portfolio management

Change is the Only Constant

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The ability to adapt to changing conditions is what sets those who thrive apart from those who merely survive.

Our portfolio theory evolves over time as economic and market conditions unfold. The problem with the textbook approach in a changing world is that a textbook, once printed, never changes. Looking at the world as it is and doing our own thinking, we see things in a new way.

We believe that central bank intervention and counterproductive monetary policies have distorted pricing in the bond market and for other income-producing investments. By crushing interest rates and yields to very low levels, the old investment textbook has been made obsolete.

Therefore the classic advice about the proper balance between stocks and bonds brings new and perhaps unrecognized risks, with corresponding pockets of opportunity elsewhere. Yet the classic advice met a need which still exists: how to accommodate varying needs for liquidity and tolerance of volatility.

Our adaptation to this new world is the portfolio structure you see above. Our classic research-driven portfolio methods live in the Long Term Core. We believe our fundamental principles are timeless, and make sense in all conditions.

But people need the use of their money to live their lives and do what they need to do. So a cash layer is needed, tailored to individual circumstances.

The layer between is ballast. This refers to holdings that might be expected to fall and rise more slowly than the overall stock market. Ballast serves two purposes. It dampens volatility of the overall portfolio, thereby making it easier to live with. Ballast may serve as a source of funds for buying when the market seems to be low.

The client with higher cash needs or who desires lower volatility may use the same long term core as the one who wants maximum potential returns. One may want a ‘cash-ballast-long term core’ allocation of 10%-25%-65% and the next one 4%-0%-96%.

The adaptations we’ve made have generated efficiencies and therefore time—time to work individually with you on your plans and planning, time for more frequent portfolio reviews, time for more intensive research.

Clients, if you would like to discuss how this structure might fit your needs, please email us or call 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.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

The State of Our Union

© Can Stock Photo / Niyazz

Our union? Yes, you and we are partners in a unique enterprise. As a client, you share our confidence about the long term. Many of you are willing to live with volatility in the short term to get where you want to go. And many of you don’t join stampedes or sell out in panic. This investment behavior puts you in a select group. It is a vital ingredient in the beginning of your success—and ours.

The 21st anniversary of the decision to embark on our ultimate business venture is a natural time to take stock. Where are we now? Where are we going? We’ll assess this in terms of our three key activities.

Communications.

We love to talk—you know this. About two years ago, we began to figure out how to talk to all of you, every day if you would like. The new media has two aspects. Real time commentary and news shows up in the social media venues like Facebook and Twitter. A permanent library of all of our philosophy and strategies and methods can be found 24/7 at 228Main.com.

Paradoxically, the success of our new media has given us more time to talk one on one, by telephone or email or in person. So now we spend more time doing what we love, connecting with you directly. We expect to continue to build both our archives and our skill at real time interaction.

Investment Research.

To a surprising extent, our research capabilities are tied to new media activity. We interact with great minds in economics and market strategy, trading ideas and insights and finding topics we wish to investigate more deeply.

The one-to-one communications with you also contain a research element. We gain perspective on global markets by talking to executives who have traveled the world on business. We have a better understanding of specific industries and companies because we talk to people who are in those businesses. Every one of you is a consumer, and we talk to you about companies and products you deal with every day.

Our conventional sources have never been better, either. LPL Financial continues to build out our back office research staff by adding and developing talent. Bottom line: we are connected to ever-richer sources of ideas and trends as well as the specific data we need to do our work.

Portfolio Management.

Over the past eighteen months we have worked on improving our capability to act more quickly on fleeting opportunities. You saw the results. Our portfolio review process is more robust than it ever has been.

We also have tweaked our strategy. Now, client portfolios see more activity but in smaller pieces. Instead of looking for opportunities where we can invest 5% of a portfolio balance, we will take action if 1 or 2 or 3% position sizes are appropriate. With more holdings comes greater diversification. Theoretically, this may give us a smoother ride to our goals.

The markets are like a thousand piece mosaic whose tiles are constantly changing. So we cannot tell you what changes are coming in the future—only that we will always be trying to figure out how to grow your buckets more effectively.

So the state of our union is grand. We have focused on our systems and processes so we can take care of business no matter what happens in our lives or the economy and markets. We offer no guarantees about the future, except for our intent to get better as we go along. Thank you all for your part in our unique partnership. Clients, if you’d like to talk at greater length about these things or anything else, please email 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.

