Is the energy sector spOILing your portfolio?

OIl#2Dear Mr. Market:

The price of oil has been dropping like a rock! On Monday (12/8/14) the price of oil hit a new five-year low at $63.05 per barrel; earlier this year it was trading at over $100. We haven’t seen prices this low since October 2009!   The press and media can’t stop talking about oil prices lately and that has many investors thinking that the sky is literally falling around them!

Many investors portfolios are over allocated to energy stocks as the sector has delivered impressive returns along with some very attractive yields the last several years. This decline is impacting many well-known energy stocks like: ConocoPhillips (COP), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) as they are all posting negative returns this year and several of them are down -20% or more in the last 3 months alone.

The media is quick to point fingers as to who or what is to blame for causing this drastic price decline. When you look at both domestic and international factors it is challenging to figure out where to even start! Is OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), ‘fracking’, shale production, simple supply/demand imbalances, global economies or countless other factors to blame? Our answer might actually surprise you… it doesn’t matter! Even if you knew what was causing this volatility, would it make the situation you currently find yourself in any better? This is the perfect example of a time when listening to the financial media will not help you or your decision-making; especially if you have too much exposure in the energy sector. Continue reading

Avoid Holiday Stock Envy!

holiday5

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

Currency Markets: Not the Roller-coaster you think it is!

dollar3Dear Mr. Market:

You’ve taken equity investors on a roller coaster ride this year with the Dow Jones now delivering negative returns year to date. Investors have been scrambling to find where to invest their money as they move out of equities. The fixed income markets remain an area of doubt as interest rates are near rock bottom levels and fear of rate hikes from the Fed continue to run rampant. With all these variables and negativity in the market where should investors consider looking to invest their cash?

We’ve discussed ‘Alternatives’ before and how they warrant a place in a diversified portfolio. Often investors become a bit skeptical when they hear the term Alternative Investment as thoughts of hedge funds and ‘ponzi schemes’ come to mind.   With new regulations and monitoring in place investors can feel confident when they consider adding these types of investments to their portfolios. The investments that typically come to mind when looking at this asset class are: real estate, commodities, futures and hedge funds. Today will take a look at one component of alternative investments that is often overlooked but investors interact with everyday– the dollar or currency markets in general.

If you turn on the nightly news or read any articles about the economy it is hard not to see headlines discussing the strength and/or weakness of the dollar. What does this really mean and how can an investor take advantage of these moves? Analysts and economists tend to use terms to make themselves sound like an authority while at the same time losing 90% of their audience. Below we will discuss some of the basics:  Continue reading

MPG Core Tactical 60/40: September 2014 Performance Update

MW-BB798_sm6040_20130422180557_MD

Dear Mr. Market:

October is historically one of your stormier months and it looks like you began to rumble a month or so early this year. We’re headed into the last quarter of the year but in case you’ve missed why we’re running a series of articles around the topic of a “60/40 benchmark”, here’s a refresher:

Click here to revisit the first edition of the MPG Core Tactical 60/40 Portfolio.

Here’s the current summary of the MPG Core Tactical 60/40 portfolio mix, which is updated as of this writing (October 6, 2014).

Click here to compare our portfolio against the benchmark.

It’s finally happening. Yes…it appears the stock market is correcting. As a matter of fact for the second time this year alone the Small Cap asset class has endured a correction of -10% or more. What’s puzzling (and actually quite worrisome) is the divergence between what Large Caps and what Small Caps are doing. In a healthy and rising stock market, “as the tide rises so do all the boats”. We’ve had warnings before but the alarm bells are ringing louder since not all asset classes are moving in tandem as they once were. What we’re seeing now are perhaps the final signs of the rally peaking out.

What adjustments did we make?

The following moves were made during the month of September: Continue reading

Dividend Investing … are you chasing yields?

Chasing DividendsDear Mr. Market:

With interest rates at rock bottom levels many investors have gravitated to dividend yielding stocks over the last several years. Money markets, certificates of deposit and bonds simply are not delivering the rates that investors are looking for or have come to expect. It has left investors looking for other options to generate the income that they are counting on but what are the long-term ramifications? Are investors chasing yields with the risk of digging themselves into a deeper hole? What should investors look for and how can they manage their portfolios effectively?

