Philosophy

Working Like a Dog

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I am happy as a clam, working like a dog. Where did those sayings come from?

Who knows whether clams are happy or not? “Working like a dog” does not actually seem to be too taxing. (My dog Bailey mainly sleeps, eats, goes on walks and plays—he spends very little time coaching effective investing behavior, his only real job.)

I am obsessed with my work. It gets a lot of my energy but in turn energizes me. My long-held goal of working to age 92 shapes my habits—I can’t work to age 92 unless I live to age 92. This has an impact on what I eat, physical activity, sleep habits, and everything else that bears on health and wellbeing.

This may have a key benefit for clients. At an age when some people are coasting toward retirement, we are striving to build for the decades ahead, focused on the future. Our widely recognized new media presence at http://www.228Main.com and related social media venues are examples of that focus.

Two key things over the past decade have forged our enterprise into what it is today. In the interest of sustainability (working to age 92), Cathy and I adopted a snowbird schedule in 2010—spending parts of the winter in a warmer place. A few years after that, family health issues began to impact my travel schedule.

The snowbirding led to a conscious process of figuring out our most important activities and paring back the extraneous. Talking to you, researching investments, and managing portfolios are those key activities.

The schedule challenges made a necessity of learning to delegate. An entrepreneur cannot build a reliable organization unless she or he is willing to find good people and entrust them with vital aspects of the business. This is difficult for many—but I had no choice.

Together, these factors enabled us to build a focused, effective organization to serve you and other wonderful people. By striving to invest only with those who are a good fit philosophically, we have the same story for everyone. The efficiencies of having everybody on the same page are enormous.

So yes, I am working like a dog. And swimming most days, walking every day, eating healthy, enjoying family (now including grandkids!), appreciating my surroundings, loving Beautiful Downtown Louisville, and of course, grateful to be trusted by you to help with your plans and planning.

Clients, if you would like to discuss this or any other topic, please email us or call.

Related reading:
1. About challenges making us stronger: https://228main.com/2016/12/12/kiln-fired-personalities
2. About focus: https://228main.com/2017/10/02/focus-people
3. About the investment philosophy we share: https://228main.com/2016/05/25/niche-market-of-the-mind


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

I Was Wrong, and I Apologize

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Thirty-some years since I first became registered to work with securities, we have been doing business with some people for decades. Some of those, I knew before that—friends, people I admire. I disappointed at least one of those recently. I hate that it happened and I am sorry.

This essay is an attempt to minimize the chance of this happening again. Let me explain.

For many years, my practice included aspects that were like a debating society. I would propose the purchase or sale of an investment to a client, we would discuss it back and forth, and the client would make a decision to take action, or not. This is the old brokerage model of investing.

In recent years, there has been a lot less time for debate as more and more people have engaged me to manage investments as their fiduciary advisor. (This is in my capacity as an investment advisor representative of LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor.) The advisors of Leibman Financial Services collectively serve more than 200 accounts with over $50 million assets through LPL Financial, and the majority of our time needs to be devoted there.

The issue is that these investment advisory accounts hold us to a higher standard. We have all the obligations of the old brokerage arrangements, plus we are obligated to put your best interests first, monitor the investments and your situation over time, and manage everything to stay in line with your investment objective. We manage these accounts without prior debate before we take action to pursue your best interests.

The error I made was assuming a client was not suitable for the investment advisory arrangement. I did not think he would give me discretion to manage his account without debate. But I failed to do him the honor of describing it to him, and letting him make the decision. He was disappointed that he had not heard about the alternative sooner, when the subject came up. I had met our legal obligations, but not the higher standard to which we hold ourselves.

If you are a client with products at an insurance company or investment company outside of LPL, or pay commissions on brokerage transactions inside an LPL Financial account, our relationship is on the brokerage account model. There is nothing wrong with it if those products and that relationship addresses your needs. We are always happy to discuss your holdings and your situation—email us, or call.

If you wonder whether an advisory account might be right for you, please email us, or call. We want you to know the situation, and make an informed decision about the kind of relationship you would like to have going forward. We also need to assess whether we have a good fit with you philosophically—a requirement.


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.

A is A

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At the height of ancient Greek civilization, the philosopher Aristotle taught the Law of Identity. A is A. Everything has a single identity, not two or more, and two different things do not share the same identity. A is A. A dog is not a cat; an orange is not an orangutan, an olive is an olive.

