volatility

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.

Pain Fades Away

© Can Stock Photo / pressmaster

Some pundits calculate the current run-up in the stock market as the longest bull market in history. It seems many have forgotten how tumultuous and uncertain things have felt at times during the rise.

Before the rise began, a punishing drop in the market (and investment account balances) happened, from mid-2007 to spring 2009.

Then, just a couple years into the recovery, we had one of the most turbulent periods ever. In August 2011, after dropping more than 5% the week before, the Dow Jones Average dropped another 5% on Monday, August 8. This 634-point drop was partially offset by a sharp rebound on Tuesday, a 429-point gain. Wednesday reversed again, with a drop of 519 points. Thursday’s gain of 423 points ended a string of daily moves greater than 400 points, down-up-down-up.1

Since the market was much lower then, an equivalent 4% move today would be about 1,000 Dow points! Imagine that four days in a row. We lived through it.

Why did this happen? Developments developed, happenings happened, and pundits spewed punditry. It would spoil our story to detail the details. As it turns out, they don’t matter.

We’ve been asking people whether they remember this episode. Few do. Thus our conclusion: the pain is temporary.

If you do a little math with our story, you’ll note the Dow dropped more than 10% in six days1. This was alarming to those who were paying close attention. Yet from the longer-term perspective, it probably would have been a mistake to sell at any point in there.

After all, this turmoil happened during the longest bull market in history!

The next round of turmoil is always out there. When we counsel patience, it is with the long term—and a knowledge of history—in mind. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes & References

1Standard & Poor’s 500 index, S&P Dow Jones Indices: https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/sp-500. Accessed September 4th, 2018.


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.

All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

Portfolio Hiccups

© Can Stock Photo / NicoletaIonescu

We have all had the experience of getting interrupted by a hiccup. Do they serve any useful purpose? A momentary dislocation, each spasm passes quickly.

Over the course of our lives as investors, we similarly experience a spasm through our portfolios from time to time. We feel this way about the year so far. Unlike hiccups, which sometimes feel like they come out of nowhere, in this case we can clearly spot some of the causes:

• Your portfolios are generally overweight in select natural resource holdings, a sector that may do better or worse than the major market averages in the short run. So far this year? They haven’t been great.

• We began adding overseas equity exposure a while back, as we saw better bargains emerging after a decade of underperformance. These bargains have become even better bargains, which is another way of saying they haven’t been great either.

• In recent years, cyclical holdings have found a home in our shop. Many of these have been affected by trade war talk and tariffs.

At the start of the year, we were focused on the years and decades ahead, as always. We prefer up years to down years, of course. But the best time frame for effective investing is one measured over many years. That is why we see this year so far as a hiccup—in the grand scheme of things, a momentary dislocation that will pass.

Paradoxically, those things that hold us back in the short run are often the things that provide above-average results in following periods. It has happened before; it will happen again. We counsel patience with our current holdings.

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 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.

International investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and political instability and may not be suitable for all investors. These risks are often heightened for investments in emerging markets.

 

Optional Thinking

© Can Stock Photo / lisafx

Readers know we believe there are those financial arrangements that maintain stability and those that may garner long-term investment returns. But anything that promises both stability and high returns is not likely to work out that way.

The uncomfortable truth is, we must live with volatility in order to have a chance at market returns. Short-term market action cannot be reliably forecast, nor profitably traded, in our opinion.

Yet market values can be volatile. Imagine an account of $500,000: a 20% drop would shrink it to $400,000, while a 20% gain would grow it to $600,000. How do people stand it?

First, long-term clients tend to take the long view. If that $500,000 account started as a $200,000 account years ago, the owners remember where they’ve been. That original investment is their anchor: any value above $200,000 represents a gain from that beginning value. (We are talking about the effects of time and compounding, not claiming any unusual investment results.)

Second, the long view helps clients understand that volatility is not risk. Put another way, as we’ve written before, a short-term drop does not necessarily represent a loss. How should we view that $500,000 value dropping to $400,000, in the long view? Relative to the original $200,000, it’s still a gain. Worrying about drops as if they are losses is optional for people who are investing for many years or decades down the road.

Third, even while staying the course over the long haul is important, strategies need to address short-term needs. For those who are living on their capital, knowing where the cash is going to come from is vitally important. With secure cash flow, it is easier to live with the ups and downs in account values. We call this pursuit of opportunity “owning the orchard for the fruit crop.”

This perspective requires a certain confidence that we will stumble through any problems and likely come out of whatever troubles have arisen. Optimism is sound policy, for if we are going back to the Stone Age, it won’t matter what is in your portfolio anyway.

