Category: Asset Allocation

Protecting and Growing Wealth when Nearing Retirement

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.

What does planning mean for you?

Financial planning is about more than assets, investments and net worth.  It’s about what you want to do with your money and why.  It’s about identifying your concerns, expectations and goals.  It’s about how you feel and what you want.

Financial planning helps address common fears and concerns such as health care costs, outliving your money and the best time to file for Social Security benefits.

The “Confidence Meter” helps you gauge how likely you are to reach your goals and whether you are on track instead of focusing on headlines.

Financial planning takes your risk tolerance into account.  You will get a “Risk Number” that guides you to the kind of investment you should have.

Learn more about how financial planning can help you by contacting us at Korving & Company today.

What does “diversification” mean?

To many retail investors “diversification” means owning a collection of stocks, bonds, mutual funds or Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).  But that’s really not what diversification is all about.

What’s the big deal about diversification anyhow?

Diversification means that you are spreading the risk of loss by putting your investment assets in several different categories of investments.  Examples include stocks, bonds, money market instruments, commodities, and real estate.  Within each of these categories you can slice even finer.  For example, stocks can be classified as large cap (big companies), mid cap (medium sized companies), small cap (smaller companies), domestic (U.S. companies), and foreign (non-U.S. companies).

And within each of these categories you can look for industry diversification.  Many people lost their savings in 2000 when the “Tech Bubble” burst because they owned too many technology-oriented stocks.  Others lost big when the real estate market crashed in late 2007 because they focused too much of their portfolio in bank stocks.

The idea behind owning a variety of asset classes is that different asset classes will go in different directions independent of each other.  Theoretically, if one goes down, another may go up or hold it’s value.  There is a term for this: “correlation.”  Investment assets that have a high correlation tend to move in the same direction, those with a low correlation do not.  These assumptions do not always hold true, but they are true often enough that proper diversification is a valuable tool to control risk.

Many investors believe that if they own a number of different mutual funds they are diversified.  They are, of course, more diversified than someone who owns only a single stock.  But many funds own the same stocks.  We have to look within the fund, to the things they own, and their investment styles, to find out if your funds are merely duplicates of each other or if you are properly diversified.

You need to look at a “portfolio x-ray” which will show you how much overlap there is between two or more mutual funds.

Only by looking at your portfolio with this view of diversification can you determine if you are diversified or if you have accidentally concentrated your portfolio without realizing it.

Why Rebalance 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 rebalancing 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 rebalance back to your preferred allocation by selling from the stock portfolio and using the proceeds to buy more bonds.  During “bear” markets your bond portfolio will grow out of its range.  Rebalancing at this point will cause you to add to the stock portion of your portfolio, even as emotion is probably urging you in the opposite direction.

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

Single Women and Investing

Women are in charge of more than half of the investable assets in this country.  A recent Business Insider article claims that women now control 51% of U.S. wealth worth $14 trillion, a number that’s expected to grow to $22 trillion by 2020.

Single women, whether divorced, widowed, or never married, have been a significant part of our clientele since our founding.  Widows that come to us appreciate that we listen and take time to educate them, especially if their spouses managed the family finances.  Once their initial concerns are alleviated they’re often terrific investors because they are able to take a long-term view and don’t let short-term issues rattle them very much.

Unfortunately, we have had women complain to us that other advisors that they’ve had in the past did not want to discuss the details of their investments and the strategy employed. Other women have come to us with portfolios that were devastated by inadequate diversification.

Our female clients are intelligent adults who hire us to do our best for them so that they can focus on the things that are important to them.  We are always happy to get into as much detail on their portfolios as they require.  Our focus on education, communication, diversification and risk control has led to a large and growing core of women investors, many of whom have been with us for decades.

Our book, BEFORE I GO, and the accompanying BEFORE I GO WORKBOOK, is a must-have for women who are with a spouse that handles the family finances.  Men who have always handled the family finances should also grab a copy and fill out the workbook.  If something were to happen to them, it would be a tremendous relief to their spouse to have such a resource when taking over the financial duties. 

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.