One wonders what has been lost through the centuries, when considering Federal Reserve Bank policy. The Fed, as it is known, is charged with a dual mandate. It is supposed to promote maximum employment and stable prices.

If Aristotle were alive today, he might teach that stable prices are stable prices. This would be in accordance with the Law of Identity. A thing is what it is. Yet the Fed has adopted a 2% inflation target, supposedly in accordance with its mandate of price stability1.

At 2% inflation, a dollar today buys only 98 cents worth of goods next year and about 96 cents the year after. Prices would double every 35 years or so, under this inflation target. Over the course of a century, a dollar would shrink to about 12 cents in purchasing power. In what sense is this ‘price stability?’ It violates the simple precept that Aristotle taught 2,300 years ago.

One error some people make is presuming the things we can measure are important, and the things we cannot measure are unimportant. Higher dollar volumes of activity are presumed to be good. So when productivity or technological improvements reduce prices of things we purchase and use, we are obviously better off—but conventional economic statistics may indicate otherwise.

There are ramifications for us as investors. The threats to our prosperity from inflation may be discounted by the Federal Reserve. The advantages of technological progress are understated. We think this means we need to be more sensitive to the damage that future inflation might do to our wealth, and the opportunities presented by technological progress.

Clients, if you have any questions about this or any other pertinent topic, please email us or call.

1Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, https://www.federalreserve.gov/faqs/economy_14400.htm


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

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.

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

The Meaning of Money

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Is money the root of all evil? Or is it what makes the world go ‘round? What IS the meaning of money?

Most of us receive most of the money we will ever make in exchange for our efforts. Our labor, our knowledge, our skills may be sold to employers if we are workers. They may be sold to customers or clients if we are in business. For this reason, in large part, money is the residue of the sweat we make while providing value to others.

What could be more noble than this symbol of being worthwhile to the rest of society?

In this framework, a 401(k) balance at retirement may be the end result of a lifetime of effort. An inheritance might represent two or more lifetimes of hard work. What could be more worthy of our best efforts to preserve and extend it?

While its sources are of interest, the uses of money have come into sharp focus for me recently. For the most part, my material needs are few. But money has become a vital factor in securing the health and welfare of loved ones.

The recent severe weather has resulted in hardship, pain, suffering and sometimes death for those who could not avoid its effects, or afford backup systems to meet special health needs. Oxygen concentrators require electricity, which sometimes fails. Refrigeration is needed for some kinds of life-sustaining medicine. Mobility is required to avoid some dangerous situations. All of this takes money.

When the power failed, we had a backup generator. When the storm threatened, we could leave the area. When the oxygen concentrator failed, we had another source. All of these things take money. And we had it.

Cathy’s care for children and work in the corporate world produced some of it. My efforts to help people with their plans and investing made some of it. Being good stewards of the amounts we were able to save provided some of it. The money came from worthy efforts, and it does important and worthy things for us.

Is money (or more properly, the love of money) the root of all evil? I don’t think so. It may be the evidence of lives of service and thrift. Luck? Certainly good fortune plays a role. And ill fortune surely plays a role in some people not having much of the stuff. We each must come to our own understanding of the meaning of money. This is mine.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or any other pertinent 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.

Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal.

Did Your Bucket Grow? The Measurement that Counts

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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.

Progress Beyond Our Dreams

© Can Stock Photo / smuay

In the spring of 1902, Brooklyn printers by the name of Sackett & Wilhelms had a problem. It is doubtful whether anyone realized the vast ramifications the solution would bring.

When the humidity changed, the printers found that the paper expanded and contracted, causing their four color printing process to come out misaligned. Wasted days, wasted paper–it was a pretty big problem. Fortunately, a young engineer at the Buffalo Forge had an idea.

The engineer drew plans for a device to control the humidity of the print shop, and the crew from Buffalo Forge installed it. It was the first of its kind. By the end of the summer, the device had been a success.

It took four years for someone else to come up with the name “air conditioning.” Systems spread to other commercial enterprises, and eventually to other businesses, homes, and even to automobiles. As we approach the summer months here in the 21st century, it is hard to imagine life without air conditioning!

