My Favorite Issue of the Year
You already know that 2020 was a crazy year, and one we would all gladly exchange for a “normal” year if we could. Yet we can’t, and no amount of wishing will make that so. What we can do, however, is revel in the good of the past year.
Yes, there was a lot of good, especially for investors. We know that, because despite the pandemic-related collapse in March and April, stocks rebounded throughout the summer. Now, we are about to finish the year at new, all-time highs. And, if a push to all-time highs wasn’t enough, consider that the S&P 500 was up nearly 16% this year, while the tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite surged nearly 45%.
Of course, on Monday, equity markets will begin 2021. While stocks were historically resilient in 2020, it is likely a mistake to just assume that markets will stage a repeat performance in 2021. In the digital pages of this publication, and especially in my investment advisory newsletters, we will dig into the details of the markets each week to determine the best course of action for our money and to stay ahead of the biggest trends that can earn us outsized alpha.
Today, however, it’s time for a look back to identify my favorite 2020 issue of The Deep Woods. You can call it the “best of 2020” if you’d like, but I just call it my favorite, because my criteria here is strictly subjective. And, according to that subjective analysis, my favorite issue of the year also happens to be the most heartfelt, and the most bittersweet, issue I’ve ever written. And it came very early in 2020 (Jan. 15).
The issue was “A Shadow Crossed My Heart,” a tribute to the life and work of a true genius, a man who influenced my worldview profoundly with his music and his lyrics and someone I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with in a unique way. That man was Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of the legendary rock band RUSH.
Now, at first, I thought that I was going to summarize my tribute to Neil in today’s issue, but that wouldn’t be doing it justice. So, I have decided to reproduce this article in its entirety, so that you can see what my favorite issue of the year was. Hopefully, after you read it, you’ll understand why this issue of The Deep Woods, despite all the pandemic craziness that ensued in the months that followed, was easily my personal favorite of the year.
A Shadow Crossed My Heart
Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon…
— RUSH, “Afterimage”
On Friday afternoon, I learned of the death of one of my real-life heroes. And after the initial wave of incredulity subsided, I felt a shadow cross my heart.
Perhaps not surprisingly, those precise words, “I felt a shadow cross my heart,” are lyrics from the song “Nobody’s Hero” by my favorite rock band, RUSH. Those lyrics also happened to be written by that real-life fallen hero, the band’s virtuoso drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.
Peart was a rock and roll legend. He’s inarguably one of the greatest drummers in music history, and at age 31, he was the youngest drummer ever to be inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. Decades later, he and his RUSH bandmates, bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Yet, “The Professor,” as he was referred to by the legions of RUSH fans around the world, was more than just a genius behind the drum kit. And, he was much more than just someone with a penchant for turning a lyrical phrase.
Peart was a man who helped shape my mind, and my existence, with the profundity of his prose and the intensity of his thought.
His intellectual genius can only really be appreciated within the full context of the band’s 19 studio albums, 11 live albums and 33 music videos, not to mention the thousands of shows the band played over the course of its incredible 40-year career. Yet today, I will attempt to reveal a glimpse of the man’s mind with a sampling of a few of my favorite lyrics from his epic body of work.
After you read them, along with my thoughts on the lessons they convey, you’ll get a better sense of what was so profoundly influential for me about Peart’s work. I also suspect you’ll get a much deeper look at the man that I am, and the man I continually aspire to be.
Hold your fire
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame
’Til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission
The lesson here is that man requires a productive life purpose, and the key to achieving that purpose is carrying out your vision with passion and persistence.
From the point of ignition
To the final drive
The point of the journey
Is not to arrive
— “Prime Mover”
Life isn’t about the endpoint of attaining a goal. Life is much more about the doing, and the experience, of action in the moment.
The most endangered species: the honest man
Will still survive annihilation
Forming a world, state of integrity
Sensitive, open and strong
— “Natural Science”
The virtue of honesty is hard to adhere to, but one must always pledge fealty to truth. Doing so allows you to live in a state of integrated calm. Another way of saying this is that the moral is the practical.
You don’t get something for nothing
You can’t buy freedom for free
You won’t get wise with the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dream might be
— “Something For Nothing”
The only way to learn is by engaging with the world; however, doing so comes at a price. Let’s face it, it’s damn hard to really think things through. Yet as humans, we have no other choice but to think, and no amount of denial will make that fact go away.
