Tag: Investment terms

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.

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 .

 

Questioner asks: "Should I roll my SEP IRA into a regular IRA or a Roth IRA?"

There are two issues to consider in answering this question.

  1. If you roll a SEP IRA into a regular or rollover IRA, assuming you do it right, there are no taxes to pay and your money will continue to grow tax deferred until you begin taking withdrawals.  At that point you will pay income tax on the withdrawals.
  2. If you decide to roll it into a Roth IRA you will owe income tax on the amount rolled over.  However, the money will then grow tax free since there will be no taxes to pay when you begin taking withdrawals.

If you roll your SEP into a Roth, be sure to know ahead of time how much you will have to pay in taxes and try to avoid using some of the rollover money to pay the tax because it could trigger an early withdrawal penalty – if you are under 59 1/2 .

It’s up to you to decide which option works best for you.  If you are unsure, you may want to consult a financial planner who can model the two strategies and show you which one works better for you.

As always, check with a financial professional who specializes in retirement planning before making a move and check with your accountant or tax advisor to make sure that you know the tax consequences of your decision.

What happens if you are 70 ½ and you have an IRA and a 403(b)?

RMDs, or Required Minimum Distributions have to be taken after you become 70 ½ if you have a retirement account such as an IRA or 401(k).   To determine the amount you are required to take, the value of all of your retirement accounts have to be added together.  If you have multiple retirement accounts you can take the RMD from only one account and leave the others alone … unless you have a 403(b) plan.

403(b) plan accounts must be added to the total of the retirement accounts to determine the RMD.  But  you can’t use distributions from IRAs to satisfy the RMDs from 403(b)s, nor can you use 403(b) distributions to satisfy IRA RMDs.

However, if you have several different 403(b) accounts, you can take the RMD from just one of the accounts, as long as it’s at least as much as the RMD based on the sum of all of the 403(b) accounts.

If you are retired, you may be able to simplify your life by rolling all of your retirement accounts into an IRA.  That way you can eliminate a lot of confusion, and the potential penalties that go along with making a mistake.

If you have questions about retirement accounts, call us.

Negative Interest Rates – Searching for Meaning

We have mentioned negative interest rates in the past.  Let’s take a look at what it means to you.

Central banks lower interest rates to encourage economic activity.  The theory is that low interest rates allow companies to borrow money at lower costs, encouraging them to expand, invest in and grow their business.  It also encourages consumers to borrow money for things like new homes, cars, furniture and all the other things for which people borrow money.

It’s the reason the Federal Reserve has lowered rates to practically zero and kept them there for years.  It’s also why the Fed has not raised rates; they’re afraid that doing so will reduce the current slow rate of growth even more.

But if low rates are good for the economy, would negative interest rates be even better?  Some governments seem to think so.

Negative interest rates in Japan mean that if you buy a Japanese government bond due in 10 years you will lose 0.275% per year.  If you buy a 10 year German government bond today  your interest rate is negative 0.16%.   Why would you lend your money to someone if they guaranteed you that you would get less than the full amount back?  Good question.  Perhaps the answer is that you have little choice or are even more afraid of the alternative.

Per the Wall Street Journal:

There is now $13 trillion of global negative-yielding debt, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That compares with $11 trillion before the
Brexit vote, and barely none with a negative yield in mid-2014.
In Switzerland, government bonds through the longest maturity, a bond due in nearly half a century, are now yielding below zero. Nearly 80% of Japanese and German government bonds have negative yields, according to Citigroup.

This leaves investors are searching the world for securities that have a positive yield.  That includes stocks that pay dividends and bonds like U.S. Treasuries that still have a positive yield: currently 1.4% for ten years.  However, the search for yield also leads investors to more risky investments like emerging market debt and junk bonds.  The effect is that all of these alternatives are being bid up in price, which has the effect of reducing their yield.

