7 Ways to Become a More Effective Lifelong Learner

In any survey of self-made millionaires, you’re likely to notice that they say one of the keys to their success is they never stop learning.

If it has been a while since you left college, you may have lost the habit of learning new things all the time or even developed bad habits that inhibit learning.

So how does one develop the skills to become a better lifelong learner? Well it’s like getting better at anything really. You’ve got to make a point to actually do the work. Before that though you need to know what the work of becoming a lifelong learner involves. Read on to find out.

1. Keeping the commitment  

Improving yourself takes a dedication that most of us find daunting. It takes discipline and focus, often at times when you lack them the most. At the end of the day, you just want to relax and kick back because you earned it, you tell yourself.  

This is the wrong approach. Yes, relaxation is important, but spend portions of the day committed to learning, improving what you are doing by improving your skills.

We all know the phrase “work smarter, not harder.” Working smarter means working more efficiently. Add in breaks, take naps, and work in blocks. Spend one of those blocks learning something that’s been interesting you but you haven’t had time to examine.

This type of dedication to learn can invigorate you so that, when you work, you accomplish more.

2. Schedule it out

Humans love rituals. We all have them; we get ready for work in our own habitual ways, we travel to work in a pattern, and we complete tasks using familiar methods. There’s something reassuring about the familiar.

Learning benefits from the same thing. When you take time to schedule something, it builds anticipation. Set aside some time and space each day to study, and try to keep it the same every day.

Use a scheduling system that helps you stay on task, eliminate distractions, make sure everyone knows what you’re doing, and move into your learning zone.

3. Organize your learning

Often, we find ourselves buried in notes, reminders, and more. Keeping track of it all becomes a task in and of itself. This can drag down your productivity, both in work and in learning.

Plan a method for storing your learning materials, notes, study aids, and more. Take advantage of technology that uses the cloud to keep your data up-to-date and ready for use wherever you may find yourself. Evernote or any number of Apple, Google, or Microsoft productivity products will work.

4. Repeat repeat

Repetitively studying work, key information, and other data can help transfer knowledge from short-term to long-term memory. Learning a language involves short-term memorization of terminology, followed by repeated use in context. A student repeats this process over an extended period to attain true fluency.  

Approach this with purpose, free of distractions and fully engaged. Practice and review will help you master a subject, however working smarter, not harder, helps here also. Some experts have shown that dedicating 20 hours to a skill gives you the foundation you need to gain mastery. 

5. Multi-tasking stops you from learning

Multi-tasking and information overloads kill effective learning. One study found that multi-tasking reduced IQ performance as much as skipping sleep.

The human brain possesses amazing computing abilities, but, like all processors, it can only do so much. To maximize learning time, prioritize what goals you have in learning and knock those out first before moving on to others. You may find that some goals eliminate themselves as you progress.

6. Life balance

Learning involves your entire body, even when you simply sit to learn. How you sit, what you eat, and how much you sleep all affect your ability to learn.

Exercise improves healthy blood flow, which helps the brain work effectively. An unhealthy diet draws away resources to deal with the unhealthy results of poor eating.

Do not sacrifice your sleep. Studies now show that the various stages of sleep greatly impact the brain’s ability to retain and access information. When we are tired, our ability to focus wanes. Determine how much sleep works best for you and stick to that amount as much as possible. 

7. Avoid stress

While many people swear by their all-night cramming sessions before a big test, science argues differently. Increased stress reduces the body’s ability to function. As stress increases, the body releases hormones and neurotransmitters to heighten ability to react to danger, triggering a fear response while the brain increases alertness and anxious feelings. This creates an environment in which a person simply can’t focus or work, let alone learn.

Living and learning mean just that. Don’t create an environment in which you feel too much pressure to do either. Keep life more simple and relaxed and learning will follow. This way, the success you’re after will happen more naturally.

Thinking About Becoming an Entrepreneur in 2018? Here are 3 Things You Need to Do

When I became an entrepreneur, I thought I had it all figured out. I had my idea fleshed out, and everyone I talked to loved it.

I quit my job, put a 3 weeks notice in and went off to the races. I started going to networking events, put together PowerPoint presentations and told everyone I could about my idea.

I was even lucky enough to close a few small deals in the first month of being an entrepreneur.  Then reality it. I wasn’t charging enough for my services, and the worst of all, I wasn’t sure if many people needed what I was selling.

I learned the hard way, but overall I don’t regret any of my decision. Now, as a full-time entrepreneur as a ghostwriter and marketing consultant, I’m able to work on my schedule, and I made as much as I did as a full-time employee.

Here are five things I’ve learned during my time as an entrepreneur that can help you be a better entrepreneur in 2018.

I did a few things right away, which I continue to do because of how well it worked.

1. Build relationships using coffee meetings

Never underestimate the power of your network. When I first quit my job, my professional network was nothing. I didn’t know anyone in the tech scene at all.

I first started going to networking events and the few people that i connected with at the game, I would follow up with them and ask them for coffee.

Coffee is a great way to get a little bit more insight into their business and how you can help them. I still take 250 coffee meetings a year.

2. Do a weekend hackathon to test out your idea

I went to a 3-day hackathon within the first few months of me quitting, and it’s the best thing that I could have done in that timeframe. Not only was I able to validate my idea, but I was able to build new relationships with other entrepreneurs who were also interested in my idea.

It doesn’t have to be a weekend hackathon, but it’s a good idea to test your idea out as soon as possible. As an early entrepreneur, it’s easy to think that you’re sitting on a billion dollar idea. A lot of things can go right, but a lot of things can go wrong if you don’t validate that people want what you’re selling.

Validate your idea as soon as possible. A big part of validating your idea is getting people to use your product and give you feedback on it. Don’t be afraid to launch. Feedback is your engine of growth.

Also, don’t be afraid to market the product before it’s done. In reality, the product will never be done. There will always be new features to be built, so don’t fall into the trap of making sure everything is perfect before you can start telling people about it.

3. Work for a startup

If you can’t beat ’em, join em. There is a common misconception that you failed if you don’t build a successful business. I used to think like that too.

The reality is that you’re most likely going to fail a few times before finding and building on a successful idea.

The significant part of joining a startup is that you get to learn from the ground up with minimal supervision. It’s true that everyone is learning as the company grows, and you can use these findings to help build your next business if that’s what you want to do.

Becoming an entrepreneur is a great step towards learning a lot in a short time frame. If you follow the above steps, you might have an easier time at it!

Amazon Is Shuttering Its Music Storage Service

If you’re using Amazon Music Storage to keep your digital music stored in the cloud for playing on a variety of devices, you’ll need to move on to something else.

Amazon has quietly announced that it has removed the ability for free subscription planholders to upload digital music files to its Amazon Music Storage service through its PC and Mac apps. Music that’s already stored in the digital locker can be played until January 2019. At that point, the service will be inaccessible to users on the free tier.

