Category: Portfolio Management

What’s Your Risk Number?

risk

Defining how much risk someone is willing to take can be difficult.  But in the investment world it’s critical.

Fear of risk keeps a lot of people away from investing their money, leaving them at the mercy of the banks and the people at the Federal Reserve.  The Fed has kept interest rates near zero for years, hoping that low rates will cause a rebound in the economy.  The downside of this policy is that traditional savings methods (saving accounts, CDs, buy & hold Treasuries) yield almost no growth.

Investors who are unsure of their risk tolerance and those who completely misjudge it are never quite sure if they are properly invested.  Fearing losses, they may put too much of their funds into “safe” investments, passing up chances to grow their money at more reasonable rates.  Then, fearing that they’ll miss all the upside potential, they get back into more “risky” investments and wind up investing too aggressively.  Then when the markets pull back, they end up pulling the plug, selling at market bottoms, locking in horrible losses, and sitting out the next market recovery until the market “feels safe” again to reinvest near the top and repeating the cycle.

There is a new tool available that help people define their personal “risk number.”

What is your risk number?

Your risk number defines how much risk you are prepared to take by walking you through several market scenarios, asking you to select which scenarios you are more comfortable with.     Let’s say that you have a $100,000 portfolio and in one scenario it could decline to $80,000 in a Bear Market or grow to $130,000 in a Bull Market, in another scenario it could decline to $70,000 or grow to $140,000, and in the third scenario it could decline to $90,000 or grow to $110,000.  Based on your responses, to the various scenarios, the system will generate your risk number.

How can you use that information?

If you are already an investor, you can determine whether you are taking an appropriate level of risk in your portfolio.  If the risk in your portfolio is much greater than your risk number, you can adjust your portfolio to become more conservative.  On the other hand, if you are more risk tolerant and you find that your portfolio is invested too conservatively, you can make adjustments to become less conservative.

Finding your risk number allows you to align your portfolio with your risk tolerance and achieve your personal financial goals.

To find out what your risk number is, click here .

 

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.”

The Trouble with 401(k) Plans

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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.

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. 

Planning to Retire Someday? Start Planning Today!

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 pre-industrial society where most families lived on farms, people relied on their family for support.  Financial planning meant having enough children so that if you were fortunate enough to reach old age and could no longer work, 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.  (Interestingly enough, the average life expectancy for someone born in 1935 was 61 years.)

For decades afterwards, retirement planning for many Americans meant getting a lifetime job with one 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 benefits and healthcare 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 at a certain age and after so many years with a company, now employees are responsible for saving and investing their money wisely so that they will have enough saved to adequately supplement Social Security and 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 their other investments.

Fortunately, the people who are beginning their careers now 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 younger adults that we talk with 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 an unbiased financial plan; many are only after your investment accounts or using the plan to persuade you to buy an insurance product.  Mutual fund organizations can offer some guidance, but getting personal financial guidance via an 800 number is not the kind of personal relationship that most people want.

Fortunately there is another option.  The rapidly growing independent RIA (Registered Investment Advisor) industry offers personal guidance to help people create and execute a successful financial plan that will take them from work through retirement.  Many RIAs are run by Certified Financial Planner (CFP™) professionals.  Many are fiduciaries who put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.  And many, including us, offer financial plans for a fixed fee as a stand-alone line of business, meaning that we don’t push or require you to do anything else with us except create a plan that you’re happy with.  Contact us to find out more.

Questions to ask when interviewing a financial advisor

A previous post referred to an excellent article on CNBC about financial advisors .  You first have to consider what kind of financial advice you want or need.

Once you determine the kind of advice you’re looking for, here are some key questions to ask when interviewing the financial advisor.

  • What are the services I am hiring you to perform?

  • What are your conflicts of interest?

  • Identify for me all of the ways you or your firm are compensated by me or by any other party in connection with services rendered to me or my assets.

  • Do you have a fiduciary duty to act in my best interests?

  • Describe your insurance coverage.

