Tactics

The Monster Under the Bed

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When we were small, some of us had older brothers who tried to convince us there was a monster under the bed. You may be surprised to know there is a corollary in the world of investing.

The monster promoted by some is generally called “the arithmetic of losses.” The arithmetic of losses is a simple mathematical observation that from a given number, if you take a certain percentage decrease, and then an equal percentage increase, you wind up lower than you started–even though your increase and decrease were proportionately the same. For example, if you start with $100, and lose 20%, you are at $80. If you gain 20% of $80, you’re still only back to $96. But we are here to tell you, there is no monster under the bed.

Consider that when a major stock market index declines by 50%, it then does need a 100% gain to get back to even. This is just arithmetic. But consider: whenever a stock market index is at an all time high, that is conclusive proof that the “arithmetic of losses” is a bunch of baloney.

Each all-time high means that the index has successfully come back 100% from every 50% loss, 50% for every 33% loss, 25% for every 20% loss… and MORE. Every time, every loss thus far. The long-term history of major United States stock market averages speaks for itself, and incorporates all the losses and all the gains.

Some fearmongers say investors cannot live with the ups and downs that are a necessary and integral part of long term investing. Clients, you know we work hard to ascertain whether you could be suited to our philosophy.

Part of that philosophy is that temporary declines, no matter how sharp, are not losses unless you sell out. It is not always easy, but it has worked out. No guarantees about the future, of course.

If you can be turned into a chicken, then some operator who claims to ‘control risk’ or promises short-term stability AND long-term returns may get your money. Please keep in mind that every chicken, sooner or later, gets eaten.

The fearmongers are right about one thing: markets go up and down. You and we know this. We work hard to manage the money you need without having to sell out at a bad time. This is one of the keys to being able to get through the downturns.

Clients, we are striving to find bargains, avoid stampedes, and own the orchard for the fruit crop. These principles will not prevent volatility. But there is no monster under the bed. Email us or call if you would like to discuss this or anything else at greater length.


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.

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

The 61% Syndrome

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A few weeks ago we studied a report from a large institution. It stated that 61% of baby boomers preferred minimizing taxes to getting higher investment returns1. We wrote about this being a false choice: the rational object is to achieve the highest after-tax returns, thereby incorporating both goals sensibly.

But there is another problem with the 61% syndrome. There is a tendency for 100% of the attention to get focused on the 61%. It seems that the number is eventually forgotten. The formula is simplified to “The top priority of baby boomers is minimizing taxes.”

In other contexts, ugly words are used to describe the process of attributing perceived characteristics of a group to each individual in the group. Stereotyping and bigotry are costly to society to the extent that they hinder any of us from unlocking the highest fraction of our own potential, the secret sauce of American prosperity.

The forgotten 39% of baby boomers is 29 million people2. That is a lot of people to ignore.

We hear again and again that investors repeatedly do the wrong thing. But we don’t care whether most investors behave rationally; we just need you to do so. (In fact, when others behave foolishly that can create opportunities for us.)

It seems sort of insulting to start a relationship by attempting to prove to people that they will do stupid things and are incapable of learning. But when you attribute a perceived characteristic to every member of a group, you fail them in some way.

You may be familiar with Thoreau’s formulation: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer…” Many of you have seen the hand-lettered illuminated version of it hanging on my office wall. We are all about people as individuals, not stereotypes.

(Did you know my girlfriend lettered that saying and gave it to me when we were both seventeen? This has been fundamental for as long as I can remember. Extra credit question: what was the girl’s name?)

My unique story gives me respect for you and your unique story. It is how we aim to avoid the 61% syndrome and its related costs and lost opportunities. Clients, if you have questions about this or any other topic, please email us or call.

12016 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth survey, U.S. Trust Bank of America Private Wealth Management

2Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal 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.

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

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

The Model Prisoner

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Model students do all their homework and get top grades. A role model is someone to look up to. Model prisoners earn time off for good behavior.

Model portfolios are a whole different thing.

Model portfolios are the predominant method of managing wealth these days. There is an understandable reason: they can be profitable for the financial firm. Simple to operate, standardized, easy to talk about–and the pie charts look great on paper.

Out in the real world, models have a glaring flaw. Typically, every client in the model owns the same thing—no differences. But there are valid reasons why people with the same investment objective might have portfolios that vary one from another.

For example, our midwestern clients often want to follow the “Oracle of Omaha.” People everywhere would like to own a piece of the hometown company that does well.

A larger source of variation arises from investment ‘holds.’ Think of shares in a leading, well-run company that was trading at an attractive low price years ago. Once purchased, it may make sense to be a percentage owner for the long haul. But after it goes up in value, it is not the bargain it once was, and new clients find better bargains elsewhere.

Or clients may come to us with long-held stocks purchased at low cost many years before. Income taxes would be a problem if they were all sold at once.

These factors and more create valid, useful variations in client portfolios. When we began to build our systems and processes to tailor portfolios to each client, we quickly realized that model portfolios would only be good for us, not you (our opinion). That isn’t how we conduct business.

