mark leibman

Re(balancing) Act

photo shows a golden scale out of balance

We’ve got something that may sound like a riddle at first, but this situation captures an idea that we apply here in the shop. 

Suppose you took some of your money and split it equally between two stocks, both trading at $20 per share.  

Let’s say that after a year or two, one of the stocks rose to $30 while the other fell to $10. 

Another year or two later, they leveled out again, and both stocks were back at $20. But your investment has not been a wash. How? 

It might appear that your holdings are right back where you started. There is, however, a simple portfolio management strategy that can help us take advantage of back-and-forth movements.  

Imagine if you had rebalanced your holdings in the two stocks when one went to $30 and the other went to $10. If you had sold off a third of your $30 stock and put the cash toward the $10 stock, you would wind up having twice as much of the cheap stock as you did of the expensive stock—and bringing both positions back to the dollar amount they were when you originally bought in. 

But now when the high-flying stock gives up its gains, you already took some out, so now the price decrease affects a smaller portion of your portfolio than if you’d held onto all the shares. Similarly, when the depressed stock recovers, you get to enjoy the ride up with more shares than you took on the ride down. 

Using rebalancing, this situation would leave you sitting on a net profit of one-third of your original investment—even though both stocks are back at the same price they were when you first bought them! 

Rebalancing works because it applies the simplest investing axiom: “buy low, sell high.” When you rebalance your portfolio, you are selling a little bit of the higher-priced stuff in order to buy a bit more of the lower-priced stuff.  

Trying to “time the market” is a fool’s errand; rebalancing takes the guesswork out and turns it into a matter of arithmetic. 

As always, there are no guarantees: in the above scenario, if the cheap stock kept going down from $10 to $5 and the expensive stock went from $30 to $60, you would look awfully silly (… although not as silly if you had sold out of the one entirely!). 

Stocks do not go up forever or down forever: We generally expect a lot of back and forth. By taking on the risk of missing out if there ever is an extended period without back and forth, we have a chance to use the back and forth to our advantage. 

Clients, when you have any questions about what this means for you, please call or write. 


Rebalancing a portfolio may cause investors to incur tax liabilities and/or transaction costs and does not assure a profit or protect against a loss. 

Investing includes risks, including fluctuating prices and loss of principal. 


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What To Do with Stupid Questions

photo shows room of business people with hands up to ask questions

For a lot of people, there is nothing scarier than raising their hand—in the classroom, in the boardroom, wherever. 

“What if I ask a stupid question? Everyone will think I’m totally lost…” 

“What if what I’m asking for is outrageous? Everyone will think I’m greedy, delusional…” 

We’ve known plenty of teachers who trot out the old line that “there are no stupid questions.” Our fear of judgment, of facing what we don’t know, of owning our dreams—that feels way more real than pretending that no one will judge us. 

Sometimes, though, we are our own best foil. We talk ourselves out of what we want before we even let ourselves say it out loud! We go into negotiations muzzled by our fear, so we ask for less than we want. We refuse to raise our hand, so we never get the answers we need. 

But we’ve got a trick for this, and we practice it in every conversation. Whether we’re working with each other on the staff, with you, or with our friends and colleagues at LPL, we wield a powerful tool that can defeat any stupid question. 

Curiosity.  

Curiosity is by far the best treatment for that fear: you just have to let yourself be more interested finding solutions and gaining understanding than you are afraid of how you look. 

And clients, we think it applies to you, too. When we work on your financial plans and planning, honest answers take us farther. Where are you headed? What are your dreams? What ideas and questions do you have? 

Why lowball our goals before we even get to work on them? Let’s give them a fighting chance. 

Clients, when you’re ready to talk about this or anything else, write or call. 


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Can One Redeem All?

photo shows coupons

As value investors, we have always treasured the opportunity to buy shares at favorable prices for companies we deem to be durable. For many companies, 10 times the annual earnings per share looks like a bargain to us!  

In the recent market turmoil, these kinds of opportunities appeared again. The arithmetic of these situations is interesting: an investment might compound to three times its beginning value over 10 years or so if the company is making annual profits of one-tenth the share price and earnings keep up. 

No guarantees, of course. We could be wrong in our judgment, or some problem could befall the company and upset the theory.  

