Month: March 2016

Broken Clocks and Market Timing

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Pshenichka

The first quarter of 2016 is drawing to a close, and as of this writing the S&P 500 Index is roughly where it was at the start of the year, hovering a meager half a percent under the December 31 close of 2043.94 after having peaked half a percent higher earlier last week.

One might conclude that it has been a very boring three months for the stock market—we’ve spent 90 days to get back to where we started from. But we’ve had quite a rollercoaster in-between. In the first half of the quarter the S&P dropped about 10%, only to have an equally dramatic bounce back.

We had some calls from worried clients after that drop. (Not many, though—we know our clients, and they know us and our philosophy.) We would certainly like to take credit for having righted the ship and reversing the decline. But the truth of the matter is that there is a lot of random noise in market movements. We believe that we may be able to capitalize on long-term market trends; we do not pretend to be able to predict what the market will do day to day or month to month.

We do know that every once in a while there will be a short-lived 10% correction in the market, so we don’t believe in panicking when the markets take a dip. But we don’t know when, or how long, or how deep a periodic correction will be.

They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Market timing often feels the same. Even if you have a deeply held conviction that a market is due for a move, you may have to wait an unpleasantly long time before you turn out to be right. In hindsight market moves seem obvious, and it is tempting to look back and curse having missed the opportunity to sell at a top or buy in at a bottom. But at the time, nobody knew that they were at the top or the bottom. If we could accurately predict when the top or bottom would hit, we wouldn’t be here dispensing financial advice. We’d be sitting on a beach somewhere in the tropics, having rum runners dispensed to us.

Maybe someday we’ll get a better crystal ball that can make those predictions. Until then, we’ll just settle for getting rich the slow way and leave market timing to the gamblers and bookies.


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

When the Money Runs Out

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / stokkete

Our advice generally has an upbeat slant to it, to the point that we occasionally get accused of being optimists. We believe our confidence in the future is soundly justified. We know, however, that not every situation is likely to have a happy ending. It takes money to do the things we want and need to do. Sometimes we simply don’t have enough of it.

This is the reason we are in business: to help clients make the most of their money. But there are limits to what prudent financial planning can accomplish. We think that our advice has value, but it isn’t magic. Our best efforts don’t always produce the resources we expected for major lifestyle needs. Other times, unexpected expenses such as legal or medical bills threaten our hard-earned wealth.

What to Do When Crisis Strikes

When faced with a financial crisis, the simplest step is cutting outlays. Even if you don’t have much in the way of luxuries to give up, you may find that some of the “necessary” expenses you took for granted can be reduced or eliminated. Maybe you are paying for an extra car you don’t really need, or more insurance coverage than makes sense, or a storage unit you could do without. We assume our bills are fixed, but on examination some of them may be reduced or eliminated.

Sometimes, though, your bills may be more than you can handle just by rearranging your budget, and that’s when the choices get really tough. At this point, your job is to sit down and figure out what the least bad option is.

Financial Strategies When Funds are Short

You can try to preserve your assets for as long as you can, investing conservatively and staying in stable assets to try to maintain balances. But simply seeking to maintain your value is not good enough if your assets are chipped away by your expenses. This route increases the likelihood that you will eventually run out of money. This strategy may only provide a nice, predictable trajectory until you hit zero.

Alternately, if you know you’re likely to hit zero eventually but you have a long-term investment strategy and don’t need the funds in the near future, you might take the opposite approach and invest more aggressively, pursuing growth to try to keep ahead of your expenses. Obviously, the risks are considerable; bear in mind that you should always keep a certain amount of funds to cover expenses in savings or conservative, liquid investments. There is a chance that you will lose your principal—but if you know that you are likely to run out of money in the end anyhow, the risk of running out slightly faster may be an acceptable trade-off for a chance to make it last longer.

Stay Realistic

In a situation like this, there is no right answer for everyone. The right answer for you is the one that you’re most comfortable with. It is important to remain realistic about your options, though. If you know that you need to draw $10,000 a year to live on for 20+ years of retirement, and your retirement portfolio is only $75,000, plugging your ears and insisting that everything will be sunshine and rainbows is probably only going to hurt you. Be wary of people peddling quick and easy cures for such financial woes–even if they are not outright frauds, odds are they do not have your best interests in mind.

