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Fed Funds Rate March .25 0.0
Unemployment January 5.7% +.1%
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Inflation (average) January -.09% -1.71%
Gold (oz) March $1,206 -$21
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Killing the Markets, All by Myself
Mar 29, 2015

One of the most paralyzing conditions for investors is when they’re scared of making a move – afraid of what might unexpectedly happen. How often things don’t go as planned -- and so they sometimes decide to leave well enough alone and hope issues magically disappear and/or correct, and that robust gains will automatically incubate out of thin air. Indecisiveness – that is, not taking action when a different outcome is desired – is an ingredient to failure.


Another tenant to failure is making changes to your portfolio simply for the sake of change. This will only produce change – and it will be luck that determines the outcome, be it good or bad. Gambling requires good luck. Investment requires no such thing.


Positive, long-lasting change comes most easily from logical, calculated reasoning, and superior 15-51 construction.


Confidence begins with an understanding of how your portfolio is built.


As you know, the Dow Jones Industrial Average recently made a component change, replacing perennial underperformer AT&T with consummate highflier Apple. The change was announced on March 6, 2015, two weeks prior to the move taking effect. The announcement, on March 6, caused me to reconsider my portfolio.


Because I know the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the 15-51 strength indicator like the backs of my hands, I instantly knew the impact the Apple change would have on both portfolios. This isn’t because I’m so smart, but because both portfolios are so easy to understand.


For instance, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that replacing a dog with a dynamo has no choice but to bolster performance. The Dow is comprised of just 30 stocks, after all. A one stock change represents 3% of the entire bunch – until you consider price. 


The Dow is a price weighted average. So at $120 per share, Apple will have about four times the weight as the stock it replaced, AT&T, which is currently trading around $30 per share. That puts Apple at fifth position from the top in Dow Jones ranking – a significant move from AT&T.   


The Apple change has no choice but to dramatically affect the trajectory of the Dow Jones Average.


Knowing this, and that one of my core objectives for the 15-51 strength indicator is to move in a market-like way as defined by the Dow, I knew instantly that the 15-51 indicator had to change when Dow Jones made their announcement. (For more information see: Today’s Paradox: Success with Less Money).


The objective for my 15-51 move was to keep that portfolio on the same trajectory as the Dow Jones Average.


Below is a one month chart of the Dow and 15-51. The dates changes were made to the portfolios are signified with diamonds on their according trend lines.

As you can see, 15-51 continues to move in a "market-like" way. It is also plain to see that it operates in an above-average way. That, by definition, is what it is supposed to do. In other words, my 15-51 portfolio does reliably what it is expected to do. 


Nothing breeds confidence and comfort more than executing objectives.


That’s a key benefit of the 15-51 system. Because it’s so easy to understand and use, desired results are more easily achieved.


Smaller portfolios are easier to understand, manage, and predict.


To prove that point, let’s once again turn to the S&P 500. The S&P is a much larger and more complex portfolio than the two previously mentioned, and because of that, has to change more to achieve its market objective. For instance, the S&P 500 has changed eight times so far this year – and six of those changes were made in the month of March 2015, with four coming on March 23 alone. The chart below includes S&P 500 activity (March 23 is noted with a black diamond on its trend line.)

Remember, both the Dow and S&P have the same exact objective – to indicate the market average of stock market activity. The 15-51 objective is to indicate stock market strength. All three portfolios should move in a similar "market-like" way.


As you can see, the S&P 500 is struggling to achieve this core objective with its most recent moves. But that’s not because the people who manage it aren’t smart investment managers, or because they are trying to make the portfolio move in a contradictory way as the Dow. That’s not it at all. It’s because the portfolio is too big.


Managing a portfolio the size of the S&P 500 or bigger is so much harder than tending to the Dow or 15-51. That’s the reason S&P trends sometimes get away from what their management team wants. Its size makes it too easy to fall short of expectations. 


Smaller portfolios also produce greater investment returns.


This is also the reason teams of skilled fund managers consistently fail to achieve market returns while I routinely kill every mutual fund and market index from here to Shanghai, all by myself. 


And you can do it too.


Easy to understand. Simple to use. Superior results.


