Category Archives: Asset Management

What a Nobel Prize Winner tells us about Investor Behavior

University of Chicago’s  Richard H. Thaler, one of the founders of behavioral finance, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics for shedding light on how human weaknesses such as a lack of rationality and self-control can ultimately affect markets.

People who are not financial experts frequently turn to investment advisors to manage their portfolios.     But many smart people use advisors to overcome very common psychological obstacles to financial success.

The 72-year-old “has incorporated psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision-making,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on Monday.

“By exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control, he has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes,” it said.

Thaler developed the theory of “mental accounting,” explaining how people make financial decisions by creating separate accounts in their minds, focusing on the narrow impact rather than the overall effect.

….

He shed light on how people succumb to short-term temptations, which is why many people fail to plan and save for old age.

 

It does not take a Nobel Prize to understand that people often make decisions based on emotion.  We do it all the time.  We judge people based on first impressions.  We buy things not because we need them but because of how they make us feel.  We go along with the crowd because we seek the approval of the people around us.  When markets rise we persuade ourselves to take risks we should not take.  When markets decline and our investments go down we allow fear to overcome our judgment and we sell out, afraid that we’ll lose all of our money.

Professional investment managers have systems in place that allow them to overcome the emotional barriers to successful investing.  It begins by creating portfolios that are appropriate for their clients.  Then, in times of stress, they use their discipline and stick to their models, often selling what others are buying or buying what others are selling.  This is the secret to the old Wall Street adage that the way to make money is to “buy low and sell high.”  By taking emotion out of investment decisions professional managers take a lot of the risk out of investing.

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Questions and answers about retirement

A couple facing retirement asks:

I will retire in the Spring of 2018 (by then I will have turned 65). My wife is a teacher and will retire in June of 2018. When we chose 2018 as our retirement date, we paid off our house. At the same time we replaced one of our older cars with a new one and paid cash. We have no debt. We will begin drawing down on our investments shortly after my wife retires. Also we both plan to wait until we are 66 to draw on Social Security. Our current nest egg is divided 50/50 in retirement accounts and regular brokerage accounts. About 60% are in equities and mutual funds. The rest is in bonds and cash. I’ve read about the 4% rule, adjusting annually up depending on inflation, expenses and market performance. As of today, based on our retirement budget, we can generate enough cash only using our dividends to live on. In our case this approach would have us taking interest and dividends from all accounts, including IRA, 457 B and 403 B before we are 70 years old. Seems that this approach would make it easier to deal with market volatility, yet it does not seem to be favored by the experts.

My answer:

There are a number of different strategies for generating retirement income. The 4% rule is based on a study by Bill Bengen in 1994. He was a young financial planner who wanted to determine – using historical data – the rate at which a retiree could withdraw money in retirement and have it last for 30 years. The rule has been widely adopted and also widely criticized. It’s a rule of thumb, not a law of nature and there are concerns that times have changed.

Based on your question you have determined that the dividends from your investments have generated the kind of income you need to live on in retirement. Like the 4% rule, there is no guarantee that the dividends your portfolio produces in the future will be the same as they have in the past. Dividends change. Prior to the market melt-down in 2008 some of the highest dividend paying stocks were banks. During the crash, the banks that survived slashed their dividends. Those that depended on this income had to put off retirement because their retirement income disappeared.

I would suggest that this is an ideal time to consult a certified financial planner who will prepare a retirement plan for you. A comprehensive plan should include your income sources, such as pensions and social security. The expense side should include your basic living expenses in addition to things you would like to do. This includes the cost of new cars, travel and entertainment, home repair and improvement, provisions for medical expenses, and all the other things you want to do in retirement. It will also show you the effects of inflation on your expenses, something that shocks many people who are not aware of the effects of inflation over a 30-year retirement span.

Most sophisticated financial planning programs forecast the chances of meeting your goals based on a “total return” assumption for your investments. Of course, the assumptions of total return are not guaranteed. Many plans include a “Monte Carlo” analysis which takes sequence of returns into consideration.

That’s why the advice of a financial advisor who specializes in retirement may be the most important decision you will make. An advisor who is a fiduciary (like an RIA) will monitor your income, expenses and your investments on a regular basis and recommend changes that give you the best chance of living well in retirement.

Finally, tax considerations enter into your decision. Most retirees prefer to leave their tax sheltered accounts alone until they are required to begin taking distributions at age 70 ½. Doing this reduces their taxable income and their tax bill.

I hope this helps.

If you have questions about retirement, give us a call.

 

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Why market timing does not work

stock-market-timing

 

A paper published by a business professor ten years ago made this point emphatically.

