Recently I had a chance to have some fun with some of my undergraduate students. Polling my entire class I asked them to make a list of wants (not needs) that they frequently spent money on. Answers varied from smartphones (and the respective bill), cable and satellite TV, dining out, coffee shops, beverages (you know which ones), and appearance (spending extra to dye hair, pedicures, etc.). Here’s a list of how each expense was broken down as told by the students. In other words, it was their numbers not mine.
Traditionally when we think of investing our minds turn to stocks, bonds, mutual funds or real estate. While these may or may not be the best investments for an individual’s portfolio there is one investment that is almost always the right choice for any individual – human capital. Human capital is an individual’s worth of their own potential. Coined by economist Theodore Schultz, human capital can be invested in like any other asset in order to add value to an individual’s life through earnings, health, and quality of life.
Admittedly, this is a pretty deceiving headline. We see headlines like these every day in the newspapers, TV and from colleagues at work. The truth of the matter is that there are certainly going to be assets classes that will behave horribly while other asset classes do extremely well. The point is, neither you nor I (or anyone else) will accurately be able to predict which ones will do better than others. For every person that says stocks will have a meteoric rise in 2015 there will be just as many that will say to avoid them. You’ll have others saying that bonds are doomed while others will sing their praises. Buy gold, sell gold; buy real estate, sell real estate. The point is no one knows which asset classes will do well and which ones will fall.
When considering investing with a particular financial planning firm or mutual fund consider looking at what benchmark they’re comparing their returns (disclosure: the funds we use are the benchmarks). It’s pretty easy for a mutual fund company or adviser to tout their funds when they have beaten the benchmark over a certain period of time. For example, I had the opportunity to look at a client’s investment performance report that they had with another company. Written across the top in the adviser’s handwriting was the phrase, “Looks like we beat the benchmark.”
The last few weeks have shown that the market is certainly volatile. Once at a peak of over 17,000 the market has pulled back to just over 16,000. While this certainly makes for news (notice how I didn’t say interesting news) I wanted to give our readers a little perspective on why I (nor they) shouldn’t care.
Recently a colleague told me that he’d “give that a try”. I responded (tongue in cheek of course) “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” In case you don’t recognize it, that’s a line that Yoda gives to Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars “Empire Strikes Back” movie. Yoda was pointing out to Luke that if he simply “tries” to undertake the action, he will not succeed. I think it shows that Yoda would also suggest a low-cost index mutual fund for investing. If you think back to the excellent article that Sterling wrote a few weeks ago, “Not All Index Funds are Created Equal”, Sterling used a particular load mutual fund as an example. The objective of the fund (paraphrasing here): Seeks to match the performance of the benchmark… Let’s analyze that objective. The “benchmark” in question is an index, in particular the S&P 500 index. […]
When saving and investing for retirement many folks as well as advisors helping those folks plan save and invest for retirement generally will have the conversation that includes how much they can save per month or year, how much they need at retirement and how long they have to save until retirement. Essentially, all of the ingredients in the previous paragraph boil down to a phrase mentioned many times in financial planning classes as well as courses in finance, investing and business: the time value of money. The time value of money helps individuals and businesses figure out how much they need to save, earn, and spend in order to achieve certain financial goals. What it boils down to is what is a dollar worth, if not spent today, and instead invested and allowed to grow for tomorrow (the future).
Since there’s been an appreciable run-up in stocks over the recent past, now may be a good time to reallocate your investment allocations in your retirement plans and other accounts. You’ve probably heard of reallocation before – but what does it really mean? Reallocating is the process of changing your current mix of investments to a different mix. It could be that you’ve changed your risk assessment and wish to have more stock and fewer bonds, vice versa, or your investments have grown in some categories from your original allocation and you need to get the mix back to where you started. At any rate, reallocation is a relatively simple operation, and research tells us that it is important to reallocate regularly, such as on an annual basis. Below are five steps that you can use for a simple reallocation in your accounts.
If you’ve ever planned for a day out, picnic, family day or relaxing day outside chances are you turned on your TV, radio or grabbed your smartphone app and got an idea of what the weather was going to be for the day of your trip. When you looked you got a prediction, based on the probability of what the weather patterns have shown in the past and you got an idea of what your day would look like. And sometime in your life, what was predicted to be a bright sunny day was laden with storm clouds, rain and gloom. Trying to predict the market is like predicting the weather, only more confusing, more expensive, and less likely to get your desired outcome.
We had a great question come in by request this week that we address the question of whether folks should have gold in their portfolios. Gold can be included under the umbrella of a larger asset class known as commodities. Think of commodities as items used to make or produce other items – such as gold is used to produce jewelry, circuitry and coinage, while timber is used to make lumber and paper, while coal is used to make electricity and disappoint not-so-good kids on Christmas morning (sorry, couldn’t resist). Getting back to gold, the reason an investor may want to consider it as part of their portfolio is because gold is correlated differently from the stock market. Simply put; its pricing moves differently relative to the stock market. This does not mean I’m recommending investors buy gold. Here’s why. Imagine a lump of gold sitting on your kitchen table. […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]