Such investors often consider commodity futures trading. Knowledgable investors can make a lot of money in commodity futures. At the same time, they can also lose a lot of money very quickly. If you have the stomach for wide swings between euphoria and misery, the financial capital to withstand temporary market setbacks, the diligence to keep abreast of the factors that affect prices, and the knowledge to react appropriately as events occur, commodity trading in futures may be worth considering.
Making Money with Commodity Futures Contracts
The essence of commodity futures trading is correctly predicting the price of a specific commodity at specified future point in time:
For example, the last trade on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) June 15, 2013 for a contract of wheat to be delivered on September 13, 2013 was for a price of $6.89 per bushel. Believing that the harvest yield will be less than expected due to bad weather and the price of wheat will be higher on that date due to weather damage, I buy a contract to take delivery of a contract of wheat on September 13 at the $6.89 price. Over the next several months, prices per bushel will move up and down, reflecting the combined opinions of speculators and industry insiders about the final price at which wheat will sell on September 13. Sometime between today and September 13, I will buy a contract to make delivery of the wheat that will be theoretically delivered to me on the same date. My profit is the difference between the price at which I will make delivery, say $8.40 a bushel, and the $6.89 price at which I agreed to take delivery or 1.51¢ per bushel.
Conversely, if I believed that the price of wheat per bushel will be less than $6.89 bushel on September 13, I would buy a contract to makedelivery on that date at the $6.89 price. Since I don’t have the wheat to deliver, I will, at some point between today and then, buy a contract to take delivery at a price less per bushel than $6.89. As before, my profit will be the difference between the price at which I make delivery ($6.89 per bushel) and the price at which I take delivery (say $5.40 per bushel). In this case, my profit would be $1.49 per bushel ($6.89 – $5.40).
Total profits (or losses) are based upon the number of bushels which are bought and sold. In the examples above, a single wheat contract is specified at 5000 bushels. In the first example where prices moved up, my total profit was $7550 ($1.51 per bushel x 5000 bushels); in the second example, my total profit was $7450 ($1.49 per bushel x 5000 bushels). Of course, I could be completely wrong about my price expectations. If, in the first example, the price had fallen to $5.40 after I purchased my contract to take delivery from $6.89, my loss would be $1.49 per bushel or $7450. In the second example, if prices had risen from the $6.89 I had received to make delivery to $8.40, the price I was required to pay to take delivery, my loss would be $7550.
Commodity futures trading is all about timing. If your purchase a contract to take delivery initially, prices must rise for you to make money; if your initial purchase was a contract to make delivery, prices must fall for you to make money.
Commodity Futures Contract Trading
A commodity futures contract differs significantly from a stock or bond, although both are traded on regulated exchanges or boards. These differences include
All Transactions Occur on a Regulated Exchange
The trading of futures contracts occur on the floor of a Commodity Futures Exchange, the oldest being the Chicago Board of Trade. Commodity brokers, each representing a single party wishing to buy or sell a specific commodity, match those who want to make delivery with those who want to take delivery of the commodity in a chaotic, open auction process. The Exchange guarantees the future performance of each contract holder so that identification of those will make delivery versus those who will take delivery is not essential to either party.
A Limited Investment Period
Stocks or bonds, once purchased, can be held for indefinite periods of time, even generations. Even a short sale can be maintained indefinitely provided the seller complies with rules and regulations governing such transactions. In contrast, a Futures Contract has a fixed expiration date on which all obligations of the contract must be fulfilled. Those traders who own contracts to make delivery must deliver the physical commodity on that date or face legal and financial consequences for failure to do so, just as those who have outstanding contracts to take delivery must accept the commodity when presented. As a consequence, the holding period for a commodity futures contract is usually much shorter than for a stock or bond.
Standardization of Futures Contracts
Virtually all aspects of futures contracts have been standardized to facilitate trading. For example, grain commodities are traded in units of a specified number of bushels with an official size bushel, the relationship between different grades of grain delineated, and a fixed delivery date and place for the exchange between the physical commodity and cash to occur. The details of each commodity, whether a metal, an agricultural or energy product, or a currency, is similarly defined to minimize confusion and encourage trading.
Commodity exchanges also establish price increments, called “ticks”, the minimum dollar amount that the price moves up or down. For example, a bushel of wheat is priced in increments of ¼ of one cent (.25¢). Each tick would mean a price change in the contract of $12.50 (5000 bushels x $.0025). In order to maintain price stability and avoid “Panic” runs, some exchanges establish price daily limits for the commodities which are traded on their exchange. Once a limit is reached – up or down – trading is halted until the next day.
Fulfilling A Futures Contract Obligation
A commodity futures contract does not represent ownership of the physical commodity, but a legal obligation to buy or sell the physical commodity in the future. As a consequence, the obligation can be extinguished by
Delivering or taking delivery of the physical commodity.
Settling a futures obligation in this manner is extremely rare (less than 2% of contracts by most estimates) and is, in fact, limited to a small group of regulated entities which have the facilities to ship or accept large quantities of the commodity on settlement dates. An investor who has an open contract obligation should not worry about desperately trying amass the commodity for delivery or that railroad cars of the commodity will be delivered to his front door. In actuality, the exchange will insure that the obligation is met, charging the investor’s account all of the costs of fulfilling the obligation.
Making a Cash Settlement.
Some commodities do not require nor expect physical delivery of the underlying commodity, either because the product itself cannot be stored for long periods of time due to spoilage or other logistics (Lean Hogs and Feeder Cattle) or delivery is impractical such as with Stock Indexes like the S&P 500 or the Nasdaq 100. These futures obligations are settled by paying/receiving the loss/gain related to the contract in cash on the date the contract expires.