The evidence from 15 international equity markets and over 160,000 daily returns indicates that a few outliers have a massive impact on long term performance. On average across all 15 markets, missing the best 10 days resulted in portfolios 50.8% less valuable than a passive investment; and avoiding the worst 10 days resulted in portfolios 150.4% more valuable than a passive investment. Given that 10 days represent less than 0.1% of the days considered in the average market, the odds against successful market timing are staggering.”

The odds of getting out of the market at just the right time and then getting back in at just the right time are roughly the same as winning the lottery.

This points out the reason why creating a portfolio that will allow you to invest for the long term is essential to creating wealth.  You can achieve a decent return and sleep well at night.  But in order to do this your portfolio has to match your personal risk tolerance (your Risk Number), one that differs with different people.

We are in a long-term Bull Market, but Bear Markets follow Bulls as night follows day, and some day the Bear will return.  That’s when having a properly diversified, risk-tolerant portfolio pays off.  Big time.

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Once you sell out, when do you get back in?

I recently heard about a 62-year-old who was scared out of the market following the dot.com crash in 2000.  For the last 17 years his money has been in cash and CDs, earning a fraction of one percent.  Now, with the market reaching record highs, he wants to know if this is the right time to get back in.  Should he invest now or is it too late?

Here is what one advisor told him:

My first piece of advice to you is to fundamentally think about investing differently. Right now, it appears to me that you think of investing in terms of what you experience over a short period of time, say a few years. But investing is not about what returns we can generate in one, three, or even 10 years. It’s about what results we generate over 20+ years. What happens to your money within that 20-year period is sometimes exalting and sometimes downright scary. But frankly, that’s what investing is.

Real investing is about the long term, anything else is speculating.   If we constantly try to buy when the market is going up and going to cash when it goes down we playing a loser’s game.  It’s the classic mistake that people make.  It’s the reason that the average investor in a mutual fund does not get the same return as the fund does.   It leads to buying high and selling low.  No one can time the market consistently.  The only way to win is to stay the course.

But staying the course is psychologically difficult.  Emotions take over when we see our investments decline in value.  To avoid having our emotions control our actions we need a well-thought-out plan.   Knowing from the start that we can’t predict the short-term future, we need to know how much risk we are willing to take and stick to it.  Amateur investors generally lack the tools to do this properly.  This is where the real value is in working with a professional investment manager.

The most successful investors, in my view, are the ones who determine to establish a long-term plan and stick to it, through good times and bad. That means enduring down cycles like the dot com bust and the 2008 financial crisis, where you can sometimes see your portfolio decline.  But, it also means being invested during the recoveries, which have occurred in every instance! It means participating in the over 250%+ gains the S&P 500 has experience since the end of the financial crisis in March 2009.  

The answer to the question raised by the person who has been in cash since 2000 is to meet with a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA).  This is a fiduciary who is obligated to will evaluate his situation, his needs, his goals and his risk tolerance.  And RIA is someone who can prepare a financial plan that the client can agree to; one that he can follow into retirement and beyond.  By taking this step the investor will remove his emotions, fears and gut instincts from interfering with his financial future.

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Beware the Quirks of the TSP in retirement

The TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) is a retirement savings and investment plan for Federal employees. It offers the kind of retirement plan that private corporations offer with 401(k) plans.

Here is a little information about he investment options in the TSP.

The TSP funds are not the typical mutual fund even though the C, F, I, and S index funds are similar to mutual fund offerings.

The C Fund is designed to match the performance of the S&P 500

The F Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, a broad index representing the U.S. bond market.

The I Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Morgan Stanley Capital International EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.

The Small Cap S Fund’s objective is to match the performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index, a broad market index made up of stocks of U.S. companies not included in the S&P 500 Index.

The G Fund is invested in nonmarketable U.S. Treasury securities that are guaranteed by the U.S. Government and the G Fund will not lose money.

One advantage of the TSP is that the expenses of the funds are very low.  However, if you plan to keep your money in the TSP after you retire you need to understand your options because there are traps for the unwary.

The irrevocable annuity option.  

This option provides you with a monthly income.  You can choose an income for yourself or a beneficiary – such as your spouse – that lasts your lifetime or the lifetime of the beneficiary.  The payments stop at death.  Once your annuity starts, you cannot change your mind.

Limited withdrawal options. 

You can’t take money out of your TSP whenever you want.  When it comes to taking money out you have two options.

  1. One time only partial withdrawal. You have a one-time chance to take a specific dollar amount from your account before taking a full withdrawal.
  2. Full withdrawal.   You can choose between a combination of lump-sum, monthly payments or a Met-Life annuity.

Limited Monthly Payment Changes

If you take monthly payments from your TSP as part of your full withdrawal option you can change the amount you receive once a year, during the “annual change period” but it takes effect the next calendar year.  If you choose this option, make sure that you know how much you will need for the coming year.

