Month: August 2017

The Power of Patience

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One of the basic principles of investing is that the longer your time horizon, the greater the yield you can generally expect. On certificates of deposit at the bank, you get higher interest on longer maturities. If you are buying US Treasury bonds, the 10 year bond usually has a higher yield than the 1 year bond. Conversely, if you are taking out a loan, you pay higher interest on a 30 year loan than on a 10 year loan.

If you’ve got a long time horizon, this seems like an easy way to maximize your returns. But there is no such thing as a free lunch—the only reason issuers will pay you more for a longer time to maturity is because they are hoping to get something out of it.

Some individuals may have short term outlooks, and be easily spooked out of the market. That’s bad news for investment companies and debt issuers who find their money reserves drying up when investors start cashing out. If investors lock into longer terms the companies are free to implement longer term strategies with less of a worry about investors abruptly pulling the rug out from under them. That is why they are willing to pay higher yields to keep the money in for longer.

It sounds like a win/win situation, but there are risks to buying longer term investments. A lot can happen in thirty years! Maybe the investment landscape changes and what looked like great returns at the time turns into chump change when newer investments start yielding more. Maybe the issuer runs into trouble, raising questions about the security of the investment. If you were holding a shorter term instrument, you might have avoided those problems.

The good news is that you, too, can benefit from a longer term perspective—without needing to lock your money away in illiquid long-term investments. If you are not jumping in and out of investments in response to short term swings you can cut down the drag on your portfolio and potentially enjoy better returns. Even better, you can specifically seek out more volatile investments that are less popular with investors and may command higher returns than more stable, popular investments. By investing for the long haul, you may enjoy the higher returns that may be available on long-term money.

And, because you did not actually have to lock in your investments for decades, you are still able to react to major upheavals. You can ride through the small bumps without hurting yourself by selling out low and still be able to pull out if you need to.

Of course, staying the course may be easier said than done. Tolerating volatility has been a path to higher returns in the past, but not everyone is capable of doing that. We believe there is an advantage to investing for the long term. But one may retain liquidity—the freedom to change tactics—instead of committing to a course for years or decades to come. Clients, if you want to talk about your time horizon, please 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. 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.

CD’s are FDIC Insured and offer a fixed rate of return if held to maturity.

Government bonds and Treasury bills are guaranteed by the US government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.

Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal.

A New Way of Looking at Your Wealth

paradigm

A paradigm is a typical pattern or example of something, a model. It is a set of concepts or mindsets. We frequently find ourselves at odds with the old paradigms about investing and finance, as you know.

One of the most irksome things (to us) about investing is the use of the terms ‘aggressive’ and ‘conservative’ in describing an investor’s investment objective. The industry-standard scale goes from conservative to aggressive in five steps, with prescribed mixes of stocks and bonds for portfolios at each step. At the conservative end, the portfolio would be nearly all bonds; at the aggressive end, nearly all stock.

But is it really conservative to expose wealth to the long term risk of purchasing power loss and missed opportunities that accompanies investing in fixed dollar portfolios of bonds and cash? We don’t think so.

An all-fixed income portfolio is typically suitable for short time horizons, where it is important to know that portfolio value will remain relatively stable. So in place of ‘conservative,’ we would use ‘short term’ to describe that end of the spectrum.

By the same token, is it really aggressive to invest for growth of capital over extended periods? As difficult as it is to make one’s money last a lifetime, growth may be handy for long term investors—for many, it can be crucial to financial success.

So instead of ‘aggressive’ for the other end of the scale, we would say ‘long term’ makes far more sense. Thus, instead of the ‘conservative to aggressive’ axis, we believe the continuum should run from ‘short term’ to ‘long term.’

It is a new paradigm, so to speak, for describing investment objectives. It replaces abstract and unclear terms with simple, easily-understood phrases. And it avoids the unfortunate connotations of conservative as prudent and aggressive as stupid. (Doesn’t ‘aggressive driving’ really mean ‘stupid’ driving?) All in all, we think this is a more useful way for you to think about your wealth.

A related issue confuses the conventional wisdom. The old paradigm mistakes volatility for risk. That may be at the heart of the misguided use of the word ‘aggressive’ since long term portfolios necessarily do fluctuate. (We explained why we believe that aspect of conventional wisdom is counterproductive in this short essay.

