Tag Archives: Asset allocation

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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Are you taking more risk than you should?

 

We often take risks without knowing it.  There are some risks that are well known; things like texting while driving or not fastening your seat belt.  But there are other risks that are less well publicized and that can hurt you.

As financial professionals we often meet people who are not aware of the financial risks they are taking.  While there are countless books written about investing, most people don’t bother studying the subject.  As a result, they get their information from articles in the press, advertising, or chatting with their friends.

Many people have told us they are “conservative” investors and then show us investments that have sky-high risks.  This is because investment risks are either hiding in the fine print or not provided at all.  No one tells you how much risk you are taking when you buy a stock, even of a major company like General Electric.  GE is a huge, diversified global company, yet lost 90% of its value between 2000 and 2009.  Norfolk Southern is another popular stock in this area.  Do you know its “risk number?”   You may be surprised.

We have analytical tools that can accurately quantify your risk tolerance and give you your personal “Risk Number.”  We can then measure the risk you are taking with your investments.  They should be similar.  If not, you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised if the investment you thought was “safe” loses its value because you took too much risk.

We have no objection to daredevils who know the risk they are taking by jumping over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle.  But we would caution the weekend cyclist not to try the same thing.  Contact us to find your personal “Risk Number” and then determine how much risk there is in your portfolio.

 

 

 

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New Years Resolutions for 2017

As another year winds to a close, we wanted to present you with some New Years resolutions designed to improve your financial health in the coming year.

  • Update your estate plan. Has there been a change in your family over the last year?  A marriage, a new baby, a death in the family?  If so, you need to update your estate plan, your insurance policies and your beneficiary designations.
  • Update your internet passwords. Are you using the internet to pay bills, shop, or access your investment accounts?  You will want to update your passwords and make them harder to guess.
  • Review your investments. Have you reviewed your portfolio recently?  Is it still aligned with your needs and goals?  If not, make some changes.
  • Get a personal “Risk Number.” Do you know how much risk you can take?  Most people don’t really know.  Resolve to get your personal “Risk Number“this year.  If you don’t know yours, click here to figure it out.
  • Get your portfolio’s “Risk Number.” Do you know how risky your investments are?  Most people don’t know how much risk they are taking.  Get your portfolio’s “Risk Number” and compare it to yours.  If it’s not the same, you need to consult your financial advisor.
  • Update your financial plan. If you don’t know where you’re going you probably won’t get there.  What’s your financial plan?  If you answered: “I don’t have one” resolve to get one this year.
  • Set your financial goals. Do you know how much you need to save to retire?  Here are some guidelines:

A 30-year-old can open a retirement account and make regular monthly contributions.  By investing properly and aiming for a modest 6% per year rate of return:

  • Saving just $200/month, by age 67 his account will have grown to nearly $350,000.
  • By saving $500 per month the account will be worth over $850,000.
  • Saving $1,000 per month will make our 30-year-old a millionaire by age 59.

 

If you have problems with any of these resolutions, you should definitely consider working with a financial advisor; someone who will be like a health coach for your personal finances.  Resolve to find one this year.

Think of the Advisor as your Sherpa, as it were, whose job it is to guide you amid the extreme altitudes and treacherous passes in investing’s hazardous terrain. That is to say, an Advisor is not someone you hire to beat the market for you, but rather someone who can help you achieve your personal financial objectives as “a facilitator, mentor, and market strategist” for those who, on their own, struggle to achieve their goals.

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What’s Your Risk Number?

risk

Defining how much risk someone is willing to take can be difficult.  But in the investment world it’s critical.

Fear of risk keeps a lot of people away from investing their money, leaving them at the mercy of the banks and the people at the Federal Reserve.  The Fed has kept interest rates near zero for years, hoping that low rates will cause a rebound in the economy.  The downside of this policy is that traditional savings methods (saving accounts, CDs, buy & hold Treasuries) yield almost no growth.

