Topley’s Top Ten – March 27, 2020

1.Volatility-In the Last 2 Weeks the Dow Jones its Best Day Since 1933 and its 2 Worse Days Since 1987 Crash.

Within the last two weeks, the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA has experienced its best day since 1933, which came two days ago on March 24 when the index gained 11.37%, as well as its two worst days since the Black Monday crash of 1987, which came on March 12 and March 16 when the Dow notched single-day losses of -9.99% and -12.93%, respectively. This month, DJIA has had 10 days which rank in the largest one-day moves since 1985, as it has had five of its 20 best and five of its 20 worst one-day returns. To put this into perspective, since 2009 we have had only two days that ranked in the 20 best or 20 worst – December 26, 2018 when DJIA gained 4.98% and August 8, 2011 when the index lost -5.55%. No other month since 1985 has had nearly as many of the largest one day moves as March 2020 – October 2008 and October 1987 tie for second which each month owning five. While the sheer number of large moves this month has been unprecedented in recent history, as you can see in the table below, it is not unusual to have these extreme days come in close proximity.

Nasdaq Dorsey Wright

2.Only Thing More Volatile Than Stocks Was Bonds…

Tracy Alloway

Absolutely stunning moves in mortgage bonds. This bond comprised of Alt-A home loans originated by Citi went from trading above par to trading at 70 cents on the dollar in *less than 3 weeks* and it’s not the only one.

3.Dollar Weakens.

Remember earlier chart with unprecedented fast 8% jump in dollar….now rolling over back to Feb. 19th levels.

4.Market Cap Decline Across Sectors.



5.The 3m Jump in Jobless Claims….5x the Previous Record Set in 1982

JOBSA Chart You’ll Never Forget

Economic Policy Institute

Morning Brew

Imagine the entire state of Utah filing for unemployment. Yesterday morning, the Labor Department reported something pretty darn close: almost 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, the department’s biggest spike on record.Unemployment applications generally mirror the rate of layoffs. So when claims jump by 3 million in a week, it’s safe to say coronavirus is ravaging the U.S. economy.Is this everyone? Not even close. Gig workers, freelancers, and the self-employed aren’t eligible for unemployment yet. Nor do jobless claims account for the millions of workers who’ve had hours dramatically reduced or their pay cut. The pace is unprecedented. In February, unemployment hit a half-century low of 3.5%. Last week’s filings are expected to push that to 5.5% and, if the pandemic and economy worsen, near 13%. By the end of May, the U.S. could lose twice as many jobs as it did during the Great Recession. Globally, the UN predicts up to 25 million jobs lost.Stimulus to the rescue?Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin said yesterday’s unemployment numbers are “not relevant” since claims were filed before the Senate passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package. He said businesses that receive stimulus benefits “hopefully will be able to hire back a lot of those people.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledged to pass the stimulus today. The bill would expand unemployment benefits including 13 additional weeks of benefits, extra weekly payments of up to $600 for four months, and benefits for individuals not on company payrolls, like gig economy workers. Those changes should allow the average worker to receive roughly 100% wage replacement, NPR reports. A separate bill provides $1 billion to states to help process claims. Many unemployment agencies are working with historically low funding and staffing, and the influx of applications has crashed some systems. Big picture: “As today’s report shows, the coronavirus outbreak is economically akin to a major hurricane occurring in every state around the country for weeks on end,” Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao told CNN. 

6.Hours Worked Drop 50-60%


7.Natural Gas Hits 25-Year Lows.

8.How Coronavirus Affects Different Age Groups.

Niall McCarthy

9.All You Wanted To Know About Those Tax Stimulus Checks But Were Afraid To Ask

Taken from Kelly Erb at Forbes(Updated: March 26, 2020)

COVID-19 continues to impact the United States, the federal government is taking action to ease the burden on taxpayers. Most recently, the Senate passed a massive stimulus package (the House has yet to vote but is expected to follow suit). A key feature of the stimulus is individual checks. 

As with anything tax-related, there’s a little bit of confusion. To help you sort it out, here are a few questions and answers:

When will I get my check? Checks are supposed to be produced “as rapidly as possible,” but it’s been suggested that could take up to two months. If you use direct deposit, it will be faster.

