Happy (Financial) Independence Day!

Dear Mr. Market:th-21

Apologies in advance for our clickbait headline. We usually aim to talk financial shop in our letters to you…but today is not about the stock market. Today, July 4th, is about independence, freedom, and the greatest nation on earth….the United States of America.

Lately the news headlines have been on an absolute overload of division and finger pointing. Truth be told..we’re absolutely tired and fed up with it. Watching and reading almost all sources of media simply takes its toll on you whether you realize it or not. As it relates to finance it has forced the untrained and emotional investor to make poor decisions. To every person who said I’m 100% out or in the stock market because of [insert political name/party]…you’re part of the problem. Holding this mindset is not using your brain as one may initially think but rather allowing another side of emotion and bias to drive your decision making process.  Continue reading

What is “long-term investing” anyway?

Dear Mr. Market:th-19

Why is the number 15 important for us to share with you today? In our opinion it’s because everyone seems to have a different idea of what “long-term” investing means. The notion that investors should think long-term is fine, and fairly generic advice, but that time frame has never been concretely defined; until now!
My Portfolio Guide defines long-term as being able to invest for at least a 15 year time horizon.
Using our definition even at retirement you could definitely be considered a “long-term investor”. Granted, you may be closer to needing to live on a fixed income or simply not have the stomach for the ups and downs of the stock market, but by our definition you are a long-term investor.
The average person is living longer so if you hung up the work boots at age 65, for example, going out 15 years puts you at age 80. Assuming you need investment funds to last at least to that age it would be wise to have a decent portion allocated towards growth investments. Putting your investments into bonds, CDs, or cash is a losing proposition once you factor in taxes and the silent and ever-growing killer of inflation.
 
168036_600Look…we get it…the stock market can make you lose your lunch. The roller coaster analogies are plentiful and with a 24/7 news cycle it seems like the slightest hiccup can create a bloodbath on Wall Street.  All that being said, the odds of the stock market being positive over time are overwhelmingly in your favor and it’s still the place to be if you want to grow your wealth. Over one-year periods, between 1926 and 1997, Ibbotson found that stock returns were positive in 52 out of 72 years, or roughly three-quarters of the time. Even so there is obvious risk and volatility with the best year having stocks return +54% and in the worst -43%.
 
But now let’s turn to longer periods. Ibbotson looked at five-year rolling cycles over the same era (1926-30, 1927-31, etc.). Out of 68 separate, overlapping periods, stock returns were positive 61 times which works out to be almost 90% of the time! Over 15-year rolling periods (there were 58 of them) stock returns were positive every time.
Since 1926, the stock market – as measured by the S&P 500 with dividends reinvested, has never had a 15-year rolling calendar period with a loss. If that fact doesn’t register…please read it again. Never once in history has the stock market lost money over a 15 year period. The longer your time horizon the more likely it is that you’ll make money in a diversified stock portfolio. 
One of the reasons financial advisors use other instruments in a portfolio outside of stocks is to diversify; that is also a nice way of saying it’s because they know you will likely be an emotional train wreck when volatility enters the arena. If there was a two horse race and we had to bank our entire livelihood on either the Bond horse or the Stock horse…it is without question which we would choose.
Furthermore, imagine if you could only open your investment account statements once every 15 years? Not only would you most likely be a less stressed and more successful investor, but the odds are substantial that you would have positive returns no matter what happened in the world.

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