Category Archives: Portfolio Management

Market Commentary by Bill Miller

Here are some selected comments by highly regarded portfolio manager Bill Miller:

The year 2017 surprised most pundits in several ways. It was the only year since good records have been kept where stocks were up every single month. It was the lowest volatility year on record. It had no correction of even 3%, which was unprecedented. Economic growth accelerated globally as the year progressed and the US economy enjoyed a couple of quarters of 3% growth.

Earnings grew double digits. Stocks were up over 20%, and the OECD indicates that the 45 largest economies in the world are all growing, something not seen in over a decade. The consensus appears to be “more of the same” in 2018. Strategists and investors generally are bullish on the economy, most also seem to be bullish on stocks.

There is growing concern that the great bond bull market that began in late 1981 is over (this is surely correct in my view), but divergence on what that might mean for stocks…….

In the Barron’s Roundtable, several commented that rising rates could compress valuations if yields went above 3% and that stocks could end the year down. I think that is wrong.

I believe that if rates rise in 2018, taking the 10-year treasury above 3%, that will propel stocks significantly higher, as money exits bond funds for only the second year in the past 10, and moves into stock funds as happened in 2013. Stocks that year were up 30%, mostly as result of that shift in fund flows. …

I think we are also likely to see inflation begin to stir, perhaps in a year, as labor force slack and excess manufacturing capacity both decline. Finally, I think the effects of the tax cut are only partially in the stock market. The market appears to have discounted the earnings boost to companies whose profits are mainly domestically sourced. It is not clear that a potentially material pickup in consumption has made its way into stock prices.

Many US companies have already announced special bonuses to employees or increases in their minimum wage as a result of the business tax cut and the ability to repatriate the trillions of cash currently held overseas. The employees getting such bonuses likely have a marginal propensity to consume approaching 100%.

Very little will be saved; almost all will be spent, which could add significantly to growth. I think we could print 4 quarters of 3% growth or better of real GDP. If inflation hits the Fed’s target of 2%, that would imply 5% nominal GDP growth. In a “normal” world 10-year rates would tend to be around the same as nominal GDP, yet another reason to be wary of investing in bonds.

Overall, I continue to think, as I have since the financial crisis ended, that the path of least resistance for stocks is higher.

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Can you answer these basic money questions?

The NY Post published an article Most Americans can’t answer these 4 basic money questions.   They questioned “Millennials” and “Boomers” to see who were most knowledgeable about investing.

Here are the questions – see how well you do.

  1. Which of the following statements describes the main function of the stock market?
    A) The stock market brings people who want to buy stocks together with people who want to sell stocks.
    B) The stock market helps predict stock earnings
    C) The stock market results in an increase in the price of stocks
    D) None of the above
    E) Not sure
  2. If you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2 percent per year, after 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow?
    A) Exactly $102
    B) Less than $102
    C) More than $102
    D) Not sure
  3. If the interest rate on your savings account was 1 percent per year and inflation was 2 percent per year, after 1 year, how much would you be able to buy with the money in this account?
    A) More than today
    B) Exactly the same as today
    C) Less than today
    D) Not sure
  4. Which provides a safer return, buying a single company’s stock or a mutual fund?
    A) Single company’s stock
    B) Mutual fund
    C) Not sure
    D) Not sure

 

 

The correct answers are

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. B

If you had trouble getting the right answers you could benefit from the guidance of a good RIA (Registered Investment Advisor).

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Me and my spouse are approaching retirement; how should we allocate our investments so that we can protect some and grow some?

This was a question asked by a visitor to Investopedia.
Several other advisors responded.  Here’s my contribution to the discussion.
 

You have gotten some good advice from the others who have responded.  The only advice I would add to theirs is that the years just prior to retirement and the first few years of retirement are the most critical years for you.  These are the years when significant investment losses have the biggest impact on your retirement assets.

That’s because of something referred to as “sequence of returns.”  “Sequence of returns” refers to the fact that market returns are never the same from year to year.  For example, here are the returns for the S&P 500 from 2000 to 2010.  That was a dangerous decade for retirees.

2000 -9.1%
2001 -11.9%
2002 -22.1%
2003 28.7%
2004 10.9%
2005 4.9%
2006 15.8%
2007 5.5%
2008 -37.0%
2009 26.5%
2010 15.1%

When you are accumulating assets, the sequence of returns has no impact on the amount of money you end up with.  But when you are taking money out, the sequence becomes very important.  That’s because taking money out of an account exaggerates the effect of a market decline.

