Category: risk control

Are you taking more risk than you should?


 
We often take risks without knowing it.  There are some risks that are well known; things like texting while driving or not fastening your seat belt.  But there are other risks that are less well publicized and that can hurt you.
As financial professionals we often meet people who are not aware of the financial risks they are taking.  While there are countless books written about investing, most people don’t bother studying the subject.  As a result, they get their information from articles in the press, advertising, or chatting with their friends.
Many people have told us they are “conservative” investors and then show us investments that have sky-high risks.  This is because investment risks are either hiding in the fine print or not provided at all.  No one tells you how much risk you are taking when you buy a stock, even of a major company like General Electric.  GE is a huge, diversified global company, yet lost 90% of its value between 2000 and 2009.  Norfolk Southern is another popular stock in this area.  Do you know its “risk number?”   You may be surprised.
We have analytical tools that can accurately quantify your risk tolerance and give you your personal “Risk Number.”  We can then measure the risk you are taking with your investments.  They should be similar.  If not, you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised if the investment you thought was “safe” loses its value because you took too much risk.
We have no objection to daredevils who know the risk they are taking by jumping over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle.  But we would caution the weekend cyclist not to try the same thing.  Contact us to find your personal “Risk Number” and then determine how much risk there is in your portfolio.
 
 
 

The Biggest Myth About Index Investing

John Bogle has done a great job of “selling” index investing.  He started the Vanguard group with the promise that you could invest in the stock market “on the cheap.”  It’s the thing that made the Vanguard group the second biggest fund family in the country.

Selling things based on price is always popular with the public.  It’s the key to the success of Wal Mart,  Amazon, and a lot of “Big Box” stores.

But Bogle based his sales pitch not just on price, but also the promise that if you bought his funds you would do better than if you bought his competition.  He cites statistics to show that the average mutual fund has under-performed the index, so why not buy the index?

The resulting popularity of index investing has had one big, unfortunate side-effect.  It has created the myth that they are safe.

A government employee planning to retire in the near future asked this question in a forum:

“I plan to rollover my 457 deferred compensation plan into Vanguard index funds upon retirement in a few months. I currently have 50% in Vanguard Small Cap Index Funds and 50% in Vanguard Mid Cap Index Funds and think that these are somewhat aggressive, safe, and low cost.”

The problem with the Vanguard sales pitch is that it’s worked too well.   The financial press has given index investing so much good press that people believe things about them that are not true.

Small and Mid-cap stock index funds are aggressive and low cost, but they are by no means “safe.”  For some reason, there is a widespread misconception that investing in a stock index fund like the Vanguard 500 index fund or its siblings is low risk.  It’s not.

But unless you get a copy of the prospectus and read it carefully, you have to bypass the emphasis on low cost before you get to this warning:

“An investment in the Fund could lose money over short or even long periods. You should expect the Fund’s share price and total return to fluctuate within a wide range.”

The fact is that investing in the stock market is never “safe.”  Not when you buy a stock or when you buy stock via an index fund.  There is no guarantee if any specific return.  In fact, there is no guarantee that you will get your money back.  Over the long term, investors in the stock market have done well if they stayed the course.  But humans have emotions.  They make bad decisions because of misconceptions and buy and sell based on greed and fear.

My concern about the soon-to-be-retired government employee is that he is going to invest all of his retirement nest-egg in high-risk funds while believing that they are “safe.”  He may believe that the past 8 years can be projected into the future.  The stock market has done well since the recovery began in 2009.  We are eventually going to get a “Bear Market” and when that happens the unlucky retiree may find that has retirement account has declined as much as 50% (as the market did in 2008).  At some point he will bail out and not know when to get back in, all because he was unaware of the risk he was taking.

Many professional investors use index funds as part of a well-designed diversified portfolio.  But there should be no misconception that index investing is “safe.”  Don’t be fooled by this myth.

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.

A reader asks: what’s the difference between risk tolerance and risk capacity?