At 228 Main our research drives the development of rules-based trading protocols that we can effectively apply across client portfolios. Our systems accommodate the concept of the investment ‘hold,’ and your specific instructions about specific holdings. Our rules-based trading helps us aim for the efficiency of models without the drawback of mass standardization, regardless of your circumstances.

Two things help us immensely. You and we seem to be on the same page with how we think about investing—we are a tight group. And the mutual trust is key: you trust us to make the most of whatever is going on; we trust you to persevere.

Clients, if you would like to discuss this or any other pertinent topic in more detail, 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.

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

Our Alzheimer’s Project

© Can Stock Photo / HighwayStarz

Mentally challenging activities and social engagement may support brain health, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

We love doing puzzles. Some companies have bonds outstanding that are trading at half their face value because the issuing company has evident problems. Which companies have a good chance to survive and pay all the interest and principal due? Which ones are likely to go broke, with losses to bond owners?

To solve that kind of puzzle, we need to read financial statements, do analysis, search through SEC filings, study the annual reports, and review action in the bond market. And that puzzle might lead to another one: how can we quickly put $1 million or $2 million to work for you, with everyone getting an appropriate amount of the bonds at a favorable price?

You provide us with puzzles, too. When can I afford to retire? How should I balance the split between cash liquidity and long-term core investments? What are my options for the dormant 401(k)? How should I pay for a new home?

Figuring out how to maintain the infrastructure of staff and resources to manage the needs of more than a hundred investment advisory clients is another puzzle.

So we have the mental part of the prescription covered. The other piece is social engagement. How many times have you heard me say I’m in business to talk all day? We share coffee and conversation, have breakfast or lunch together, talk on the phone and by email—and increasingly through Twitter or LinkedIn.

In addition to engaging with you, the team in the office is in constant contact with one another to take care of your business.

I didn’t create the enterprise at age forty so that when I was in my sixties I would have a way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. But two of my heroes worked to age 92 in their businesses, working effectively with people they enjoyed, and they were joyful and vibrant all the way.

Anyway, thank you for your role in our Alzheimer’s project. If you’d like to talk about this or any other pertinent topic, please email us or call. (You can learn more or donate to the real Alzheimer’s project at www.alz.org.)


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

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.

Aligning Principles and Economics

Clients, we recently wrote about our quest to align our pricing with our values. The advisors of Leibman Financial Services service $50 million in advisory assets through LPL Financial. The fees charged could better reflect your contribution to investment results through effective investing attitudes and behavior. We are going forward with changes by year-end.

We believe that people can learn to frame things more effectively, to see the long term, to find out a temporary drop is NOT a loss. New clients usually require more intensive communication (and hand-holding, in some cases). It makes sense to charge them a little more, and reduce costs for you longer term clients.

For the vast majority of you, “heads you win, tails you don’t lose.” Generally, if the new schedule indicates a fee reduction, that will go into effect as soon as possible. If it shows an increase, we will leave the pricing the same. Current pricing is a hash, depending on when accounts were originally opened. So we will be communicating with each of you.

The new table rewards your persistence three ways.

1. A fee reduction after two years, shown in the table below.

2. Additional reductions after eight and sixteen years, about 3% to 6% depending on household account value.

3. The potential for assets to grow over time tends to put longer-term clients into higher value brackets, with lower fees.

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In a few cases (particularly for newer clients), the table may indicate a higher fee than what we currently charge. Please do not be alarmed—we are not going to try to jack up our rates on anyone we are doing business with. Consider yourself grandfathered in.

Clients, with this project we have attempted to align our economics more closely with our values. We will be in touch about your specific situation. If you would like to discuss this or any other issue at greater length, please write or call.

Additional reading:

About learning to live with volatility: They Say You Can’t Handle the Truth

About discretion to act on your behalf: Freedom to Decide vs. Freedom to Debate


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

The Things We Do Together

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We figured out a long time ago that three things we do matter the most.

Clients, talking with you is at the top. We connect to understand your situation and collaborate with you on your plans and planning. You are the most important part of our business. Otherwise we have no one for whom to research investments or manage portfolios through LPL Financial.

Research and portfolio management are the other two core activities. Our principles drive both of these: avoid stampedes in the market, seek the best bargains, ‘own the orchard for the fruit crop.’ And both are informed by our connection and collaboration with you.

Although each member of the team serves you in multiple ways, we think of our support infrastructure as the trade desk, the research desk, and the logistics desk. (By logistics, we mean taking care of the details of doing business with you.) These functions connect our main activities.

A funny thing happened when we concentrated on the three activities that are most valuable to you. Less pleasant things that dominate the schedules of most financial types simply disappeared: selling, searching for prospects, marketing to strangers. Ever since, we’ve been able to spend a much higher fraction of our time talking with you and striving to grow your buckets.

If your buckets grow, you like it and our revenues grow. Why waste time and energy on strangers when we can invest it in our friends? It sure raises the enjoyment factor for us.

Clients, we do not know if this is of any interest to you. Writing it helped clarify our thoughts about what we are doing and why. If you would like to discuss 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.

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

Have We Mentioned How Wonderful You Are?

