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investing

Strategies of Successful Investors

For a golfer looking to improve his game, it can be useful to study the top golfers’ strategies and methods. Investors can, in much the same way, learn from the “money masters”, the top group of the most successful investors. You might not have their resources or years of experience, but understanding their philosophies can help you in your own approach to investing. Think Like an Owner, Not Like a Trader This philosophy is as commonsense as the investor who is so famous for following it: Warren Buffett. Any list of the most successful investors of all time has to include the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and he’s typically at the top of the list. The Oracle of Omaha is well-known for his down-to-earth approach to sizing up investment opportunities. Buffett invests in businesses however (not stocks), and prefers those with consistent earning power and little or no debt. He also […]

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 […]

The Power of Dollar Cost Averaging

If you’re like most investors systematically saving for retirement through their employer or with an IRA chances are you’re taking advantage of dollar cost averaging. Dollar cost averaging is a method of investing a specific dollar amount, generally monthly, no matter how the market is reacting. It’s also a way for an investor to fully fund a retirement account without requiring the maximum amount allowed in one shot. For example, let’s assume that an investor under the age of 50 wants to save to an IRA. The maximum contribution to the IRA for 2015 is $5,500. Should the investor want to save monthly and still invest the maximum allowed for the year, he would simply divide by 12 and invest a sum of $458.33 monthly. The beauty of this strategy is that the investor takes advantage of market swings, whether high or low. If the market is considerably high (as […]

Book Review: Finance for Nonfinancial Managers

This recently-released Second Edition is a wonderful book for folks who find themselves in the position of needing to understand financial reports, when the last time you looked at a balance sheet was in your first year of high school accounting. Author Gene Siciliano has produced an excellent guide to the primary concepts of finance, written from the point of view that you have no background at all in finance or accounting. Managers of all levels in today’s business organizations need to have at minimum a basic understanding of financial systems in order to be effective. Day-to-day decisions are influenced by information found in financial reports, and without being able to interpret these financial reports, you’re flying blind. Maybe you’ve been thrust into a management position without any training – and you need to have an understanding of financial reports to do your job. Gaining a better understanding (after you’ve got the […]

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.

A Message about Risk in Investing

The following is a story that was related to me by another financial planner. The message is quite remarkable – and important for all of us to understand. A dentist, age 53, had sold his practice and partially retired. When we reviewed his portfolio, which amounted to approximately two million dollars, it became apparent that he had strong feelings regarding protection of capital. The entire two million dollars was invested in a combination of CD’s, money market funds, and short-term US government bonds.

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. […]

Ten Essential Tips for a Bright Financial Future

See a lawyer and make a Will. If you have a Will make sure it is current and valid in your home state. Make sure that you and your spouse have reviewed each other’s Will – ensuring that both of your wishes will be carried out. Provide for guardianship of minor children, and education and maintenance trusts. If you have divorced and remarried, make sure that your retirement account beneficiary designations are up-to-date reflecting your current situation. Pay off your credit cards. Forty percent of Americans carry an account balance on their credit cards or other personal credit – this is not good for your financial future. Create a systematic plan to pay down your balances. Don’t fall into the “0% balance transfer game” as it will hurt your FICO score. Credit scores matter not only to credit card companies but to insurance companies and future employers as well; you […]

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.

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 […]

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