Clients, if you would like to talk about these ideas or any other, 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.

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.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.

 

Building a Retirement Fund: Two Simple Things

© Can Stock Photo / tashka

As a rookie in business, I impressed myself with how much knowledge the work required. It was complicated! It did not take long to figure out that many people believe the same thing about their work.

The point was driven home when I made the mistake of suggesting that working in the ice cream factory must be pretty simple—to a fellow who worked on the production line. “Are you kidding me? You got all your different flavors, plus the ones with nuts or candy mixed in… it’s complicated!”

Like any field of endeavor, retirement planning has those who seek to impress with how complicated it is. But if you get just two simple things right, you can put yourself on the road to progress.

Your Savings Rate. The money you put away is the raw material of your future retirement. The first thing is to set aside money every payday. 401(k) plans make it easy, but you can do it with or without one. It seems like many people starting out cannot save 10% or 15% of their earnings—one needs to buy groceries and electricity, too.

But wherever you start, even at 1% or 4%, you can increase that 1% per year until you get to 15%. Or put half of any raise into the plan—if you get a 4% raise, add 2% to your contribution rate.

Your Long Term Strategy. Put your long term money into long term investments. Various investments offer short term stability or long term returns—but not all of both. If your retirement is decades away, investments that promise a stable value tomorrow or next year do nothing for you in your real life. You might aim for higher returns instead.

(Some people are unable to live with the ups and downs of long term investing. We aren’t suggesting that living with volatility is right for everyone. But if you require stability, you will probably need to save more in order to reach your goals.)

Clients, if you figured these things out long ago, you might pass this along to younger folks. To talk about these ideas or anything else, 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.

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

 

No Free Lunch

© Can Stock Photo / 279photo

From time to time, we meet people who are devoted to avoiding the worst selloffs in the market. When there are so many simple statistical tools available to keep track of the trend, they say, it makes no sense to stay in the market when the trend is against you.

For example, by selling out when the major stock market indices dip below their 200 day moving averages, and buying back only when they climb back above, one could have avoided significant damage in the worst downturns.

The problem is, one could also have avoided some really sharp recoveries from low levels. And in any lengthy test of these mechanical rules, generally they would have cost money to implement.

The key question is, what fraction of your total returns would you be willing to give up in order to get a smoother ride along the way? Would it be OK to have 30% less money after twenty years? 20% less? 40% less?

Our point is, there is a cost to the human preference for stability. There is no free lunch. The trend-following systems that save you from damage also tend to water down your results over the long term.

We believe we get paid to endure volatility. Living with the ups and downs when so few are willing to do it…that’s what we do. We seek to understand what fraction of your money can be invested for the long term, without regard to volatility—and invest for you on that basis.

The markets have had volatile spells, but year by year results have been positive since 2009 in the major averages1. We know that sooner or later, unpleasant times are going to come around.

Our principles may hope to offer some cover from overvalued markets. Avoiding stampedes and seeking the best bargains may or may not limit the damage—we have a mixed record, and no guarantees. With the uncertainties of the markets, and the impossibility of knowing the future, it is comforting to have principles by which to operate.

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

1Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved May 21st, 2018.


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. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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 investing involves risk including loss of principal.

The Three Kinds of Performance

© Can Stock Photo / edharcanstock

In our recent reading, we came across another useful concept from Morgan Housel. He talks about the three kinds of investment performance:

1. Bad.

2. Overall good, but occasionally bad.

3. Always good but fraudulent.
`
Many have had experience with the first one. The last one is obviously not a place to be. The key to the second one, according to Housel, is communication. Communication builds the trust required to get through the rough patches and down times.

Every day we are grateful for you, whom we believe to be the best clients in the world. You talk to us, you listen to us, we usually understand each other. We work to communicate in various ways, but it is a two-way street!

You know we won’t get mad if you ask a pointed question—if it is in your head, we want to hear it. You trust us enough to start a dialogue when you think we may not be on the same page. When there is something you think we should know, a development in your life or an investment idea, you tell us.

And we do you the honor of believing you can handle the truth. If we need to acquaint you with some aspect of changing reality as we see it, we do so.

Our mutual trust and straightforward communications seem very valuable. It is indeed the key to living with ups and downs. Our best guess is that things will turn out well, on balance, over the long haul. Of course, we can offer no guarantees.

Clients, if you would like to discuss this or anything else in more detail, please email us, call, or set an appointment.


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.

Change is Still Constant

pyramid

We wrestled for a long time with the issue of how to build portfolios in a zero-interest environment. The crushing of interest rates distorted values in the investment markets. The old ways of thinking carried too much risk, in our opinion. (When interest rates rise, bond prices tend to fall.)

