Tag Archives: financial advice

Can Stocks, Bonds, Metals, Currencies All Be Wrong About Trump? Yes

bear-market-bearMy Comments: Perhaps it’s just time to go along for the ride and hope for the best. But I’ve never thought “hope” was an effective investment strategy. If the chance of a Lloyd’s of London type event was not so high, I’d be much happier.

By James Mackintosh | Nov. 28, 2016

Markets may not be the perfectly efficient trading venues of economic theory, but they do tend to be internally consistent. And so it is with Donald Trump. Three weeks after he won the U.S. election, pretty much every investment is telling the same story: renewed growth and inflation in the U.S., no retaliation by emerging markets for any tariffs he might impose and no foreign-policy mistakes.

As a result, there are multiple confirmations for the market’s interpretation of Mr. Trump, whether you look at the prices of shares, bonds, gold, metals or the dollar. How could so many asset classes be wrong?

Actually, quite easily. The danger is that investors are responding to their own prejudices, then receiving reinforcement from one another. While the market is internally consistent, that isn’t enough if it has misjudged the big picture—as it often does on the economy, and even more so on presidents.

The moves since Election Day are big, but in reality are just the acceleration of a trend that already was under way. The market noticed the scent of growth in the summer, and had been slowly switching away from bearish bets since the time Americans went to vote.

Bonds offer the most obvious example, with 10-year Treasury yields (which move inversely to prices) hitting a new low of 1.32% in early July, and rising ever since. By the election they were up to 1.86%, and have since leapt to 2.33%. Investors who held on have lost 7.4% in the 10-year since early July, the most over a similar period since the so-called taper tantrum of 2013.

The pattern in equities has been similar. As bond yields rose, growth-sensitive cyclical stocks beat safer defensive shares. By Election Day, cyclicals were well ahead, and have since gone stratospheric. Meanwhile, prices for industrial metals are surging. Gold has been left behind.

The market often misreads these big macro stories. Take the 2013 taper tantrum, or a period in 2010 when markets bet big on a rapid postrecession recovery—only for panic to set in when the economy proved weak.

One hopes Mr. Trump will inherit a recovering economy and boost growth further, and those who jumped onto market momentum will be right, if for the wrong reason.

But history suggests markets aren’t that good at judging presidents. And that presidents just aren’t that important to stock prices. The worst performance of U.S. stocks between Election Day and Inauguration Day came ahead of Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama’s first terms and Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 election, according to calculations by Birinyi Associates. Yet after FDR and Mr. Obama took office, the market boomed, while it did perfectly well under Nixon and LBJ.

The market wildly misjudged the potential of Herbert Hoover. His election-to-inauguration stock price jump hasn’t been bettered, but the 1929 crash was on his watch and no president since has overseen such poor returns. Dwight Eisenhower was rare, being welcomed with strongly rising stock prices which carried on up once he took office.

The 3.4% rise in the S&P 500 since the election is already more than Ronald Reagan received between the vote and inauguration in either of his terms. Maybe this time the market’s right, and a new boom beckons. Maybe.

Why Retirees Should Own Stocks

profit-loss-riskMy Comments: The basic premise here is accurate, but I have a problem with the author’s tactics. There is an inherent bias among those whose audience is mostly market traders. I understand this bias. I’d likely have it too if I practiced exclusively in that world.

But I don’t live or work in that world. My world is full of folks who consider anything other than a Certificate of Deposit as having too much risk. Not everyone, but enough that it becomes imperative to teach people that it’s not risk that’s bad, it’s the failure to manage the risk that’s bad.

There is a place for stocks and bonds in your retirement portfolio unless you plan to be dead soon. If so, you should try to buy more life insurance with your money. So, these words by Mr. Saletta are simplistic but the overall argument has merit.

By Chuck Saletta | November 06, 2016

As a retiree, you face conflicting priorities for your money. On one hand, you will likely need to take money out of your investments to cover your costs of living. Money you need for near-term expenses does not belong in stocks. On the other hand, the money to take care of your longer-term needs can remain invested in stocks.

