Tag Archives: Investment strategy

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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When is the Next Recession?

One of our favorite market analysts, Brian Wesbury – who coined the term “Plow horse Economy” to describe the current economic situation – has been accused of being a “perma-bull” because he had discounted all the predictions of recession over the last 7 1/2 years.  We can understand why people are concerned about recessions because 2008 is still fresh in our minds.  The recovery that began in 2009 has been anemic.  Millions of people have not seen their financial situation improve.

Remember fears about adjustable-rate mortgage re-sets, or the looming wave of foreclosures that would lead to a double-dip recession? Remember the threat of widespread defaults on municipal debt? Remember the hyperinflation that was supposed to come from Quantitative Easing? Or how about the Fiscal Cliff, Sequester, or the federal government shutdown? Or the recession we were supposed to get from higher oil prices…and then from lower oil prices? How about the recession from the looming breakup of the Euro or Grexit or Brexit?

None of these things has brought on the oft-predicted recession.  Wesbury says that at some point a recession will come.  We have not reached the point where fiscal or economic policy has eliminated that possibility.  He mentions several indicators, including truck sales and “core” industrial production as indicators that should be watched.

Meanwhile,

Job growth continues at a healthy clip. Initial unemployment claims have averaged 261,000 over the past four weeks and have been below 300,000 for 80 straight weeks. Consumer debt payments are an unusually low share of income and consumers’ seriously delinquent debts are still dropping.   Wages are accelerating. Home building has risen the past few years even as the homeownership rate has declined, making room for plenty of growth in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, there haven’t been any huge shifts in government policy in the past two years. Yes, policy could be much better, but the pace of bad policies hasn’t shifted into overdrive lately.

In other words, our forecast remains as it has been the past several years, for more Plow Horse economic growth.   But you should never have any doubt that we are constantly on the lookout for something that can change our minds.

While the next recession may or may not be right around the corner, serious investors should be prepared for the eventuality so that when it does arrive, they will be ready.   We invite your inquiries.

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Dogs of the Dow Revisited

The “Dogs of the Dow” are the ten highest yielding stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  The reason they were referred to as “Dogs” is because stocks with unusually high dividend yields are often stocks whose prices have dropped, sometimes dramatically, because of bad news.

American companies, unlike their European counterparts, try to keep their dividends steady or increase them over time.  If they run into problems, including earnings declines, reducing the quarterly dividend is usually the last step.

To give an example, if a company whose stock which is priced at $100 per share pays a $2.50 dividend it is said to have a 2.5% yield.   If the company runs into problems and its share price drops to $50, the dividend yield is now 5.0%.  Thus it becomes a “Dog.”

Most companies run into problems from time to time: sales slow down and investors sell to invest in the next new thing.  That’s what happened to McDonalds a few years ago.  When oil prices dropped sharply so did the price of oil company stocks.  When natural resources prices dropped because of reduced demand so did the price of companies like Caterpillar which makes mining equipment.  Technology goes in and out of favor for various reasons and so does the price of tech stocks.

But most companies learn how to cope with adversity and make the appropriate changes to make a comeback.  That’s what often happens and it provides a way for investors to buy companies when they are cheap and make a profit.

The Dogs of the  Dow are a method of creating a portfolio of high yielding but out-of-favor stocks in the expectation that most will recover and provide a nice profit.

 So how have the “Dogs” done over the past 5 years?  We have tracked the performance of the “Dogs” using the share prices and yields of the 10 highest yielding DJIA stocks as of the last trading day of the previous year.  Here are the results:

  • 2011          16.4%
  • 2012          10.1%
  • 2013          19.1%
  • 2014         10.6%
  • 2015           2.9%

These returns are “total returns” and include dividends but do not include fees or expenses.  It should also be noted to these returns are different if the starting point was not the value as of the end of the prior year and the ending point was different.  It should also be noted that a 10 stock portfolio is not properly diversified and I have simplified the process of buying, trading and balancing the “Dogs.”

As a final note, this strategy was popular in the 1990s and as it became more popular it became less effective.  In addition, as technology stocks gained popularity in the late 1990s, the “Dogs of the Dow” lost money as investors moved massively away from old-line DJIA stocks and into the tech sector.  As they say in the prospectuses, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

For more information, contact us.

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Does the Bull Market Have Room to Run?

From time to time we share the thoughts of prominent stock market analysts.  As the markets reach new heights, we scour the headlines and find prophets of gloom and doom just about everywhere.  We are by cautious by nature, but not given to hyperbole.

