Wikinvest Wire

The market crash in Money Magazine covers

Friday, March 06, 2009

As noted here often before, there are many things to like and dislike about the nation's number one personal finance magazine, but their unwavering dedication to stocks as the only important asset class certainly falls into the latter category.

Given their propensity for equities, it's natural to wonder just how they are coping over there these days, given that, over the last 18 months, we've experienced the biggest stock market decline since the Great Depression and, unfortunately, we're not done yet.

After noticing the change in tone for recent Money Magazine covers, that is, since late last year when all four wheels flew off of the world-wide financial system, it occurred to me that it might be an interesting little exercise to see how these covers have changed over the last year and a half. The latest issue is shown to the right.

Just what sort of transformation has occurred, if any, as the writers and editors endured these tumultuous times? Without a doubt, they have had to become less certain of their long-standing asset allocation preferences and, surely, they've heard more than an earful from loyal subscribers who have followed their advice, only to witness their retirement dreams slip away.

Can anyone really "rescue" their retirement today?

To find out how dramatically things have changed, all you have to do is turn back the clock and look at the cover from the S&P500 peak in the fall of 2007. Back then, there was nothing in need of rescuing - it was just a matter of how RICH we'd all be and how best to get there.

October 2007 - S&P500 at 1,549
IMAGE Compared to the conditions today, the credit crunch was just a flicker back then - little did anyone at Money Magazine know what was to follow.

The font on the word RICH is slightly smaller but, in November, there's no question about where we're all headed.

November 2007 - S&P500 at 1,481
IMAGE And, of course, along with being RICH you get "financial freedom", a feeling that, today, doesn't come very easy for anybody. I wonder how that couple on the cover is doing these days.

In December, things are looking a little precarious, as if a major top in equity markets had just been completed. The word RICH is still there on the cover, but now it's a tiny little thing.

December 2007 - S&P500 at 1,468
IMAGE This couple too. Where are they? How are they holding up these days? What ever happened to that tech stock rally?

It's a new year - 2008 - and, oddly, October's headline "Roadmap to a rich life" is just below the magazine title for some reason. Hmmm...

January 2008 - S&P500 at 1,378
IMAGE Safe moves? Little did they know at the time just how frequently they would be using the word "safe" in 2008.

There it is again in the February issue - the word "safe" in big bold type as in "Your Safest Investment Now". As it turns out, those investments weren't very safe at all.

February 2008 - S&P500 at 1,330
IMAGE The subtitle "Roadmap to a rich life" is still there, though the font is just a little bit smaller.

Well, here comes the March issue and the Bear Stearns crisis is set to unfold. Equity markets are only down about ten percent so far, but people are starting to whisper "bear market".

March 2008 - S&P500 at 1,322
IMAGE There's a hint of things to come with just the idea of making yourself "recession-proof". The current recession began in December of 2007, but its start date was not determined until almost a year after that. At least one person at Money Magazine knew it was coming.

In the April issue, the bad stuff had already started and the economy had turned "mean" as commodity prices soared, but equity markets were still hanging in there.

April 2008 - S&P500 at 1,385
IMAGE Paying zero taxes always sounds like great idea and, after a one-month hiatus, the subtitle "Roadmap to a rich life" has reappeared.

Time for a short break from the market driven covers - some top 100 lists to peruse. At this point, many thought that the stock market was recovering, but, as it turns out, it was just the oil companies setting themselves up for a fall.

May 2008 - S&P500 at 1,400
IMAGE "Roadmap to a rich life" under the title looks to be back full time now.

As the May issue hit the stands, everyone was thinking about how they were going to pay for gasoline over the summer and equity markets begin to stumble.

June 2008 - S&P500 at 1,280
IMAGE They were already talking about at stock market rebound - back in June of 2008??

With the July issue, the stage was being set for a sequence of event that would change the world forever. Crude oil was headed to $147 and then to $47 and people were getting really worked up about inflation.

July 2008 - S&P500 at 1,267
IMAGE Little did we know how quickly the fear of inflation would turn into a completely different (and much more horrifying) fear and "Roadmap to a rich life" remains a fixture under the title.

It's summer time - a month for happy magazine covers about idylic places to live. Equity markets are still hanging tough, above "bear market" territory, but that would not last long.

August 2008 - S&P500 at 1,282
IMAGE That really does look like a nice place to go fishing.

The kids are about to go back to school and the stock market has now turned into a "bear market". People are still worried about the safety of their money.

September 2008 - S&P500 at 1,164
IMAGE The "Roadmap to a rich life" subtitle is hanging tough, even if equity markets are not.

Now the really bad stuff starts to happen, but not much of it made it into the October issue due to their publishing schedule. Ironically, there's another cover story on taxes (in October?) and retiring rich remains a viable option for some.

October 2008 - S&P500 at 968
IMAGE Have a good look at that "Roadmap to a rich life" under the title because, understandably, that's the last time you'll see it.

The November issue hit the newsstands in October, so it had all the post-Lehman Brothers market mayhem in a special report - that's a lot of questions there on the cover.

November 2008 - S&P500 at 896
IMAGE With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, there weren't many good answers to these questions.

In December, the questions get even more dire. "Can I ever retire?" is something that millions of Americans have asked themselves over the last six months. Unfortunately, here too, there are no good answers.

December 2008 - S&P500 at 903
IMAGE They want readers to be positioned for the rebound again. And poor Warren Buffet - he's going to have a hard time living down his late-2008 buy recommendations if this turns out to be a protracted affair.

After the worst few months for stocks since the Great Depression, equity markets continue to tumble and readers are tempted with ideas about how to "get your money back".

January 2009 - S&P500 at 825
IMAGE Hey, didn't they just have a crisis report. Note that "Roadmap to a rich life" is still absent from the cover. Will it ever reappear?

Hope for the new Obama administration runs high in the February issue with hope for a better economy about all that is left.

February 2009 - S&P500 at 735
IMAGE Can you really "beat the recession" as they promise?

All of this brings us full circle to the March 2009 issue that talks about rescuing your retirement. In the span of 18 months, the Money Magazine editors went from RICH in monstrous fonts with people happily riding horses to this dismal broken nest egg image, all the while never wavering from their advice to buy-and-hold U.S. stocks - all the way from 1,500 down to below 700.

March 2009 - S&P500 at 700IMAGE
And, of course, there is no longer a "Roadmap to a rich life".


Anonymous said...

I read Money and Kiplingers Personal Finance every month.
Both still use "historical stock return of 8-10%" which is no longer true.
Both are also about half the number of pages of a year ago-no mutual funds ads, at all.

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