Category: Asset Allocation

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.

Don’t make these common mistakes when planning your retirement.

Planning to retire? Have all your ducks in a row? Know where your retirement income’s going to come from? Great! But don’t make some basic mistakes or you may find yourself working longer or living on a reduced income.

Retirement income is like a three legged stool. Take one of the legs away and you fall over.

The first leg of the stool is Social Security. Depending on your income goals, do it right and you can cover part of your retirement income from this source. Do it wrong and you can leave lots of money on the table.

The second leg is a pension. Many people have guaranteed pensions provided by their employer.  But these are gradually disappearing, replaced by 401(k) and similar plans known as “defined contribution” plans. If you don’t have a pension but want a second guaranteed lifetime income you can look into annuities that pay you a fixed income for life.

The third leg of the stool is your investment portfolio. This is where most people make mistakes and it can have a big impact in your retirement.

Mistake number one is leaving “orphan” 401(k) plans behind as you change jobs. These plans often represent a large part of a typical retiree’s investment assets. Our advice for people who move from one company to another is to roll their 401 (k) assets into an IRA. This gives you much more flexibility and many more investment choices, often at a lower cost than the ones you have in the typical 401(k).

Mistake number two is trying to time the market. Many people are tempted to jump in and out of the market based on nothing but TV talking heads, rumors, or their guess about what the market is going to do in the near future. Timing the market is almost always counter-productive. Instead, create a well balanced portfolio that can weather market volatility and stick with it.

Mistake number three is “set it and forget it.” The biggest factor influencing portfolio returns is asset allocation. And the one thing you can be sure of is that over time your asset allocation will change. You need to rebalance your portfolio to insure that your portfolio does not becoming more aggressive than you realize. If it does, you could find yourself facing a major loss just as you’re ready to retire. Rebalancing lets you “buy low and sell high,” something that everyone wants to do.

Mistake number four is to assume that the planning process ends with your retirement. The typical retiree will live another 25 year after reaching retirement age. To maintain you purchasing power your money continues to have to work hard for you. Otherwise inflation and medical expenses are going to deplete your portfolio and reduce your standard of living. Retirement plans should assume that you will live to at least 90, perhaps to 100.

Retirement planning is complicated and is best done with the help of an expert. Check out our website and feel free to give us a call. We wrote the book on retirement and estate planning.

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.

Getting business owners to diversify

 Successful business owners usually have strong confidence in the growth of their business.  As a result, they tend to invest most of their assets in their business.  They know their business, but are not nearly as knowledgeable about more liquid investments.  They are nervous about putting money into investment they can’t control and reluctant to turn large sums of money over to others to invest for them.

As a result, they often put their financial future at risk because the bulk of their net worth is tied up in the success or failure of their business.

The financial shock of 2008 brought this home to many companies.  Between 2008 and 2010 more than 200,000 small businesses closed.  The failure rate for new businesses is between 50{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} and 70{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}.  Once a business is established, the failure rate drops.  But any number of things can come along; changes in demographics, changes in the economy or even changes in surrounding area can cause a previously thriving business to close.

The challenge for the investment manager who offers to help the business owner diversify is to point out that a total focus on investing everything in his business leaves him and his family in a precarious situation.  One money manager likens it to riding a unicycle when they should be sitting on a piano bench.

The unicycle may be exciting and profitable, but you can easily fall.  The four legs of a piano bench are (1) the business, (2) a tax-qualified retirement plan, (3) a personal taxable portfolio and (4) real estate.  If the business is a huge success, the business owner wins big and, at retirement can sell out or leave it to his children.  If the business fails at some point, the other three legs of the piano bench are there to provide for his family and himself.

One investment advisor persuaded a reluctant entrepreneur to invest $5 million in a diversified portfolio instead of plowing it back into his company. At the meeting where the client finally agreed, his wife gave the advisor the thumbs-up behind her husband’s back, triumphantly mouthing the words, “My kids can go to college!”

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In times of market volatility … remain calm.

FIRST TRUST’S Brian Wesbury has some good advice for people who have been wondering about the market volatility so far this year.