So about a year ago, we settled on the concept of ballast. This enables us to tailor portfolios to address individual preferences. Different clients can have differing portfolios, while retaining common elements that enable efficient management.

Ballast refers to holdings that might be expected to fall and rise more slowly than the overall stock market. Ballast may reduce the volatility of the overall portfolio, thereby making it easier to live with. And it may serve as a source of funds for buying bargains when the market seems to be low. We’ve been able to put this thinking into effect.

A little over a year ago, monetary policy in the U.S. shifted from zero interest to a plan to raise interest rates over time. As we foresaw, this has not been great for bond prices. But now U.S. Treasury securities actually have a little bit of a yield these days, with short term maturities recently reaching over 1% for the first time in years.1

The return of interest rates on lower volatility, short term, liquid balances makes it easier to hold cash and cash substitutes as part of a portfolio structure. As interest rates continue to normalize, returns on cash could increase.

We like the portfolio framework, shown above, that we developed a year ago. We will continue to assess clients that may be suitable for this strategy. As the economic environment changes, we will review the need to adjust the tactics used in each layer of the portfolio. Change is still constant.

We will update you soon on the trends we are seeing in our long term core investments. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

1Effective Federal Funds Rate. Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Accessed March 2018.


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.

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.

Tactical allocation may involve more frequent buying and selling of assets and will tend to generate higher transaction cost. Investors should consider the tax consequences of moving positions more frequently.

Backward Measures of Risk

graph

Our investing experience over the last two years vividly demonstrates the problem with confusing volatility and risk.

After years of relative stability, a certain security plunged by more than 80% in a few months. The standard model of risk would have you believe that the security was relatively safer at the high price level. And the more the price declined, the riskier it became—according to the standard methods.

Value investors seek the bargains. To them, the lower the price, the better the deal. This is exactly the opposite of the standard model of risk.

The rest of the story is that the security turned on a dime at the low point, and rose back to its original level in the following months. At the very point the standard model of risk viewed this investment in the worst light, it was preparing to embark on a rise of more than 400%.

There is a good reason why people (including professionals) confuse volatility with risk. In the short term, volatility IS risk. If you have wealth to pay the bills due within a few days, you cannot afford to have the value bouncing around from day to day. If it goes the wrong direction, you might not have enough money to pay the bills.

Therefore, whether volatility is risk depends on the time horizon. In the short term, volatility is risk. In the long term, perhaps volatility is opportunity, not risk. We work hard to understand your time horizon so we can get this right for you.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this in more detail, or have other things on your agenda, 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.

Value investments can perform differently from the market as a whole. They can remain undervalued by the market for long periods of time.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.

The Monster Under the Bed

canstockphoto52472029

When we were small, some of us had older brothers who tried to convince us there was a monster under the bed. You may be surprised to know there is a corollary in the world of investing.

The monster promoted by some is generally called “the arithmetic of losses.” The arithmetic of losses is a simple mathematical observation that from a given number, if you take a certain percentage decrease, and then an equal percentage increase, you wind up lower than you started–even though your increase and decrease were proportionately the same. For example, if you start with $100, and lose 20%, you are at $80. If you gain 20% of $80, you’re still only back to $96. But we are here to tell you, there is no monster under the bed.

Consider that when a major stock market index declines by 50%, it then does need a 100% gain to get back to even. This is just arithmetic. But consider: whenever a stock market index is at an all time high, that is conclusive proof that the “arithmetic of losses” is a bunch of baloney.

Each all-time high means that the index has successfully come back 100% from every 50% loss, 50% for every 33% loss, 25% for every 20% loss… and MORE. Every time, every loss thus far. The long-term history of major United States stock market averages speaks for itself, and incorporates all the losses and all the gains.

Some fearmongers say investors cannot live with the ups and downs that are a necessary and integral part of long term investing. Clients, you know we work hard to ascertain whether you could be suited to our philosophy.

Part of that philosophy is that temporary declines, no matter how sharp, are not losses unless you sell out. It is not always easy, but it has worked out. No guarantees about the future, of course.

If you can be turned into a chicken, then some operator who claims to ‘control risk’ or promises short-term stability AND long-term returns may get your money. Please keep in mind that every chicken, sooner or later, gets eaten.

The fearmongers are right about one thing: markets go up and down. You and we know this. We work hard to manage the money you need without having to sell out at a bad time. This is one of the keys to being able to get through the downturns.

Clients, we are striving to find bargains, avoid stampedes, and own the orchard for the fruit crop. These principles will not prevent volatility. But there is no monster under the bed. Email us or call if you would like to discuss this or anything else at greater length.


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. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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