Tag Archives: Company stock

Ending a bad habit

Did you ever hear about the famous feud between the Hatfield and the McCoys?  They lived in the mountains on the West Virginia/ Kentucky border in the late 1800s.  It all began in a dispute over a hog and led to the death of two dozen people over a 20 year period.  As time passed the original reasons were lost and the feud became a deadly habit.

Most people are creatures of habit.  Some habits are a good thing.  It’s a substitute for rethinking a lot of things we do automatically: we shower, brush our teeth and eat breakfast mostly out of habit rather than spending time wondering if we should.  It makes our lives easier.

The habit of saving money for retirement is also a good thing.  It’s a habit that leads to financial success.  But what we do with that money can lead to bad habits.  Getting into the habit of investing in the same thing year after year can lead to bad results.

For example, Microsoft (MSFT) has made some people – like its founder Bill Gates – one of the richest men in the world.  Adjusted for stock splits, it was $0.10 /share in 1986; today it’s about $54/ share, a gain of over 54000%.  However, if you had bought it in 1999 hoping to see that trend continue you could have paid $59/per share.  You would still be waiting to break even, having lost money over a 17 year period.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of habit that so many investors exhibit.   They may buy stock in a company they work for and develop the habit of sticking with it even if the company has problems.  General Electric (GE) has tens of thousands of employees who bought its stock.  They saw the price drop from $60/share to $6/share between 2000 and 2009.

They may read about a mutual fund in a magazine or on-line and buy it without doing the appropriate research and add to it out of habit.  Habits are a substitute for thinking about our actions.  Some habits, like exercise and punctuality are good.  But we should avoid falling into the trap of making investment choices out of habit.  To do so can lead us to the same fate of the investor who bought Microsoft 17 years ago or GE 16 years ago and is still waiting to get even.

One way to avoid the trap of using habits to make investment choices is to regularly re-examine your investments.  Ask yourself if you had cash, would you buy the same things you currently have in your portfolio?  If you don’t know the answer, this is the time to get professional guidance from an investment professional, a trusted fiduciary who has your best interests at heart.

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What’s the Wall Street View of GE?

The Street is falling out of love with GE.  About 40% of analysts give GE a Market Perform – a “Gentleman’s C” – with an equal number above and below that ranking.  Since there’s little reason to buy a stock rated average by the street (buy an index fund instead and get the same resutl with less risk) GE is treading water.

Paraphrasing JP Morgan at Barron’s

Try as it might, General Electric (GE) just can’t get anything going. Don’t expect that to change in 2015, say the folks at JPMorgan.

We began our investment career working with GE employees and retirees.  We once worked for GE.  We remember how well the stock did under the leadership of Jack Welch.

We also have a well-founded skepticism of Wall Street analysis.  That said, we are not better than anyone else in predicting the future.  We don’t know when (or if) GE will regain its footing and begin to grow at a rate that will make it more attractive.  In the meantime, the main thing GE has going for it is a dividend yield over 3.5%.

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Financial tips for corporate executives

The December 2014 issue of Financial Planning magazine had an article about “Strategies for Wealthy Execs.” It begins:

Just because your clients are successful executives doesn’t mean they understand their own finances.

And that’s true. Successful executives are good at running businesses or giant corporations. But that does not make them experts in personal finance.

One of the ways executives are compensated is with stock options. But options must be exercised or they will expire. Yet 11% of in-the-money stock options are allowed to expire each year. That’s usually because they don’t pay attention to their stock option statements.

Executives usually end up with concentrated positions in their company’s stock. Prudence requires that everyone, especially including corporate executives, have to be properly diversified. Their shares may be restricted and can only be sold under the SEC’s Rule 144. To prevent charges of insider trading, many executives sell their company stock under Rule 10b5-1.

An additional consideration for executives is charitable giving. Higher income and capital gains tax rates make it beneficial for richer executives to set up donor-advised funds, charitable lead trusts, charitable remainder trusts, or family foundations.

For more information on these strategies, consult a knowledgeable financial planner.

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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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GE Earnings

Many of our clients are either GE employees, GE retirees or have some other relation to GE.  For that reason – and because GE is one of the big old companies that define the bedrock of American industry – we would like to share the GE earnings announcement.  The comments are taken from “Seeking Alpha.”

On October 17, General Electric (NYSE:GE) reported third quarter operating earnings of $0.38/share, up $0.02 or 6% from the prior year, beating consensus estimates by $0.01/share. Revenues increased 1% to $36.2 billion, with non-GE Capital revenues up 3%. Industrial profits increased 9%, to $4.3 billion in the quarter with margins increasing by 90 basis points. Backlog of equipment and services also grew 9%, to $250 billion. The Company confirmed the Synchrony Financial (NYSE:SYF) split-off would be completed in late 2015. The sale of the Appliance division to Electrolux is expected to generate an after-tax gain of $0.05-$0.07 per share. GE disclosed the Alstom acquisition, targeted to close in 2015, is expected add $0.06-$0.09 per share to earnings in 2016, potentially adding about 3% to current 2016 forecasts (consensus of $1.91/share). The Company also reiterated its goal of having 75% of its earnings from industrial businesses by 2016.

