Category Archives: Asset Allocation

Want a Short Term Market Forecast?

John Kenneth Galbraith is quoted as saying that “The function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

One of the most common questions that we are asked at social functions when people find out that we are in the investment business is “where’s the market headed from here?” It’s an important question, but in the short-term the answer is unknowable.

Barron’s Magazine created a graph that tracked the average of Wall Street’s top strategist’s prediction for the past 15 years versus the actual return for the market. The strategists got it wrong every year. That’s why we really don’t react to the talking heads on the cable news shows and the forecasts in newspapers and magazines. We are not paid to make short-term predictions, we are paid to get our clients a fair return on their money and to avoid major losses that could lead to financial ruin.

Investment decisions are made based on factors that we know. Things such as our clients’ time horizon; the amount of money they have to invest, their tolerance for risk, and their income sources. Then we make sure we are properly diversified. Knowing what you don’t know is as important as knowing what you do know. Guessing is not a strategy and we have no interest in making astrology look respectable.

If you want more information on Korving & Company click HERE.  To read the first three chapters of our book BEFORE I GO click HERE.

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Reading the Tea Leaves

We are not big fans of fortune tellers, preferring to stick with what we can observe in the here and now. The here and now tells us that the American economy is getting better slowly and sluggishly, trending upward, something we refer to as the “Plow Horse Economy.”

We do, however, pay attention to what others are saying and if it sounds reasonable, we’ll share it.

Tony Crescenzi of PIMCO has made some points that seem reasonable and in line with our observations. Discussing the market’s reaction to the Fed’s non-move, he says:

“Investment implications and lessons for investors from this year’s tumult in the global financial markets: Rates are likely to stay low for longer … the Federal Reserve has demonstrated that it is likely to take a very gradual and cautious approach to its normalization of interest rates. Policy rates, globally, are likely to stay low through the rest of the decade, supporting equity and credit markets, as well as real assets.

Volatility will result from the unwinding of crisis-era policies…

Economic growth, rather than liquidity, is needed more than ever to bolster asset prices… investors are likely to focus …on economic growth and company cash flows when making investment decisions.”

Of course we think that economic growth, cash flows and profitability should always be the real basis for making investment decisions, and that a change in Federal Reserve policy (especially if it is as gradual as we anticipate) will have very little impact on these fundamental factors.

We received a call from a client the other day asking if we had a secret formula for coping with the recent market decline. We replied our formula was not secret at all. We adhere to our asset allocation strategy, which puts “shock absorbers” on the portfolios during times of market volatility. This means that our objective is to go through market declines with smaller losses than the overall market. While that strategy means that most of the time our portfolios won’t go up as fast or as far as the stock market during good times, it also means that during times when the markets are heading in the wrong direction our portfolios should outperform the stock market and we won’t have as much ground to make up when it begins to recover.

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On Recent Market Volatility. An Open Letter to Our Clients.

And you thought we saw volatility last Thursday and Friday?…

It is normal to for you to wonder how all of this volatility affects your wealth.  As we are hearing it, China seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s market’s back.  Other forces added to the weight, including uncertainty over the timing of the Fed raising interest rates and the Greek debacle.  However, we do not think that any of these things are cause for long-term concern regarding your portfolios.  If you are feeling some stress because of the recent market volatility, remember:

Stock markets are supposed to go up and down

There have been over a dozen market pullbacks of at least 5% since March 2009, so this isn’t unprecedented.  We all realize that stocks are inherently volatile investments, and we must accept the fact in order to earn the expected higher long-term returns.  You have all undoubtedly heard us preach asset allocation and the importance of having a long-term, strategic view.  Your portfolio is invested in a model based on your unique financial and personal circumstances.  It is important to take the long view and realize that it is typical for bull markets to have corrections of 5% – 10%.

Market timing is a sucker’s game

None of us has a crystal ball.  Not even the traders and speculators on TV that want you to think that they do.  Luckily, you do not need a crystal ball to be a successful investor.  In times like these, it is best to keep your cool and stay invested.  Studies consistently show that missing just a few days of strong returns can affect your performance dramatically.  It is important to stay disciplined and not make short-term trading decisions based on fear and emotion.