After all, costs of living can rise for retirees faster than overall inflation. For instance, healthcare-related costs typically increase faster than overall inflation, and people frequently need more healthcare services as they age. Unless you already have enough saved up to directly cover your (inflation-adjusted) costs of living for the rest of your life, you’ll need money invested in assets like stocks that have the potential to grow.

Balancing stocks and bonds for retirees

Your retirement may very well last 30 years or more. That’s a long time for your investments to have to provide for you, and striking the right balance between stocks and bonds is a critical part of helping your money last as long as your retirement does.

If you put too much in bonds, particularly in today’s low interest rate environment, you risk not having enough long-term returns to cover your costs later in retirement. On the flip side, if you keep too much in stocks, then you risk having to liquidate shares to cover your costs of living when the market is moving against you. Enough of those forced liquidation events could also put you at risk of running out of money before the end of your retirement.

Somewhere in between is the sweet spot. Your goal is to have enough in higher-certainty investments like bonds to cover your near-term costs, and enough in higher growth potential investments like stocks to cover your longer-term needs. To achieve the right balance, you need two things: enough in bonds to cover a market swoon, and enough in stocks to let “normal” market returns replenish your bonds.

How much is enough?

A general guideline among retirement planners is something known as the 4% rule. Under that guideline, if you do all of the following,you have a very strong chance of seeing your money last at least as long as your retirement will:
• Start with a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.
• Withdraw 4% of the value of your portfolio in the first year of your retirement.
• Adjust your withdrawals for inflation every year.
• Maintain portfolio diversification throughout your retirement.

The 4% rule means your overall portfolio should have about 25 times the annual living expenses you need it to cover by the time you call it quits. Of that total portfolio, you need at least five years’ worth of expenses in investment-quality bonds, with those bonds selected to mature and convert to cash around the time you need to spend the money. You’ll also want enough cash to cover your immediate expenses, as even short-term bonds can move based on interest rate changes.

For instance, assume you expect to need $50,000 per year to cover your retirement expenses, and you’re anticipating $15,000 per year from Social Security. Since Social Security’s benefits are indexed for inflation, you’ll need your portfolio to cover $35,000 per year of income. By the 4% rule, that would require a portfolio of $875,000. If you assume 3% inflation, your starting portfolio might look something like this:

How to use your stocks in retirement

With a portfolio set up like that, your immediate expected living expense are covered by your cash, and your bonds will become cash at maturity to allow you to cover your future anticipated costs. That covers your near-term needs, but as your bonds mature, they’ll need to be replaced to supply your longer-term future spending needs. That’s a great role for stocks to play in your retirement.

As you own your investments, you should receive interest from your bonds and, potentially, dividends from your stocks. That cash can go toward replenishing the long-dated portion of your bonds as they march toward maturity. In addition, if the stock market cooperates, you can sell a portion of your stocks as they rise in price to also help replenish your bonds.

If the stock market performs incredibly well, you can use the excess gains to extend your bond holdings — instead of five years, perhaps you can extend it up to six, seven, or more. If the stock market suffers a downturn, you don’t need to sell right away to cover your costs thanks to your bonds and cash. Just be sure you do convert enough stocks to bonds as the market recovers over time so that you can keep that combination of flexibility and higher certainty of cash flows throughout your retirement.

Help your money last throughout your retirement

With cash for your immediate needs, bonds for your short- to mid-term future, and stocks for your longer-term future, you set yourself up with a plan that matches your assets to what they do best. That gives you a great leg up on the top financial priority most retirees have: the quest to make your money last as long as your retirement does.

Chuck Saletta has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

We See the Glass as Half Empty, Yet Our Cup Is Overflowing

bruegel-wedding-dance-ouMy Comments: The Prophet of Doom is not yet vanquished but… hopefully soon.