Here is the market as viewed by Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust:

Now, the pessimists can’t stop talking about profits. Both S&P 500 reported earnings and the government’s economy-wide measure of corporate earnings are down 4.9% from a year ago.

In hindsight, corporate profits peaked in 2014, just like they did in 1978, 1988, 1997, and 2006. So, they say, a recession and bear market are on the way, just like the ones that followed those peaks in profits as well. It’s time to sell, again!

One problem with this theory is that it assumes the decline in profits is permanent. But profits have been hurt by the downdraft of energy prices, which crushed profits in that sector, while also hurting other related businesses. However, energy prices are rebounding while profits outside of energy are accelerating.

In addition, the ingredients for a recession are not yet there. Monetary policy is not tight, consumer and corporate balance sheets are healthy, and the recovery in home building has much further to go.

….

None of this means the stock market must go up today, or this week, or even in the year ahead. But it does bolster our case for a continuation of the bull market.

Quite an alternate view from many of the talking heads on CNBC.  If Wesbury is indeed right, the Bull Market has room to run.  In the meantime we’ll continue to invest with caution.  Like the Boy Scouts, we’re always prepared.  No one rings a bell when the market turns and we want to be positioned so that we will not be blindsided when it does.

If you are uncertain about what to do, contact us.  We’ll be glad to help.

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Getting Financial Help

When people have financial questions, what do they look for?  According to a recent survey most people are looking for someone with experience.  We want to take advice from people who are familiar with the issues we face and know what to do about them.  We all know people with experience, but financial problems, like medical problems, are personal.  Most people we know would rather not go into detail about their personal finances with family or friends.  They are more comfortable sitting down with a financial professional to discuss their finances, their debts, their financial concerns, and their financial goals in both the short and long term. Professionals will provide advice without being judgmental and are required by their code of ethics to keep your information confidential.

Once people find someone who has a track record of giving good, professional advice, they want personalized advice and “holistic” planning.

No two people have exactly the same problems.  A good financial advisor listens attentively to learn the goals, the concerns and personal history of the people who come to him for advice.

People have specific issues and questions.  For example: a couple, aged 39, is seeking advice about their path to retirement.  They give their financial advisor a laundry list of their assets, their investments, their savings rate, their debts, and the ages of their children and ask if they should be doing something different or are they on the right path.  That’s a very specific question and the advisor’s response is going to be personalized for them.

The plan that the advisor comes up with is going to involve much more than money.  It’s going to take their personal characteristics into account.  This includes personal experience with investing, their risk tolerance, and their closely held beliefs and ethical values.  This is what is referred to as “holistic” planning; taking personal characteristics into consideration.

There is a fairly big difference in the advice sought by

  • “Millennials” (those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the current century),
  • “Generation X” (the children of the Baby Boomers) and the
  • “Baby Boomers” (children of the soldiers returning from World War 2)

“Millenials” say that among their top three concerns are saving for a large expense such as a car or a wedding.  Too many are saddled by debt acquired to pay for higher education and are finding that their degrees are not necessarily an entry into high paying professional jobs.  Their next largest concerns are saving for their kids’ education and putting money aside for retirement.

“Generation X” is primarily focused on saving for retirement.  They are married, own their own home and may have children in college.  Concerns two and three are tax reduction and paying for their children’s education.

“Baby Boomers” have finally reached retirement age.  More than a quarter million turn 65 each month.  As a group they are a large and wealthy generation, but a vast number have not saved enough for a comfortable retirement.  Many are forced to continue to work to supplement Social Security income.  Their number one concern is the cost of health care.  Concerns two and three are protecting their assets and having enough income for retirement.  The three concerns for Baby Boomers are inter-connected.  For many Boomers, Medicare helps them with the costs associated with most medical issues.  However, as people live longer, there comes a time when they are unable to care for themselves and live independently.  Long-term-care insurance was once believed to be the answer but insurance companies found that costs were much greater than anticipated.  The result is that many insurers have stopped offering the policies and those remaining have hiked premiums beyond the ability of many to pay.  The cost of long term care is so high that many Boomers are afraid that their savings will soon be exhausted if they are forced into assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Each generation has its own problems and at a time when the world has gotten much more complicated.  Getting experienced, personalized and holistic financial advice is more important than ever.

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Taking Advantage of a Declining Stock Market Might Actually Help Your Retirement

savings questions

Saving for retirement is like a long journey.  On this journey, a declining stock market can work to your advantage if you take the opportunity.

