Medical Practice as a Portfolio Asset Class?

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Valuing the Quintessential Alternative Investment

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™

[Editor-in-Chief] www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

Dr. MarcinkoAs all FAs, and informed physician investors know, the investment industry and Modern Portfolio Theory [MPT] strives to make optimal ‘allocations’ into different ‘asset classes’; according to some defined risk tolerance level or efficient frontier.

Equities, fixed income, property, private equity, emerging markets and so, are all ‘asset classes’, into which physician investors and mutual fund or portfolio managers will make an allocation of their total funds under management. It is quite proper for them to do this as they seek to balance the risk and potential returns for their own; ME, Inc., or other clients’ money.

But, by creating a “new” asset class, this concept opens the door to significant capital flows; advisory and management fees. Hence; the unrelenting innovation of Wall Street, and its’ commission driven and fee-seeking mavens, is unending.

Making an Impact

This secular and non-secular concept is broadly known as “impact investing”; and may be illustrated using Social Security as an example.

So, Wall Street opines,  if you’re not counting on Social Security benefits as a part of an overall asset allocation strategy, you may be missing out on bigger gains in a retirement portfolio. Those of this ilk say that retirement investors should consider the value of their Social Security as a portion of their fixed-income investments. Others believe it may be too risky for some.

The Strategy

Generally, adopting such strategy would mean shifting a big portion of investible assets out of bonds and into stocks. And, into the hands of money managers, stock brokers, wealth and endowment fund for a fee; of course. This is akin to those financial advisors who rightly or wrongly goaded clients a decade ago, to not pay off a home mortgage and instead reposition the free cash flow into a rising; and then falling; market.

Of course, there are detractors, as well as proponents, of this emerging financial planning philosophy.

Vanguard Group

Jack Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, often cites his penchant for basing one’s asset allocation on age. (If you’re 40 years old, you have 40% of your investments in fixed income and 60% in equities. By the time you’re 60, you’ve got 60% in fixed income, 40% in equities).

Example:

So, let’s consider Social Security, citing a physician with $300,000 in an investment portfolio, and capitalizing the stream of future payments.

If the $300,000 is all in equity funds, even equity-index funds, and $300,000 in Social Security, you are already at 50/50″ fixed income versus equities.  The next step is a conversation as a DIYer or ME Inc physician investor or advisory client. This is the nexus of where Social Security meets risk management.

Now, how will the doctor feel when market goes up and down? Some may believe the concept, but not enjoy the inevitable more fluctuating self-directed 401-k, or 403-b plan. So, one must be comfortable with taking on a larger stock position.

Source: Andrea Coombes; MarketWatch, September, 2013.

http://money.msn.com/mutual-fund/social-security-as-part-of-your-portfolio

MD

The Negative

Others experts, like Paul Merriman, opine that Social Security is not an asset class and the idea is fundamentally flawed and should not be a part of anyone’s portfolio.

Why? As classically defined, a portfolio is composed of financial assets. A financial asset is something that can be sold. Social Security cannot be bought and sold. Because of that, it has a market value of zero.

Source: Paul Merriman, MarketWatch, November 2013

Assessment

Therefore, the definitional decision is left up to the informed reader, modern physician or enlightened advisor. Is a medical practice an asset class?

MORE: About iMBA Inc Expertise in Healthcare Valuation

MORE: Social Security as an Asset Class?

Conclusion

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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CLINICS: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781439879900
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FINANCE: Financial Planning for Physicians and Advisors
INSURANCE: Risk Management and Insurance Strategies for Physicians and Advisors

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On Doctors Investing in Commercial Real Estate

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Want a good way to build wealth? Own commercial real estate -OR-not!

By Rick Kahler CFP® http://www.KahlerFinancial.com

Rick Kahler CFPReal estate is one of the largest asset classes in the world. The family home is the largest asset many middle-class Americans own. And real estate makes up a significant portion of the net worth of many wealth accumulators.

Direct Ownership

Directly owning real estate is not an investment for the faint of heart, the armchair investor, or the uneducated. Most wealth accumulators would do well to leave direct ownership of real estate to the pros and invest in real estate investment trusts (REITs) instead.

Some Guidelines

Still, the lure of investing in a tangible asset like real estate is enticing for high risk tolerant investors who need a sense of control and interaction with their investments. If you are among them, here are a few guidelines that may keep you on a profitable path.

1. Don’t attempt to purchase investment real estate without the help of a commercial real estate specialist who is a fiduciary bound to look out for your best interest. Engage a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) with years of training and experience in analyzing and acquiring investment real estate. To find a CCIM near you, go to http://www.ccim.com.

2. You will sign a disclosure agreement that will tell you who the Realtor represents. Be sure the Realtor you engage represents you and not the seller, both parties, or neither party.

3. Never trust the income and expense data provided by the seller’s Realtor. While a seller represented by a CCIM will have a greater chance of supplying you with accurate data, most will significantly understate expenses and overstate the capitalization rate. Selling Realtors often understate the average annual cost of repairs and maintenance. I estimate this annual expense at 10%.

4. Another often understated expense is management. Many owners manage their own properties, so the selling broker doesn’t include an estimate for management expenses. They should. Real estate doesn’t manage itself, ever. You will either need to hire professional management or do your own management (always a scary proposition). Even if you do it yourself, you have an opportunity cost of your time, so you must include a management fee in the expenses. Most small residential apartments and single-family homes will pay 10% of their rents to a manager.

5. You must verify all the costs presented to you by the seller’s Realtor. Demand copies of at least the last three and preferably five years of tax returns. Research utilities, property taxes, legal fees, insurance costs, repairs, maintenance costs, replacement reserves, tax preparation, and management fees. As a rule of thumb, expenses will average 40% of rental income on average-aged properties where the tenants pay all utilities except water. Newer properties may have expenses as low as 35%, while older properties can be as high as 50%.

6. By subtracting the vacancy rate and stabilized expenses from the rent, you will find the net operating income. This is the income you will put in your pocket—assuming the property is paid for. By dividing the net operating income by the purchase price, you will find the return you will receive on your investment, called the capitalization or “cap” rate. In Rapid City, for example, the cap rate tends to be 4% for single-family homes, 5% to 8% for duplexes to eight-plexes, and 8% to 12% for larger residential and commercial properties.

Home for Sale

Assessment

Yes, Physician-investors and all of us can build wealth with real estate. You just need to educate yourself, work hard, start conservatively, think long-term, and be prepared for lean years. This is not a quick or easy path to riches.

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Conclusion

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Financial Freedom through Commercial Real Estate Education and Investing

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A Viable Alternate Investment Class for Physicians?

By Dennis Bethel MD  www.nesteggrx.com

dennis-bethelI’ve worked as an Emergency Medicine Physician for over a decade now.  Most of that time, I’ve also been investing in real estate.  Real estate has been good to me and I’ve been asked to share my story with this ME-P, and Physician Nexus community.

Why I’m Joining the Physician Nexus Medical Advisory Board

Dr. Marcinko, your own ME-P editor, is on the P-N advisory board.

RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE

Not long after graduating from residency in 2002, I began investing in real estate.  I watched my father-in-law make some money in residential real estate (1 – 4 units), read some books, and jumped in feet first.  I purchased and rented out single family homes, a triplex, and multiple four-plexes (quads).  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I made two critical errors.

My First Mistake

The first mistake was that I purchased residential real estate when I should have gone bigger and purchased commercial multifamily.  I had limited resources and I thought bigger properties were out of my reach.  At that time, I had not heard of fractional investing.

My Second Mistake

The second error, that is inherent to residential real estate, is that I became a landlord.  At times I managed properties and at other times I employed a property manager and limited myself to managing the manager.  Regardless, I was putting in a significant amount of time at my unintended second career as a landlord without the desired compensation.

Not Scaleable

Since there are no economies of scale with residential real estate the cash flow is small and unpredictable.  I was on the long, hard path to financial freedom.  The rents from my properties would someday replace my income as a physician, however, that wasn’t going to happen until I paid off the mortgages completely.  Until then it was going to be too inconsistent and I would have to ride several market cycles including the very painful down-turns.

THE MOVE TO COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE

Unfortunately, chronic understaffing in the ER coupled with increased regulation and the rigors of shift-work had begun to catch up to me.  I was beginning to feel the effects of burnout.  I began to question whether I could make it 30 years.  I began to see earned-income as a trap in which you trade your valuable time for heavily-taxed income.

Then some devastating news, my wife tested positive for the BRCA (breast cancer) gene mutation.  That was a game changer.  I could no longer rest on my laurels, slowly burning out waiting for a comfortable retirement.  The future was uncertain, and I needed to ensure our wealth.  Come what may, I was determined that she would get the best health care money could buy.

I knew real estate was an incredible wealth building investment vehicle and my path to financial freedom.  In fact, 90% of the Forbes 400 (wealthiest people in the US) either made or retain their wealth in real estate.  While I was doing far better than my colleagues who invested in the stock market, I knew that I could do better.

My New Mission

I made it my mission to become an expert in real estate.  I read even more books as well as attended numerous conferences and seminars.  I invested heavily in my education, took advanced real estate investing classes, retained mentors, and developed networks.  I also grew my experience, buying and selling more properties.

I learned that although real estate won’t make you rich overnight, it needn’t take 30 years either.  I needed to transition out of residential real estate and go bigger into commercial multifamily.  I ultimately landed on multifamily, because shelter is a basic need.  People will give up their luxuries long before they give up the roof over their head.  The difference is that I now look for properties that are between 80 – 250 units.  These types of properties afford the investor true economies of scale that provide for predictable multisource income.  I invest in these properties fractionally, pooling my money with other like-minded investors.

MULTISOURCE INCOME

Real estate is the only investment I know of in which the investor makes his or her money in four different ways.

  • Cash Flow (monthly, quarterly, or yearly distributions of net profits)
  • Appreciation (increasing value of the property as net operating income increases)
  • Tax Benefits (can result in little to no taxes on income and gains)
  • Principal Pay Down (Increased equity as the loan gets paid down by the residents)

Multisource income is an incredible benefit of multifamily commercial real estate investing.  In fact, in all of my commercial properties, I have been able to obtain double-digit returns year after year.  Making money and compounding those gains is what investing is all about.

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real estate

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SAFETY PROFILE

While all investments have risk, the safety profile of multifamily commercial real estate is impressive.  Let’s compare it to business.  We’ve all heard that 9 out of every 10 businesses fail.  These failures are not just limited to small business.  Every year, many big businesses fail as well.  Names like Circuit City, Hostess, Borders, and Mervyns just to name a few.  Many other, well known, national brands teeter on the brink of insolvency.

In contrast, the commercial multifamily properties I invest in meet current Fannie Mae underwriting standards.  Nationally these properties have a paltry 1% – 2% foreclosure rate.  That rate is even lower in the best markets.  In the hands of a quality syndicator, in thriving markets, utilizing proven property management these properties are FAR safer than stocks for capital preservation, equity growth, and current income.

Additional safety measures include the use of non-recourse lending, the ability to insure against loss, and the use of sole purpose entity structures to eliminate any liability risk.

The “Conversation”

Switching from residential real estate to commercial has enabled me to provide for my family and has allowed me to work only part-time in the emergency department.  A few years ago, I walked into the physician lounge and overheard a conversation between two colleagues.  Both around 20 years my senior, were lamenting their inability to retire.  They had each invested heavily in the stock market without any diversification into real estate.  They bemoaned the fact that they had each worked 25 – 30 years in medicine and were nowhere close to retirement.  They wondered how I could afford to work so many fewer shifts than them with two young boys to raise.

An Eye-Opener

This interaction was eye-opening.  I was grateful for the decisions I had made but saddened by the fate of my 60 year old colleagues.  I’ve watched far too many of them push back retirement as the stock market and economic cycles ruined their plans.

Assessment

I knew I could help.  I have recently started an educational website intended to demystify the subject of real estate investing.  My mission is to help physicians and other health care workers find financial freedom through real estate investing and education.

We also provide quality real estate investments for busy professionals looking to diversify a portion of their portfolio out of the stock market and into commercial multifamily real estate without having to become a landlord.  We do this by helping like-minded professionals pool their resources together to buy quality multimillion dollar assets as fractional investors.

I invite you to visit my website at www.nesteggrx.com and explore the content to learn more about real estate and see if it might be right for you.

NOTE: This ME-P is NOT a personal or professional endorsement.

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Physician’s Acquiring Real-Estate

Conclusion

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What to do with a $25,000 Windfall?

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What Do … You Do?

Doctor – Suddenly you receive a check for a large sum of money?

This infographic has some suggestions on what to do with that extra cash that will have a positive effect on your finances in the long-run.

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mint-windfall-25kkf-copy

Assessment

Now, suppose the windfall was $250,000 or $2,500,000 or even more! What to do?

Conclusion

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Hospitals: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781439879900

Physician Advisors: www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

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A Value Investing Metaphor for Doctors

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Via a Cats and Dogs Allegory

By Rick MS CFP® ChFC CCIM www.KahlerFinancial.com

Rick Kahler CFP“I’d really like a Maine Coon cat, but they cost around $800. I’m not going to pay that much for a cat.”

The man who said this paid $500 for his purebred Lab. Obviously, he’s willing to spend money on things he enjoys, like hunting dogs. Yet when it comes to paying cold hard cash for a cat, he draws the line.

So, apparently, do a lot of other people. I have quite a few clients who are happy to spend hundreds of dollars for a particular breed of dog. I don’t know of a single client who has ever spent that much for a particular breed of cat.

Utility

Except my wife. Marcia has just begun breeding and selling Balinese cats, worth $1,000 each. She asked me why people are so much more willing to write checks for purebred dogs than they are for cats.

She didn’t buy my argument that dogs are inherently more intelligent, friendly, and worthwhile than cats.

If that isn’t the explanation, what is? Maybe it’s because the basic reason people buy purebred dogs or cats is to get specific looks and personality traits. Most dog breeds are quite distinct; anyone can tell a Great Dane from a Bichon Frise. Yet the only cat many people even recognize as a separate breed is probably the Siamese.

Maybe dogs are seen as more useful. I don’t know of any hunting cats, Seeing Eye cats, or watch cats. Still, that doesn’t explain all those Chihuahuas and tiny terriers that sell for hundreds of bucks a pound.

Value?

The point here is that whether a given commodity is seen as valuable depends on a variety of factors. Utility is one. In early Deadwood, Dakota Territory, an enterprising freighter brought in a load of cats and sold them at a premium to pioneers desperate for mouse and rat control. In that case, cats were more valuable than dogs.

Supply and Demand Economics

Supply and demand is another factor. A house that’s worth $150,000 in Box Elder, South Dakota, might be worth $600,000 in San Francisco, where unarguably more people would like to live. When there’s an over-abundance of cheap goods in the form of unwanted kittens flooding the market, people may be less likely to pay real cash for even purebred cats.

Commodity

Another reason people value one commodity over another is that they have been persuaded to see it as worth more. In Biblical times, frankincense and myrrh were highly prized and worth their weight in gold. Today, one pound of frankincense and myrrh goes for $13.95 on Amazon, while one pound of gold sells for around $24,000.

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gold bars

Gold

Fifteen times more gold is mined each year than platinum, the rarest of all precious metals, yet gold sells for more per ounce. Why? Gold has a long history of being perceived as the world’s most precious metal.

Designer Clothes

For much the same reason, people will pay a hundred bucks or more for a pair of designer blue jeans when they could get essentially the same thing for $19.99 at a discount store. The brand name jeans are seen as more valuable.

Marketing and Perceived Value

The simple reason for this is marketing.

When it comes to perceived value, dogs have benefitted from better marketing than cats. Just think of heroic military dogs, hard-working Seeing Eye dogs, and screen stars like Lassie rescuing people from burning buildings. Even the Taco Bell Chihuahua gets to advertise fast food. Cats get to advertise kitty litter and cat food.

Assessment

Cats just need to find a better advertising agency. They have some work to do if they want to come up with a slogan to top “Man’s Best Friend.”

Conclusion

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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Health Dictionary Series: http://www.springerpub.com/Search/marcinko

Practice Management: http://www.springerpub.com/product/9780826105752

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Medical Risk Management: http://www.jbpub.com/catalog/9780763733421

Hospitals: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781439879900

Physician Advisors: www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

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For Doctors Considering Rental House Investments?

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Risks versus Rewards

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® ChFC CCIM www.KahlerFinancial.com

Landlord!

The very word implies wealth, authority, and status. Maybe that’s one of the reasons there are so many books and seminars claiming to teach you how to build wealth by owning rental property.

Yes, medical professionals can get rich as a landlord. Doctors can go broke, too.

And, in between those two extremes, you can find yourself dealing with a bunch of problems like leaking roofs, non-paying tenants, and economic downturns. The risks of building wealth with real estate are substantial. This is true whether you want to become the biggest property owner in town or just buy a second home as a rental to help finance your retirement.

Points of Consideration

With real estate prices still low after the collapse of the housing bubble, and with the current low interest rates, it may be a great time to buy a second home. Before even considering such a purchase, though, here are some important points to consider:

1. Do you plan to eventually live in the house yourself? If so, buying it now and having a tenant pay the mortgage for you might be a great move. Still, you need to take the following factors into consideration and make your decision carefully.