The yield on Lithuania’s 10-year government debt has more than halved this year to around 0.5%, according to Tradeweb. The yield on Taiwan’s 10-year bonds has fallen to about 0.7% from about 1% this year, according to Thomson Reuters.
Elsewhere in the developed world, New Zealand’s 10-year-bond yields have fallen to about 2.3% from 3.6% as investors cast their nets across the globe.
Rashique Rahman, head of emerging markets at Invesco, said his firm has been getting consistent inflows from institutional clients in Western Europe and Asia interested in buying investment-grade emerging-market debt to “mimic the yield they used to get” from their home markets.
Clients don’t care if it is Mexico or Poland or South Korea, he said, “they just want a higher yield.” ….
Ricky Liu, a high-yield-bond portfolio manager at HSBC Global Asset Management, said his firm has clients from Asia who are willing for the first time to invest in portfolios that include the highest-rated junk bonds.

How and where this will end is anybody’s guess.  In our view, negative interest rates are an indication that central bankers are wandering into uncharted territory.  We’re not convinced that they really know how things will turn out.  We remain cautiously optimistic about the U.S. economy and are staying the course, but we are not chasing yield.

Making Smart Decisions About Social Security

Social Security CardDeciding when to start collecting your Social Security retirement benefits is an important choice that will impact the income you receive for the rest of your life.  The decision can also affect the income and lifestyle of a surviving spouse.
When it comes to Social Security, you may be wondering whether you should: 

              • Start collecting before Full Retirement Age but receive a reduced benefit?
              • Wait until Full Retirement Age to start collecting your full benefit?
              • Delay past Full Retirement Age to maximize your benefit?

To help make an informed decision, you’ll want to consider a number of key factors, including your marital status, your health, your plans for retirement and your retirement income sources, just to name few.

Your Full Retirement Age (FRA) is the age at which you qualify for 100% of your Social Security benefits (known as your Primary Insurance Amount).  Your FRA is based on your year of birth.  See this chart from the Social Security website to find yours:


When you’re ready to start collecting benefits
, you should apply for Social Security no more than four months before the date you want your benefits to start.

If you start collecting Social Security benefits and then change your mind about your choice of start date, you may be able to withdraw your claim and re-apply at a future date, provided you do so within 12 months of your original application for benefits.  All benefits (including spousal and dependent benefits) must be repaid. You may only withdraw your application for benefits once in your lifetime.

You generally have three main options when it comes to choosing when to start collecting your benefits – a process often referred to as your Social Security “filing strategy.”

  • Start collecting early (before Full Retirement Age)
  • Start collecting at Full Retirement Age
  • Start collecting after Full Retirement Age

Each filing strategy has advantages and disadvantages.

Order our white paper on Social Security claiming strategies by calling our office (757-638-5490) or emailing us at info@korvingco.com.

What’s the Difference Between an IRA and a Roth IRA

A questioner on Investopedia.com asks:

I contribute about 10% to my 401k. I want to know more about Roth IRAs. I have one with my company, but haven’t contributed any percentage yet as I am not sure how much I should contribute. What exactly is a Roth IRA? Additionally, what is the ideal contribution to a 401k for someone making $48K a year?

Here was my reply:

A Roth IRA is a retirement account.  It differs from a regular IRA in two important aspects.  First the negative: you do not get a tax deduction for contributing to a Roth IRA.  But there is a big positive: you do not have to pay taxes on money you take out during retirement.  And, like a regular IRA, your money grows sheltered from taxes.  There’s also another bonus to Roth IRAs: unlike regular IRAs, there are no rules requiring you to take annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your Roth IRA, even after you reach age 70 1/2.

In general, the tax benefits of being able to get money out of a Roth IRA outweigh the advantages of the immediate tax deduction you get from making a contribution to a regular IRA.  The younger you are and the lower your tax bracket, the bigger the benefit of a Roth IRA.

There is no “ideal” contribution to a 401k plan unless there is a company match.  You should always take full advantage of a company match because it is  essentially “free money” that the company gives you.

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.

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