Marian L. Tupy | Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It is perhaps an understatement to say that we live in an era of great pessimism. This pessimism, while not distributed evenly across the world, appears to be felt most acutely in many Western countries, including the United States. Some two-thirds of Americans, for example, feel that the United States is heading in the wrong direction and the two main candidates for the presidency exacerbate, rather than soothe, the feeling of national gloom.

Americans feel poorer, even though their GDP per capita has never been higher. We feel less safe, even though international conflicts have almost disappeared and deaths from terrorism are extremely rare. Overall life expectancy is at an all-time high and progress is being made in curing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and HIV/AIDS.

It’s Not Just America That’s Doing Better

Globally, the speed of improvements in human well-being is staggering. Fueled by its embrace of capitalism and globalization, Chinese per capita income has grown by an incredible 900 percent in my lifetime. During that time, Indian life expectancy rose by a third – from 52 years to 68 years. These two countries contain close to 3 billion people and their improving living standards ought to be cause for celebration, not resentment. Intellectual Enlightenment is on the rise, replacing traditions and superstitions with reason and empiricism.

Luckily, a small, but influential, group of optimists has been trying to cheer us up. The late Julian Simon got the ball rolling with the publication of The Ultimate Resource in 1981 and The Ultimate Resource II in 1996. Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet came out ten years later, Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist followed in 2010 and Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century came out last year.

The list of optimists, which also includes a list of such luminaries as the economic historian Deidre McCloskey, Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, psychologist Steven Pinker, economist Max Roser and statistician Hans Rosling, has just grown longer with the publication of Johan Norberg’s Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the realistic picture of the state of humanity.

Norberg, a Swedish writer and Cato Institute Senior Fellow, has looked at the state of the world from global food supply to child labor. He found that:
“Despite what we hear on the news and from many authorities, the great story of our era is that we are witnessing the greatest improvement in global living standards ever to take place. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labor and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history.

Life expectancy at birth has increased more than twice as much in the last century as it did in the previous 200,000 years. The risk that any individual will be exposed to war, die in a natural disaster, or be subject to dictatorship has become smaller than in any other epoch. A child born today is more likely to reach retirement age than his forbearers were to live to their fifth birthday.”

And what were the reasons for the massive improvements in global standards of living? First, Norberg credits intellectual Enlightenment, which replaced traditions and superstitions with reason and empiricism. Second, he points to the ideas of classical liberalism, which replaced serfdom and authoritarianism with individual liberty and liberal democracy. Last, but not least, Norberg notes the role played by the Industrial Revolution in replacing hunger and poverty with prosperity and abundance.

The improvements that Norberg writes about started in the West – the home of Enlightenment, classical liberalism and Industrial Revolution. As such, the West got a head start and powered ahead of the rest of the world. Inequality, as Angus Deaton wrote in his book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and Origins of Inequality, was the “price” that humanity had to pay for progress. Without the Western “escape” from poverty, the rest would have none to emulate.

Western Civilization Is Contagious. And So Is Its Success.

Over time, the gap between the West and the rest grew larger, reaching its apex at the start of the 20th century. But then, as Western ideas and inventions spread across the world, the gap started to narrow. The global economy is not a fixed pie. China’s economic successes do not translate to American losses.Academic researchers—from Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University to Surjit Bhalla, formerly of the Brookings Institution and Rand Corporation, to Paolo Liberati of the University of Rome—all agree that global inequality is declining.

Maybe it is too much to ask of people living in the West to feel gratified by the improvements experienced by people across the globe. Quite understandably, our point of reference is not a global, but national, standard of living.

And clearly, the speed of improvements has been uneven. Just consider the tremendous progress that China has made – at least in terms of its economy rather than its openness to democracy – since it embraced free markets in 1978, versus improvements experienced by Americans over the same time period:
But the global economy is not a fixed pie. China’s economic successes do not translate to American losses. In spite of what Donald Trump says, for example, the output of the American manufacturing sector is at an all-time high. The same cannot be said about employment in that sector, which has declined. But many of those manufacturing jobs were difficult and dangerous. There is no point romanticizing them in the same way that people in the midst of the Industrial Revolution romanticized the agricultural past. Moreover, many of the jobs lost in the US manufacturing sector have not “gone” to China. They were lost to robots, computers, and other efficiencies.