But suppose shares are purchased in three such companies. If only one pans out as hoped over the 10 years or so, it may be worth triple the beginning value. If the other two are worth nothing, then the combined value of the three may still hover around the original value, as it was 10 years before.  

One could redeem all. 

Better yet, a company that delivers steady earnings over 10 years might be valued at 15 or 20 times earnings in the future instead of just 10 times, based on the steady earnings record. That valuation change might produce profits in addition to return of the original investment. 

Well-known grocery chains, health companies, and food processors may be a fit for this strategy. We cannot know the future, but we believe all these companies will survive—not just one out of three—with the possibility of real gains.  

But even if only one proves durable, that one may redeem all. 

If you are ready to talk strategy as it relates to your goals, please email us or call.


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Feeling the Burn and Staying Fresh: One Sneaky Benefit of Stress

photo shows a pair of hands tying shoelaces on a tennis shoe

My reading habits, always eclectic, have gotten a lot of exercise during the pandemic. I just read about an interesting health phenomenon, one that illuminates the things we like to talk about here. 

“Autophagy” is the body’s way of recycling older or damaged cells and doing cleanup and maintenance. It seems to promote regeneration of new, healthy cells. The stresses of physical exertion and fasting are known to trigger increased autophagy, a sort of survival mechanism. 

What could this possibly have to do with investing? 

We recently chose to take advantage of a volatile day in the stock market to clear out a few holdings. It was cleanup and maintenance. Those sales freed up money with which to invest in newer ideas and opportunities.  

Just as stresses trigger autophagy in the body, market volatility and economic change tend to trigger cleanup and maintenance in our portfolios. 

Autophagy is believed by some to be a sort of an anti-aging process, keeping the body younger. Likewise, with our portfolio management, we strive to keep our holdings fresher, more in tune with the times. “In shape.” (No guarantees, of course. Autophagy does not guarantee perpetual youth, and our work does not guarantee returns.) 

When you are ready to talk about the health of your portfolio, call or email us. Let’s talk.


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Green Energy FTW!

photo shows a wind farm across hills

For years we’ve had the theory that the next energy revolution would come from the declining costs of solar energy and battery storage.

According to research by Bloomberg, the most cost-effective way to provide new electricity generation for two-thirds of the Earth’s people right now is either solar or wind. The pattern is clear: green energy is winning.

Green energy costs continue to drop. Battery storage is 50% cheaper than it was two years ago. Wind projects are benefitting from larger scale. Solar photovoltaics continue to improve efficiency as time goes on.

These studies are based on actual costs of utility-scale projects. Compelling economics are the key factor—not a shift in consumer behavior. It remains to be seen whether dispersed generation and storage in user-owned systems reshapes the utility industry in the future.

Battery technology improvement has an impact on the price of electric vehicles, since batteries can represent about 30% of the total vehicle cost. Despite advantages in maintenance and fuel expense, acquisition cost remains a hurdle to wider adoption of electric cars and trucks.

But current trends point to a future in which electric vehicles cost less than those powered by internal combustion engines.

We think about winners and losers as the future unfolds. Companies that produce and transport fossil fuels for electricity generation may face a dimmer future. Those that provide the materials needed for the new equipment may prosper. Less expensive electricity will have effects we cannot predict, just as past energy revolutions reshaped society.

We will continue to research and think about these issues. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or share your views, please email us or call.


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The Active Roster

photo shows Billy Garver smiling

Clients, 2020 changed work life for many, but some changes in our office had been in the works even without a pandemic on top!

I say “in our office,” but the truth is we’ve been getting more flexible in our approach to work. The roster has grown again as of December 1, with the addition of Billy Garver as our new full-time Data Analyst. For now, Billy joins the team working from afar.

Here are a few things we’re excited about:

  • This role will grow along with Billy, who is a statistician and teacher by training. His skills will bring a fresh perspective to the research that happens behind the scenes in our firm.
  • Having another teammate means greater sustainability. You know my intent to work to age 92: our practice requires we “build a deeper bench,” an endeavor that can thrive across the decades.
  • The more we work from our collective strengths, the stronger the firm will be. Billy’s experience with documentation for academic research frees me up to spend more time doing what I love the most—talking with you!

I’m grateful to have a talent like Billy on board, and we’re excited to see how this group continues to exceed the sum of its parts!

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


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