ShieldThe road to financial independence.™

Can One Export Derail Them All?
Mar 17, 2015

Stock prices and yields are key indicators of economic vitality. In healthy markets they move together higher during expansions, and lower during downturns. These are both choreographed moves from central government planners as well as natural results from free market activity.  


Investors are naturally pulled towards higher rewards – and nothing outperforms the stock market during economic booms. As a result, capital leaves the bond market and enters the stock market during sturdy expansions. In order to lure that capital back to the bond market, borrowers (those who issue bonds) must raise interest rates, or sell their low interest rate bonds at a discount (thus causing the yield to rise), to incentivize those with capital to acquire debt rather than stocks.


In addition to the natural momentum of rising yields during expansions, central bankers add further impetus by raising core interest rates to control growth and thwart inflation. Core government rates drive all other interest rates, so a rise in them pushes all other yields higher than they would otherwise be.


Government action to raise interest rates is known as a "tightening" event.  Tight money and higher interest rates are generally associated with "strong dollar" conditions. 


Rising interest rates and the tightening of money makes a country’s exports more expensive to foreign customers. Such a dynamic causes foreign demand to fall by some measure, which in turn causes corporate profits to fade by a correlating metric.  That’s the reason there has been so much ruckus surrounding the "strengthening" U.S. dollar.


But that’s not the whole concern facing American multi-nationals.


First a quick reiteration of the international environment. The entire Euro Zone has been in a no growth condition for a very long time and Japan (the world’s third largest economy) isn’t much better, growing at a sluggish 1% clip per year. China (the world’s largest economy) has been slowing for several consecutive quarters and recently downgraded their growth target; and Russia is a total mess (more on that a little later). But none of this – repeat, none of it – is new news. American export activity has been weak and unreliable for a long, long time.


So what’s different now – why all the hubbub?


It is important to note that Japan, and more recently Europe, have initiated multi-billion quantitative easing programs – and that is the fly in the ointment.


In America, quantitative easing (QE) was born from the subprime mortgage debacle termed "the financial crisis" which ended with the crash of the financial system in the fall of 2008. An emergency measure called TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) was installed just before President G. W. Bush left office – and that’s when the monetary ponzi scheme began. So TARP is the forefather of QE, and the last QE effort in the United States ended in late 2014.


The point here: QE lingers around for a long time once initiated.


QE is monetary technique used to lower yields and devalue currency. QE is a "loosening" monetary event. So it should be no surprise that currencies who deploy it depreciate against those that don’t – as the U.S. depreciated against the Euro when its QE began in 2008, and how Europe is now depreciating against the dollar with its new QE effort.


And let there be no mistake, Europe and Japan are devaluing their currencies with reason. They want to make their products cheaper in their country, for their constituents, and their consumers. Their hope, without question, is for their producers to grow at the expense of foreign competitors like the U.S. and China. It’s quite logical really, and can be tied directly to the U.S. stock market.


Will newly installed QE programs in foreign countries start to steal profits from American producers – and if so, how will that affect the U.S. economy and stock market?


It is important to note that while Europe is the latest to join the QE folly, not every country is playing the same kind of game. China does things much differently, but has recently injected billions of dollars into their banking system to loosen things up. Russia, a country with a $2 trillion GDP, doesn’t know what to do. After raising rates sharply they’re now cutting interest rates to fight inflation and recession at the same time. They’re losing the money game – which is the reason they’re picking on the Ukraine, but that’s another story.


The point here: all major economies have engaged in the first money war of the 21st century – so the ending can’t be good.


Up until now central bankers have been in a collective race to the bottom. The U.S. led the world by aggressively devaluing the dollar with TARP, QE, aggressive interest rate cuts and massive central government spending. Most major countries followed suit with ambitious interest rate cuts and central government stimulus programs, but all opted to stay away from schemes like QE – until recently, that is.


The U.S. was first-in and now it is trying to be first-out of the money pyramid. It is widely expected that the Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates in just a few months (June 2015) – this after exiting QE a similar short time ago. These tightening events are taking place while the rest of the world is loosening monetary policy.


This opposing dynamic adds fuel to the export fire.


Consider that U.S. exports are roughly 14% of GDP. At that contribution a 10% drop would cut U.S. growth in half for 2015. That’s the economic issue to consider – and as we know, economic threats factor greatly into stock price speculation. 