Your portfolios are properly diversified

This is our most important point.  As we mentioned, we have invested your money in an appropriate allocation for you, so those investments that have not done as well as the stock indices the past couple of years (looking at you, bonds) should help cushion the blow from this market correction.  That is exactly why they are in there.  Having a mix of different types of investments is like having shocks and struts on your car – these things provide a smoother and more stable ride for your portfolio.  When the stock markets are going great, these other investments do cause drag, but we do not invest to beat an arbitrary benchmark, rather we invest to help you achieve your financial goals with the least amount of risk possible.

The things that are causing this correction are just noise

China is slowing.  So what?  To say that their growth rate is slowing is admitting that they are still growing, just at a slower pace.  Did anyone really expect them to grow at 20% per year forever?  Moreover, if you look at it from a numbers perspective, exports to China only account for 0.7% of U.S. GDP.

The Yuan is falling.  Just a few months ago weren’t the talking heads lamenting the thought of the Chinese yuan as the world’s new reserve currency?  Now that talking heads who brought you that idea are being proven wrong, they want you to believe that this is supposed to be bad, too?  Which is it that we are supposed to fear again?  We wrote a blog piece about this last week, so we won’t go into great detail rehashing it here, but our general reaction is, again: So what?

The Fed is going to raise interest rates. (Eventually.)  It was not that long ago that tapering was supposed to bring financial ruin to us all…  Look, we all know that the Fed is eventually going to raise rates.  We can argue about the timing, but whenever it finally happens and the federal funds rate increases by 0.25%, does anyone really think that will keep Apple from introducing the latest re-iteration of their products?  Or keep anyone from buying them?

We realize that we have been having some fun with things that may cause some of you serious concern.  What we do not take lightly as your advisors and financial fiduciaries is the amount of concern and care we place on your financial well-being.  In times like these, it is important to stay calm and avoid making hasty decisions that could harm you financially.  We will continue to monitor your portfolios with vigilance, and as always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

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Are You an “Affluent Worker?”

Forbes magazine recently had an article about some of our favorite clients. They call them the “High Net Worker.” These are people who are successful mid-level executives in major businesses. They range in age from 40 to the early 60s. They earn from $200,000 per year and often more than $500,000. They work long hours and are good at their jobs.

According to the Forbes article, many have no plans to retire. Our experience is different; retirement is definitely an objective. But many have valuable skills and plan to begin a second career or consult after retiring from their current company.

At this time in their lives they have accumulated a fair amount of wealth, own a nice home in a good neighborhood, and may be getting stock options or deferred bonuses. That means that at this critical time in their lives, when they are focused on career and have little time for anything else, they have not done much in the way of financial planning.

When it comes to investing, most view themselves as conservative. But because of their compensation their investments are actually much riskier than they think. It is not unusual for executives of large corporations to have well over 50% of their net worth tied to their company’s stock. Few people realize the risks they are taking until something bad happens. For example, the industrial giant General Electric’s stock lost over 90% of its value over a nine year period ending in 2009. The stock of financial giant UBS dropped nearly 90% between May 2007 and February 2009. These companies survived. There are many household names, like General Motors and K-Mart whose shareholders lost everything.

The affluent worker’s family usually includes one or more children who are expected to go to college. Many of these families have a 529 college savings plan for their children. Most have IRAs and contribute to their company’s 401k plan, but because many don’t have a financial planner they do not have a well thought out strategy for this part of their portfolio.

At a time when many less affluent families are downsizing, many families in this category are either looking to upgrade their homes, buy a bigger home, or buy a second – vacation – home. They may even help their adult children with down-payments.

If you are an Affluent Worker, give us a call and see what we can do for you. If you already have a financial advisor, it may be time to get a second opinion.

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It took 15 years, but the NASDAQ is back.

Fifteen years after it soared to its peak at the height of the dot-com era, the Nasdaq Composite Index cruised to a record closing high yesterday.

In the year 2000, the NASDAQ, driven to ridiculous heights by the technology stock bubble (often referred to as the dot.com bubble) collapsed, taking lots of people’s dreams with it.

A spike in stock prices driven by greed collapsed as people fled the technology sector in fear. As an aside, it provided a great opportunity for those who had the courage and skill to find outstanding bargains amidst the rubble.