The bottom line: we always try to think about the best way for you to meet your goals. We look at the world and strive to see it as it is, not in accordance with some stale textbook written in a different age for different conditions. We cannot know that our view is correct, and we have no guarantees. But we do work at gaining a better understanding of how to grow your wealth.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or any other aspect of your situation, 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.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

Can I Afford to Retire?

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Perhaps the biggest financial issue people try to understand is their own retirement situation. Will you have enough cash flow to live as you would like in retirement? Will you be able to retire at an acceptable age? Are you on track to retire when you want to?

We use a straightforward process to help people answer these questions. It isn’t rocket science, but it does take some thought. Our process has some fine points, but the basics are simple:

First, how much cash coming in every month will it take for you to feel like you have what you need?

Second, what will your sources of monthly income in retirement add up to? We are talking about Social Security or Railroad Retirement, pensions, rent, and other recurring monthly payments. This step does not include money from your portfolios or 401(k) type accounts.

Third, what is the monthly gap between your needs in Step One and your sources from Step Two?

Fourth, multiply that monthly gap from Step Three by twelve to get the annual shortfall. Then multiply that by twenty to understand how much permanent lump sum capital you will need in order to retire. For example, if you are short $18,000 per year, you’ll need $360,000 (which is $18,000 times twenty).

We like to estimate that you can probably earn about 5% of your investment capital each year in income and gains. So if you have capital equal to twenty times your desired income, you can potentially afford to take out 5% (one-twentieth) per year without having to spend down your capital.

About those fine points: we factor in the rising cost of living, we make estimates about future changes in Social Security and other monthly benefits, we make assumptions about rates of return. There are no guarantees on any of these things. But it always pays to take your best shot at it and plan accordingly. As retirement gets closer, your estimates will get better and better.

There are other factors as well. Sometimes spouses do not retire at the same time. Often there are plans to change residences or move. Retirement may trigger a lump sum purchase of a boat, RV, or second home. We strive to understand all the pieces of your puzzle, and plan for your specific objectives.

Clients, if we may help you improve your understanding of your retirement plans and planning, please email us or call. We love to work on this topic.


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.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Safe is the New Dangerous

© Can Stock Photo / onepony

We strive to see the world as it is, and act accordingly. Going by the textbook and implementing conventional wisdom without testing it against actual conditions is not in our playbook. What we see today is nothing short of astonishing—for two reasons.

“Safe” has become the new dangerous. We are astonished at how the investment world appears to be upside down in some respects. And we are astonished that so few of us seem to have noticed.

During the year 2000, the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite index fell over 39%1. This crushing of technology and growth stocks at the start of the millennium and the financial crisis that arose just seven years later drove fear of the stock market deep into the psyche of some investors. Consequently, we believe there has been a flight to safety that has created some real anomalies.

Yields on long term government bonds and high yield corporate bonds have fallen to near historical lows not seen in over 50 years2. It isn’t just in bonds, either. Supposedly safe stocks appear to be the most expensive part of the market.

Standard & Poors reports that the market average price to earnings (P/E) ratio is about 18. Food companies, shampoo makers, toothpaste sellers, medical supply companies and utilities are priced at a premium because those lines of business are assumed to be recession-proof…you know, safe. In an 18 P/E market, these companies are priced at 22, 25, 30, or 34 times earnings3.

We have owned many of these companies in the past at P/E’s of 10 or 12 or 14. Why anyone would own an electric utility when solar plus battery technology is bound to turn them upside down is beyond us. (We wrote about the coming change here.)

Consequently, we believe that allegedly “safe” stocks have become so expensive they are dangerous. The textbook says utility stocks are safe. We look at the world and say, “Not really.” Safe is the new dangerous.

Meanwhile, there are market sectors and companies priced below the market average P/E, including some with dynamic prospects in the years ahead. We believe the stocks we own are bargains. That’s an opinion, not a guarantee. You know we don’t offer guarantees, except that values will fluctuate.

Clients, if you would like a longer conversation about this upside down situation or any other topic, please email us or call.

1Nasdaq, Inc.

2Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

3Standard & Poor’s, Inc.


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. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

Floating rate bank loans are loans issues by below investment grade companies for short term funding purposes with higher yield than short term debt and involve risk.

High yield/junk bonds (grade BB or below) are not investment grade securities, and are subject to higher interest rate, credit, and liquidity risks than those graded BBB and above. They generally should be part of a diversified portfolio for sophisticated investors.