This article only reflects the author’s opinion. It is not designed, and should not be used as the basis of an investor’s buy or sell decision. Investors should always conduct their own due diligence and make their own buy and sell decisions.

To read a sample of our book BEFORE I GO, please visit our website.

 

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Investing like Bill Gates

Bill Gates’ fortune has ballooned to $82 billion according to the Wall Street Journal. It puts him at the top of the Forbes 500 list of the world’s richest people. And it’s not due to the price of Microsoft stock.

Over the years, Bill Gates has done what any savvy investor does, he’s diversified. He has sold about $40 billion of his Microsoft shares and has given $30 billion to charity. So what’s he done to get even richer? He has hired a money manager. The man’s name is Michael Larson and Gates has given him his “complete trust and faith.”

Gates gave a party in Larson’s honor, toasting him by saying that “Melinda [Gates wife] and I are free to pursue our vision of a healthier and better-educated world because of what Michael has done.”

The way Bill Gates has managed his fortune is a lesson for every investor. There are three distinct things that are worth noting.

1. Diversification. The first rule of risk control – making sure you don’t lose your money –  is diversification. This issue has been beaten to death, yet we still see people with portfolios which are concentrated in one or two stocks. This is often the case of an employee who has bought his company’s stock over many years. Small business owners are even guiltier. Often their single biggest asset is their business. It’s even more important for the owner of a chain of dry cleaners, fast food outlets or a real estate developer to build an investment portfolio that will be there if their business declines. Only about 15% of Gates’ fortune is invested in Microsoft stock. If Microsoft were to close up shop tomorrow, Gates lifestyle would not be affected. He would still be immensely wealthy. Many business owners can’t say the same thing.

2. Hire an investment professional to manage your money. Gates knows computers and computer software. He’s smart, savvy and knows that he lacks investment expertise. Gates hired Larson in 1994, realizing that if he was going to diversify he had to hire someone who was an expert investor to manage his money. The Gates fortune grew from $5 billion when he hired Larson to $82 billion today. Larson has autonomy to buy and sell investments as he sees fit. His portfolio includes stocks, bonds and real estate. He has a staff of about 100 people to help him do the hard work of managing the Gates fortune.

3. Focus on what you enjoy and do best. Because they have someone they can trust managing their money, Gates and his wife can pursue their vision. Most people’s interests revolve around their family, their work or hobbies. Managing the family investments is a distraction from what people want to do. Besides, few people are investment professionals. That’s why Gates example is worth following. Unless you have Gates’ wealth you can’t afford your own dedicated, private, investment manager. But there are investment managers – like Larson – who manage the assets of multiple families.  They can take care of your investments while you focus on the things that are important to you.

Gates gets an update on his investments every two months. Not every investment has been successful, but they are good enough to have returned Gates to the top of the wealth list.

If you are still managing your own money, or have an account with a broker who calls you with investment ideas from time to time, isn’t it time to think about the way the richest man in the world handles his money? Call Korving & Company and let us show you what we can do for you.

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10 Common Mistakes Made with company retirement plans.

Surveys say that most people don’t take full advantage of company sponsored retirement plans.

What are some of the most common mistakes?

1. Many people never participate at all, and others wait months or years to participate.
2. Failure to make enough of a contribution to obtain the full company match.
3. Failure to increase your contribution after getting a raise.
4. Failure to study the investment choices.
5. Putting too much of the money into company stock.
6. Failure to re-balance the portfolio on a regular basis.
7. Leaving the plan behind when changing jobs.
8. Failure to name a beneficiary.
9. Failure to review beneficiary information.
10. Cashing the plan out before retirement.

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Investment Mistakes Millionaires Make

Think millionaires don’t make investing mistakes?  Think again. The deVere Group asked some of its wealthy clients to tell them about the biggest investing mistakes they made before getting professional guidance. It demonstrates that the rich are not that much different. Keep in mind that many people get rich by starting a successful business or inheriting money. That does not make them smart investors.

Here’s a list of five common investment mistakes, and how to avoid them:

5. Focusing Too Much On Historical Returns

Too often investors look at stocks, bonds and mutual funds in the rear view mirror, expecting the future to be a repeat of the past. This is rarely the case. It’s why mutual fund prospectuses always state “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Too many investors buy into last year’s top investment ideas, only to find that they bought an over-priced lemon. Investment decisions need to be made with an eye to the future, not the past.