Investors who are unsure of their risk tolerance and those who completely misjudge it are never quite sure if they are properly invested.  Fearing losses, they may put too much of their funds into “safe” investments, passing up chances to grow their money at more reasonable rates.  Then, fearing that they’ll miss all the upside potential, they get back into more “risky” investments and wind up investing too aggressively.  Then when the markets pull back, they end up pulling the plug, selling at market bottoms, locking in horrible losses, and sitting out the next market recovery until the market “feels safe” again to reinvest near the top and repeating the cycle.

There is a new tool available that help people define their personal “risk number.”

What is your risk number?

Your risk number defines how much risk you are prepared to take by walking you through several market scenarios, asking you to select which scenarios you are more comfortable with.     Let’s say that you have a $100,000 portfolio and in one scenario it could decline to $80,000 in a Bear Market or grow to $130,000 in a Bull Market, in another scenario it could decline to $70,000 or grow to $140,000, and in the third scenario it could decline to $90,000 or grow to $110,000.  Based on your responses, to the various scenarios, the system will generate your risk number.

How can you use that information?

If you are already an investor, you can determine whether you are taking an appropriate level of risk in your portfolio.  If the risk in your portfolio is much greater than your risk number, you can adjust your portfolio to become more conservative.  On the other hand, if you are more risk tolerant and you find that your portfolio is invested too conservatively, you can make adjustments to become less conservative.

Finding your risk number allows you to align your portfolio with your risk tolerance and achieve your personal financial goals.

To find out what your risk number is, click here .

 

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Why Re-balance Portfolios?

The market rarely rings a bell when it’s time to buy or sell.  The time to buy is often the time when people are most afraid.  The time to sell is often when people are most optimistic about the market.  This was true in 2000 and 2009.

Rather than trying to guess or consult your crystal ball, portfolio re-balancing lets your portfolio tell you when to sell and when to buy.

You begin by creating a diversified portfolio that reflects your risk tolerance.  A “Moderate” investor, neither too aggressive or too conservative, may have a portfolio that contains 40 – 60% stocks and a corresponding ratio of bonds.

Checking your portfolio periodically will tell you when you begin to deviate from your chosen asset allocation.  During “Bull” markets your stock portfolio will begin to grow out of the range you have set for it, triggering a need to re-balance back to your preferred allocation.  During “Bear” markets your fixed income portfolio will grow out of its range.  Re-balancing at this point will cause you to add to the equity portion of your portfolio even as emotion urges you in the opposite direction.

If properly implemented and regularly applied, this will allow you to do what that old Wall Street sage tells you is the way to make money: “Buy Low and Sell High.”

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Diversification and Emerging Markets

A well-diversified portfolio typically includes emerging markets as one of its components.  “Emerging markets” is a generic term to identify those countries whose economies are developed, but still smaller than those of the world’s superpowers (i.e., USA, Europe, Japan).

To professional investors, a well-diversified portfolio includes many asset classes, not just the most obvious: U.S. Stocks (the S&P 500) and a U.S. bond fund.

The following illustration is a great illustration of the relative performance of some of the major asset classes.

callan-periodic-table-of-investment-returns

Here we have ten key indices ranked by performance over a 20-year period.  The best-performing index for each year is at the top of each column, and the worst is at the bottom.

It is natural for investors to want to own the stock, or the asset class that is currently “hot.”  It’s called the Bandwagon Effect and it’s one of the reasons that the average investor typically underperforms.  The top performer in any one year isn’t always the best performer the next year.

A successful investment strategy is to:

  • Maintain a portfolio diversified among asset classes,
  • Stick to an appropriate asset allocation for your particular goals and objectives,
  • Rebalance your portfolio once or twice a year to keep your asset allocation in line, essentially forcing you to sell what’s become expensive and buy what’s become cheap.

In other words, re-balance your portfolio regularly and you will benefit from the fact that some assets become cheap and provide buying opportunities and some become expensive and we should take some profits.

