MPG Core Tactical 60/40: April 2014 Performance Update

MW-BB798_sm6040_20130422180557_MDDear Mr. Market:

Unless you’ve never picked up a financial magazine or read the business section of any newspaper, you have undoubtedly heard of the old investment adage “Sell in May and go away”. Many financial “experts” and journalists do their best to paint the summer months as those that are primed to underperform. Does history always repeat itself in exactly the same way? Nope. It’s not hard to find investors who sold last spring (or even the one prior) in anticipation of a nasty summer and they are still in cash or underweight equities. If you’re in that boat and don’t trust the stock market, you may sleep better at night for now but in the interim you’ve lost opportunity cost and missed another bull market.

The flip side to this is that bearish investors will eventually be right! The S&P 500 has not had a correction of -10% or more since October 3, 2011. Like many investors out there we firmly believe a correction of -10% to -20% is coming this year but we don’t think it will be the start of a bear market. The challenge behind all of this, however, is that the longer we go without a healthy correction the deeper and more severe the inevitable sell-off will be. Continue reading

MPG Core Tactical 60 /40: March 2014 Performance Update

MW-BB798_sm6040_20130422180557_MDDear Mr. Market:

March has turned in another month of stubborn market defiance as the investment world is waiting for a correction yet it never seems to come or fully develop! It’s without question that many of the warning signs continue to lurk below the surface but the S&P 500 has still managed to tack on about another +1%. Year to date we’re just about 1% of where we started 2014 but it sure feels uncomfortable for many.

If this is your first time reading about our MPG Core Tactical Portfolio please refer back to our first post. (click here) In short you will see what adjustments we make throughout the year on a $1 million dollar portfolio and how that performs relative to a portfolio that is rebalanced once per month with an allocation of 60% Stocks and 40% Bonds. Continue reading

Update: March Madness: Final Four Investing Bracket 2014

March MadnessThe 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament certainly had an eventful weekend!  52 games have been played across the country with 5 of them going into overtime. The $1 Billion that Warren Buffet offered to anyone that had a perfect bracket is now a distant memory. Every year there are plenty of surprises and this year has been no different:

  • 3 of the 4 teams that were seeded as #12 in their brackets posted wins over teams seeded #5! The one team that lost was beaten by only 3 points in overtime!
  • #1 seed and ‘media darling’ Wichita State lost to #8 Kentucky in the 2nd round.
  • The 2 longest winning streaks in the country have both come to an abrupt end – Wichita State with 35 and S.F. Austin with 29.

 Here are some other mind boggling numbers to take into consideration with the NCAA Tournament:

  • The odds of winning Buffet’s $1 Billion prize was 1 in 4,294,967,296!
  • It is estimated that Vegas takes in over $100 Million from bets on the NCAA Tournament – experts think this represents only 4% of all the money wagered on games!
  • The NCAA tournament costs businesses $1.7 Billion in lost productivity during the month of March.

Continue reading

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

Dear Mr. Market:

MyRA#7

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

How did your Portfolio do in January of 2014?

MW-BB798_sm6040_20130422180557_MD

Dear Mr. Market:

Apparently you’re kicking off February much like you wrapped up January; in correction mode.

A stock market correction is actually not a bad thing and in this case it’s actually a MUCH needed one. If you’re anything close to being a long-term investor you should be hoping for at least a 10% haircut at some point before 2014 wraps up. Without a breather or some form of consolidation this market has no chance to build a base and move to higher levels by year-end.

If you had a fairly well balanced and allocated portfolio in 2013 you probably looked at your statements and saw that bonds were not just dead weight but rather a huge drag on performance. Not only did the overall bond market lose at least -2% for the year, the proverbial “writing on the wall” was being etched in permanent ink ; bonds had zero upside and only risk associated with them. If rates are to rise, as so many speculate they will, we could see bonds sting investors worse than any other time in history. Bottom line: That’s scary stuff for anyone in the typical 60 / 40 model…

The place to be in 2013 was stocks, but let’s be honest… Did you really trust them to keep going higher and higher? Did a +32% return for the S&P 500 feel “real” to you? Most people we talk to still don’t trust stocks but they ironically weren’t invested in them as much as they would’ve liked. Those that couldn’t resist a record breaking stock market finally cut bait on their bonds. Unfortunately, the reality is that our 5 year stock market party is possibly coming to an end…or at least a healthy pause. Continue reading

Windhaven Portfolios: Is Schwab just blowing hot air?

Dear Mr. Market:

The investment industry is notorious for not being transparent with investors.  The industry tends to be a shade of grey as opposed to being black and white. There are often hidden agendas or conflicts of interest that the average investor is never aware of or informed about.  Think back to some of the situations that have negatively impacted investors in just the last few years: Bernie Madoff, Insider Trading, the Mortgage Industry debacle and the meltdown of Enron!  Conflict of interest is essentially why the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is now in existence.

Conflict of InterestOccurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation. (from Wikipedia).