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.

Art Versus Science

© Can Stock Photo / karandaev

For most of human existence, our primary occupation was trying to get enough food to keep ourselves going. Countless millions of manpower-hours have been spent hunting, gathering, farming, and fishing to put food on the table; millions more were spent preparing, preserving, and cooking.

The upshot of this is, we got really good at it. Thousands of years of practice gave us a lot of room for trial and error. We figured out how to create healthy, sustainable diets from practically every environment on the planet. Every culture came up with their own answer for how to feed and support their population. But if you asked any of them why their diet worked, they wouldn’t really be able to give you an answer. All they knew was that this was how they had traditionally made their food. It was an art, not a science.

As humans we are inquisitive creatures by nature, so some of us were unsatisfied by this answer. So scientists began to study what made our food tick. They isolated essential vitamins and minerals and determined their effects on our body. Armed with this knowledge, they devised newer and more “scientific” diets. According to their theories, we could make cheap mechanically processed food and insert vitamins to give us all the nutrition we needed. We would be free of having to slave away in the kitchen and wind up healthier than ever.

Unfortunately, this never really panned out. It turns out we still don’t understand nutrition as well as we thought we did. We’ve revised our nutritional models again and again, and yet we are still not substantially healthier or wiser than we were when we were slaving away in the kitchen doing things the way grandma did.

This is an elucidating story on the limitations of scientific study, but it also has practical applications for our work. Just as our food scientists try to figure out what makes our food tick, financial professors try to figure out what makes our investments tick. They isolate factors that they believe account for investment performance and construct portfolios on the theory that they can reduce holdings to simple factors and whip up a balanced “diet” that has a little of everything.

Sometimes, the theories work. But anyone who thinks that they have unlocked the secret to guaranteed wealth is going to be just as disappointed as the food scientists who were certain they had unlocked the secret to guaranteed health.

We believe that we are likely to do better by sticking to the same timeless investment principles that our predecessors in the market made their money by. We are not Luddites—we are more than happy to include scientific investment analyses in our research. But we still believe that investment is as much art as it is science.

Perhaps someday in the distant future someone will manage to reduce investment success to an algorithm. Until then, we will trust our “artistic” judgment over what a computer tells us we should buy. If you would like to have an unscientific discussion about this or any other money topic, please call or write.


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

122 Out of 7 Billion

© Can Stock Photo / thesupe87

Of the seven billion people on the planet, more than three billion have access to the internet—including 286 million in the United States1. Any of these millions and billions may read our work and our thoughts here at 228Main.com, no cost.

The funny thing is, we started out writing with a specific audience of 122 households in mind. These are the people who trust us to manage their portfolios and help them frame their financial issues. We began writing these articles to improve our ability to communicate with and serve 122 of you, our existing core clients.

It turns out that there is a pleasant side effect to this process. We find that making it easier to connect with you has improved our capacity. We used to think that the 122 households were about our limit for how many we could take on without compromising service. But as our operations grow more effective, we believe we have been able to deliver better and better service. We now believe we may have room to grow to 160 client households.

We don’t know who will wind up filling our excess capacity, where they live, or what their circumstances are. But we do know a few things about them already.

They will have effective attitudes about investing, or be willing to learn them. In other words, they will fit into our niche market of the mind. They will have a few hundred thousand dollars available for long-term investing, or more. They will understand that we put all of our efforts into trying to grow the buckets and communicating with clients, instead of spending some of our time organizing wine tastings or delivering smoked turkeys or chasing prospects around.

We have long thought we have all the business we need. We do not know what the future holds, though, and the regulatory environment is constantly changing. We do not always believe in the conventional textbook wisdom. Regulations based on the textbook approach may potentially make business more difficult for those of us who would rather try something different. The increased scale afforded by our newfound capacity might be helpful in handling regulatory compliance down the road.

Our work for our core clients is extremely gratifying. If you are one, thank you for the opportunity to serve you. If you may be one of the thirty-eight future clients, please soak up all you can here at http://www.228Main.com. Feel free to get in touch with us via phone or e-mail. And for the rest of the millions and billions, we’re glad you are here, too—you are welcome to eavesdrop while we talk to our clients.

1Data from http://www.internetlivestats.com


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

News from the Trade Desk

© Can Stock Photo / mflippo

 As a hands-on research and portfolio management shop, we develop capabilities that many advisors do not need or have. If we were just finding money and sending it off to a third party to manage, life would be simple (and boring).

