investment advice

Who’s the Expert?

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We listen to you about the things you know best, we talk to you about the things we know best.

You are the expert on certain topics. What are your thoughts and feelings about retirement? Where do you want to live? What is your philosophy about a legacy to future generations? We respect your expertise about your personal goals and objectives.

Our business proposition is that we are the experts on certain topics. Of course, there are many experts on every topic. But what may set us apart is this: we won’t pander to your thoughts and feelings when we know better. Penny marijuana stocks? The latest technology hype? That hot concept that everybody is talking about? If we believe it won’t be good for you, we aren’t participating.

It would be easy to go with the flow, to deliver whatever anyone might desire. But one of our fundamental rules is ‘avoid stampedes.’ As contrarians, we believe the crowd is sometimes very wrong. When an investment idea is at the peak of popularity, it may be overpriced and due for a fall.

Our attitude about this may cost us in the short run. When we refuse a transaction, it sometimes upsets people. But if it turns out that we helped someone avoid a potential loss, they may connect the dots and reward us with a higher opinion about our intentions and integrity.

We aren’t this way because we are saintly. It is simply a more effective way to live. When we put you in charge of certain things, we do not have to worry about them.

For example, somebody recently asked us about our goals for the year—how much new business, how many new clients, and so forth. We think you are in charge of where you do business, not us. We learned a long time ago that the best way to grow our business is to grow your buckets. That is our goal, and it has nothing to do with chasing strangers around.

This helps us focus on getting better, on being more deserving of your trust. It frees us of wasting time on things we cannot control. We have more time to communicate with you about the things on which you are the expert—your goals and aspirations.

When we communicate freely back and forth about our different areas of expertise, good things may happen. Clients, if you would like to discuss this or anything else 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 investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

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.

A Tale of Two Theories

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Psychologists have a strategy to help cope with anxiety called the “dual model strategy.” It works like this:

You have a concern about some imminent disaster, which you believe is the source of many troubles for you. This is “Theory A.”

The alternative is that your concerns may actually be unfounded, but your fears themselves are creating your troubles instead. This is “Theory B.”

When it comes to investing, Theory A probably sounds like this: “The problem is that the economy will crash and I will lose money.” Theory B would then read: “The problem is that I worry that the economy will crash.”

If Theory A is correct, the proper plan is to pull your investments out of the market and put your money someplace safe. But there are two problems. First, we’ll never know if Theory A is correct until it is too late. Second, the economy and the markets have eventually recovered from every previous downturn. If you act on Theory A, there’s a good chance you may end up hurting yourself by acting at the wrong time. But Theory B—the idea that your worries are the real problem—is something that we can always work on.

The question is, how do you cope with your anxieties about the market? Perspective is important. Most of us are in this for the long haul, and are counting on our investment basket to provide for us for years and decades to come. Watching the market slide may be nerve wracking—but if you look back over the years, the speed bumps are barely noticeable.

Even so, it is easier to say “stick with the long term plan” than it is to live through short term bumps. There are some practical steps you can take to help cope with your market anxieties, too. Make sure you keep a cash reserve for emergencies: your investment portfolio is not a replacement for money in the bank. Also, as you reach the point in your life when you start to rely on investment income, it’s important to understand where your income is coming from. Even if you fear a downturn in the markets, it may not necessarily affect the ability of your income investments to generate cashflow for you to live on.

The key in all of this is to come up with an investment strategy that you’re comfortable with. If you continually change tactics every time you get nervous you may hurt yourself financially. If you need help coming to terms with your investment worries, please call or email us to talk them out.


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.

New Balance for Your Portfolio

Our recent article about finding your strategy provoked interesting conversations. We quickly saw a new framework for investors to reconcile competing needs and desires. This article puts context around the three central tradeoffs investors face.

Current Income or Long Term Growth?

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Fortunately, there are investments and strategies that offer the opportunity for long term growth while providing current income. Dividend-paying blue chip stocks are the best example. While suitable as part of an appropriate portfolio for many people, growth with income investments do not provide stability of market value, part of the next tradeoff.

Stable Value or Long Term Growth?

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While most people might prefer stability AND growth, it isn’t possible to have all of both. The best we can do is some of each. We ceaselessly seek to inoculate clients against fear of downturns, which are an inherent part of long-term investing. Behavioral Economics suggests that the price of stability is too high And yet most people need some ‘money in the bank’ or stable value holdings. They serve as emergency funds and also build confidence in your investments.

