risk 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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Minding the Bears

photo shows a rocky mountain trail

One recent morning, I was lucky enough to be hiking on a mountain trail with my sister. The air was crisp and clear, the smell of the pines was thick—a beautiful day.

We came across animal tracks, then more animal tracks, on the muddy parts of the trail.

We knew before we started that there were bears in the neighborhood. (In fact, one might say we were in the bears’ neighborhood!) The tracks seemed to have the shape of claws, with a size and depth that impressed me with a desire to avoid a meeting.

It seemed as good a time as any to turn around, so we did. My senses were on high alert as we began to descend. We reached the trailhead without incident.

Later, I looked up the facts about bear attacks. Only one out of 175 million people worldwide is the victim of a fatal bear attack each year, fewer than two in the whole United States.

The danger I perceived was far larger than the actual risk involved.

This reminds me of where we are in the investment markets. It seems to be the economic equivalent of a beautiful day: the market has had a sharp rebound from the pandemic lows of 2020. Yet some are concerned about the bear (a bear market meaning, of course, a big decline).

Just as there are plenty of bears in the wooded mountains, there are regular declines in the stock market. Some estimate that 10 to 15% declines are routine each year. But fear of the bear often seems to be greater than the actual damage a bear market might do to long-term investors.

Learning to live with the ups and downs, one may benefit from long-term growth in value. But fear of a decline that proves to be temporary—and rarely truly catastrophic—may lead one to sell out long before money is actually needed, with future gains foregone.

Clients, thank you for inviting us to hike the trails of your life with you. If you would like to talk bears or mountains or markets, please email us or call.


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Your Safety Net Is Not a Hammock

photo shows a safety net in midair

The advancement of technology has helped humans perform more tasks more safely.

Backup cameras and drift warning systems help curb preventable accidents in our vehicles. Even in our pastimes, technology can monitor more risks and dangers than ever. Big-wave surfers take on, well, bigger waves, prepared with more data about the conditions than ever before… not to mention a jet-ski nearby, ready to help anyone who crashes.

Such monitoring technology may allow us to take on more risk, but this doesn’t mean we ought to. Specifically, this tech becomes dangerous when we let it take over and do our thinking for us too.

Some providers offer tech tools to help “measure” risk tolerance. The tools are, in theory, designed to increase transparency. If we know more about the dangers present, shouldn’t we be able to make better decisions?

For some investors and clients, it’s perfectly comfortable to use such scores to determine the “appropriate” investments. The trouble is that then the tech tool is doing the interpreting, moving from observation to decision.

That middle part—the thinking, the choosing, the deliberation—that’s where we like to focus our energy in this shop.

Many tools may seem like safety nets, keeping us from ever falling too hard, but they should not replace the process.

You may remember The Flying Wallendas, a family that for generations has performed high-wire stunts (one of them crossed the Grand Canyon on live television a few years ago). The family avoids nets when they can.

Why?

The net may make you feel better about the risks involved, but it’s counterproductive—and dangerous—if it leads you to behave with less awareness, intention, and energy.

You must behave as if the risks are always present… And carry on, making the best decisions possible.

Clients, wondering about nets, risk, and more? Let’s chat: call or write anytime.


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The Surprising Benefits of Hanging Out in the Gray

photo shows a black pencil on a white background next to a white pencil on a black background

In psychology, “black-and-white thinking” is a defense mechanism that helps the brain cope by pushing things to their extremes. If there is a crisp division between “right” and “wrong,” things are easier, yeah? It’s not so overwhelming to decide how to behave if we can boil a situation down to two basic options. 

Like a lot of fairytales, it sure does sound nice on the surface. 

But so few things in life are truly black-and-white, all-or-nothing, either/or. The problem with “black-and-white thinking” is that it’s almost always a logical fallacy.  

And a logical fallacy is just that: it is false, illogical. You can‘t reason with a fallacy. You reject it and find a frame that suits the situation better. 

So why do people avoid hanging out in all that gray between black and white? Because gray is blurry. There are way more decisions to make when we navigate the gray. 

