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investment

Correlation, Risk and Diversification

Many investors understand the importance of asset allocation and diversification. They choose among various assets to invest in such as stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities. Without getting too technical, the reason why investors choose different asset allocation is due to their correlation (often signified by the Greek letter rho ρ) to the overall stock market. Assets with a correlation of +1 (perfect positive), move identically to each other. That is, when one asset moves in a particular direction, the other moves in the exact same fashion. Assets with a correlation of -1 (perfect negative), move exactly opposite of each other. That is, when one asset zigs, the other asset zags. Generally, the benefits of diversification begin anytime correlation is less than +1. For example, a portfolio with two securities with a correlation of .89 will move similar to each other, but not exactly the same. Thus there is a […]

How to Invest

Occasionally, someone will ask me a question in the following different ways: “Did you see what the market did today?” or “How did the market do today?” To be honest, I’d love to use the line that Charley Ellis has used from the movie Gone with the Wind; “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Professionally, my response is more in line with “I couldn’t tell you.” or “I don’t follow the market really.” The response is not meant to be rude or abrupt, but more to simply say that for most investors (myself included); they shouldn’t be worried about what the market is doing on a day to day basis. This is especially true for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. A price weighted index of 30 stocks is hardly representative of the market, yet it’s what most people think and refer to as “the market” when they ask […]

The Second Most Important Factor to Investing Success

On these very pages not too long ago, I pointed out the most important factor to achieving investing success, which is consistent accumulation. The second most important factor? Asset allocation. Asset allocation is the process of dividing your investment “pile” into various different types of investments in an effort to maximize your exposure to the unique benefits of each type of asset class – while at the same time utilizing the risk as efficiently as possible. When it comes to asset allocation, there are two primary factors which help to determine how you might allocate your investment assets: risk tolerance and time horizon. Risk tolerance deals with whether or not you can sleep at night knowing that your investment could fall (or rise!) by 15%, for example. If you’re a person who feels compelled to monitor your investments every day and can’t stand it when you see a loss, you […]

How to Easily Maximize Your IRA

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.

One of the Best Investments to Make

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.  

Stay Away From This Asset Class in 2015

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.

Apples and Oranges

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.”

Should You Worry About the Dow?

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.

Yoda Would Suggest a Low-Cost Index

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. […]

Be Careful of Average Returns

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).

Five-Step Reallocation

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.

Predicting the Market is Like Predicting the Weather

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.

Should You Have Gold in Your Portfolio?

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. […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]