Those have the paid subscription can continue to upload files, but will be limited to 250 songs after their subscription period is over. Those tracks will only be available for one year after the subscription expires and then Amazon will remove them from its service.

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Amazon Music Storage has been available for years as a way for users to upload and access digital music files through the tech giant’s cloud servers. The free plan limited users to 250 uploaded songs. The paid plan allowed users to upload up to 250,000 songs. Once those tracks were uploaded, users could download them to other devices. They could also stream them over the Web to a variety of products.

In a support page listing, Amazon didn’t say why it’s decided to shutter the service. The company still operates its music streaming service, called Amazon Music Unlimited, that lets users stream millions of songs to computers, mobile devices, and other hardware. Amazon Music Unlimited ranges from $3.99 to $14.99 a month, depending on the number of places users want to stream content.

BoE's Carney sees problems with central-bank issued cryptocurrencies

LONDON (Reuters) – Bank of England Governor Mark Carney sees “fundamental problems” with the idea of a digital currency issued by a central bank that could be used by the general public.

The emergence of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has led some economists to predict the technology could be used one day across entire economies, with digital currencies created by central banks.

Carney told British lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday that the blockchain technology used in cryptocurrencies conceivably could improve the way transactions are conducted between financial institutions.

But there could be financial stability risks if such an approach were rolled out across the whole economy through a cryptocurrency intended for the general public, he said.

Central banks already use electronic money – only a small proportion of their assets are now backed by gold – but this is exchanged in a centralised fashion, across accounts at the central bank.

Cryptocurrencies allow parties to transact payments directly without a central intermediary, by means of blockchain technology that uses a shared ledger that verifies, records and settles transactions in a matter of minutes.

With no need for a central intermediary to facilitate and track transactions, consumers holding central bank-issued cryptocurrency could open accounts at any bank, including the central bank.

“You (could) create a situation where you can have an instantaneous (bank) run. So as soon as there were any concern, people can switch in their account at the Bank of England,” Carney said.

That could also cause the BoE to accumulate huge volumes of deposits that it would need to invest into different assets.

“There are many talents of the Bank of England, but I think credit allocation across the entire economy would not be a good idea,” he said. “So there are some fundamental problems if you push the retail design all the way down, unless you restrict the amount that people have.”

In September, the Bank for International Settlements said it was too soon to determine whether central banks should issue their own cryptocurrencies.

It concluded that the peer-to-peer nature of the technology meant that a cryptocurrency for consumers could enable the anonymity that cash currently provides. But if that were not considered important, it said, it was unclear what further benefits it could provide.

BoE chief economist Andy Haldane in 2015 floated the idea of abolishing physical cash and introducing a state-run digital currency as a way to give more muscle to central banks that cut interest rates below zero to boost their economies.

BITCOIN? NO BIGGIE

Carney on Wednesday repeated the BoE’s view that sharp moves in the value of bitcoin did not present a threat to global financial stability.

Earlier on Wednesday, bitcoin fell more than 10 percent to a one-week low of $15,800 at cryptocurrency exchange Bitstamp, losing almost a fifth of its value from a peak reached just three days ago.

“At present, we don’t view it as a financial stability issue,” Carney said, adding that the combined value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies was around half the market capitalisation of Apple Inc.

“So it’s significant … but it’s more like an equity-type risk that’s spread fairly widely around the world.”

Additional reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Catherine Evans, Larry King

Dividend Growth 50: It's A Happy 3rd Anniversary, Even As Mr. Market Gets Some 'Revenge'

Not long ago, one popular stock-market narrative was that McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) was in trouble because people were trying to eat healthier foods. It was going to be a slow death by a billion kale smoothies.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), meanwhile, also was seen as suffering. The company wasn’t innovating, and several of its products were deemed failures. Its stock price wallowed well below its hyper-valued, dot-com-era surge.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Panic City for those iconic brands. They changed leadership, they shifted strategy some, they improved operations… and they showed it was foolish to write off Mickey D’s and Softy so easily.

When I funded the Dividend Growth 50 with more than $25,000 of my own money on Dec. 16, 2014, few would have predicted that McDonald’s and Microsoft would be the project’s biggest gainers over the next three years. I admit I wouldn’t have predicted it, either.

As it turns out, each more than doubled in value – the only two DG50 positions able to make that claim, as shown in this screenshot of performance leaders that was snapped on the portfolio’s 3-year anniversary:

The DG50 was selected with income in mind, and I appreciate that many (probably most) folks who have followed this project use the Dividend Growth Investing strategy. And so, shortly after the New Year, I will present a full Year 3 income report. This article focuses on total return, which is extremely important to many investors – even plenty of DGI practitioners.

Bullied By The Bull

Thanks to McDonald’s, Microsoft and other big gainers such as Lockheed Martin (LMT), Deere (DE) and Visa (V), my original $25,029 investment into the DG50 has grown to $33,990 – a 36% gain over 36 months. Not too shabby!

In the last 52 weeks, led by gains of 63% by Caterpillar (CAT) and 52% by Apple (AAPL), the Dividend Growth 50 moved up a crisp 15.3% – its best single-year performance. But it wasn’t quite enough to run with the bull.

During its first two years, the portfolio outgained the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO). That was surprising, given the bullish nature of the market – and given that the DG50 is a dividend-first proposition filled with “boring,” old-school, widows-and-orphans stocks.

Mr. Market got “revenge” against the DG50 over the last 12 months – and now has performed better from a total return standpoint over the 3 years of the project’s existence.

In addition, as the following table shows, two other benchmark funds – Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG) and Vanguard Dividend Growth Fund (VDIGX) – have slightly outgained the DG50. (I also invested real money in VIG, VOO and VDIGX on Dec. 16, 2014.)

ETF/ FUND

SHARES BOUGHT

COST 12/16/14

VALUE 12/16/16

SHARES 12/16/17

VALUE 12/16/17

YEAR-OVER-YEAR

3 YEAR

VIG

6.00

$477.18

$542.00

6.407

$653.45

20.6%

36.9%

VOO

3.00

$552.57

$650.01

3.192

$785.62

20.9%

42.2%

VDIGX

219.348

$5,005.53

$5,773.31

247.777

$6,831.21

18.3%

36.5%

DG50

$25,029.94

$29,487.39

$33,990.31

15.3%

35.8%

A lot of the difference these last 12 months has to do with the relative underperformance of the Telecommunications, Energy, Consumer Staples and REIT sectors; each is well-represented in the DG50.

Additionally, a few laggards – most notably General Electric (GE) with its 42% loss, but also previous stalwarts such as Kraft Heinz (KHC), Walgreens Boots (WBA) and AT&T (T) – held down the Dividend Growth 50.

A Quick DG50 Primer

Before I go any further into this review, here’s a refresher about the genesis and purpose of this project.