The engineer, who was just a year out of college when he drew the plans, later founded and ran his own company. You might have heard of Willis Carrier’s air conditioning company.

Every day, somewhere people are working on solutions to problems the cost us money, time, health, or some other resource. Others are working on things that may improve our lives, or entertain us, or provide some other advantage. Our everyday lives contain scores of things that did not even exist twenty or forty years ago.

For most of history, this is not how things worked. Life was nasty, brutish, and short. Generations came and went, but little changed. Then modernity unleashed human creativity and potential like never before.

This may be the key factor behind the seemingly perpetual upward tendency of the equity markets, all the way back to their origins.

We have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: stock markets are volatile. They go up and down. There are no guarantees. But they may represent a way to invest in human potential. Clients, please call or write if you would like to talk about this.


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 History of the Future

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One might say that the study of History as a formal endeavor began 2,400 years ago. Herodotus, the so-called Father of History, sought “to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time” in his chronicles of the Peloponnesian wars. Herodotus used perspective, context, and narrative to relate the fruits of his inquiries.

These same techniques are the foundation of our work. Facts and data come at us as if from a fire hose, particularly in the digital age. Perspective and context help us determine what is significant and pertinent; narrative is how disparate events and trends and facts can be woven into an understandable story.

The future will be different from the past; the next decade will not be like the last decade. So how does history fit into understanding the future?

First, some processes of change seem to be universal, even though the particulars change. For example, the future may include an energy revolution in which solar technology and battery storage combine to usher in unparalleled access to cheaper energy. But water power and steam power and petroleum are simply earlier examples of energy revolutions which also ushered in unparalleled access to cheaper energy. Same song, new verse.

Second, many times what seems to be entirely novel is truly not. After 9/11 a client told us “never before have we been this fearful and afraid.” The same client, as an elementary teacher, had coached young children how to get under their school desks and cover up to mitigate damage from nuclear war. Remembering the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis helped keep the events of 9/11 in perspective.

Third, human nature persists through every age. History provides a rich tapestry of behavior in action. Thinking about investments, the Tulip Mania in 16th century Holland and the South Sea Bubble in the 18th century provided many clues to the growth mania and technology bubble of the late 1990’s. Those who knew this history, and applied the knowledge properly, had an edge.

My education includes a History degree. When I developed a greater interest in business as an underclassman, I read the Wall Street Journal and the Journal of Commerce every day in the campus library. Not wishing to extend my college years by changing majors, I persisted in the study of History. Now, I would be hard pressed to say which has been more valuable to clients —the reading in the library, or the History degree.

Clients, if you would like to discuss 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.

Can Happiness Buy Money?

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A very long time ago, I attended a convention and heard something worthwhile. In those days, a convention was mostly a rah-rah meeting to crank up insurance salespeople to get out there and sell more. Some of the content was not that great, as you might imagine.

But at this particular meeting, the featured speaker posed a pair of questions that resonated very deeply. Whether the incident changed my life or not would be hard to say. I may have been born this way.

The speaker started off by saying he wanted to ask two questions. “The first one, raise your hand to say yes—do you do more business and make more money when you are happy, as opposed to upset or mad?” Of course, everyone in the crowd raised a hand. Obviously, people dependent on making calls and taking the initiative would be more active when not upset—with an impact on their income.

The second question contained the hook. The speaker said, “No need to raise your hand on this question. Just think about it. Since we have all agreed that we do more business and make more money when we are happy, WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THAT?”

Friends, I cannot tell you where the meeting was, what year it occurred, or anything else about the agenda. But the notion that each of us is in charge of our own happiness is burned indelibly in my brain.

Life is not all puppy dogs and rainbows, of course. Some people are not happy, and none of us is in position to judge anyone else. Each of us has challenges. The pessimists among us are the ones doing the disaster planning, and pulling us back when our thinking goes too high up into the clouds.

We’ve written before about investing with the confidence that things work out even when they look bad. And it is easy to believe that our current challenges are the biggest yet, although history suggests otherwise. Perhaps happiness is a productive state.

We cannot prove that happiness brings money. But I will continue to act as if that is the case, since life is better when I do. Clients, you will each have to make up your own mind, but I will do my best to improve your happiness and your wealth—no guarantees on either. Please write or call with questions.


