long term investing

The Rip Van Winkle Effect

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Rip Van Winkle is a character in a Washington Irving short story written nearly two centuries ago. You might know the story: Rip sleeps for twenty years up in the mountains, eventually returning home to find that much had changed.

One of the most dynamic companies in the world emerged on the scene a little over twenty years ago. An investor who purchased it on its first day of trading would have made several hundred times his original investment, had they held all the way through.

In spite of the incredible long-term result, it would have been very difficult to achieve even if one had bought in early. If you carefully looked every day to see how it was doing, as of November 12th this is what you would have experienced:

• On 1,346 of the days of ownership, the value would have been less than 50% of its previous peak. This is nearly one day in four, out of the 5,410 trading days in question1.
• On 494 of the days, the value would have been down 80% from the prior peak.
• The worst drop from a prior peak would have been 94%.

It isn’t always easy to hold an investment that has declined in value. We strive to own bargains, even when they become better bargains. (Once upon a time, a client asked me “What kind of moron would watch a stock go down from $11 to $7, dropping day after day, and do nothing?” Of course, I am that kind of moron.)

We have noticed that a certain few of our clients use the Rip Van Winkle effect, to their benefit. In the example above, they would have accepted in advance they would be under water at times, and just held for the long term. They enjoy the long-term result, without the day to day anguish of fluctuating values—they did not need to look every day.

We work diligently to understand what we should own, and why. Sometimes we change our opinion and sell at a loss. But often the Rip Van Winkle effect would help us. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please call.

Notes & References

1. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved November 12th, 2018.


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.

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.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

The Three Investment Strategies

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Great thinker Morgan Housel recently wrote that there are only three legal investment strategies.

1. Be smarter than others.
2. Be luckier than others.
3. Be more patient than others.

Does one of these jump out at you as being a lot more accessible than the others?

Luck falls where it may. We do not control the luck we have. Smarts? We do what we can to improve our odds. Reading, studying, analyzing, thinking…we do our best to understand what we can. But there will probably always be somebody smarter, somewhere.

The edge that anyone may choose is patience. We talk endlessly about the long view, about waiting out the downturns, about hanging in there when times seem rough. Anyone may choose patience, but it is not always easy!

After decades, we have yet to see a fool-proof indicator that will tell you which way the market is going to go in the short run. Nor have we seen evidence that any person can reliably predict the direction of the market. But we do know a couple key things:

• In the past, the broad market has tended to go up about three years out of four, and down about one year out of four.1
• Over extended periods, these ups and downs have potential gains for those who are patient.

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, of course, so it takes some courage to exercise patience. We appreciate that in you.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes & References

1. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved November 26th, 2018.


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

Every Share Sold is Bought

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We talk a lot about cycles, but there’s one truth to them that we could come right out and say more often: there are no ups without downs, no downs without ups. Night and day. Yin and yang. Buy and sell.

People sometimes lose sight of this reality, especially when talking about the waves of selling that engulf the markets from time to time, cratering prices. They might say, “Long term investing is all well and good, until the financial crisis comes and wipes out half your account—that happened to me.”

In the last crisis (2007–2009), the markets recovered and went on to post gains for many years. When I inquire whether their accounts have bounced back since then, some reply, “Of course not! Everybody had to sell out to save what was left!”

Life is too short for most arguments, isn’t it? We move on to other topics. But the fact remains: even on the worst days in the depths of the crisis, when the market was suffering large percentage losses, we believe every share sold was also bought. There are two sides to every transaction, a buyer and a seller. Not everybody “had” to sell out.

In the fall before the market bottom in March 2009, noted investor Warren Buffett wrote in The New York Times that the economy was likely to be larger—and company profits higher—ten and twenty years in the future.1 Therefore, he was buying.

We felt the same way.

But it may feel as if everybody is selling. In the crisis, one of you told us it was no longer possible to talk about the economy or markets at coffee in the mornings, because every single person there called you a fool for staying in or told you all your money would be lost. Another said the same thing about the Friday night dinner crowd—you felt lonely. But you persisted.