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That’s an interesting question and it depends on who you ask.  The investment industry measures risk in terms of volatility, taking the opportunity for both gains and losses into consideration.

I will answer with a focus on losses rather than gains because, for most people, risk implies the chance that they will lose money rather than make money.

 Risk tolerance is your emotional capacity to withstand losses without panicking.  For example, during the financial crisis of 2008 – 2009 people with a low or modest risk tolerance, who saw their investment portfolios decline by as much as 50% because they were heavily invested in stocks, sold out and did not recoup their losses when the stock market recovered.  Their risk tolerance was not aligned with the risk they were taking in their portfolio.  In many cases they were not aware of the risks they were taking because they had been lulled by the gains they had experienced in the prior years.

People who bought homes in the run-up to the real estate crash of 2008 were unaware of the risk they were taking because they believed that home prices would always go up.  When prices plunged they were left with properties that were worth less than the mortgage they owed.

This exposed them to the issue of risk capacity.

Risk capacity is your ability to absorb losses without affecting your lifestyle.  The wealthy have the capacity to lose thousands, millions, or even billions of dollars.  Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, recently lost $6 billion dollars in a few hours when his company’s stock dropped dramatically.  Despite this loss,  he was still worth over $56 billion.    His risk capacity is orders of magnitude greater than most people’s net worth.

The unlucky home buyer who bought a house at an inflated price using creative financing found out that the losses they faced exceeded their net worth.  As a result many people lost their homes and many declared bankruptcy.

There are some new tools available to measure your risk tolerance and determine how well your portfolio is aligned with your risk number.  Click HERE to get your risk number.

What’s Your Risk Number?

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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 .

 

Four “Hidden” Ways We Help Our Clients Save Money

We often tell clients that our long term investment objective is to provide them with a fair rate of return over time while working to minimize the amount of risk they take.  Part of that objective is achieved by finding ways to save them money.

Buying the right mutual funds can save clients a lot of money.  Many mutual fund families offer the exact same fund in several different “share classes.”  The primary difference between each share class is the expenses the fund charges the client.  After deciding which fund we want to buy, we choose the least expensive version of that fund.  This means that our clients keep a bigger share of the fund’s returns.

We also pay attention to the tax consequences of our investment strategy and work to minimize the taxes that our clients pay at the end of the year.  Occasionally we will sell some losing investments to offset gains in other investments.  At the end of the day, this allows our clients to keep more of their money.

We help clients understand how much they need to save for retirement.

For example, we might tell them that buying the new luxury car that they really want every three years will mean they have to work for another five years to meet their stated retirement goals. This helps them with their decision making.

 Making sure our clients understand how much they can safely spend and where they should take the money for their goals is a key value-added service that we provide.

 

Is your money going in the right direction?

An acquaintance recently asked me how his money should be invested.  With banks paying virtually zero on savings, it’s a question on everyone’s mind.  Should he invest in stocks or bonds? If it’s stocks, what kind: Growth, Value, Small Cap or Large Cap, U.S. or Foreign?  The same can be asked of bonds: government or corporate, high yield or AAA, taxable of tax free?  That’s a question that faces many people who have money to invest but are not sure of where.

It’s a dilemma because we can’t be sure what the future holds. Is this the time to put money into stocks or will the market go down? If we invest in bonds will interest rates go up … or down? How about investing in some of those Asian “Tigers” where economic growth has been higher than in more developed countries?

There is no perfect answer. We are not gifted with the ability to read the future. And what is this “future” anyway? Next week? Next year? Or 20 years from now when we will need the money for retirement?

We know that generally, people who own companies usually make more money that people put their money in the bank. Another word for “people who own companies” is “stockholders.” That’s why, over the long term, stockholders do better than bondholders. On the other hand, bonds produce income and are generally lower risk than stocks. So my first answer to the question I was asked is: invest in both stocks and bonds.