© Can Stock Photo / mikdam

The foundational theory here at 228 Main is people can gain effective perspectives and productive attitudes about investing. It doesn’t matter if you were born that way or were capable of learning, you as a group are special. We believe your behavior is one of the keys to long term investment results.

Consequently, while some colleagues live with frustration as untrained customers fall prey to counterproductive behavior—selling out low, chasing performance, jumping on fads—you and we are appreciated for our mutual faith in each other. No wonder some advisors are looking for an exit strategy, and I’m planning to work to age 92!

You do the difficult things, like going against the crowd, listening to people at the salon or barbershop or café or water cooler, and yet still stay the course. A benefit of my long commute is time to think about the business. I spent a day recently pondering this: how might we make things better for you?

If we change our pricing philosophy to reflect total household assets under our management, including results through the years, we honor your role in creating those results. And if we price new clients a little higher for an initial period, we can offer small discounts for longevity to you longer-term clients. This would better reflect our values.

This presents two issues. One, we tinkered with the schedule over the years, and sometimes failed to update existing clients to the new schedule. Two, our general philosophy has been to use a volume discount based on net invested capital, excluding changes due to investment results. We need to figure out how to implement changes in a way that makes sense to you. We have no intention of chasing anyone down and asking them for more money. Our growth allows us to offer breaks where they have been earned (after all, it is ultimately you to whom we owe that growth!) without needing to claw back money from any clients.

Clients, you have heard us express admiration for the very special group to which you belong. We talk about the mutual benefits of our shared perspectives on investing. We have said in as many ways as we know how that your behavior is large factor in investment outcomes. The one thing we have not done is align the economics of our shop with those noble sentiments.

We are committed to doing so. We will be communicating the results of our work in the near future. If you have any questions about this or any other pertinent topic, 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.

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

A Tender Proposition

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Investment owners sometimes receive confusing propositions in dense documents. We are talking about tender offers. Let’s cut through the fog.

A tender offer is when a buyer would like to purchase something you own for a specified price. There are three common types. Clients, many of you may be receiving tender offers now, of the first type:

1. Companies issue stocks and bonds to meet their needs at the time of issue. If the situation changes, they may want to buy those securities back from the public. For example, a company short of liquidity may issue bonds to raise cash. If they later have a more economical way to borrow, or simply want to pay down debt, they might try to buy those bonds back.

2. Sometimes an investment organization or hedge fund offers to buy shares in an unaffiliated public company.

3. Companies have obligations to each stockholder. Whether the stockholder owns a million shares or one share, the cost of providing annual reports and tracking proxy votes is the same. So companies sometimes offer to buy the shares of small holders, usually under 100 shares. These offers are called ‘odd-lot tenders.’

As a rule of thumb, be cautious when a stranger wants to buy something from you. A client once told me about an antique dealer wanting to buy one of her possessions. She said, “I knew one thing when he made that offer—it was worth more than that, or he wouldn’t have wanted it.” This could apply to the first two kinds of tenders.

If you own a small number of shares, you are under no obligation to sell them back in an odd-lot tender. You have the right to keep on owning your shares. The simple alternative is to just sell your shares any day if you no longer want them.

Tender offers may take away flexibility. Owners commit (‘tender’) their holdings. Then weeks or months later, they learn whether or not the tender will actually be completed. In the interim, the holding cannot be sold in the market and no money is received.

Clients, if you have questions about an offer you receive, please email us or call. We think it our job to understand those offers, and be available to talk about 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.

Working? Here’s Some Basics.

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What has been the biggest factor in helping people end up financially sound in retirement?

In our opinion, it is the availability of retirement plans in the workplace. This article is a primer on the high points. If you are on the job, this may be key information for you.

Employer-sponsored retirement plans have a number of features that may help people build wealth. They go by different names (401k, SEP, SIMPLE, 457, TSA, 403b etc.) but generally share these features:

1. Once you sign up, you invest automatically every payday. It takes no effort or thought month to month—you put your asset-building on autopilot when you enroll.

2. The arithmetic of pre-tax retirement plans can be compelling. For some, for every $5 they contribute, their paychecks may only go down by $4. Taxable income goes down, so your income taxes go down. A potential tax break for the working person—imagine!

3. Some employers match your contributions to some extent. A fifty-cents on the dollar match means if you put in $5, your employer will add $2.50. That’s like a 50% return on Day One! (Employer contributions may be subject to vesting, so you might not keep the whole match unless you stay on the job for up to five years, for example.)

We are always happy to talk to you about your situation, and how you might use an employer plan to get you where you want to go. But here are a couple of rules of thumb. These are general pointers that may or may not fit you, but some have found them useful:

First, saving 10% of everything you ever make is a good way to start on a sound retirement. If you aren’t there and cannot contribute that much, ratchet up your savings rate by 1% a year if you can—every year. Some clients make a habit of putting raises (or half of them) into the plan, or increasing their contribution rate by 1% per year.

Second, if you are a long way from retirement, you can afford to take a long view with the investments you choose for the plan. Why take a short term view on money you probably won’t spend for many years, or even decades? But the choice is yours—most plans give you options.

Clients, call or email if you would like to talk about your situation or any other pertinent 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.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

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