A “Great Cessation” Investing Playbook

While the fall in stock prices amid the coronavirus pandemic might be encouraging “for those with the cash and courage to begin buying into the decline,” a recent Wall Street Journal article by columnist Jason Zweig warns, “if your paychecks might disappear, you shouldn’t be spending money to buy stocks when you might soon need it for necessities.”

Zweig shifts the discussion to human capital— “the value of the current and future earnings from your career”— which he explains can resemble the respective risk profiles of stocks and bonds. “A fortunate few people have safe human capital that offers a lifelong steady stream of payments,” Zweig cautions.

Those with lifetime job security, he says, have “bond-like” human capital characterized by steady income and low risk. Others, however, have human capital more akin to stocks: “the potential for high returns over the course of decades, but that comes at the cost of bone-shattering drops along the way.”

According to Zweig, younger people can “protect and even turbocharge the value of your human capital by acquiring new languages or other skills,” an important idea to consider during uncertain times like these when many careers have “just been sucked into a black hole.” He touts the benefits of online and remote training programs, adding, “that’s the first place any spare cash should go at a time like this.”

Zweig concludes that, at least for now, channeling extra money into stocks “might have to wait. To be able to bolster your financial capital in the long run, you first have to rebuild your human capital in the short run.”