All That And More!

© Can Stock Photo / Irochka

The narrow part of our duties here at 228 Main is striving to grow your buckets. (By this we mean trying to help you build your financial wealth.) But a much broader range of topics comes into play.

The next layer out from investment research and portfolio management, equally important, is effective investing behavior. Some of you seem to have been born with great instincts; others have proved to be trainable. We invest energy and time into describing what effective investing requires, as accurately as we are able, to help you be sure we are all on the same page.

Then there is the matter of how to connect your money to your life. What do you need in terms of portfolio cash flow or withdrawals to meet your goals in the real world? Which forms of investing for retirement are likely to get you to your goals? How much of an emergency fund is optimal for you? We work with you on nearly any money question.

If you take a step back from that, you find a whole philosophy of money and life. We attempt to provide perspectives on things that will help you and us find confidence, comfort and happiness with the choices we make. Achievement, reaching goals, spending wisely (as vital as investing well), perspective on events of the day, economic history, biographies of giants who have come before us… all find their way into our communications.

We get paid for managing wealth. All this other stuff is intended to help you have the resources you need to live as you would like to live. (We have longed believed that the better off you are, the better off we are likely to be.) Whatever counsel you need from us is free; anyone may read our essays, watch the videos, and follow us in social media.

Speaking of that, if you have reason to wish others could see our perspective on money and investing and life, you may point them to our digital communications. Better yet, we will add anyone you want to the list for our weekly short email—friends, children, whomever. Of course, we are too busy trying to grow your buckets to bother them, so being on the email list is a low-risk proposition. Just let us know.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Icky-Tasting Medicine

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If you believe that living with ups and downs is an integral feature of long term investing, some aspects of customary investment practices seem rather curious.

The idea that volatility is risk is the root of the trouble, in our view. We believe volatility is simply the normal ups and downs, not a good measure of risk. A widely followed concept, Modern Portfolio Theory or MPT, adopts the approach that volatility is literally, mathematically, risk.

This approach attempts to work out “risk tolerance,” by which they mean willingness to endure volatility. If one is averse to volatility, then portfolios are designed with volatility reduction in mind.

Unfortunately, volatility reduction may result in performance reduction. But investments which do not fluctuate are not truly investments. Your bank account does not fluctuate, but it is not an investment.

We think beginning the conversation with an attempt to tease out willingness to endure volatility is a lot like a doctor working with a child to determine tolerance for icky-tasting medicine before making a prescription.

Our strategy is to impart what we believe about investing. We work with people to understand what part of their wealth might be invested for the long term, and whether they are comfortable with ups and downs on that fraction of it.

This necessarily involves learning about near and intermediate cash needs and income requirements, as well as talking about what it takes to live with the ups and downs. We invest a lot of time and energy into providing context and perspective so people might be better able to invest effectively. This process begins at the very beginning of our discussions with potential clients.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Sacrifice or Joy?

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The ability to delay gratification is supposed by some to be the key to reaching our goals. And it seems to make sense.

If one can spend less and save more day by day, greater wealth results over time. Skipping dessert and taking the stairs instead of the elevator over the weeks and months may improve our health over the years and decades.

This framework casts our future welfare as something that contends with current enjoyment of life. “Sacrifice today for a brighter tomorrow,” and all that. It takes willpower to struggle against today’s desires for distant benefits, somewhere down the road.

We believe there is a more productive way to think about this.

The key is to find the immediate gratification hiding inside deferred gratification. If you are broke but begin saving a little bit of money every payday in a systematic way, you have the immediate gratification of changing your trajectory, of moving in the right direction.

Imagine the gratification of getting your act together in the way that most needs it. You have known it needs attention, and its neglect nags at you. Embarking on a plan gives you the immediate gratification of taking action to improve your life.

In short, you can struggle and sacrifice today for benefits in the misty future, or reframe it so that reaching for your goals brings you immediate joy. It’s a matter of the narrative you choose to tell yourself, the framing in your mind.

Clients, if you would like to talk about your goals or anything else, please email us or call.

The Trouble with Zig and Zag Theory

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The idea behind massive diversification, owing a bit of everything, is that some things zig when others zag, keeping the whole bucket steadier. Great theory.

The problem is that things do not zig and zag ALL the time. When the big downturn comes, they all go down together. Oh, some things do not go down – but those things also tend to never go up, either.