Which brings us to emerging markets, which have been a drag on the performance of diversified portfolios for several years.

“It was a summer of love for investment in emerging markets,” according to the latest MSCI Research Spotlight.  For example, Brazil, Taiwan, South Africa and India have all been big winners, MSCI said.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index ended August up for the year 15 percent compared to a loss of 20 percent the prior year.

“We are seeing very strong performance,” Martin Small, head of U.S. i-Shares BlackRock, told the conference.

Emerging market equities “have outperformed the S&P so far this year by more than 800 basis points and the broader universe of developed markets by almost 1,000 basis points,” according to the October BlackRock report, “Is the Rally in Emerging Markets Sustainable?” The report said EM outperformance “is likely to continue into 2017.”

For investors who have included emerging markets in their portfolios, their patience and discipline is being rewarded this year.  For those who want to have a portfolio that’s properly diversified but don’t have the expertise to do it themselves, give us a call.

 

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The Liquidity Trap – Or How to Lose $4.5 Billion

Liquidity is defined in the Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms as “the ability to buy or sell an asset quickly and in large volume without substantially affecting the asset’s price.”

In layman’s terms it means being able to get to your money quickly and without a major loss.  Liquid assets are things like checking accounts and money market funds.  They can also include mutual funds and stocks in large companies that trade on a major stock exchange, although in times of severe financial stress even these may see major price swings.

But there are lots of things people own that are not liquid.  The typical family’s home is a large part of their wealth.  Homes are not liquid; they can’t be sold quickly and converted to cash in times of need.  What a home can be sold for is a guess; something that millions of people learned when the housing bubble burst in 2008.  Families found that the value of their home was tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars less than their mortgage.

Besides a home, many stocks are not liquid.  Shares in small companies with a few shares outstanding may not be liquid.  Even the very wealthy are finding out that the liquidity trap can turn them from billionaires to paupers in short order.  Forbes Magazine listed Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos,  as America’s richest self-made woman last year with a fortune estimated at $4.5 billion.  The most recent listing gave her net worth at zero.  The reason for this is fairly simple.  Her net worth was based on the value of one stock: Theranos.  The stock was not publicly traded and if she had tried to sell some of it the share price would have plummeted because it would show a lack of confidence in the future of the company.

So when Theranos ran into serious problems Holmes could not get out and her fortune literally disappeared into thin air.

The average person can avoid the liquidity trap by following a few simple rules.

  1. Do not put too much of your personal wealth in things – like homes – that can’t be easily sold.
  2. Do not put too much of your personal wealth in one stock. You do not want your net worth to evaporate because of poor decisions by corporate management.
  3. Smart investors spread their financial assets widely.  Realizing that they cannot accurately predict the future, they own stocks and bonds, domestic and foreign.  If they don’t have the means to diversify using individual stocks and bonds they use mutual funds or ETFs.
  4. Get an advisor. Most smart people use professionals when they need medical, legal or financial advice.

For more information, contact us.

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Passive Investing and the Risk of Bubbles.

“Passive Investing” has become very popular with investors as some financial writers and the index industry tout the benefits of buying an index fund. It’s said to be the kind of “set it and forget it” investment strategy that appeals to people who have limited investment experience and believe they are doing both the “smart” and “safe” thing.

But there is a downside that people who are not familiar with index funds are not aware of. It’s what happens when an investment “Bubble” breaks.

Legg Mason wrote an informative white paper on this subject recently. We want to quote some of what they said.

The end of a market bubble is never pleasant, but it can be especially painful for investors in passive strategies that track major stock indexes.  A key reason: those indexes tend to increase the weighting of rapidly rising sectors as bubbles inflate, setting up investors for a bigger fall.