Executing a contra-transaction of the futures contract.
The vast majority of commodity futures contract positions are liquidated by entering into an equivalent, but opposite futures contract. For example, a contract requiring the holder to make delivery of 5000 bushels of wheat on September 13 in Chicago would be offset or negated by purchasing a contract to take delivery of 5000 bushels of wheat on the same date at the same place and, vice versa.
Leverage in Futures Contracts
The commodity exchanges establish minimum financial conditions by which futures contracts are purchased as well as rules to ensure participants will complete the terms of a commodity future contract:
Initial Margin requirement
Initial margin is the amount of money that is required to buy or sell a futures contract (take a position). It is a percentage of the total contract value and it is set by the Exchange based upon the particular risk or price volatility that a commodity might experience during the contract period. The margin is required whether the investor will be making or taking delivery of the commodity in the future. To illustrate, using wheat, a contract covers 5000 bushels. If wheat were selling at $6.89 per bushel as in the example above, the contract has a value of $34,450. Rather than placing the entire amount in an account, the buyer (or seller) of a futures contract is required to deposit an initial margin of 15% into the brokerage account or approximately $5200, with the remaining amount due when the futures position is closed
Margin maintenance is the amount of money a futures contract holder must maintain on account to ensure they can perform as the commodity price moves up or down. It is usually 70%-80% of the Initial Future Margin Requirement. If, for example, you took a futures position as in our wheat example which required $5200 initial margin, you might be required to maintain a minimum of $3900 equity in the account. If the price of the commodity dropped during your holding period and caused a $500 decline in the value of your contract, you would be required to deposit an additional $300 into your account in order to meet the $800 margin maintenance requirement. If the value of your position rises (you will make delivery and the price of the commodity rises or you will take delivery and the price falls), you can withdraw funds from your account. If the value of your position declines (you will make delivery and the price of the commodity falls or you will take delivery and the price rises), you will be required to replace or add funds to your commodity futures account.
Margin calls are the process by which you are noticed that a margin deficiency exists and includes a notice to deposit more funds into the account to re-establish the legal margin maintenance amount. Unlike stocks which have a 5 day settlement period, commodity margin calls must be met within a 24 hour period. Failure to meet a margin call means that the futures positions subject to the margin call will be closed. A margin call, once issued, must be met even if the market has recovered, negating the previous loss.
Minimum initial and maintenance margin requirements can be changed at any time by the Exchange. Member trading firms of each Exchange (the broker through which you place your commodity futures orders) can establish their own higher requirements as well as more stringent procedures to deal with margin calls.
Since commodities trade in standard and mini-contracts representing large amounts of the underlying commodity and require deposits significantly less than the value of the total contract, out-sized profits are possible. A contract of wheat, for example, covers 5,000 bushels (136 metric tons) while a mini-contract is 1,000 bushels. If wheat were selling at $6.00 per bushel, the total contract value would be $30,000. As of January 8, 2013, the initial futures margin requirement for a contract of wheat was $3,125 or about 10.5 percent of the contract’s total value. In other words, you could control 15,000 bushels of wheat for less than $10,000. Minimum margin requirements for each commodity are established by the Exchange on which it is traded.
As a consequence, each 1¢ change in price is worth $50 per contract. If an investor purchased the future contract at $6.00 per bushel and sold it at $6.50 per bushel one month later, the total profit would be $2500 (5000 bushels times $.50 per bushel). The return on capital, however, would be an astonishing annual return of more than 1000%, assuming the investor repeated the process every 30 days. Unfortunately, prices move down also. If the investor had to sell the contract at $5.50, sustaining a 50¢ loss per bushel, his investment of $3,125 would be worth $625, an 80 percent loss in the period. In this case, rather than buying the futures contract, the investor should have sold it.
Commodity futures trading is popular because of the potential large gains, the probability of losses often overlooked. Commodity futures prices are highly volatile. A bushel of wheat, for example, might move 50¢ up or down in a single day, to be followed by an opposite move of the same magnitude the next day. Futures traders are often “whipped-sawed” in such markets, making profits one day only to lose them and more the next day. Astute traders look for shot-term trends, cutting losses short when prices move against them while letting profits run. As a consequence, the majority of trades will be losses, offset occasionally large (ideally) profits. Of course, there are no guarantees when or if the profits will ever materialize.
Currencies including the US Dollar, the British Pound, the Japanese Yen, the Euro, and the Mexican Peso.
Energy ranging from two types of crude oil to gasoline and ethanol.
Financials with T-Bonds, T-Notes, Swaps and Federal Funds.
Grains – winter wheat, spring wheat, corn, soybeans, oats and rice
Indices including the S&P 500, the Nasdaq 100, the DJIA, and the Russell 2000.
Meats with Cattle, Hogs and Milk.
Metals – Gold, silver, Copper, Platinum and Palladium.
Softs ranging from frozen orange juice to lumber.
Commodity exchanges have been called “really supercharged betting parlors with hyperactive markets.”¹ They are clearly not for everyone. In fact, most investment advisers recommend against investing in commodity futures for anyone who is unsophisticated, has limited funds or is risk-adverse. If you elect to pursue an investment in commodity futures or commodity futures options, limit your exposure to no more than 5%-10% of your portfolio or restrict your investment to purchasing calls or puts on specific commodities until you’re thoroughly familiar and comfortable with the nuances of the commodity markets.
What do you think? Are you investing in commodity futures now? What is your experience?
¹ Schoen, John w. “Should I invest in commodities?”. NBCNews.com Answer Desk. Downloaded March 28, 2013 by M. Lewis.