Are You an "Affluent Worker?"

Forbes magazine recently had an article about some of our favorite clients. They call them the “High Net Worker.” These are people who are successful mid-level executives in major businesses. They range in age from 40 to the early 60s. They earn from $200,000 per year and often more than $500,000. They work long hours and are good at their jobs.

According to the Forbes article, many have no plans to retire. Our experience is different; retirement is definitely an objective. But many have valuable skills and plan to begin a second career or consult after retiring from their current company.

At this time in their lives they have accumulated a fair amount of wealth, own a nice home in a good neighborhood, and may be getting stock options or deferred bonuses. That means that at this critical time in their lives, when they are focused on career and have little time for anything else, they have not done much in the way of financial planning.

When it comes to investing, most view themselves as conservative. But because of their compensation their investments are actually much riskier than they think. It is not unusual for executives of large corporations to have well over 50% of their net worth tied to their company’s stock. Few people realize the risks they are taking until something bad happens. For example, the industrial giant General Electric’s stock lost over 90% of its value over a nine year period ending in 2009. The stock of financial giant UBS dropped nearly 90% between May 2007 and February 2009. These companies survived. There are many household names, like General Motors and K-Mart whose shareholders lost everything.

The affluent worker’s family usually includes one or more children who are expected to go to college. Many of these families have a 529 college savings plan for their children. Most have IRAs and contribute to their company’s 401k plan, but because many don’t have a financial planner they do not have a well thought out strategy for this part of their portfolio.

At a time when many less affluent families are downsizing, many families in this category are either looking to upgrade their homes, buy a bigger home, or buy a second – vacation – home. They may even help their adult children with down-payments.

If you are an Affluent Worker, give us a call and see what we can do for you. If you already have a financial advisor, it may be time to get a second opinion.

What Rich People Need to Know

I ran across an article at Market Watch titled “Ten things rich people know that you don’t.”  It listed the usual things:

  • Start saving early
  • Automate your savings
  • Maximize contributions to 401(k)s
  • Don’t carry credit card debt
  • Live below your means
  • Educate yourself about investing
  • Diversify
  • Hire a qualified financial advisor

All of that is something to take to heart when you’re young and just starting in life.  But what do people who are already rich need to know?

Lots of people get rich without following the rules.  They may start a successful business, enter a highly compensated profession, climb the corporate ladder, win the lottery, become a sports star or inherit a fortune.   Once you are rich, the number one objective for most people is to stay rich.  One very successful financial advisor with just 28 very wealthy clients said

“People don’t come to me to get rich, they come to me to stay rich.”

That’s the role of a good financial advisor.   Their job is to  do more than manage their client’s portfolios, it’s to take care that all of the other boxes are checked off:  to diversify the client portfolio, to educate the client about investing, to see to it that they live within their means.  In many cases they take care of family issues, lifestyle issues; the kinds of things that family offices do.

It’s what we do.  It’s what our clients expect.

Have a wealth maintenance question?   Contact us.

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.

Benchmarking Inverts the Basics of Investing

The problem with “benchmarking”  – that is measuring your investment performance against market indexes (known as “benchmarks”) – is that it often leads to buying into asset bubbles.

During the tech boom of the last 20th century, billions of dollars went into internet stocks whose values became wildly inflated.  People who participated in this as a way of reaching for high rates of return, found that no one rang a bell when the party was over.  Many lost their retirement savings and saw their 401(k)s devastated.

Certain stocks become wildly popular, industries become wildly popular and investing styles become wildly popular, all of which leads to wildly inflated values.  This almost inevitably leads to financial pain.

But this does not only happen in the stock market.  In the first decade of the 21st century, real estate seemed to be a way of making outsized profits.  Of course, when the housing bubble collapsed, many not only lost money, but their homes.

The focus of serious investors is to align your portfolio with your personal objectives.  The focus should be on long-term – multi-year – performance.  The only benchmark that should concern you is the one you set for yourself.

At Korving & Company we keep our clients grounded and work with them to meet their personal benchmarks.  Contact us to do the same for you.

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