The tech bubble of the 1990s is a great lesson in investor psychology. When values are driven by hope rather than by reality, people stop being investors and turn into speculators. The sad story of that time is that even mom and pop investors were caught up in the frenzy. And the collapse ruined many plans and some lives.

We read today about how great index investing is. It cheap, it’s effective and it works … until is stops working. Those who bought the NASDAQ index in 2000, if they had the fortitude to stick it out, would have found themselves breaking even after 15 years of being financially under water.

A good investment strategy always looks at risk. We know that “trees do not grow to the sky” and things that look too good to be true … are not. The first rule of making money is not losing it.

Our investment philosophy is focused on risk control. What that means in real terms is that when the market takes one of its periodic tumbles, it won’t take us 15 years to get even.

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Buy low and sell high

Remember the old adage about how to make money in the stock market? It’s “buy low and sell high.”

This is done over the long-term on a regular basis if you are disciplined and adhere to an asset allocation strategy.

Assume that your ideal portfolio is 50% stocks and 50% bonds. If stocks have a good run and the stock portion grows to 60% and bonds are now 40% you sell some of the stocks that have given you a nice profit and bring the portfolio back into the 50/50 balance.

Suppose the opposite happens: the stock market declines and the portfolio now consists of 40% stocks and 60% bonds. Now you sell some of the bonds to buy more cheap stocks, bringing the balance back to 50/50.

In this way it’s possible that you can make a fair return on your portfolio even if – over the long term – neither the stock or bond market actually rises but simply fluctuates.

For disciplined long-term investors, this shows “the importance of continuing to invest when the annual return stream is uneven and especially when stocks are down,” writes Carlson, an investment analyst at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. …

In plainer terms, a steady infusion of capital in good times and bad is better for portfolio performance than turning the spigot on and off in reaction to the inevitable ups and downs of the bourse. For Carlson, discipline in bear markets is more important than “optimizing” externals such as investment costs and tax efficiencies for separating “successful investors from the crowd.”

Interested in a disciplined approach to investing?

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What Rich People Need to Know

I ran across an article at Market Watch titled “Ten things rich people know that you don’t.”  It listed the usual things:

  • Start saving early
  • Automate your savings
  • Maximize contributions to 401(k)s
  • Don’t carry credit card debt
  • Live below your means
  • Educate yourself about investing
  • Diversify
  • Hire a qualified financial advisor

All of that is something to take to heart when you’re young and just starting in life.  But what do people who are already rich need to know?

Lots of people get rich without following the rules.  They may start a successful business, enter a highly compensated profession, climb the corporate ladder, win the lottery, become a sports star or inherit a fortune.   Once you are rich, the number one objective for most people is to stay rich.  One very successful financial advisor with just 28 very wealthy clients said

“People don’t come to me to get rich, they come to me to stay rich.”

That’s the role of a good financial advisor.   Their job is to  do more than manage their client’s portfolios, it’s to take care that all of the other boxes are checked off:  to diversify the client portfolio, to educate the client about investing, to see to it that they live within their means.  In many cases they take care of family issues, lifestyle issues; the kinds of things that family offices do.

It’s what we do.  It’s what our clients expect.

Have a wealth maintenance question?   Contact us.

 

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Family Business Financial Planning

A family business is one of the ways that individuals build something of value for themselves and their family. Suffolk is a great example of a community where family owned restaurants, hardware stores, gift shops, bike shops, jewelry, sporting goods, clothing and furniture stores line the streets. Suffolk has its national chains, but its most recognizable businesses – in the pork and peanut industry – began as family businesses.

These family shops often provide a comfortable living as well as job opportunities for family members of the founders. Whether they stay small and local or grow into large businesses, there are challenges that everyone running a business has to face.

The first is competition. For every business there is a better financed competitor. The supermarket doomed the family-run grocery store. Wal Mart is a feared competitor for anyone selling groceries, clothing, furniture, electronics, toys, eyeglasses; and now it’s even getting into banking.

The second challenge is a bad economy. Many communities have seen their downtowns shuttered when local industry left. The businesses depending on housing have still not fully recovered from the crash of 2008.

Finally, most small businesses are very dependent on one or a few key people. If the children don’t want to get into the business when the parents are ready to retire, the business often closes. There is no guarantee that a business can be sold when they owner is ready to retire. Unless the owner has prepared for this, the financial results can be devastating.