It is popular lore among financial advisors to presume that people are really not capable of investing effectively, pointing to behavioral economic studies. You know we have worked hard to find you, the exceptions: people who either have the native good sense to invest effectively or who can learn how to do it.

We believe that every share sold is also bought. We have a choice, which side of those transactions to be on. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes and References

1. Warren Buffett “Buy American,” The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/opinion/17buffett.html. Accessed: September 24, 2018.


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

 

World’s Biggest Roller Coaster?

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The biggest roller coaster in the world is Kingda Ka, at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. Sometimes investing provides a similar experience.

We have written before about the lovely decade of the 1990s, when the major stock market averages more than tripled. When you get up close and really look at what happened, however, it looks a whole lot different. We examined the data for the S&P 500 Stock Index.

During that decade, there were 1,171 trading days when the S&P went down. The total points “lost” on those days adds up to 5,228. Put that in perspective: the decade started at just 353 points! The down days “lost” more than fourteen times the beginning value1.

Who would knowingly stick around if, on the first day of the decade, we knew that 5,228 points would be “lost” on the down days?

There is a reason we put the word “lost” in quotation marks. It might be more appropriate to speak of temporary declines rather than losses. We say this, because of what happened on the other 1,356 trading days in the decade.

On those up days, the market went up a total of 6,344 points—or more than 17 times the beginning value1. If we knew only that piece of the future at the outset, money might have flooded in.

The bottom line is, here is how we got a triple in the market: it went up 17 times its original value, and down 14 times its original value, in totally unpredictable bits and pieces of rallies and corrections. Patient people prospered.

It is hard to argue with a triple. That is a fine result. This is why we talk incessantly about the long term, long time horizons, keeping the faith, following fundamental principles, and not panicking at low points.

During the decade, how many times did 10% corrections have to be endured? 20% bear markets? Were there any 30% or 40% losses? WHO CARES? It didn’t matter to long term investors.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this—or anything else—please write or call.

Notes & References

1Standard & Poor’s 500 index, S&P Dow Jones Indices: https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/sp-500. Accessed October 3rd, 2018.


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.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted.

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

 

Optional Thinking

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Readers know we believe there are those financial arrangements that maintain stability and those that may garner long-term investment returns. But anything that promises both stability and high returns is not likely to work out that way.

The uncomfortable truth is, we must live with volatility in order to have a chance at market returns. Short-term market action cannot be reliably forecast, nor profitably traded, in our opinion.

Yet market values can be volatile. Imagine an account of $500,000: a 20% drop would shrink it to $400,000, while a 20% gain would grow it to $600,000. How do people stand it?

First, long-term clients tend to take the long view. If that $500,000 account started as a $200,000 account years ago, the owners remember where they’ve been. That original investment is their anchor: any value above $200,000 represents a gain from that beginning value. (We are talking about the effects of time and compounding, not claiming any unusual investment results.)

Second, the long view helps clients understand that volatility is not risk. Put another way, as we’ve written before, a short-term drop does not necessarily represent a loss. How should we view that $500,000 value dropping to $400,000, in the long view? Relative to the original $200,000, it’s still a gain. Worrying about drops as if they are losses is optional for people who are investing for many years or decades down the road.

Third, even while staying the course over the long haul is important, strategies need to address short-term needs. For those who are living on their capital, knowing where the cash is going to come from is vitally important. With secure cash flow, it is easier to live with the ups and downs in account values. We call this pursuit of opportunity “owning the orchard for the fruit crop.”

This perspective requires a certain confidence that we will stumble through any problems and likely come out of whatever troubles have arisen. Optimism is sound policy, for if we are going back to the Stone Age, it won’t matter what is in your portfolio anyway.

Clients, if you would like to talk about these ideas or any other, 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.

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 situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.

 

Building a Retirement Fund: Two Simple Things

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As a rookie in business, I impressed myself with how much knowledge the work required. It was complicated! It did not take long to figure out that many people believe the same thing about their work.

The point was driven home when I made the mistake of suggesting that working in the ice cream factory must be pretty simple—to a fellow who worked on the production line. “Are you kidding me? You got all your different flavors, plus the ones with nuts or candy mixed in… it’s complicated!”