Government bonds are guaranteed by the US government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value.

We Eat Our Own Cooking

© Can Stock Photo / lisafx

Last week I was describing an investment opportunity, or ‘table-pounding bargain’ as I prefer to think of it, to a client. The client was not exactly skeptical, but she had a question. “Do you own it?”

This is a brilliant question. ‘Skin in the game’ is an extremely vital indicator. When someone is personally invested in an idea or concept, they are more likely to be focused on the potential for success or possibility of failure. Alleged leaders who do not share in the consequences of their actions are notoriously inept. (Congress and health care, for example?)

Modern philosopher Nassim Taleb (author of The Black Swan) takes it a step further and talks about soul in the game. Perhaps my level of compulsion, commitment to work to age 92, and obsession with your outcomes is evidence of ‘soul in the game.’ I’m not sure how I could possibly be more involved with my work.

Do I own it? Lady, I am loaded down with the stuff. I cannot in good conscience inflict the kinds of concentrations on you that I am willing to face. After all, few of you want to work to age 92 as I do, and between you and me, I am in the best position to knowingly run larger risks. So the most volatile accounts in the shop, upside and downside, are my own.

Let me clarify: we offer no guarantees. The fact that I own the ideas we talk about does NOT provide any tangible value to you. When your account grows, our revenues rise—it is win-win—and that provides an economic incentive to act in good faith. But whether or not I own something is no guarantee of anything.

My purpose in writing this is simply to say we may be right or wrong on any recommendation—but we are always sincere. I want you to know, that idea I’m talking most about, YES I own it!


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 opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

There is no assurance that the techniques and strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes.

Would You Take Every Drug on the Shelf?

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We have written quite a bit about the conventional investing wisdom recently. This essay puts the focus on what we do here at 228 Main.

One of our principles is to find the best bargains. We cannot be sure where they are, but we will still try to find them. We look for seemingly healthy investments at historically low-seeming valuations.

We recognize this means buying investments which are unpopular. This is fine with us. In fact, we rely on it. One of our core principles is to avoid stampedes. The more of something everyone else is buying, the more expensive it is going to get.

A natural consequence of our approach is that our portfolio construction may not be as diversified as conventional wisdom dictates. But we are not interested in trying to own everything. We want to own the bargains.

We may not always be able to pick them. We may miss out on some high flyers because we thought they were too expensive to buy. Sometimes a “bargain” turns out not to be one. Generally, though, we believe that our odds are better if we at least try to find the bargains.

An alternative to our way is like going to a doctor who prescribes every drug he can think of in case one of them works. “Chances are some of them will make things better and some of them will make things worse, but in theory one of them should cure you.” Wouldn’t you run out the door?

There are many unknowns in both medicine and investing. A doctor may have to try several courses of treatment before finding one that works. Similarly, we frequently implement several promising tactics at the same time. Some don’t work out and need to be replaced.

We think it is reckless, however, to simply give up trying to find successful investments in favor of simply grabbing a little bit of everything. Yet that seems to be a popular, if lazy, strategy with some investment professionals.

Clients, please call or email us if you want to discuss how our investment ideas apply to 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.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Bargain Hiding in Plain Sight

© Can Stock Photo / mrivserg

Imagine a product that has these uses1:
• Vital part of every home and building.
• Goes into every vehicle; hybrids and electrics use up to four times more.2
• Needed for manufacture, installation and use of solar panels and wind turbines.
• Key requirement in making batteries.

One might imagine that demand for this product will rise in coming years, as technology changes our power grid and transportation, and the world continues to modernize.

Now consider the supply side. It takes billions of dollars and four years or more to create a new production facility. The industry that produces it went through a depression as prices for the product got cut in half from 2011 to 20163. Revenues disappeared, losses mounted, spending got slashed. New projects were cancelled.

Rising demand, constricted supply: we know how this works. Prices will rise, revenues and earnings for producers will go up, stock prices may follow. No guarantees, of course, and the timing is always uncertain.

The product is COPPER. There is no replacement for it. The question we face as investors is, can we get involved on a favorable basis?

We know companies that produce a lot of copper, along with other resources. Their stocks are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The valuation on their shares seems compelling. A dollar of profit in one trades for a third less than that of the average stock; the other one carries a two-thirds discount. One is trading at one-third of its all-time peak a few years back, the other is discounted even more.

