Tag: Markets

Investing like Bill Gates

Bill Gates’ fortune has ballooned to $82 billion according to the Wall Street Journal. It puts him at the top of the Forbes 500 list of the world’s richest people. And it’s not due to the price of Microsoft stock.

Over the years, Bill Gates has done what any savvy investor does, he’s diversified. He has sold about $40 billion of his Microsoft shares and has given $30 billion to charity. So what’s he done to get even richer? He has hired a money manager. The man’s name is Michael Larson and Gates has given him his “complete trust and faith.”

Gates gave a party in Larson’s honor, toasting him by saying that “Melinda [Gates wife] and I are free to pursue our vision of a healthier and better-educated world because of what Michael has done.”

The way Bill Gates has managed his fortune is a lesson for every investor. There are three distinct things that are worth noting.

1. Diversification. The first rule of risk control – making sure you don’t lose your money –  is diversification. This issue has been beaten to death, yet we still see people with portfolios which are concentrated in one or two stocks. This is often the case of an employee who has bought his company’s stock over many years. Small business owners are even guiltier. Often their single biggest asset is their business. It’s even more important for the owner of a chain of dry cleaners, fast food outlets or a real estate developer to build an investment portfolio that will be there if their business declines. Only about 15% of Gates’ fortune is invested in Microsoft stock. If Microsoft were to close up shop tomorrow, Gates lifestyle would not be affected. He would still be immensely wealthy. Many business owners can’t say the same thing.

2. Hire an investment professional to manage your money. Gates knows computers and computer software. He’s smart, savvy and knows that he lacks investment expertise. Gates hired Larson in 1994, realizing that if he was going to diversify he had to hire someone who was an expert investor to manage his money. The Gates fortune grew from $5 billion when he hired Larson to $82 billion today. Larson has autonomy to buy and sell investments as he sees fit. His portfolio includes stocks, bonds and real estate. He has a staff of about 100 people to help him do the hard work of managing the Gates fortune.

3. Focus on what you enjoy and do best. Because they have someone they can trust managing their money, Gates and his wife can pursue their vision. Most people’s interests revolve around their family, their work or hobbies. Managing the family investments is a distraction from what people want to do. Besides, few people are investment professionals. That’s why Gates example is worth following. Unless you have Gates’ wealth you can’t afford your own dedicated, private, investment manager. But there are investment managers – like Larson – who manage the assets of multiple families.  They can take care of your investments while you focus on the things that are important to you.

Gates gets an update on his investments every two months. Not every investment has been successful, but they are good enough to have returned Gates to the top of the wealth list.

If you are still managing your own money, or have an account with a broker who calls you with investment ideas from time to time, isn’t it time to think about the way the richest man in the world handles his money? Call Korving & Company and let us show you what we can do for you.

Market Myth #2: It’s all about beating the market.

For many amateur investors the object is to beat the market.  They are abetted in this belief by the many magazines and newsletters that make the market the benchmark of what a successful investor should emulate.  People spend hours scouring the media looking for stock tips and investing ideas as if investing was a sport, like horse race, where the object is to beat the others to the finish line.

The fact is that “beating the market” does not address any individual’s actual financial goals.  It’s a meaningless statistic.  And it’s dangerous.

The fact is that most professional investors don’t beat the market on a consistent basis.  Even index funds, designed to replicate the market, don’t actually beat the market.  At best they provide market rates of return minus a fee.  Attempting to beat the market exposes the investor to more risk than is prudent.

Your portfolio should be built around your needs and consistent with your risk tolerance.

What does this mean?  Your portfolio should provide a return that’s keeping you ahead of the cost of living, that allows you to retire in comfort, and is conservative enough that you will not be scared out of the market during the inevitable corrections.

Want to create a portfolio that’s right for you?  Contact us.

Market myth #1: the stock market can make you rich.

This is one of a series of posts about common market myths that can be dangerous to your wealth.