2. Will you need current income from the property? Then you’ll need to be able to buy it without a mortgage. Otherwise, the mortgage and other expenses will eat up most of the rent payments, and you won’t have any cash flow.

3. Do you have the time and skills to manage the property yourself? Water heaters quit, pipes need replaced, and furnaces go on the blink. Will you be able to do your own maintenance or spend the money to hire it done? Are you available to check out prospective tenants and show the property? A management company can relieve you of the hassles of arranging for repairs and vetting tenants. You’ll still pay the bills, though, plus fees of perhaps ten percent of the rent.

4. Be realistic to the point of pessimism about your expected return. Assume that expenses—repairs, maintenance, taxes, and insurance—will be about 50% of the gross rental income. Always figure the income based on a property being vacant for several months of the year.

5. Be aware that a more expensive house won’t necessarily provide a corresponding increase in rent. The rental market eventually tops out. If a $150,000 house rents for $800 a month, a $350,000 house may only rent for about $1400.

6. If your main reason for owning real estate is investment income, and you have a small amount of money or don’t want the risk and management headaches of owning a house, a real estate investment trust (REIT) is often a wiser choice than owning real estate directly.

7. Be patient. If you over-buy income property and try to get rich quick, you risk losing it all. At one-time, Rapid City lost a number of military jobs and rental properties were sitting vacant. As I scrambled to make mortgage payments, it felt as if I didn’t own my rental houses, they owned me. Right now I have interests in companies that own paid-for rental property, but getting to that point took over 30 years.

Assessment

The IRS classifies some income from rental property as “passive.” Trust me, there’s nothing passive about being a landlord. Owning rental property can certainly be one way to add to your net worth and contribute to a comfortable retirement. Just like any other form of wealth-building, however, it requires education, good decision-making, an awareness of the risks, and plenty of effort.

Conclusion

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Health Dictionary Series: http://www.springerpub.com/Search/marcinko

Practice Management: http://www.springerpub.com/product/9780826105752

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Medical Risk Management: http://www.jbpub.com/catalog/9780763733421

Hospitals: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781439879900

Physician Advisors: www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

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Wind Energy Alternate Investments

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Calm or Gusty?

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

The Energy Department released the “2011 Wind Technologies Market Report” this week. It noted that there was substantial growth for wind energy, but significant uncertainty about its future.

Federal Aviation Administration

In a parallel development this week, the Federal Aviation Administration issued tentative approval of Cape Wind, a planned wind farm off the shore of Cape Cod and Nantucket Island. The 130 wind turbines of Cape Wind will stand 440 feet tall. The wind farm is opposed by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

However, the FAA approved the wind farm and noted that the towers would be required to include appropriate lights and be painted in colors that made them more visible to aircrafts. With the FAA approval, the Cape Wind developers may now seek final financing and could receive a 25 year lease from the federal government.

2011 Growth

The energy report on wind technology showed significant growth in 2011. Approximately 6.8 GW (gigawatts) of new wind energy capacity were added in the United States.

Of all the new energy facilities created, wind represented 32% of the total in 2011. However, total wind capacity is now just 3.3% of America’s electricity demand. Cape Wind will be the first major offshore U.S. wind project.

China Rising

The world leader in wind energy is China. The U.S. is now in second place with about 20% of global wind capacity. The states with major commitments to wind energy are Texas, California, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Assessment

The major concern affecting wind energy in 2013 is the potential loss of federal and state wind tax benefits.

In addition, wind faces substantial competition from natural gas. With the development of “fracking,” natural gas production has substantially increased. With a large new supply of natural gas, there are now sufficient reserves to support the U.S. needs for 100 years. This increased supply reduces the cost of natural gas and makes it more attractive than wind energy.

Conclusion

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/HealthcareFinancialsthePostForcxos

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

Our Other Print Books and Related Information Sources:

Health Dictionary Series: http://www.springerpub.com/Search/marcinko

Practice Management: http://www.springerpub.com/product/9780826105752

Physician Financial Planning: http://www.jbpub.com/catalog/0763745790

Medical Risk Management: http://www.jbpub.com/catalog/9780763733421

Hospitals: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781439879900

Physician Advisors: www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

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Public Misconceptions of Private Equity

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A Political Season Review

By Rick Kahler CFP® MS ChFC CCIM

www.kahlerfinancial.com

During tax time and this very political season, some of the attacks on Mitt Romney as a Presidential candidate have focused on his tenure with the private equity firm Bain Capital. Critics and rivals have denounced Romney as “profiteering off the backs of fired workers,” and running a “vulture capital” rather than a “venture capital” fund. A PAC supporting Newt Gingrich even produced a documentary about Bain which tries hard to leave viewers with the idea that capitalism isn’t evil, but private equity firms are.

The Negative Impressions

Some of this negativity may come from a lack of understanding as to what “private equity” really means. Here’s my explanation.

First, equity just means “common stock.” Whether equity is public or private depends on whether the company lists its shares on a public exchange, like the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ, or is privately held.  When you purchase a share of common stock, either directly or through a mutual fund, you buy it from a public stock exchange where anyone can buy or sell shares of stock. Private equity shares, however, are bought and sold privately, just like houses or small businesses.

One of the benefits of a public exchange is that it makes owning a slice of a company exceedingly affordable. For example, for about $600 you can own a share of Apple, the largest company in the U.S. If Apple were privately held, you would need $500 billion to buy it. If you were a little short on cash but still wanted a piece of Apple, you and 999 of your closest friends could pool your resources. You’d only need $500 million each.

That is exactly what a private equity company does. It brings together substantial investors, usually institutions, pooling their money to purchase companies not available on public exchanges. This requires raising or borrowing amounts that may be in the billions of dollars. The minimum to invest in a public equity company is often one million to 25 million dollars or more, putting it out of reach of most Americans.

An Asset Class

However, that doesn’t mean John Q. Public doesn’t own a slice of the private equity pie. Public pension funds, like the South Dakota Retirement System, have invested over $200 billion in private equity funds. The SDRS invests over 10% of its $7.8 billion fund in private equity. Many investment officers and committees feel this is such an important asset class that not holding a portion of their portfolio in private equity would violate their fiduciary duty to the fund.

Why Invest Privately?

Why invest in companies that are privately held? They often are purchased for lower prices than their publicly traded cousins, which makes owning them more profitable. In other cases a private equity firm will purchase a company that is failing or purchase a public firm and make it private.

In most every case, the private equity company’s aim is to try and improve the profitability of the company in the hope of reselling it at a profit or taking it public. Sometimes this is successful; sometimes it isn’t.

Goals of Private Equity Firms

What is the goal of a private equity company? Why, to produce a return for its investors, of course. Like any other business, its ultimate goal is not to create jobs. While more jobs may be a byproduct of creating better profitability, that isn’t always the case. Nor should it be.

Assessment

Failing to turn around a struggling company or laying off a division that is sucking a company dry in order to save the company isn’t evil. It is a natural and crucial component of a competitive free market system, a system that has given the U.S. one of the highest standards of living the world has ever known.

Conclusion

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What is a Social Impact Bond?

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New Financial Product – or Societal Economic Hammer

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™

At a time when government finances are stretched there is growing interest in finding new ways to fund public services [healthcare, for example] which improve social outcomes [public health]. And, one new funding model currently being tested, in the United Kingdom, is Social Impact Bonds (SIBs).

Definition

A SIB is a form of payment by results (PBR) in which funding is obtained from private investors to pay for interventions to improve social outcomes. If these interventions succeed in improving outcomes, they should result in savings to the Government and provide wider benefits to society. Of course, as part of a SIB, the Government agrees to pay a proportion of these savings back to the investors. If outcomes do not improve, investors do not receive a return on their investment.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_impact_bond

Wall Street’s Securitization

Wall Street can securitize almost any asset for a commission, or to hold it for profit or loss. Remember David Bowie bonds?

“Securitization” is the process through which an issuer creates a financial instrument by combining other financial assets and then marketing different tiers of the repackaged instruments to investors. The process can encompass any type of financial asset and promotes liquidity in the marketplace.

Link: http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2012/03/05/could-social-impact-bonds-help-restore-public-budgets/

SIBs

SIBs may be an example of securitization. By combining small debt into one large pool, the issuer can divide the large pool into smaller pieces based on each individual bond’s inherent risk of default, and then sell those smaller pieces to investors. The process creates liquidity by enabling smaller investors to purchase shares in a larger asset pool. Individual retail buyers, like physician-investors and others, are able to purchase portions the bond. Without the securitization, retail investors might not be able to afford to buy into a large pool of bonds.

Read more: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/securitization.asp#ixzz1oGtOPTvZ

Assessment

This is the first time we’ve discussed SIBs on this ME-P. But, they should get much more attention from our CPA, investment advisor [IA] and financial advisory [FA] readers now that President Obama has announced his support for this British idea like getting private investors to pay for public services such as housing for the homeless, health care for vulnerable populations; or even education. It could work for anything that can save the Government money in the long run, but costs money up front, as long as we can measure it.

Link: http://www.fastcompany.com/1728321/the-most-exciting-00003-of-obama-s-budget-social-impact-bonds

Conclusion

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Physician’s Update on Dividend-Paying Stocks

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But Some Doctors Ask – Why All the Hype?

By David K. Luke MIM CMPcandidate [www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com]

www.NetWorthAdvice.com

In an effort to help the US economy recover, the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates to historically low levels. Furthermore, the Fed has announced its intent to keep interest rates low until 2014. Classic income-producing investments such as savings accounts and certificates of deposit pay next to nothing.

Borrowing Good – Saving Bad!

Borrowers are being rewarded, but savers are being punished. Low interest rates may have spurred the economy somewhat, but they have been devastating for retired people who have a low tolerance for risk. Physicians, other investors and their advisors are turning toward alternatives that pay higher returns, but these vehicles necessarily carry more risk. Among these alternatives, some investors are considering the purchase of stocks that pay reliable dividends.

Assessment

But, is this an appropriate strategy for mature doctors and similar retirees? What are the potential benefits and drawbacks?

To learn more: http://networthadvice.com/2012/03/02/dividend-stocks-whats-all-the-hype-about/?utm_source=March+2012+-+David+Luke&utm_campaign=Feb+Newsletter+David+L&utm_medium=email

Conclusion

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A Real Estate Market Update

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Hot or Not?

The largest real estate social network ActiveRain Corp just surveyed 1,835 real estate agents and real estate brokers in the US and Canada to understand if the real estate market and economy are poised for recovery in 2012, both nationwide and in local markets.

Source: ActiveRain

Conclusion

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The “Collective Trust” – A New Financial Product?

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Much Like a Mutal Fund – But Less Transparent

By Staff Reporters

Recently, we received this query from a physician-investor. So, we went right to the innovator of this financial product for the answer.

A collective trust is similar to a mutual fund that only sells to institutional investors like 401-k and 403-b plans. Because a collective trust doesn’t take on retail investors, it’s exempt from some regulatory requirements, so beware!

But, not having to deal with retail investors also makes the costs lower.

Link: http://thefinancebuff.com/collective-trust-vs-mutual-fund-whats-the-difference.html

Assessment

The BlackRock EAFE Equity Index Collective Trust invests in stocks in developed countries, tracking the MSCI EAFE index.

Conclusion

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Is Malta a Hedge Fund Haven?

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Island in the Mediterranean Sea – South of Sicily (Italy)

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP

[Editor-in-Chief]

OK; I’ve written about hedge funds before, on this ME-P and in our www.MedicalBusinessAdvisors.com print publications for various textbooks, handbooks, white papers and journal. And, we discuss the concept in our online educational www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org program, as well. Some medical professionals love them, and some financial advisors use them in their work; others do not.

Of course, I’ve written frequently about my colleague – the now retired and newly anointed philanthropist  and uber-hedge fund manager Mike Burry MD; ad nauseam.

Link: http://medicalexecutivepost.com/2010/03/24/video-on-hedge-fund-manager-michael-burry-md/

But, now there is a new wrinkle on the island that I first visited about ten years ago, while on a working vacation

Rising Visibility

Malta–yes, Malta–has quietly leveraged the rising transparency imperative to attract hedge funds. There was a time when the quaint island sought to play on the traditional terrain, offering anonymity and a “laissez-faire regulatory regime,” not to mention very low taxes, as in no capital gains taxes and no taxes on dividends; all while English speaking and USD currency denominated.

Maybe back then, no more today, if this essay is to be believed.

Link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-05/malta-lures-connecticut-hedge-funds-with-300-days-of-sun-aided-by-eu-rules.html

Why Malta?

Link: http://www.firstgozo.com/maltafacts.htm

Assessment

While many leading domiciles for offshore hedge funds remain in the Caribbean–notably the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and the Bahamas–the island of Mata is drawing attention, especially from European funds.

Conclusion

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Knowledge Doctors Need to Survive the Financial Crisis on Wall Street

Dictionary of Health Economics and Finance 

 

Dictionary of Health Economics and Finance

 
 

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Does Financial Regulation Kill Jobs?

Perhaps Not!

By Marian Wang
ProPublica, Sept. 12, 2011, 1:20 pm

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With the presidential campaign in motion, and President Obama urging immediate passage of his new jobs bill, the attention in Washington has shifted almost exclusively to the economy and job creation. And, that means a shift away from regulation, right? Not necessarily.

Growth Spurts?

Some regulators and financial industry experts are predicting the opposite—that new financial regulations will spur some growth.

For example, The New York Times’ DealBook blog cited derivatives regulation [1] as one example. Dodd-Frank requires a substantial chunk of the $600-trillion derivatives market to trade on exchanges or on new electronic trading platforms.

“I have no doubt that these new regulations, instituting new types of clearing, trading and reporting platforms, will foster a landslide of hiring in the financial sector,”

Bart Chilton of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said in a recent speech cited by the Times. As another New York Times piece noted, previous financial regulation laws have resulted in additional jobs for accountants and lawyers [2], at least.

But, separate from the jobs created to actually handle new regulation, others have pointed out that regulations can have a long-term, positive effect on overall economic growth by preventing the types of crises that put an industry on life-support.

The Studies

Last year, two studies by central bankers and regulators found that the short-term impacts of stricter capital requirements were “significantly smaller” than the estimates published by banking groups, the Times reported.

Rather, the studies said that stricter regulation would lead to more long-term growth [3] by preventing future crises.

Banks see higher capital requirements

  • Which require them to have more financial cushion to balance out risk-taking as a damper on profits.
  • And, they have repeatedly warned that tougher rules will hamper lending, reduce investment and slow economic growth.

Assessment

But, not everyone sees it that way. Swiss regulators, for instance, indicated last year that they would impose even tougher capital standards on their country’s banks on the premise that investors would rather put their trust [4]—and their dollars—in safer banks.

Conclusion

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A Review of Current Personal Finance and Investment Literature

Current Synopsis [Around the Literary World of Economics]

By Dr. Peter Benedek CFA

http://retirementaction.com/

Investors will grapple with more turbulence surrounding Europe’s deepening debt problems this week and the prospect of another round of dismal data on the faltering U.S. economy. So, let us listen while Doctor Benedek speaks.

Dr. David E. Marcinko; FACFAS, MBA, CMP[Publisher-in-Chief]

In the Globe and Mail’s “In an emergency, is your info safe?” Dianne Nice suggests a teachable moment associated with the recent US andOntario tornadoes, north-eastern earthquake and hurricane threat. Specifically, she suggests that we consider taking steps to safeguard our important papers, should our home be destroyed. The ICBA recommends keeping important documents in a bank safe: marriage certificate, tax returns, property deeds, birth certificates insurance policies, credit card number, and list of household valuables for insurance claims, paper or electronic copies of important computer records. Additionally consider keeping copies in the home in sealed plastic bags (Probably not a bad idea.)

Scott Willenbrock in the Financial Analysts Journal’s “Diversification return, portfolio rebalancing, and the commodity return puzzle” argues that “the underlying source of the diversification return is the rebalancing, which forces the investor to sell assets that have appreciated in relative value and buy assets that have declined in relative value, as measured by their weights in the portfolio. Although a buy-and-hold portfolio generally has a lower variance than the weighted average variance of its assets, it does not earn a diversification return. Diversification is often described as the only “free lunch’’ in finance because it allows for the reduction of risk for a given expected return. Diversification return might be described as the only “free dessert” in finance because it is an incremental return earned while maintaining a constant risk profile. The contrarian activity of rebalancing, however, must be performed to earn the diversification return; diversification is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Although an un-rebalanced portfolio generally has reduced risk, it does not earn a diversification return and suffers from a varying risk profile. The control of risk, together with the diversification return, is a powerful argument for rebalanced portfolios.”