Philosophers and Ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the Heart
— “Closer To The Heart”
We all have a responsibility to ourselves to be as happy as we can be, whatever our role is in this grand play we call life. Doing so not only helps us achieve happiness, it helps the world be a little bit of a better place for everyone.
He’s a writer and arranger
And a young boy bearing arms
He’s got a problem with his power
With weapons on patrol
He’s got to walk a fine line
And keep his self-control
— “New World Man”
There’s a constant struggle in each of us to maintain calmness of mind and spirit, and to keep our self-control in a world that’s so often seemingly out of control. Yet, the truth is that all we can have control over is ourselves, and we must struggle to achieve that. It is this battle that rages within every human, and it’s one that first must be recognized and acknowledged in order to be won.
Now, I could go on for volumes here with an analysis of significant RUSH lyrics and their deep meaning, but I think you’ve already got a clear sense of how much Peart and his work mean to me. And I can’t properly convey the influence Peart had on my life without mentioning his love of literature and philosophy, which he weaved brilliantly via direct references into his lyrics.
Perhaps the most influential of these references for me was his dedication, “To the genius of Ayn Rand,” in the liner notes to the concept album “2112.” As a very young man listening to that 1976 album, I had no way of knowing the immense influence Rand would have on my own life. Yet a seed was planted there by Neil to investigate Rand’s unique mind further, and I did just that with intellectual gusto.
Finally, I will conclude this tribute with a reflection on my own personal interaction with Neil, and it came, of all places, behind the wheel of a sportscar.
It was October 2010, and I was at Willow Springs International Raceway in Southern California. The legendary track is home to many pro and amateur sports car and motorcycle races. It’s also a place where motorsports enthusiasts can bring their own cars and motorcycles to do some performance driving on a real track.
On that day, I was there, testing my own sportscars. I was also there to help coach some of the “newbies” at the track to make sure they were safe and to help them gain more confidence behind the wheel at high speeds.
Much to my amazement, one of the attendees at Willow Springs that day was Neil Peart.
Now, as you might guess, for me, this was a surreal moment burned into my consciousness. I mean, it’s not often you meet a real-life hero of yours in the flesh. It’s also pretty rare to have that hero ask you about how fast, and in what gear, he should be taking the notoriously difficult Turn 9 at Willow Springs.
Yet, that is what Neil did. He asked me for advice on how to be a better driver.
I happily gave him that advice, and I also allowed him to follow me around the track so I could point out to him the proper turn-in points, “apexes” as we call them, so that he could improve his lap times.
After helping Neil Peart improve as a driver, I felt compelled to tell him how he helped me become a better human through his music and lyrics.
Peart was flattered by my confession, but I could also tell he felt characteristically uncomfortable with my fanboy, tearful praise of his work. I mean, I even had a RUSH patch on my driving suit!
Upon seeing the patch, Peart said to me, “Well, I hope it brings you luck.”
What Peart didn’t realize was that he had already brought me the greatest luck a man could ever have — the luck of discovering the beauty, passion and intensity of his brilliant achievements.
ETF Talk: Going for the Gold With This ETF
For investors who are interested in getting into precious metals such as gold, the Aberdeen Standard Physical Gold Shares ETF (SGOL) may be worth considering.
The fund was designed to track the spot price of gold and has roughly $3 billion allocated to physical gold bars stored in a Zurich-based vault. For investors looking for greater peace of mind regarding their investment, the fund’s vault is audited twice a year and the holdings are posted daily to the fund sponsor’s website.
The fund is structured as a grantor trust, which prevents trustees from lending the underlying gold. Moreover, due to its structuring, investors do not need to worry about filing a K-1 tax form or other tax-related necessities related to this particular investment. Further, SGOL shares currently trade at 1/100th of the spot price for gold, which may appeal to investors wishing to place smaller orders.
SGOL has the lowest expense ratio of any fund in this particular category, coming in at 0.17%. The fund has $2.62 billion in assets under management and $2.67 billion in net assets. Year to date, it has a total daily return of 23.57%. Unsurprisingly, the fund felt the March lows, but in mid-April, the fund hit a new all-time high since the start of 2020.