How big will my check be? Checks will be $1,200 per adult – or $2,400 for married couples filing jointly – and an additional $500 per child.

Are there income limits on checks? The amount of the checks would start to phaseout for those earning more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint returns and $112,500 for heads of household). 

Wait, how does a phaseout work? Phaseout means that the benefit goes down as income goes up. In this case, for every $100 of income above those thresholds, your check will drop by $5. So, if you are a single filer earning $75,100, your check will be $1,195 ($1,200-$5). If you are a single filer earning $85,000, your check will be $700 ($1,200-$500). If you do the quick math on that, it means that you’ll phaseout completely (meaning that you’ll get nothing) once you hit $99,000 as a single filer, $198,000 as a married couple filing jointly, or $146,500 for heads of household.

What about limits on kids? There are no limits on the number of children that qualify. The definition of child will be the same as for the child tax credit.

Will I need a Social Security Number to get a check? Yes. Or in the alternative, an adoption taxpayer identification number. Ditto for spouses and kids.

So how does this work? Do I need to file anything to get my check?  Technically, the checks are advances of refundable credits. Treasury will advance your check based on your most recently filed tax return (2018 or 2019 tax return). If you haven’t filed a tax return, the bill allows Treasury to use the information on your 2019 Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, Form RRB-1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.

Okay, I don’t understand. What is a refundable tax credit? The check acts like a refund you get in advance. When you file your 2020 tax return, the IRS will compare your income numbers. If you should have gotten more than you did, you’ll get a refund. If the numbers on your 2020 tax return are different from your 2019 tax return, I don’t expect that you’ll have to pay it back (as the bill is written now). Don’t worry: most taxpayers should get just the right amount.

Is my check taxable? No. This is not taxable income.

What if I am expecting a refund for the 2019 tax year? Your 2019 refund will not be affected by the stimulus check.

What if I’ve moved? Under the law, the Treasury must send notice of the payment by mail to your last known address. The notice will include how the payment was made and the amount of the payment. The notice will also include a phone number for the appropriate point of contact at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if you didn’t receive the payment. You can help make sure that it goes to the right place by updating your address after a move. Usually, you’d do that on your tax return, but you can also submit a federal form 8822, Change of Address (downloads as a PDF). It generally takes four to six weeks to process a change of address.

What about retired folks? Retired seniors are eligible.

What about those on government benefits? And those with no income? Yes, eligible folks include those with no income, as well as those whose income comes entirely from non-taxable means-tested benefit programs, such as SSI benefits. 

Is my check subject to offset? No. If your refund would normally be seized to pay a debt, that shouldn’t happen here. Shouldn’t. Assuming it works as planned.

This is a done deal, right? Mostly. It cleared a hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday night and is expected to pass in the House. The President, through Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, has expressed a desire to sign a relief bill quickly.

So no changes? I didn’t say that. There could be additional guidance from the IRS. I’ll let you know by updating this page.

Not that I don’t trust you, but where can I find this in writing? I’ll post the official text as soon as it’s available.

10.What are the Core Ideas of Self-Improvement?

In any field, there are a few ideas that are core to understanding everything else. Biology makes little sense without evolution. Physics without symmetries and conservation laws is baffling. All mathematics can be built out of sets.

Self-improvement isn’t usually regarded as an intellectual field. It’s mostly an assortment of various gurus and pundits’ suggestions on how you ought to be more successful, happier or wise. Thus it might seem like self-improvement doesn’t really have core ideas at all—just opinions.

However, I think there are some common themes to the art of living better. These ideas are pervasive, coming up again and again. Even in the writing of people who take a stand against them, their prevalence still requires that they be acknowledged.

The Core Ideas

1. Habits

Nearly all forms of self-improvement first require that you change your behavior. Unless the improvement you’re after is purely mental, you’re going to have to actually do something first.

Habits, then, form a central idea in behavior change. Being able to make certain behaviors automatic (or at least, more automatic) is going to help tremendously with any change you might want to make. To get fit you need to have a habit of eating well and exercising. To get rich you need a habit of saving and investing. To have loving relationships you need good habits of communication.