In the CFA Institute’s Financial Analysts Journal’s “The winners’ game” Charles Ellis looks at the investment profession’s challenges and opportunities. He writes that the investment profession has made three errors:  two of commission and one of omission. He writes that “In addition to the two errors of commission—accepting the increasingly improbable prospect of beat-the-market performance as the best measure of our profession and focusing more and more attention on business achievements rather than on professional success— we have somehow lost sight of our best professional opportunity to serve our clients well and shifted our focus away from effective investment counseling. Some of the help clients need is in understanding that selecting managers who will actually beat the market over the long term is no longer a realistic assumption or a “given” … most investors need help in developing a balanced, objective understanding of themselves and their situation: their investment knowledge and skills; their tolerance for risk in assets, incomes, and liquidity; their financial and psychological needs; their financial resources; their financial aspirations and obligations in the short and long run … Our profession’s clients and practitioners would all benefit if we devoted less energy to attempting to “win” the loser’s game of beating the market and more skill, knowledge, and time to helping clients recognize market realities, understand themselves as investors, and clarify their realistic objectives and then stay the course that is best for each of them.” (Charles Ellis is the author of the must read book entitled“Winning the Loser’s Game- Timeless Strategies for Successful Investing”.)

Glenn Ruffenach in the WSJ SmartMoney’s “5 best online retirement guides” provides a list from  “One of the most comprehensive and valuable sites online is also among the least known: the Employee Benefits Security Administration.”

In WSJ SmartMoney’s “Why Wall Street’s forecast can’t be trusted” Alex Tarquinio writes that “Over the years, some market forecasters have been about as accurate as, well, weather forecasters… But some financial planners ignore the Wall Street prognostications altogether. George Papadopoulos, the owner of the eponymous financial planning firm in Novi, Mich., says most stock strategists tend to be too bullish, save a few who are “perma-bears.” Ignore the headline number, he says, and “focus on what you can control,” like finding a good balance of stocks and bonds for your portfolio.” (Now there is some sensible advice; ignore talking-heads, ‘strategists’, ‘prognosticators’ and soothsayers. Remember there are very few things that you can actually control: your spend-rate, saving-rate, investment fees and costs, asset allocation and rebalancing.)

In the Globe and Mail’s “Hunting high and low for safe yields” John Heinzl enumerates some of the available options for ‘safe yields’ and concludes that none come even close to paying off your 4% mortgage which at 40% tax rate gives you 6.67% guaranteed.

In Bloomberg’s “Homeowners on East Coast may have to pay for earthquake damage” Leondis and Ody report that “Earthquake protection is generally excluded from standard homeowners’ insurance policies, and consumers have to purchase coverage either as a separate policy…“For most of us, having earthquake insurance doesn’t make sense,” said Sheryl Garrett, founder of Shawnee Mission, Kansas-based Garrett Planning Network Inc., a network of fee-only financial planners. That’s because residents of areas where earthquakes rarely occur generally don’t need the coverage, and policies in parts of the country with frequent earthquakes are more expensive to compensate for the increased risk, she said.”

In the Globe and Mail’s “Vanguard to launch six ETFs in Canada” Shirley Won reports that Vanguard is launching “six exchange-traded funds (ETFs) inCanada. The stock ETFs include Vanguard MSCI Canada and the Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets, as well as the Vanguard MSCI U.S. Broad Market and Vanguard MSCI EAFE, which will both be hedged to Canadian dollars. The bond category includes Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond and Vanguard Canadian Short-Term Bond ETFs.”

Real Estate

On the Canadian front, in the Globe and Mail’s “Most housing ‘reasonably affordable’: RBC” Steve Ladurantaye reports that Vancouver house prices are in “uncharted territory” and “it would take 92 per cent of the median household’s pretax income to own a bungalow in the city at current prices – the highest reading yet in its quarterly national survey on affordability. However according to RBC most (other) Canadian cities offered reasonably affordable” housing options in the second quarter compared to the first. Nationally, a condo required 29.2 per cent of pretax household income (a 0.8 per cent increase), a bungalow 43.3 per cent (1.7 per cent) and a detached home 49.3 per cent (1.8 per cent)… The bank’s affordability index looks at the proportion of pre-tax household income needed to service the costs of owning different categories of homes at current market values. Its standard measure is a 1,200-square-foot bungalow, and the carrying costs include mortgage payments (principal and interest), property taxes and utilities.”

However in the WSJ’s “Toronto wary of condo correction” (note this is in WSJ, not the Globe and Mail or the National Post) Monica Gutschi reports that “A condominium-building boom is lifting Canada’s largest city into the same stratosphere as London, Sydney, Vancouver and Miami, but deepening the worries about a potential tumble…Toronto is a long way from Miami, but the condominium boom north of the border has begun to evoke ominous comparisons, even among real-estate agents. TheToronto area is home to 1,198 condo projects with 210,000 units, according to research firm Urbanation. About 40,000 additional condominium units are under construction, including 16,000 set to hit the market next year. “There’s more supply coming than the market really needs, unless we have a stronger economy than we have today,” says independent housing economist Will Dunning…As many as 60% of recent condominium buyers in Toronto are investors who bought their units from developers before construction began—and then sold their condos…But buyers whose condominiums are investments are getting squeezed. Stagnant rents make it harder to cover mortgage payments.”

On the US front, in Bloomberg’s “Home prices decline 5.9% in second quarter” Kathleen Howley reports that “Home prices in the U.S. fell 5.9 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the biggest decline since 2009, as foreclosures added to the inventory of properties for sale…Purchases decreased 3.5 percent to a 4.67 million annual rate, the weakest since November.” Furthermore Nick Timiraos in WSJ’s  “Home-loan delinquencies rise again” reports that “The Mortgage Bankers Association said 12.87% of mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit homes were 30 days or longer past due or in the foreclosure process at the end of the second quarter, representing more than 6.3 million households. The second-quarter figure was down from 14.4% one year earlier but up from 12.84% at the end of March…While mortgage delinquencies remain highest in states hard hit by the housing bubble—such as Nevada, California and Florida—the inventory of loans in foreclosure is highest in states that require banks to obtain court approval when they foreclose on homeowners. Nationally, about 4.4% of all loans were in foreclosure at the end of June. Of the nine states that exceeded the national average, all but one—Nevada—have a judicial foreclosure process. Foreclosure rates were highest inFlorida (14.4%),Nevada (8.2%),New Jersey (8%),Illinois (7%),Maine andNew York (5.5%).”

In Florida context, in Palm Beach Post’s “Palm Beach County home sales slump in July from previous month” Kimberly Miller reports that “A Florida Realtors report released Thursday found 972 single-family Palm Beach County homes traded hands in July, a 21 percent increase from the same time in 2010, but an 18 percent drop from the previous month. The median sales price in Palm Beach County fell 17 percent from last year to $187,900 – a price not seen consistently since 2002. Statewide, sales of existing homes fell 12 percent in July from the previous month, but were up 12 percent compared to July 2010. The median sales price of $136,500 remained mostly stable…The inventory of homes for sale in Palm Beach County was down to an eight month supply in June, a 46.5 percent decrease from 2010 and down 62 percent from 2009, according to the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches. That may change soon. Forbes, as well as Realtor Dean Hooker, owner of Pompano Beach-based Southeast REO, said banks are preparing to release more foreclosures for re-sale. Also in the PBP is Jeff Ostrowski’s article “Foreclosure-related sales’ prices fall, and the discount widens” in which ne reports that “The average price of a foreclosure sold inPalm BeachCounty in the second quarter was $116,642, down from $142,997 a year ago. And the discount for foreclosure sales compared to non-foreclosure sales widened to 38 percent this year from 23 percent a year ago. There were 3,253 distressed sales – including foreclosure sales, pre-foreclosure sales and sales after a lender has taken ownership – inPalm BeachCounty in April, May and June, according to RealtyTrac. Those sales made up 37 percent of all transactions in the county. In St. Lucie County, 701 foreclosure deals in the quarter accounted for 44 percent of all sales. Statewide, there were 34,558 foreclosure sales in the second quarter, accounting for 35 percent of all sales in the state.”

In the Globe and Mail’s “Foreign buyers see value in U.S. real estate” Simon Avery writes that with Florida prices off typically 50% since the peak, low mortgage rates, the strong Canadian dollar: ” As an alternative investment, U.S. real estate may never look so attractive to Canadians again…At the moment, the best deals in the Miami area are in South Beach, an area where the properties on average are older. There are currently 172 properties listed under $150,000 and 50 per cent of them are within walking distance to the beach. Generally, these are small, art deco-style, low rises. Their monthly maintenance fees run $320 or less and the sizes range from 240 square feet to 440 square feet.” (That doesn’t sound that cheap for an average of 340 SF units comes to about $441/SF…bargain??? You be the judge.)

Things to Ponder

In the Globe and Mail’s “Amid slowdown, Fed has few tools left” Kevin Carmichael discusses the limited remaining options available for the Fed to provide stimulus to rekindleUS growth and employment. The real problem, however, might be related to that “these aren’t normal times. When businesses and consumers would rather save than spend, as currently is the case in theUnited States, the power of monetary policy is muted. Corporations are sitting on some $2-trillion (U.S.) in profits and the household savings rate has climbed to more than 5 per cent from zero before the financial crisis, even though the cost of borrowing already is at record-low levels… What theU.S. economy needs is a massive jolt to demand that would encourage companies to hire and invest. The best way to do that, many economists argue, is through fiscal policy.”

Jack Hough in WSJ SmartMoney’s “Treasurys versus stocks: spot the safe one” provides some support to Jeremy Siegel’s arguments that “bonds are in a bubble and stocks are good deal”. Arnott says that the 10-year Treasurys yield about zero, given nominal yields of 2.1% and past year’s inflation of 3.6%; whereas the S&P 500 dividend yield is 2.3%. “Bond yields are usually larger because stock dividends tend to grow over time and bond coupons don’t, so bond buyers typically want to be compensated for this…The choice is between stocks’ higher and rising yield and bonds’ lower and flat one…The third reason is that stocks have a better chance of keeping up with inflation…Dividends have rarely looked safer…Today’s payments are 29% of S&P 500 profits. That’s the lowest level since 1900, and perhaps in history…(but) Economists have slashed growth forecasts for most rich economies, and many put the chances of renewed U.S. recession at a coin flip.” So it depends on your horizon/risk tolerance, but “savers with a decade to wait” will find the arguments for stocks persuasive. But not everyone agrees that the metrics are valid. For example, in the Financial Times Lex column’s “Equities: metrics of the trade” discusses pundits indicating that based on P/E ratios and dividend yields compared to bond yields, it is time to buy stocks. Lex suggests that “the big flaw with this approach is that current or near-future earnings are very unlikely to represent an equilibrium return from stocks… It is a fact that company returns normalise, so a much longer earnings period against which to compare stock prices is needed. Inflation also needs be taken into account, as do accounting changes over time. Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted p/e ratio is a step in the right direction. Such an approach holds the S&P 500 to be anywhere up to 40 per cent overvalued… Likewise, history shows there to be no predictive power comparing equity and bond yields. Why should there be? Dividends are risky and rise with inflation; coupons are risk free and do not. It is like buying apples because pears are cheap. There are good reasons why stocks might rally – flaky valuation metrics are not among them.”

In the Guardian’s “Rating agencies suffer ‘conflict of interest’, says former Moody’s boss” Rupert Neate reports that “ratings agencies suffer from a conflict of interest because they are paid by the banks and companies they are supposed to rate objectively.”This salient conflict of interest permeates all levels of employment, from entry-level analyst to the chairman and chief executive officer of Moody’s corporation,” Harrington said in a filing to theUS financial regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is considering new rules to reform the agencies. Harrington claims that Moody’s uses a long-standing culture of “intimidation and harassment” to persuade its analysts to ensure ratings match those wanted by the company’s clients.” (Recommended by the CFA Institute Financial Newsbrief)

In Bloomberg’s “Baby Boomers selling shares may depress stocks for decades, Fed paper says” Vivien Lou Chen writes that “Aging baby boomers may hold down U.S. stock values for the next two decades as they sell their investments to finance retirement, according to researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco … Jeremy Siegel, 65, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia, has also researched the link between demographics and U.S. stocks. He said that growth in developing countries should generate enough demand to absorb a baby-boomer selloff and “keep stock prices high.””

In the Financial Times’ “Inflation a danger for safe havens” Steve Johnson argues that the US/UK/German 10-year government bonds yielding in the 2-2.2% range is due to their perceived “safe haven” status from the wild swings of the markets. “But these miserly yields must also reflect investors’ confidence that inflation will be muted over the next decade. How logical is this assumption?…this insouciance about the prospects for inflation misses the international dimension, that stemming from rising import prices … (but) For the seven US recessions between 1957 and 1991, commodity prices on average fell 1.6 per cent during the period between the start of the recession and two years after its end. The equivalent figure for the two recessions so far this century is a rise of 27.3 per cent… Rather than enjoying a tailwind from falling commodity prices and low inflation rates, it may become the norm for recession-ravaged developed nations to face a commodity headwind and stubbornly high inflation.”

Assessment

And finally, in the NYT’s “In Korea, the game of trading has rules” Floyd Norris writes that “Finance ought to provide an economy with an efficient means of allocating capital. It should provide a means of price discovery of assets, whether real or financial. It should provide a safe and reliable payments system. Financial innovations are worthwhile if, and only if, they help in those areas.  All too often, players see financial innovations as providing ways to manipulate the system and make money off less savvy traders.” In South Korea things are changing. Four traders were indicted for intentionally manipulating stock prices for profit, specifically for causing a market drop. “Countries around the world felt called upon to bail out banks during the financial crisis. That made sense because a functioning financial system is necessary. But these kind of games are not necessary, whether or not they are criminal. These charges provide an endorsement of the Volcker Rule, named for Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, and included in the Dodd-Frank law in theUnited States, which sought to restrict proprietary trading by banks whose deposits are insured. If such games are to be played, let them be played by others.“ The article concludes with the need for prison terms for these traders to insure a deterrent effect  (Thanks to DB for recommending.)

Conclusion

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Merrill Lynch Investigated for CDO Deal Involving Magnetar

Hedge Fund Probed

By Marian Wang

ProPublica, June 15, 2011, 3:10 pm

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The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Merrill Lynch short-changed investors and gave undue influence to the hedge fund Magnetar in the creation of a $1.5-billion mortgage-backed security deal.

The investigation, which was first reported [1] by the Financial Times ($), appears to be the agency’s first probe of Merrill Lynch’s CDO business since the financial crisis. (Check our bank investigations cheat sheet [2] for which other firms are being probed.) Here’s the FT:

The investigation is one of several SEC probes into banks that helped underwrite billions of dollars of collateralised debt obligations, securities comprised of mortgages or derivatives linked to them.

It also marks a broadening of the SEC’s investigation into the role of collateral managers, institutions that help select the assets included in CDOs.

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The deal that the SEC is investigating—a collateralized debt obligation, or CDO, called Norma—was detailed both in our reporting last year [3] and in a report [4] by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission released in January. Norma was one of more than two dozen CDO deals [5] done by Magnetar, whose bets against a number of CDOs earned it billions in the waning days of the housing boom.

As the FCIC detailed, Magnetar helped select the assets that went into Norma even though it had a $600 million bet that would pay off substantially if the CDO failed. As we reported [6], Magnetar often invested in the portion of the CDO that was riskiest and hardest for the banks to sell. Banks typically gave such investors—equity investors—more say in how the deal was structured. (Magnetar isn’t named as a target of the investigation and had no responsibility to investors. It has also maintained that it did not have a strategy to bet against the housing market.)

In the offering documents for Norma, there’s no mention of Magnetar’s role in asset selection, according to the FCIC. Investors were told that an independent collateral manager, NIR Capital Management, would be selecting the assets with their best interest in mind. The report concluded: “NIR abdicated its asset selection duties… with Merrill’s knowledge.”

Bank of America

Bank of America, which took over Merrill Lynch in 2008, declined our request for comment. The firm’s general counsel told [4] the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that it was “common industry practice” for equity investors to have input during the asset selection process, though the collateral manager had final say.

NIR Capital Management

NIR Capital Management is also being investigated by the SEC, according to the FT. The firm did not immediately respond to our request for comment. (The Wall Street Journal did an impressively detailed story in 2007 on how NIR came to be manager [7] of the Norma deal.)

Magnetar declined our earlier requests for comment on Norma, but FT reports it has denied claims [1] that it selected the assets for Norma.

Assessment

As we reported, the SEC had launched a probe of Merrill’s CDO business 2007, but that investigation petered out without resulting in any charges.

Conclusion

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Misdirection in Goldman Sachs’s Housing Short

Goldman Sachs appears to be trying to clear its name

By Jesse Eisinger

ProPublica, June 15, 2011, 3:10 pm

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The compelling Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on the financial crisis [1] is wrong, the bank says. Goldman Sachs didn’t have a Big Short against the housing market.

About The Trade

In this column, co-published with New York Times’ DealBook, I monitor the financial markets to hold companies, executives and government officials accountable for their actions. Tips? Praise? Contact me at jesse@propublica.org

But the size of Goldman’s short is irrelevant.

No one disputes that, by 2007, the firm had pivoted to reduce its exposure from mortgages and mortgage securities and had begun shorting the market on some scale. There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t we want banks to reduce their risk when they see trouble ahead, as Goldman did in the mortgage markets?