In the fall of 2014, I asked 10 fellow Seeking Alpha contributors to choose 50 companies each. The panelists – Chowder, David Crosetti, David Fish, Eli Inkrot, Eric Landis, Tim McAleenan, Miz Magic DiviDogs, ScottU, David Van Knapp and Bob Wells – combined to select 163 stocks, with the 50 leading vote-getters forming what I initially called the New Nifty Fifty.

Later that year, I funded the portfolio, investing about $500 in each company. I renamed it the Dividend Growth 50, which more accurately reflects what the portfolio represents. The article I wrote back then has received nearly 80,000 page views, one of the largest totals in recent SA history. Obviously, folks here have a great appetite for knowledge, and I thank the panelists for helping satisfy it.

Importantly, neither of my 10 colleagues nor I ever have suggested that investors replicate this portfolio. The dozens of DG50-related articles I have written have resulted in tens of thousands of comments – and I don’t recall anybody claiming to have built an identical portfolio. Even in my personal portfolio, I own only about half of the Dividend Growth 50 components.

The idea of this project always has been to present interesting candidates for consideration and further research, and also to explore the pros and cons of a passive, buy-and-hold, dividend-centric portfolio over time.

Moreover, it’s a real-world endeavor. There is no cherry-picked data here, nothing hypothetical. These are real companies purchased with real money in real time, and all of the information presented in this article’s tables was pulled directly from my brokerage statements.

I have provided frequent updates on the portfolio’s progress. The hope is that, over time, this forward-looking project will help make all of us better investors, even those who aren’t DGI practitioners.

Without further ado, here is the total return data for every company in the Dividend Growth 50 (listed in order of 3-year performance):

COMPANY

SHARES BOUGHT

COST 12/16/14

VALUE 12/16/16

SHARES 12/16/17

VALUE 12/16/17

YOY

3 YEAR

McDonald’s

5

$450.75

$656.99

5.468

$951.76

44.9%

111.2%

Microsoft

11

$506.66

$723.55

11.866

$1,030.56

42.4%

103.4%

Lockheed Martin

3

$559.77

$790.00

3.243

$1,046.90

32.5%

87.0%

Deere

6

$537.66

$646.68

6.483

$978.03

51.2%

81.9%

Visa#

8

$515.66

$636.12

8.175

$930.47

46.3%

80.4%

Caterpillar

5

$453.00

$499.56

5.548

$813.83

62.9%

79.7%

Becton Dickinson (NYSE:BDX)

4

$541.68

$690.79

4.184

$926.58

34.1%

71.1%

NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE)

5

$511.80

$631.47

5.459

$864.86

37.0%

69.0%

Apple

5

$546.40

$602.81

5.280

$918.56

52.4%

68.1%

Baxter* (NYSE:BAX)

7

$502.11

$457.03

10.330

$674.85

47.7%

66.0%

Aflac (NYSE:AFL)

8

$466.72

$583.46

8.595

$767.18

31.5%

64.4%

Altria (NYSE:MO)

10

$502.80

$724.16

11.198

$802.56

10.8%

59.6%

Clorox (NYSE:CLX)

5

$499.65

$626.38

5.396

$796.61

27.2%

59.4%

3M (NYSE:MMM)

3

$483.81

$560.91

3.233

$769.45

37.2%

59.0%

Automatic Data (NASDAQ:ADP)

6

$499.50

$631.01

6.395

$755.82

20.0%

51.3%

Philip Morris (NYSE:PM)

6

$496.08

$600.27

6.832

$749.33

24.8%

51.1%

Starbucks# (NASDAQ:SBUX)

12

$486.24

$711.29

12.562

$732.23

2.9%

50.6%

WEC Energy+ (NYSE:WEC)

10

$505.90

$679.58

12.100

$824.85

21.4%

49.1%

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)

5

$522.40

$613.70

5.430

$773.55

26.0%

48.1%

McCormick (NYSE:MKC)

7

$512.26

$672.31

7.418

$752.40

11.9%

46.9%

Kraft Heinz+

8

$479.52

$829.23

9.868

$784.90

(5.3%)

40.6%

Realty Income (NYSE:O)

11

$511.50

$665.30

12.531

$719.27

8.1%

40.6%

AT&T

15

$489.00

$694.22

17.524

$670.11

(3.5%)

37.0%

PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)

5

$473.95

$556.55

5.406

$644.50

15.8%

36.0%

Chevron (NYSE:CVX)

5

$516.15

$645.30

5.680

$680.06

5.4%

31.8%

Verizon (NYSE:VZ)

11

$510.29

$629.59

12.638

$665.84

5.8%

30.4%

Dominion (NYSE:D)

7

$506.66

$567.50

7.770

$659.75

16.3%

30.2%

J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM)

5

$497.95

$674.62

5.357

$639.84

5.2%

28.5%

Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)

12

$491.76

$534.18

13.228

$611.00

14.4%

24.3%

Hershey (NYSE:HSY)

5

$494.30

$531.09

5.372

$613.16

15.5%

24.1%

Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)

6

$507.18

$447.38

6.478

$629.07

40.6%

24.0%

Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR)

8

$482.96

$478.72

8.864

$596.19

24.5%

23.5%

Southern (NYSE:SO)

10

$482.20

$537.63

11.504

$590.27

9.8%

22.4%

Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)

9

$483.03

$527.22

9.799

$586.66

11.3%

21.5%

General Mills (NYSE:GIS)

10

$520.00

$674.56

10.994

$625.44

(7.3%)

20.3%

United Technologies (NYSE:UTX)

4

$458.24

$456.21

4.304

$543.03

19.0%

18.5%

Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL)

7

$478.10

$484.40

7.478

$553.74

14.3%

15.8%

Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB)

4

$455.08

$489.83

4.347

$515.16

5.2%

13.2%

Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)

6

$542.46

$542.20

6.603

$606.74

11.9%

11.9%

IBM (NYSE:IBM)

3

$460.77

$535.70

3.336

$508.74

(5.0)

10.4%

Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM)

6

$533.28

$586.74

6.682

$554.80

(5.4%)

4.0%

Walgreens Boots

7

$513.80

$623.47

7.387

$531.42

(14.8%)

3.4%

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)

7

$497.77

$497.32

7.777

$503.63

1.3%

1.2%

Genuine Parts (NYSE:GPC)

5

$517.45

$513.80

5.395

$496.23

(3.4%)

(4.1%)

Target (NYSE:TGT)

7

$511.49

$570.09

7.750

$485.22

(14.9%)

(5.1%)

Omega Healthcare (NYSE:OHI)

13

$497.90

$450.11

16.163

$455.79

1.3%

(8.5%)

ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP)

8

$515.76

$448.34

8.832

$460.76

2.8%

(10.7%)

General Electric

20

$501.00

$677.64

22.107

$393.94

(41.9%)

(21.4%)

HCP** (NYSE:HCP)

11

$494.23

$362.21

13.057

$350.31

(3.3%)

(23.2%)

Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI)

13

$505.31

$301.83

14.505

$260.07

(13.8%)

(48.5%)