From time to time our research uncovers potential opportunities in discounted corporate bonds. The market for these high yield bonds is challenging. At times the market is “thin,” which means there is a lack of buyers and sellers. That makes it difficult to complete the purchases we desire.

Fortunately, LPL Financial has experienced and capable traders on the bond desk. They help us execute multimillion dollar bulk transactions at the best available prices. Buying for many accounts at one time in a bulk deal is a more efficient way to do it.

The opportunity in bonds is somewhat rare. We have only purchased eight different issuing companies in sixteen years. But there is another kind of trading that is relatively constant—the purchase and sale of stock.

The bulk bond purchases led us to a breakthrough in our stock trading protocol. One day we learned at 1 P.M. that a big bond purchase had been completed. We needed to go through eighty accounts and make sales of stock to raise money to pay for the newly purchased bonds. We had two hours before the market closed.

We had devised a protocol (a set of rules) to guide us. The four holdings we liked the least were ranked in order of priority to sell. In each account, we sold in that order until the bonds were paid for. Greg Leibman worked from one end of the list, Mark Leibman worked from the other, and they met in the middle before the market closed.

More recently we adapted the protocol concept to make stock trades. We came to a negative conclusion about an industry we previously invested in—at the same time we uncovered a new opportunity in another industry. We devised a protocol to sell one and buy the other, and completed more than five hundred stock trades in a single day.

The trade desk is where two of our key activities come together for you: research and portfolio management. We are pleased at the continued development of our research. The time we save with effective operations goes back into communicating with you—so call or email if you would like perspective on any money question.


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 market value of corporate bonds will fluctuate, and if the bond is sold prior to maturity, the investor’s yield may differ from the advertised yield.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Case Study: The Portfolio of Mr. X

© Can Stock Photo / arekmalang

Over the last year or so, you taught us a lesson. We are a little embarrassed it took us so long to catch on. But learn we did, and now we are enjoying the payoff.

The lesson is, some people require a layer of cash or other cash equivalents in their accounts to reduce the volatility and risk of the overall portfolio. We used to see this as a form of heresy against our beloved three fundamental principles. Clients were encouraged to maintain their safety blanket somewhere else, so that we could concentrate on our traditional research-driven, focused approach to investing.

We still aren’t comfortable with market timing, and selling in a panic will always result in an invitation to do business elsewhere. But we finally have started listening to those who desire a portion of liquid assets inside their portfolios, or a layer of less volatile investments.

Mr. X is a patient man who has stuck with us despite our stubbornness. His philosophy nearly matches ours—but not quite. When he visited the shop recently to discuss his desire for a little less risk (again), we explained that we had adapted to preferences like his, and how much cash or liquid assets did he want to maintain in his account?

Mr. X could scarcely believe what he was hearing. He asked if we were really going to skip the part where we argue. When we assured him we would simply carry out his wishes, he was surprised and pleased.

Of course, we discussed the central tradeoff. Higher cash levels will generally result in lower long term returns. Mr. X pondered the issue, and specified a relatively modest fraction of the account to be in cash.

Trading lower returns for less volatility can have desirable effects. The cash layer may enable a person to stay with the overall plan in tough times. Financial confidence is a very nice thing to have, and the cash layer may help address it.

We have not abandoned our principles. We simply came to the realization that we could help more people invest more effectively if we listened to them more carefully. Life is better for us, and more pleasant for Mr. X as well.

If these issues are pertinent to you, please write or call to talk about 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.

If You Always Do What Everybody Else Does…

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Our clients know we are not like most other financial advisors. We used to be content to let people discover the differences at their own pace, if ever. But changes in the world have made clarity about the distinction a crucial matter—vital for us, vital for you.

The financial industry is responding to regulatory and competitive pressures by adopting standardized approaches for all investors. This ‘safe’ approach based on conventional thinking supposedly reduces risk of fines or litigation.

Consequently, many advisors spend no time reading SEC filings or analyzing financial statements or managing portfolios of stocks and bonds. Instead, they try to find people to stuff into one of three or five pie charts filled with packaged products.

There are more than 300 million people in the country. We do not believe you all fit into one of these pie charts.