Nor should shorting itself be seen as a bad thing. Putting money behind a bet that a stock (or bond or commodity or derivative) is overpriced is necessary for the efficient functioning of capital markets. Short-sellers can keep prices from getting out of whack and help deflate bubbles.

The problem isn’t that Goldman went short and reduced risk — it’s how.

It is How … Short?

To establish many of its short positions, the Senate report says, Goldman created new securities, backed them with its good name, and then strung together misleading statements to its customers about what it was actually doing. By shorting the way it did, the bank perverted the market instead of correcting it.

Take Hudson Mezzanine, a $2 billion collateralized debt obligation created by Goldman in 2006 [2]. In marketing material, the firm wrote that “Goldman Sachs has aligned incentives with the Hudson program.”

I suppose that was technically true: Goldman had made a small investment in the C.D.O. and therefore had an aligned incentive with the other investors. But the material failed to mention the firm’s much larger bet against the C.D.O. — a huge adverse incentive to its customers’ interests.

Goldman told investors that the Hudson assets had been “sourced from the Street,” which most investors would understand to mean that Goldman had purchased the assets from other broker-dealers. In fact, all the assets had come from Goldman’s own balance sheet, the Senate report found.

In his April 2010 testimony to the Senate, Goldman’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, argued that Goldman was merely making a market in these securities and derivatives, matching willing and sophisticated buyers and sellers. But, Goldman was acting like an underwriter, not a market maker.

As the underwriter, Goldman threw its marketing muscle behind Hudson Mezzanine and other C.D.O.’s. When the bank’s salespeople ran into trouble selling the securities, they begged for help from the executives who created them. One requested material to give to clients about “how great” the sector was. One needed the aid to get a client to invest, to be “THERE AND IN SIZE,” according to e-mails cited in the report.

Sometimes, Goldman took advantage of the opaque markets. According to the Senate report, Goldman executives had extensive concerns about the prices of its 2007 Timberwolf C.D.O. Goldman sold the C.D.O. securities anyway, often at higher prices than it had them recorded on its books. In summer 2007, Goldman marked some Timberwolf assets at 55 cents on the dollar, but sold similar securities to an Israeli bank at 78.25 cents at the same time, according to the report. Oh, well, tough luck!

Goldman’s Famous Mantra

For decades, Goldman’s famous mantra was to be “long-term greedy” and a central element of that was putting customers first. In these C.D.O.’s, the bank’s customers were “only first in the same way that on Thanksgiving, the turkey is first,” a former C.D.O. professional told me.

Goldman declined to address these specific disclosures from the report. A spokesman maintained the firm fulfilled its obligations to buyers of these kinds of C.D.O.’s, which were made up of derivatives. The customers were large and sophisticated investors who knew that one side had to be long while the other was short. And they knew, or should have known, that Goldman might be on the other side.

“It was fully disclosed and well known to investors that banks that arranged synthetic C.D.O.’s took the initial short position,” a spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

True, but few thought that the bank that had created and hawked the C.D.O.’s expected them to fail.

Goldman’s techniques harmed the capital markets. Goldman brought something into the world that didn’t exist before. Instead of selling something — thereby decreasing the price or supply of it — and giving the market a signal that it was less desirable, Goldman did the opposite. The firm created more mortgage investments and gave the world the signal that there was more demand, for C.D.O.’s and for the mortgages that backed them.

Assessment

By shorting C.D.O.’s, Goldman also distorted the pricing of the underlying assets. The bank could have taken the securities it owned and sold them en masse in a fairly negotiated sale, though it likely would have gotten less for them than it was able to make by shorting the C.D.O.’s it created.

Because of Goldman’s actions, the financial system took greater losses than there otherwise would have been. Goldman’s form of shorting prolonged the boom and made the crisis that followed much worse.

Goldman executives surely hope to change the subject from the firm’s specific actions to a more general discussion of how much and when it shorted. We shouldn’t let them.

Link: http://www.propublica.org/thetrade/item/misdirection-in-goldman-sachss-housing-short/

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CBO Director Elmendorf Discusses Budget Deficits

Considering the Fiscal Commission Recommendations

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

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Last week, on February 10th, the House Budget Committee held a hearing and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Douglas Elmendorf discussed the federal budget deficit. Director Elmendorf emphasized the importance of addressing the deficit and also noted that the Fiscal Commission recommendations are a useful addition to the current discussion.

Of Paul Ryan

Chairman Paul Ryan noted that there still is a major problem with unemployment. According to Chairman Ryan, the recession ended in June of 2009 and between that time and December of 2010, “payroll employment rose by a mere 6/100 of 1% (0.06%).” Chairman Ryan noted that it is essential to restore growth in America. He advocated “low taxes, reasonable regulations sound money and spending restraint.”

Of Chris Van Hollen

Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) also responded to Director Elmendorf. He indicated a willingness to address the deficit. Rep. Van Hollen suggested that “Democrats and Republicans must work together now to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable path and we stand ready to do that.”

Assessment

However, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) expressed concern that Chairman Ryan was focusing excessively on spending rather than on tax deductions. Rep. Doggett noted, “Dollar for dollar, cutting funding for cancer research or local law enforcement has the same effect on the deficit as closing a tax loophole that allows a Wall Street corporation to benefit by stashing their tax dollars offshore.” Rep. Doggett suggests that tax deductions will need to be reduced in order to address the deficit challenge.

Conclusion

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Mortgage Investors Join Outcry Against Banks

Coordinated Strategies Emerging

By Karen Weise ProPublica: Oct. 18, 2010, 1:18 p.m.

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Homeowners, and at times the government, have long complained that banks and other companies that service mortgages aren’t good at their job of collecting monthly payments, modifying loans and processing foreclosures. Now, a new cast of characters are piling on the criticism: the servicer’s own clients, the investors that actually own the mortgages.

The Servicers

Servicers handle the day-to-day of working with homeowners on behalf of the investors, who bought bundled mortgages from Wall Street. But investors are now threatening servicers with legal action. Just like homeowners, investors are frustrated by the poor job in modifying loans that servicers have been doing. They also say servicers are looking out for themselves, not investors’ interests as their contracts typically require.

For example, Investor Bill Frey, who runs the securities firm Greenwich Financial Services, says servicers view investors as “a Thanksgiving turkey to be carved up and shared among them-selves.” Investors can range from foreign governments and hedge funds to college endowments and pension funds. During the housing bubble, they gobbled up AAA-rated bonds created by pools of mortgages. Now that defaults and foreclosure are mounting, investors argue that flaws in how loans are serviced are costing them billions of dollars.

They say servicers have often dragged out foreclosures to rack up fees and refused to reduce second mortgages to make modifications sustainable. Investors often prefer modifications to foreclosures. But for modifications that won’t ultimately prevent a homeowner from defaulting, investors still prefer quick foreclosures so they can recoup their money and move on.

Of Terminal In-Decision

“Terminal indecision is not good,” says Frey. “If it can be fixed, fix it. If it can’t, nix it.”

Servicers have been slow [1] to modify mortgages—something we’ve written [1] about many times [2] — and when they do modify loans, homeowners are still saddled with other debt from second mortgages and home equity lines. Even after modifications under the government’s program, homeowners typically still must spend almost two-thirds of their income to pay off their mortgage and other loans, like credit cards or second mortgages.

Emerging Paperwork Scandal

The current mortgage paperwork scandal [3] adds more fuel [4] to the fire as major servicers have halted foreclosures because of potential paperwork irregularities around the country. Concerns are also growing that banks may not have properly transferred loans into the mortgage pools in the first place. “This deficient approach undermines the integrity and the operational framework of the housing finance and mortgage system as it exists today,” the Association of Mortgage Investors wrote [5] in a press release.

(For more on the growing scandal, check out our recent explanation of the main players involved.)

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents most major servicers, did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment.

Legal Strategies

Investors from across the country have been coordinating legal strategies for over a year ago, with the effort ramping up in early spring, according to Frey. Since then, more and more investors have formed a loose consortium, gaining momentum “like a snowball going downhill,” he says. In the last month alone, the group added other investors that own an additional $100 billion in mortgage bonds.

They have not filed any suits yet, Frey says, because the group is first trying to grow even more. Also, since each investor group has different, nonmortgage business with the banks, some investors have conflicting interests in how to proceed, he says. The consortium now represents investors that own more than $600 billion in mortgage securities, which is around a third of the entire mortgage securitization market. The group includes 65 major mortgage investors; Bloomberg reported that large investment companies including Black Rock, PIMCO and Fortress are part of the effort, as are the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Banks, which both own private securitized loans.

Coordinating investors is no easy task, since the mortgage bonds were sliced and diced to be sold off to investors around the world. To assert legal rights, investors must coordinate to prove that they collectively represent a certain percentage of each mortgage pool, or in some cases, a certain percentage of each slice of each mortgage pool. (The Wall Street Journal [6] and Bloomberg [7] both describe how Texas-based attorney Talcott Franklin is coordinating a clearinghouse to keep track of the various investments.)

Once investors have standing in each pool, they have the legal right to pressure servicers and trustees to improve or face litigation. The group says they have the legal authority to act in over 2,300 deals.

Investors say servicers must reduce or cancel second mortgages entirely before adjusting the primary loan, since that follows the legal pecking order of how loans should be paid off. But investors say servicers have are dragging their feet in reducing second mortgages to protect their own books, since the largest servicers — Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — also own almost 60 percent of the $1 trillion second lien market.

Bank

Congressional Oversight Panel

A Congressional Oversight Panel concluded in April that there is “tension” between Treasury’s goal of supporting reductions to second mortgages and Treasury’s interest in ensuring that writing down second liens doesn’t severely weaken banks’ balance sheets. The panel wrote than when a servicer owns the second lien, the “inexorable conflict of interest” will more likely lead to modifications on the first loan, “as it benefits the bank at the expense of the mortgage-backed security investors.”

We’ve previously reported [8] that mortgages servicers frequently tell homeowners that investors are the roadblock to loan modifications, even though few mortgage deals actually restrict modifications.

Servicers are also supposed to act like watchdogs and report back to investors when they identify loans they suspect didn’t meet the lending standards promised when the bonds were initially sold to investors. If the banks did misrepresent the quality of the loans initially, the banks would have to buy back the invalid mortgages from the investors. But in many cases, the servicers are subsidiaries of the banks that sold the bonds, which investors say helps explain why servicers have been dragging their feet. Bloomberg noted [7] an analyst’s report that said mortgage repurchases could total over $179 billion.

Original Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/investors-join-outcry-against-mortgage-servicers

Assessment

According to an investor letter cited [6] in the Wall Street Journal, in some mortgage pools that have high default rates, the banks have not repurchased any loans when the servicers are subsidiaries of the banks that sold the bonds. Investors say this is all no small matter. Since the country’s mortgage market is heavily dependent on government support right now, they insist servicers make good on their contracts before start buying loans and supporting the mortgage market again.

Related Articles:

  1. http://www.propublica.org/article/mod-program-falling-short-of-govts-vague-goals
  2. http://www.propublica.org/article/loan-mod-profiles-runaround
  3. http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/biggest-banks-ensnared-as-foreclosure-paperwork-problem-broadens
  4. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-10-13/document-flaws-may-lead-investors-to-fight-mbs-deals.html
  5. http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/association-of-mortgage-investors-press-release-oct.-1-2010
  6. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704814204575508143329644732.html
  7. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-23/mortgage-investors-target-banks-using-texas-lawyer-s-novel-clearing-house.html
  8. http://www.propublica.org/article/when-denying-loan-mods-loan-servicers-often-blame-investors-wrongly

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Texas Mortgage Firm Survives and Thrives Despite Repeat Sanctions

The Allied Home Mortgage Capital Caper

By Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber, ProPublica July 2, 12:24 a.m.

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As his competitors imploded one by one, Jim Hodge, the folksy founder of Allied Home Mortgage Capital [1], touted his sprawling Houston firm as a survivor.

Not only was Allied still standing, Hodge told employees in a company newsletter in December, it was thriving. “The good news,” Hodge wrote, “is that even though we are all having to work harder, most branches are making lots of money.”

But an examination of Hodge’s mortgage company by ProPublica found that its prosperity has come at a price for dozens of customers who claim Allied brokers have put their homes at risk, lied to them or improperly siphoned money from their deals.

The firm has left behind a trail of alleged misconduct and piecemeal government sanctions spanning at least 18 states [2] and seven years. Yet Allied chugs along unimpeded, aided by access to the government-backed Federal Housing Administration [3] loan program.

Over the past year, the FBI and federal prosecutors have made mortgage fraud a priority, filing criminal charges across the country. Regulators, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [4], also say they are getting tough. But Allied’s [5] history shows how even repeat offenders can fall through gaps in the fragmented safety net meant to protect mortgage borrowers.

Now Consider

  • Allied has the highest serious delinquency rate [2] among the top 20 FHA loan originators from June 2008 through May.
  • Nine states have sanctioned the firm in the last 18 months for such violations as using unlicensed brokers and misleading a borrower.
  • Federal agencies have cited or settled with Allied or an affiliate at least six times since 2003 for overcharging clients, underpaying workers or other offenses.
  • At least five lenders have sued, claiming Allied tricked them into funding loans for unqualified buyers by falsifying documents and submitting grossly inflated appraisals, among other allegations.

“Everything is just a nightmare for me,” said Cheryl Stewart, who is suing Allied alleging that its Hammond, La., office misrepresented her income to qualify her for a loan, then deposited money from her closing into the branch manager’s bank account. Stewart said she is on the brink of losing her home as a result. Allied has successfully argued that the case should be moved out of state court and into arbitration.

Despite these repeated complaints, no single agency is investigating the sweep of the company’s actions and whether they represent a pattern or, as Hodge maintains, are to be expected for a company of Allied’s size. It bills itself as the nation’s biggest privately held mortgage broker-banker with some 200 branches.

William Black, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said Allied’s record exemplifies the failings of a regulatory system that has teeth but seldom bites.

“It’s a wonderful example of the overall crisis,” said Black, who has testified before Congress about financial fraud. “What would it take before somebody would take serious action?”

Federal housing officials would not discuss Allied’s performance or their own negative audits of the firm. But after a recent review, the FHA has recommended that the Mortgagee Review Board take action against Allied. The board can fine companies or revoke their access to the FHA market, which has caused firms to close.

Secret Service Investigations

Separately, the Secret Service, which conducts criminal investigations for the Treasury Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., confirmed that it is looking into allegations of fraud and wrongdoing at Allied’s now-shuttered branch in Hammond.

Although Allied is dwarfed by Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Quicken Loans and JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest mortgage firms, it remains a big player in FHA-insured loans.

In the last two years, Allied Home Mortgage Capital originated more FHA mortgages than all but 15 of the more than 10,000 firms that handled such loans. Since 2005, it has processed nearly 40,000 FHA loans worth nearly $5.85 billion, according to the FHA. Those loans now account for at least 70% of Allied’s business, Hodge said.

Allied differs from most other FHA players in that it is both a broker and a lender. It has an affiliated company with a nearly identical name that has been the lender on about 30% of its FHA loans in the last two years.

Since the collapse of the subprime market, the volume of FHA-insured loans has boomed, rising from about 5% of all home loans in 2007 to 20% in 2009. When these loans fail, an insurance fund supported by FHA borrowers picks up the tab.

Both as a broker and a lender, Allied’s rate of seriously delinquent loans is nearly 60% higher than the national average for the past two years. And the FHA paid out more than $500 million from 2005 to 2009 for claims on defaulted loans brokered by Allied, statistics show.

In an interview, Hodge said the delinquency rates reflect more on the lenders that funded the loans than on his brokers.

The $500 million in claims FHA paid out, he said, were covered in part by insurance premiums paid by Allied borrowers — who largely do not default. “They didn’t have a complete loss of a half a billion,” he said.

Hodge said the problems experienced at some of Allied’s branches should not tarnish his firm’s overall record. “If you look at the volume that we did or do,” he said, “it’s not significant.”

Broken Trust

Sal and Ashley DePaula said they had more reason than most people to trust their broker: The manager of Allied’s Hammond branch was a tenant in one of their rental houses.

Over the course of 2006 and 2007, Allied’s staff helped them sell that property to an acquaintance of the manager and refinance several others.

It wasn’t until months later, the DePaulas allege, that they realized they’d become pawns in a scam.

The buyer of the property the couple sold for $93,000, had actually paid $47,000 more than that, according to a lawsuit in state court by the couple and documents they provided. The cash ended up in the account of Shane Smith, the branch manager, a wire-transfer record shows.

Then, after a tornado hit one of the DePaulas’ refinanced rental homes in 2008, they learned they’d never been signed up for the insurance Allied said it had arranged — even though they’d paid for it every month. The couple said they expect to spend more than $36,000 on repairs.

“Had somebody robbed me and stole $50 out of my purse, they would be in jail,” said Ashley DePaula, who said she is “bitter” that no one has been punished.

Last year, the couple learned that Allied had put another borrower’s name on Sal DePaula’s retirement account statement and submitted it in a loan qualification packet.