Quality Care Properties** (NYSE:QCP)

NA

NA

$30.54

2.00

$29.44

(3.6%)

NA

Shire* (NASDAQ:SHPG)

NA

NA

$179.64

1.050

$158.83

(11.6%)

NA

Cash

$6.16

$6.16

TOTAL

$25,029.94

$29,487.39

$33,990.31

15.3%

35.8%

Notes

  • * Baxter in 2015 spun off Baxalta, which in turn was acquired by Shire in 2016. For comparison sake, the percentage in the 3-YR INC column reflects the combined value of the DG50’s Baxter and Shire positions ($833.68) on 12/16/17. (The transactions also resulted in $126.72 in cash coming into the DG50; that was used to purchase three additional BAX shares, per portfolio rules.)
  • ** HCP spun off Quality Care Properties in 2016, resulting in two shares of QCP (and $6.15 in cash) coming into the DG50. For comparison sake, the percentage in the 3-YR INC column reflects the combined value ($379.75) of the HCP and QCP positions on 12/16/17.
  • + Due to M&A activity, the Kraft Heinz and WEC Energy positions produced cash for the portfolio in 2015. That was used to buy one additional share each of KHC and WEC, per portfolio rules.
  • # Starbucks and Visa had stock splits in 2015; SBUX 2-for-1 and V 4-for-1. Totals in the Shares Bought column are split-adjusted.
  • Free trades were received for opening the account with the brokerage. Total commissions paid to date = $7.95; that was for the 2016 BAX purchase.
  • DIVIDENDS WERE AUTOMATICALLY REINVESTED BACK INTO EACH POSITION, PER PORTFOLIO RULES.

Observations

Yes, the DG50 actually has 52 companies, thanks to the Baxter and HCP spin-offs. I never considered changing the name; if the Big Ten can have 14 teams and the Big 12 can have 10, why can’t the DG50 have 52 stocks?!?!

Aside from GE, Industrials showed well the past year, with CAT up 63%, DE 51%, MMM 37%, LMT 33%, EMR 25%, ADP 20% and UTX 19%. All of those are cyclical companies – and what goes up almost always comes down pretty hard eventually – but they have been riding the right end of the cycle for some time now.

It’s notable that CAT, DE, EMR and even MMM were losers in the first year of the DG50. Caterpillar, which lost 22% in the year ending 12/16/15, is up an incredible 132% over the last 24 months!

Technology companies also shined, with Apple ahead 52%, Visa 46% and Microsoft 42%. Even long-troubled Qualcomm finished the year in the black, rallying late on acquisition rumors.

Utilities NextEra and WEC have been outperformers, with NEE really coming through this past year. NEE is up 69% over the 3-year stretch, demonstrating that utes need not be “stodgy” investments.

One Consumer Staples company that authored a nice comeback story was Clorox, which was up 27% after being down 7% in the year ending 12/16/16. Coke didn’t beat the market, but it was still ahead 14% after having fallen 2% the year before.

Visa made a great year-over-year move – going from a 1% loss to a 46% gain. The stock is unquestionably expensive, with its 40-ish price/earnings ratio, but I like its fundamentals, potential and business model so much that I have been buying it for my personal portfolio this year.

(Graphic from Visa proxy statement of Dec. 7, 2017)

GE was ahead 35% after two years before myriad problems condemned it to a portfolio-worst 42% fall in the last 12 months. Remarkably, GE still doesn’t seem like much of a bargain for investors; its P/E ratio is over 20.

KMI was down 14% in Year 3 to solidify its grasp as the DG50’s worst all-time performer (minus-49%). Umm… congratulations?

Unlike GE, which has cut its dividend for the second time in eight years, KMI’s leaders have pledged a return to the company’s divvy-boosting ways in 2018. Here’s hoping those aren’t hollow promises – I’d hate to see the DG50 get “kindered” again.

Despite rallying in December, Target finished the 12-month stretch down 15%, as did Walgreens. Another major brick-and-mortar retailer, Wal-Mart, is up 70% over the last two years after losing 27% in the portfolio’s first year of existence. Obviously, the “Amazon Effect” isn’t universal.

Chart
TGT Total Return Price data by YCharts

HCP was the only DG50 company to show a paper loss in each of the Dividend Growth 50’s three years. Fellow healthcare REIT Omega avoided the same dubious distinction by squeaking out a 1.3% gain this time. Also unlike HCP, at least OHI kept raising its dividend.

Conclusion

As one who invests primarily to build an income stream for retirement and secondarily to increase my overall wealth, I have been very satisfied with the Dividend Growth 50’s performance.

So far, it appears the DG50 will compete well on a total-return basis in all but the strongest of bull markets. Having said that…

When I did my 1-year review, my 2-year review and other various DG50 updates, I stressed that not enough time had passed to conclude much of anything. The same certainly is true after 3 years.

I plan to maintain the Dividend Growth 50 for at least 14 more years – until I reach RMD age. During that time, there figures to be a major correction and/or recession and/or crash and/or bear market (or two). We need to see how the DG50 survives such adversity, especially in comparison to the overall market, before any conclusions can be drawn.

As McDonald’s and Microsoft proved, things can change quite dramatically in the investing universe.

See y’all again in a couple of weeks, when I present the DG50 income report.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ALL STOCKS MENTIONED.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Hold North Korea Accountable for WannaCry—and the NSA, Too

Seven months after the WannaCry ransomware ripped across the internet in one of the most damaging hacking operations of all time, the US government has pinned that digital epidemic on North Korea. And while cybersecurity researchers have suspected North Korea’s involvement from the start, the Trump administration intends the official charges to carry new diplomatic weight, showing the world that no one can launch reckless cyberattacks with impunity. “Pyongyang will be held accountable,” White House cybersecurity chief Tom Bossert wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal.

But for some in the cybersecurity community who watched WannaCry’s catastrophe unfold, North Korea isn’t the only party that requires accountability. They argue that if guilty parties are going to be named—and lessons are to be learned from naming them—those names should include the US government itself. At least some of the focus, they say, belongs on the National Security Agency, which built and then lost control of the code that was integrated into WannaCry, and without which its infections wouldn’t have been nearly as devastating.

“As we talk about to whom to attribute the WannaCry attack, it’s also important to remember to whom to attribute the source of the tools used in the attack: the NSA,” says Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “By stockpiling the vulnerability information and exploit components that made WannaCry possible, and then failing to adequately shield that information from theft, the intelligence community made America and the world’s information systems more vulnerable.”

For many cybersecurity researchers, in fact, WannaCry has come to represent the dangers not only of rogue states using dangerous hacking tools, but of the US government building those tools and using them in secret, too.

Root Cause

WannaCry’s origins stretch back to April, when a group of mysterious hackers calling themselves the Shadow Brokers publicly released a trove of stolen NSA code. The tools included an until-then-secret hacking technique known as EternalBlue, which exploits flaws in a Windows protocol known as Server Message Block to remotely take over any vulnerable computer.