As it comes to election time, the American electorate should insist not that the United States punish China for its success by erecting barriers, but that our decision makers create an economic environment – low and simple taxation and unobtrusive regulatory regime – that will make rapid growth in the United States possible again.

Why A Market Crash Could Be Just Around The Corner

bear-market-bearMy Comments: The prophet of doom strikes again!

No, seriously, the evidence is mounting and the financial pundits are all talking about this. Some of it is the threat of a Trump presidency, which I believe is a real threat. The rest of it is mostly mathematics and economics and history.

If you have money in places where you can control how it’s invested, I encourage you to call someone and have them move it to cash or something similar. While accurately timing the market is a myth, a defensive move on your part for the next six to twelve months could eliminate a lot of chaos in your life.

Oct. 28, 2016 by INVESTIV

Summary

  • We’ll discuss some risks first and then discuss potential rewards.
  • Valuations are the tipping point toward a riskier perspective.
  • After reading this article you’ll be able to decide for yourself what the best strategy is for you to follow.

Introduction
In order to see where the market is going, let us first take a look at what the market has been doing in the last two years. The market has had a 7% yearly return if we look at it from October 15, 2014, however, if we wait a month, the yearly return for the last two years will fall to 1.8% per year. 1.8% a year plus a dividend yield of 2% isn’t bad in the current low yield environment, but it is bad when compared to the risks stock investors are running.

Risks: Where The Market Could Go

As the market is severely influenced by the actions or inactions of the Fed, the first risk comes from an interest rate increase likely to come in December. The market is already preparing for it as 10-year yields are slowly increasing and the dollar is strengthening.

This is a risk for stocks as a stronger dollar lowers international revenues in dollar terms and consequently lowers earnings. Also, higher interest rates and treasury yields will lower the demand for dividend yielders. Since this bull market started back in 2009, the yield spread between the S&P 500 dividend yield and bonds has consistently been around 300 basis points. If yields increase, the S&P 500 is bound to decline in order to continue having a yield advantage which is inherent for the risk premium for stocks.

If the FED increases rates, the risks are high. Unfortunately, if the FED doesn’t increase rates the risks are also high. The FED might not increase rates or may quickly lower them after an increase if the economic and employment situation starts to deteriorate. As we’ll show you in a moment, the economic situation isn’t that great.

The FED looks primarily at three factors: economic growth, employment, and inflation.

Economic growth has been slowing down in the last two years, alongside declining corporate earnings. The estimates foresee improving economic growth of around 2.5% for the next few quarters, but you know how estimates are, made to be missed.

Bad economic news would be detrimental for stocks as it would mean slower growth and lowered earnings, while good economic news would also put pressure on stocks with increased interest rates and a stronger dollar.

On the employment side, things have improved substantially in the last 7 years but similarly to GDP growth, labor market conditions haven’t seemed to improve in the last two years. The Labor Market Condition Index derived from 19 labor indicators has been trending down for two years now and even entered negative territory in 2016.

Inflation has been increasing in the last 12 months which isn’t a good sign if economic activity and labor conditions continue to deteriorate because it will force the Fed to increase rates even though the economics aren’t that good.

All of the above mentioned risks are a normal consequence of economic cycles as there are always things that improve and others that slow down. We can also see this in the current downturn in the oil market. But when these risks are related to current valuations, we can see the real risks low interest rates, a recession, a weaker labor market, and higher inflation create.

As the S&P 500 has a dividend yield of 2.08% and an earnings yield of 4.04%, any significant increase in interest rates would result in a bear market. Similarly, a recession, declining employment or higher wages would push down earnings as well as asset prices.