That other borrower, Louisiana state criminal investigator Terry Apple, said he only realized he was part of an alleged scam when ProPublica showed him a copy of the statement.

“I’m now finding out that I’m just a small part of a very large puzzle,” Apple said.

At least four lawsuits, including one by the DePaulas, have been filed against Allied over the conduct of its Hammond branch. Other borrowers, some of whom are mentioned in legal filings, allege they, too, were defrauded but can’t afford to sue.

“You know how your body can be quivering?” said Franklin Morgan, 62, a disabled Vietnam veteran who faces losing his home. “That’s what my body’s been doing every day.”

In towering stacks of legal documents, attorneys allege that the Hammond office deceived their clients from 2005 through 2007 by misrepresenting loan terms, falsifying records, failing to pay off prior mortgages and diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars. A title lawyer who worked closely with the Allied branch also stands accused — and has been sued by Allied.

The alleged victims include friends and relatives of Allied staff and the birth mother of the assistant manager’s adopted daughter. That assistant manager’s past — including an arrest warrant for allegedly stealing $24,000 from a previous employer — has come to light.

The lawsuits are proceeding, but Ashley DePaula says Allied has offered a small settlement that has not been finalized.

In an interview, Hodge conceded that “serious fraud” had taken place at the branch, which closed in 2008. He also acknowledged personally hiring branch manager Smith even though Smith previously had lost a home to foreclosure and declared personal bankruptcy. Smith and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

Hodge said the Allied corporate office does not appear to be a target of any criminal probe.

“I don’t know all the details,” he said. “It’s a pretty bizarre situation.”

Customers’ Stories

Around the country, other Allied borrowers tell similar tales.

Pete Pauley, pictured with his wife Mary Ellen, sued Allied in W. Va. state court alleging that a broker misled him about a low-interest loan in 2004.

In Charleston, W.Va., businessman Pete Pauley sued Allied in state court alleging that a Weirton, W.Va., broker misled him into signing for a low-interest loan in 2004 whose rate began rapidly rising after one month.

As part of the loan approval process, the branch submitted a letter from a local accountant verifying Pauley’s ownership of his company. That accountant later testified he didn’t know Pauley or write the letter.

Pauley, who runs an oil and gas company, said the experience was humiliating. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, a nurse, learned of other complaints.

Four other couples alleged similar betrayals by another Weirton loan officer, the sister of Pauley’s broker.

Allied settled for $240,000, Pauley said. But Hodge said Allied did so only after the judge strongly encouraged it.

“We ended up buying that guy a house,” he said.

Allied also settled with the other four couples. In addition, it agreed to pay $12,000 in education and restitution costs after the West Virginia attorney general found it had misled borrowers about their loans.

Lenders, too, have felt aggrieved. AmericaHomeKey sold loans brokered by Allied to a secondary investor. After four borrowers failed to make even the first payments on their loans, the investor demanded the lender make good.

AmericaHomeKey then sued Allied in Harris County, Texas, alleging that it had misrepresented the self-employment status of three of the borrowers and failed to check out other basic facts.

“Clearly, these borrowers lacked the financial means and/or the intent to make the payments on these mortgage loans,” the lawsuit said.

Allied disputes the allegations and will defend itself “with vigor,” Hodge said.

In South Carolina, Charleston title attorney Elizabeth Stuckey Murphy testified in a deposition that she became so concerned about possible fraud at Allied’s Goose Creek branch that she complained to the FHA and law enforcement agencies in 2005.

The branch manager, Murphy claimed in a letter to authorities, had padded closing statements with invoices for contracting work by her husband that was never performed — nearly $30,000 in one case alone.

In a deposition two years later, Murphy was asked about her complaint to the FHA hotline. “To date,” she said, “I haven’t received any response.”

Frequent Troubles

Every year since 2003, Allied has landed in trouble somewhere.

It’s a streak that began with twin wallops from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development totaling $420,000 in settlements — a significant sum for the agency. HUD oversees the FHA program, which insures mortgages for buyers who can’t afford big down payments.

In all, regulators and attorneys general in at least 18 states have acted against the firm or its brokers. Most of the matters have been settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Allied.

Washington state banned a former broker in Allied’s Spokane office after he was convicted of 10 felonies for stealing Allied clients’ money and laundering it. Arizona denied a broker’s license to a firm owned by Allied’s Tucson branch manager because she had previously been convicted of embezzling from a bank.

State regulators say they must limit their actions to what happens within their borders. Federal officials say they don’t generally look into state actions unless a mortgage company’s conduct may also violate federal rules.

Assessment

Although HUD and FHA have recently stepped up oversight of the mortgage industry, they have long had tools to police it. Using data collected on every loan, housing officials can statistically track whether mortgage firms are putting borrowers into FHA loans they can’t or don’t pay on. According to this data, Allied for several years has had a serious delinquency rate well above the national average. And, over the last two years at one Houston branch, some borrowers mustered only a few payments or none at all. The serious delinquency rate within one year of closing was 12%, compared with 4.2% nationwide.

Gary Lacefield, a former HUD investigator, said the numbers are an obvious red flag about Allied that regulators should have acted upon. “I see no reason,” he said, “why they shouldn’t have been hammered.”

Note: ProPublica director of research Lisa Schwartz contributed to this story. USA TODAY editors assisted in preparing it for publication.

http://www.propublica.org/article/texas-allied-home-mortgage-capital-thrives-despite-sanctions

Conclusion

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Identifying Suspicious Short Selling

But Not Who’s Behind the Trades

By Karen Weise
ProPublica, July 8, 2010

Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal highlighted new academic research [1] showing that investors may be trading on insider information after companies approach hedge funds for loans.

Researchers found that on average, in the five days before companies announce a loan from a hedge fund, the volume of short sales increases by 75 percent as compared with the 60 days before a deal is announced. There was no comparable uptick in betting against companies that borrowed money from commercial banks instead.

Short Selling

With short selling, hedge funds and other investors make money by wagering that a stock’s price will fall. Borrowing from hedge funds rather than commercial banks can be seen as a sign of distress, as hedge funds tend to charge higher interest rates.

One of the researchers, Debarshi Nandy of the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, told ProPublica that the findings pose an important question of whether hedge funds are using insider information inappropriately.

Working Draft

Here’s a PDF of a working draft of the paper [2]; the final version is not yet published. When companies ask hedge funds to consider giving them a loan, they typically require that the funds sign nondisclosure agreements. That’s because the borrowers divulge confidential financial information in the process of trying to get a loan — information that can provide insight into a company’s future performance. That, in turn, can be valuable to investors.

Examining Changes

In looking at instances when companies made changes to existing loans, researchers found that the short sales on companies amending loans from hedge funds were profitable, whereas similar short sales on companies amending loans from banks resulted in losses. But, the researchers stop short of saying that hedge funds definitely make insider trades. It’s all a little bit hazy because there is little disclosure required for hedge funds and short selling. While the paper identifies “abnormal” shorting activity, the identity of the investors making the trades is a mystery. “If it is truly insider trading by the fund or a ‘tip-ee’ of the fund, it would really be good to get some further data on who is actually doing the trading,” said Anita Krug, an expert in the laws governing hedge funds.

Assessment

Investors are required to notify the  Securities and Exchange Commission when taking large long positions, but there is no equivalent requirement for short bets. During the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall of 2008, the SEC issued a temporary order [3] requiring investors to report large short positions, but it did not renew that requirement last summer when the order lapsed [4]. The pending financial reform bill also would not require disclosure.

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Conclusion

Short sellers say more regulations would discourage their trading, which they argue helps moderate market bubbles and contributes to market efficiency, says Mark Perlow, an attorney at K&L Gates who represents hedge funds.

Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/identifying-suspicious-short-selling-but-not-whos-behind-the-trades

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Treasury Officials and Investment Firms Cozy Up for Business

The State of Oregon

By Marian Wang, ProPublica – April 12, 2010 4:13 pm EDT

Over the weekend, several stories about troubled state and local pension funds were published. In Seattle, officials are chasing down information about $20 million the city invested in a now-insolvent hedge fund [1]. And, in California, cities’ investments have not paid off as expected [2], forcing some local governments to cut other programs to pay for pensions. Across the country, the downturn has put a strain on many states’ fiscal health, and has caused extreme losses in higher-risk investments like pension funds. But, not so in Oregon, where investments are doing well, and state investment officers are doing even better.

Why Oregon?

The Oregonian reports that state investment officers are being wined and dined by the private investment firms [3] whose services to the state they oversee. State Treasury officers, paid on average “just shy of $200,000 last year,” were treated to resort hotels, first-class airfare and high-end dinners—“all in the name of public service.”

The cozy relationship, reports the Oregonian, raises questions about whether the first-class treatment skews officers’ ability to oversee the investment firms that treat them so lavishly. For their part, the firms stand to gain quite a bit if they stay in the good graces of state Treasury officers:

Public investors such as Oregon are lucrative customers. Besides the cash to invest, investment firms collect huge fees for their day-to-day work. Oregon’s pension system alone paid $335 million in investment fees and expenses last year … The concept is much like an individual investor figuring out how to put spare cash to work in profitable ways. Except Oregon has billions in cash. Profits from investments cover state retiree pensions and care for Oregon’s injured and disabled workers.

Assessment

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler announced last week that he was reviewing travel protocols, though Oregon Treaury’s chief investment officer Ron Schmitz has said high-end travel is “necessary normal business practice.” “We consider none of it luxurious,” he told the newspaper. But that’s not what it sounds like from communications between investment officers and the investment firms.

“I’m only packing my swimsuit, Tevas, and sun tan lotion and you guys will just have to find me on the beach or surfing the waves,” one Treasury employee wrote to a firm representative. The firm ended up paying for his stay in a Four Seasons Resort in Mexico.

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How One Hedge Fund Helped Keep the Bubble Going

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On the Magnetar Trade

By Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein, ProPublica – April 9, 2010 1:00 pm EDT

In late 2005, the booming U.S. housing market seemed to be slowing. The Federal Reserve had begun raising interest rates. Subprime mortgage company shares were falling. Investors began to balk at buying complex mortgage securities. The housing bubble, which had propelled a historic growth in home prices, seemed poised to deflate. And if it had, the great financial crisis of 2008, which produced the Great Recession of 2008-09, might have come sooner and been less severe.

Precise Timing

At just that moment, a few savvy financial engineers at a suburban Chicago hedge fund [1] helped revive the Wall Street money machine, spawning billions of dollars of securities ultimately backed by home mortgages.

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When the crash came, nearly all of these securities became worthless, a loss of an estimated $40 billion paid by investors, the investment banks who helped bring them into the world, and, eventually, American taxpayers.

Yet the hedge fund, named Magnetar for the super-magnetic field created by the last moments of a dying star, earned outsized returns in the year the financial crisis began.

The Magnetar Trade

How Magnetar pulled this off is one of the untold stories of the meltdown. Only a small group of Wall Street insiders was privy to what became known as the Magnetar Trade [2]. Nearly all of those approached by ProPublica declined to talk on the record, fearing their careers would be hurt if they spoke publicly. But interviews with participants, e-mails [3], thousands of pages of documents and details about the securities that until now have not been publicly disclosed shed light on an arcane, secretive corner of Wall Street.

According to bankers and others involved, the Magnetar Trade worked this way: The hedge fund bought the riskiest portion of a kind of securities known as collateralized debt obligations — CDOs. If housing prices kept rising, this would provide a solid return for many years. But that’s not what hedge funds are after. They want outsized gains, the sooner the better, and Magnetar set itself up for a huge win: It placed bets that portions of its own deals would fail.

Chance Enhancement

Along the way, it did something to enhance the chances of that happening, according to several people with direct knowledge of the deals. They say Magnetar pressed to include riskier assets in their CDOs that would make the investments more vulnerable to failure. The hedge fund acknowledges it bet against its own deals but says the majority of its short positions, as they are known on Wall Street, involved similar CDOs that it did not own. Magnetar says it never selected the assets that went into its CDOs.

Magnetar says it was “market neutral,” meaning it would make money whether housing rose or fell. (Read their full statement. [4]) Dozens of Wall Street professionals, including many who had direct dealings with Magnetar, are skeptical of that assertion. They understood the Magnetar Trade as a bet against the subprime mortgage securities market. Why else, they ask, would a hedge fund sponsor tens of billions of dollars of new CDOs at a time of rising uncertainty about housing?

Key details of the Magnetar Trade remain shrouded in secrecy and the fund declined to respond to most of our questions. Magnetar invested in 30 CDOs from the spring of 2006 to the summer of 2007, though it declined to name them. ProPublica has identified 26 [5].

Independent Analysis

An independent analysis [6] commissioned by ProPublica shows that these deals defaulted faster and at a higher rate compared to other similar CDOs. According to the analysis, 96 percent of the Magnetar deals were in default by the end of 2008, compared with 68 percent for comparable CDOs. The study [6] was conducted by PF2 Securities Evaluations, a CDO valuation firm. (Magnetar says defaults don’t necessarily indicate the quality of the underlying CDO assets.)

From what we’ve learned, there was nothing illegal in what Magnetar did; it was playing by the rules in place at the time. And the hedge fund didn’t cause the housing bubble or the financial crisis. But the Magnetar Trade does illustrate the perverse incentives and reckless behavior that characterized the last days of the boom.

Major Players

Magnetar worked with major banks, including Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, and UBS. At least nine banks helped Magnetar hatch deals. Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and UBS all did multiple deals with Magnetar. JPMorgan Chase, often lauded for having avoided the worst of the CDO craze, actually ended up doing one of the riskiest deals with Magnetar, in May 2007, nearly a year after housing prices started to decline. According to marketing material and prospectuses [5], the banks didn’t disclose to CDO investors the role Magnetar played.

Many of the bankers who worked on these deals personally benefited, earning millions in annual bonuses. The banks booked profits at the outset. But those gains were fleeting. As it turned out, the banks that assembled and marketed the Magnetar CDOs had trouble selling them. And when the crash came, they were among the biggest losers.

Assessment

Of course, some bankers involved in the Magnetar Trade now regret what they did. We showed one of the many people fired as a result of the CDO collapse a list of unusually risky mortgage bonds included in a Magnetar deal he had worked on. The deal was a disaster. He shook his head at being reminded of the details and said: “After looking at this, I deserved to lose my job.”

Magnetar wasn’t the only market player to come up with clever ways to bet against housing. Many articles and books, including a bestseller by Michael Lewis [7], have recounted how a few investors saw trouble coming and bet big. Such short bets can be helpful; they can serve as a counterweight to manias and keep bubbles from expanding.

Magnetar’s approach had the opposite effect — by helping create investments it also bet against, the hedge fund was actually fueling the market. Magnetar wasn’t alone in that: A few other hedge funds also created CDOs they bet against. And, as the New York Times has reported, Goldman Sachs did too. But Magnetar industrialized the process, creating more and bigger CDOs.

Conclusion

Several journalists have alluded to the Magnetar Trade in recent years, but until now none has assembled a full narrative. Yves Smith, a prominent financial blogger who has reported on aspects of the Magnetar Trade, writes in her new book, “Econned,” [8] that “Magnetar went into the business of creating subprime CDOs on an unheard of scale. If the world had been spared their cunning, the insanity of 2006-2007 would have been less extreme and the unwinding milder.”

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Understanding Collateralized Mortgage Obligations

Defining Terms and Concepts for Medical Professionals

By Staff Reporters

www.HealthcareFinancials.comho-journal9

A CMO is a debt security backed by mortgages. These mortgage pools are usually separated into different maturity classes called tranches (from the French word for “slice”). The securities were issued by private issuers, as well as the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). As the mortgages were usually government-guaranteed, CMOs usually carried AAA ratings until their current financial meltdown. The early versions of CMOs were known as “plain vanilla,” but recent developments gave us PACs (planned amortization certificates) and TACs (targeted amortization certificates); among too many others. They were all variations on how principal repayments in advance of maturity date were treated.

Assessmentdhimc-book19

Link: www.HealthDictionarySeries.com

Conclusion

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Physician’s Acquiring Real-Estate

Innovative Funding in Difficult Times

[Staff Reporters]mortgaged-house

Real estate can be acquired by physician-investors, even in these difficult times, in many different ways. For example, through direct purchase, participation in a real estate partnership vehicle with other investors [such as general partnerships, limited partnerships, various corporate entities, and, in most states, limited liability companies (LLCs), and investments in real estate securities such as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).

Section 1031

Real estate also can be acquired through tax-deferred exchanges under Section 1031 of the IRS Code, in which a client “trades” one investment property for another, deferring the taxes due on the sale of the exchanged property. This allows the doctor to reinvest “pre-tax” dollars in another real estate investment, potentially benefiting from appreciation on the larger investment. The physician may also exchange one larger property into two or several smaller properties and pay tax consequences on each one as those properties are sold as cash is needed.

Tax and Risk Management

The way a physician takes ownership of real estate will affect the tax treatment of income and profit. For example, having an LLC-owned investment property will provide him/her with the same protection from individual liability as a corporation, while allowing him/her to have much more favorable tax treatment. Real estate can be bought directly by purchasing it in the following manners:

1. Paying cash,

2. Paying a cash down payment and acquiring a loan,

3. Paying cash to the seller who is financing, or

4. Financing the purchase by using either new real estate financing, seller financing, or credit borrowing when a lender is willing to loan solely on the strength of, and the financial statement of, the borrower, or a combination of these.