The market is rarely the place where fortunes are made.  Real people get rich by creating and running great companies.  Bill Gates became the richest man by building and running Microsoft.  Steve Jobs the same way.  The Walton Family, ditto.

In the less rarefied world of multi-millionaires, millionaires and semi-millionaires the same thing is true.  People get rich (or well-to-do) by starting a business, studying and becoming a professional or just working for a living and saving part of what they earn.

This is not to disparage the market as a  tool for protecting  wealth, maintaining purchasing power, living well in retirement and getting a fair rate of return on your money.  But the idea that you can get rich by trading stocks is a myth that can actually destroy your financial well-being.

One of the best ways of avoiding the temptation to use the market as a “casino,” a place where you can “win the lottery” is to turn to a professional investment advisor.  Someone who knows what’s possible and what’s not.  Someone who is in the business of getting you a fair rate of return on your money while minimizing the risk that you will lose it.  An independent, fee only RIA is someone who will not try to sell you one the latest investment fad that the  wire-houses are selling, but who will act in your best interest, because that’s in his best interest.

Have a question about the markets?  Ask us.

What to do when couples disagree on investing

It’s well known in the investment business that women are more risk averse than men. There are, of course, exceptions and I should qualify that by saying that’s true of “most” women and men.

In most cases this does not cause problems when couples invest. That’s because there is usually a division of labor with one spouse making most of the investment decisions. However, when spouses collaborate on investing, a significant difference of opinion can cause a lot of stress in a marriage. Differences in money management styles between two partners can ruin a marriage.

That’s the time for the couple to meet with a trusted financial advisor who can provide unbiased advice and professional expertise. Getting an intermediary involved in what could be a serious dispute usually helps. This often allows a couple to come to an understanding that both can agree works for them.

If you and your partner have disagreements about money and investing, get in touch with us.

And don’t forget to read the first three chapters of BEFORE I GO.  It’s free.

What is the purpose of a stock market?

Before there was a stock market, there were stock companies.

A stock company allows individuals to pool their money to create an organization to operate and grow.  Stock is used to determine how much a person owns of a company.  Owning a stock does not necessarily create wealth.  Wealth creation can only occur if the stock can be sold to someone else who is willing to pay you more for it than what you originally paid.  This led to the creation of a market for people who owned shares in stock companies.

A stock market has two functions.  First, it allows the owners of stock to sell their ownership interest easily and quickly.  Second, it also allows people who would like to be owners to buy an ownership interest quickly and easily.  Now even people who do not have substantial financial resources can participate in the growth in value of large enterprises.

For example, the founders of Apple were able to raise money for their company by selling their shares of Apple stock to people who were willing to bet that the company would be successful.  That was 1976.  In 1980 the shares of Apple were first allowed to be publicly traded.  As a result, the founding shareholders were able to profit from their original investment and the company itself raised millions of dollars that it could invest in growth.  It also allowed people who did not personally know the founders to become partial owners and benefit from the company’s growth.  The stock market allowed people who believed in Apple computers to bet on the company’s future, and also provided them with a ready market for their shares if they needed to sell or decided they no longer believed in the company’s future.

The bottom line is that the stock market creates liquidity.  Without liquidity it becomes much harder for a company to raise the capital it needs to grow in a modern economy.

Five year returns can be misleading

Chris Latham at Financial Advisor talks about the words “long-term” and the fact that there is no consensus about its meaning.  If one year is not long-term, is 2, 5, 10 or more?  The longer the period being measured, the closer we get to actually talking about the long-term.  Of course we have to take into consideration that fact that our individual time horizons are not infinite.  A 20-year-old can afford to think in terms of a 70 year time span, someone 70 years old cannot.

Many people will look at a five-year span and make a judgement about the market, a stock or a mutual fund.  But there’s something revealing that tells us that we can be misled by these statistics.