Not only are habits central to self-improvement, but they’re also one of the best studied aspects of psychology. We have countless studies showing how the impact of association, rewards, punishments and contextual cues will have impacts on behavior.

If you’re looking to dive deeper into habits, I recommend:

§  My best articles on habit changing

§  Atomic Habits by James Clear

§  The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg

§  Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan & Chip Heath

2. Goal-Setting

How can you reach a destination if you don’t first know what it is? Goal-setting not only involves deciding what you want, but also planning how you should get there. It’s a common theme, even if many people disagree about which aspects are most important.

Goal-setting has also been studied by psychological research and generally found to be helpful. However, it also seems clear that just having the idea of what you want to achieve usually isn’t enough (although it may be a necessary start). Thus, goal-setting on its own needs to be paired with plans, systems or habits if it is going to be successful.

A good heuristic for goal-setting is that they should be SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). Implementation intentions, formulated as IF… THEN… plans tend to work better than just focusing on an outcome on its own. Planning fallacies also need to be watched for as many goal-setting efforts can be overly optimistic.

Some view the disadvantages of explicit goal-setting to outweigh the benefits. These people either argue for being entirely process oriented and ignoring outcomes, or simply negate the value of achievement itself in favor of different values.

If you’re looking to dive deeper into goal-setting, I recommend:

§  My best articles on goal-setting

§  Goals! by Brian Tracy

§  The ONE Thing by Gary Keller

§  My course Make it Happen!

3. Systems

Systems are tools that structure your behavior and decision with formal rules. A productivity system is one type of system—in this case aimed at helping you get work done by organizing the things that need doing and telling you when to do them. Other systems exist for helping make decisions, managing knowledge or organizing your approach to specific domains of life.

The opposite of systems is an intuition-based or informal approach. What systems often encourage is creating explicit rules or guidelines which will discourage some tendencies you’d like to avoid. Getting Things Done, for instance, is a famous productivity system based on avoiding the tendency to forget what you need to do.

Systems are often built off of concepts of scientific management and organizational theory, but applied to one’s personal life. Thus business concepts like standard operating procedures, quarterly reviews and key performance indicators get repurposed as self-improvement concepts.

Systems, like goal-setting, also have detractors. Spontaneous, intuitive, creative or emotional approaches to improvement may be suppressed in an overly rigid system. Nonetheless, understanding systems, even if you choose to apply them selectively, is a core concept worth knowing.

If you’re looking to dive deeper into systems, I recommend:

§  My best articles on productivity

§  Work the System by Sam Carpenter

§  The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris

§  Getting Things Done by David Allen

4. Emotional Self-Regulation

Much of self-improvement has to deal with managing, guiding or listening to our emotions. Indeed, those who take happiness to be an emotional state, central to our existence, may argue that all self-improvement ultimately is aimed at making us feel better.

Beyond being an end in itself, emotional self-regulation has many important instrumental purposes. Overcoming fears and anxieties represent a huge swath of self-improvement literature. Motivation and willpower overlap here as well, even if they may be better seen as concepts distinct from emotions or subjective feelings.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, sees thoughts, feelings and behavior as all being part of an interrelated system. The way you think about things affects how you feel, which affects what you do. How you feel, in turn, affects your thoughts and actions. Actions too, with their consequences can impact later feelings (exposure therapy is a clear example of this direction).

Others argue in favor of listening to emotions more than trying to manage them. In this view, emotions are important signals to tell you about the significance of events, often surpassing your ability to analyze situations rationally. The job, school or relationship you feel bad about might not be good, even if you can’t say why.

If you’re looking to dive deeper into emotional self-regulation, I recommend:

§  My best articles on emotions

§  The Emotion Code by Dr. Bradley Nelson and Tony Robbins

§  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

§  Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday

5. Learning

Learning is a tricky concept here because there are actually two different senses of the word. The first is a synonym for studying. This is something that matters to students, certainly, but it may not be something that feels central to your life if you’re no longer in school.