If you retired in the year 2000 with $100,000 and took out 4% ($4000) to live on each year, by 2010 your account would have shrunk to about $66,200 and, if you continued to withdraw the same amount each year you would now be taking out 6%.  If you have another 30 years in retirement, that rate of withdrawal may not be sustainable.

For that reason, most financial advisors recommend creating a portfolio that can cushion the effect of poor market performance near your retirement date.

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Foreign markets are soaring

The US markets are reaching new highs daily and many investors are happy with the returns their portfolios have generated.  According to the Wall Street Journal the S&P 500 is up 13.9% year-to-date.

 But some foreign markets are doing even better.

For example, the Hang Seng (Hong Kong) index is up 29.4%.

Chile is up 28%

Brazil up 27.3%

South Korea up 22.1%

Italy up 16.4%

Taiwan up 15.8%

Singapore up 14.7%

As part of our asset allocation strategy we always include a foreign component in our diversified portfolios.  Over long periods of time international diversification has had a positive effect on portfolio performance.  That’s because the US economy is mature.  It’s harder to generate the kind of economic growth that smaller, newer, and less developed economies can generate.

There is, however, a level of risk as well as reward to global diversification.  It’s said that when the US catches a cold, foreign markets get pneumonia.

The U.K. market is up only 5.8% this year, Shanghai +9.1%, Mexico +9.5%, Japan +9.6% and France +10.3%.  It’s difficult for the average investor to do the research to pick and choose their own foreign stocks.  So it’s even more important when investing overseas to use experienced portfolio managers with years of experience and an established track record.

We have done the research and we choose the best mutual funds with experienced managers to give our clients exposure to foreign markets.

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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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Recovery of Emerging Markets

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index, up 28.09%, is the best performing major index year-to-date – better than the DASDAQ, better than the S&P 500, better than the DJIA.  That’s an amazing reversal.

Emerging Markets have lagged the other major indexes over the last decade.

  • 2.21% for 3 years (vs. 9.57% for the S&P 500)
  • 5.56% for 5 years (vs. 14.36% for the S&P 500)
  • 2.76% for 10 years (vs. 7.61% for the S&P 500)

Why do we mention this?  A well diversified portfolio often includes an allocation to Emerging Markets.  Emerging Markets represent the economies of countries that have grown more rapidly than mature economies like the US and Europe.

Countries in the index include Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.  Some of these countries have economic problems but economic growth in countries like India, China, and Mexico are higher than in the U.S.

Between 2003 and 2007 Emerging Markets grew 375% while the S&P 500 only advanced 85%.  As a result of the economic crisis of 2008, Emerging Markets suffered major losses.  It is possible that these economies may now have moved past that economic shock and may be poised to resume the kind of growth that they have exhibited in the past.  Portfolios that include an allocation to Emerging Markets can benefit from this recovery.

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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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How to lose $150 million

Boris Becker

We have written a lot about planning and investing.  But there’s nothing quite as instructive as learning from mistakes.  Learning from others’ mistakes is less painful than making our own mistakes.

This sets up an example of financial mistakes I learned about recently.

Sometimes the most surreal things happen. For example, anyone who remembers the 1980s’ tennis prodigy Boris Becker may be shocked to learn that last month, in a London courtroom, Becker was declared bankrupt.

After winning Wimbledon and countless other tournaments, Becker’s personal fortune was estimated to have reached $150 million. So how could this have happened? How could he have gone from $150 million to zero, and what can we learn from it?

Sports figures often find that they have developed “posses,” hangers-on who encourage extravagant lifestyles.  Fame and fortune at an early age lead to a number of personal mistakes.  These are often combined with poor investment decisions.  In the case of Becker they include things like Nigerian oil companies, and “… a sports website, an organic food business, and more notably, a planned 19-story high-rise in Dubai called the Boris Becker Business Tower, whose backers went bust in 2011.”

This is a special problem for people who become wealthy in sports and entertainment.  Too often they turn their financial lives over to agents who get them involved in complicated schemes that go sour.

The key to gaining wealth and – most especially – for keeping it is: keep it simple.  During 30 plus years of investing the biggest mistakes I have seen made is people getting involved in complex deals, partnerships, and relationships that they don’t really understand.

We provide education for our clients on investment strategy and develop portfolios that allow people to keep what they have earned.  Don’t be like Boris Becker.

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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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