In fact, one calendar year can make all the difference in the minds of stock investors. Compare the five-year period ending in 2012 with the same span ending in 2013. They look like two completely different time frames, even though they share three identical years. Counting dividends, the five years ended in 2012 returned 1.7{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} on the S&P 500, while the five years ended in 2013 returned 17.9{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93}, the Times reports.
The long crawl up from the depths of the Great Recession accounts for the poor showing in the first snapshot, while last year’s 32.4{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} market rise accounts for the apparent miracle in the second.

Be cautious when viewing data that changes the beginning and end-points.  And keep in mind that market indexes are not important as a way of achieving financial freedom.

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.

Pricking the Stock Market Bubble Debate

We recently posted a note about the definition of a “bubble.”  We thought it would be worth our while to share the thoughts of billionaire Ken Fisher’s firm on this issue.  We share this, not as a firm prediction, but an analysis by an individual who’s more often right than wrong.

Are stocks about to froth over? With many indexes routinely clocking new highs, bubble chatter is easy to come by. One former presidential budget advisor says stocks are in a bubble! Our soon-to-be Fed head and one of her predecessors say no such bubble exists! A popular newspaper weighed in, too, corralling a few “experts” to opine on the issue. All the hoopla suggests there is a bubble … in bubble talk! In stocks, however, evidence suggests otherwise—this bull has plenty of fundamental support and rational reasons to keep on running.

What tends to move stocks most is the gap between economic and business fundamentals and the degree to which these fundamentals are appreciated. A stock market bubble forms when expectations about publicly traded companies’ future earnings exceed reality—when expectations become inflated. In the late 1990s, for example, Tech stocks with little revenue, unproven track record of success and poor business models shot sky high. Euphoric sentiment was defying fundamentals—glee, driven largely by past returns, was the only thing holding them up. Fundamentals eventually won the day, and sentiment followed after investors gradually saw their irrational bets go south. The bubble burst.

But today’s market looks nothing like that. Expectations are pretty low—few fathom that profits can keep growing and the global economy stay firm or even reaccelerate. Signs of optimism are guarded at best, and are often loaded with “yeah buts.” And keep in mind, bubbles don’t form overnight and are very difficult to detect. So difficult, in fact, that if everyone’s talking about them, they probably aren’t there. Constant bubble talk is self-deflating—it fosters fear and skepticism.

So why do some argue that we are in a bubble? Perhaps it’s because of the recent spate of social media IPOs, which may scare folks into thinking that markets are partying like it’s 1999—just before the Tech bubble burst. However, there are many differences between now and then. Sure, there may be some euphoria in social media, but social media is a small subset of IPOs. Consider: In 1999, there were 368 IPOs in tech alone. In 2013, Twitter made 33. Even if you think Social Media firms are frothy, they’re a tiny portion of the overall market and don’t necessarily reflect broader sentiment. Among tech companies, recent IPOs are trading at 5.6 times sales, compared with 26.5 times sales in 1999—investors aren’t placing exuberant valuations on yet-to-be-seen sales. And most of today’s IPOs aren’t Tech—they span most sectors, and many are higher-quality companies with real business plans compared to the flash-in-the-pan tech companies from the ‘90s. Hilton, an IPO scheduled to launch soon, has a rather time-tested business model, if nothing else.

Others believe stocks are propped up by something artificial (ahem, quantitative easing) and once it’s removed, the market will crash. The case: The Fed’s QE program has pushed investors from Treasurys to equities, in search for better return, and this is why the stock market has done well. Once interest rates rise, investors will drift back to fixed income, and stocks will fall. Yet data don’t support the notion of some massive rotation from bonds to stocks since QE began. Nor would that even be necessary for stocks to rise—there is a seller for every buyer. Stocks are an auction market—buyers’ willingness to pay higher prices is what matters, not the sheer number of buyers.

Philosophically, too, the notion fixed-income investors would chase higher yields in stocks is flawed. Perhaps some might, but many investors own bonds to reduce expected short-term volatility, particularly if they have higher cash flows. If they were dissatisfied with Treasury yields, they probably wouldn’t rush headlong into stocks, a more volatile asset class. They’d likely move to another form of fixed income (e.g., corporate bonds).