Like any field of endeavor, retirement planning has those who seek to impress with how complicated it is. But if you get just two simple things right, you can put yourself on the road to progress.

Your Savings Rate. The money you put away is the raw material of your future retirement. The first thing is to set aside money every payday. 401(k) plans make it easy, but you can do it with or without one. It seems like many people starting out cannot save 10% or 15% of their earnings—one needs to buy groceries and electricity, too.

But wherever you start, even at 1% or 4%, you can increase that 1% per year until you get to 15%. Or put half of any raise into the plan—if you get a 4% raise, add 2% to your contribution rate.

Your Long Term Strategy. Put your long term money into long term investments. Various investments offer short term stability or long term returns—but not all of both. If your retirement is decades away, investments that promise a stable value tomorrow or next year do nothing for you in your real life. You might aim for higher returns instead.

(Some people are unable to live with the ups and downs of long term investing. We aren’t suggesting that living with volatility is right for everyone. But if you require stability, you will probably need to save more in order to reach your goals.)

Clients, if you figured these things out long ago, you might pass this along to younger folks. To talk about these ideas or anything else, 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.

 

Playing the Long Game

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The more we think about it, the more striking it is. We are talking about the connections between major decisions and strategies in other parts of life, and effective investing.

Lengthening your time horizon enables you to look past normal market ups and downs, and perhaps enjoy long term gains. On the other hand, a short-term focus leaves people with a choice of potentially safer but stagnant accounts, or day-trading. Our experience leads us to believe that playing the long game pays. No guarantees, of course.

Likewise, thinking about where you want to be seven or fourteen or twenty-one years from now gives you a framework that shapes the choices you make day to day. You may be more likely to make progress toward your major goals in life. Not playing the long game may hurt your chances.

Many have had the experience of enjoying some product or service that seemed to be priced at unbelievable bargain levels. When we were young, a wonderful barbecue ribs place opened up nearby. Great food, all you could eat, an unbelievable price. There was nothing else like it. Customers flocked to it—we went back again and again.

For a few months, that is. Until it closed without notice or warning. The proprietor had not been thinking about the long game. He knew it was important to deliver a great experience to large numbers of customers. But he wasn’t paying attention to the need to cover his overhead and make a decent return. A dining room full of happy customers, the short term indicator, was not enough.

As customers, we would have been better off to pay sustainable prices to keep the restauranteur in business. His place might have become one of those beloved institutions that last generations. Instead, we got bargains on good food for a few months—then it was over.

In our business, we often counsel people about investments or insurance they originally purchased from an agent or advisor prior to becoming our client. Often some level of confusion or frustration has crept into their understanding of what they have. We are always happy help clear things up.

But this is an object lesson to us about the importance of being there for you. We are always thinking about the long game for our enterprise, too. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, 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.

Straightforward Pricing

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We believe the investment results we manage are due in part to your sensible, effective investment behavior. You know we think you, our clients, are the best in the world.

Even though some people panic and sell out at low points, you realize this kind of behavior is optional. Many of you invest more when the market has declined. You and we share the belief that focus on the long term lets us seek to improve our long term results.

Effective the first of the year we revamped the pricing on the investment advisory accounts we manage for you in our capacity as investment advisory representatives of LPL Financial. Our object is to reward you for your role in our results.

So we put in a system of volume discounts based on account value, not original invested capital. And we instituted discounts for your persistency: costs decline after two years, and eight years, and sixteen years.

Here in the third month of the quarter, we are busy reviewing costs. Some of you will see fee reductions for the passage of time or an increase in the value of your household assets. Changes if any will take effect next quarter.

Year by year we strive to improve the quality of our research, the capacity of our trading desk, and the responsiveness of our service to you. These things are not free: our overhead tends to rise over time. But our business has grown and our productivity rises as we figure out better ways to do things.

Here is the schedule. After the eighth and sixteenth year, an additional discount of 0.05% will apply. Clients, if you have any questions about this or anything else, please email us or call.

pricing


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.

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.

Have We Mentioned How Wonderful You Are?

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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.