It doesn’t take much effort to find a laundry list of stocks with very attractive yields. In fact if you simply run a screener on Google it will return a list of nearly 100 stocks that offer a yield of 10% or more! With the stock market continuing its upward trend investors have been moving to these stocks chasing the yields with little attention being paid to the underlying stock and the associated risks.

Before we jump into specific companies and industries let’s make sure we are all on the same page and understand what dividends are. 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

MPG Core Tactical 60/40: July 2014 Performance Update

MW-BB798_sm6040_20130422180557_MDDear Mr. Market:

Have you ever woken up long before your alarm clock was set to go off? Put yourself in that state of mind for a minute. You see the alarm clock, take a pleasant mental check that you still have some time to sleep and you pleasantly roll over and shut your eyes; it’s almost like you just were rewarded free time which is the one thing we can never get back!

CLANK, BANG, SCREECH, HONK!?!?! What on earth?? Something that is NOT your alarm clock rattles you awake and spoils this momentary feeling of pure relaxation.

That’s basically what Mr. Market did to everyone in July. The last day of July brought people a wicked reminder of what the market can do if you let it put you to sleep. We haven’t seen a sharp drop like this in a few years and it certainly got your attention, didn’t it?

We actually saw a rather sharp selloff in some of the technology and momentum stocks in April of this year but this time it is broad based and appears to be signaling something more. Before we talk further about the markets and how they may have finally awoken some of you, let’s refresh our often short-term memories on why we run this monthly series of articles.

Click here to revisit the first edition of the MPG Core Tactical 60/40 Portfolio.

Here’s the current summary of the MPG Core Tactical 60/40 portfolio mix, which is updated as of this writing (August 4, 2014).

Click here to compare our portfolio against the benchmark.

What adjustments did we make?

One thing we try to avoid when it comes to managing money is to “pat yourself on the back without breaking your arm”. We did very little this month aside from clearly communicate that we thought not only was the stock market ready to correct but we also laid out what we planned to do about it. Read and click here to see exactly what we said. The moves we made in advance of the worst down day of the year were as follows: Continue reading

Under Armour (UA) – Buy, Sell or Hold?

ua1Dear Mr. Market –

Throughout 2014 consumers have proven that they can be extremely fickle, looking for superior products at the best possible price. They have been very selective how they spend their hard-earned money forcing companies to be both creative and resourceful. When looking at consumer discretionary companies returns have been all over the board, separating the contenders from the pretenders. For a company to be successful they must provide a superior product with quality service at a competitive price. When it comes to the sporting goods/apparel industry there is a relatively young company that has emerged as a leader and is playing ball with the big boys.

Under Armour (UA) has burst onto the sports/fitness industry scene over the last decade. With bold marketing and innovative products they have become a force and have caught investors attention. UA is up over 34% YTD and has left many of its competitors in the dust: Nike (NKE, YTD =-1.87%), Lululemon Athletica Inc. (LULU, YTD = -33%), Adidas (ADDYY, YTD = -24%) and Columbia Sportswear (COLM, YTD = +3%). With impressive numbers like this investors are forced to ask themselves if the stock still has positive upside or if it is too late to take a position? Continue reading

3 Common Diversification Mistakes

Dear Mr. Market:Diversification 2

Whether you handle your portfolio or hire a professional to manage it, there is no way you have not heard of the importance of diversifying your investments. The reality is, however, most investors fall prey to one of three major diversification mistakes; which of the three is your issue?

First and foremost, let’s briefly review what diversification is:

Investopedia defines Diversification as: ‘A risk management technique that mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio. The rationale behind this technique contends that a portfolio of different kinds of investments will, on average, yield higher returns and pose a lower risk than any individual investment found within the portfolio.

At first glance this makes sense and doesn’t appear to be complex, right? We find that investors typically appear to be in one of three different camps when it comes to diversification:

  1. Under Diversification
  2. Improper Diversification
  3. Over Diversification

Let’s take a moment to look at each and how investors can get their portfolios back on track. Continue reading