Our principles-based approach is based on building custom portfolios for each client. We are contrarian—we do NOT want to do what everybody else does, and get what everybody else gets. We hope this is why you continue to do business with us.

With different methods, we get different outcomes. Client results generally do not match “benchmark” returns such as the S&P 500 Index, or what the pie chart would have gotten you. Sometimes we do better, sometimes we do worse, and over the long term we hope to come out ahead. No guarantees, of course.

Our portfolios also experience volatility. We all understand that this is an integral part of long term investing. We do not sell out just because the price goes down. Warren Buffett loves to buy when the price of a good opportunity declines, and so do we.

Since each client has a custom portfolio, there is a range of returns even among clients with similar objectives. We are constantly improving our portfolio process hoping that all clients receive as much benefit as possible from the opportunities we identify. But with our approach to portfolio-building, there are still nearly infinite variations in holdings. Money comes in at different times, and client preferences are taken into account when investing. Naturally outcomes differ one from the next.

Bottom line: if you want the benchmark return, or to end up with what everybody else gets, or to avoid volatility, you should find an advisor to slot you into a pie chart. Don’t worry, it is easy to find one—they are all over the place.


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.

A 1-2-3 Approach to Investing

© Can Stock Photo / dexns

At times we feel embarrassed to be learning so much at a mature age. But we are grateful for the energy to attempt to improve what we are doing. Here we discuss developments in our portfolio management theory and practice.

One. Recently we figured out that one of our investment themes may benefit from a 1% position in a more speculative holding than we usually want to own. (By that we mean that 1% of a client portfolio could be invested in this company.) While failure could cost a dollar per dollar invested, success might return multiple dollars back, in our opinion.

We believe this makes sense because success might come at the expense of our other holdings. So one investment may serve to offset losses in another. No guarantees, of course.

We also realized that the 1% idea might help us in another way. Value investors have trouble buying exciting growth companies that have yet to develop large earnings, or dividends, or book value. But taking a smaller position in companies with solid prospects for growth can more easily be justified than buying a more sizable position. Perhaps this will let us participate with more comfort in the ownership of faster-growing companies.

Two. The next portfolio development came from our research into the biotech industry. The biopharmaceuticals each have their own specialties, and new products in various stages of development. Based on current earnings and prospects for growth, we wanted to gain exposure. It was too difficult to choose one over another, even among the larger and established companies. So we decided to buy 2% positions in each of four large players.

Three. We reduced our core position size from 5% to 3% for mainstream holdings. After 2015 we became interested in avoiding excessive portfolio volatility. Owning smaller pieces of more companies lets us be more diversified. We will also have more flexibility to let potential successful companies grow into larger fractions of the portfolio over time.

We are excited about the evolution in our thinking about the best ways to put portfolios together. Combined with the development of our trading protocols, we hope to put money to work faster than ever before—and in new ways. We still research carefully and come to conclusions only after thought and study, of course.

If you have questions or comments about how your portfolio is affected, or any other question we might help you with, please call or write.


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.

Because of their narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies.

A Money Plan that Fits You

© Can Stock Photo / wrangler

For 2017 we have resolved to do a better job of listening to our clients and developing plans that suit their needs and desires. We are ready!

Our new short presentation, ‘A Money Plan that Fits You,’ approaches the topic in a step by step way. It can help you understand the three main buckets or portfolio layers that we offer:

• Our core long term investments are intended to provide total returns over the long term. We research opportunities and threats to choose where and how to invest. Inherently and unavoidably, these investments fluctuate in value. That is part of good stewardship.

• Many people need or want a certain amount of ‘money in the bank.’ With this in place, they can tolerate some volatility in the rest of their plan.

• In between ‘money in the bank’ and market-sensitive investments, some people desire a balanced or middle of the road approach. This might produce medium risks and medium returns.

Your circumstances and attitudes are different from those of the next person. By using varying mixes of these three portfolio elements, we can develop a Money Plan that fits you.

Of course we do the arithmetic on your planning issues. Having a portfolio that is easy to live with may or may not get you where you want to go; we won’t kid you about the numbers. But we never forget whose money it is—yours—so decisions on how to invest properly belong to you.

We are excited (as always) about the new year and the improvements we are making. If you would like to see ‘A Money Plan that Fits You’ simply ask. We will send you the short presentation in both PDF and slideshow format. It only takes a few minutes to view.

As always, call or write for a longer discussion, or how our work might apply to 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.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.