After strong gains in 2013, equities have struggled this year.  Thursday and Friday felt a little panicky.  US stocks were down close to 3{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}, gold was up, and the 10-year Treasury yield fell below 2.75{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} for the first time since November.  Investors are on edge, short-sellers are a little giddy and we even heard a TV host mention the infamous “Black Swan” again.
It’s hard to tell exactly what triggered the “Risk Off” trade, but last Thursday, even though 15 out of 20 S&P 500 companies beat earnings estimates, weakness in the Chinese purchasing managers’ index set off some selling. So, is this a moment to “run for the hills” or to “pull on your parka and wait it out?”  We opt for the latter.  Right now, there’s a mad rush for a narrative to explain the recent market stumbles.  One is that Chinese weakness hurts commodity exporters.  Another is Federal Reserve “tapering” is shrinking global liquidity, hurting emerging markets.

Still others point to turmoil in foreign currencies in places like Argentina and Turkey.  But we have seen this movie before along with government shut-downs, oil spills and even regional wars.  But the fundamental have not changed, housing is on the rise,  jobs are up despite people leaving the jobs market, oil and gas production is booming and new technology is boosting productivity, growth and profits.  We went to a few stores recently and they were filled with shoppers, parking lots were full and there were long lines to check out.  When large, flat screen, TVs are flying off the shelves, the economy isn’t doing badly.

We may see a full-fledged correction yet, but every bull market has these as part of the pattern.  The problem with trying to time the markets is that without a working crystal ball the timing is almost always wrong; you have to be right about the time to step out and the time to step back in.  It’s at times like this that having an appropriate asset allocation for your risk tolerance and your time horizon shows its true worth.  This is what RIAs do best.   If nothing has fundamentally changed, our outlook remains cautiously optimistic.  We suggest that everyone remain calm.

Five lessons to be learned from the Madoff scandal

Five years ago we learned about the Ponzi scheme engineered by Bernie Madoff.  How can you avoid being scammed like the people who lost billions to Madoff?  Here are five things to look for when working with an investment firm:

1. Demand Assets Be Held at Large Custodian

Be sure your assets are held by a large reputable custodian like Charles Schwab.  The custodian will be the one sending you your statements and trade confirmations.  In the Madoff scandal, all of the clients’ funds were accounted for only by Madoff’s firm, and investments were held by Madoff’s wealth management operation, which was at the heart of the scam. If client funds were held at a legitimate, large custodian like Charles Schwab, the scam would have been virtually impossible to carry out since the account statements would flow from the custodian, and the discrepancies would have been exposed immediately.

2. Fraud Diversification

Diversification is one of the primary keys to risk control.  No one should have all of his assets in a  single fund or a single stock.

3. Ask Questions and Demand Answers

When clients asked Madoff questions about his returns and management style, he refused to answer them. This is a massive red flag. Clients are entitled to answers regarding holdings, investment strategies and costs. Failure to provide this sort of information is a major warning sign.

4. If Investments or Strategy Can’t Be Readily Explained, Don’t Invest

Often investment scams are hidden in the obscure, opaque and complicated. Madoff claimed to use a “split-strike” strategy for generating steady returns for investors by investing in the largest stocks in the S&P 100 index while simultaneously buying and selling options against either these particular stocks or the S&P 100 index. If it sounds too confusing or can’t be explained simply, avoid it altogether.

5. If it Sounds Too Good to Be True watch out.

Investors often fall victim to big lies more easily than small lies. Madoff used decade-long consistency to lure investors in. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can earn higher returns while assuming a lower risk. If you’re realizing high returns, then you’re also accepting increased risk.

How to Get Your 401(k) Ready for Retirement

In a recent Wall Street Journal article the writer gives those who are getting within 10 years of retirement six very useful ideas about getting their 401(k) plans prepared for the day they will actually leave work.

  1.  If you haven’t done it lately, review your 401(k) investment mix.: Typically after people enroll in employer-sponsored plans and make initial investment choices, they forget about how their money is allocated in the plan—sometimes for years.  Don’t let this happen to you.  It may mean that just as you should be getting more conservative you are actually increasing your risk.
  2. Beware of the rate sensitivity of fixed-income funds you own in your 401(k).:  Bonds traditionally were the safe-haven choice for near-retirees, but the bond market has changed and rising rates could result in losses just as retirement approaches.  Not all bond funds are created equal and caution is the watchword in today’s bond market.
  3. Look for greater variety within your 401(k).: When advisers construct portfolios for clients, they often include a mix of U.S. and international stocks, multiple types of bond exposure and, increasingly, “alternative” investments such as commodities and a variety of hedge-fund-like strategies.  So should you.
  4.  Use IRAs and other accounts to complement your 401(k).:  Too often people who change jobs leave their 401(k) behind at their previous employer.  When you leave, roll your 401(k) money into an IRA and don’t leave “orphan” accounts behind and unattended.
  5. Check whether your 401(k) plan includes a brokerage window, or self-directed account.: if your plan allows you to make your own investment decisions, you can often get greater variety and better asset allocation options than are offered in most 401(k) plans.
  6. Consider getting professional advice. : As you would expect we are 100{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} behind this recommendation.  In fact, if you want guidance with your 401(k), call us and see what we can do for you.

