Tag: Investment strategy

The Successful Investor’s Perspective: All About Timing?

The Successful Investor's Perspective: All About Timing?

After December’s market plunge and January’s surge, we can forgive investors for feeling whiplash. During times of extreme volatility, it is especially common for investors to conclude, whether on a conscious or unconscious level, that the market is not for them. For that reason, it is worth reflecting on the market over a working lifetime.  

The chart below depicts 40 years of market returns and the consumer price index (CPI).  Over the long run, Certificate of Deposit (CD) rates return about 2% over inflation, so we used the CPI as a proxy.  

Successful Investors Have Perspective

I chose 40 years because it typifies the time period most people earn income through their work.

Over that length of time, whether you’re looking at stock funds whose graphs are moving upward or have your money in a CD whose value grows almost horizontally, you must ask yourself which line is right for you.  

If you choose the orange level line with little fluctuation you need to know that the money you will have to finance your retirement is almost totally dependent on how much you can save. This is because the internal growth will be very low.

Choosing the blue line, realizing it’s more jagged, says that you want your money to work as hard for you as you work for it. As you reach a certain point in your career you may find that your investments are actually earning more money than you’re getting paid from employment.  

The process of investing involves high points and low points. The view from the peaks is magnificent while the terror of the slide into the valley can be traumatic. But when you look back, having arrived at the destination of financial independence, the oscillation that had caused so much grief can be plotted as a straight upward line between two points. It’s not easy negotiating that perilous ascent, but it may help knowing that in the end it really will smooth out if you stick with it.

Some people can take this financial journey by themselves.  Many others need guidance on how to invest and the psychological support they need in order to stay the course when fear takes over.

The principals at Korving & Company have been doing this for over 30 years.  We invite you to find out how we can help you.

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 most common investment mistake made by financial advisors

Bill Miller beat the S&P 500 index 15 years in a row as portfolio manager of Legg Mason Capital Management Value Trust (1991-2005), a record for diversified mutual fund managers.  He was interviewed by WealthManagement.com about active vs. passive management.
We have written a number of articles about the mistakes individual investors make.  But what about mistakes that financial advisors make?  We are, after all, fallible and make errors of judgment.  And like all mortals we cannot predict the future.
Here’s Bill Miller’s assessment about traps that financial advisors fall into:

One problem is how they deal with risk. There is a lot more action on perceived risks, exposing clients to risks they aren’t aware of. For example, since the financial crisis people have overweighted bonds and underweighted stocks. People react to market prices rather than understanding that’s a bad thing to do.
Most importantly, most advisors are too short-term oriented, because their clients are too short-term oriented. There’s a focus on market timing, and all of that is mostly useless. The equity market is all about time, not timing. It’s about staying at the table.
Think of the equity market like a casino, except you own it: You’re the house. You get an 8-9 percent annual return. Casinos operate on a lower margin than that and make money. Bad periods are to be expected. If anything, that’s when you want more tables.

We agree.  That’s one of the reasons we are choosy about the clients we accept. One of the foremost regrets we have is taking on clients who hired us for the wrong reasons.  One substantial client came to us as the tech market was heating up in the late 1990s.  He asked us to create a portfolio of tech stocks so that he could participate in the growth of that sector.  We accepted that challenge, but it was a mistake.  When the tech bubble burst and his portfolio went down and we lost a client.  But it taught us a valuable lesson: say no to clients who focus strictly on short-term portfolio performance.  Our role is to invest our clients’ serious money for long term goals.
Like Bill Miller, we want to have the odds on our side.  We want to be the “house,” not the gambler.  The first rule of making money is not to lose it.  The second rule is to always observe the first rule.
To determine client and portfolio risk we use sophisticated analytical programs for insight into prospective clients actual risk tolerance.  That allows us to match our portfolios to a client’s individual risk tolerance.  In times of market exuberance we remind our clients that trees don’t grow to the sky.  And in times of market declines we encourage our clients to stay the course, knowing that time in the market is more important than timing the market.

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.

Why do smart people use financial advisors?

What is the real value to hiring a financial advisor, and who uses them?  What is the value proposition?  What makes one car with four doors and wheels worth $300,000 and other $30,000?  Although we might have an answer, the answer differs from person to person.

People use financial advisors for many reasons.  Some use them because they absolutely need them, others because they want them. Paying a fee for advice and guidance to a professional who uses the tools and tactics of a CFP™ (CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™) and an experienced Registered Investment Advisor who is a fiduciary can add meaningful value compared to what the average investor experiences.

Many middle-class investors are anxious about their finances and are not interested in learning the details of managing their money.  This anxiety often results with money left on the sidelines because they don’t know what to do or are afraid of making mistakes. That means earning a fraction of 1% at the bank when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is up over 25% in the last 12 months.

There are others who are interested in learning about investing and may want to hire an advisor to “look over their shoulder.”  They want to hire an “investment coach.”

A third category are people who hire professionals because they are busy doing things that are more important to them: building a career or a business, being with family, or living an active retirement.  They hire an expert to manage their money the same way they hire a lawyer for estate planning, a CPA to prepare their taxes, and a doctor to keep them healthy.

A fourth category is people who were making their own investment decisions but ended up making a huge financial mistake.  This leads me to a story about a really smart, highly paid high tech executive who is very knowledgeable about investing; but he hired an advisor:

It’s not because he lacks the knowledge or interest, obviously. Rather, he figured out he had behavioral blind spots and understood he was at risk of great financial loss. He’s paying someone just to take that risk off his plate.

Determining your goals, controlling risk, managing portfolios well, and knowing your limitations – knowing you have “blind spots” – has led many smart people to hire an advisor.

Vanguard, the hugely successful purveyor or no-load mutual funds (that appeal to do-it-yourselfers) estimates that a financial advisor is worth about 3% net in annual returns.  They attribute this to the seven services that a good advisor provides:

  1. Creating a suitable asset allocation strategy.
  2. Cost-effective implementation.
  3. Rebalancing
  4. Behavioral coaching
  5. Asset location
  6. Spending strategy.
  7. Total return versus income investing.

If you have an advisor but he is not meeting your objectives, ask us for a second opinion.  If you don’t have an advisor but may want one, we offer a free one-hour consultation to see if we are compatible.

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

Korving -1016 RET web

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?

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.”

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.

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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