Another speculative threat to prices is the strange new trading environment for stocks. It has been so long since the U.S. operated in a rising yield, tight money environment – especially one that follows such a prolonged period of inflation induced by QE intoxication. This historical first will be interesting to watch.


And since so many foreign countries waited so long to loosen monetary policy as aggressively as the U.S. did, an equally long delay to their tightening events should be expected. That means the pricing disadvantage for U.S. exports will last for some time. Call it a new normal.


Investors need to realize that a tightening monetary event totally changes the stock market dynamic.


Strong expansions like the tech-boom and housing-boom were able to handle strong dollar and tight money dynamics – higher yields and taxes, and costlier exports – and still produce solid growth rates. But this expansion isn’t like those. This economic expansion is centrally levered and directed. The other two were consumer driven, which is the reason GDP growth was so much stronger then than it is today – which is also the reason this economy, corporate profits, and stock prices are so vulnerable.


Confusion about the market’s susceptibility festers because the U.S. economy appears to be strong when it really isn’t. Unemployment is 5.5% – but labor participation is at a 40 year low; the stock market is at all-time highs – but economic growth is weak and uneven; the dollar is strengthening – but that’s only because major global currencies are aggressively devaluing.


These are the same reasons the Dow Jones Industrial Average[1] has been scared away from the 18,500 top, the 10 year yield remains near the basement at 2%, and gold appears weak, down 10% in the most recent month. Below is a two year chart.




Weak and strong are only appearances in these crazy and unprecedented times. After all, we live in a world where the mass media is consumed with speculation about the condition of corporate exports when the root cause of the problem isn’t even mentioned, let alone in proper context. That could lead some investors to question what they’re seeing and believing.


Indeed, American goods are going to get a lot more expensive overseas for a long period of time. Demand for U.S. products over there should fall, and corporate profits and stocks prices here should follow to a correlating metric. And it will be one U.S. export -- a government product called QE – that will cause it all.


Stay tuned…


ShieldThe road to financial independence.™



[1] Under its current form and construction.

Today's Paradox: Success with Less Money
Mar 09, 2015

Last week Dow Jones announced that Apple will replace battered telecom giant AT&T in the Industrial Average. The change will take place on March 19, 2015, and while most theories regarding the change point to the impending 4-to-1 stock-split of another Dow component (Visa), I suggest a very different motive: Poor Performance. See below.




There is only one reason a 500 stock portfolio consistently outperforms a 30 stock portfolio for three consecutive years – inferior construction and/or components. And no one knows this better than the members of the Dow Jones selection committee.


People who have read my book know how much respect I have for those responsible for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It really is a brilliant piece of work. But to be fair they’ve had a tough time solidifying the portfolio since the ’08 meltdown.  This Apple move will represent the tenth change to the Industrial Average since trading began in the ’08 year. While I’m sure they didn’t want to make another move so soon – they had to.


Despite all the hype and hoopla surrounding the Dow’s recent streak of new record highs, its performance has been weak as comapred to the S&P 500. In the three year trend shown above the S&P 500 outgained the Dow Average 65% to 46%, respectively. That's too much, for too long. The Dow needed a change to improve its performance.


So not the case with the 15-51 strength indicator.


As you know, the objective of that portfolio is to indicate how stock market strength is performing. It should produce above-average market returns on a consistent basis, which it reliably does. See below.




The 15-51 Indicator produced an index-leading 77% gain in this three year period while also moving in a "market-like" way. That’s what it is supposed to do. And while I believe it will continue to produce above-average returns in its current form, I’m not so sure it will continue to move in a market-like way.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average is replacing AT&T with Apple, a stock that produced a 31% gain in the last five years with one that added 291% in the same time. Needless to say, the move will significantly change the trajectory of the Dow Average. That dynamic, all by itself, might cause the 15-51 Indicator to move in an "un-market-like" way. So after much thought and analysis, I decided to again modify the 15-51 Indicator. 


The last time the Indicator was altered was year-end 2011; it was the first change in its history. (See: Re-defining Strength) I took some heat over that move because it was announced in arrears. Some thought the after the fact announcement was intended to enhance or protect the 15-51 indicator’s performance trend, which is silly. The original and unchanged 15-51 portfolio detailed on page 162 of my book continues to outperform all others; it was up 92% in the same period shown above. A comparison of the portfolios is below. 



