portfolio management

Probabilities Versus Possibilities

photo shows a goldfish with a shark fin strapped to it swimming with the fin above water

Our energy is a finite resource. Sure, we consume food and we sleep to replenish our bodies, but they too don’t last forever. The basic formula for kinetic energy requires velocity—movement. But we don’t always direct our movement in the most skillful ways.

For instance, we humans are great at focusing on low-probability events. After all, these are the events that catch headlines: “if it bleeds, it leads” the saying goes. (I mean, how do you think the world ended up with Shark Week?)

We wrote recently about bear attacks, among all things, and now we’re thinking more deeply about these ideas. What if instead of placing so much energy into unlikely (albeit scary) events, we limit our focus a little: what if we focused more instead on what’s probable?

In the markets, we hope to see at least the typical patterns of probability. Some ups and downs every year, a general trajectory of more up than down across almost any stretch of five or more years. No guarantees. But these are the general probabilities of the long-term proposition.

We don’t lock into losses by treating drops like the end of the world. Of course fatal shark attacks do happen, they are real, but we don’t stay out of the pool because one time somebody got eaten out in the open sea. That just wouldn’t make a ton of sense, huh?

The possibilities are endless, and they could consume us until our last breath. Let’s direct more energy toward what’s probable.

Clients, want to discuss what’s probable and suitable for your situation? Reach out anytime.


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The Twenty Stock Concept: A Deep Dive

Clients, you know that our communications are you-centric: we prefer to focus on the situations, challenges, and concerns facing you. But from time to time it makes sense to talk about the tools and techniques we use to meet those issues. Let us give you some background and then introduce a strategy that’s become an important tool in portfolio reviews: the Twenty Stock Concept.

There are many ways to invest for the long haul, and we strive to participate in the growth of the economy over time. Many people’s financial objectives require the growth of capital, whether to improve their financial position, build toward retirement, or preserve purchasing power.

We manage individual stocks for people (which, by the way, is one of the services that sets our shop apart). Because we prefer to invest in the ownership of carefully chosen companies rather than buy investment products made of hundreds of holdings, it’s become more and more important for us to develop a systematic and efficient way to monitor and adjust portfolios over time.

At any given time, our Buy List includes 30 to 35 equity opportunities, which we supplement with more diversified ballast holdings. Client accounts may then wind up with even more names in them, as sometimes positions are held even after they’ve rotated off the Buy List. Doing it this way creates a lot of moving parts…

… which is where the Twenty Stock Concept comes in! This strategy helps us pare things back to only those parts of our investment philosophy that we feel are most fundamental. This list of holdings becomes the template from which we work for new portfolios and for reviews of existing portfolios.

The foundation of the Twenty Stock Concept is great companies trading at fair prices. These are usually blue-chip companies that dominate their sectors. They are our first picks, and we expect to hold them for a long time. We usually have 10 to 12 of these blue chips on our list.

To round out the list, we select what we perceive to be the best opportunities from the rest of the Buy List. These will include cyclical companies that we hope and believe we are purchasing at favorable points in the cycle. The rest of the opportunities may include other bargains from anywhere else in the investment universe.

Because the Twenty Stock Concept is a starting place, a template, not all of our holdings are fundamental enough to make the cut.

What gets left out? Our main investment approach also includes a handful of speculative growth-seeking holdings. Some of these may be smaller, unproven companies that we see explosive potential in. Others are regional or sector plays in areas that may or may not pan out. We think there is a place for these holdings—otherwise we would not have them to begin with. But some clients may not need or want the turnover and volatility they bring.

As an in-house system, the Twenty Stock Concept serves two functions for us: it allows us to provide a focused offering for those who prefer to own a smaller number of names, and it gives us a consistent approach that we makes our services available to smaller accounts than we would otherwise have the capacity to manage.

No guarantees, of course. We base our work on our opinions; no matter how carefully we do our research, sometimes the future confounds us.