Stable Income or Stable Value?

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This may be the most under-utilized concept in the financial world. Investments that provide reliable recurring income fluctuate in value. And investments that deliver stable value do not provide reliable recurring income. Those now planning to retire have seen a vivid example in their lifetimes. Bank deposit interest rates have ranged from more than 1% per month at times to less than 1% per year at other times. In other words, the value was stable but the income was not.

The key concept here is that people living on their capital do not spend statement value to buy groceries or pay the electric bill. Portfolio income is the key to the monthly budget. Therefore, reliability of income could be more vital than stability of value.

Putting it All Together

We can do a better job of managing our goals when we understand that reliable income and long term growth provide opportunities that stable value holdings do not. Think about these ways to build a portfolio that you can live with:

  • Set aside an emergency fund so you are prepared for the unexpected.
  • Know where your income is coming from for the months and years ahead.
  • Plan for rising cost of living with a certain amount of growth potential.

These are major issues, requiring some thought and discussion. We are available; write or call to set an appointment when we can discuss 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. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal. The payment of dividends is not guaranteed. Companies may reduce or eliminate the payment of dividends at any given time.

Poking Holes: Find Your Strategy

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“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.

Outcomes May Vary

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After the recovery from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, we had some time to converse with clients about how well things had worked out in the end. Memories of the turmoil had faded and account values began to make new highs.

The less-financially-involved spouse in a client couple interrupted this discussion to say, “I just have one question. A lot of our friends lost half their money in the stock market, a couple of them even had to go back to work after being retired. Aren’t we in the stock market, too? How come we came out OK and they did not?”

You probably know the answer to her question. Most of the unfortunates who lost half their money turned a temporary downturn into a permanent capital loss by selling out at low levels.

Please notice how we characterized the panic. The failure of big institutions, waves of mortgage defaults, unprecedented action by Congress and the Federal Reserve, massive dollar losses in the markets, and economic turmoil with high unemployment and massive uncertainty are all wrapped up in the phrase “temporary downturn.” But that is not what the unfortunates perceived. It isn’t truly how it felt in real time to nearly all of us who held on, either. We all experienced concern or fear or anxiety.

So we all faced the same circumstances, a series of major economic and financial events that were beyond our control. The thing that mattered, however, was the one thing in our control: our reaction to these events. From the perspective of the long view, by putting these events in the context of history and properly judging them over the decades of a lifetime… we see that ‘temporary downturn,’ not a panic that compelled us to ruin our financial position.

Most of our clients lived through episodes of 10% unemployment before, 16% mortgage interest rates, no gasoline at the gas stations, and inflation devaluing our money at double digit rates every year. This is not to mention wars, assassinations, school children coached for nuclear disaster, and recession after recession. All of these difficulties proved to be transitory, producing only temporary downturns.

Long term investment success does not require perpetual optimism or rose-colored glasses. It does take, however, either a sense of confidence that we will handle whatever challenges may come our way—or a resolution to maintain our investment strategies anyway. We covered the End of the World Portfolio in a prior essay and reached the same conclusion.

From a tactical standpoint, we do need to know where our income will come from, and have the stores of cash we need for short term goals. Our comments above pertain to long-term or permanent capital. It makes sense to consider reducing volatility at market high points if that better suits your needs, and we’ll be talking about that when the markets recover.


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 the loss of principal.

Data vs. Wisdom

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kentohIf you are an avid news reader, you are subject to a flood of information about the world. We read about everything from wars to weather, science, scandals, politics and gossip. This adds up to a wealth of data available to an informed investor to make decisions with.

Here’s the problem: most of it is useless. When you see a headline that seems to affect your investment choices, everyone else is seeing the same thing—and is already factoring that news into the stock price, good or bad. The entire vast store of public knowledge is of no use to us when the market condenses and distills all of that data into a single measure: the company’s publicly traded stock price.

Some economists go one step further and say that investment picking is fundamentally useless, because markets are so good at determining the fair price of an asset that it is impossible to find an undervalued asset. This is called the “efficient market hypothesis.”

However, we can see a flaw in this hypothesis: it rests on the assumption that human beings are rational. We’ve already noted that people are irrationally loss averse and prone to exaggerate market swings. When the stock market fell by 50% from June 2008 to March 2009, it wasn’t because half of our collective corporate wealth magically went up in smoke. We were seeing irrational market swings in action.