As you can see, the original 15-51 portfolio wasn’t moving in a market-like way – and Apple was the reason for that. Its performance was too strong, too volatile, and too contrary to market movements. It constantly pushed the portfolio’s performance and allocations far beyond market boundaries -- so much so it was making it impossible for the portfolio to meet its objectives.


Performance – and market movement – are key objectives for the 15-51 Indicator. It must produce above-average returns and move in a market-like way. If it fails in either of these cases it must be changed. That’s why Apple was removed in 2011.


And that’s why it will return.


15-51 component IBM has a similar five year return as AT&T (24% versus 31% respectively) which is way below the market average during the time. IBM also has some significant operating issues to face; it no longer has a dominant position in the marketplace, suffers from an identity crisis, and seriously needs to reinvent itself. It really doesn’t deserve a place in a strength-oriented portfolio. 


As a result, Apple will replace IBM in the 15-51 indicator at the IS: 2-2 position. The portfolio will also be rebalanced at the same time. The change will take effect at the close of trading on March 18, 2015, one day after Visa splits 4-for-1 and one day before Apple appears in Dow trading. The move will elevate the 15-51’s technology allocation similar to that of "the market," and should keep it on the same trajectory as the Dow.


Success is about achieving goals – and comfort-level is a key component.


Movement is a key objective for me because I take comfort in knowing exactly how my portfolio will act under any condition. Prior to making the changes to the 15-51 portfolio in 2011, its movement became more about Apple and less about "the market." I’m not comfortable with that dynamic, so I made the change.—And I wasn’t scared about losing the powerful performance of Apple because I knew I could get robust performance with a less volatile, less risky, 15-51 portfolio. Proof of that can be seen in the table of three-year returns shown below. 





Pts Off

% Off

o15-51  (original, static)




 15-51si (strength)




S&P 500 (average+)




DJIA (average)





Apple more than doubled during this time (132%) and the stock I replaced it with only grew 76%, which is better than the market average but half of what Apple produced. 


There is no such thing as a free lunch with investment.


There was a cost to achieving my desired pattern of movement. However, by earning less return the portfolio went from failure (not achieving objectives) to success (achieving objectives). Success, therefore, was obtained by earning less money and gaining more comfort. That's a trade I was more than willing to make - and it was made easier by my 15-51 method. 


The 15-51 method has a lot of good traits; it’s simple, stable, and flexible. But perhaps its best feature is the long-term profit power it produces. The method allows investors to be more cautious while still earning great rewards. See below.  




Since inception in 1996, stock market strength via the 15-51 Indicator has produced an amazing 1,606% return – despite my efforts to produce less. The market average added just 243% in the same time – despite their efforts to produce more.


That’s today’s paradox. 





PS: Email me if you want the indicator’s change list.

Scamming the Union
Feb 22, 2015

Several weeks ago President Obama gave his State of the Union speech and according to him all is hunky-dory. He touted the fastest growing economy since the tech boom, the strongest labor market since 1999, and shrinking deficits for the first time since the Great Recession.


Either Obama is living in a different world than everybody else or he’s a blatant liar.


Truth be told, this year Obama’s budget will produce $100 billion more in deficit than last year’s did; labor participation is at the lowest level since Carter’s market in 1978; and Clinton’s tech-boom economy averaged 6.1% growth while Obama’s economy is averaging just 2.9% – and if the economy was as strong as Obama portrays, then yields would be 6%, not 2%.


The reason yields aren't that high is because there’s too much demand for U.S. Treasury Securities – at 2% interest, mind you. Think about that for a second. In this stock market (see below) demand for low-risk low-reward bonds is booming. 

Stock market strength has gained 95% since the economy was levered out of recession, and the Dow Average has added 55%. Yet yields have fallen 36% in the same time. Indeed, QE had a very strong hand in that drop. But what about now?  Why hasn’t the elimination of QE forced yields higher?  And if the economy is as good as Obama says, and clear waters are ahead, then why are so many investors willing to earn 2% in bonds while the stock market is "roaring ahead."