On top of internal risks, external risks could also have an impact, like fears over China had back in August 2015 and on Thursday when the index was down 1.2% at one point as a result of a decline in Chinese exports.

The main question is, when might the above mentioned risks materialize? Well, forecasting is an ungrateful profession, but I can take an approximate shot at it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a bear market in the next 12 to 24 months as we are currently in an environment without clear indications, the economic growth period already exceeds the average growth period between recessions, and the current economic recovery has been the weakest since the second world war despite the incredibly low rates and quantitative easing.

Let’s attach a 50% probability for a bear market in the next two years, which is a bit higher than J.P.Morgan’s 38% probability, but in line with predictions from Deutsche Bank.

Now that we’ve shown the risks, let’s analyze the potential upside.

Rewards: Where The Market Could Go

A person yelling that the market was overvalued in January 1998 was completely right, but the market went up a whopping 36% in the next two years only to fall by 46% after 2000. Similarly, we can now yell that the market is overvalued, which it is, and then watch it climb to new highs in the next couple of years. Let’s see what the probability and reasons for such a bullish perspective are.

• The Cavalry: The FED will step in at any sign of trouble.

The current bull market is clearly fueled by the FED’s stimulus. If the market shows indications that it will drop or that there is a probable recession, the FED will probably do the only thing it can do, print more money.

• Corporate profit growth.

Unlikely in the case of a recession and with the high competition in business created by the low interest rates, but a recovery in oil prices could push earnings up and consequently the market.

• Tax Holiday: Increased buybacks and dividends due to profit repatriation.

If the government would allow corporations to repatriate the $2.1 trillion in cash stashed overseas at no cost, it would certainly give a boost to buybacks and push stocks higher as managers never think they are overpaying for their own stock. You can read more about this topic in our article here.

• Global economic growth.

As emerging markets are bound to reach the level developed countries have due to improvements in technology, trade, and capital flows, the global economy could push ahead with big strides, especially if commodities rise. This will happen for certain as commodities are a pure cyclical play.

What is the probability of the above happening? Well, faster global economic growth, corporate profit growth, and a tax holiday will all happen eventually, while we don’t know if the FED is going to increase its stimulus to prevent a market decline.

Conclusion

With market risks and potential catalysts being almost equal weight, the tipping point is valuations. Ask yourself if you are happy owning assets that can easily drop by more than 25% for a meager 2% dividend yield, a 4% earnings yield and no earnings growth.

If you are convinced that the stock market is risky, what you can do is invest in uncorrelated assets, lower your exposure to the general market, and have a larger cash position. More cash will provide you with the necessary firepower to buy if there is an eventual market downturn and stocks become much cheaper.

It’s hard to believe but Nike (NYSE:NKE) was trading below $10 a share back in 2009. A bear market will produce plenty of such opportunities so have some cash ready.

The Stage Is Set For The Next 10% Plunge In Stocks

bear-market-bearMy Comments: Some of you are starting to call me tiresome. And you are right; I keep saying the sky is about to fall and it never happens. But ignore me at your peril.

Actually, if it only falls 10%, we can all recover quickly and go about our lives once again. But my guess is it’s going to be 25%. The longer it takes to happen, the deeper it’s likely to be.

These words were written last August and still no correction. Any bets on when it will happen?

Sam Ro  |  August 22, 2016

The stock market (^GSPC) continues to trend higher as earnings growth remains lackluster. This has caused valuations to get very expensive, signaling a stock market that’s becoming increasingly due for a sharp sell-off.

Everyone is flagging this anxiety-inducing pattern, and yet the market continues to rally arguably nonsensically.

“The S&P 500 has advanced 6.8% YTD (8.4% including dividends) despite a more modest improvement in the earnings outlook (+1.4%),” RBC’s Jonathan Golub observed in a note to clients on Monday. “Put differently, the market’s move higher has been fueled almost exclusively by multiples.”