Trading and Secured Loans

Real estate also can be acquired by trading other valuable assets, sometimes in combination with financing. A client can obtain interests in real estate by making loans on real estate assets that are secured by a deed of trust or a mortgage. Another method is to invest as a participating lender. In such an instance the borrower needs to agree to provide equity kickers or participation in cash flow whereby the lender (doctor) can benefit directly from the real estate performance.fp-book21

Equity Participation Plans

With an equity participation, the physician-investor can profit or gain from the sale of the property, sometimes in a preferential manner (i.e., the money the doctor loaned is returned, with interest, and a predetermined percentage or portion of the gain is given to the owner/borrower before distribution of the sales proceeds). Similarly, the doctor can participate in annual cash flow, giving a fixed or a fluctuating amount depending on the performance of the investment. As a lender, many of the benefits of ownership of real estate are not available to the MD, but the doctor should have a security interest in the property and no direct responsibility for operation of the real estate investment. Also, if possible, the borrower should provide additional guarantees of performance. The borrower could do this by providing additional security, such as the deeds of trust on the borrower’s house, other real-estate, and the acquired property; bank letters of credit; or guarantees of performance from people other than the party to whom the money is originally loaned.archway

Assessment

If a physician-investor is considering acquiring or lending on real estate, s/he should check with his professional advisors, including accountants and attorneys, before proceeding. The doctor’s attorney should review any contracts or agreements before the client signs anything. The physician also will need a due diligence review to ascertain both the relative values of the real estate on which money is being loaned and the borrower’s track record and background.

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this Medical Executive-Post are appreciated? With home mortgages collapsing, credit tight and banks loathe to lend, is now the time to invest in real-estate? Is it an archway to success; or failure.

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Exercising Healthcare Employee Options

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Vital Information for Medical Professionals and Heathcare Workers

[By Staff Reporters]dhimc-book9

To a large degree the decision to exercise a stock option will depend on whether the medical professional, hospital or other healthcare services employee is going to hold the stock following the exercise or is going to sell the stock immediately.

A Bifurcated Decision Point

1. If the employee intends to sell the stock, then he or she should try to time the exercise so that the stock is at its highest value.

2. If the employee is going to hold the acquired stock for future investment, then he or she should exercise the option as late as possible under the terms of the option agreement; the employee thus enjoys all upside potential without any investment and has nothing at risk.

Exceptions

There are two exceptions to the general rule:

1. First, if the rate of dividends is sufficient to cover the financing cost, or is at least equal to other investment returns, then exercise of the options makes sense.

2. Second, if the option is an Incentive Stock Option [ISO], the potential application of the alternative minimum tax (AMT) rules may force the employee to stagger the exercise.

Assessment

For more terminology information, please refer to the Dictionary of Health Economics and Finance.

Conclusion

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Medical Real Estate Investments

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Physician’s Need to Understand Compensation Methods

[By Staff Reporters]

Property Managers

Medical property managers are compensated for their services on an hourly or fee basis. In addition, they may be reimbursed for expenses related to the maintenance of the property, such as materials, and they may also pay for expenses incurred by subcontractors.

Fees

Fees usually are based on a percentage of gross collected rents, but are negotiable. Property managers of larger medical complexes may receive higher fees than managers of small complexes because of the details involved in managing larger properties. Fees also are affected by the total pro-forma income stream. In general, the better a manager enhances the property’s performance, the more the manager is paid.

Barter

Some owners pay fees and provide rent-free units for resident medical managers to handle on-site leasing; or for offices for managers to take care of buildings warranting on-site property management. Bartered phantom income may be reportable to the IRS.

fp-book11

Real Estate Brokers

Each state has specific requirements regarding the sales and leasing of medical, commercial and other real estate. Every state, however, has the clear and mandatory requirement that no commission or fee can be paid to anyone who is not licensed in that state as a real estate broker, an associate broker, or sales agent if the person represents or works on behalf of another. All fees and commissions must be paid to the company employing the broker, associate broker, or sales agent. Violation of these laws can have serious consequences to both the principal and the real estate broker.

Hybrid Compensation

A medical real estate broker is usually compensated by either a negotiated fee or a negotiated commission; or hybrid of both methods. Neither fees for work or commissions earned are set or standardized in any way. The amount earned or the amount paid is the result of an agreement. The agreement or contract must be in writing, under the Statute of Frauds, just as all real estate offers and contracts must be in writing sales or on leases of more than one year.

Commissions

If a broker is working on commission, h/she is paid only when she is successful and the sales transaction closes and title is passed to the buyer. Sales commission is established either in a Listing Agreement or a Buyers Brokerage Agreement. No fee is due if the sale does not occur. Rates of commission vary widely by city, region, and state. The amount of commission usually is a percentage of the sales price or a set amount. The percentage of commission is dependent on competition; effort required; to some degree, the size of the transaction; and market activity. For example, the sale of a large regional shopping center might be a 3% commission whereas the sale of a small retail building under $1 million might warrant a 7% commission.

Lease Execution Warrants Payment

Leasing commissions are based on gross rental income over the term of the lease, are due when the lease is executed by both landlord and tenant, and can be paid at one of the following times:

  1. On execution of the lease.
  2. Partly on lease execution and partly on occupancy; or
  3. On occupancy, depending on the landlord’s written agreement with the broker.

Leasing commissions usually are a negotiated percentage of gross rents, with the percentage varying dependent on type of lease. For example, the percentage rate of commission might be more on a net lease, in which the tenant pays all expenses, than if the same lease were structured on a gross or fully serviced basis; or in which the landlord provides services within the rents due. Commission on ground leases might range up to 10% and office space might range from 4% to 6%.

Example:

Term: 5 years (60 months)         

Monthly rental rate: $1,000 per month     

Gross rental income under the lease: $1,000 x 60 = $60,000        

Commission calculation (using a 6% rate): $60,000 x 6% = $3,600           

The fees paid under sales and leases are usually split between the colleague brokers working on the transaction and are shared between the listing agent and the selling or leasing agent under a co-brokerage agreement between the brokers. This too is a negotiated percentage. It is common for commissions to be split on a 50/50 basis, but it is not the rule. How the commission is divided between brokers depends on the transaction. The commission is often shared evenly between cooperating brokers, but the split ultimately is the seller and listing agent’s decision.

Hard-to-Move Properties

On extremely difficult medical real estate properties [as is seen in many parts of the country today], incentive splits may be offered. Incentive splits offer the selling or leasing agent a greater share of the commission if he or she is successful. Under commission agreements between a seller and a broker, or a buyer and a broker, in which the broker is representing a buyer, nothing is earned until the transaction is complete and the broker has added value, unless spelled out to the contrary in the agreement or the broker is working on a fee basis. On a typical sale, commissions are paid through escrow at closing. Leasing commissions are usually, but not always, paid upon lease execution.

Other forms of payment for property managers and real estate brokers

It has become increasingly common for medical property managers and real estate brokers, particularly when representing a buyer or a tenant, to work on a contractual basis. In these instances, the parties are paid on an hourly or set-fee basis, regardless of whether the transaction is completed. In some cases, a principal may decide he wants only some of the services offered, such as a lease review, and those are also paid on a negotiated basis for the service provided.

Assessment

Combinations of fixed fees and commission incentives also are common, but in most all cases there is not a set amount or standard fee charged by all brokers.

Conclusion

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Recent Elder Housing Updates

Legal Protections, Home Equity Resources and Housing Options

By Staff Reporters

insurance-book1

Recently, significant updates and expanded coverage of the housing market for the elderly has occurred. Several items include efforts to protect consumers, and senior medical professionals, from current difficulties in the housing market. For example, these include the following three updates:

1. FINRA on Reverse Mortgages

An alert issued by the Financial Industry National Regulatory Authority (FINRA), warns that:

“as more Americans near retirement age, some financial institutions are aggressively marketing reverse mortgages as an easy, cost-free way for retirees to finance lifestyles – or to pay for risky investments  that can jeopardize their financial futures.” 

FINRA’s position is that such vehicles should be used only as a last resort.

2. HECM on Primary Residences

The Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Demonstration (HECM) program, which was first authorized by Congress in 1987, helps elderly homeowners meet their financial needs and provides borrowers with insurance against lender default. Now, homeowners can also use a HECM to purchase a primary residence if they are able to use cash on hand to pay the difference between the HECM proceeds and the sales price plus closing costs for the property they are purchasing.

3. ERA Home-Keeper Program

As a result of the passage of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, Fannie Mae announced the discontinuance of its Home Keeper reverse mortgage program, effective as of December 31, 2008.  Some state programs encourage the use of reverse mortgages, in contrast to federal warnings, as a financial tool to help elderly homeowners pay for home and community services so they can “age in place.”

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this Medical Executive-Post are appreciated, as we follow-up our four part series on: At Home or Nursing Home Care for Long Term Care. Comments from physicians and LTC insurance agents are especially valued.

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Troubles Brewing for Physician Owned Hospitals

Financial Problems Predicted

Staff Reporterscrazy-house

According to the Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2009, a bill making its way through Congress to provide more low-income children with health-insurance coverage might mean financial trouble for scores of physician owned hospitals.  

 

Emergence and Growth

The very existence of doctor-owned hospitals is controversial. But, their numbers have tripled to about 200 since 1990.

The Supporters

Supporters say these hospitals, which usually focus on several lucrative services, such as cardiac care or orthopedics, are highly efficient, saving expenses for both patients and insurance programs, including Medicare.

More: www.HealthcareFinancials.com

The Critics

Critics say physicians who refer patients to hospitals with an ownership stake drive up costs, because they order more tests or perform unnecessary surgery. They argue that such hospitals also cherry pick healthy patients hurting surrounding non-profits hospitals.

Assessment

According to Pete Stark, chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, the proposed legislation would prohibit “the unethical kickbacks that physicians receive from ownership hospitals, most of which are of questionable safety and quality.”

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this Medical Executive-Post are appreciated. Do you agree, or disagree with the thesis; why or why not? Does this mean that not-for-profit hospitals, for-profit entities, or those hospitals with training programs don’t order un-needed tests? Are these hospitals and physician-investors, “crazy” or colorful and sane? 

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Understanding Financial Derivatives

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Beware the Toxicity

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA, CMP™

According to Jeff Coons PhD CFP™ a financial derivative is a security whose value is derived from one or more underlying securities. Derivatives can range from financial securities as simple as a stripped bond, or pooled mortgage, to extremely complex securities customized for a particular investor’s risk management needs. And, some physician-investors know that perhaps the simplest form of derivative is a short-sale, where you can place a bet that some asset you own will go down, so that you are covered whichever way the asset moves. 

Volatile Investment Vehicles

Even though derivative securities in some contexts can be a key source of volatility in the financial markets, these securities may be useful tools in the portfolio management process.  Likewise, just as the basic asset classes discussed in the E-P may be separated into a series of expected cash flows, any given derivative security may be understood as a series of date or event contingent cash flows.

Basic Derivatives

Two basic derivative securities created from more traditional fixed income securities are pooled mortgage securities and strips: 

  1. A stripped security represents either principal or interest payments from some underlying fixed income security.  As an example, a principal-only Treasury strip represents the face value payment of an U.S. Treasury bond, while an income-only Treasury strip represents the right to the coupon payments of a particular U.S. Treasury bond. 
  2. A pooled mortgage security is a derivative security that represents ownership in a collection of mortgages.  An interesting feature of a pooled mortgage security is the principal pay-down, with shares of the pooled mortgage security returned at face value as mortgages are refinanced and/or repaid. Refinancing and prepayment of mortgages tend to happen when the original mortgage rate is above currently available mortgage rates, so pooled mortgages with higher coupon rates will tend to have the greatest prepayment risk.

For example, physician-investors recall the dramatic decline in mortgage rates during 2002 that led to a significant increase in refinancing activity, which in turn resulted in significant prepayment risk for many holders of pooled mortgage securities. The current CDS meltdown, in 2008, is another example.

Credit Default Swaps

A credit default swap (CDS) is a derivative contract in which a buyer makes a series of payments to a seller and, in exchange, receives the right to a payoff if a credit instrument goes into default or, on the occurrence of a specified credit event, for example bankruptcy or restructuring. The associated instrument does not need to be associated with the buyer or the seller of this contract; thus one factor of their “amorphous toxicity” today.

Assessment

Credit default swaps are now the most widely traded form of credit derivative! But, when the smartest financial guys on Wall Street designed derivatives and credit default swaps, they forgot to ask one thing; what if the parties on the other side of the bet don’t have the money to pay up?

Conclusion

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Understanding and Investing in Collectibles

Sans Cash Flow Entitlements

Staff Writers

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Many medical professionals have a broad range of investments that are typically not securities and rarely provide entitlement to specific cash flows.  One example is collectibles, which are durable real property expected to store value for the owner. 

Definition

According to Jeff Coons, PhD, CFP™ and www.HealthDictionarySeries.com, the term collectible may represent such items as artwork, jewelry, sports memorabilia, stamps, and wine. While a detailed discussion of the wide variety of collectibles markets is outside the scope of this post, there are common characteristics of collectibles as an investment. 

Common Collectible Characteristics

First, the value of a collectible generally rests entirely in the eye of the beholder.  Since there is typically no cash flows associated with a collectible, unless the collector charges at the door for a look at their collection, the value of the collectible is only what another collector is willing to pay for that particular item. 

Second, while there are some collectibles that may be considered standardized across individual pieces in terms of quality and other defining characteristics, collectible investments are generally unique.  As a result, there is typically not an active market with prices established on a regular basis for most collectibles in a manner similar to the stock and bond markets.

Assessment

In total, the lack of ongoing cash payments from a collectible and the general non-comparability of items result in the collectibles market being more of a knowledge-based market than most of the investments discussed on the E-P.  Since the value of a collectible is limited to the amount that another collector-investor is willing to pay for the item, a knowledgeable investor may be able to benefit from the lack of information of another investor. 

By the same token, if a physician-investor does not have superior information regarding the value of a collectible, then the basic lack of economic fundamentals behind a return assumption for such investments makes collectibles generally less attractive as compared to investments providing ongoing cash payments.

Conclusion

Please subscribe and contribute your own thoughts, experiences, questions, knowledge and comments on this topic for the benefit of all our readers.

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Understanding Commodities

Investing in Raw Materials

By Staff Writers

According to Jeff Coons, PhD, CFP™, a commodity is a standardized asset that is typically used as an input for production of one or more products.  Almost any raw material or product that has very consistent characteristics irrespective of the producer (i.e., little to no differentiation between producers) may be considered a commodity.

Commodity Examples:

Examples of commodities that are traded broadly in the financial markets include food products, such as wheat and pork bellies, and metals, such as gold and aluminum.  In most cases, the trading of commodities is done through futures.

A Supply / Demand Hedge

Commodities do not have ongoing cash payments associated with them. Instead, a commodity’s value is a result of supply and demand for the asset as a consumable or as an input for other goods. 

Thus, while some physician-investors use commodity futures as a hedge to offset changes in the value of the commodity between now and the date the commodity is needed by the investor, others will make commodity investments based upon a belief that the supply/demand relationship will change in their favor. 

Assessment

In the latter case, commodities represent a knowledge-based market in which an investor must believe that he/she has a better perspective on the future price of the commodity than other speculators. Consequently, if a physician-investor does not have superior information regarding the future supply and demand for the commodity, then commodity investments become generally less attractive as compared to investments providing ongoing cash payments.

Conclusion

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Fractional Interests in Real-Estate

What is it Really Worth?

Staff Writers

If real-estate constitutes a large portion of your estate, as a mature physician, you should be familiar with how fractional interests are valued. This may be especially true during the current sub-prime mortgage debacle in this country.

It’s all About Control and Marketability

Fractional interests are generally subject to two general categories of valuation adjustments: [1] lack of control and [2] lack of marketability.

Lack of Control Discounts

Typically, appraisers first determine the value of the underlying real-estate asset as a single interest, applying one or a combination of approaches, including (1) the income approach, (2) the replacement cost approach, or (3) the comparable sales approach.

Determining Factors

In analyzing a fractional ownership interest, the appraiser needs to understand what investment risk and return factors change as the physician investor moves from fee-simple ownership to a fractional interest.

And, when the fractional interest is in the form of a partnership or other unincorporated business format, additional analysis will be necessary since these organizational forms are based upon contractual agreements among the investing parties, and upon state statutes that apply to each type.

It is usually somewhat difficult to obtain meaningful valuation data for fractional interests, and the total discounts realized are usually not separable into lack of control and lack of marketability factors. Numerous studies have been conducted by reputable valuation firms; with often ambiguous results.

Probably the most reliable data in determining lack of control discounts are those derived from the sale of minority blocks of stock of a real-estate corporation and those for publicly traded REITs.

