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investing

Apple Pie and Ice Cream…Vanilla Ice Cream

From time to time we get asked by our clients and prospective clients why we manage our clients’ money the way that we do. Some even gravitate to our firm because of the way that we invest and our philosophy. Others shy away because they are looking for management that will beat the market and always make money and never lose money. Note: This is impossible. But hey, some folks still chase that illusion. As many of our readers know our investment philosophy is pretty plain – like apple pie and ice cream. To make this summer analogy more apropos, when you go to the store to buy ice cream vanilla is generally cheaper and in more supply. As you peruse further into the freezer you start to come across more exotic flavors, combinations and brand names that not only look (and may taste) more appealing, but are also more […]

Capital Gains and Losses and Your Tax Return

When you own certain kinds of assets and you sell them, you may incur a capital gain or loss that is applicable to your income tax preparation.  If the original purchase price plus applicable expenses associated with the asset (known as the basis) is less than the proceeds that you receive from the sale of the asset, you have incurred a capital gain.  On the other hand, if the basis of your asset is greater than the proceeds from the sale, you have incurred a capital loss. Capital gains are taxable to you, using a separate tax rate – and capital losses can be deducted from your capital gains for the year.  Excess capital losses (above your capital gains for the year) can be used to reduce your income by up to $3,000 per year, carried forward until used up (or for your lifetime). The IRS recently produced their Tax […]

Market Returns Aren’t Savings

In 2013 the market and those invested in it experienced a nice return on their investments. The S&P 500 rose an amazing 29.6% while the Dow rose 26.5%. Needless to say 2013 was an amazing year for investors – but try not to make the following mistake: Don’t confuse investment returns with savings. While it is true that the more of a return an investor receives on his or her investments the less they have to save it still does not mean that your returns should take the place of systematic saving for retirement, college or the proverbial rainy day. And by no means should you reduce the amount you’re saving thinking that the returns from 2013 and other bull years will repeat and continue their upward bounty. Investment returns are the returns that an investor receives in a particular time frame. For 2013, if an investor was invested in […]

Disclosure or Maximum Information?

In the financial services industry there are many products, services, business owners and employees that one would think would have one common goal – the welfare of the people they serve through investments, financial planning, insurance and other financial areas. Unfortunately, in an industry rampant with conflicts of interest it has become the norm, not the exception that people in the industry push forward in spite of the conflicts, not once the conflicts have been disclosed and resolved. Examples of conflicts of interest include salespeople that are paid only if they succeed in selling a client a product. This is what happens in most commission-only sales positions. Other conflicts arise when fee-only planners persuade a client to move their money to the planner in order to help them manage it, when in fact the planner is really not a planner at all, but simply an asset gatherer and the client […]

Why Watching the Stock Market Can Make You Sick

I recently read a fascinating article on the correlation between market declines and admission rates to hospitals. The authors point out that almost instantaneously; the effects of a market decline affect mental health such as anxiety. In a nutshell, the authors describe that expectations about the future play a role in investor’s utility (happiness) today. The research in this article can be beneficial on two fronts. One the one hand, the information can be beneficial to advisors in educating their clients that once proper assets allocation for a particular client is achieved there is little to be gained by logging into an account and watching the daily and even hourly fluctuations of the market. And every asset class will fluctuate – which is why we diversify and allocate assets accordingly such as real estate, large cap stock, small cap stocks, commodities, bonds, etc. It’s important to note that at any […]

Chasing Returns

Looking at this morning’s financial section of the paper inevitably had a piece regarding the assets classes and the respective investors (gamblers) that did exceptionally well in 2013. There was mention of a firm that bet heavily on Japanese stocks and did very well, another investor bet against gold and achieved glamorous returns and a hedge fund that bet on US stocks and looked like gods among mortals. But that’s the problem with these scenarios – we are mortal. Pick up any financial magazine that reports on funds or stock returns and you’ll see examples of mutual funds, stocks and bonds that have either beaten or done worse than their counterparts. For example, US stocks did very well in 2013 – so a domestic large cap fund would look amazing based on what it did for 2013. Herein lies the problem; the publication is reporting what the fund did, not […]

What’s in Store for 2014?

