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

Financial legislation that finally benefits YOU!

DOL3Dear Mr. Market:

Recently the Department of Labor announced new legislation that will have a profound impact on the financial services industry. What is refreshing is that the focus is on the individual investor, protecting their retirement accounts from predatory practices that have unfortunately become the norm on Wall Street. The new regulations will help protect individuals, and in many cases, open their eyes to what has been unfortunately taking place with their accounts for years.

While the document that addresses the new guidelines is 1,023 pages long, what it addresses at its core is that financial advisors must act as a fiduciary when working with qualified accounts. It is estimated that investors will save $17 billion a year after exorbitant fees and charges are eliminated! It has been well documented that we have a ‘retirement crisis’ as the average U.S. consumer is not saving enough for their retirement. Hopefully the focus and legislation we’re starting to see will give people more confidence to save and invest.

The legislation focuses on advisors that offer advice on qualified accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Simple and SEP IRAs) and requires that they must act as a fiduciary. This means that advisors must do what is in the client’s best interest and put them ahead of their own. Sounds like common sense, right? What might shock many investors is that the ‘trusted’ advisor they have worked with for years might be anything but a fiduciary, many of them viewing their client’s assets as a revenue-generating machine lining their own pockets and financing their extravagant lifestyles.

With the finalization of this rule, we are putting in place a fundamental

protection into the American retirement landscape. A consumer’s

best interest must now come before an advisor’s financial interest.

This is a huge win for the middle class.”

Tom Perez, Labor Secretary

Continue reading

The Baby Boomer Retirement Crisis

“When there is blood in the water…the sharks will come!”

sharks - dmmThis isn’t a quote from ‘Shark Week’ on the Discovery Channel, it is an accurate summary of what is currently happening as financial firms are targeting a huge demographic that will continue to grow in our country. The baby boomer generation (born 1946 – 1964) has made a dramatic impact on our country throughout their lives and now they’re all entering or nearing retirement. Every single day there are 10,000 additional baby boomers turning 65! As they enter retirement and roll over their retirement accounts, they find themselves being targeted by various firms attempting to ‘feed’ on their hard-earned savings. This year FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) has filed several ‘cease-and-desist’ orders against financial firms for these practices and also launched the FINRA Securities Helpline for Seniors at 844-57-HELPS or 844-574-3577 in an effort to address this growing issue.

FINRA reported that the hotline received several hundred calls as soon as it was opened from individuals ranging in age from 45 – 99. The regulatory agencies realize they need to get ahead of this crisis as it will only continue to grow with each passing year. This spring the SEC and FINRA released a report titled “National Senior Investor Initiative”, the study focused on 44 national firms, looking at the products and services that were sold by their representatives to senior investors.   Below are the results based on the revenue generated and the frequency that they were purchased at the firms: 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

Are you allowing the “tax tail” to wag the “investment dog”?

Dear Mr. Market:Tax tail dog 1

Not only do you toy with the emotions of every investor; you also have a partner that often surprises them and hits investors where it hurts the most… their pocketbook. Making money in the stock market is great but so many forget that eventually they have to reconcile with Uncle Sam come tax time. Look for example at some investments that we have recently discussed: Under Armour (UA) and InvenSense (INVN).   If you had purchased these stocks on the first trading day of this year (1/2/2014) you would be up 58% with Under Armour and up 20% with InvenSense. These numbers are impressive and would certainly make any investor happy but what happens when they are sold? How will they impact your tax return and how much of the gain will you have to pay?

Nothing is certain except death and taxes.

                            Benjamin Franklin 

*** Before we move any further in this discussion it is important to note that we are not tax advisors. In this article we will be discussing general guidelines. Every investor’s situation is unique and deserves personal attention. If you have questions we would encourage you to talk with a qualified tax professional.

Let’s take a moment to go over some of the basics when it comes to investor tax issues. Continue reading

Independent Review of the Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX)

fidelity logoDear Mr. Market:

You need to hear about another mutual fund like you need a new hole in your head. That being said, however, how about we talk about one that’s been around for a long time? They must be doing something well….right?

We’ve certainly not held back with our opinion in the past when it comes to mutual funds. While they certainly can warrant a spot in many portfolios, they need to be reviewed and compared carefully to their peers and other investment options. Today we are going to take an in-depth look at a fund we see in many portfolios but very few individuals actually understand what it is. The Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX) is one of the largest actively managed equity mutual funds there is with assets just under $110 billion! Continue reading