REITs: How to Potentially Increase Portfolio Returns without more Risk

Dear Mr. Market

th-1Raise your hand if you would like the opportunity to increase the returns in your
portfolio without taking on more risk? There is indeed a way to help accomplish this and it’s not just by balancing between the two major asset classes of stocks and bonds; take a look at the third largest asset class there is: REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts)

Most investors have little to zero exposure to REITs and they may be surprised to learn how important they can be to a healthy portfolio. This article will give you a better understanding of why adding REITs into your portfolio could improve your diversification, dividends, and ultimately your portfolio performance.

What are REITs and why use them? Continue reading

6 Steps to overcome Investing Paralysis by Analysis

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Dear Mr. Market:

It sure seems as though you’re stuck in a rut. Just a few weeks ago Wall Street traders were donning embroidered hats with “Dow 20,000” on them in anticipation of reaching this stock market milestone. As investors approach proverbial milestones, their thinking and decision making process often begins to falter. How was your mindset when the Dow Jones cracked 14,000 in October of 2007 versus not too long afterward when it was at 6,600 in March of 2009?

The number of investors that are still sitting in cash from way back then is mind boggling! Do you take a long time making decisions? Are you worried about making the wrong choice with your investments and therefore don’t take any action? Do you analyze all the options but later on kick yourself seeing that so many opportunities have passed you by?

If any of these questions resonate with you, it’s likely that you suffer from paralysis by analysis! Here are a few steps to consider and break free of this condition: Continue reading

Avoid Holiday Stock Envy!

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Dear Mr. Market:

The holiday season is upon us!  We will soon be spending time with friends and family at gatherings as we celebrate this time of year. Let’s take a moment to look at a conversation that commonly takes place this time of year:

John – “How are you doing? I heard you moved on to a new job a couple of months ago, how is that going?”

Jane – “I am great! Yes I did start a new job and am really excited about it, the company is doing great and I am excited about the future.”

John I’ve heard it’s a great place to work – their stock has been doing really well! How about the stock market this year, crazy huh?” 

Jane – “Their stock is amazing! It’s helped my portfolio a ton, I’ve also got a couple of stocks that got me back on track and might make retirement come much faster than I thought!”

John – “Really? I haven’t invested much in individual stocks. Do you do this yourself or have somebody that helps you out?”

Jane – “I read a lot and buy some newsletters but basically I do it myself.  It really isn’t that hard.”

John – “I just don’t have the time for that. What has worked out so well for you?”

Jane – “Well here are a couple of names you should look at that have been doing really well for me this year…

And so the story goes… John writes a few stocks down on a cocktail napkin and puts it in his pocket with a smile as he thinks about the incredible growth his portfolio will soon experience. On Monday he signs into his online brokerage account and without doing any research or due diligence he buys large positions in 3 different stocks with the blind assumption that they will go nowhere but up…but do they?! Continue reading

Understand the Herd…don’t follow it!

Investor StampedeDear Mr. Market:

It is human nature to want to fit in or be part of the crowd. We all like to feel that we belong to a group and are not isolated. Take a moment and go back to your youth…everyone can remember a situation when someone asked us if we did something, “just because everyone else was doing it?” Another favorite that is asked of children and teens is, “would you jump off a cliff if everyone else was doing it?” Investors don’t often ask themselves these questions but as the markets have now crossed into negative territory and volatility is present they certainly should be before rushing into any decisions.

Behavioral Finance is a fascinating field and the better you understand it the better off you are as an investor. A central theme in behavioral finance is the “herd mentality”. Investopedia.com defines Herd Mentality as: “A mentality characterized by a lack of individual decision-making or thoughtfulness, causing people to think and act in the same way as the majority of those around them. In finance, a herd instinct would relate to instances in which individuals gravitate to the same or similar investments, based almost solely on the fact that many others are investing in those same stocks. The fear of regret of missing out on a good investment is often a driving force behind herd instinct.” Every individual has made a decision to fit in or be part of a group but should that include financial and investment decisions? We would answer that question with an absolute NO!  Continue reading

Is Financial Engines right for you?