When sector bubbles collapse over shorter time periods, the overweights can impact major market indexes as well. Example: as the Internet bubble of the late 1990s collapsed, the weight of the S&P 500 Info Tech sector, one of the ten sectors represented in the S&P 500, shrank by more than half, from 33.3% to 15.4%, as the sector generated a cumulative loss of 73.8%. The same effect could be seen during the global financial crisis, with financials plummeting nearly 80%.

Investors investing $1000 in the very popular index that tracks the NASDAQ market would be investing roughly $120 dollars in Apple, $90 in Microsoft and $50 in Amazon. More than $500 of that investment would go into only 10 stocks. This is an illustration of the fact that the investor who believes that buying an index provides broad diversification may find out that this may not be the case. While buying an index is not necessarily a bad idea, it should be done understanding how indexes are constructed and the amount of risk it involves.

These are only a small sample of the kinds of distortions reflected in passive capitalization-weighted indexes, whose construction forces them to overweight sectors as they become more popular with investors. When added to the well-documented tendency of investors to herd toward supposedly “hot” opportunities, the damage to investment returns can be substantial.

The core issue, however, is not that every success contains the seeds of its own destruction. Rather, it’s that using conventional passive, index-based investing as the center of a balanced investment strategy can introduce unexpected — and unwanted — volatility into a supposedly conservative portfolio, at just the moment when investors may be seeking refuge. And that’s the real trouble with bubbles

The hidden dangers of investing, even in the most common strategies, are just another reason to get professional advice.

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How a stock market slump affects retirees

Because retirees are no longer earning income, they view a decline in their investments with more concern than those who are still working.

Many savers in retirement also focus on a number that represents the peak value of their portfolio and view any decline from that value with concern.

Psychologists refer to this as the “anchoring effect.”

The unfortunate result of this is that it causes them to worry, leading to bad decisions. This includes selling some – or all – of their stock portfolio and raising cash. This makes it more difficult for their portfolios to regain its previous values, especially when the return on cash-equivalents like money market funds and CDs are at historic lows.

The answer to this dilemma is to create a well-balanced investment portfolio that can take advantage of growing markets and cushions the blow of declining markets.

This is often where an experienced financial advisor (RIA) can help. One who can create diversified portfolios and who can encourage the investor to stick with the plan in both up and down markets.

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Are fees really the enemy?

The popular press puts a great deal of emphasis on the costs and expenses of mutual funds and investment advice. I am price conscious and shop around for many things. All things being equal, I prefer to pay less rather than more. However, all things are rarely equal. Hamburger is not steak. A Cadillac is not the same as a used Yugo.

The disadvantage facing most investors is that today’s investment market is not your father’s market. Those words are not even mine; they come from a doctor I was speaking to recently who uses an investment firm to manage his money. His portfolio represents his retirement, and it is very important to him. He knows his limitations and knows when to consult a professional. It’s not that he isn’t smart; it’s that he’s smart enough to realize that he doesn’t have the expertise or the time to do the job as well as an investment professional.

As Registered Investment Advisors, we are fiduciaries; we have the legal responsibility to abide by the prudence rule (as opposed to brokers, who only have to abide by a suitability rule). Some interpret our responsibility as meaning that we should choose investments that cost as little as possible, going for the cheapest option. But do you always purchase something exclusively on the lowest cost without taking features, quality, or your personal preferences into consideration?

As I drive to work each day, I pass an auto dealership featuring a new car with a price tag of $9,999 prominently displayed. I’m never tempted to stop in and buy this car, despite its low price. It does not meet my needs nor does it have the features that I’m looking for in a new car. Why would an investment be any different? Too many investors believe that there is no difference between various stocks, mutual funds or investment advisors. They focus exclusively on price and ignore risk, diversification, asset allocation and quality. People who go to great lengths to check out the features on the cars they buy often don’t know what’s in the mutual funds they own. Yet these are the things that often determine how well they will live in retirement. It’s this knowledge that professional investment managers bring to the table.

People who would never diagnose their own illness or write their own will are too often persuaded to roll the dice on their retirement. Don’t make that same mistake with your investments.

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