Finally, some suggest hot stock markets are detached from slow economic growth. True, this expansion is one of the slowest in modern history, but stocks aren’t the economy. Stocks are shares of publicly traded companies and reflect the private sector. While headline GDP growth hasn’t been stellar, much of the detraction has come from state, local and Federal government spending reductions. Business investment is closing in on all-time highs, profits are at all-time highs and rising, and S&P 500 earnings and revenues continue growing. Heck, earnings hit their first all-time high two years ago! Stocks hit theirs earlier this year. Stripping this influence out shows a stronger private sector—and the gap between how folks perceive the economy (pervasive claims of a sluggish, flat, fake or only “technical” recovery) is a great illustration of the dearth of euphoric sentiment. With this in mind, it seems tough to argue stocks are wildly higher than reality warrants. It seems more like the reverse.

 

What's a "Bubble?"

The word “bubble” has been thrown around a great deal with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) at 16,000, the S&P 500 at 1800, and the Nasdaq Comp above 4000.  The term “bubble” is a scare word that makes people think of a repeat of the Tech Crash of 2000 or the real estate bubble that led to the financial crisis of 2008.

Cluifford Asness, whose firm manages $80 billion has a pet peeve and one of them is the loose use of the term “bubble.”

“The word “bubble,” even if you are not an efficient market fan (if you are, it should never be uttered outside the tub), is very overused. I stake out a middle ground between pure efficient markets, where the word is verboten, and the common overuse of the word that is my peeve. Whether a particular instance is a bubble will never be objective; we will always have disagreement ex ante and even ex post. But to have content, the term bubble should indicate a price that no reasonable future outcome can justify. I believe that tech stocks in early 2000 fit this description. I don’t think there were assumptions — short of them owning the GDP of the Earth — that justified their valuations. However, in the wake of 1999-2000 and 2007-20008, and with the prevalence of the use of the word “bubble” to describe these two instances, we have dumbed the word down and now use it too much. An asset or a security is often declared to be in a bubble when it is more accurate to describe it as “expensive” or possessing a “lower than normal expected return.” The descriptions “lower than normal expected return” and “bubble” are not the same thing.

Bloomberg columnist Barry Ritholtz comments:

“It would only take a small marginal improvement in the economy, or a small uptick in hiring, or heaven help us, even a modest increase in wages to increase revenues and drive profits significantly higher,”he current market valuations do not, in my opinion, have the characteristics of a “bubble.” “

Whether stocks, bonds or commodities are fairly valued, undervalued or overvalued will become apparent over time.   In the meantime, unless you are being paid to opine, it’s best to realize that fortune-telling is not the way to manage your portfolio.  Creating an all-weather portfolio with the asset allocation that will allow you to face any reasonable future is the best strategy.

 

Government shuts down: No sign of economic problems

The news has been co-opted by the partial government shut down with its attendant predictions of economic catastrophe if the government doesn’t re-open all its branches in a few hours.  Meanwhile in Realville, First Trust notes:

we’ve still seen the two ISM indices (on manufacturing and services), auto sales, chain-store sales, and two weeks of unemployment claims.  None of these reports suggests the economy has broken out either to the upside  or the downside from the pattern of Plow Horse growth of the past few years.  While real GDP itself probably slowed in Q3 to around 1.5{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} growth, the economy as a whole looks to be expanding at roughly a 2{030251e622a83165372097b752b1e1477acc3e16319689a4bdeb1497eb0fac93} annual rate over a two or three quarter average.
The bottom line on  the economy right now is that there is no sign the partial shutdown, or anything else for that matter, has knocked it off the same course it’s been on for the past few years.  Hopefully, when the government finally opens back up, it’ll do so with a better set of polices, which would help the plow horse pick up his pace.

It’s a different view than we get on the 24/7 cable shows, but it helps to look at reality when those around you are losing their heads.

Connect With Us

Korving & Company, Investment Management, Suffolk, VA

Contact Us

Newsletter Signup

© 2021 Korving & Company, LLC