For all these reasons, the family business owner has to make sure that they have prepared themselves financially for life after the business. Succession planning is critically important and should be part of the business plan from the moment the business is started. If a business is a partnership, buy-sell agreements should be in place to avoid complications from the death of a partner. If a business is going to be passed along to children, the owners should be clear about the division of assets. Otherwise there is likely to be wrangling – or even lawsuits – over who is entitled to what.

Most people in business choose to convert from individual proprietorships to limited liability companies. This protects the business owners’ personal assets in case of a lawsuit against the business. Some convert to “Chapter C” corporations for tax purposes. If a company wants to grow even larger, it may want to raise cash by “going public” and selling shares to the general public.

One of the most common mistakes that business owners make is to invest too much of their money in the business. It’s a fact that a family business is a high-risk enterprise. Competition, the economy – even a change in traffic patterns – can bring a business to its knees. Building an investment portfolio should go hand-in-hand with building a business. When most of your money is tied up in your business you are making the same mistake as the investor who owns only one stock. Diversification reduces risk and provides a safety net. Factors that are out of your control could end up severely damaging your business value, thereby crippling your total savings and your future goals and ambitions.

In addition to the traditional savings and investment accounts, the tax code provides many ways for business owners to put money aside in a variety of tax-deferred accounts such as SEP-IRAs, 401(k) plans, and SIMPLE-IRA plans. As a business owner you can even set up a “Defined Benefit Plan” which works much like a traditional pension.

There are a great many things that running a business entails beyond offering customers a great product or service. People who start a business are usually focused on this aspect of the business. But to insure that the business – and the family – survives and thrives, business owners should seek the assistance and guidance of a team consisting of an attorney, an accountant and a financial planner. They may be in the background, but they are critical for the financial success of the family business.

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Benchmarking Inverts the Basics of Investing

The problem with “benchmarking”  – that is measuring your investment performance against market indexes (known as “benchmarks”) – is that it often leads to buying into asset bubbles.

During the tech boom of the last 20th century, billions of dollars went into internet stocks whose values became wildly inflated.  People who participated in this as a way of reaching for high rates of return, found that no one rang a bell when the party was over.  Many lost their retirement savings and saw their 401(k)s devastated.

Certain stocks become wildly popular, industries become wildly popular and investing styles become wildly popular, all of which leads to wildly inflated values.  This almost inevitably leads to financial pain.

But this does not only happen in the stock market.  In the first decade of the 21st century, real estate seemed to be a way of making outsized profits.  Of course, when the housing bubble collapsed, many not only lost money, but their homes.

The focus of serious investors is to align your portfolio with your personal objectives.  The focus should be on long-term – multi-year – performance.  The only benchmark that should concern you is the one you set for yourself.

At Korving & Company we keep our clients grounded and work with them to meet their personal benchmarks.  Contact us to do the same for you.

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Market Commentary October 16, 2004

The Wall Street Journal called yesterday’s stock market action a “fear-fueled frenzy” which is a pretty fair assessment. And it’s in this kind of market in which future fortunes can be made.
Fear causes people to act irrationally. In the words of the poet Rudyard Kipling in his poem titled:

“If”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
….
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Wild swings in the market are almost always caused by panic. Often by people who have made big bets such as hedge funds and other short term players bailing out of money losing trades. This has the effect of making the mom-and-pop investors who are in it for the long term nervous. That’s where keeping your head while others are losing theirs pays off.

Over the longer term markets follow earnings. Consensus estimates for the S&P 500 are expected to rise 11% in 2015. These estimates are subject to change but they indicate a trend that favors the investors who stay the course.

We are in the midst of “earnings season” and here is a representative sampling of companies who reported today:
Goldman Sachs beat estimates by $1.36 per share.
Baxter beat by 5¢
Baker Hughes missed by 12¢
BlackStone missed by 6¢¢
Delta Air beat by 2¢
Fairchild Semiconductor beat by 7¢
Fifth Third Bancorp missed by 4¢
Procter & Gamble beat by 7¢
Briggs & Stratton beat by 17¢

We are not recommending the purchase or sale of these stocks, simply noting that six out of nine major companies are actually reporting better earnings than analysts expected. When will the current panic pass? We don’t pretend to tell you. But we are confident if we do our job and create well diversified portfolios we’ll do well over time.

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