Proportionate distribution of funds

When you take money out of your TSP you have no choice over which fund is liquidated to meet your income needs.  It comes out in proportion to which your money is invested.  This means you can’t manage your TSP and decide which of the funds you will access to get your distribution.

If you want to give yourself greater flexibility once you retire you have the option of rolling the TSP assets into a rollover IRA without incurring any income tax.

 

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FIVE FACTS THAT PROVE AMERICANS ARE TERRIBLE AT MANAGING MONEY

I read this headline recently and wanted to share it with you.  Here’s the short version.

  1. About 1 in 4 literally have no emergency savings.
  2. We are more worried about paying for our next vacation than about saving enough for retirement.
  3. Millions of us hide money from our spouses and partners.
  4. We prioritize paying the wrong bills first.
  5. We’ve racked up $1 trillion in credit card debt — and that’s just a fraction of what we owe.

That’s troubling.

Very few of our clients suffer from these five issues, but we have had people coming through our doors who are searching for help to get out of debt and on the path to financial stability.

But even people who save and invest and have given serious though to retirement are not necessarily good at making investment decisions.

Having the right instincts and putting money in an investment account doesn’t mean that you are making the best decisions.  Navigating the complex world of modern investing is both a skill and an art that most people do not have the time or patience to learn.

That’s why more and more people are turning from brokers to independent Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs), fiduciaries who manage portfolios for a fee.  Turning the selection of investments over to an RIA, receiving regular reports of progress toward their financial goals, makes sense to people who understand the benefits of using professionals to accomplish complex tasks.

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7 Services that a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) Provides

Investing is serious business.  How well you manage your investments can make the difference between a comfortable retirement and working ‘till you drop.  Most people use a financial advisor of some kind.

Back in the day, people opened an account with a major investment firm and used a broker who would call and make recommendations to buy or sell.  They were essentially stock and bond salesmen whose loyalty was to their firms.

That has all changed.

The trend now is away from the major firms and toward Registered Investment Advisors – RIAs.  RIAs are fiduciaries whose duty is to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.  They help people plan their future and take over the every-day investing decisions for them.

What can an individual expect from an RIA?

  • Asset management. This means creating a portfolio appropriate to the client, making changes in the best interest of the client, and reacting to market conditions.
  • Financial planning. Organizing a client’s financial affairs.  Determining the best way of achieving the client’s objective.  Reviewing the client’s insurance and estate planning needs.
  • Reporting and record keeping. Maintaining the organization of finances.  Performance reporting.  Maintaining cost and purchase data.
  • Life planning. Helping the client uncover what they really want to accomplish and creating a roadmap to getting there.
  • Retirement planning. Providing a path to living well once the paycheck stops and people are dependent on fixed income sources and their personal savings.  Retirement is a major life change.  RIAs typically offer comprehensive retirement plans that help people decide when to retire and what how well they can live.
  • Estate planning. Leaving money to heirs and charities must be carefully planned or large portions of an estate can go to taxes or the wrong individuals.
  • Concierge services. This can include attending meetings with attorney, accountants or bankers.  It can include services such as buying cars, arranging for travel or hiring someone to pay bills.  Relations between an RIA and a client are often so close that they are even consulted on issues such are marriage or divorce.
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Aunt Jennie’s Talents

Image result for image of older woman giving money

The Parable of the Talents is known to everyone who ever attended Sunday school.  A man prepares for a long journey by entrusting three servants with heavy bags of silver (talents) while he is gone.  In those days coins were weighed and a “talent” was about 75 pounds.  He gave 10 talents to one, five to the second and one talent to the third.  The first two servants invested the silver.  The third, being fearful. dug a hole and hid the money for safekeeping.  When the man returned, the first two gave the man twice what had been entrusted to them.  But the third just gave the man his money back.  For this poor stewardship the third servant was cast out.

I was reminded of this story when a lady came to us after receiving an inheritance from her Aunt Jennie.  After being grateful for her good fortune she wondered what to do.  Banks today are paying a pittance on deposits, so putting it in the bank was not all that much different from digging a hole to hide the money from thieves.  She wanted to be a good steward of her inheritance.

She wanted to honor Aunt Jennie by taking care of her money wisely and not squander it.  Aunt Jennie worked hard for her company, spent a lifetime being frugal and made wise investments.  My future client knew her own limitations. She was not an experienced investor.  She had to decide if she wanted to spend her time learning investing from the ground up.  With all the information out there, which expert or school of thought do you listen to?  Did she want to spend her time reading fine print, studying balance sheets or did she want to continue doing those things she enjoyed by finding an experienced professional she could trust to shepherd the money for her.

She chose us because of our caring professionalism.  We listened carefully to her objectives.  We explained the risks and rewards involved in the investing process.  We explained our investment process with the key focus on risk control and wide diversification.  We believe in wise investing, steady growth, and the assurance that your money will keep working for you. With over 30 years’ experience we have weathered all kinds of markets successfully.  Our knowledge and experience allows our clients to focus on those things they enjoy.  They know that their investments will be there for as long as they need them and beyond to help their children and grandchildren.