If you feel you may be facing any tough financial decisions in your life, please call or email us to see if we can help you in your planning and thinking.


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

A Tour of 228 Main Street

228main

Hello, and welcome. We hope you enjoy your tour today. If you have comments or questions as we go along, by all means, ask them.

My name is Mark Leibman. I have been enchanted by the markets and the economy since my college days. And my whole career has been about helping people plan and invest to strive toward their life goals. It is all I ever wanted to do.

Back in the year 2000, twenty years into a career marked by experience in most forms of personal finance, I bought this building. I needed more space than my office at home could provide. Obviously, I could not pass it up. It dates to 1900, a brick commercial Victorian structure like the ones that dot so many small town Main Streets across the country. The careful restoration reflects the timeless values we hold dear.

My brother Paul and I did the work to get the place ready for business, and he became my first assistant. Paul, a retired firefighter, was a man of many talents. He refinished the wood floors, and we patched and painted the walls together. By the time the first round of inexpensive furniture began to show its wear, my wife Cathy was working here and directed an upgrade to the comfortable and functional pieces you see.

Larry Wiederspan, our newest associate, sits here. He came to us after more than thirty years in banking. I knew decades ago that he would make a great addition, and the pieces fell in place back in 2014. He has a great background for all the paperwork and compliance duties required of us these days. Clients also love that we have a dedicated Technology Ambassador to coordinate 24/7 online account access, electronic signing of documents, and going paperless for those who prefer.

Greg Leibman works at this desk. Yes, we are related—he is one of my children. Greg does valuable work in a number of areas. He is the primary contact when people call the office with questions about their accounts. He assists with investment research, doing special projects and screening the market for potential holdings as well as following the news on current holdings. When it is time to make changes in portfolios, Greg makes trades under my direction. Hard to believe he started here at the end of 2009.

(Greg also maintains our virtual presence at http://www.228main.com, where he is a full partner in the writing and editing. Just like our physical location here at 228 Main Street, 228main.com is a friendly place. We post a new story or article once or twice a week, highlighting our philosophy or key investment concepts or thoughts on events of the day. Links there go to our running daily short commentaries at your choice of venues, Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. It’s almost like chatting out front on the sidewalk, talking about whatever seems most pertinent or interesting at the moment.)

My office is right back here, across from the coffee maker. I believe that five cups a day keeps the Alzheimer’s away, and that is important to anyone like me who plans to work to age 92. You’ll notice that I sit at a partner’s desk—it is the same on both sides. When you sit down, we meet as equals. We think true genius lies in finding unrecognized simplicities, not in complicating things to confuse people or acting like some high priest.

The machinery on my side of the desk connects to a thousand times the resources any investment professional had back when I got registered to do business, at a tiny fraction of the cost. For someone who reads voraciously and studies long hours, we truly live in a golden age. And it’s portable: I can work from anywhere with my cell phone and internet access.

So that’s our place. I’ve done all the talking so far, and I apologize for that. If you’d like to visit about your goals and your life, let’s get started. We can do that by phone, email, or the good old-fashioned way, face to face. You choose.

Guidelines for Product and Service Providers

We have good news for those who would like us to use their products and services. We will help you use your time more productively. All you need to do is read this before requesting a block of our time.

Seven Things to Know About Us:
1. We work hard to attract, train and retain clients who understand and tolerate volatility as a normal and integral part of long term investing.
2. We believe that ‘volatility is not risk,’ in the words of Warren Buffett.
3. We are a research and portfolio management shop, not a sales organization.
4. We believe conventional wisdom is usually not wise.
5. We value liquidity.
6. The better our clients do, the better off we will be.
7. Our only business objective is to grow the buckets of the clients.

Three Suggestions:

1. Help us find ways to seek to build the client buckets over the long term, without regard to volatility or popularity.
2. Tell us what popular investments are drawing the most money and buzz; that may give us clues about what to avoid.
3. Share perspectives and research and resources, not sales ideas.

Don’ts:
• Don’t try to help us find more people to talk to. We’re busy with our clients.
• Don’t show us new products that have no track record.
• Don’t call us if your organization lacks a stable history of ownership.
• Don’t bring information about non-liquid or high expense products.
• Don’t try to debate our beliefs or principles.

We are voracious consumers of ideas and information. If you can help us, please call. If in doubt, email Greg.Leibman@lpl.com. If we are not a fit based on the information presented here, find a better prospect than us. Thank you.

