I have some sad news to share. Howard Ruff, the long-time editor of The Ruff Times and popularly known as “The Prophet of Doom,” passed away over the weekend at the age of 86. He was one of those flamboyant bigger-than-life characters of Wall Street lore, such as Jesse Livermore, Joe Granville, Larry Abraham, Jim Blanchard and Harry Browne, who lived by the motto, “Go big or go home.”
He was a true icon in the hard-money movement that began in the inflationary 1970s. Those were heady times at the beginning of the financial revolution, and Ruff Times was the perfect symbol of the era. Long-time subscribers remember him as the popularizer of alternative investments and promoter of survival foods in an age of inflation, crisis and shortages. He was famous for saying, “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” I included that quote from him in my “The Maxims of Wall Street” book.
Howard was a pioneer in the financial world when brokers encouraged investors to buy blue-chip stocks and bonds and charge high fixed commissions. Ruff argued that Wall Street was hazardous to your wealth, especially investing in bonds that were big losers during the inflationary ‘70s.
He began his famous newsletter, The Ruff Times, in the mid-1970s when the country was facing inflation, energy crises, boom-bust cycles and turmoil in the stock and bond markets. Investors were frightened and sought out alternative investments. “Buy gold, buy silver, buy Swiss francs!” was the rally cry. His folksy, often humorous, style attracted a broad audience. He was the “investment advisor to ‘every-man’.”
At the height of his fame, The Ruff Times had more than 200,000 subscribers, and he had the #1 bestselling book in the country, “How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years.” It was published by Times Books in 1979, the year before Ronald Reagan was elected.
But with Reagan, the good times roared back: Inflation was subdued, interest rates declined and the economy boomed. Traditional investments in stocks and bonds began a long recovery in the 1980s and 1990s to make it difficult for Ruff and The Ruff Times to prosper. A Constitutional conservative, he became involved in politics and lobbying through his “Free the Eagle” organization.
During the financial crisis of 2008, Ruff predicted more doom-and-gloom (especially when Barack Obama was elected). But once again, the economy and markets rallied. When Ruff finally retired several years ago, I was honored that he entrusted me to begin serving his remaining subscribers with my investment newsletter, Forecasts & Strategies.
Howard was a friend who helped me get started on the speaking circuit and financial advisory business. I remember the time he called me up in 1979 and invited me to be a keynote speaker at the first Ruff National Convention at Disneyland, California. I also was a financial consultant to Ruff subscribers in the 1980s. I spoke at most of his Ruff conventions and appeared on his TV show Ruff House, even though my message was more upbeat and my advice more traditional. I admired Howard for allowing me to present my more optimistic message.
The Ruff Times fit perfectly into his life and his work. He knew the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. He was the financial Donald Trump of his era who said that Wall Street and the brokerage business were “rigged” against the little guy. He put his name on his newsletter, Ruff Times, and his TV show Ruff House. He had a big heart, employing hundreds, saving the world from collectivism and child abuse, having a big family and adopting additional children. He could not sit still. All throughout, his patient wife Kay kept the flame alive.
Several years ago, Howard suffered a devastating stroke and had to discontinue his newsletter. Jo Ann and I visited him and his wife in Utah a few years ago. He was in good spirits, but using a walker. He died only a few days after learning that Trump was elected president. According to his long-time assistant Joann, Howard was happy to know that the Republicans were back in charge of government.
He is survived by his wife, Kay, and a numerous posterity. He was one of a kind and will be missed. We plan to dedicate a room to him at FreedomFest next year.