Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

Last year will go down as one of the most turbulent and troubled economic years of our lifetime. In the world of Asset Protection and wealth preservation, it was the year of the lesson. Many financial planners and investors following sound protocol were crushed by the trick of the Trojan Horse, and snuck into the castle without any warning, obliterating security and protection. Of course, we all know the ending of the story of the Trojan Horse; the Greeks under the element of deception defeated Troy.

The good news is that in most instances one person’s loss is another person’s gain. Last year has proved to us, yet again, that no one has all the answers. Prediction is a risky business in itself. Political leaders were wrong, financial advisors got it wrong, the TV got it wrong, and the truth is we should embrace this New Year with the hope and optimism of the lessons learned. Most of you who read my material know that my looking glass is half-full and not half-empty.

The crossroads of opportunity are here and now. Inefficient markets and businesses are creating the next true wave of opportunity. Rotten corporate leaders have left a chasm of opportunity from here to China, no joke. Leaders who make it through the good times are, by definition, “good time Charlie’s.” The people who can do it when the climate is not so serene are the ones who impress me.

Some ask where I find my optimism. I see people who do walk the lesson of last year. AFLAC CEO, Dan Amos, gave up the $13 million severance agreement the insurance company would owe him were he to be fired or lose his job in a merger or acquisition. With the five-dollar sub, CEO Fred DeLuca and Subway surpassed the 30,000-restaurant mark by late 2008. Subway has 1,600 stores scheduled to open this year. One lesson that we should take to heart in our investments is that 70 percent of the U.S. economy relies on consumer spending.

Of course, with the glass half-full, there are companies who will begin, survive, and prevail through the recession. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com faced more than one financial crisis and Amazon still thrives. Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, who is the largest mortgage lender in the U.S. has gone on record to state that he believes in mid-2009 the housing market will begin its’ upward swing. And then there is Wal-Mart, perhaps hurting in terms of their super goals, but an example that not all is lost.

The opportunity this year will be everywhere, yes even stocks, but you have to find the right prospects through sound reasoning with good quality due diligence. It is a fact that markets are disjointed, companies are running for the hills, and manufacturers are cutting back to prepare fewer orders. The bad news goes only for those who refuse to heed the lesson and make the change; for those who understand where to place their risk, there are opportunities.

From 1184 BC to today, Homer’s Odyssey stands metaphorically for the lesson to be learned before delving into or accepting opportunity. These brief lines (from a Latin poem about Troy) refer to the Greeks who snuck the Trojan Horse into the castle as a present of peace.

Somewhat designed,
By fraud or force,
Trust not their presents,
Nor admit the horse.’

If you can discriminate where a genuine opportunity exists, then the good news is for you. In these times, opportunities exist that could not have been had otherwise, but of course, beware of Greeks bearing gifts. The formula for growth, which we should all take seriously is in the lesson; be educated, be wise, be protected, and be suspecting.