We’ll add a few more of our own:

  • What is your investment philosophy?
  • Do you do your own investing or do you use outside firms?
  • What kind of experience do you have?
  • Are your other clients similar to me?

If you don’t get straight-forward answers to these questions, go on to your next candidate.

Who, exactly, are these financial advisors

There’s a really great article on the CNBC website that discusses the question of what financial advisors are.  There is a lot of confusion because people use the term “financial advisor” for a group of people who are really different.  There is less confusion in the medical field because we distinguish between various kinds of doctors.  When you have a medical problem you distinguish between a pediatrician, a heart surgeon, a dentist or a psychiatrist.   They’re all doctors but people know there’s a lot of difference between them.

The same thing is true of financial advisors.  They could be a stock broker, an insurance salesman, or a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA).

Here is one important difference between brokers (technically known as Registered Representatives) who work for investment firms like Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo, UBS or other major firms and investment advisors.

Brokers can only offer you investment advice that is incidental to them buying or selling financial products, whereas investment advisors are professionals who are paid by you to give you advice — advice that is in your best interest. The latter is called a fiduciary responsibility.

Before engaging an advisor, Ask yourself these key questions:

  • Are you looking for advice on individual stocks or someone to manage a diversified portfolio for you?

  • Are you looking for a product to solve a problem or a long-term financial plan?

  • Are your assets straightforward, or will you need more coordination because of complex estate-planning issues?

  • Are you an employee of a company, or might you be dealing with potentially complex tax issues, like selling your business?

  • Are your issues acute and immediate, or will they be ongoing or recurring?

  • How much do you want to rely on the recommendations of your advisor, or do you want to be the ultimate arbiter of what’s best for you, whether to follow a recommendation or not?

  • Are you prepared to evaluate each recommendation to determine whether it’s aligned with your needs?

These questions will help you determine what kind of financial advisor you need.

Feel free to contact us to answer some of your questions.

Three benefits of a Separately Managed Account

A Separately Managed Account (SMA) is an investment account managed by a professional investment manager that can be used as an alternative to a mutual fund.  They provide diversification and professional management.  But they differ from mutual funds in that an SMA investor owns individual stocks instead shares in a fund.

Here are some of the benefits of SMAs.

  • Customization: Investors in SMAs can usually exclude certain stocks from their portfolio.  They may have an aversion to certain stocks, such as tobacco or alcohol.  Or they may have legal restrictions on owning certain stocks.  SMAs allow some customization that’s not available in mutual funds.
  • Taxes: Investors in SMAs can take advantage of tax loss harvesting at the end of the year by instructing a manager to sell certain stocks to reduce capital gains taxes. In addition, an SMA has another advantage over mutual funds in that each stock in an SMA is purchased separately.  Mutual fund investors are liable for “embedded capital gains” even if the shares were purchased before the investor bought the fund shares.
  • Transparency: You know exactly what you own and can see whenever a change is made in your account.  Mutual fund investors don’t see the individual securities they own or what changes are being made by the portfolio manager.

These are features that are attractive to certain investors.  However, they are not for everyone.  Most SMAs require minimum investments of $100,000.  That means that they are only appropriate for high net worth investors who will typically use several SMA managers for purposes of diversification.  In addition, the fees associated with SMAs are often higher than fees for mutual funds.

For more information, please contact us.

How a stock market slump affects retirees

Because retirees are no longer earning income, they view a decline in their investments with more concern than those who are still working.

Many savers in retirement also focus on a number that represents the peak value of their portfolio and view any decline from that value with concern.

Psychologists refer to this as the “anchoring effect.”

The unfortunate result of this is that it causes them to worry, leading to bad decisions. This includes selling some – or all – of their stock portfolio and raising cash. This makes it more difficult for their portfolios to regain its previous values, especially when the return on cash-equivalents like money market funds and CDs are at historic lows.

The answer to this dilemma is to create a well-balanced investment portfolio that can take advantage of growing markets and cushions the blow of declining markets.

This is often where an experienced financial advisor (RIA) can help. One who can create diversified portfolios and who can encourage the investor to stick with the plan in both up and down markets.

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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.

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