While the NSA had warned Microsoft about EternalBlue after it was stolen, and Microsoft had responded with a patch in March, hundreds of thousands of computers around the world hadn’t yet been updated. When WannaCry appeared the next month, it used the leaked exploit to worm through that massive collection of vulnerable machines, taking full advantage of the NSA’s work.

Exactly how the Shadow Brokers obtained the NSA’s highly protected arsenal of digital penetration methods remains a conundrum. But in recent years, two NSA staffers have been indicted for taking home top-secret materials, including collections of highly classified hacking tools. In one of those cases, NSA staffer Nghia Hoang Pho also ran Kaspersky antivirus on his home computer, allowing the Russian security firm to upload that trove of NSA code to its own servers, although the company insists that it subsequently destroyed its copy of the code as soon as it realized what it had scooped up. It’s not clear if either of the two staffer’s security breaches led to the Shadow Brokers’ theft.

Despite those security breaches, Bossert’s 800-word statement about “accountability” for the North Korea’s hackers who created and launched WannaCry didn’t once mention the NSA’s accountability for creating, and failing to secure, the ingredients for that disaster, notes Jake Williams, a former NSA hacker himself and the founder of Rendition Infosec. “If someone blew up a bomb in New York City and the Syrian government had given them the fissile material to make it, we’d be holding them accountable,” says Williams. “North Korea couldn’t have done this without us. We enabled the operation by losing control of those tools.”

In a press conference Tuesday, Bossert did indirectly acknowledge the role of the NSA’s leak in making WannaCry possible when questioned about it. “The government needs to better protect its tools, and things that leak are very unfortunate,” he said. “We need to create security measures to better protect that from happening.”

But at other times in his press conference, Bossert seemed to avoid any direct statement that North Korea had used leaked NSA code in its malware, while also shifting blame to the previous administration. “The underlying vulnerability of the software that [North Korea] exploited predated and pre-existed our administration taking power,” Bossert said. “I don’t know what they got and where they got it, but they certainly had a number of things cobbled together in a pretty complicated, intentional tool that does harm that they didn’t entirely create themselves.”

That muddied statement is the opposite of accountability, Williams argues. “We bear a large piece of the blame on this,” he says. “To have a discussion about accountability for North Korea without the discussion of how they got the material for the attack in the first place is irresponsible at best and deceptive at worst.”

Learning From the Past

To the NSA’s credit, it did in fact inform Microsoft about its EternalBlue tool, in time for Redmond to push out a patch before WannaCry occurred. But that patch doesn’t absolve the NSA of responsibility for having created and lost control of EternalBlue in the first place, Williams says.

Thanks to the complications of patching millions of Windows computers, a large fraction of machines never got Microsoft’s security fix. Aside from WannaCry, other hackers, including the likely Russian operations that launched NotPetya, a malware worm that also caused significant damage, used EternalBlue, too. Even now, Williams points out, hackers still use the NSA’s original code rather than recreating EternalBlue’s attack, a sign that the complexity of the coding involved means that the attack may never have been possible if not for the NSA’s leak. “Absent that, I don’t know if we’d see a weaponized exploit for this vulnerability,” Williams says.

The question of accountability for WannaCry is just one case in a long-running debate about whether and when the NSA should maintain hacking tools that exploit secret vulnerabilities in software, rather than reveal those vulnerabilities to software companies who can fix them.

For the last decade, the NSA has abided by rules known as the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, which determine when the government should reveal those hackable flaws versus exploiting them in secret. The Trump administration has promised a more transparent implementation of the VEP than the Obama administration’s, and has said that more than 90 percent of vulnerabilities the government finds will be reported to companies so that they can be fixed. “Vulnerabilities exist in software,” Bossert said in his press conference Tuesday. “When we find vulnerabilities, we generally identify them and tell the companies so they can patch them.”

But some critics point out that even the Trump administration’s revamped VEP has problems, too. The review board that chooses which vulnerabilities will be released and which ones hoarded in the dark is weighted towards intelligence agencies and law enforcement, according to the Open Technology Institute. It doesn’t include what the OTI describes as “meaningful reporting requirements” to Congress or the public about how vulnerabilities are treated. And the VEP remains just a White House policy, not law, so it’s subject to change at any time.

All of which means that the discussion of accountability for WannaCry—and any other cyberattack that uses the NSA’s leaked hacking tools—should include accountability for our own government’s role in those debacles, too.

“Without continued reforms to the White House’s vulnerability equities process and ultimate codification of that process into law,” says the OTI’s Bankston, “one of our biggest enemies when it comes to cybersecurity will continue to be ourselves.”

Gilead Sciences – The Silver Bullet For NASH With Selonsertib And GS-9674 Combinations Treatment

Trading Analytics And Fundamental Analysis

On Dec. 15, 2017, the shares of Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) increased $1.23 to $75.57 (for 1.65% profits). Based in Foster City, CA, the firm focuses on the innovation and commercialization of drugs that treat HIV/AIDS, liver diseases, cancer, inflammatory and respiratory disorders, and cardiovascular conditions.

Figure 1: Gilead stock chart (Source: StockCharts)

At Integrated BioSci Investing, we’ve covered the lead molecule GS-9674 that we assess will post positive results for the phase 2 trial. By activating FXR, the said drug can potentially treat NASH as well as delivering numerous other regenerative benefits. Back in Nov. 2016, the ASK-1 inhibitor (selonsertib) showed favorable results for NASH in the phase 2 trial (and is being studied in the phase 3 study).

Figure 2: Therapeutic pipeline. (Source: Gilead)

Selonsertib Molecule Analysis

As the investigational apoptosis signal-regulating (i.e. a serine/threonine) kinase 1 (“ASK1”) inhibitor, selonsertib (formerly GS-4997) is currently in the phase 3 trial as a potential drug to treat the liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (“NASH”). The said drug works by potentially preventing cell death (i.e. apoptosis).

As a subset of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (“NAFLD”), NASH is differentiated from NAFLD by inflammation, cell death (apoptosis), and fibrosis. We mentioned in the prior article that NASH is highly prevalent in the US population. And it is associated with other comorbidities, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance.

A formal diagnosis is made with a liver biopsy. Moreover, treatment is geared at therapeutic lifestyle changes (“TLC”) along with vitamin E. Notwithstanding, the current treatments are inadequate, thereby creating a strong demand for better pharmacologic options. Without adequate management, NASH will progress to liver fibrosis and cirrhosis (conditions having high morbidities and mortality).

Figure 3: ASK1 Inhibitor (Source: ScienceDirect)

Phase 2 Trial

Selonsertib completed its phase 2 trial that assessed 72 patients suffering from NASH with stage 2 or 3 fibrosis. Those patients were randomized to receive the 24-week treatment of selonsertib (dosed at either be 6 mg or 18 mg) with or without the 125 mg simtuzumab injection or just simtuzumab alone.

