There’s no YOU in UIT (Unit Investment Trust)

UIT CartoonDear Mr. Market:

Have you ever bought a product or service and afterwards felt like you had been taken to the cleaners? Consumers look for superior products and they also want a great deal. Imagine buying a top of the line computer only to find out that you need to buy another one every year or two and to top of it off you have to pay a commission to the salesperson each time…who would possibly want that scenario?!

It might be a very nice computer but at what point do you question your purchase and stop the sales/commission cycle? As we’ve discussed in several of our letters to Mr. Market the financial services industry is littered with products and services that do little for the individual investor but benefit companies and commission driven brokers by lining their pockets. We’ve covered annuities, life insurance products and loaded mutual funds, but today we will look at a product that is making a come back after declining in popularity over the last few years….Unit Investment Trusts or UITs.

The name itself sounds a bit intimidating but the product itself is fairly simple and easy to understand. Essentially a UIT is a fixed unmanaged portfolio with a set maturity in the future (usually one to two years). They are comprised of equities, bonds or a combination of the two with a focus on broad market, specific strategies or sometimes sector specific. At first glance they appear very similar to a mutual fund or ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) but when you pull back the covers the differences are glaring.  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

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

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