Most analysts argue that these record-high stock prices are unsustainable without a significant pickup in earnings growth. Unfortunately, there isn’t much hope for that.

“Since EPS trends have typically been associated with S&P 500 index patterns, a sharper-than-expected uptick in profits would be a necessary prerequisite for additional upside,” Citi’s Tobias Levkovich said on Friday. “[A Citi survey suggests] new positive developments would need to emerge to justify more in terms of net income generation. With outstanding issues such as the impact of Brexit and/or fiscal policy post the US elections, it seems challenging to come to any powerful conclusions at this juncture.”

The Fed wants to hike, and the S&P fell 10% after the last hike.

Economic data in the US has been positive, highlighted by notably strong labor market and housing market data. This has put pressure on the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy with an interest rate hike sooner than later.

In fact, three members of the Fed have signaled that a hike will come sooner in just the past week. Last Tuesday, NY Fed President William Dudley said “we’re edging closer towards the point in time where it will be appropriate to raise rates further.” On Thursday, San Francisco Fed President John Williams said every meeting, including the one coming in September, should “be in play” for a rate hike. On Sunday, Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said “we are close to our targets.”

“A more hawkish Fed could trigger a return of volatility if financial conditions (USD, credit spreads) start to deteriorate again,” Societe Generale’s Patrick Legland said on Monday. “The S&P 500 fell c.10% following the first rate hike last December.”

In that same breath, Legland warned of the importance of earnings to the stock market.

“US company earnings were better than expected in Q2,” he acknowledged. “But the sharp increase in valuation ratios (S&P 500 forward P/E 17x, P/B 2.9x) puts the onus on EPS growth at a time when global GDP growth remains uninspiring.”
16-09-forward-12-month

Could fund flows save the day?

The sad thing about the current stock market rally is that it comes at a time when retail investors are spilling out of the stock market. “US equity funds saw outflows deepen to a new 6 year low in July,” Credit Suisse’s Lori Calvasina observed on Thursday.

3 Reasons Bulls Can Believe In This Stock-market Rally

roller coaster2My Comments: In keeping with my effort to stay away from Woe & Gloom stuff, here is my latest, read it and don’t weep article.

Sept 28, 2016 | by Barbara Kollmeyer

The bulls have been nervous for a while, yet the stock market keeps rising.

Those who think the market has run out of steam are not hard to find. A possible Federal Reserve hike in December — or not, which could create a crisis of confidence in the central bank — is just one reason some think the market is high enough as it stands. Then there’s a presidential election in November whose outcome no one is ready to predict with any certainty.

Still, some, like Sean Emory, chief investment officer of Avory & Co., say bring on the fourth quarter, because the S&P 500 SPX, has plenty of strength to keep going through the end of the year and on into the early part of 2017.

He gives three reasons to back that up but notes that it’s important the index stays above 2,100 for this to all work, and if it goes below that level then he’d trim some long exposure.

The first reason that Emory believes the market will move higher is that it’s such a hated bull market, as evidenced by surveys from the American Association of Individual Investors; the second is that the spread between dividends and 10-year Treasurys is sitting in positive territory, a rarity, and that will keep propping up demand for equities, he says. The last reason is seasonality.

The fourth quarter, he says, “has historically been up 80% of the time over the last 50 years, and [in the] 30 to 60 trading sessions post-elections the market has been up 60% to 63% of the time since 1928.”

The worst period for buying around elections is the seven days just after, according to Emory.

Here’s his chart that lays out those figures:

Politics and Religion Should NOT Mix

CharityMy Comments: Some very good friends of mine have tried to “save” me. They’re fearful I will die and not go to heaven, and God will blame them for not trying hard enough. My sincere apologies. This article appeared a year ago and still resonates with me.

I grew up all over the world, with parents who were cynical about religion. My father had no trouble confessing to being a sinner, but he refused to accept that he was a ‘miserable sinner’ as decreed by the Church of England.