The treatment effect was measured by paired pre- and post-treatment liver biopsies, magnetic resonance elastography (“MRE”), and magnetic resonance imaging-estimated proton density fat fraction (“MRI-PDFF”). No significant adverse events were shown among the treatment groups. Of note, the study results were shown in figure 4.

Figure 4: Selonsertib phase 2 trial results (Source: Gilead)

Phase 3 Trial

Based on encouraging phase 2 study results, Gilead pushed forward with the phase 3 trial. As depicted in figure 5, the randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study seeks to evaluate the safety and efficacy of selonsertib in about 800 patients with compensated cirrhosis due to NASH.

Started on January 30, 2017, the study is estimated to complete in Oct. 2023. The final data collection for the primary outcome measures is set for Jan. 2020. The stated primary outcomes assess the following: (1) The proportion of patients who are achieving at least one stage improvement in fibrosis according to the Clinical Research Network (“CRN”), and (2) the Event-Free Survival (“EFS”) at week 240 as assessed by the time to the First Clinical Event.

Figure 5: Selonsertib phase 3 trial (Source: ClinicalTrial.gov)

Aggregate Trials Data Analysis

Leveraging our Integrated BioSci framework of “molecule analysis” – that took into account different scoring variables, including available trial data (“TDV”), structural design (“SDV”), clinical trial set ups (“TSV”), and disease specificity (DSV) – we prognosticated (with at least 70% certainty) that selonsertib will not pass its phase 3 data.

Despite the aforestated findings, selonsertib is an invaluable molecule that indeed shows efficacy and safety in treating NASH: it simply needs to be prescribed along with GS-9674 to demonstrate robust outcomes (i.e. curing NASH fibrosis/cirrhosis). Of all molecules we’ve assessed, the aforesaid combinations would highly likely be the silver bullet for NASH; this combinations treatment will most likely enable Gilead’s NASH franchise to trump all existing competitors.

Author Note: We’re honored that you took the time out of your busy day to read our market intelligence. Founded by Dr. Hung Tran, MD, MS, CNPR, (in collaborations with Dr. Tran BioSci analyst, Ngoc Vu, and other PhDs), Integrated BioSci Investing marketplace research is delivering stellar returns since inceptions. To name a few, Nektar Therapeutics procured more than 190% profits while Spectrum Pharmaceuticals (SPPI) delivered over 180% gains. Our secret sauce is extreme due diligence coupled with expert data analysis. The service features a once-weekly exclusive in-depth Integrated BioSci article (in the form of research, reports, or interviews), daily individual stocks consulting, and model portfolios.

Notably, we’ll increase prices soon. Subscribe to our Marketplace research now to lock in the legacy price and save money in the future. To receive real-time alerts on our articles as well as blogs, be sure to check out our profile page and click on the orange Follow button. Besides the exclusives, this article is the truncated version of the research we published in advance to IBI subscribers. Further, you can read up on Dr. Tran’s background by following this link.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Retire At 49 With $600,000, Part II

While individuals must prepare financially for retirement, they also must be mentally prepared. After working full-time so many years, how are they going to occupy their time?

For part of my career I worked with an employee name Mick. He had worked at the same place for 25 years. Every week for almost 5 years, he reminded me how much he was looking forward to retiring. His day finally arrived and Mick was able to retire. About a year after his retirement, I saw him at a social function and asked him how he was enjoying retirement. His answer shocked me, as he stated it was the worse decision he ever made. Mick was a real people person at work. He was in constant contact with fellow employees all day long and enjoyed interacting with them. He also had no hobbies and did not volunteer with any non-profit organizations. While he was financially prepared, he was not mentally prepared for the adjustment. Retirement does not always equate to happiness!

My Quick Real Estate Story

I have always been fascinated by real estate. When I first graduated from college back in the early 1990s, I was fortunate enough to not have any debt and owned a small car that was paid off. However, due to my lower salary, I could not afford to buy a decent house as interest rates then were close to 8%. However, after looking at a number of properties, I found one that I could finally afford thanks to an excellent real estate agent that was working with me.

It was a side-by-side duplex that cost $72,000. The payment with interest, taxes and insurance was going to be $585 per month, which was more than I could afford. However, the other side of the duplex paid me $400 in rent and they paid all of the utilities, leaving me with a net payment of $185 per month. This I was able to afford, even though it was an old house and nothing fancy. My basic understanding of real estate and how to manage properties has helped me over the past 25 years to evaluate investments. If I was not able to collect the rent, then I would not have been able to make the mortgage payment. Real estate is always a powerful tool to help build equity and generally is a good investment. Over the next several years, I continued to purchase additional properties that were all side-by-side duplexes. It does take time to manage real estate and I sold those properties off about 10 years ago and used the proceeds to fund my retirement nest egg.

The Financial Plan #8 – Prepare Mentally and Give Back to the Community

With my upcoming retirement in the next year, these are the activities that will consume much of my time:

  • Exercise. Currently, I try to walk several miles a day to keep in shape. This is done over my lunch hour and after work. It also makes for a long day. Once retired, I am going to increase my walking to six or seven miles a day. In addition to my walking routine, I plan to swim four days a week at the local YMCA.
  • Read. The local library is close to my house and I plan to read a book every two weeks to keep my mind occupied. John Grisham is one of my favorite authors and they have a great collection of his books.
  • Volunteer. The animal shelter in my town is always in need of volunteers to help with pets that are looking for their permanent home. I plan to volunteer 10-15 hours per week, helping to walk dogs and assist with the care of cats & kittens. The volunteers I have spoken to have all mentioned it is a very rewarding experience.

Image result for calico cat pictures non copyright

  • Serve your community. Many of the contributors and commenters on Seeking Alpha are very experienced investors. Currently, I serve on the investment committee of one local non-profit organization and plan to serve on another two boards, as time will now allow for this. This organization I now assists holds a number of preferred stocks that earn additional income to help serve the mission. Hopefully, over the next five or ten years, this will make a meaningful financial impact for several non-profits in my local community. They should be able to expand services, or improve on services they are currently offering, due to increased financial resources.
  • Travel a little. There are many wonderful state parks that can be visited with low to moderate cost. I plan to spend a week visiting the Gettysburg Battlefield and hike the length of Letchworth State Park next fall when the leaves are changing colors. It is possible that I may also try to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail from the MD to NJ borders, as this part of the trail is only 229 miles long.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e5/Letchworth_State_Park_in_autumn.JPG/1024px-Letchworth_State_Park_in_autumn.JPG

  • Cooking. I love to cook on the grill and try new recipes when I get a chance. However, working full-time plus other life responsibilities has not left me much time for this. I plan to get a new Weber grill and try a number of new recipes. My Greek Pork Kabobs served over a bed of cilantro lime rice is one of my favorite meals.
  • AARP Tax Aide Program. This is a volunteer program through the AARP that provides free tax return services to low and moderate income families, with an emphasis with assisting the elderly. During tax season, I expect to volunteer 10-12 hours per week assisting clients with their tax return needs, including the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program that is offered in my state.

