Tag Archives: investing

Investing vs. Trading

Market commentary from Brian Wesbury of First Trust.
Are you an investor or a trader? Investors think long-term, while traders focus on short-term price movements.
Trading furs, cloth, commodities, or tulips, has gone back centuries, if not millennium, but was about adding value and moving goods to markets. In other words, through trading many ran businesses that looked a great deal like investing.
The “ticker tape” allowed the trading of financial products, but after the Great Depression many wouldn’t touch stocks for decades. Now, financial market news and quotes are on TV all-day and pushed out over smartphones. This can encourage “trading” over “investing.” Or another way of saying the same thing, the short-term over the long-term.
For example, many people have zero idea what Bitcoin is, why it is needed, or what gives it value, but they are mesmerized by it nonetheless. It’s just digital scrip – an alternative to sovereign currency. It pays no dividend and isn’t widely accepted. No one knows if it will last.
In the meantime, there are monumental events taking place that get missed if one focuses on the trees and not the forest. Horizontal drilling and fracking are one of those.
Remember when the world was about to run out of natural gas and oil? Remember when the Middle East and Russia, because of their energy reserves, could dominate geopolitics?
Well, all that has changed. The US is now the world’s biggest energy producer and, by 2020, the US is likely to become a net energy exporter to the rest of the world. This explains the political upheaval in Saudi Arabia as the royal family moves slowly toward a more free-market friendly environment. Russia faces similar forces that, in the end, will create more global stability.
Because of US supplies, Europe can become less dependent on Russian oil and natural gas. In addition, just like when Ronald Reagan was president of the US, as the pendulum swings toward less regulation, lower tax rates and smaller government, Europe must follow suit.
The combination of these developments causes stronger global economic growth, which is great news for investors. However, the dominance of governments in recent decades, and the reporting of every utterance of Federal Reserve or foreign central bankers, creates anxiety among many investors. Some investors are worried about a flattening, or inversion, of the yield curve as the Fed tightens.
But these concerns are overdone. It’s true that an inverted yield curve signals tight money, but inversions typically don’t happen until the Fed pulls enough reserves out of the system to push the federal funds rate above nominal GDP growth. Right now, that’s about 3.5%, which means the Fed is likely at least two years away. And, the banking system is still stuffed with over $2 trillion in excess bank reserves. Monetary policy, by definition, is not tight until those excess reserves are gone.
Focusing on trading, and not investing, misses these longer-term developments and highlights short-term fears.  Patience, persistence and optimism help avoid the pitfalls of short-term thinking. The current environment will continue to reward those who stay focused on investing.
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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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The Fate of Social Security for Younger Workers – And Three Things You Should Do Right Now

We constantly hear people wonder whether Social Security will still be there when they retire.  The question comes not just from people in their 20’s, but also from people in their 40’s and 50’s as they begin to think more about retirement.  It’s a fair question.

Some estimates show that the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money by 2034.  Medicare is in even worse shape, projected to run out of money by 2029.  That’s not all that far down the road.

So how do we plan for this?

The reality is that Social Security and Medicare benefits have been paid out of the U.S. Treasury’s “general fund” for decades.  The taxes collected for Social Security and Medicare all go into the general fund.  The idea that there is a special, separate fund for those programs is accounting fiction.  What is true is that the taxes collected for Social Security and Medicare are less than the amount being paid out.

What this inevitably means is that at some point the government may be forced to choose between increasing taxes for Social Security and Medicaid, reducing or altering benefits payments, or going broke.

Another question is whether the benefits provided to retirees under these programs will cover the cost living.  Older people spend much more on medical expenses than the young, and medical costs are increasing much faster than the cost of living adjustments in Social Security payments.  If a larger percentage of a retiree’s income from Social Security is spent on medical expenses, they will obviously have to make cuts in other expenses – be they food, clothing, or shelter – negatively impacting the lifestyle they envisioned for retirement.

The wise response to these issues is to save as much of your own money for retirement as possible while you are working.  There is little you can do about Social Security or Medicare benefits – outside of voting or running for public office – but you are in control over the amount you save and how you invest those savings.

As we face an uncertain future, we advocate that you take these three steps:

  1. Increase your savings rate.
  2. Prepare a retirement plan.
  3. Invest your retirement assets wisely.

If you need help with these steps, give us a call.  It’s what we do.

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Putting RMDs to Work

When you’re over 70 ½ and have a retirement plan you have to start taking money out of the plan (with rare exceptions).  But even if you remember to take annual RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions) you could use help preparing for and managing the process. This includes reinvesting RMDs you don’t need immediately for living expenses.

It isn’t as simple as “Here’s your RMD, now go take it.”  Baby Boomers often retire with IRA and 401(k) balances instead of the defined benefit plans their predecessors often had.  And the rules are often complicated.  Take the retiree who has an IRA and a 401(k) that he left behind with a previous employer.

Many are surprised to learn that they have to take separate RMDs on their 401(k) and their traditional IRA.  RMDs must be calculated separately and distributed separately from each employer-sponsored account. But RMDs for IRAs can be aggregated, and the total can be withdrawn from one or multiple IRAs.  That’s one of the reasons that advisors suggest rolling your 401(k) into an IRA when leaving an employer for a new job or when retiring.

Steep penalties apply.  The failure to take a required minimum distribution results in a penalty of 50% of the RMD amount.

According to a 2016 study from Vanguard, IRAs subject to RMDs had a median withdrawal rate of 4% and a median spending rate of 1%. For employer plans subject to RMDs, the median withdrawal rate was 4% and the median spending rate was 0%.  A mandatory withdrawal doesn’t mean a mandatory spend.  Most retirees don’t need the income they are required to take from their plans.  As a result the money usually goes right back into an investment account.

If you have an investment account that is designed for your risk tolerance and goals, the money coming out of your retirement account should be invested so as to maintain your balanced portfolio.

For questions on this subject, please contact us.

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Warren Buffett lost money this year.

Even the savviest investor can have a bad year. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is down over 11% in 2015.

The reason for the decline is the declining price of oil and other commodities. Berkshire Hathaway has a big investment in railroads that make much of their money hauling commodities such as oil and coal.

It also has big positions in American Express and IBM which declined 24% and 13% respectively this year.

If you broke even this year you beat the “Wizard of Omaha.”

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Active vs. passive investing

There is a great deal of misperception about the merits of passive vs. active investing.

First, let’s define terms for people who are not familiar with investment styles. Passive investing is buying all the stocks in an index, like the S&P500. Since there is no research involved and the only time an index fund makes a change is when there’s a change in the index, costs are kept low. Active investing, on the other hand, means that a fund manager looks at the stock market and buys those stocks he thinks will go up and avoids those that he believes will go down. Obviously he won’t be right all the time, but if he’s a good manager his selection will result in a fund that will do better than average.

That’s a simple explanation. It doesn’t get into factors such as value vs. growth, risk adjusted returns and other nuances. But it’s the basic concept.

Much is made about expense ratios and average returns. A lot of this confusion is the result of marketing by John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Funds who made a fortune by promising his clients that they would never do better than average … and that was a good thing.

So why didn’t investing legend Warren Buffett give up stock picking and put his money in an index fund? Because he’s a good stock picker who can add value and get a better return on his money than a stock index. And Buffett isn’t the only one.

There are money managers who can add value to a portfolio, a better risk-adjusted return than the market. And there are managers who do worse. Knowing the difference requires years of research and expertise. That is what we at Korving & Company provide to our clients. We create a diversified portfolio of mutual funds tailored to the needs of our clients using funds managed by individuals who have demonstrated that they can add value over and above an index.

Without that, many investors are better off being average.

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