With rising interest rates, what to do about bonds.

With interest rates increasing investors are noticing that their bonds are not doing nearly as well as their stocks.  In fact many investors may have lost money on bonds this year.  For example, the typical tax exempt bond fund has lost between 4 – 5{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} year-to-date.  What should investors do about bonds when the likelihood of rising interest rates is high?

The October issue of Financial Planning magazine give us an insight into what happened in the past when interest rates rose.

During the five-year period from 1977 through 1981, the federal discount rate rose to 13.42{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} from 5.46{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}, an increase of nearly 800 basis points, or 145.8{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}. During that period, the five-year annualized return of U.S. T-bills was an impressive 9.84{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}.  But T-bills are short-term bonds.

But bonds did not fare nearly as well. The Barclays one- to five-year government/credit index had a five-year annualized return of 6.61{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}, while the intermediate government/credit index had a 5.63{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} annualized return. The long government/credit index got hammered amid the rising rates, and ended the five-year period with an annualized return of -0.77{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}. Finally, the aggregate bond index had a five-year annualized return of 3.05{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}.

As every investor should know, bonds go down in price when interest rates go up but that decline is offset by the interest paid on the bonds.  If an investment manager knows what he is doing and protects his portfolios by avoiding exposure to long-dated government bonds the results will be acceptable. An annualized return of 5.63{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} is quite good when rates are increasing.

But one important note: It does not seem prudent to avoid bonds entirely during periods of rising interest rates. Bonds are a vitally important part of a diversified portfolio containing a wide variety of asset classes – during all times and seasons. Rather than trying to decide whether to be in or out of bonds, the more relevant issue would seem to be whether to use short-duration or long-duration bonds.

This, of course, is consistent with a strategic approach to portfolio design. Rather than completely remove an asset class from a portfolio, advisors and clients would be well advised to thoughtfully modify the components of an asset class. To use a nautical metaphor, rather than swapping boats, we simply trim the sails.

 

Passive investing vs. Active Investing

Comment from Oppenheimer Funds.

 Indexing clusters investment assets in securities which represent past success, are widely owned, and often fully valued.  Investing is about the future.  Good active investors are adept at uncovering future success.   Compounded over a long time horizons, the difference in so called “terminal wealth” can be very large between passive approaches, average active approaches, and above average active approaches.    

Translation: Most indexes, like the S&P 500, represent the best performing stocks of the past, not necessarily the best ones to own in the future.

7 retirement planning myths debunked

If you ever plan to retire, you have to have a plan.  The days of depending on an employer pension and government benefits are rapidly disappearing and, especially if you are under 50, you are living in a  “yoyo” economy — short for “you’re on your own.”

There are a bunch of myths about retiring that need to be abandoned.

  •  It’s OK to postpone saving for retirement until other needs are taken care of.  Wrong.  There are always “other things” that interfere with saving for retirement and if you let them get in the way, you’ll never start.
  • Medicare will take care of almost all your health care needs.  In reality it will cover about half.
  • You’ll need far less income in retirement to maintain the same standard of living.  Only if you decide to become a hermit.
  • You can claim Social Security early and still get full benefits later.  Wrong.  When you begin taking benefits you are locked in (unless you pay it all back).
  • You should rely heavily on bonds rather than stocks as you get older.  Only if you plant to die soon and expect zero inflation.
  • Any retirement target-date fund will allow you to “set it and forget it.”  Target date funds vary widely in performance and there are no guarantees associated with them.
  • You’ll be able to make up a savings shortfall by retiring later or working part-time in retirement.  That’s a hope, not a plan.  You may not be physically able to work after retirement.   Because of the costs of benefits, many employers are reluctant to hire older workers.

A plan is needed, and needs to be constantly updated to keep you on the path to the kind of retirement that you want.

© 2021 Korving & Company, LLC