short term vs long term

Teaching an Old Stock New Tricks

© Can Stock Photo / alexskopje

Consolidated Edison Company of New York (Con Ed) was listed on the New York Stock Exchange back in 1824. Known then as New York Gas Light, it holds the record for the longest listing on the exchange.

For every single day of those nearly two centuries, every share of its stock was owned by somebody. Through financial panics, recessions, wars, the Depression – through everything – every share of its stock was owned by someone.

It seems curious to us that some investment advisors advocate the belief that the vast majority of investors are incapable of owning shares of stock through the inevitable downturns. (Stocks do go up and down, as we often note.) Yet somebody has to own every share, every day.

These advisors with low expectations of you usually rely on one of two basic approaches.

1. Keep 40 to 60% of your long term assets in bonds or other forms of fixed income. This strikes us as an exceptionally poor idea for many long term investors, because of historically low interest rates, and potential losses from inflation and rising interest rates.

2. Expect to be able to sell out before big declines, and reinvest before big rises. This unlikely outcome is usually sold as a “tactical” strategy. It is a great one, too, but only on paper. Nobody to our knowledge has ever demonstrated a sustainable long term ability to reduce risk while maintaining market returns with in and out trading.

Our experience tells us that many people understand long term investing, and living with the inevitable ups and downs. Many more can be trained to become effective investors. We think you can handle the truth: real investments go up and down.

The thought of forfeiting a significant fraction of potential future wealth by pandering to fear of short-term volatility hits us wrong. We won’t do it here at 228 Main, nor would we pretend we our crystal ball works well enough for in and out trading.

Of course, our approach is not right for everyone. Clients must be able to live with their chosen approach, and not everyone can live with ours. We can handle the 60/40 or 40/60 mix for clients who want less volatility. But the fraction in the market is going to experience market volatility, a pre-requisite to obtaining market returns.

We mean no disrespect to advisors with different approaches. After all, they lack the main advantage we enjoy: working with the best clients in the whole world.

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. 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.

 

Letters To Our Children #8: Keep Your Eye on the Horizon

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We wrote before about your three investment buckets, each with a different time horizon. Here is why that is so crucial.

Business founder Jeff Bezos highlighted the key thing about time horizons.
“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you are competing with a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you are now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue.”

The investment parallel is clear: just by lengthening the time horizon, you can live with the short term volatility that is inherent in the pursuit of long term investment results.

Those with a short time horizon—an insistence that market values be stable day to day or month to month—can generally expect meager returns. Stable values and liquidity both cost a premium, and if you want both you’re not left with much room for returns. This is good for your short-term bucket, but may hamper you anywhere else.

Behavioral economists have a theory that the preference for stability is very strong, part of human nature. If the demand for stability is high, then the price of stability may be high—and the rewards for enduring volatility may prove to be large since fewer are willing to do it. This is based on our opinion, no guarantees!

Bottom line: we believe in investing for the long term with your long term money, and leaving short term strategies to your short term bucket. It pays to understand volatility, and its role in your investment returns. No matter what, you should be able to live with your chosen strategy, even when (especially when?) it is uncomfortable.

Clients, if you have questions 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.

Letters To Our Children #6: Investing, A Tale of Three Buckets

© Can Stock Photo / kevers

We talked about human capital, the traits, characteristics and skills you possess which others value. This is the source of your earning power. When you spend less than you earn, you develop savings. Our topic today is how to manage those sums.

Think of having three buckets. The first one you have is short term. This is where you go to find money to deal with emergencies. You also use the short-term bucket to save for annual expenses like real estate taxes or insurance premiums. This bucket must be stable and liquid, to provide money when you need it. Returns are secondary.

On the other end, you have a long-term bucket. If you ever hope to retire instead of going to work every day, or accumulate wealth for other long-term goals, you need one of these. Unlike the first bucket, this one may endure more volatility in the hopes of garnering higher returns over a long time horizon. You should plan on not tapping this bucket except for those long term goals, short of an emergency which can be met no other way.

Naturally, the third bucket is in between. You may have goals for things that happen in a few years, on an intermediate time horizon. It might be for a major purchase like a boat or camper, to meet educational expenses for a child who is a few years away from college, a down payment on a home you intend to buy at some point in the future.

Not surprisingly, the third bucket may balance stability and higher returns with a middle of the road approach. This is in between the strategies of the short-term bucket and the long-term bucket.

There are other aspects of investing that we will explore in future letters. But the idea of three buckets is a helpful way to understand the functional purposes of investing. You will need to know something about the basic kinds of investments, styles of investing, some tax considerations, and the options available in retirement accounts.