Aunt Jennie’s talents have grown and our client is happy.  Aunt Jennie would be proud.

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The most common investment mistake made by financial advisors

Bill Miller beat the S&P 500 index 15 years in a row as portfolio manager of Legg Mason Capital Management Value Trust (1991-2005), a record for diversified mutual fund managers.  He was interviewed by WealthManagement.com about active vs. passive management.

We have written a number of articles about the mistakes individual investors make.  But what about mistakes that financial advisors make?  We are, after all, fallible and make errors of judgment.  And like all mortals we cannot predict the future.

Here’s Bill Miller’s assessment about traps that financial advisors fall into:

One problem is how they deal with risk. There is a lot more action on perceived risks, exposing clients to risks they aren’t aware of. For example, since the financial crisis people have overweighted bonds and underweighted stocks. People react to market prices rather than understanding that’s a bad thing to do.

Most importantly, most advisors are too short-term oriented, because their clients are too short-term oriented. There’s a focus on market timing, and all of that is mostly useless. The equity market is all about time, not timing. It’s about staying at the table.

Think of the equity market like a casino, except you own it: You’re the house. You get an 8-9 percent annual return. Casinos operate on a lower margin than that and make money. Bad periods are to be expected. If anything, that’s when you want more tables.

We agree.  That’s one of the reasons we are choosy about the clients we accept. One of the foremost regrets we have is taking on clients who hired us for the wrong reasons.  One substantial client came to us as the tech market was heating up in the late 1990s.  He asked us to create a portfolio of tech stocks so that he could participate in the growth of that sector.  We accepted that challenge, but it was a mistake.  When the tech bubble burst and his portfolio went down and we lost a client.  But it taught us a valuable lesson: say no to clients who focus strictly on short-term portfolio performance.  Our role is to invest our clients’ serious money for long term goals.

Like Bill Miller, we want to have the odds on our side.  We want to be the “house,” not the gambler.  The first rule of making money is not to lose it.  The second rule is to always observe the first rule.

To determine client and portfolio risk we use sophisticated analytical programs for insight into prospective clients actual risk tolerance.  That allows us to match our portfolios to a client’s individual risk tolerance.  In times of market exuberance we remind our clients that trees don’t grow to the sky.  And in times of market declines we encourage our clients to stay the course, knowing that time in the market is more important than timing the market.

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Why do smart people use financial advisors?

What is the real value to hiring a financial advisor, and who uses them?  What is the value proposition?  What makes one car with four doors and wheels worth $300,000 and other $30,000?  Although we might have an answer, the answer differs from person to person.

People use financial advisors for many reasons.  Some use them because they absolutely need them, others because they want them. Paying a fee for advice and guidance to a professional who uses the tools and tactics of a CFP™ (CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™) and an experienced Registered Investment Advisor who is a fiduciary can add meaningful value compared to what the average investor experiences.

Many middle-class investors are anxious about their finances and are not interested in learning the details of managing their money.  This anxiety often results with money left on the sidelines because they don’t know what to do or are afraid of making mistakes. That means earning a fraction of 1% at the bank when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is up over 25% in the last 12 months.

There are others who are interested in learning about investing and may want to hire an advisor to “look over their shoulder.”  They want to hire an “investment coach.”

A third category are people who hire professionals because they are busy doing things that are more important to them: building a career or a business, being with family, or living an active retirement.  They hire an expert to manage their money the same way they hire a lawyer for estate planning, a CPA to prepare their taxes, and a doctor to keep them healthy.

A fourth category is people who were making their own investment decisions but ended up making a huge financial mistake.  This leads me to a story about a really smart, highly paid high tech executive who is very knowledgeable about investing; but he hired an advisor:

It’s not because he lacks the knowledge or interest, obviously. Rather, he figured out he had behavioral blind spots and understood he was at risk of great financial loss. He’s paying someone just to take that risk off his plate.

Determining your goals, controlling risk, managing portfolios well, and knowing your limitations – knowing you have “blind spots” – has led many smart people to hire an advisor.

Vanguard, the hugely successful purveyor or no-load mutual funds (that appeal to do-it-yourselfers) estimates that a financial advisor is worth about 3% net in annual returns.  They attribute this to the seven services that a good advisor provides:

  1. Creating a suitable asset allocation strategy.
  2. Cost-effective implementation.
  3. Rebalancing
  4. Behavioral coaching
  5. Asset location
  6. Spending strategy.
  7. Total return versus income investing.

If you have an advisor but he is not meeting your objectives, ask us for a second opinion.  If you don’t have an advisor but may want one, we offer a free one-hour consultation to see if we are compatible.

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