The mathematical basis for massive diversification is Modern Portfolio Theory. It depends on different types of assets behaving more or less independently of one another – zigging and zagging. The lack of correlation is what drives the hypothetical usefulness of the theory.

In the big downturns, however, the correlations may converge. In plain language, in times of market stress, even independent investments may act as though they are related. The theory may not work due to systematic risks.

This is a real problem, because it is a theory that sometimes has the potential to drive investors to diversify into sectors and asset classes which may hold unknown risks, in the interest of avoiding market volatility.

This only makes sense if one defines volatility as risk, something to always be minimized and avoided. We think it makes more sense to understand volatility as an integral and necessary part of long term investing, a feature to be tolerated (or embraced) as the price of pursuing market returns over the long haul.

Investing in fluctuating markets with confidence requires us to know where our needed cash will come from – only long term money should be invested for the long term.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Goldilocks the Burglar

© Can Stock Photo / monkeybusiness

The story of Goldilocks might be a lesson in moderation, but it’s also a story of breaking and entering.

We prefer to find more reasonable and socially acceptable ways to get our needs met. We talk a lot about helping clients put words to their dreams, but dreams need not be lofty. Here are a few guidelines that have proven helpful.

“The right amount is best.” In her book Lagom, writer Niki Brantmark describes this Swedish principle of the same name. Not enough is not enough. Too much of a good thing can be a good thing, but often is not. The right amount is best.

Social comparison, or “keeping up with the Joneses” can corrode happiness or financial health, if we aren’t conscious of our emotions and purposeful about our responses and reactions. It helps to focus on our own needs, rather than what others have. (I’ve met the Jones, and they don’t care what you have anyway.)

When working on goals, it sometimes helps to define three outcomes: minimum acceptable levels, reasonable targets that feel within reach, and ‘stretch’ goals that require creative thinking and approaches to get to. This may help you be more aware of options and possibilities.

Clients, if you would like to talk about your goals or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

 

Up And Down Really Means Up And Down

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As long term investors we talk a lot about the need to weather short-term volatility in pursuit of long-term results. Our notion is that volatility is not risk, but an inherent feature of investing.

As years go by, many think of the market as having good years and bad years. This is based on the outcome for calendar years. The astonishing thing is how much movement there is during the course of the typical year.

“At least one year in four, roughly, the market declines.” We’ve said that about a billion times, to reiterate that our accounts are likely to also have good years and bad years, if one judges on annual returns. The object is to make a decent return over the whole course of the economic cycle, year by year and decade by decade.

But in those other three years out of four, the market also experiences declines during the course of the year. In an average year you may see a decline of 10 to 15% at some point during the year.

Our object is to leave long term money to work through the ups and downs, without selling out at a bad time. Three things help us do that:

1. A sense that everything will work out eventually, a mindset of optimism.

2. Awareness that downturns tend to be temporary, ultimately yielding to long term growth in the economy.

3. Knowing where our needed cash will come from, based on a sound cash flow plan.

Bottom line, even years that end up well can give us a rough ride. Knowing this can make it easier to deal with.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

 

Everything’s Connected, Chapter 137

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The world is both numbers and ideas, math and language, money and art, computers and nature. A lot goes into connecting your money to your life and ambitions. We were reminded of this in learning about the life and work of Ada Lovelace.

The world’s first computer programmer was not working out of a garage in California in the 1970s—but like the computing pioneers of Silicon Valley, the 19th century thinker Ada Lovelace saw possibility where others didn’t.

Born in London, Lovelace’s education started at age four. She was a young adult when she began work with other early computing minds on an analytical computing machine: a giant engine that could process numbers mechanically.

Although their genius wasn’t recognized at the time, Lovelace’s notes about this machine have helped lift her from history: she was one of the first people to suggest that if a machine could process numbers, it could process other forms of information, like text and images and other symbols.

The insight that resonates with us is, math is “the language through which alone we can adequately express the great facts of the natural world.” Certainly arithmetic is key to working out the money ends of your goals.

We owe a lot to Ada Lovelace, her contemporaries, and succeeding generations of pioneers of the modern age. We are all beneficiaries of their breakthroughs, and wiser for understanding the philosophy behind their achievements.