financial enginesDear Mr. Market:

If you were asked to list two or three of the largest Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firms in the country which ones would come to mind first? You’d definitely hear many of the names associated with Wall Street and the investment industry. Names like: Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Wells Fargo – while these are certainly large firms none of them are RIA’s. We’ve written on several occasions what an RIA is and how they are driven by their fiduciary responsibility to their clients. A simple online search of RIA’s will show that the largest firm is nearly 40% larger than any its closest competitor. It specializes in assisting individuals in managing their company retirement accounts and has become a behemoth in the investment industry. Financial Engines, Inc. has risen out of relative obscurity and is quickly becoming a household name.

Financial Engines is based out of Sunnyvale, CA, is publicly traded under the ticker symbol FNGN, and currently manages over $90 billion in assets! To put this in perspective the second largest RIA firm is Fisher Investments with assets under management of just over $50 billion. Fisher Investments is a marketing machine and if you have a portfolio over $500,000 in value, you’ve most likely received one of their post card mailings or solicitation emails.

Financial Engines, on the other hand, is a relatively young company and is the creation of some of the brightest minds in the industry that made their mark in the late 1990’s. The founders of the firm are Nobel Prize winning economist William Sharpe, Stanford Law Professor Joseph Grundfest, Attorney Craig Johnson and Jeff Maggioncalda. While the firm went through some minor growing pains, they have certainly found their target market – working with individuals and managing the investments in their company retirement plans. Continue reading

What’s my number?? – Making sense of Financial Planning

Financial Plan #2Dear Mr. Market:

Let’s be honest… the vast majority of hard working Americans have one question in common – Will I be able to retire?  The circumstances pertaining to each individual are as different and unique as the individual themselves. The one connecting point we all have however, is to know if we are going to be able to reach our goals, whatever they might be.

Have you seen some of the commercials where an actor asks you if you know how much you need to retire? Other commercials have people carrying around a huge cut-out of a random numbers …like $1,456,298 around with them.  What’s your magic retirement number? Where should an individual go to get their many questions answered?  With few guarantees how is anyone to know if they are on track to reach their goals?

There is certainly not a lack of financial planning services and products available to consumers today.  It can actually be a bit overwhelming and frustrating for the average person.  Any Financial Plan should be viewed as a guide or a benchmark, serving as a road map to the ultimate destination.  As with other financial service offerings there are many different elements that need to be taken into consideration. Let’s take a moment to look at some of the more important ones and put it in plain English using some common phrases we are all familiar with….. Continue reading

The New “MyRA” … A Direct Route To Retirement Or A Bad Detour?

Dear Mr. Market:

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If you ask the average hard working American what their top financial concerns is, it’s that that they won’t be able to retire.  We could certainly go on and on about different solutions and how people can get on track to make their dreams a reality but today we will focus on a new program offered from the government.  On January 29th President Obama delivered his State of the Union address.  One of the takeaways from this speech was a new retirement account called MyRA (short for My Retirement Account).

Currently over half of the U.S. workforce is not covered by a retirement plan through their employer.  MyRA is targeted at low to middle-income workers, encouraging them to save for their own retirement.  Contributions will be funded through automatic payroll deductions where individuals can start with as little as $25 and contribute amounts as small as $5.  Individuals would be guaranteed that their account would never go down and they will not pay any fees on the accounts.  Sounds like a great product doesn’t it?!  Well let’s take a step back and dig a bit deeper to really explore what the MyRA is all about….

The MyRA can essentially be viewed as a way to introduce individuals that have not saved or funded a retirement account to the many long-term benefits of doing so. At this point companies are not required to be involved in the program, if President Obama wants to force employers to participate a vote from Congress would be required.  The accounts would be funded with after tax dollars much like a Roth IRA.  While it will be funded with payroll deductions individuals will be able to keep their accounts when they change jobs.  MyRA is subject to Roth IRA income and contributions limits.  Individuals can invest up to $5.500 per year (or $6,500 for investors 50 or older); once the owner reaches the age of 59 ½ they can make withdrawals tax-free.  There are also no required minimum distributions (R.M.D.’s). Continue reading