WindhavenToday we will take a look at an investment firm that has had incredible growth over the last several years: Windhaven Investments.

schwabIn 2010 Charles Schwab & Company (SCHW) purchased a small investment advisory firm in Boston named Winward Investments.  The firm’s strategies had posted impressive results for several years and didn’t use the industry standard ‘buy and hold’ type of approach.  They used primarily ETF’s (Exchange Traded Funds) and claim to invest in over 40 different sectors, participating in positive markets and protecting in downturns.  Schwab paid a hefty price for the firm, paying $150 million in cash and stock (source: WSJ). Continue reading

Force your Portfolio to be Disciplined in 2014

Rebalance Cartoon

Congratulations Mr. Market…you’ve delivered a tremendous year of returns to equity investors!  With the broad equity markets delivering returns over 25% (S&P =29%, DJIA = 25% and the NASDAQ = 37% as of 12/27/2013) investors are now faced with the question of what to do now?  For those investors that were invested in stocks, especially domestic stocks, year-end statements are going to look very impressive but remember that is only on paper. As we step into 2014 what should investors do with their portfolios?

Often investors choose to go with an adage commonly heard in casinos – “Let it ride!” Although the market defied odds and dodged several ominous obstacles, there is no guarantee that it will continue to do so going forward.  Sitting back and doing nothing could very well allow those returns to dwindle away and become nothing but a memory.  It wasn’t that long ago that ‘The Tech Bubble’ hit investors with a strong left uppercut that they never saw coming.  Mr. Market delivered three years of impressive returns (1997 = 33%, 1998 = 28% & 1999 = 21%) only to see it disappear with three consecutive years of negative returns (2000 = -9%, 2001 = -11%, 2002 = -22%) and let’s not forget 2008 (-37%).   How can investors avoid repeating history while also managing the risk and unrealized gains in their portfolio?  Continue reading

Mutual Funds’ dirty little secret….Capital Gains Tax

cap gains tax cartoonDear Mr. Market:

With one of the strongest stock market years on record many mutual fund investors will end the holiday season by unwrapping a lump of coal. In January most mutual fund companies and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) will mail out Form 1099-DIV. 2013 will bring mutual fund investors capital gains distributions ranging from 6% to 60%. It’s no secret that we’re not fans of most mutual funds and capital gains distributions are just one more reason.  Today we will take a moment to address an issue that every investor (especially mutual fund investors) needs to be aware of – Capital Gains Distributions.

Capital Gains Distribution – The payment of proceeds prompted by a fund manager’s liquidation of underlying stocks and securities in a mutual fund. Capital gains distribution occurs when a mutual fund manager liquidates underlying positions that have made gains since they were added to the fund. Capital gains distributions will be taxed as capital gains to the person receiving the distribution. (Source – Investopedia.com)

 When a mutual fund sells any position at a profit it creates a capital gain, these can be either short-term or long-term.  By law mutual fund companies are required to distribute these gains to all of their shareholders.  If the position was held for less than a year it will be considered short-term. These are distributed to shareholder as income dividends and taxed at their ordinary income rates.  Long-term capital gain distributions (over one year) are taxed as follows: 0% for taxpayers in the 10% and 15% tax brackets, 20% for individuals in the 39.6% bracket and 15% for all others.  The key thing to remember when looking at mutual funds is that the investor has absolutely no say as to when positions are purchased or sold within the fund and the taxable consequences that are incurred. Continue reading

How Should your Portfolio be Performing now?

outside boxDear Mr. Market:

How is my portfolio doing this year? Am I on track for retirement? Why is the market up big but I’m not? What would my portfolio look like if the market tanked again like it did in 2008? I’m in cash right now because I feel stocks have moved too high but I don’t trust bonds because we all know where they’re headed.

These are some common and very typical questions many investors are asking themselves this year. If any one of these questions applies to you or feels familiar, don’t think you’re alone! One common thread among all these questions or concerns is benchmarking. What exactly is a benchmark and which one is appropriate for you?

Far too often investors compare themselves to other investors, strategies or benchmarks that are completely unrealistic.  Investors need to take the time to truly understand who they are and what their goals are before they compare themselves to anyone or anything!   Let’s put this in perspective…. Let’s say you decided you wanted to start swimming to get in shape.  Would you expect to get in the pool and swim times comparable to Michael Phelps (winner of 22 Olympic medals) within a couple of weeks?  Of course not… that would be ludicrous and clearly not the right athlete to try and compare yourself to!  As crazy as this sounds many investors have similar expectations with their investment portfolio. Continue reading

Looking Under the Hood of your Company Retirement Plan

Dear Mr. Market:

401k under the hoodIf you ask any hard working American what their goal is the answer will usually have some something to do with retirement.  While this common goal should be attainable through focus and discipline the market has certainly thrown its fair share of setbacks at investors.  For most Americans their home is their largest asset and second is their retirement plan (401(k), 403(b), Simple IRA, SEP IRA, etc).  You have a limited amount of control on the value of your home but how can you manage and monitor your retirement plan to help make your retirement goals a reality?  In this article we will take a step back to the basics and look at factors that will have a profound impact on the performance of your retirement accounts and what you can do to control them.

Last fall legislation was passed requiring 401(k) providers to completely disclose their entire fee structure to participants. Investors will now be able to see what fees are associated with the various funds in the plan and what they are paying to participate in their employers retirement plan. According to CNN Money, a working couple will see nearly a third of their investment reduced by these fees over their careers– that amounts to nearly $155,000!! Schwab reported that nearly 30% of investors had absolutely no idea that they paid any fees for their retirement plan. Continue reading