Target Date Funds – is it time to refocus?

Off TargetDear Mr. Market :

You certainly have a unique sense of humor! Your unpredictable personality often leaves investors scratching their heads as they attempt to figure out your next move and how they should be positioned.  You’ve reintroduced us to market volatility the last few weeks and left investors scrambling.  During the first quarter of this year, investors moved billions of dollars into the equity markets as they began to gain a sense of comfort based on recent performance.  As investors muddle through the overwhelming amount of investment options available to them, more and more continue to look for the ‘quick fix’ or the ‘one stop shop’ and invest in Target Date Funds.  By simply picking the fund that has a date corresponding to a time frame they have in mind for their investment goals, they can put their portfolio on cruise control and focus on more important things. Simple, right?

If only it were truly that easy…“If it seems to good to be true, it probably is”

Investors need to take a step back and not allow ‘Mr. Market’ to play with their hard earned dollars and take a look if these funds are in fact too good to be true.  While the underlying premise of the fund appears sound, investors definitely need to kick the tires on these funds before buying them.  The typical Target Fund intends to be much more aggressive in the early years and as the years pass and the ‘target date’ approaches, they will become more conservative.  They do this through the asset allocation within the fund. Simply put, in the earlier years the portfolio has a higher percentage in stocks which then get trimmed with a reallocation and more exposure to fixed income or bonds.

Sounds perfect doesn’t it?! Continue reading

Fool’s Gold

images-2Dear Mr. Market:

It’s been a while since we saw you get so upset with the gold bugs. Today marked the worst two day slide to gold in 30 years. Your temper really punished gold holders with a 13% hit.

Do you remember August 23, 2011? What happened that day? Maybe if you were a Virginia resident you might remember since that was the day a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the area. For those wondering, that was the strongest earthquake in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains since 1897. Back to our question though…What’s so important about August 23, 2011?

Investors sometimes have short memories but nothing specific really happened on this day; it’s what was happening that summer that we want to bring back into focus. Since we recently wrote an article about “Sell in May and Go Away” let’s actually go back to that very point in time.  After a positive month of stock market returns in April of 2011, the S&P 500 dropped -1.35% in May, -1.83% in June, and another -2.15% in July. Continue reading

The trend is NOT always your friend….

BitcoinDear Mr. Market:

How is it that through both bull and bear markets you are constantly able to create new products and services that entice investors to take on risk beyond what they need in their investment portfolios?   Time after time we’ve seen investors rush to get involved in the next great investment opportunity. Just looking at the last few years alone we’ve seen the Facebook IPO, Leveraged ETF’s, Day Trading, Managed Futures… and the list goes on and on.  Most recently we’ve seen a new “currency” hit the headlines and attract investors … Bitcoins.

This new digital currency has caught plenty of media attention with the price hitting extreme highs and lows.  Just in the last two weeks Bitcoins were worth as much as $260 a piece and then within days they dropped down to $100 a piece.  This decentralized digital currency allows for exchange without any regulations or protection.  It is based on an online programming code written by a group or an individual that operate under the name “Satoshi Nakamoto”.  If that doesn’t make individuals feel secure then knowing that they can never hold these ‘coins’ in their hands but instead can hold them in their online digital wallet definitely should! Continue reading

Why You Might want to “Sell in May and go Away”…in April

Sell in May and Go Away?

Dear Mr. Market:

Are you finally about to let off some steam and come back down? Everybody has been talking about this market correction but until last week you’ve been awfully stubborn and just keep inching higher. It’s now April 8th, so albeit a few weeks early, can we at least ask you about this whole “Sell in May and Go Away” concept?

For those that may not be aware of the old Wall Street adage, “sell in May and go away”, it is a belief that the market performs better in the months of November to April. Those that follow this strategy ideally sell their stocks in May and stay in cash until about Halloween. Does this have any merit? We wrote about this last year and wondered if it was once again data mining and essentially a statistical fluke. Analysis by Ben Bouman and Sven Jacobsen (2002) actually confirmed about 10% percentage points of stronger performance in 36 of the 37 markets they studied for the November-April time period. These results were more pronounced in the European economies. Other studies also point to the Dow Jones averaging about a gain of 7.5% in the Winter months while the Summer months lost 0.1%.

There are a number of factors on why this trend seems to have been fairly reliable dating all the way back to 1950. Year-end bonuses and the proverbial “Santa Claus rally” can sometimes help bump the markets up in the Winter months. Barring any unexpected negative catalyst and a typically mild Spring, the “summer doldrums” set in after all the first-quarter results are announced. Like it or not the extensive media coverage can really amplify an earnings miss or a hit and it’s not inconceivable to see a company drop or rise by 20% during this time. Today will bring us Alcoa Inc.’s results and officially kick off the earnings season. Continue reading

Making Cents of Investing…Really!?

Dear Mr. Market:

Making centsAs we close out the first quarter of 2013 investors are intrigued with impressive returns on top of the double-digit results posted for 2012.  Throughout the first quarter mutual funds set records for the amount of money invested in them.  The sad truth is that while investors watch the market continue this upward trend, breaking records in the process, the average investor is not seeing the same results in their accounts. In a recent report published by Goldman Sachs, nearly two thirds of the actively managed mutual funds underperformed the broad markets (S&P 1500 – consisting of large, mid and small cap stocks) last year.  While only a third of the funds beat the market last year the results are even more disappointing in 2011 as 84% of the funds couldn’t beat the broad markets.  While the so-called ‘experts’ have not posted impressive results what is even more shocking is what investors are paying these underperforming managers on a yearly basis.

According to ‘The Motley Fools’ the average actively managed equity fund charges an expense ratio of approximately 1.5%.   If you sit back and really think about this the numbers are eye opening.  If you invested $10,000, into an average actively managed fund, you paid $150 a year every year whether the fund performed well or underperformed (like the majority of them did the last several years).  This is like paying a private tutor to teach your children and being satisfied when they come home with straight “D’s” on their report card the majority of the time. Continue reading