A declining stock market is a chance to buy cheap; a time when stocks go “on sale.”  If the stock of a great company drops in price by half, you can buy twice the number of shares.  When it eventually recovers, you have twice the wealth.

“Dollar cost averaging” is an old technique that has been used by patient investors who put a fixed amount of money into their portfolios in good markets and bad.  It allows them to buy more shares when the market is cheap and fewer shares when the market’s expensive.

When workers put a fixed amount of money into their 401(k) plan this is exactly what they are doing.

Even people who are no longer adding money to their portfolios can take advantage of market fluctuations.  By rebalancing their portfolios regularly they buy more of what’s cheap and sell some of what’s expensive.

Taking advantage of these opportunities requires three things:

  1. Patience to view your goals from a long-term perspective.
  2. Keeping the emotions of greed and fear out of your investment decisions.
  3. Adding to your portfolio with regular contributions and strategic rebalancing.

Millions of people are using this approach to achieve their long-term savings strategy.  Using market declines to buy allows people to accumulate more money for retirement.  If you need help with patience, emotions, or investment strategies contact an RIA like Korving & Company.

Send for our free brochure: “Are You Ready for Retirement?”

 

 

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Should you own real estate?

Old house Stock Photo

We visit Nerdwallet from time to time to answer questions from readers looking for financial advice.  One recent question was from a single mom who’s buying a new house and is thinking of keeping her old house as a rental property.  She wanted to know if it was a good idea to sell most of her stocks and use the proceeds to buy the new house rather than selling the old one.

This question is not uncommon.  We have a number of clients who have invested in rental real estate.  The answer is not clear-cut and depends to a large extent on the individual.  Are you are a handyman and love to work on carpentry projects?  Or are you a single mom who’s disappointed with her stock market investments?

In the run-up to the Great Recession, lots of people got into real estate, flipping houses for a quick profit.   For many people that experience ended in grief when housing prices collapsed.  However, many people view real estate as an investment rather than a place to live.

So what are the issues involved?  Here’s part of my answer (edited):

You have to take taxes, liquidity and return on equity into consideration.  First, when you sell your stocks you will have to pay capital gains taxes on any profit.

The second issue is the fact that while stocks are liquid (easy to sell) a house is not liquid in case you have to sell to meet a financial emergency.

The third thing to consider is what the return will be on the equity on your rental property.  The rent you receive is not all profit.  From this you have to deduct taxes and maintenance.  Then there’s the problem of actually collecting your rent: some tenants won’t pay on time – or at all – and how do you evict them?  And when people move you will have to repair and paint to get it ready for the next tenant.   Unless you’re handy you may have to pay a company to manage the property for you, which reduces your income.  Finally the return on real estate has actually been lower than the return on stocks over long periods of time.

On the plus side, you can view free cash flow from rents as similar to dividends from stocks.  And there are tax benefits from deprecation on rental property.

The bottom line, there are benefits to owning commercial real estate, but there are also drawbacks. Once you make a commitment to owning rental property, there’s no easy way out.  People should think long and hard before plunging into this market.

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Slow and steady wins the race

Tortoise-and-the-Hare

 

We have all heard Aesop’s Fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare.  The hare, convinced that he was much faster than the tortoise, took time out for a meal and a nap.   When he woke up he realized his mistake but the tortoise crossed the finish line first.

It seems that this fable is especially true about how people grow rich when investing.   There are some spectacularly wealth people who got that way virtually over night – we have all read about them – but the vast majority of the “High Net Worth” (HNW) people –  those with at least $3 million in investable assets – did it the tortoise way.

The interesting thing about these HNW people is that they rose from the poor and the middle class; they did not inherit their wealth.

A study by Bank of America and U.S. Trust found that 77% – more than three quarters – of their clients grew their wealth slowly.  83% said that they grew rich by making small wins rather than taking large risks.  They grew their wealth by careful investing and avoiding major losses.

In our practice we have met quite a few people who managed to turn modest incomes into multi-million dollar portfolios.  We have also spoken with people who took big investment risks only to fail, and have to continue to work long after they planned to retire.

It’s up to each one of us to decide what race we wish to run.  But keep in mind that the odds favor the tortoise over the hare.  And if you have a problem with the slow-but-steady approach to wealth, get a good RIA who will guide you.