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a local business journal about our firm’s thoughts as to how the market would react in 2014 and how to best prepare for that reaction. Essentially, the journal was asking us to predict where the market would be in 2014. Most of our clients know the answer I am about to write, which was, “No one can predict the direction of the market with any degree of accuracy.” “If that were the case, (as I told the interviewer) neither she nor I would be having this interview.” In other words, we’d be clinking our glasses on our respective tropical beaches because we’d have gotten filthy rich predicting and timing the moves of the market. Markets are pretty efficient – meaning that the price of any particular stock in any particular sector, industry or country is generally priced based on all available information […]

Save 1% More This year – Your Future Self Will Thank You!

    Like so many other things, practicing financial awareness has few payoffs in the early stages.  Think about exercising, eating right, putting in the extra effort at work, or taking a class to improve your skills.  All of these things have a future payoff for the extra effort that you put into it today.  Small steps matter in all of these areas, and before you know it you’ll look back and thank your earlier self for putting in the work to get where you are today. Below is the list of my fellow bloggers who have written articles showing ways that you can start to increase your savings rate, as well as showing what the benefits can be.  Thanks to everyone who has participated so far – and watch for more articles in the weeks to come! How Much is 1% by Sterling Raskie, @SterlingRaskie Retire Rich With Only […]

How Much is 1%?

A penny saved is a penny earned and penny-pincher are two common terms that are used to describe someone that is most likely frugal. I would admit I am one of those individuals that aspires to both phrases – and it’s not out of accident. I am one of those folks who will pick up a penny (heads or tails showing – no superstitions here) when walking down the street and put it in my pocket. That penny, nickel, or quarter (in rare cases a one-dollar bill or even higher) will usually make its way into my piggy bank or more likely one of my daughters’ porcelain pigs. I pick up the loose change for one of two reasons: It’s literally free money. To not pick it up is asinine. Little amounts add up. Think of it this way – a penny is 1% of a dollar. A dollar is 1% […]

The Other Life Insurance – Annuities

The last few weeks I have been writing about the more conventional form of life insurance that most people are familiar with when I say ‘life insurance’ – which is protection against a premature death. The other life insurance is that which protects your from living too long – and that insurance is the annuity. Over the years annuities have gotten a bad rap – and rightfully so. Like life insurance, annuities are generally sold to the public via a sales force of licensed agents. In most cases, they are not the right vehicle for the individual (I know I am setting the blog up to receive the thunderous rebuttals) but there may be cases where an annuity makes sense.  The other reason annuities get a bad rap is because of the pure insurance (longevity) feature that they provide – especially pure life annuities. A pure life annuity is simply […]

Life Insurance is Not an Investment

Last week I seemed to cause a bit of a kerfuffle when I wrote about which life insurance may or may not be appropriate for the general consumer. For the readers that sent in emails and comments – thank you! It’s much appreciated and we enjoy the feedback. Twitter was also flitting and chirping with the commotion. In particular, the discussion really narrowed down to, and most of the comments we received were regarding the comment I made on life insurance not being an investment. And that’s still true. It’s not. Now there are plenty of people that will argue with me that it is an investment for this reason or that. For this writing I am hoping to explain and to clarify what I meant as an investment. From a pure investment standpoint – meaning saving and investing one’s money for retirement and or college or just saving and […]

Book Review: Winning the Loser’s Game

Timeless Strategies for Successful Investing Charles D. Ellis, the author of this book (in it’s Sixth Edition), has definitely hit the nail on the head with his subtitle.  The strategies outlined in this book are good for any investor in any economic/investing climate. Time and again throughout the book, Mr. Ellis points out that the real key to investment success has nothing to do with finding the right stock, bond, mutual fund or ETF – and everything to do with developing a sound strategy for investing and sticking to it. The strategy requires you to develop an understanding of your own personal tolerance for risk and your need for returns.  This can be a difficult undertaking, as it requires the investor to answer difficult questions about what kinds of losses he can stomach with his investments, as well as what sort of return you require for your investments over the […]

Avoid the Trap

Eating and dining out all the time can drain our money and potential retirement savings without us even being aware of it. We get asked from friends to go to lunch, coffee or we find ourselves skipping breakfast and getting in the line at the coffee shop for a scone and latte. Before we know it, we’re left asking, “Where did the money go?” Or worse, “I can’t afford to save for retirement.” What’s happened is we’ve fallen into the trap – a habit really, but it can be broken and we can relearn. Here’s how: The first thing you can do is to pass on that latte or scone all together. Instead, make yourself breakfast at home. Invest in a coffee maker if you don’t have one, and make your own coffee. Then make a nice meal of scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast, a cup of cottage cheese with […]

Did the Advent of 401(k) Plans Hurt Americans?