On the other hand, learning is also a basic psychological process. Every time we change from experience, get better at anything or remember something, we’re learning.

In this second sense, learning is a core concept of self-improvement. Like habits, learning has been studied in incredible detail, making it a rich source of research-driven insights into self-improvement. Some might argue that learning is the core of psychology itself.

I’ve spent more time writing about this core concept than anything else, in part because I feel it has often been neglected in self-improvement, perhaps because many people conflate it with studying. Learning in the first sense, of deliberate studying, is also an important tool simply because it’s the means by which one can understand the other tools better, so I tend to give it priority even if other authors don’t.

If you’re looking to dive deeper into learning, I recommend:

§  My best articles on learning

§  My book, Ultralearning

§  My course, Rapid Learner

§  Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

6. Values and Meaning

Most of the core concepts I’ve discussed so far are instrumental, useful for reaching some purpose. However, a core concept of self-improvement is a reflection on those purposes themselves.

This typically moves away from psychology and more towards philosophy and religion. What you ought to value in life and how you derive meaning from things are deep questions which we’ve debated for millennia. Even self-improvement itself is a perspective, one for which some pundits argue explicitly against.

There are two levels that this issue can be approached. The first is to find a system of meaning or values that you want to self-consciously emulate. This could be Stoicism, Buddhism, Christianity or some kind of secular humanism. You might want to consciously inhibit some of your vices and enhance your virtues. You might decide that happiness is the meaning of life or that the purpose of our lives transcends how we feel in the moment.

The second level of this system is to investigate meaning itself. This is a more esoteric job of philosophers, and perhaps too abstract for many people who simply want an answer for how life is to be. But given the plurality of systems which often contradict, understanding meaning and values themselves can often help structure your decision of which to strengthen.

The variety of value systems expressed in the former is too broad to give recommendations, but for those looking to think more deeply about the issue of meaning itself I recommend:

§  Meaningness by David Chapman

§  Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

§  Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

§  My articles on life purpose and meaning

7. Thoughts and Beliefs

Thoughts refer to the things you say to yourself in your head. Much mental content isn’t verbal, but our ongoing self-narrative is an important part of both our quality of life and as an instrument to achieving things.

What beliefs are precisely (and whether they actually exist) is less precise. Some would classify a belief as a propositional statement in your head, like a little bit of logic with TRUE or FALSE attached. Others would see beliefs as statements of probability (90% TRUE or 54% FALSE). Still others might argue that beliefs don’t really exist in our head at all, but are only inferrable by our behavior. In this sense we act as if we had beliefs, but don’t really have anything corresponding to probabilities or propositions inside our minds.

Regardless of the exact format of thoughts and beliefs, they form a core concept in self-improvement for multiple reasons.

The first is that beliefs and thoughts may become self-fulfilling prophecies. Many argue that since your thoughts and beliefs have a causal impact on your behavior, and thus your results, you may get into cycles of self-limiting beliefs that become true only because you believe in them.

Thoughts can also create emotional feelings as well, and thus we may want to control our thoughts even if we don’t care so much about changing our external outcomes. The constant worrier may have a nagging voice in her head that says her success never counts.

The importance of thoughts and beliefs ranges depending on whom you ask. For some, beliefs have mystical powers that transcend a physically justifiable version of reality. To believe something is, in a certain sense, to literally make it true. Others reject the supernatural, but argue that beliefs still highly constrain our attention, making self-fulfilling prophecies frequent. On the opposite extreme are those that argue for a mostly passive role of beliefs, recording the world but not much changing outcomes. To those people, having true beliefs matters more than believing things to make them true. Regardless of where you sit in this spectrum, the content of our thoughts and beliefs is central to self-improvement.

If you want to go deeper into this topic, I recommend:

§  The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday

§  The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

§  Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins

§  For the more “rationalist” approach, I suggest LessWrong

Which Core Concepts Did I Miss?

There certainly are other concepts in self-improvement I’ve skipped over here. Some ideas are important, but didn’t seem as universal so I excluded them (compound growth, progressive training, metrics). If you have your own thoughts of core ideas that come up again and again in self-improvement, please share in the comments!