Lack of Marketability Discounts

With respect to lack of marketability discounts, the best source appears to be sales of restricted stock, which show larger discounts for OTC stocks versus NYSE or ASE securities. These restricted stock studies cover a span from the late 1960s through today and traditionally indicated an average price discount of 35% until a few years ago. Today of course, this discount has increased with recent events.

Additional evidence comes from studies of IPOs by comparing the IPO stock price with the price at which the company’s stock traded in private transactions prior to the IPO. These studies indicate lack of marketability discounts of 40% to 50%, or more, in some cases today.

Assessment

Data from past studies provided appraisers, and physician-investors, with a solid arsenal of analytical weapons and data to draw from when a fractional ownership interest was to be appraised. Again, the situation has drastically changed in 2008, and into the near-future, at least.

Conclusion

Do you own any other fractional investments; like plans or boats? In today’s environment, how do you value fractional interests in real estate? Please comment and opine; the more experiential the better.

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Healthcare Organizations: www.HealthcareFinancials.com

Health Administration Terms: www.HealthDictionarySeries.com

Physician Advisors: www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com  or Bio: www.stpub.com/pubs/authors/MARCINKO.htm

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Risky Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation Plans

Are They Worth the Risk to Physician Executives?

By Staff Reporters

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The use of nonqualified deferred compensation plans in corporate healthcare administration has grown substantially in the past 10 years; for several reasons.

Reasons for Popularity

For example, senior physician-executives are becoming subject to lower contribution and benefit limits in qualified plans, are involved in more mid-career change hires, are being subjected to greater emphasis on performance-based compensation, and may experience higher income tax rates in a potential democratic administration in 2009.

Any financial advisor who works with senior physician-executive clients participating in such plans must thoroughly understand how nonqualified plans work and how they can affect every aspect of an executive’s finances.

Advantages

The advantage of tax deferral offered by nonqualified plans may, however, be more than offset by the risks to which the funds in these plans are subjected. Physician-executives should carefully evaluate their exposure to a retirement income shortfall, which may result from having a major portion of one’s retirement nest egg tied to unsecured capital. Individual indemnity insurance may need to be purchased to protect against this risk.

Guidelines

Some useful guidelines for the physician-executive and his/her financial consultant follow:

  • Review nonqualified plan documents, especially when plan provisions require client action or change.
  • Summarize the provisions of previously signed deferral agreements and other nonqualified plan statements, especially amount, timing, and method of payouts.
  • Analyze financial security under various retirement scenarios.
  • Review current estate plan instruments to determine if trusts are funded with nonqualified plan assets.
  • Update the asset allocation model to reflect any constraints imposed by the nonqualified investments.
  • Plan for potential constructive receipt.
  • Modify projected annual cash flows to allow for additional Medicare tax payments.
  • Quantify future payments from all nonqualified plans and the effect on marginal tax rates.

Assessment

The risks involved in the tax deferral offered by nonqualified plans occur because a senior physician-executive may:

  • Bet his or her long-term security on the viability of a single company.
  • Become over-dependent on unsecured funds.
  • Incur extra estate taxes because of failure to properly plan for plan distributions.
  • Fail to diversify because of limited investment alternatives in the plan.
  • Become subject to the constructive receipt problem and possibly to FICA tax at an earlier than expected time.

Conclusion

Please comment and opine on the above relative to the current tax structure, as well as a potential future change by political fiat?

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Healthcare Franchising and Investing

New-Wave Physician Opportunities?

Staff Reporters

Did you know that there are several viable alternative practice and investment vehicles physicians can consider rather than traditional medical practice and investing? And, they’re in the healthcare field?

Traditional Franchises

For example, franchise opportunities currently exist through vein-treatment, medical spa and weight-loss centers; and are well known. 

Non-Traditional Franchises

But, franchise opportunities also exist for assisted senior-living residences and home healthcare businesses that in many ways are a perfect fit for those in the medical community. And, as the demand for retirement housing grows, and as more senior adults are looking to stay at home, physicians are the common link to the elderly in both those venues.

Medical Property Investing

The demand for medical properties is also increasing and, according to a report by real estate services and investment firm Grubb & Ellis Company, are positioned to outperform other property types over the next 10 years. Their report notes that patients aged 65-74 years made an average of 6.5 visits per capita to physician offices in 2005 compared with 3.3 visits for all age groups.

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on the matter are appreciated. Is this a new investing wave and emerging practice business model; or just another example of medical merchandising?

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Economics of Variable Annuities

The “Ups and Downs” of Variable Investments

Staff Writers

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The chief advantage of variable annuities is that investment income or gains are not currently taxable. However, when distributions are made, all gain is ordinary income, even if substantially all of the gains realized on the investment were capital gains.

Investments made directly by a Family Owned Business [FOB] member, for example, does not achieve tax deferral. But, assuming the dividends and other income are small (e.g., a growth portfolio), and all gains are capital gains taxed at the maximum rate, then direct investment may be a far superior method of investment.

Forbes summed it up, saying, “Don’t be a sucker!”

Despite Forbes’ warning, variable annuities are not necessarily an easy investment decision.

Sales Growth

Sales of variable annuities have continued to grow despite the reduction of capital gain rates in the recent years of the Bush Presidency, and the future is unknown. But, if the deferral is long enough, or if the portfolio throws-off ordinary income (e.g., a bond portfolio), then variable annuities may be desirable. However, doctors and medical professionals should exercise caution about variable annuities.

Fees and Expenses

Variable annuity fees vary widely from carrier to carrier but in many cases they are still high, putting such investments at a competitive disadvantage. If the fees are reasonable, and the medical professional client intends to invest in high yield bonds (also know as junk bonds), then a variable annuity can be attractive.

The same is true for traders who move in and out of funds and earn a large amount of short-term capital gains. In any event, all doctors should check the fees charged by the insurance company because they vary widely. Some funds that charge fees also have outperformed other funds.

Taxation

Investing in traditional equity can give rise to dividends of 1.5% (the average) that is subject to taxation. Variable annuities shelter the dividends, but at a cost often reaching 1.25%. This is not exactly an attractive investment trade-off.

Capital Gains

In addition, all capital gains derived from the portfolio are taxable as ordinary income when distributed; also not a good result.

Distributions upon Death

Assets held outright get a step-up in basis upon death. Variable annuity distributions are income-in-respect-of-a-decedent. Thus, there is no step-up in basis. This is harsh taxation, and the combined estate and income taxes can be 100% (e.g. the decedent’s estate may be is subject to a 5% surtax).

Thus, a 55-60% estate tax and a 35-40% ordinary income tax rate results in 100% taxation and confiscation. Counting the limitation on a deduction, the effective tax rate might be 42%, causing the combined taxes to exceed 100%. If the estate taxes can be deducted from the income taxes, the taxation of variable annuities is lessened.

Moreover, if a family business client has a charitable interest, using income-in-respect-of-a-decedent property to fund a gift to charity is a sound planning idea (the charity pays no income taxes and gifts to charities are not subject to estate taxes). Here, variable annuities may have one big advantage; they can prevent creditors from reaching assets. However, if this is a concern then the same results can be achieved by using an asset protection trust.

Assessment

Tax deferral always appeals to medical and other clients, but in some cases, variable annuity tax deferral may not be a effective tax planning tool. In addition, postmortem planning can help to reduce the tax burden to children.

Variable annuities require clear analysis and discussion. Doctors, and their accountants and financial advisors should discuss this issue before investing in them. The reason, quite simply, is that most doctors do not like to pay current tax and they may leap at a variable annuity which can result in increased taxation. How ironic!

Conclusion

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Worthless FOB Stocks

Getting the Tax Deduction

Staff Writers

All physicians and other investors should know when their stock becomes worthless.

Example Scenario:

Some time ago, an FOB physician investor [Family Owned Business] founded two FOBs: One was doing fine while the other floundered. Under the IRS Tax Code, the investor can receive a loss deduction on the second FOB if: 1) the stock is worthless, and 2) the loss is claimed in the year it became worthless.

Definition of “Worthless”

The problem often is determining when a stock is completely “worthless”—there is no deduction for partial worthlessness. A company does not have to file for bankruptcy or end operations for its stock to be worthless.

Generally, if an FOB’s liability greatly exceeds its assets, and there is no real hope of continuing the business at a profit, the stock is considered worthless under the Tax Code. Often, to prove a worthless loss deduction, the business owner sells his or her stock at a nominal price.

Loss is Limited

The amount of the loss has traditionally been limited to the business owner’s tax basis. Capital losses are used to offset capital gain, but $3,000 can be used as a deduction against ordinary income. The $3,000 can be carried forward indefinitely.

Section 1244

If the business’s stock qualified as Section 1244 stock, the loss is an ordinary and fully deductible loss (subject to dollar limitations). In these cases, the loss is deductible against ordinary income. Obviously, if a loss is deductible against ordinary income in the first year, the taxpayer will receive a significant tax savings.

Most FOBs issue Section 1244 stock if it is qualified as a “small business corporation.”  To qualify, the total capital invested at the time the stock is issued cannot exceed $1 million. In addition, the FOB must have less than 50% of its gross receipts from passive sources: rents, royalties, dividends, and investment income.

In other words, the majority of the receipts must come from operating an active trade or business. Finally, the maximum loss is $50,000 for an individual; $100,000 for a couple. When organizing an FOB, the stock should be classified as Section 1244 stock if it qualifies.

Assessment

Financial professionals and accountants must advise their clients about “worthless” FOB stocks to ensure the deduction is claimed. Medical professionals should also be aware of this concept.

Conclusion

Have you ever had a worthless stock? How did you deal with it and what were your experiences? What has changed relative to the above review, if anything? Is Section 1244 indexed? Please opine and comment.

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Healthcare Organizations: www.HealthcareFinancials.com

Health Administration Terms: www.HealthDictionarySeries.com

Physician Advisors: www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com

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Interest Rate Options

Treasury Issues Options

By William H. Mears; CPA, JD

Interest rate options are usually options on Treasury instruments, Treasury bills, notes, and bonds. The face values used are $1 million for Treasury bills and $100,000 for T-notes and bonds.

Purpose

With these options, a physician or other investor will bet on the direction of interest rates. When interest rates decline, the prices of bonds increase. This phenomenon has been experienced in the United States for the most part since the late 1980s. If interest rates increase, bond prices decrease.

Assessment

The value of the underlying security (the bond itself) will determine the value of the option. The investors who believe that interest rates will increase and that bond prices will go down are bearish. As bearish investors, they will buy puts and sell calls. Bullish investors will sell calls and sell puts.

Conclusion

Have you ever purchased these securities, and what were your reasoning, strategy and results?

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Understanding Options

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A Misunderstood Derivative

By William H. Mears; CPA, JD

An option is either the right to buy or sell an asset, or the obligation to buy or sell an asset. Options are derivative instruments; i.e., they derive their value from the performance of the asset upon which they are based—the underlying asset or security. This can be a stock, an equity index, a futures contract, or a Treasury security. Types of options include:

  1. Equity options
  2. Stock index options
  3. Interest rate options
  4. Foreign currency options

Multiple Terms and Definitions

  • A call option contract gives the physician-investor or buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy a stock at a specified price, subject to an expiration date.
  • The put option contract gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to sell a stock at a specific price, subject to an expiration date.
  • The right to buy or sell the underlying security is purchased for a price called the premium.
  • The right to buy or sell the underlying security occurs only for a period of time and at a specific price.
  • The time period of an option is called the duration.
  • The day that the option ends is the expiration.
  • The price at which the option can be exercised is called the strike price.
  • Therefore, the right to buy or sell a security under an option contract exists only for a specific period and ceases to exist at the expiration of the option period.
  • The seller of an option, the individual who has received consideration for granting to another a right, is obligated to perform under the option contract.
  • The seller of a call option, also called the writer, has sold the right to buy that stock.
  • The seller of a call option is obligated to sell the stock to the call option owner if the option is exercised.
  • The seller of a put option is obligated to buy the stock from the put option buyer if the option is exercised.

Option Components

Listed options are traded on an exchange and are packaged and available on stock markets and indexes with various durations at various strike prices.

Over-the-counter options are options that do not trade on an established exchange but are contractual arrangements between two parties.

Because these options are not prepackaged, they can be custom tailored as to strike price, expiration date, and manner of settlement, that is, cash settlement or settlement by delivery of stock.

All listed and over-the-counter options have an expiration date.

American-style options can be exercised at any point in time prior to expiration.

A European-style option creates the right or obligation only at the expiration of a term of an option.

When physician investors purchase or sell an option, they are interested in the cost of that option or the income generated by the sale of that option.

The option premium—the cost of the option—is comprised of the intrinsic value of the option plus its time value.

The intrinsic value of the option is the option’s in-the-money amount.

Options that are out-of-the-money are priced on the basis of time value only.

Option Market Price

The major factors that affect the market price of an option are:

  • The price of the underlying asset
  • The strike price of the option
  • The time remaining until the option expires
  • The prevailing interest rates
  • The expected volatility of the underlying asset

These factors work in the following manner:

1 As the price of an underlying asset increases, the call price goes up and the put price goes down.

2. As the strike price of the option increases, the call price goes down and the put price goes up.

3. As the time to expiration goes out, the call price goes up and the put price goes up.

4. As the risk-free rate of return on money goes up, the call price goes up and the put price goes down.

5. As the volatility in the underlying stock increases, the call price goes up and the put price goes up.

6. As the dividend payout rate of the underlying asset increases, the call price decreases and the put price increases.

When a physician-investor purchases an option, the underlying asset will have a market value. The investor may purchase a call option, which is available for exercise at the same market value (an at-the-money option), at an under-the-market price (in-the-money), or with an exercise price that is over the market value (in-the-money). The exercise price of these options is the strike price.

Option Volatility

The volatility of the underlying asset will also play a significant role in the pricing of an option. The more volatile a stock is, the more likely it is that its performance will be unpredictable and that the strike price will be reached or exceeded and, therefore, that the option will have value. Options on volatile stocks will have a higher premium.

Options contracts, once purchased or sold on an opening trade, can either be (1) traded on a closing trade or allowed to expire worthless or (2) exercised. If an option contract is traded, it will be treated like any other security that is traded. The contract will have proceeds of sale, a cost basis, and a holding period.

All options have a fixed expiration date. All listed equity options, regardless of their particular cycle, expire at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the Saturday following the third Friday of the expiration month. The option actually does not expire until Saturday, but customers must act by 5:30 p.m. on the Friday prior to the expiration date. As an option approaches its expiration date, it diminishes in value.

Managing a Stock Portfolio

Agreements

Options also allow individuals to act on the basis of a predetermined contractual agreement, regardless of market conditions for a specific period. Therefore, as the option approaches its expiration date, the option diminishes in value. It is during the early part of an option’s life that it is most valuable proportionately.

Option Contracts

An option contract will always trade in sizes of 100 shares. The description of an option contract will always contain the name of the underlying security first. The name of the security will be followed by the expiration month, the exercise price, the type of option, and the premium; for example, 1 XYZ MAR 5 call 2.

At maturity, a call option will have a value that will be the greater of zero or the strike price minus the strike price. At maturity, a put option will have a value of the greater of zero or the strike price minus the stock price.

If an option contract is allowed to expire worthless, it will be treated for tax purposes like any other security that has either no proceeds or cost basis. In either case, one leg of the trade will be zero. The position will either be closed in its entirety at a gain or be closed in its entirety at a loss.

If an option is exercised, the buyer of the contract decides that the contract will be exercised. After the exercise, the buyer of a call will own the underlying asset, and the buyer of a put will sell the underlying asset. If an option is exercised, the seller of the option is always obligated to act under the options contract.

Conclusion

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Real Estate Investments

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Doctors Must Understand the Unique Risks

[By Julia O’Neal; MA, CPA]

Real Estate [RE] requires a separate discussion of unique risks relative to other financial asset classes. 

Macro Economic and Other Risks 

RE investments possess not only the macro-economic risks found in all financial assets, but other unique risks, as well.

For example, these risks include illiquidity, lack of a continuous auction trading market, and quoted prices that may or may not represent intrinsic value.  

Lack of Diversification 

Given the large size of many real estate projects, it may also be difficult to diversify adequately and reduce total portfolio risk.

And, because of the chance of segmented markets, the risk of imperfect information is also present.  

Assessment

Remember, real estate is not easily divisible and is nonhomogeneous; such risks cannot be fully negated through diversification. 

paint room

Conclusion

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What is a Market-Neutral Fund?

Certified Medical Planner

Market Neutral Funds Demystified

[A Special Report]

[By Dimitri Sogoloff; MD, MBA]

Introduction

It’s hard to believe that just 20 years ago, physician investors had only two primary asset classes from which to choose: U.S. equities and U.S. bonds.

Today, the marketplace offers a daunting array of investment choices. Rapid market globalization, technology advancements and investor sophistication have spawned a host of new asset classes, from the mundane to the mysterious.

Even neophyte medical investors can now buy and sell international equities, emerging market debt, mortgage securities, commodities, derivatives, indexes and currencies, offering infinitely more opportunities to make, or lose, money.