I’m sorry to say it, but life is already mostly in the gray in-between. And it is no time for us to splinter into camps when we all could stay on the same team. Nebraskans are suffering tremendously as COVID-19 continues to move through our communities and swamp our hospitals and care systems. 

What if we didn’t splinter in the face of such challenges? It is easier to hang out in the gray when we accept that we are here together. The extremes get lonely: we’d rather face reality and work through it with each other. 

Across the coming years, we will learn more about the science of this pandemic and the damage it will continue to inflict even on those who survive. In the meantime, we don’t need things to be totally “black-and-white” to move in the right direction.  

Stay safe enough. 

Avoid unnecessary risks. 

Use our resources as wisely as we can

What do we stand to gain when we hang out in this blurry space? We get share each other’s strength in this tough time. We get to hold out some hope for the road ahead, the other side. 

Clients, we’re grateful to get to work with you, even in this tough time. Have questions about your own options? Let’s talk. 


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Where Did All The Risks Go?

© Can Stock Photo / Hmelevskih

In what seems like the good old days, we thought about many kinds of risk. Now, to many, risk only means one thing. All the other kinds of risk seem to have disappeared. Here are some of the classic risks as we learned them long ago, and still understand today:

Market Risk. Changes in equity prices or interest rates or currency exchange rates that hurt the investment value.

Liquidity Risk. Being unable to sell an investment without a discount for lack of buyers.

Concentration Risk. Having all your eggs in one basket, when the basket gets upset.

Credit Risk. A bond issuer might not be able to pay you back because of adverse conditions.

Inflation Risk. A loss of purchasing power over time because investments fail to keep up with a rising cost of living.

This old-fashioned approach to risk focused on possibilities for what might happen in the future. This makes sense to us, since the future is where we will get all of our coming investment results, good and bad. The past is past.

But perhaps the most popular approach to risk today is based totally on the past, not the future. Past volatility is supposedly the measure of risk in any investment and every portfolio. Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) implicitly assumes that past volatility is the sole measure of risk. Yet volatility is inherent in any form of long-term investing, and has little to do with many of the classic forms of risk.

Investment firms and advisors promoting ‘risk analytics’ and many measures of ‘risk tolerance’ are using this backward-looking theory of risk. It has nothing to do with the classic definitions of risk, outlined above. In our opinion, some of the latest and greatest risk management technology is not focused on actual risk at all, and could discourage people from enduring the volatility required to achieve long term results.

Meanwhile, the classic understanding of risk has us thinking about its many dimensions as we choose securities and build portfolios. One drawback of our approach? It takes more work to do things the old-fashioned way. But we think it is the right way to go. No guarantees, of course.

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 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.

Icky-Tasting Medicine

© Can Stock Photo / dolgachov

If you believe that living with ups and downs is an integral feature of long term investing, some aspects of customary investment practices seem rather curious.

The idea that volatility is risk is the root of the trouble, in our view. We believe volatility is simply the normal ups and downs, not a good measure of risk. A widely followed concept, Modern Portfolio Theory or MPT, adopts the approach that volatility is literally, mathematically, risk.

This approach attempts to work out “risk tolerance,” by which they mean willingness to endure volatility. If one is averse to volatility, then portfolios are designed with volatility reduction in mind.

Unfortunately, volatility reduction may result in performance reduction. But investments which do not fluctuate are not truly investments. Your bank account does not fluctuate, but it is not an investment.

We think beginning the conversation with an attempt to tease out willingness to endure volatility is a lot like a doctor working with a child to determine tolerance for icky-tasting medicine before making a prescription.

Our strategy is to impart what we believe about investing. We work with people to understand what part of their wealth might be invested for the long term, and whether they are comfortable with ups and downs on that fraction of it.

This necessarily involves learning about near and intermediate cash needs and income requirements, as well as talking about what it takes to live with the ups and downs. We invest a lot of time and energy into providing context and perspective so people might be better able to invest effectively. This process begins at the very beginning of our discussions with potential clients.

