The tremendous and invincible force of prosperity which spread throughout our States, beginning in 1897, the like of which no other nation has ever experienced, has enabled many corporations, which met financial disaster during the middle of the " nineties," to regain a sound moneyed footing. Many securities of such corporations, which were discredited in the minds of investors, have since been eagerly sought for by the most conservative and at very high prices. People who, losing faith in the future of this great food producing country, threw over their investments at enormous losses, must look back with wonder upon their timidity, and feel that until the United States has exhausted its resources, a condition which at least this generation need give no concern, the swing of the pendulum to hard times and low prices furnishes no time to sell standard securities, but rather a time to buy. Yet this is contrary to the custom of the small investor; he loses confidence and sells at panicky prices, and regains faith just in time to buy at inflated prices. Now, in all such times, there must be some who reap the benefit of this ill-advised selling and buying; they are the large investors; bankers and brokers, who trade for their own accounts; and those associated in the management of our corporations and who can judge the future of their earning capacity. How is it so many rich men grow richer? Does it ever occur to the small investor that no new money actually comes into existence by the selling of a thousand shares of stock at twenty dollars per share over the cost? Yet such a transaction enriches some one $20,000. Not even the equivalent of money, such as the farmer, the mechanic, the miner, etc., produces, results from such a buying and selling. Some one must at some time have produced the money equivalent which pays the $20,000 profit. It is the toiler who really, by his labour, creates the money equivalent to buy the stock. Recognizing, therefore, how many rich men grow richer, and how few small investors profit in the long run by buying and selling securities for gain, it must be evident that there is a constant flow of the earnings of the toiler into the pockets of the few, largely because, as illustrated by the old simile " like a flock of sheep," the " public " sells at low prices and buys at high, and the wise ones, having confidence in the future, go contrary to the majority, and harvest the crops of other people's planting.
By a little study of prices ranging long enough to cover both years of prosperity and depression, some notion of relatively high and low security values may be had. This done, the time to sell is when the high level seems to be reached; then put the money in a sound national bank or trust company and wait until the swing towards low prices - and the wait may be a long one - is well accomplished, and thus the time to buy is at hand. But buy the highest grade, standard investments, for even the most conservative stocks and bonds will then be found at low figures.
Human nature, however, works contrary to this plan. When security prices are abnormally high, one is prone to retain good paying investments on the theory that he will lose interest while waiting for the expected fall in values. In truth, the American loses much in the end by being unwilling to forego a temporary loss of income in order to conserve his principal. Those who, towards the end of the boom times that climaxed with the panic of 1907, applied that theory when danger signs were a plenty, and so saw standard investment stocks fall $50 or more a share in price, could ponder on how many years of income loss it would have taken to offset the tremendous sudden shrinkage in principal. The fact that, in time, prices recovered, matters not, for there was the opportunity to buy back at uncommonly low prices.
The mere fact that one has money to invest is no argument for so doing at the moment, even to buy the best the market affords. Ruling prices should be considered. No merchant would stock up to the limit of his financial capacity if he considered prices exorbitantly high; he would leave the money in his bank and wait. Why should not the investor do the same?
Standard investments are mentioned above; and what such investments are is a subject to ponder on; a subject which State legislators are constantly considering in order to enact laws to safeguard the investment of savings bank and trust funds. A person who feels wise enough to divide all investments into two classes: standard or safe and questionable or speculative, is, indeed, possessed of self-confidence. Still some general advice can be given which will help one to reach a fair conclusion.
A man blessed with a moderate property sufficient for the welfare of his family, in case of his decease, provided the principal should suffer no shrinkage, gave his wife this advice - he had made her his executrix under his will, and it would devolve upon her to manage his property if she outlived him - " buy no security not sanctioned by law as a legal investment for Massachusetts savings banks." Of course, this anticipated no less conservative laws regulating the investment of the funds of such institutions than at the time the advice was given, but, perhaps, on the whole, no better reading of the future could have been undertaken, and no better advice given in so few words. In general, the laws regulating the investments of savings banks, as now in force, in such other States as New York and Connecticut, and, to a large extent, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, may be used as guides in the selecting of securities.
Now, many will say: "But I can't live on such small interest returns as this kind of securities affords." Quite right, but neither can they afford to lose any of their capital. High interest rates beget loss of principal. This should be a motto and hung as conspicuously in the household of those of limited means, as other mottoes once so common in the New England home. To get with safety better than 6% to 7% interest return one must either be a shrewd, well-posted person in financial matters, or rely upon the advice of some one who is.