Because institutional investors are running scared to safety (U.S. Treasuries).


In strong economic environments yields rise to entice investors to shift capital from higher returning stocks to the bond market. During the tech-boom expansion, for instance, the 10 yield was routinely above 6% – a far cry from today’s meager 2% mark.   


Yields are telling the story of economic weakness and global uncertainty, and stocks are telling the opposite story.


Which is accurate? 


For the answer to that let’s go to the hard facts. After posting two strong periods of economic growth in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, the pace for U.S. growth was cut in half in the holiday driven 4th quarter -- and the economy experienced price deflation. In other words, retailers had to cut prices during the strongest quarter of the year to entice consumers to spend modestly.


That’s not a sign of strength.


Neither are these Wall Street Journal headlines:

·        Hiring Booms, but Soft Wages Linger (1/9/2015)

·        U.S. Retail Sales Reflect Consumer Caution Despite Lower Gas Prices (1/14/2015)

·        WSJ Survey: Economists See 2015 GDP Growth at 3% (1/15/2015)

·        U.S. Economic Growth Slows to 2.6% in Final Months of 2014 (1/30/2015)

·        Jobs Report: U.S. Adds 257,000 Jobs; Unemployment Ticks Up to 5.7% (2/6/2015)

·        Fannie, Freddie Weak Earnings Raise Possibility of Future Bailouts (2/20/2015)


And from across the pond…

·        ECB Unveils Stimulus to Boost Economy (1/22/2015)

·        China Injects $8 Billion into Banking System (1/22/2015)

·        Bank of Russia Cuts Interest Rates (1/30/2015)

·        Japan Escapes Recession but Growth Misses Forecasts (2/16/2015)


Add that to the turmoil in the Middle East and Ukraine and it’s hard to believe stocks are at all-time highs, again. The Dow closed the week at 18,140 and 15-51 strength closed at a new record, 87,777. Stock market strength is up more than 500% since the ’09 bottom, when it traded at 17,398 (just 700 points off the Dow’s current valuation.) See below. 



The exceptional rise in stocks is unprecedented and unwarranted, which makes for a steeper correction next time around. 


Stay tuned…


ShieldThe road to financial independence.™

Switzerland Breaks Tie with Euro
Jan 20, 2015

Gold has quietly risen 12% from its 52-week low reached just a few months ago, on November 5, 2014. In that time yields have dropped a whopping 24%, also with little fanfare. But stocks, again, stole the headlines. Volatility is the theme.


The Dow Average has been up a point or down a point more than a dozen times in the past few months. In the end it has gone nowhere. The 15-51 strength indicator, also traveling a rocky road, had managed to eke out a small gain. See below.


Stock market volatility can easily be attributed to lofty valuations in an increasingly suspect Market. Sure there has been a recent surge in U.S. market activity, but it has little to do with positive Market changes and more to do with the welcomed drop in oil and gas prices. That’s why stocks are having hard time holding onto gains.


The drop in yields is the most dramatic move of all the trend lines shown above.


Capital, both foreign and domestic, is pouring into the U.S. Treasury market even though the 10 year T-Note is 1.8% and heading lower. Return clearly doesn’t matter to institutional investors. And it doesn’t matter because investors are scared to death about current conditions and looking for safety. What they’re scared about is the value of money; hence the recent pop in gold.


And while the U.S. economy appears to be on the mend, escalating trouble continues to brew in Europe. Pressure is rising for the ECB to engage in a quantitative easing (QE) program to thwart another regional crisis.


QE is a monetary technique used to devalue currency, consolidate loss at the federal level, and expand central government spending.


In America, QE was used to relieve banks from toxic assets accumulated during the housing bubble. In Europe, QE will be used to relieve failed nation states from debt they cannot afford to pay back – a.k.a. toxic sovereign debt. The U.S. bailed out banks with QE; Europe will bail out member countries with QE. And just as QE did not correct systemic problems in the U.S. financial system, QE will not correct the fiscal problems in Europe.


In America QE didn’t produce one legitimate economic plus and put American solvency at greater risk. It did nothing to remove the deflationary threat and spur economic growth. Instead QE inflated the stock market, lined the gambling pockets of rich Wall Street bankers, and facilitated an irresponsible increase in government debt that produced nothing but an inflated stock market and terrible economic returns.