Screaming Toddlers and the Federal Reserve

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kondrytskyi

How many times have you read how easy it is to lose weight or build wealth or improve your health simply by developing your capacity for delayed gratification? Relax, we aren’t here to hector you or lecture you. Instead, we would like to explain how and why defective but popular policies are going to cost our future selves.

Resisting the temptation for a smaller but immediate reward in order to gain a larger or more enduring reward later—that is the concept of delayed gratification. The ability to exercise it has been linked to improvements in physical health, mental health, social networks, and wealth. In an economic sense, deferred spending (or saving) is positive because it builds capital that can make us more productive, with potentially higher income and net worth in the future.

Toddlers generally lack a firm concept of “later.” When one decides that a lollipop is needed, talk of waiting until after dinner or tomorrow doesn’t really fly. If you know why they call toddlerhood the “Terrible Twos,” you understand that tantrums work against the idea of delayed gratification.

Our Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world are impatient with the pace of economic growth. One of the supposed “problems” they’ve identified is that we are not spending enough. The savings rate—the part of our incomes that we do not spend—is higher than it has been for quite a while. The Fed knows we could spend more money if we wanted to, but we are stubbornly saving it.

Our economy will be stronger in the future because collectively we are exercising delayed gratification with our money. But the immediate gratification of faster economic growth right now is being sacrificed so that you and I can have stronger balance sheets, less debt, and more money on hand.

You may have noticed that the Zero Interest Rate Policy has drastically reduced the return on savings. And now, in the next step, some central banks are fostering negative interest rates. It is hard to think about, so let’s look at an example. At negative interest rates, you might buy a $10,000 CD and get back only $9,900 at maturity.

Why would the “experts” inflict this upon us? In order to make us spend money instead of saving it. It is like the Zero Interest Rate Policy, only worse. In other words, the central banks are like toddlers who have seen the lollipop and want the lollipop and it better happen NOW!

The Federal Reserve Board has members of varying opinions: some are like toddlers, some behave as adults. Thankfully nobody has begun to institute negative interest rates in the United States.

Our slipping national capacity for delayed gratification is a problem at the leadership level. We want you to know how this might affect you. We are also paying attention and working hard to figure out what we should own, and why, in our investments.

As always, please write or call if you would like to discuss this or other pertinent issues.


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

Are You a Dirty Capitalist Too?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / robwilson39

Since the 2007 financial crisis broke, we’ve been hearing a lot about the carelessness and greed of our financial system. The pursuit of corporate profits, we are told, led our economy to ruin and apparently will do so again in a heartbeat. Big corporations and financial institutions are crushing the middle class underfoot and choking the life out of the American dream. These are the sound bites we hear daily
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Corporate malfeasance certainly played a role in the crisis and we are gratified and relieved when we see it punished. But these excoriations of our financial system overlook one important fact: capitalism is a fundamentally democratic institution. All of us reading this blog can—and in most cases, do—participate fully in the capitalism system.

When you purchase shares of stock, those shares represent a unit ownership in a corporation. What’s more, the shares you buy are fundamentally identical to the shares that those “greedy” Wall Street banks and hedge funds are buying, with all the same rights and privileges. They might have more shares but the rewards of ownership are divvied out proportionately. When a corporation pays out dividends every share of the company gets its fair piece; they can’t pay out some owners and not others.

Some of our readers may be thinking, “This is all well and good for the rich people who own stocks, but what about us little folks?” The beauty of this system is that many of us little folks also own stocks. Many of us contribute money out of our paycheck towards a retirement or pension plan, through which we are beneficial owners of stock market investments. That makes us capitalists.

And it’s a good thing, too. Through our collective investments, millions of modest savers are pooling their money to create capital. Our investments and retirement savings turn into factories, datacenters, and hospitals—all of the machinery of modern life. Whether you realize it or not, if you have any investments you may very well own a tiny slice of many of those things. So when you feel you’re being gouged by an overly greedy corporation, just remember that their “unfair profits” are also funding the retirements of millions of regular workers just like you—and possibly you, yourself.