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


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

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

Choose Your Risks Wisely

© Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit

When you think about your finances over the course of a lifetime, it is easier to see that risks may only be selected, not avoided.

Our first understanding of risk often relates to fluctuations in value. If you put in a dollar, and the value soon drops to 80 cents or 60 cents, it seems like a clear (and vivid!) loss.

Money buried in a can would never have that kind of risk, yet its purchasing power—what you could buy with it—declines year by year if there is any inflation at all. This kind of damage reminds us of termites, which chew away behind the scenes, causing damage that is not obvious.

Longer term fixed income investments, like bonds, offer interest that may offset inflation in whole or in part. But the value of a bond may change with interest rates. A 3% bond is probably not going to be worth its face amount in a 6% world.

The interesting thing about all these different kinds of risks is that they cannot be entirely avoided, but they may be balanced against each other.

• The things that fluctuate in value may provide growth over the long term to offset inflation.
• Having money in hand when needed may enable us to live with fluctuating values in other parts of our holdings.
• Reliable income helps us avoid excess amounts of money laying around.

We think one of the most valuable lessons about risk is that, on our long term investments, volatility is not risk. If we aren’t retiring for many years, ups and downs in our retirement accounts may not be all that pertinent.

The stock market, measured by either the Dow Jones Average or the S&P 500 Index, has risen three years out of four. There is no guarantee that this general pattern continues, or how results will work out over future periods. But someone that invested ten, twenty or forty years ago may have seen a lot of growth overall, in spite of fluctuations ever year—and some years that were negative.

Clients, if you would like to talk about the balance of risks in your situation 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.

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.

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.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

© Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit

In 2002 Donald Rumsfeld made headlines when he stood up during a press conference on the case for war against Iraq and proclaimed “there are known unknowns.” At first, this phrase sounds like a silly oxymoron. However, it actually makes a very important distinction. Whenever we are considering our planning, it is important to acknowledge both the risks that we know—the “known unknowns”—and the risks that we don’t—the “unknown unknowns.”

For example, suppose you are thinking about investing in an airline company. You are probably aware of a number of possible risks to an airline: natural disasters, plane crashes, or spikes in fuel prices, to name a few. These are your known unknowns.

Now imagine what happens to your investment if you buy airline stocks and the next day a scientist announces that they’ve built a teleporter that can safely and instantaneously transport people across the globe. Nobody could have foreseen such an outlandish invention—it would be something straight out of science fiction. This would be an unknown unknown, a risk that is so far off your radar you probably would not even think it was worth thinking about.

And you may be right. These risks are by nature rare and unpredictable, so it is practically impossible to plan around them. But it is important to remember that they can and do happen, and to be ready for the possibility. There was a point when heavier-than-air flying machines seemed like an impractical fantasy. Those who bet against the airplane wound up paying for it eventually.

Today, investors and advisor representatives have a wide range of tools to try to quantify the risks of a portfolio. These forecasts are only as good as the models behind them, though—they can only estimate based on the known unknowns, not the unknown unknowns. There is certainly some value in statistical risk analysis, but there is also a real danger in false confidence.

As humans we are pretty bad at understanding probability: a 5-10% chance sounds pretty unlikely, but in practice a 1 in 20 chance is not nearly as rare as we think it is. When we hear numbers like 95% we tend to think of them as being a safe bet. That’s not much comfort if you turn out to be the 1 in 20, though.

Here at Leibman Financial, we have a different approach to risk analysis. It goes something like this:

Everything we invest in has risks. Many of the investments we prefer are more volatile than average. You may lose money.

We do not make these statements because we are fishing for excuses. We are proud of our results and stand behind them. We want you to continue to do business with us, and believe the best way to ensure this happens is to make money for you.

We like to think we do a pretty good job. But we cannot guarantee our results, and we will not inspire false confidence by guessing numbers for you. If you have any concerns about investment risks, feel free to call or email us and we will discuss them to the full extent of our knowledge and understanding.


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

The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.