In early August, SGOL hit its latest all-time high at $19.50. As of today, the fund is currently trading at $18.14. Though it saw a small drop in late November, it has worked its way back up.
Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com
Aberdeen Standard Physical Gold Shares ETF (SGOL) can be an appealing fund for investors wanting to make their way into precious metals as it provides updated information on its sponsor’s website and tracks the daily price movement of gold at a far less expensive price than similar funds, such as SPDR Gold Shares (GLD).
Moreover, precious metals often are considered a tactical allocation, with about five to 10% of one’s portfolio dedicated to this asset class. SGOL’s non-correlated price pattern can be an attractive attribute, since it potentially can help offset losses elsewhere during periods of market stress.
Even so, this kind of ETF may not be appropriate for all portfolios. Thus, interested investors always should conduct their due diligence and decide whether the fund is suitable for their investing goal.
As always, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.
In case you missed it…
Despite 2020, It’s A Benevolent Universe
This year is, thankfully, almost over. Yet for me, the universe just doesn’t seem to want to stop delivering sadness.
Earlier this week, I learned of the death of one of the investment world’s outstanding pioneers, and also the creator of the original iteration of the Successful Investing newsletter, Dick Fabian.
Dick was an independent man of action, and someone who created opportunity out of adversity. After suffering big losses in the bear market and recession of the early 1970s, Dick decided that there had to be a better way to invest and a better way to help investors protect their money from the kind of market that hit so many, so hard.
So, he sat down at his dining room table and began the process of thinking up a plan to track the wider trends in the market. It was there that he discovered that if you had owned shares in the market during periods when the domestic benchmark was trending above its 39-week moving average and, more importantly, if you were out of the market during the periods when that benchmark was trending below its 39-week average, you would have largely optimized your gains and minimized your losses.
It is this simple, yet brilliant, insight that allowed Dick Fabian to build one of the most successful, and longest-lasting, newsletters in the industry. And, it is that same insight that his son, my friend and fellow investment guru Doug Fabian, continued to put into action in the service to help investors for decades when he took over the reins as editor.
Today, I am both humbly honored and proud to continue applying Dick’s brilliant insight and Doug’s expert stewardship to a new generation of investors through my leadership of Successful Investing. And whatever the new developments in the market may be, the heart of this service will always feel the distant beat of the man who sat down at the dining room table and subsequently created something from nothing via the power of his rational mind.
This kind of man is both rare and truly deserving of celebration. I know I will be honoring and celebrating his life today at his memorial service in Southern California, with Doug alongside members of the Fabian family and Dick’s many friends and colleagues.
The famous clergyman Robert South once said, “If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives.” Well, Dick Fabian’s gift to the world was his brilliant insight, and for that, we all must bow our heads in gratitude.
Finally, the end of 2020 is just a little more than a week away. And I am sure this year is one that we’d all love to lose our collective memory of. Yet, the fact is that society, at large, has prevailed, mostly intact, throughout another bout of pestilence.
And do you know why we prevailed?
It’s because humans are the most resilient and most successful species on the planet, and the reason for our success is our reason, i.e. our only tool of survival, our rationality. Remember this, and revere this, and know that you are part of an exclusive club that conquers the adversity of existence with the power of thought.
Also remember that while this year’s sadness and tribulations have tested our individual and collective mettle, the concept of what the philosopher Ayn Rand called the “benevolent universe premise” remains intact. What this means is that the universe and reality are “benevolent,” not in the sense that they are designed for humans in mind. They are not. In fact, I think the universe is entirely indifferent to humans.
What the benevolent universe premise means is that if we choose to think for ourselves, if we choose to adapt to the ever-changing nature of reality and if we act rationally — we can give ourselves the best possible chance to achieve our values.
So, despite sorrow, hardship, pandemic, loss, suffering and sadness — the benevolent universe remains — and now it is up to us all to choose our own happiness.
Write Your Story
“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”
— Melody Beattie
I’m big on goal setting, as it’s the best way to get your mind oriented toward what you want to accomplish. And what better time than the beginning of a new year to make sure your life is on track to get you where you want to be?
Follow the link here for an expanded audio version of today’s quote.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,