We know the system isn’t perfect. We can’t guarantee that corporations will always act wisely or ethically, and it’s important to remain vigilant. We believe the best and surest way to make sure that our interests are represented by the system is to participate in it. If you want to get involved, call or email us.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss. Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Poking Holes: Find Your Strategy

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / actionsports

“It’s easy to poke holes in every single investment philosophy or strategy. The trick is to find the one with flaws that you’re comfortable with.” –Ben Carlson, Ritholz Wealth Management

This concise statement makes it clear: every investor faces tradeoffs.

Current Income or Long Term Growth? Some strategies focus on growth in capital over time, others focus on current cash flow. Many investors need some of each. A pure growth portfolio probably won’t pay your bills, and a pure income portfolio may not have the growth to stay ahead of inflation.

Stability of market value or long term growth? This is where we live! We have written about the high price of stability. And we have constantly communicated in every way we know how about the link between long term returns and short term volatility. Everybody we know would prefer having both stable values day to day and wonderful long term returns.

You cannot have all of both—the best we can do is some of each. But it helps to resolve this tradeoff if you make sure your income and emergency funds are sufficient for your needs. If you own the orchard for the fruit crop, you don’t need to care what the neighbor would pay you for the orchard today.

Reliability of Income or Stability of market value? This dilemma is not even recognized by most people, and rarely discussed by investment professionals in our experience. Nevertheless it is a vital point. At one extreme, the kinds of investments that assure stable values have delivered wildly varying income over the years. In the early 1980s one could gain interest of 1% a month on money in the bank. More recently, it has been difficult to get 1% per year. So the person that retired on bank deposit interest of 12% saw a lot of volatility—and deterioration—in their income over time. Meanwhile, anything you can own that produces reliable income over extended periods will definitely fluctuate in market value, sometimes sharply.

Putting it all together: As you can see, every investment strategy has flaws. The trick, as Carlson says, is to find the one with flaws that you’re comfortable with. So we need to understand what is required in the way of stability, current income, reliability of income over time, and long term growth. We can build a portfolio that strives to balance those attributes with tradeoffs that are both acceptable and likely to be successful.

Please call if we may be of service in this regard, or to update our understanding of your situation.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

What, Why, How, for Whom?

We’ve been blogging, commenting, tweeting and otherwise communicating for a while now. A diligent follower, after much reading, would be able to determine what we are all about. This memo is to simplify things by putting the basics all in one place: what we are doing, why, how, and for whom.

What we do: Help people manage their finances to pursue their life goals. We get paid as financial consultants who manage advisory accounts on a fiduciary basis—putting client interests first—for a percentage fee. The larger your account, the better our revenues—our sole business objective is to grow your buckets. The talk is all free, as is any supplemental financial planning work to connect your money to your real life.

Why we do it: Mark Leibman is obsessed with the economy, markets, and financial plans and planning. We are contrarians, we do our own thinking, and we find great satisfaction in the gratifying work of helping people realize their plans. Mark plans to work until age 92.

How we do it: The Strategic Asset Management platform offered by LPL Financial is well-suited to our strengths and interests. It affords the opportunity to own a wide variety of investments in an individually managed account, structured to work towards specific goals. Our key activities are talking to clients, investment research, and portfolio management.

For Whom: Our most important work is for those who really need their money managed effectively over the long term. A minority of people have so much they could never spend it all even if it was buried in a jar; others have no long-term resources to manage. We primarily serve the people in the middle.

The most vital qualifications, however, have nothing to do with money. Our methods and strategies require a good philosophical fit with our clients.

1. An underlying confidence that the country endures its challenges and emerges on the far side. You might be a candidate if you understand and agree with our short essay about the end of the world.

2. An understanding that people who live on their portfolios (or wish to) depend on portfolio income to pay bills, not account value. In our working years we tend to focus on account values; in retirement it is nearly imperative to focus on cash flow instead. We explain here.

3. Toleration of short-term fluctuations—volatility—without selling out at low points or bad times. We believe in knowing where needed cash will come from, and having some money in the bank. But long-term wealth needs to be managed for the long term, and that involves ups and downs. We wrote why this is here and here.

Our primary offering, the Strategic Asset Management account, can be an effective strategy for many of our clients. We have other products and services to serve those with less, or people who are saving for a successful future.

We are not a sales organization. We have no “new business” goals. Our object is to grow client buckets. If you believe you could do somebody a favor by recommending us, you may send them a link to http://www.228main.com so they can get to know us, and figure out whether they should call for an appointment.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.