Hopefully, through networking at some of my volunteer activities, I will continue to find ways to serve the local community. There are reading programs at my local library and I would be glad to assist with these educational activities as well.

The Financial Plan #9 – Inflation

Retirees must also be prepared for inflation in the future, especially if retirement can be expected to last for 30 years. While my annual income of $43,000 should be sufficient for now, the buying power of those funds will be diminished 10 years from now. Therefore, I must make prudent investments with the $600,000 remaining in my IRA/457 accounts.

Image result for picture of inflation

Preferred Stocks and Baby Bonds

These investments have already been mentioned in my first article. My retirement account owns many of the same securities, but also owns some additional names.

  • BRG-A, yield of 7.81%
  • CLNS-I, yield of 7.11%
  • CMRE-C, yield of 8.29%
  • DDR-J, yield of 6.44%
  • NSA-A, yield of 5.75%
  • PEI-B and D, yield of 7.36 and 6.90%
  • BFS-C, yield of 6.70%
  • GMLPP, yield of 8.62%
  • ARI-C, yield of 7.80%
  • UZA, yield of 6.80%
  • HT-C, yield of 6.80%

Common Stocks

While my portfolio is primarily focused on income, there is a smaller portion of my IRA/457 account allocated to common stocks. Normally, I like higher yielding common stocks that I believe have little risk of their dividend being reduced. However, based on the latest earnings of GNL, their dividend does not appear to be covered by FFO (Funds From Operations) and current pricing on the security indicates investors may think the dividend will need to be cut. My portfolio of common stocks includes the following securities:

  • CPLP, yield of 9.33%
  • GNL, yield of 10.10%
  • SELF, yield of 5.52%
  • GPMT, yield of 7.21%
  • SIR, yield of 8.08%
  • SNH, yield of 8.19%
  • DDR, yield of 10.12%

As you will see from the above selection, my portfolio is heavily weighted towards REIT common stocks. However, I believe the dividend and future growth of these securities should provide my portfolio with a decent return.

Bonds

While many investors may prefer bond mutual funds, there are certain times when purchasing individual bonds makes economic sense. Please note that when investing in corporate bonds, they normally trade for $1,000 each and there is often a minimum purchase amount of 5 bonds. Several of the corporate bonds I hold in my account include the following:

  • Ingles Markets Inc senior note, 5.75% coupon, maturity date of 6/15/2023, rated B1/BB-, CUSIP 457030AJ3.
  • Dynagas LNG Partners senior note, 6.25% coupon, maturity date 10/30/2019, unrated, CUSIP 26780TAA5.
  • The Ingles Market bonds are currently trading a little below par, with a yield to call of about 5.8%. The Dynagas bonds are trading slightly over par, with a yield to call of about 5.9%. While the Dynagas bonds are not rated, I get a nice YTC on a bond that matures in less than two years. For full disclosure, I own 35 Ingles bonds and only 5 bonds of Dynagas, as there is clearly more risk in the shipping sector. I’m a fan of this grocery store chain as it owns most of its real estate.

The Financial Plan #10 – U-Haul Investors Club

This was mentioned in my past article, but will refer to the UIC again. I find it to be a good opportunity and have now allocated $50,000 in my IRA account to this alternative investment. They are also open to Roth IRAs. While I generally prefer their longer term investments, you can also get a 3% return on a two-year note secured by their appliance dollies. However, I prefer their longer term investments with real estate and a higher yield. I recently invested in a 20 year note secured by real estate at an interest rate 6.95%.

Heavy-duty 700 lb. capacity.

The Financial Plan #11 – Monitor my Investments

My retirement plan does not have a defined benefit pension and no Social Security benefits until I am in my mid 60s. Therefore, my plan is dependent upon the performance of my assets. I’ll need to review Investor Presentations and SEC filings for many of my larger investments. However, this is a task I enjoy and find both interesting and relaxing at the same time. It is my expectation that I will spend 10-15 hours per week performing this review due to the fact that 99% of my portfolio is invested in individual securities. After many years of looking at investment newsletters and magazines, I have found the following resources to be the most effective, and efficient.

  • Kiplinger’s Personal Finance arrives monthly and is a great magazine covering different financial planning areas
  • Barron’s is published each Saturday and is a nice condensed version of the financial news for the week. I just never had the time and energy to read the Wall Street Journal on a daily basis.
  • QuantumOnline.com is an excellent resource on preferred stocks, baby bonds and other income related securities. The website is free, although they do depend on contributions to help fund their operations.
  • The Income Securities Advisor is my favorite monthly investment publication and is well worth the annual fee. The publication actually sets up four different income portfolios at the beginning of the year and reports on their performance. I’ve subscribed for almost 20 years and consider the publication a key to my financial success.

The Financial Plan #12 – Where will my IRA/457 plan be in 10 years from now?

The last part of my financial plan includes estimating the value of my IRA/457 plan 10 years from now, when I will be able to withdraw my funds without the 10% penalty that I would incur if the funds were withdrawn before age 59 ½. Just to note, funds in my 457 plan can actually be drawn out now without the 10% penalty. However, I will not be touching those funds as I want the plan to grow and distributions would also increase my Adjusted Gross Income. The estimated value of my $600,000 in funds will be calculated by using the RULE OF 72.

Image result for rule of 72 pictures

Per the definition from Wikipedia, the Rule of 72 is defined as:

In finance, the rule of 72, the rule of 70 and the rule of 69.3 are methods for estimating an investment‘s doubling time. The rule number (e.g., 72) is divided by the interest percentage per period (usually years) to obtain the approximate number of periods required for doubling.

While I do own a small amount of common stocks, the majority of my portfolio is in preferred stocks, baby bonds and corporate bonds. The average yield on the portfolio is slightly over 7%. Therefore, dividing 72 by 7, means that my portfolio should just about double in 10.29 years. At age 60, I expect in theory, the portfolio should be worth $1.2 million. Assuming the funds still earn 7% at this point in time, I can expect to be able to withdraw $84,000 a year without ever touching a dime of principal once I turn age 60. In addition, I should be able to draw Social Security benefits at about age 65.

The Financial Plan #13 – Part-Time Work as a CPA and the SIMPLE IRA Solution

Earlier in my career, I worked for a great CPA and he taught me many things about taxes, financial planning and auditing. It remains a possibility that I would work with him again on a part-time basis. However, I would need to do some tax planning so that my AGI does not get above $30,000 per year, which may cause me to lose the ACA health insurance subsidy. His office offers a SIMPLE IRA plan that would allow me to defer $12,500 a year in income, plus another $3,000 when I hit 50 years of age. This is the perfect solution for me as it allows me to save additional funds, without paying any federal taxes on this income. Therefore, I could earn an additional $15,500 per year and place all of this in the SIMPLE IRA, while still keeping my AGI around $30,000 in order to qualify for the ACA health insurance subsidy.