Consider this. In the final year of the Bush administration and the first six years of Obama’s administration the federal deficit average 10%+ of GDP. During that time economic growth averaged just 2%. Only in government can spending 10% to get 2% be called a worthwhile investment. In reality, it’s a terrible return on investment – all facilitated by QE


Central governments routinely use fear to advance their big government policies – a.k.a. government expansion. Fear of recession, deflation, financial crisis, and war, are all major weapons in the arsenal of big government advocates. Central bankers make monetary moves and tinker with the value of money to advance the desires and goals of governments – not the goals and desires of People. QE, for instance, is bad for people and good for big governments, as it facilitates excessive government spending and diminishes the value of wages people earn (see Their Side for more information.)


Take Switzerland as an example. Switzerland is a fiscally conservative small government country. Their debt-to-GDP ratio is a miniscule 20% – five times lower than the norms in this day and age – their unemployment rate is just 3.4%, and only 3.3% of the people receive welfare benefits. The Swiss is a model of fiscal conservatism surrounded by a world of undisciplined social liberalism. And the world is their major problem.


More than 70% of the Swiss economy is related directly to exports – and the socialist Euro-Zone is its biggest customer. A strong Franc (the Swiss currency) makes their products more expensive in Europe, who is again teetering on insolvency – hence the big push for them to engage in a QE program. To combat their strong currency and to make their goods more price competitive in the E-Zone, the Swiss had a money policy to peg the value of the Franc to the Euro by a ratio of 1.2 to 1. In other words, 1.2 Francs would be equal to 1 Euro.


But in a sudden and unannounced move on Thursday, January 15, the Swiss central bank removed its exchange rate peg to the Euro. The move caused the Franc’s value to immediately jump 30% against the Euro – an outcome contrary to the Swiss bank’s objective.


The spike in the Franc shows how little faith traders have in Europe and the Euro, and how fiscal conservatism raises the value of money. Europe is a mess and can barely afford itself; debt-to-GDP ratios of 100%+ are commonplace, unemployment is 11.5%, and taxes are outrageous. While it is true that neither the Swiss nor the Euro-Zone economies are growing, one is fiscally stable and the other is fragile.


To put it simply: the value of the Franc is rising because there is less downside risk in the Switzerland government than there is in the European Union.


Perhaps the most disturbing problem in the world today is the consensus among central bankers that they can fix Markets through monetary shell games like QE or exchange rate policy. Hence the pronouncement of Swiss central banker, Thomas Jordan, who announced he was ready to intervene in the markets again to weaken the Franc. Indeed, a weaker currency would help Swiss products remain more competitive with other European countries, but is it worth the cost of depreciation?


For instance, the only way to devalue a currency for a country like Switzerland is to devalue its underlying government. In order for Switzerland to do this to a level that would be more competitive with the Euro Zone it would have to take-on massive new central government debt – at least 70% of its GDP, or another $435 billion. (Their total debt right now is just $127 billion.) That’d be stupid.


The problem with Switzerland is complex. Interest rates are negative and taxes are somewhat reasonable, and because it’s so small (only 9 million people live there) it is extremely difficult to boost domestic consumption to offset lower European demand spawned by a stronger currency. And because Switzerland is essentially fully employed, it’s difficult to increase production capable of supplying a wider and more expansive market than the Euro Zone.


Central banking tricks can’t alleviate that dilemma, which is the reason the Swiss central bank should do nothing and let the market – and its central government – address the issue.


Even though its taxes are relatively reasonable, the Swiss government should cut Market taxes to incentivize domestic spending and business investment to increase capacity. Lowering corporate taxes will also help competitive pricing abroad. A government grant program can be initiated to encourage manufacturers to increase efficiency and capacity. Such an effort will help lower future prices. The Swiss will also need to address their immigration policy to bolster their workforce (an unemployment rate of 3% is just too low.)


Monetary tactics like exchange rate pegs and currency trading don’t solve market problems. They just put perfume on a smelly situation.


And it’s only a matter of time until that smell turns rancid.


Caution to investors with investments (debt or equity) in Europe.


Stay tuned…



The road to financial independence.™




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