Choosing the right stocks and bonds is a job that is best left to professionals. That’s the benefit of mutual funds. Mutual funds pool the money of many investors to create professionally managed portfolios of stocks and bonds. They are an easy way of creating the kind of diversification that is important for reducing risk.

To circle back to the original question our friend asked: the answer is to create a well diversified portfolio. We know that some of the time stocks will do better than bonds, and vice versa. We know that some of the time foreign markets outperform the U.S. market. We know that some the time Growth stocks will do better than Value stocks. We just don’t know when. So we select the best funds in each category and measure the over-all result. With so many funds to choose from, the smart investor will get help from a Registered Investment Advisor like the folks at Korving & Company.

Call us for more details.

How well do couples communicate on money? – Part 6

Most couples think they communicate well, but research indicates otherwise when it comes to finances. Communication on financial issues between couples is especially poor, as we have discovered in previous essays.

Couples were asked what advice they would give to newlyweds and young couples about finances. Newlyweds usually do not put frank talk about finances at the top of their “to-do” list. That may be a big mistake.

The most common suggestions for young couples starting out in life together were:

  • Save as early as possible for retirement (57{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}).
  • Make all financial decisions together (41{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}).
  • Make a budget and stick to it (39{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}).
  • Make sure you have an emergency fund (38{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}).
  • Don’t hide expenditures (28{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}).
  • Disclose income, debts and assets early (24{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}).

One of the easiest ways of accomplishing all of these objectives is for young couples to consult a financial advisor as soon as possible. By doing so they will reveal their finances to each other, develop a budget that matches their income, agree on an investment strategy, and be given a roadmap to long-term financial peace.

Our final essay on this subject will summarize what we have learned.

Korving & Company, the 2015 Suffolk Small Business of the Year is a family owned investment management and financial planning firm. We deliver a very personal level of service to guide, empower and assure our clients that their money is carefully managed to meet their long-term life goals.

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Successful and investing and emotional control

One of the big benefits of professional money management is “emotional control.”

Emotional control is the ability to control one’s emotions in times of stress. Napoleon once said that “The greatest general is he who makes the fewest mistakes.” There is a similarity between war and successful investing. Both require the ability to keep a cool head at times of high stress.

There is another old saying in the investment world: “Don’t confuse brains with a Bull Market.” When the market is going up, it’s easy to assume that you are making smart investment decisions. But your decisions may have nothing to do with your success; you may simply by riding the crest of a wave.

That’s when people become overconfident.

When the market stops going up, or the next Bear Market begins, the amateur investor allows fear to dominate his thinking. The typical investor tend to sell as the stock market reached its bottom. In fact, following the market bottom in early 2009, even as the stock market began to recover, investors continued to sell stock funds.  Since then the market has doubled.

Professional investors are not immune to emotion, but the good ones have developed investment models that allow them to ride through Bear Markets with moderate losses and ride the rebound up as the market recovers. It is that discipline that allows them to make fewer mistakes and, like Napoleon’s general, come out ahead.

Business Owners Often Neglect Their Own Finances

Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time figuring out how to succeed in business. But when it comes to their own personal financial situations, they tend to let things go.

… a new survey of business owners … concludes. Nearly half of poll respondents — 667 owners of firms with revenue of $5 million or less — say they lack a personal financial plan. Furthermore, about a quarter of participants who built a company from the ground up plan to fund their retirement by closing their business.

However, the survey also found that some of the business owners would not have enough to cover their retirement needs.

Owning a small business involves much more risk than business owners often realize. It’s like planning for your retirement by owning a single stock. What happens to the retirement plan if the stock drops?  The same thing happens if a small business falls on hard times.  It’s called putting all your eggs in one basket.  Unfortunately lots of things can go wrong, and many of them are outside of the business owner’s control.

Small business owners need to realize that depending on the business to provide for their retirement income needs is too uncertain.  They should think of themselves as employees who need to plan for their eventual retirement independent of their business. That way, if the business succeeds they can walk away with even more money.   And if it does not, their basic retirement plans are secure.

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