mark leibman

Building a Faster Horse

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There is a quotation often attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Biographers and historians have never managed to find any evidence that Ford ever uttered this statement, so it remains apocryphal. But the sentiment remains true to Ford’s reputation as a stubborn visionary.

For investors as well as consumers, sometimes there is a difference between what we need and what we want. We all want stability in our portfolios: why not? But stability often comes at a cost of lower income or growth potential. If you are sure you have all the money you will ever need, it makes sense to invest for stability. If you need your money to work for you, though, you may have to hold your nose and accept volatility.

If you really want stability, you can bury your money in a hole in the backyard. It will never grow, but you know that if you dig it back up you will still have what you put in.

The same is not true if you invest in volatile holdings. The value of your portfolio can and certainly will go down sometimes. As painful as that is, if you can afford to wait there is a possibility that it may recover over the long run.

If you just buried your cash in the backyard, there is no chance that it will suddenly produce more wealth. A long time horizon can smooth out the risks of a higher volatility portfolio, but it will not produce more gains from a more stable portfolio.

If we asked new prospects what they wanted, many would probably say they wanted stability. But that is not what we are selling. Not everyone has the same risk tolerance, and different amounts of volatility are appropriate depending on financial circumstances. We still generally think that learning to tolerate volatility may be more useful than seeking stability at all costs.

Clients, if you have anything to discuss, please call or email us.


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.

Rule #3

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Our Fundamental Rule #3 of Investing: own the orchard for the fruit crop. What do we mean?

If the fruit crop is enough to live on, you would not have to care what the neighbor would pay for the orchard – it’s not for sale! Whether the latest bid was higher or lower than the day before makes no difference.

You can think of your long term portfolio the same way. If it produces the cash flow you need, fluctuating values don’t always affect your real life – you buy groceries with the income, not with the statement value. The down years may have no impact on your life or lifestyle. All we need to know is where to find the cash you need, when you need it, to do the things you want and need to do.

This is what we mean when we say “own the orchard for the fruit crop.” It’s important, because enduring volatility is an inherent part of investing for total return.

There are two key points of caution. This approach presumes you keep the faith that downturns in the market end someday, that the economy recovers from whatever ails it—and you do not sell out at low points. Also, it assumes that your short term lump sum cash needs are covered by savings that do not fluctuate.

Clients, this understanding is key to our work. Please call or email us if you would like to talk about it, or anything else.


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.

Rule #2

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We often talk about our three fundamental principles of investing. Rule #2 is ‘Buy the best bargains.’ This is our intent, but we must act on what we know, which is incomplete. Our crystal ball does not actually work; we do not know the future. No guarantees.

The best bargain is likely to be unpopular – or else it might not be a bargain. We often buy into sectors that are down sharply from much higher levels, years before. The crowd is almost never rushing into shares that have declined 50 or 80% over a period of years.

This matches up nicely with our contrarian philosophy, doing our own thinking, going our own way. In fact, we believe that profit potential lives in the gap between the consensus expectation and the unfolding reality. We think there is an edge in finding a lonely, but correct, position.

There are different categories of bargains. The best bargain might be a cyclical investment at the low point in its cycle – homebuilders in recession, for example. Or a wonderful, durable blue chip company available at a temporarily low price because of some short-term issue. Or a deeply discounted bond in a stressed company that we figure is trading below liquidation value. No guarantees, as we said!

Our approach is not the only one. Some believe in buying only when an investment is already in a clear up-trend. Others want to own the things that are on the magazine covers, the ones everyone is talking about. For better or worse, we do our best to stick to our convictions. (And sometimes they are better, and sometimes they are worse.)

The value style, our philosophy, is right for us. 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.

Making Sense of the Data Flood

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In the 21st century, information seems to be a thousand times more abundant than we could have dreamed of just a few decades ago. An insight into the olden days may be the best way to illustrate this.

When I first became qualified to work with investment securities, I would maintain a list of topics to research. It might be a specific company or an investment product, or some aspect of the economy. Day by day, new items would go on the list.

Every other week, I spent a morning in the library. Stock reports from S&P Marketscope and ValueLine were available there, in large binders. The financial newspapers and other reference works were available, too. I would chew through the items on my list all morning, then make telephone calls that afternoon and evening to report my findings.