I followed in the distant footsteps of the Pilgrims, though not for religious reasons. I came with my parents for economic reasons, and have embraced these United States and the constitutional doctrine of religious freedom. For me, that means I can believe and have faith on my terms and not as dictated by someone else.

Some politicians believe the Constitution is flawed; no one who self-identifies as Muslim is qualified to be President. The same was said about Jack Kennedy because he was Catholic, something I well remember.

This same bias reappeared in slightly different form when there was a candidate named Barack Obama, who, perish the thought, was not a white anglo-saxon protestant. Why do these people call themselves American and revere the Constitution?

Barbara Hammond | 09/14/2015

Everyone I know is sick of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, and so am I, but I want to share a couple of stories about her religion and Mr. Huckabee’s, as well.

He’s Southern Baptist and she’s Apostolic/Pentecostal which is more rigid in their edicts for women and their boisterous rituals.
When I was seven I witnessed a Pentecostal church service with a crazy woman, my step-father’s step-mother. She was an alcoholic who kept a bottle of beer under her bed every night so she could drink it before her feet hit the floor in the morning.

I don’t remember why I ended up alone with her one evening, but I will never forget the evening. I sat quietly in front of the TV hoping my mom would pick me up before Hazel got drunk. I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened.

She went upstairs and I was sure she would pass out and that would be the end of it, but she came downstairs all dressed up, including a big flowery hat.

“Get in the car kid, we’re going to church,” she said.

I didn’t dare argue. We got in the car and drove a little ways before turning onto a dirt road. A small building came into view all lit up and full of people.

It wasn’t like any church I’d seen before. It seemed to be under construction, and maybe it was, but the inside had a pulpit and pews. They were just getting started, so we sat in the back.

I tucked into the corner of the pew and took in the scene. It was quite a spectacle of bright colors and crazy hats. The minister was a woman with hair about as long as Kim Davis’. They all started singing and things got rowdy, but the minister quieted them and began her sermon.

I understood some of it until she began to speak in another language. I later learned she was speaking in tongues. Soon others piped in with their own versions and it got crazier.

Within a matter of moments there were people leaping down the aisle doing acrobatics like I’d never seen. The entire scene scared me to death. I hid under the pew but kept a close eye on Hazel, in case she might leave me there. She didn’t, thank God, but it seemed an eternity before we got home.

I never stayed with her again.

My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister. He never had his own church in Ohio, but he went every Sunday. Since I lived with them often I went, too.

I remember my fear of ‘altar call’ like it was yesterday. At the end of the service, the preacher would ask the congregation if they had been saved and if not to come and accept the Lord as their savior.

Granddaddy would put his big hand on my shoulder and say, “You been saved girl?”

I would nod my little head so hard it hurt. There was no way I was walking up the aisle while the congregation sang, “Just as I Am.” I cringe when I hear it, to this day.

The hypocrisy of altar call is at the heart of Kim Davis’ story. You see, when you prostrate yourself at the altar and repent your sins in front of everyone, all is forgiven. Even if you cheated on your husband and got pregnant, then divorced your husband and married again…and again…and again.

Being ‘saved’ is what it’s called and you can do it over and over again. My uncle was a master of this game.

Uncle Chuck was a truck driver. He was gone a lot while my aunt raised their kids. One evening, while watching the evening news, she saw a story about a truck stop raid outside of Atlanta. Seems there was a prostitution ring and several truck drivers were arrested during the raid. Guess whose face made the evening news?

He came home and cried like a baby and swore he was going to beg God to forgive him. He marched up the aisle Sunday morning to ‘Just as I Am’ and sure enough, all was forgiven.

The righteousness of those freshly saved is nauseating, to me. I’ve seen it more times than I can count and, in my opinion, it’s a crutch. Catholics go to confession. At least their sins are between them, a priest and their God.

Davis, Huckabee and their ilk are religious when it’s convenient. I believe in forgiveness from your God when you are genuinely repentant, not when it serves your ulterior motives.