But it is intensely interesting, and often rewarding. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email or call.


Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.


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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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Time to Get Off the Ride

We’ve all heard the basic maxim of investing: “Buy low, sell high.” And at 228Main.com, we have talked repeatedly about the perils of buying high or selling low. Just last week we asked, “Where are you on the ride?”

It is true that buying high or selling low can easily hurt you, and to avoid acting rashly, you do need to be able to recognize where you might be in a cycle.

The flip side may be true, too: you also need to be able to make timely moves when the time is ripe. Our philosophy focuses on value investing, and we are fortunate enough that you, our clients and readers, have internalized many of these notions. (So you know that we are not talking about “timing the market.”)

So the “buy low” part is relatively easy: hunting for bargains is fun and exciting! It is easy to look at a company trading at depressed prices and imagine the possibilities, even as you know that they may not necessarily come to pass.

The other part—”sell high”—is more difficult. A holding that has treated you well can be hard to get rid of. It is easy to get greedy and let it keep riding in the hopes of further returns.

But what goes up must come down. The more inflated prices get, the less sustainable they are. When prices enter an unsustainable bubble it is wise to protect your gains by selling while the selling is good.

This does not have to be an all-or-nothing process, though. You might still believe in a company’s long-term story even if prices look unrealistically high right now, in the short term. In this case it might make sense to hedge your bets by only selling part of your holdings. This lets you pocket some gains while keeping some exposure in case of future growth.

This becomes especially important when you have a high-flying investment. If certain holdings are outperforming the rest of your portfolio, they may swell up to become oversized relative to the rest of your holdings. Over time you may find yourself with too many of your eggs in one basket; periodically rebalancing away from a hot streak can help spread your risk around.

Of course, there are no guarantees. None of these strategies are magic. But letting your investments ride with a few big winners can leave them vulnerable to a big tanking at even a hint of bad news. Heck even totally decent news can spell a crash for a hot stock that’s being held up by unrealistic growth expectations.

How do we know when it’s time to get off the ride? Clients, when you have questions or concerns about your holdings, please call or email as always.


Content in this material is for general information only and 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. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

Drop Your Tools

photo shows the front of a flat, wooden raft and the rushing water in front of it

We need to cross the river. The river has its dangers, but we can’t stay here. We gather materials and fashion a raft. Perched atop, we paddle it to the other shore, where we have a decision to make.

This raft has served us so well: it helped us get to this side of the river. It is a valuable tool. Should we carry it on our backs, as we continue on land?

Just posing the question should reveal how silly it would be to drag along something we’re done with. No, of course we shouldn’t carry the raft with us.

But as humans we do this sort of thing all the time. We mistake the tool for its meaning, and we cling to what has worked in the past. We can’t drop our tools: they got us here! Where would we be without them? Who would we be without them?

That type of thinking gets people all tangled up. We’re not our choices, and we’re not our tools. (And none of this is for forever!)

In our shop, when we suggest a change of course, it may indicate that a new opportunity has become available, but sometimes it just means that an older strategy is no longer serving us. It has played itself out. And we don’t care what anybody else thinks about our strategies, either, but the meaning of our tools comes not from just having them—but from having used them.

The parable of the raft was one of the Buddha’s teachings. He implored his students to trust their own experiences and use his teachings only as they were helpful. Otherwise, drop them. No dogma, no tool for its own sake.

Trust that the proper strategy and tactics will become clear from the values and principles at the core of this adventure. No strategy, no tactic for its own sake.

Clients, when it’s time to make a change in your portfolios, when we learn something new about the world around us, we will strive to be as transparent as possible. We will share our thinking, how it has changed, and what led us to our conclusion.

When you’d like to talk about this, or anything else, write or call.

Dealing with Financial Emergencies, Three Things

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The dramatic and unexpected events of 2020 have tested our adaptability and resourcefulness like no other. There are patterns in those who are navigating these times successfully.