That’s why we build portfolios based on what we think the markets (& investments) will do in the next 6-36 months. Of course we also look at track records, but in a more sophisticated way than buying last year’s winners.  And when investing in mutual funds, it’s vitally important to examine who is responsible for the fund’s performance and if that person’s still managing the fund.

4. Not Reviewing the Portfolio Regularly

Things change and your portfolio will change with it, whether you watch it or not. If you don’t watch it you could own GM, Enron or one of the banks that closed during the crisis in 2008. Every investment decision needs to be reviewed. The question you always need to ask about the investments in your portfolio is “if I did not own this security would we buy it today?” If the answer is “no,” it may be time to make changes.

We review your portfolios regularly, to make sure you’re on track with your stated goals.  We also offer regular reviews with our clients and prepare reports for them to show how they are doing.

3. Making Emotional Decisions

The two emotions that dominate investment decisions are greed and fear. It’s the reason that the general public usually buys when the market is at the top and sells at the bottom.

We help take the emotion out of investing.  We have a system in place that helps keep emotion out of the equation.

2. Investing Without a Plan

Most portfolios we examine lack a plan. In many cases they are a collection of things that seemed like a good idea at the time. This is often the result of stockbrokers selling their clients investments without first finding out what they really need.

We always invest with a plan.  You tell us your goals, timeline, etc and then we use that as an investment guide.  We don’t care about beating arbitrary indexes; we care about helping you achieve your plans with the least amount of investment risk possible.

1. Not Diversifying Adequately

One of the biggest risks people make is lack of diversification. It’s called putting all your eggs in one basket.   This often happens when people work for a company that offers stock to employees via their 401(k) or other plan. Employees of Enron, who invested heavily in their own company via their retirement plan, were devastated when their company went broke.   Sometimes investors own several mutual funds, believing that they are properly diversified only to find that their funds all do the same thing.

Nobody has ever accused us of being under-diversified.  We champion broad diversification in every one of the MMF (Managed Mutual Fund) portfolios we create. We choose funds that invest in different segments of the investment market. We own many assets classes (bonds, stocks, etc.). We diversify geographically, including some overseas funds. And we have style diversity: growth vs. value, large cap. vs. small cap. With rare exceptions, there is always something in our portfolios that’s making you money.

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What is the purpose of a stock market?

Before there was a stock market, there were stock companies.

A stock company allows individuals to pool their money to create an organization to operate and grow.  Stock is used to determine how much a person owns of a company.  Owning a stock does not necessarily create wealth.  Wealth creation can only occur if the stock can be sold to someone else who is willing to pay you more for it than what you originally paid.  This led to the creation of a market for people who owned shares in stock companies.

A stock market has two functions.  First, it allows the owners of stock to sell their ownership interest easily and quickly.  Second, it also allows people who would like to be owners to buy an ownership interest quickly and easily.  Now even people who do not have substantial financial resources can participate in the growth in value of large enterprises.

For example, the founders of Apple were able to raise money for their company by selling their shares of Apple stock to people who were willing to bet that the company would be successful.  That was 1976.  In 1980 the shares of Apple were first allowed to be publicly traded.  As a result, the founding shareholders were able to profit from their original investment and the company itself raised millions of dollars that it could invest in growth.  It also allowed people who did not personally know the founders to become partial owners and benefit from the company’s growth.  The stock market allowed people who believed in Apple computers to bet on the company’s future, and also provided them with a ready market for their shares if they needed to sell or decided they no longer believed in the company’s future.

The bottom line is that the stock market creates liquidity.  Without liquidity it becomes much harder for a company to raise the capital it needs to grow in a modern economy.

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EXECUTIVE STOCK OPTIONS

One of the biggest problems executives have is a lack of time to set their own houses in order, Even those that have financial expertise don’t tend to take care of their own personal business. . It’s like the classic plumber with a leaky sink. This is especially true with executive stock options.

 A big risk for executives is that they don’t think about how to exercise their options appropriately. Many exercise when they need the cash. Instead, they ought to be considering the stock’s possible growth or the amount of time until expiration.

 Often people doing either one of two things, they either need money for a major purchase so they exercise options, or they are going to wait to the last minute until the options are about to expire. The answer is to get executives to think more strategically about their options—consider tax ramifications with other income and avoid waiting until the last minute to exercise, which could mean being forced to exercise at the current price, however good or bad it is.

Diversification is also obviously a huge problem for corporate executives, whose portfolios are often concentrated with a single stock. But it’s a sensitive topic for them, since selling out of positions is often the prudent course financially, but not always good for public relations.

It’s especially a problem for the top executives at a company. They are often under the microscope if they sell a stock or exercise an option. It’s public knowledge and viewed negatively by the public who wonder if the CEO is selling because there’s a problem.

 Getting the advice of an unbiased financial advisor who integrates stock option exercise with an over-all investment plan is very often the best answer.

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