No internet, no email, no cell phones.

Now, of course, we interact with economists and research analysts and portfolio managers in real time via webinars, Twitter, and conference calls. Research on thousands of companies is at our fingertips. Data and analysis subscriptions supplement the expert resources made available by LPL Financial and our other institutional partners.

Instead of writing research topics down in a notebook to be studied in the library days later, we often can respond to client inquiries almost instantly, and always quickly.

The key element in our approach is not the flood of information available. By itself, that flood would drown anybody. Instead, it is in the experience and knowledge we bring, in order to understand the narratives and themes lurking in the data. Context and perspective is vital.

When you have read thousands of pages of research, annual reports, and SEC filings, you develop an understanding of what is pertinent, and what may be disregarded. Greg Leibman, in his ninth year here, does a lot of the heavy lifting.

We are fortunate to be alive in this day and age, able to take advantage of the opportunities to operate more effectively on your behalf. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

And Now, the Weather

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When you watch the news and the weather forecaster tells you there is an 80% chance of rain tomorrow, what exactly does that mean?

It might rain tomorrow, or it might not. It says rain is more likely than not. So if there is no rain after all, does that mean that the forecast was wrong?

Forecasting is often a fuzzy subject. No one can see the future with 100% certainty, so predictions are often spoken of in terms of probabilities. But we as humans are generally not good at thinking in terms of probability. An 80% chance is far from a sure thing, but when someone tells us something is 80% likely to happen, it can sometimes feel like one.

This is particularly true when it comes to trying to predict one-time events. If you flip a coin and it comes up tails, you can keep flipping it and see that it will still come up heads about half the time. If the weather forecast says there is an 80% chance of rain next Tuesday, there is only one next Tuesday. If Tuesday comes and goes without any rain, it sure feels like the forecaster blew it.

Economic and financial forecasting runs into the same problem. First, a forecast is only as good as its model. Economic projections may include assumptions that prove to be unfounded. But even a good forecast is limited to predicting a range of probabilities. If an analyst tells you they think there is an 80% chance that the market will go up this quarter, all they are really saying is that it might go up and it might go down. You probably did not need an analyst with a fancy model to tell you that.

We put little faith in short term market predictions. Even if they are accurate, you can probably not afford to bet the farm on them. We prefer to take a longer-term view. We cannot be sure how an investment will perform over the next month or next year, and do not believe in speculating on short term results. We feel much more comfortable in the trend over the long run.

Clients, if you have any thoughts or questions, please call or email us.


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 Better Topic Than “The Market”

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Everybody talks about it; it raises a lot of questions. Is the market too high? Where will it go next? Is it due for a fall? How will the economy affect it? (Or politics, or world affairs, or astrology?)

Many people seem to be referring to a major market average or index when they talk about the market. But the investment universe is far broader than those. The individual pieces may have little to do with what is happening with the major averages.

  • For example, even when the averages are near all time highs, stocks in some industries or companies may be half or less of their own highs from years ago.
  • The United States is not the only advanced economy in the world with a stock market. Some overseas markets have done very little for a decade, and are not close to high points.
  • Certain holdings have shown a tendency to go the opposite direction from the major averages.
  • Even with in the US stock market, some holdings appear to be bargains even when highflyers have gone off the charts.

Instead of asking those questions about “the market,” we think it makes more sense to always be asking these questions:

  • Where are the best bargains in the investment universe? We should be looking at them.
  • Where are the stampedes? We should avoid them.
  • Is there a way to secure reliable income in today’s environment?

This is a way to bring the focus to something useful, in our opinion. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.© Can Stock Photo / Pedxer

Directing Positive Change

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We humans are not perfect, have you noticed? Many of us have aspects we would like to improve in order to make life better.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear illustrates three layers of behavior change. We may seek to change an outcome, or the process to get that outcome, or our identity. Let me explain.

The outcome is the obvious thing, what we want to end up with. I’m reminded of comedian Steve Martin’s advice on how to become a millionaire. “First, get a million dollars.” Lose weight, get a degree, or get in shape are other examples of outcomes.