It is virtually impossible to beat the market using all of the data that goes into the market in the first place. Instead, we believe we can achieve positive results by using simple fundamental principles to avoid irrational stampedes and find undervalued bargains.


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

Why Busts Turn Into Booms (and Vice-Versa)

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We know that the markets are cyclical. They go up-down, up-down.

Listening to the news, you’d never know this. When gas hit $4 a gallon several years ago, headlines said it would go to $7 or more—but instead of doubling, prices fell by half. This shouldn’t be a surprise, especially for those of us old enough to remember the oil crisis of the 1970s. The glut of oil we see today is really just a symptom of the shortage a few years back.

When gas is scarce and prices are high, nobody wants to use any. People drive less, take fewer trips, and buy more efficient cars. At the same time, oil producers start falling over themselves to drill everything in sight. Eventually, the high prices cause demand to shrink and supply to grow.

We know what comes next: oversupply and plummeting prices. Now producers are spending too much money pumping cheap oil and have to close down plants. At the same time, people get used to cheap gas and start burning it freely. Truck and SUV sales go through the roof and people drive more miles. We think we know how this one ends, too.

Every glut plants the seeds of the next shortage, and every shortage plants the seeds of the next glut. We can see this happening in real time with oil and other natural resources such as iron and copper. It holds just as true with every other market in every other age—cattle, corn, and cars, smartphones and other gadgets, even abstract “goods” like movies and music.

Timing is nearly impossible to predict, and investments can be volatile and difficult to own. But by understanding how the process works, patient investors may profit. Today’s bust may be tomorrow’s boom.

Lessons in Letters: The Wisdom of Warren Buffett, Part 1

Downtown Omaha skylineWarren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, is a widely acclaimed investor and businessman. He is not perfect and he has been controversial at times. However, to our knowledge Buffett has made more money investing than any other human being on the planet. So he has that going for him, which is nice.

Almost 40 years’ worth of Buffett’s annual shareholder letters are available at www.berkshirehathaway.com. They provide a wealth of information on his views, methods, and insights. Some things from 1977 have gone away, like VHS tapes and KC & The Sunshine Band, but Warren Buffett’s letter for that year contains some timeless insights.

“Most of our large stock positions are going to be held for many years and the scorecard on our investment decisions will be provided by business results over that period, and not by prices on any given day.”

He goes on to write,

“We ordinarily make no attempt to buy equities for anticipated favorable stock price behavior in the short term. In fact, if their business experience continues to satisfy us, we welcome lower market prices of stocks we own as an opportunity to acquire even more of a good thing at a better price.”

Notice that his focus is on the business, not the stock. Buffett did not build his fortune by worrying about short term price swings. He considers his investments in terms of many years, not day to day prices. And he understands that the best way to build wealth for himself and his investors is to buy great companies at bargain prices. For Buffett, falling prices are a buying opportunity rather than a source of pain and anguish.

Buffett’s insight is remarkable in a market dominated by short-term trends—as are his results. There is a lot of wisdom in these words, and we will frequently return to Buffett’s letters as a source of guidance. In the meantime, like Buffett, we continue to seek the best bargains on the market and cultivate our investment “orchard” for long-term growth rather than trying to sell if for short-term reasons.


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

About “The Coming Monetary Collapse”

Ruined headlines about economic collapse

Recently, a retired worker popped into the front door to ask, “Mark, have you heard about the Coming Monetary Collapse?”

This, of course, was news to me. It eventually became apparent that this “news” came from an advertisement on the Internet. We see these ads every so often on financial news sites. They seem to look like reputable-looking news articles but in the end they always try to sell you something, typically expensive subscription services that will supposedly help you sidestep the “inevitable” collapse.

If someone actually knew enough to forecast an impending financial downturn, they wouldn’t need to be selling you advice in order to get rich—they’d already know everything they needed to make themselves rich beyond their wildest dreams. And if the collapse was all that catastrophic, all of that money wouldn’t do them any good anyhow. If you were convinced a worldwide monetary collapse was coming, here’s what you should invest in: canned food, ammunition, and generators. You don’t need expensive books and online seminars to tell you that.

(Incidentally, clients have told us about friends of friends who were convinced of global collapse and tried that investment strategy years ago. Last we heard, they were trying to sell used generators to rebuild their retirement funds.)

These sales pitches are often dressed up as actual news articles, but they’re pure scare tactics. They want to sell you something, and instead of promoting their advice on its own merits (it has none), they are trying to play to your fears.


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