Image result for individual retirement account images

The Financial Plan #14 – Final Thoughts

When I worked in a CPA firm, I often noticed the financial habits of my clients. In the early 1990s, I had a client that earned $120,000 per year, but spent $130,000. One thing I noticed was that most people did not have an income problem, they had a spending problem. If you are planning for retirement in the next couple of years, I would highly recommend reading a book called “The Millionaire Next Door.” I’ve always lived a pretty modest life, which has helped prepare me for my upcoming retirement.

Closing Comments

Hopefully my two part series on early retirement has been educational. Whether you plan to retire at age 49, age 59, age 69, or never plan to retire, there are a number of great investments still available that provide a good source of dividends and interest. Sometimes you just have to dig up a few rocks in order to find the best investments. Retirees also need to plan mentally for retirement and be involved in activities that are enjoyable and occupy their time. My monthly expenditures are estimated at about $3,000 to $3,300 per month, so I do expect to have some funds left over to place into savings or my rainy day fund.

Happy and successful investing to everyone!

Disclosure: I am long all of the securities mentioned in this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ALL SECURITIES IN THIS ARTICLE.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Phishing for Bitcoin

It had to happen sooner or later: The two biggest tech stories of 2017—foreign cyber attacks and bitcoin—have come together perfectly in a single story. Namely, it looks like the infamous North Korean hacking outfit, The Lazarus Group, is running a spear-phishing campaign aimed at executives of cryptocurrency companies.

You may remember this gang from previous outrages such as the WannaCry ransomware outbreak, the hacking of Sony, and the $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank. Their latest scam, identified by Secureworks, involves sending emails about a Chief Financial Officer position that contain an infected Microsoft Word document.

As ZDNet reports, clicking on the document triggers a piece of malware that allows the attacker access to the victim’s computer. It’s unclear if any of the targeted executives have fallen for the phish or if the scheme has yielded the Lazarus Group any bitcoins. Let’s hope not—in part because crypto-currency companies know the risk of cyber-threats better than most, and should not be hiring people who click on random Word documents.

More broadly, the idea of North Korea phishing for bitcoin is intriguing because the phenomenon is at once so new and so old. It’s new because countries until very recently didn’t even take bitcoin seriously—and now, as the price of a bitcoin tops $18,000, rogue nations are telling their militaries to go forth and steal it.

At the same time, though, North Korea’s phishing antics can also be seen as a twist on the centuries-old military tactic known as privateering. Once upon a time, this tactic took the form of kings and queens granting letters of marque that allowed privateers to roam the oceans and plunder booty from enemy merchant ships. Today, North Korea is allowing its hackers to operate as digital privateers in search of crypto plunder like bitcoin.

This modern version of privateering is not as exciting as grand naval battles with cannons and cutlasses, but no doubt it’s just as lucrative. Have a good weekend.

Jeff John Roberts

@jeffjohnroberts

[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

THREATS

Bailing on Blockchain: In theory, it sounds great to create a coalition and build a distributed ledger tool for everyone. The reality is more messy: more than 15 members of the Hyperledger Project recently bailed and/or cut off their funds to the much-hyped blockchain project. This follows a similar break-up at R3, the blockchain-for-banks consortium.

Cutting off Kaspersky: The popular anti-virus product is tangled up with a good part of the US government’s IT systems—a big problem since the software maker is strongly suspected of ties to the Kremlin. The White House has hurried up efforts to cashier Kaspersky with an order banning its use anywhere in the government.

Creepy Keyboards: Key-logging software, which lets a third party record what you type, is a popular tool among spies and hackers—it’s not something you want pre-installed on your new computer. Yet that’s what HP did with hundreds of lap-top models. A security researcher discovered that anyone with administrative privileges could activate it. HP is working on a fix.

Easy there, Anderson: The normally bland Twitter account of CNN host Anderson Cooper spat out a string of abuse at Donald Trump in a tweet this week. The network portrayed it as a hack, pointing out that Anderson was in a different city from where the tweet was sent—the latest is that Anderson’s aide left a phone with the Twitter account unattended at the gym.

Feds Nail Mirai Miscreants: Remember that nasty botnet composed of hijacked IoT devices that took down servers across the east cost last year? Well, it turns out Brian Krebs was right: a Rutgers student running a Minecraft scam was responsible for the botnet havoc. The student and two others pled guilty and say they’re sorry.

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“If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,” Palihapitiya advised his audience. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, [but] misinformation, mistruth.”

 Facebook’s former head of user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, recently offered a contrite and frightening account of what the company has built. David Meyer has a nice summary of his remarks.

ONE MORE THING

The best holiday movie ever? It’s decided. Wonderful holiday classics include It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, but some (including me) believe the best of the bunch is a little action film called Die Hard. Objectors have claimed Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie but now a prominent head of state has settled the question. Thanks, Justin Trudeau, and Ho ho ho!

EU agrees clampdown on bitcoin platforms to tackle money laundering

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union states and legislators agreed on Friday on stricter rules to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing on exchange platforms for bitcoin and other virtual currencies, the EU said in a statement.

The agreement is part of a broader set of measures to tackle financial crimes and tax evasion. EU legislators also backed stricter controls on pre-paid cards, and raised transparency requirements for the owners of trusts and companies.

“Today’s agreement will bring more transparency to improve the prevention of money laundering and to cut off terrorist financing,” Europe’s Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said.

The EU decision comes as bitcoin’s prices have risen more than 1,700 percent since the start of the year, triggering worries that the market is a bubble that could burst in spectacular fashion.

The agreed measures will end anonymous transactions on virtual currency platforms and with pre-paid payment cards, which investigators said could have been used to fund attacks by militants.

Bitcoin exchange platforms and “wallet” providers that hold the cyber currency for clients will be required to identify their users, under the new rules which now must be formally adopted by EU states and European legislators and then turned into national laws within 18 months.

It took EU legislators more than a year of negotiations to agree on the legislative proposals, put forward by the European Commission in the wake of shooting and bombing attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016 which killed more than 160 people.

The talks dragged on because some EU states opposed increased transparency on trusts and companies, fearing a negative impact on their economies.

The EU lawmaker in charge of the issue, Dutch Green Judith Sargentini, said Britain, Malta, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Ireland were among those opposing the changes. The deal allows the authorities and “persons who can demonstrate a legitimate interest” to access data on the beneficial owners of trusts.

Trusts are legitimate financial vehicles to manage assets but have sometimes been accused of hiding illegal activities because of their lack of transparency.

Amnesty International, a rights group, called the deal “a breakthrough” but lamented the fact that data on trusts’ owners will not be completely public, as it will be for beneficial owners of companies. The increased public scrutiny is considered essential by the EU commission and also by rights groups, to prevent financial crimes and tax evasion.

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Foo Yun Chee and Peter Graff