1. Realize there are usually lessons in history to guide us; maintain perspective.
2. Avoid hasty decisions that could have negative long term consequences.
3. Look for the opportunity in the challenge, not vice versa.

By taking time to think about the context, understand our own situation, and get accurate information about whatever the new reality is, we usually can make better decisions.

In personal finance, tapping high interest credit cards to maintain spending in the face of income reductions may be necessary for some items. But any outlays that can be avoided, or are discretionary, should be deferred, not financed. The average credit card interest rate remains in double-digit territory, a huge drain.

In your investments, long term holdings should not be disrupted by short term considerations. When the situation changes in ways that everyone knows, the new circumstances are likely to be priced into the market already. So there may not be an edge in taking action. If you do not need the funds in hand for pressing purposes, you might leave them be.

The stress of the situation may be alleviated by working on things within your control. Practicing healthier habits with regard to exercise, nutrition, sleep, and alcohol can also reduce stress, while giving you a sense of conrol.

Finally, contact with other people is a necessity for social beings such as humans. It may be especially useful as you talk things out or need someone to bounce ideas off of. We would be happy to visit with you by phone or email, Zoom video or in person – about whatever is on your mind. Email us or call.

Stagnation

© Can Stock Photo / stevekight

The word stagnant is an adjective used to describe things that are motionless, lifeless, lethargic, slow-moving, inactive or static, like water with no flow to it.

If these kinds of words also describe financial accounts you own, this may be a good time to get things moving. A dormant old 401(k) or too much cash parked in the bank could be in that category. Investments or advisors you don’t understand might be another sign.

A wise person once said that every past market crash looks like an opportunity. We do not have to wait until after the inevitable rebound to treat the current turmoil as an opportunity. It could be a great time to do something about the stagnant pieces of your financial puzzle. Or not. No guarantees.

(We address our communications to clients, but know that we have many eavesdroppers. To them we say, our approach is not for everyone. You can learn a lot about it here at 228Main.com, or in our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds.)

You may need to clean house in your finances or review your plans and planning in light of new information. If we might be able to help, put us to work. It’s what we do.

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

Footwork is Key

canstockphoto701920

A long time ago, a coach told us 80% of success was in the footwork. I can’t remember if it was in reference to playing linebacker, or fielding a baseball, or defending the basket. Certainly, in all those endeavors, one’s position is important.

Add this to the list: how your investments are positioned. Many people have a number of different kinds of accounts, from traditional retirement accounts to Roth IRA’s to regular taxable accounts. Where you own what may make a big difference.

For example, because the gains in Roth IRA accounts will never be taxed even when withdrawn, if the rules are followed, it makes sense to hold the most dynamic investment opportunities inside Roth IRA’s. (Of course, no guarantees – we can’t know the future.) There is little sense in having your most boring investments in your Roth account.

Conversely, investments you might own forever, blue chip stocks for example, might best be owned in taxable accounts. If you don’t sell in your lifetime, you will not owe tax on gains. And heirs get a stepped-up cost basis, a big tax break if there are large unrealized gains.

The key to this idea is managing your investments on a household basis. If you are thinking about the big picture, you do not need to have each individual account be balanced and diversified, nor do you need to make sure you are making transactions in each individual account every year. It could benefit you to have just a few high-potential holdings inside your Roth, and ‘buy and hold’ stocks in your taxable account, as part of a coherent household strategy.

Later in 2020, LPL Financial will start performing investment advisory account supervision on a household basis, rather than an account by account basis. This will make it easier for us to maintain the positioning strategy, with fewer conversations behind the scenes to be sure we can do our best work for you.

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


Content in this material is for general information only and 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. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

The Roth IRA offers tax deferral on any earnings in the account. Withdrawals from the account may be tax free, as long as they are considered qualified. Limitations and restrictions may apply. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ or prior to the account being opened for 5 years, whichever is later, may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax. Future tax laws can change at any time and may impact the benefits of Roth IRAs. Their tax treatment may change.