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.

Sacrifice or Joy?

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The ability to delay gratification is supposed by some to be the key to reaching our goals. And it seems to make sense.

If one can spend less and save more day by day, greater wealth results over time. Skipping dessert and taking the stairs instead of the elevator over the weeks and months may improve our health over the years and decades.

This framework casts our future welfare as something that contends with current enjoyment of life. “Sacrifice today for a brighter tomorrow,” and all that. It takes willpower to struggle against today’s desires for distant benefits, somewhere down the road.

We believe there is a more productive way to think about this.

The key is to find the immediate gratification hiding inside deferred gratification. If you are broke but begin saving a little bit of money every payday in a systematic way, you have the immediate gratification of changing your trajectory, of moving in the right direction.

Imagine the gratification of getting your act together in the way that most needs it. You have known it needs attention, and its neglect nags at you. Embarking on a plan gives you the immediate gratification of taking action to improve your life.

In short, you can struggle and sacrifice today for benefits in the misty future, or reframe it so that reaching for your goals brings you immediate joy. It’s a matter of the narrative you choose to tell yourself, the framing in your mind.

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

Up And Down Really Means Up And Down

© Can Stock Photo / webking

As long term investors we talk a lot about the need to weather short-term volatility in pursuit of long-term results. Our notion is that volatility is not risk, but an inherent feature of investing.

As years go by, many think of the market as having good years and bad years. This is based on the outcome for calendar years. The astonishing thing is how much movement there is during the course of the typical year.

“At least one year in four, roughly, the market declines.” We’ve said that about a billion times, to reiterate that our accounts are likely to also have good years and bad years, if one judges on annual returns. The object is to make a decent return over the whole course of the economic cycle, year by year and decade by decade.

But in those other three years out of four, the market also experiences declines during the course of the year. In an average year you may see a decline of 10 to 15% at some point during the year.

Our object is to leave long term money to work through the ups and downs, without selling out at a bad time. Three things help us do that:

1. A sense that everything will work out eventually, a mindset of optimism.

2. Awareness that downturns tend to be temporary, ultimately yielding to long term growth in the economy.

3. Knowing where our needed cash will come from, based on a sound cash flow plan.

Bottom line, even years that end up well can give us a rough ride. Knowing this can make it easier to deal with.

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.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

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.

 

Did Fleetwood Mac Get It Wrong?

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The iconic Fleetwood Mac hit song, Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, encourages us to believe tomorrow will soon be here, better than before. The focus is always supposed to be on tomorrow.

But if we never stop thinking about tomorrow, we cannot live in the moment, appreciate what we have right now, and fully experience the sights and sounds and feelings of today.

Experts estimate we have 15 billion neurons outside of the brain, most with multiple nerve endings. If you are fully preoccupied with the 85 billion neurons in your head, thinking about tomorrow, you are not feeling the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, the smell of sweet clover, or whatever else may be going on right now. Are you truly living?

As with so many things, perhaps the best answer is in between. Not all of one, not all of the other, but down the middle. When we think about tomorrow, we improve life for our future selves. Planning pays off—that is why we show up for work every day.

But what is it for, if we do not truly live? Living in the moment, feeling life in all its joy and pain is what it means to be human. You may know of someone who pointed so hard toward retirement, worrying and saving every possible dime, that they never could begin to enjoy the present, even after that glorious tomorrow arrived. Tragic.

Our object is not to insult the wonderful classic rock tunes that some of us enjoy—but to promote the idea of balance. We need to think about tomorrow, plan and live an intentional life in some respects. At the same time, we will be happier and healthier, better centered and more well-grounded, if we also stay present in the moment.

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

Clients, What Are You Seeing?

© Can Stock Photo / carenas1

Clients, you represent a vast treasure of human capital, educated in every field of study, experienced in working at everything from farming to pharmaceuticals. We are seeking your help and perspective.

The world is awash in facts and data… about short-term factors. But we invest time in trying to understand longer-term trends because they may have a major impact on the world and our work with you. Slower-moving trends and concepts can be more difficult to spot, so here’s how you can help us help you with two goals.

Finding bargains. Hidden trends may produce mispriced investments. An example: our belief that the next energy revolution, solar plus batteries, will change the world. We may see many years of increased demand for the materials that go into solar cells and batteries and electrical equipment. Also, pipelines and conventional electricity generation might have less activity than anticipated. No guarantees on any of this, of course. But here we are, seeking to understand more about the future—as always:

• What is the coming thing in your area? What is just over the horizon but cannot yet be seen?
• What in today’s world is going away, but few have noticed yet?