Clients, if you would like to discuss this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

  1. Ben Rabinovich, “Ada Lovelace Day 2018: When is it and who was Ada Lovelace?” The Daily Mail: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6256519/Ada-Lovelace-Day-2018-Ada-Lovelace.html
  1. Julia Markus, Lady Byron and Her Daughters: https://books.google.com/books?id=nOtwBgAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&dq=ada%20lovelace%20education%20insanity&pg=PT131#v=onepage&q=translation&f=false.

 

The Golden Business Rule

© Can Stock Photo / czany

The Golden Rule exists in many forms and many cultures around the world. We see it in different formulations: what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, do unto others.

At 228 Main, we stopped thinking about our business revenue or asset goals a long time ago. We do have goals: a specific one and a broader one.

The narrow one is to try to grow your buckets. This has us reading and researching, assessing opportunities and threats in the economy and markets, forming views, and taking action in portfolios. It is endlessly fascinating to me, one of the reasons I want to work until age 92.

The broader goal is to do great work for you, from your perspective. There are two pieces to this. First, we have to understand your life and your plans and planning. Whatever your financial position is, your objectives and needs play a large role in shaping the best strategies.

The second part is in communicating in clear terms and engaging with you, so we understand you and you see how your money connects with your life. Living with confidence about your financial position may contribute to your happiness and wellness, which is our true underlying purpose. Life may be better when you have confidence in your approach and know that we are responsive to changes in your situation.

The ironic thing is that business got a whole lot better when we stopped worrying about it and began to focus more on your situation. Evidently, what goes around comes around.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Financial Planning and Fortune Tellers

© Can Stock Photo / Anke

We recently reviewed a financial planner’s article about strategies for claiming Social Security. They had software to do a complex analysis. The software required inputs of some raw facts: estimated Social Security benefits at different ages, household cash flow requirements, financial balances.

But the software required inputs, answers to questions about the future:

How much will investments earn in the future?

What will tax rates be in the future?

What will inflation be in the future?

How will household cash flow needs change in the future?

Many software planning tools even ask for the answer to the ultimate question: what will the date on your death certificate be?

The problem is we can’t know the future. So calculating that financial balances would be a tiny amount higher 30 years from now if one course is chosen versus another is probably about as reliable as consulting a fortune teller. Especially when it comes to trying to guess when your retirement will “end”!

But when it comes out of a computer, with charts and graphs and year-by-year tables of numbers, presented by a well-dressed person with initials after their name, it seems real.

At the dawn of the computer age, a phrase was used to describe the analytical version of “you reap what you sow”: “garbage in, garbage out” (or GIGO).1 We might do well to remember it.

Clients, if you would like to puzzle through any financial issue, we would be happy to use real life dialogue to sort out how the alternatives might work out. Email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

 

The Information Age is Over

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An Italian philosopher has identified the great paradox of knowledge. The tidal waves of data and information coming at us every second are more likely to drown us than empower us. Gloria Origgi believes we are moving towards the Reputation Age, in which information has value only when it has been filtered by a trusted source.

To illustrate, we recently sought to find the reason behind a rise in the stock price of a company in which we are invested. Turning to Google, filtering to see only news from the last 24 hours, we found a blizzard of information – but nothing related to our quest. None of the search results was from a news source we recognized. Here are the entries we found, with our interpretations and judgement:

1. A tiny investment manager sold some of its shares, an insignificant 0.02% of an average day’s trading volume. Worthless.

2. A press release about one day’s trading action from last July. Worthless.

3. The third entry was of an increasingly common type. Apparently written by a robot, it recites the percentage change in the stock for the prior day, month, and year to date. It also included average analyst ranking and statistics about the stock price and volume of trading. Worthless.

4. All of the remaining entries on the first page of the Google news search were similar in form to the third, with variations in the statistics cited. Two had proprietary technical scales or indicators, one included Bollinger bands, none had actual news about the company. Worthless.

Fortunately, we invest in proprietary subscription-based investment services which include breaking news about the companies in which we invest. A quarterly earnings report is due out within a few days, so we concluded that changing sentiment about that report was probably behind the stock move.

This anecdote demonstrates Dr. Origgi’s concept. The quantity of raw data available is staggering. But only when we to turned to our trusted sources did we find what we wanted in an efficient fashion. How did we know to look there? Reputation.

The Reputation Age. It’s here. We strive to earn a place in it when you are looking for guidance about your plans and planning and wealth issues.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.