There’s been quite a bit of press lately about the recent Economic Policy Institute study (see this article “Rise of 401(k)s Hurt More Americans Than It Helped” for more), which indicates that the 401(k) plan itself is the cause of American’s lack of retirement resources.  I think it has more to do with the fact that the 401(k) plan (and other defined contribution plans) were expected to be a replacement for the old-style defined benefit pension plans, and the fact that those administering the retirement plans did little to ensure success for the employees. Traditional defined benefit pension plans didn’t ask the employee to make a decision about how much to set aside – this was determined by actuaries.  Then the company made sure that the money was set aside (in most cases) so that the promised benefit would be there when the employee retires.  In the world of 401(k) […]

What is Risk Tolerance?

What is risk tolerance and why is it important to investors? As an investor you’ve probably been asked this question by yourself, or your financial advisor. It’s not an easy question to answer and not a question that can be answered with one word or a quick sentence. Risk tolerance is simply a particular investor’s appetite for risk. Some investors have little appetite for risk and their stomach churns when they think about losing money in the market. Generally these investors are considered risk averse or risk intolerant. Other investors aren’t really concerned about the ups and downs of the market and are willing to accept these market gyrations in or to receive the benefit of potentially higher returns. This is called the risk/return trade-off. In order for investors to receive higher returns they generally have to be willing to accept more risk for those returns. In other words, these […]

A Stable Pyramid

One of the basic fundamentals regarding financial planning and saving money revolves around what is known as the financial planning pyramid. You may hear other names such as the wealth management pyramid, the financial house, etc. You may also see different stages or “building blocks” added here or there, but I’ve broken it down for the purpose of this book to three basic levels for easier understanding. The first level is where we see risk management. This is the foundation of your plan. It’s important to have a strong base to build off of, otherwise the slightest of breezes or tremors can send it toppling. Risk management can be simply seen as your insurance – and this can range from your auto, home, renters, life, health, disability, and umbrella insurance, to your will, emergency fund, and debt management. The reason why insurance is the base is due to the fact […]

Why Diversify?

Remember Enron? I think we all do. Enron was once a powerhouse company that saw its empire crumble and took the wealth of many of its employees with it. Why was that the case? Many of Enron’s employees had their 401(k) retirement savings in Enron stock. This was the classic example of having all of your eggs in one basket and zero diversification. Let’s say that the employees had half of their retirement in Enron stock and half in a mutual fund. Enron tanks but their mutual fund stays afloat. This means that they lost, but only lost half of their retirement, all else being equal. Imagine if they had only a quarter of their retirement in Enron and the remaining 75% in three separate mutual funds. Enron’s demise is only responsible for a fourth of their retirement evaporating. This could go on and on. The point is that when […]

Book Review: Asset Allocation-Balancing Financial Risk

This was a re-read for me, with the recent publishing of the fifth edition of this very important book.  Roger Gibson has updated his excellent work with the results of his strategies during the Great Recession, up to date as of late 2012. Advisors have much to learn from Mr. Gibson’s tome regarding the optimal methods for allocating your investment assets. Throughout the first portion of the book, the concepts of market-timing and superior asset selection are summarily debunked, and the benefits of market index investment and diversification are shown to be optimal.  The author uses real-world data to underpin his findings.  The result is the explanation that, with known investment time horizons, an optimal mix of investments can be determined that will produce superior long-term risk-adjusted results. Much is written in the book, which is directed primarily to investment advisors, about the mind-set of the investor himself or herself.  […]

Book Review: The 7Twelve Portfolio

The 7Twelve Portfolio is an excellent concept for financial planners and novice investors alike. The book is very well written and easy to comprehend as Dr. Israelsen keeps the concepts simple and analogies easy to follow. The crux of the book is regarding diversification and Dr. Israelsen uses the analogy for making salsa as a reference. For example, you don’t have salsa of you just have diced tomatoes and it really doesn’t improve if you simply add some onions and salt. It improves a little bit, but still isn’t salsa. The same is true for diversification. You’re not diversified if you own one stock or bond in your portfolio and have all of your holdings in that one asset. The benefits of diversification begin when you start adding additional ingredients to the mix. This starts to lower risk and help maximize return. This is a concept us nerdy planners call correlation. The […]