The process or systems you use to get to a desired outcome are a better focus for our efforts to change. If your goal is financial independence, you might begin contributing to a retirement plan, start a Roth IRA, begin a monthly automatic deposit to a savings account, find ways to earn more money, or monitor your expenses more carefully.

It seems like a process orientation – how we get to our desired outcomes – is a better place to focus than on the outcomes. But there may be a more powerful layer to effect change.

A recent news story indicated that a large fraction of pre-retirees believe they will struggle financially in retirement. If part of one’s identity is they will end up broke, it may be difficult to make process improvements stick. “What’s the use, if I am going to end up broke anyway?”

If identity becomes “I am a person who will always be able to get along financially,” then doing the things that are necessary to make that true become easier, if not automatic. But can our identities be changed?

James Clear says that what we do affects what we believe about ourselves, our identity, just as our identity affects what we do. So taking those steps to improve our processes, combined with a thoughtful approach to what we want to become, may actually shape our identity over time.

Consider the difference between “I’m trying to quit smoking” and “I don’t smoke anymore.” The first version is from a person who still identifies as a smoker. The second version is from someone who believes that smoking is now a part of their past, not their present identity. You know which one is a more effective way to look at it.

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.

To Everything There is a Season

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After a long and snowy winter, spring has finally arrived in Nebraska, and it is wasting no time. The weather may be nicer, but the sudden thaw and ensuing floods have turned much of our state into a disaster zone.

While tragic, this was a long time coming. Most folks saw how much snow had accumulated through March and knew that it would be trouble when the weather warmed up. We all know how the cycle of the seasons work, and it should be no surprise that winter is followed by spring.

The markets, like the seasons, are cyclical. After a certain point, a bull market turns into a bear market, and vice versa. Summer turns into winter; winter turns into spring. But investor behavior can sometimes overlook this important fact.

Imagine if someone looked around at how cold and snowy it was at the beginning of the month and said “There’s even more snow than there was last month! At this rate there will be two feet of snow on the ground by May!” Obviously, they would sound quite foolish.

But is this really any different than investors who, late in a market rally, say “The market is higher than ever! At this rate it will be even higher in a few months!”

We know how market cycles work. Like the weather, we are not able to predict exactly when the turning point will come. But we know that it will happen eventually, and as contrarians the stronger the trend is the harder we expect the turning point will be.

Sometimes we temporarily look foolish—a bubble may persist for years after we expect it to burst. The fellow predicting snow in May probably would have felt vindicated by how much snow got dumped on us the first half of March, after all. We would rather miss out in the short term than miss a key turn in the markets altogether, though.

To everything there is a season: a time to buy, a time to sell. Clients, if you want to talk about the markets (or the weather), 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.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

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.

All That And More!

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The narrow part of our duties here at 228 Main is striving to grow your buckets. (By this we mean trying to help you build your financial wealth.) But a much broader range of topics comes into play.

The next layer out from investment research and portfolio management, equally important, is effective investing behavior. Some of you seem to have been born with great instincts; others have proved to be trainable. We invest energy and time into describing what effective investing requires, as accurately as we are able, to help you be sure we are all on the same page.

Then there is the matter of how to connect your money to your life. What do you need in terms of portfolio cash flow or withdrawals to meet your goals in the real world? Which forms of investing for retirement are likely to get you to your goals? How much of an emergency fund is optimal for you? We work with you on nearly any money question.

If you take a step back from that, you find a whole philosophy of money and life. We attempt to provide perspectives on things that will help you and us find confidence, comfort and happiness with the choices we make. Achievement, reaching goals, spending wisely (as vital as investing well), perspective on events of the day, economic history, biographies of giants who have come before us… all find their way into our communications.

We get paid for managing wealth. All this other stuff is intended to help you have the resources you need to live as you would like to live. (We have longed believed that the better off you are, the better off we are likely to be.) Whatever counsel you need from us is free; anyone may read our essays, watch the videos, and follow us in social media.

Speaking of that, if you have reason to wish others could see our perspective on money and investing and life, you may point them to our digital communications. Better yet, we will add anyone you want to the list for our weekly short email—friends, children, whomever. Of course, we are too busy trying to grow your buckets to bother them, so being on the email list is a low-risk proposition. Just let us know.

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