 

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The Trouble with 401(k) Plans

assets.sourcemedia.com

The 401(k) plan is now the primary retirement plan for employees in the private sector and Ted Benna isn’t happy.  Benna is regarded as the “father” of the 401(k) plan but now he calls his child a “monster.”

There are several problems modern with 401(k) type plans.

  1. They are too complicated. The typical 401(k) plan has dozens of investment options. These are often included to satisfy government regulatory demands for broad diversification.  For the plan sponsor, who has a fiduciary responsibility, more is better.  However, for the typical worker, this just creates confusion.  He or she is not an expert in portfolio construction.  Investment choices are often made when an employee gets a new job and there are other things that are more pressing than creating the perfect portfolio.  Which leads to the second problem.
  1. Employees are given too little information. Along with a list of funds available to the employee, the primary information provided is the past performance of the funds in the plan.  However, we are constantly reminded that past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But if past performance is the main thing that the employee goes by, he or she will often invest in high-flying funds that are likely to expose them to the highest risk, setting them up for losses when the market turns.
  1. There are no in-house financial experts available to employees. Employee benefits departments are not equipped to provide guidance to their employees; that’s not their function.  In fact, they are discouraged from providing any information beyond the list of investment options and on-line links to mutual fund prospectuses.  Doing more exposes the company to liability if the employee becomes unhappy.

What’s the answer?  Until there are major revisions to 401(k) plans, it’s up to the employee to get help.  One answer is to meet with a financial advisor – an RIA – who is able and willing to accept the responsibility of providing advice and creating an appropriate portfolio using the options available in the plan.  There will probably be a fee associated with this advice, but the result should be a portfolio that reflects the employee’s financial goals and risk tolerance.

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Planning to Retire Someday? Start Planning Today!

Americans want help with financial planning.

A recent survey showed that most Americans don’t want to do their own financial planning but they don’t know where to go for help.  60% of adults say that managing their finances is a chore and many of them lack the skills or time to do a proper job.

The need for financial planning has never been greater.  For most of history, retirement was a dream that few lived long enough to achieve.  In a society where most people lived on farms, people relied on family for support.  Financial planning meant having enough children so that when you could no longer work, if you were fortunate enough to reach old age,  you could live with them.

The industrial revolution took people away from the farm and into cities.  Life expectancy increased.  In the beginning of the 20th century life expectancy at birth was about 48 years.  Government and industry began offering pensions to their employees.  Social Security, which was signed into law in 1935, was not designed to provide a full post-retirement income but to increase income for those over 65.

For decades afterward, retirement planning for many Americans meant getting a lifetime job with a company so that you could retire with a pension.  The responsibility to adequately fund the pension fell on the employer.  Over time, as more benefits were added, many companies incurred pension and retirement benefit obligations that became unsustainable.  General Motors went bankrupt partially because of the amount of money it owed to retired workers via pension and health obligations.

As a result, companies are abandoning traditional pension plans (known as “defined benefit plans”) in favor of 401(k) plans (known as “defined contribution plans.”) This shifts the burden of post-retirement income from the employer to the worker.   Instead of knowing what your pension income will be, employees are responsible for investing their money wisely so that they will have enough saved to allow them to retire.

In years past, people who invested some of their money in stocks, bonds and mutual funds viewed this as extra savings for their retirement years.  With the end of defined benefit pension plans, investing for retirement has become much more serious.  The kind of lifestyle people will have in retirement depends entirely on how well they manage their 401(k) plans, their IRAs and other investments.

Fortunately, the people who are beginning their careers are recognizing that there will probably not be pensions for them when they retire.  Even public employees like teachers, municipal and state employees are going to get squeezed.  Stockton, California declared bankruptcy over it’s pension obligations.  The State of Illinois’ pension obligations are only 24% funded.  Other states are facing a similar problem.

In fact, many Millennials we talk to question whether Social Security will even be there for them.  They also realize that they need help planning.  Traditional brokerage firms provide some guidance, but the average stock broker may not have the training, skills or tools to create a financial plan.  Mutual fund organizations can offer some guidance but getting personal financial guidance via a 800 number is not the kind of inpersonal relationship that most people want.

But there is an answer.  The rapidly growing independent RIA (Registered Investment Advisor) industry offers the kind of personal guidance that people want to help them create and execute a successful financial plan that will take them from work through retirement.  Many RIAs are also Certified Financial Planners (CFP™).  Many are fiduciaries who put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.  Dealing with a local RIA is like dealing with a family friend who’s can act as your personal financial guide.

For more information, and a copy of our book Before I Go, contact us.

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