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

Miracle in a Coffee Cup

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Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, ranking only behind water and tea. Whether or not you are a coffee drinker, the story of coffee contains a great lesson. Why business works—let’s take a look.

According to Gallup, 64% of U.S. adults drink coffee, an average of 2.7 cups per day. This is a popular drink.

Coffee is grown in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa. Top producing countries include Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Coffee is also important to the economies of Uganda, Guatemala, Costa Rica and other places. Virtually none is grown in the continental United States.

Americans drink a lot of coffee, but none grows here. Farmers in other lands grow the beans, and we wake up and smell the coffee. How does this work?

Of all the people and enterprises involved, not one is a charity. The farmers, truck drivers, buyers, exporters, processors, millers, roasters, grinders, coffee companies, grocers, waiters and baristas—they all have the same reason for being involved. Every single one makes a living by providing a good or a service for which other people voluntarily pay.

Think about it: a product that starts its journey on one of three other continents is a popular beverage here in America. Why? Because there is money to be made in providing goods and services that others need or want.

Another part of the story of coffee is about change and transformation over time, to meet the desires of the marketplace. Fifty years ago, for most Americans, coffee meant Maxwell House or Folgers, brewed at home in a percolator. Today coffee might mean a trip to the popular chains or local independents, cafés, fast food places, or truck stops—to enjoy fresh-ground or gourmet or organic and a wide variety of other types of coffee.

Why did these sweeping changes in the coffee market occur? Clients, you know how this works: there was a buck to be made in bringing us what we want.

Decades ago, one coffee advertisement had a jingle that went “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” Seems to us that what is in the cup is actually capitalism at work.

Clients, please call or email us if you would like to discuss this concept, or any other idea of interest.


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

Regulation and Structure: Changes Ahead?

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The investment world is changing rapidly in the face of evolving regulation and market forces. This article describes how coming changes may affect us—and you.

Clients know we have been affiliated with LPL Financial (LPL) for a very long time, since 1994, in fact. The relationship actually has two parts. LPL is both a registered investment advisor with the Securities and Exchange Commission and a broker/dealer regulated by FINRA.

As an Investment Advisor Representative of LPL’s SEC-registered investment advisor, I offer investment advisory accounts under LPL’s auspices and rules. These arrangements are fee-based, and hold me to a fiduciary standard where your interests must come first. As a registered representative of LPL, I offer securities on a brokerage basis. This is more of a sales-type situation, where my legal obligation is to present recommendations that are ‘suitable’ when made.

In practice, we have always strived to put your interests first, to focus on improving your financial situation, no matter the legal form of our relationship. This has worked well as a business strategy. It frees us from worrying about our needs or goals, since the better off you are, the better off we figure we will be. But the world is changing.

We see two main impacts of evolving regulation.

1. The investment advisory side of the business will become increasingly important, since the fiduciary relationship is more in keeping with the spirit of the regulations.

2. The brokerage side of the business will have fewer choices and more restrictions as investment firms seek to limit the conflicts of interest that come with wide variation in compensation and fees on brokerage products.

As we think about how to best serve your interests and meet your needs, we have reached some tentative conclusions:

A. The increasing emphasis on fiduciary investment advisory accounts fits well with the trends that make sense for us and for you. Our research and portfolio management processes are more effective and more efficient than ever before, and we continue to hone our processes.

B. In order to preserve the ability to continue to offer our traditional research-intensive, contrarian, value-oriented philosophy, we may have to form our own registered investment advisor. We would only take this step if our methods and philosophies become difficult to implement under LPL’s rules.

C. If we do form our own registered investment advisor, we would probably operate as ‘hybrid’ advisors using LPL Financial on the brokerage side, and to hold client assets, provide accounting and statements as they do now on the advisory side. Your assets would not be going anywhere different. The change would be minimal.

The irony is that if we were doing what everybody else is doing, life would be simple and we would not have to think about changing our structure to maintain our practices. In our opinion, we are different—and YOU are different. Generally, you and we are less sensitive to volatility, more focused on the long term, and more confident that things work out over time.

In a sense, the regulations codify conventional wisdom with which we disagree. The short version of this essay: we will do what we need to do to continue to bring you our philosophy and strategies and methods. Clients, if you have any questions or comments about this or any other issue, please email us or call.


Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC.

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.