Both stocks have been about twice as volatile as the average stock. (This is measured by a statistic called ‘beta.’) We don’t care. Downside volatility is wonderful if you are trying to buy bargains. But owners should be prepared for the roller-coaster.

Clients, we are telling you this story for a reason. When you hear that ‘the market is too high’ or things are at some unsustainable peak, remember that at 228 Main, we are pounding the table and jumping up and down about the bargains we are finding. If you would like to discuss this or anything else at greater length, please email us or call.

1The World Copper Factbook 2014, International Copper Study Group

2The Electric Vehicle Market and Copper Demand, International Copper Alliance

3Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


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.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

The fast price swings in commodities and currencies will result in significant volatility in an investor’s holdings.

What We Learned at the Big Conference

© Can Stock Photo / appalachianviews

I have gone to many conferences over a long period of time. Each has provided some perspective, insight or connection that proved to be quite valuable. Our quest to improve your financial position, being a human endeavor, is always susceptible to improvement. The conferences serve to expose us to ideas, concepts and tools that can help.

LPL Financial’s Focus17 event was perhaps the most consequential ever. The social media and blog presence we started at http://www.228Main.com two years ago has a far greater reach than we realized. We have relationships with top executives at LPL Financial and senior management that we did not know we had. This is turning out to be vitally important to you and to us.

Regulation creates change, and encourages standardization. You know we are contrarian; we dislike conventional wisdom, so we aren’t big on doing what everyone else is doing. As the company sorts out how to get to the future, our voice is in the conversation. Our proposals, the ones that will let us keep serving you as we have been, are being reviewed at the highest levels. If we didn’t have the new media presence, we would still be trying to let the brass know who we are and what we want.

Our communication strategy is to be radically transparent. We share our fundamental beliefs, our strategies, our methods and our views. So when we introduce ourselves to a policy-maker and say “this is what we are about,” the policy-maker says “Oh, I know, I read your blog. What do we need to do?”

Clients, understand, we put this all in place for you, not them. If there were three of me, none of us would have time for ego-stroking with big shots. But the fact is, these good people are going to help us shape the future in a way that might work out for everyone.

The highlight of the program was Bert Jacobs, Chief Executive Optimist of the Life Is Good Company. (You may have seen their T-shirts or coffee cups.) You have to know, the message that ‘life isn’t easy, life isn’t perfect, but life is good” certainly rang my bell. The idea that optimism is a tree trunk from which authenticity and empathy and humor and generosity etc. can branch is very powerful. Bert learned that ‘life is good’ resonated most deeply with people who had big challenges, not those who had easy lives.

I’ll summarize the rest by saying LPL Financial has a great culture carried by incredibly talented people. The firm is paying attention and taking care of business. You and we could not ask for more. Please call or email us with questions or to have a longer conversation.


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

Did Your Bucket Grow? The Measurement that Counts

© Can Stock Photo / justinkendra

We have an issue with investment theories that look great on paper but may not help people build wealth. The vagaries of human nature mean that investments which are appealing and popular and those which make money tend to be two different things.

In our opinion, Modern Portfolio Theory or MPT is in the category of ‘looks great on paper.’ MPT attempts to mitigate risk by diversifying a portfolio across different asset classes with different risk profiles. But it can not predict the future–this risk analysis is based on historical performance trends. Backwards looking, it tends to work until it doesn’t. It does, however, generate nice pie charts and beautiful rationalizations.

The apparent precision of MPT, based on measuring things that have little bearing or relevance to long term investors, may be a key factor in its appeal. We concluded that a lot of effort goes into measuring things that can be measured, whether or not the exercise is useful.

Recently we measured something in your accounts. We think it is telling evidence of our work together, your effective investing behavior and our research and portfolio management.

You can see in LPL AccountView or in reports we can run for you where your account balance stands relative to your cumulative net investment over time. In other words, your deposits and withdrawals since the beginning add and subtract to determine your net investment. By looking at your balance, we can tell the cumulative net gain or loss you have made over the years.

Many advisors could tell you the expected standard deviation of your portfolio, or the proportions of each asset class you should own, down to the hundredths of one percent, based on past performance. Some offer reports that compare monthly, quarterly, and annual account performance against a series of benchmarks.

If we had to guess we would say our simple measurement is the one you care about—did your bucket grow? And by how much? Clients, if you would like to tell us differently, or have a longer discussion on this or any other topic, 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.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.