Avoiding hype. Obvious trends with investment market implications may get overplayed, again producing mispriced investments. The tech boom of 1999–2000 is a good example. Some said the internet would change everything. It did. But internet-related stocks fell dramatically even as the story came true. So talk to us about what you see in your areas of interest:

• What is everybody talking about today that may be overhyped? What do you see that others don’t?

Clients, please comment, email, or call to talk about these topics or anything else. We look forward to learning to see what you see.


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 economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

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

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Playing the Long Game

© Can Stock Photo / JamieWilson

The more we think about it, the more striking it is. We are talking about the connections between major decisions and strategies in other parts of life, and effective investing.

Lengthening your time horizon enables you to look past normal market ups and downs, and perhaps enjoy long term gains. On the other hand, a short-term focus leaves people with a choice of potentially safer but stagnant accounts, or day-trading. Our experience leads us to believe that playing the long game pays. No guarantees, of course.

Likewise, thinking about where you want to be seven or fourteen or twenty-one years from now gives you a framework that shapes the choices you make day to day. You may be more likely to make progress toward your major goals in life. Not playing the long game may hurt your chances.

Many have had the experience of enjoying some product or service that seemed to be priced at unbelievable bargain levels. When we were young, a wonderful barbecue ribs place opened up nearby. Great food, all you could eat, an unbelievable price. There was nothing else like it. Customers flocked to it—we went back again and again.

For a few months, that is. Until it closed without notice or warning. The proprietor had not been thinking about the long game. He knew it was important to deliver a great experience to large numbers of customers. But he wasn’t paying attention to the need to cover his overhead and make a decent return. A dining room full of happy customers, the short term indicator, was not enough.

As customers, we would have been better off to pay sustainable prices to keep the restauranteur in business. His place might have become one of those beloved institutions that last generations. Instead, we got bargains on good food for a few months—then it was over.

In our business, we often counsel people about investments or insurance they originally purchased from an agent or advisor prior to becoming our client. Often some level of confusion or frustration has crept into their understanding of what they have. We are always happy help clear things up.

But this is an object lesson to us about the importance of being there for you. We are always thinking about the long game for our enterprise, too. 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.

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

A New Way of Looking at Your Wealth

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A paradigm is a typical pattern or example of something, a model. It is a set of concepts or mindsets. We frequently find ourselves at odds with the old paradigms about investing and finance, as you know.

One of the most irksome things (to us) about investing is the use of the terms ‘aggressive’ and ‘conservative’ in describing an investor’s investment objective. The industry-standard scale goes from conservative to aggressive in five steps, with prescribed mixes of stocks and bonds for portfolios at each step. At the conservative end, the portfolio would be nearly all bonds; at the aggressive end, nearly all stock.

But is it really conservative to expose wealth to the long term risk of purchasing power loss and missed opportunities that accompanies investing in fixed dollar portfolios of bonds and cash? We don’t think so.

An all-fixed income portfolio is typically suitable for short time horizons, where it is important to know that portfolio value will remain relatively stable. So in place of ‘conservative,’ we would use ‘short term’ to describe that end of the spectrum.

By the same token, is it really aggressive to invest for growth of capital over extended periods? As difficult as it is to make one’s money last a lifetime, growth may be handy for long term investors—for many, it can be crucial to financial success.

So instead of ‘aggressive’ for the other end of the scale, we would say ‘long term’ makes far more sense. Thus, instead of the ‘conservative to aggressive’ axis, we believe the continuum should run from ‘short term’ to ‘long term.’

It is a new paradigm, so to speak, for describing investment objectives. It replaces abstract and unclear terms with simple, easily-understood phrases. And it avoids the unfortunate connotations of conservative as prudent and aggressive as stupid. (Doesn’t ‘aggressive driving’ really mean ‘stupid’ driving?) All in all, we think this is a more useful way for you to think about your wealth.

A related issue confuses the conventional wisdom. The old paradigm mistakes volatility for risk. That may be at the heart of the misguided use of the word ‘aggressive’ since long term portfolios necessarily do fluctuate. (We explained why we believe that aspect of conventional wisdom is counterproductive in this short essay.

The bottom line: we always try to think about the best way for you to meet your goals. We look at the world and strive to see it as it is, not in accordance with some stale textbook written in a different age for different conditions. We cannot know that our view is correct, and we have no guarantees. But we do work at gaining a better understanding of how to grow your wealth.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or any other aspect of your situation, 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 performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

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.