Amidst this ongoing proliferation, a unique asset class has emerged, one that is complex, non-traditional and not easily understood like stocks or bonds. It does, however, offer one invaluable advantage; its returns are virtually uncorrelated with any other asset class. When this asset class is introduced into a traditional investment portfolio, a wonderful thing occurs; the risk-return profile of the overall portfolio improves dramatically.

This asset class is known as a Market-Neutral strategy. The reason few medical professionals have heard of market neutral strategies is that most of them are offered by private investment partnerships otherwise known as hedge funds.

To the uninitiated, “hedge fund” means risky, volatile or speculative. With a market-neutral strategy however, just the opposite is true. Funds utilizing market-neutral strategies typically emphasize the disciplined use of investment and risk control processes. As a result, they have consistently generated returns that display both low volatility and a low correlation with traditional equity or fixed income markets. 

Definition of Market-Neutral

All market-neutral funds share a common objective: to achieve positive returns regardless of market direction. Of course, they are not without risk; these funds can and do lose money. But a key to their performance is that it is independent of the behavior of the markets at large, and this feature can add tremendous value to the rest of a portfolio.

A typical market-neutral strategy focuses on the spread relationship between related securities, which is what makes them virtually independent of underlying debt or equity markets. When two related securities are mispriced in relation to one another, the disparity will eventually disappear as the result of some external event. This event is called convergence and may take the form of a bond maturity, completion of a merger, option exercise, or simply a market recognizing the inefficiency and eliminating it through supply and demand.

Here’s how it might work

When two companies announce a merger, there is an intended future convergence, when the shares of both companies will converge and become one. At the time of the announcement, there is typically a trading spread between two shares. A shrewd trader, seeing the probability of the successful merger, will simultaneously buy the relatively cheaper share and sell short the relatively more expensive share, thus locking in the future gain.

Another example of convergence would be the relationship between a convertible bond and its underlying stock. At the time of convergence, such as bond maturity, the two securities will be at parity. However, the market forces of supply and demand make the bond underpriced relative to the underlying stock. This mispricing will disappear upon convergence, so simultaneously buying the convertible bond and selling short an equivalent amount of underlying stock, locks in the relative spread between the two.  

Yet another example would be two bonds of the same company – one junior and one senior. For various reasons, the senior bond may become cheaper relative to the junior bond and thus display a temporary inefficiency that would disappear once arbitrageurs bought the cheaper bond and sold the more expensive bond.

While these examples involve different types of securities, scenarios and market factors, they are all examples of a market-neutral strategy. Locking a spread between two related securities and waiting for the convergence to take place is a great way to make money without ever taking a view on the direction of the market.

How large are these spreads, you may ask? Typically, they are tiny. The markets are not quite fully efficient, but they are efficient enough to not allow large price discrepancies to occur.

In order to make a meaningful profit, a market-neutral fund manager needs sophisticated technology to help identify opportunities, the agility to rapidly seize those opportunities, and have adequate financing resources to conduct hundreds of transactions annually.  

Brief Description of Strategies

The universe of market-neutral strategies is vast, spanning virtually every asset class, country and market sector. The spectrum varies in risk from highly volatile to ultra conservative. Some market-neutral strategies are more volatile than risky low-cap equity strategies, while others offer better stability than U.S Treasuries.

One unifying factor across this vast ocean of seemingly disparate strategies is that they all attempt to take advantage of a relative mispricing between various securities, and all offer a high degree of “market neutrality,” that is, a low correlation with underlying markets.

[A] Convertible Arbitrage

Convertible arbitrage is the oldest market-neutral strategy. Designed to capitalize on the relative mispricing between a convertible security (e.g. convertible bond or preferred stock) and the underlying equity, convertible arbitrage was employed as early as the 1950s.

Since then, convertible arbitrage has evolved into a sophisticated, model-intensive strategy, designed to capture the difference between the income earned by a convertible security (which is held long) and the dividend of the underlying stock (which is sold short). The resulting net positive income of the hedged position is independent of any market fluctuations. The trick is to assemble a portfolio wherein the long and short positions, responding to equity fluctuations, interest rate shifts, credit spreads and other market events offset each other.  

A convertible arbitrage strategy involves taking long positions in convertible securities and hedging those positions by selling short the underlying common stock. A manager will, in an effort to capitalize on relative pricing inefficiencies, purchase long positions in convertible securities, generally convertible bonds, convertible preferred stock or warrants, and hedge a portion of the equity risk by selling short the underlying common stock. Timing may be linked to a specific event relative to the underlying company, or a belief that a relative mispricing exists between the corresponding securities.

Convertible securities and warrants are priced as a function of the price of the underlying stock, expected future volatility of returns, risk free interest rates, call provisions, supply and demand for specific issues and, in the case of convertible bonds, the issue-specific corporate/Treasury yield spread.

Thus, there is ample room for relative misvaluations. Because a large part of this strategy’s gain is generated by cash flow, it is a relatively low-risk strategy. 

[B] Fixed-Income Arbitrage

Fixed-income arbitrage managers seek to exploit pricing inefficiencies across global markets.

Examples of these anomalies would be arbitrage between similar bonds of the same company, pricing inefficiencies of asset-backed securities and yield curve arbitrage (price differentials between government bonds of different maturities). Because the prices of fixed-income instruments are based on interest rates, expected cash flows, credit spreads, and related factors, fixed-income arbitrageurs use sophisticated quantitative models to identify pricing discrepancies.

Similarly to convertible arbitrageurs, fixed-income arbitrageurs rely on investors less sophisticated than themselves to misprice a complex security.

[C] Equity Market-Neutral Arbitrage

This strategy attempts to offset equity risk by holding long and short equity positions. Ideally, these positions are related to each other, as in holding a basket of S&P500 stocks and selling S&P500 futures against the basket. If the manager, presumably through stock-picking skill, is able to assemble a basket cheaper than the index, a market-neutral gain will be realized.

A related strategy is identifying a closed-end mutual fund trading at a significant discount to its net asset value. Purchasing shares of the fund gains access to a portfolio of securities valued significantly higher. In order to capture this mispricing, one needs only to sell short every holding in the fund’s portfolio and then force (by means of a proxy fight, perhaps) conversion of the fund from a closed-end to an open-end (creating convergence).

Sounds easy, right?

In considering equity market-neutral, you must be careful to differentiate between true market-neutral strategies (where long and short positions are related) and the recently popular long/short equity strategies.

In a long/short strategy, the manager is essentially a stock-picker, hopefully purchasing stocks expected to go up, and selling short stocks expected to depreciate. While the dollar value of long and short positions may be equivalent, there is often little relationship between the two, and the risk of both bets going the wrong way is always present.

[D] Merger Arbitrage (a.k.a. Risk Arbitrage)

Merger arbitrage, while a subset of a larger strategy called event-driven arbitrage, represents a sufficient portion of the market-neutral universe to warrant separate discussion.

Merger arbitrage earned a bad reputation in the 1980s when Ivan Boesky and others like him came to regard insider trading as a valid investment strategy. That notwithstanding, merger arbitrage is a respected stratagey, and when executed properly, can be highly profitable. It bets on the outcomes of mergers, takeovers and other corporate events involving two stocks which may become one.

A textbook example was the acquisition of SDL Inc (SDLI), by JDS Uniphase Corp (JDSU). On July 10, 2000 JDSU announced its intent to acquire SDLI by offering to exchange 3.8 shares of its own shares for one share of SDLI.

At that time, the JDSU shares traded at $101 and SDLI at $320.5. It was apparent that there was almost 20 percent profit to be realized if the deal went through (3.8 JDSU shares at $101 are worth $383 while SDLI was worth just $320.5). This apparent mispricing reflected the market’s expectation about the deal’s outcome. Since the deal was subject to the approval of the U.S. Justice Department and shareholders, there was some doubt about its successful completion. Risk arbitrageurs who did their homework and properly estimated the probability of success bought shares of SDLI and simultaneously sold short shares of JDSU on a 3.8 to 1 ratio, thus locking in the future profit.

Convergence took place about eight months later, in February 2001, when the deal was finally approved and the two stocks began trading at exact parity, eliminating the mispricing and allowing arbitrageurs to realize a profit. 

Merger Arbitrage, also known as risk arbitrage, involves investing in securities of companies that are the subject of some form of extraordinary corporate transaction, including acquisition or merger proposals, exchange offers, cash tender offers and leveraged buy-outs. These transactions will generally involve the exchange of securities for cash, other securities or a combination of cash and other securities.

Typically, a manager purchases the stock of a company being acquired or merging with another company, and sells short the stock of the acquiring company. A manager engaged in merger arbitrage transactions will derive profit (or loss) by realizing the price differential between the price of the securities purchased and the value ultimately realized when the deal is consummated. The success of this strategy usually is dependent upon the proposed merger, tender offer or exchange offer being consummated.  

When a tender or exchange offer or a proposal for a merger is publicly announced, the offer price or the value of the securities of the acquiring company to be received is typically greater than the current market price of the securities of the target company.

Normally, the stock of an acquisition target appreciates while the acquiring company’s stock decreases in value. If a manager determines that it is probable that the transaction will be consummated, it may purchase shares of the target company and in most instances, sell short the stock of the acquiring company. Managers may employ the use of equity options as a low-risk alternative to the outright purchase or sale of common stock. Many managers will hedge against market risk by purchasing S&P put options or put option spreads. 

[E] Event-Driven Arbitrage

Funds often use event-driven arbitrage to augment their primary market-neutral strategy. Generally, any convergence which is produced by a future corporate event would fall into this category.

Accordingly, Event-Driven investment strategies or “corporate life cycle investing” involves investments in opportunities created by significant transactional events, such as spin-offs, mergers and acquisitions, liquidations, reorganizations, bankruptcies, recapitalizations and share buybacks and other extraordinary corporate transactions.

Event-Driven strategies involve attempting to predict the outcome of a particular transaction as well as the optimal time at which to commit capital to it. The uncertainty about the outcome of these events creates investment opportunities for managers who can correctly anticipate their outcomes.

As such, Event-Driven trading embraces merger arbitrage, distressed securities and special situations investing. Event-Driven managers do not generally rely on market direction for results; however, major market declines, which would cause transactions to be repriced or break, may have a negative impact on the strategy. 

Event-driven strategies are research-intensive, requiring a manager to do extensive fundamental research to assess the probability of a certain corporate event, and in some cases, to take an active role in determining the event’s outcome. 

Risk and Reward Characteristics

To help understand market-neutral performance and risk, let’s take a look at the distribution of returns of individual strategies and compare it to that of traditional asset classes.

 Table 1:  Average Return / Volatility of Market Neutral Strategies And Selected Traditional Asset Classes 

 

Strategy Average Return Annualized Volatility
Convertible Arbitrage 11.95% 3.57%
Fixed Income Arbitrage 8.33% 4.90%
Equity Market-Neutral 11.62% 4.95%
Merger Arbitrage 13.29% 3.51%
Relative Value Arbitrage 15.69% 4.31%
   Traditional Asset Classes:    
S&P 500 12.62% 13.72%
MSCI World 8.57% 13.05%
High Grade U.S. Corp. Bonds 7.26% 3.73%
World Government Bonds 5.91% 5.96%

The most important observation about this chart is that the Market Neutral funds exhibits considerably lower risk than most traditional asset classes.

While market-neutral strategies vary greatly and involve all types of securities, the risk-adjusted returns are amazingly stable across all strategies. The annualized volatility – a standard measure of performance risk – varies between 3.5 and 5 percent, comparable to a conservative fixed-income strategy.     

Another interesting statistics is the correlation between Market Neutral strategies and traditional asset classes and traditional asset classes

Table 2: Correlation between Market Neutral Strategies and Traditional Asset Classes

 

Asset Class/Strategy S&P500 MSCI World GovBonds CorpBonds

The correlation of all market neutral strategies to traditional assets is quite low, or negative in some cases. This suggests that these strategies would indeed play a useful role in the ultimate goal of efficient portfolio diversification.

To test the “market neutrality” of these strategies, we asked, “How well, on average, did these strategies perform during bad, as well as good, market months?”

It turns out, in good times and bad, these strategies displayed consistent solid performance. From 12/31/91, in months when S&P 500 was down, the average down month was 3.03 percent. Market Neutral strategies performed as follows:

  

Strategy Average Monthly Return
Convertible Arbitrage + 0.65%
Fixed Income Arbitrage + 0.50%
Equity Market-Neutral + 1.19%
Merger Arbitrage + 0.88%
Relative Value Arbitrage + 0.81%

In months when S&P 500 was up, the average up month was +3.24 percent.  Market Neutral strategies performed as follows:

  

Strategy Average Monthly Return
Convertible Arbitrage +1.17%
Fixed Income Arbitrage +1.20%
Equity Market-Neutral +1.37%
Merger Arbitrage +0.60%
Relative Value Arbitrage +1.25%

Clearly, a compelling picture emerges. While these strategies, on average, underperform during good times, they show a positive average return during both good and bad markets.

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Inclusion of Market-Neutral in a Long-term Investment Portfolio

A critical concern for any medical investor considering a foray into a new asset class is how it will alter the long-term risk/reward profile of the overall portfolio. To better understand this, we constructed several hypothetical portfolios consisting of traditional asset classes:

·  US Treasuries (Salomon Treasury Index 10yrs+)

·  High Grade Corporate Bonds  (Salomon Investment Grade Index)

·  Speculative Grade Corporate Bonds  (High Yield Index)

·  US Blue chip equities  (Dow Jones Industrial Average)

·  US mid-cap equities  (S&P 400 Midcap Index)

·  US small-cap equities (S&P 600 Smallcap Index)

Portfolios varied in the level of risk from 100 percent U.S Treasuries (least risky) to 100 percent small-cap equities (most risky), and are ranked from 1 to 10, 1 representing the least risky portfolio.Each portfolio was analyzed on a Risk/Return basis using monthly return data since December 1991. The results are shown in Chart 1.Predictably, the least risky portfolio produced the smallest return, while the riskiest produced the highest return. This is perfectly understandable – you would expect to be compensated for taking a higher level of risk.

Chart 1: Risk/Return characteristics of traditional portfolios vs. Market Neutral strategies 

Clearly, the risk-return picture offered by Market Neutral strategies is much more compelling (lower risk, higher return) than that offered by portfolios of traditional assets. What happens if we introduce these market-neutral strategies into traditional portfolios? Let’s take 20 percent of the traditional investments in our portfolio and reinvest them in market-neutral strategies.

The change is dramatic: the new portfolios (denoted 1a through 10a) offer significantly less risk for the same return. The riskiest portfolio, for instance (number 10) offered 20 percent less risk for a similar return of a new portfolio containing market-neutral strategies (number 10a).   
 
Chart 2:  Result of inclusion of 20% of Market Neutral strategies in traditional portfolios 

This is quite a difference.  Everything else being equal, anyone would choose the new, “improved” portfolios over the traditional ones.

How to invest

The mutual fund world does not offer a great choice of market neutral strategies. 

Currently, there are only a handful of good mutual funds that label themselves market-neutral (AXA Rosenberg Market Netural fund and Calamos Market Neutral fund are two examples).

Mutual fund offerings are slim due to excessive regulations imposed by the SEC with respect to short selling and leverage, and consequently these funds lack flexibility in constructing truly hedged portfolios. The dearth of market-neutral offerings among mutual funds is offset by a vast array of choices in the hedge fund universe. Approximately 400 market-neutral funds, managing $60 billion, represent roughly 25% of all hedge funds.

Therefore, further focus will relate to the hedge fund universe, rather than the limited number of market-neutral mutual funds.

Direct investing in a market-neutral hedge fund is restricted to qualifying individuals who must meet high net worth and/or income requirements, and institutional investors, such as corporations, qualifying pension plans, endowments, foundations, banks, insurance companies, etc.

This does not mean that retail investors cannot get access to hedge fund exposure. Various private banking institutions offer funds of funds with exposure to hedge funds. Maaket-neutral funds are nontraditional investments. They are part of a larger subset of strategies known as alternative investments, and there is nothing traditional in the way doctors invest in them.

Hedge funds are private partnerships, which gives them maximum flexibility in constructing and managing portfolios, but also requires medical investors to do a little extra work.

[A] Lockup Periods

One of the main differences between mutual funds and hedge funds is liquidity. Market-neutral strategies have less liquidity than traditional portfolios. Quarterly redemption policies with 45- or 60-days notice are common. Many funds allow redemptions only once a year and some also have lock-up periods. In addition, few of these funds pay dividends or make distributions. These investments should be regarded strictly as long-term strategies.

[B] Managerial Risks

Success of a market-neutral strategy depends much less on the market direction than on the manager’s skill in identifying arbitrage opportunities and capitalizing on them.

Thus, there is significantly more risk with the manager than with the market. It’s vital for investors to understand a manager’s style and to monitor any deviations from it due to growth, personnel changes, bad decisions, or other factors.

[C] Fees

If you are accustomed to mutual fund fees, brace yourself; market-neutral investing does not come cheap.

Typical management fees range from 1 to 2 percent per year, plus a performance fee averaging 20 percent of net profits. Most managers have a “high watermark” provision; they cannot collect the performance fees until investors recoup any previous losses. Look for this provision in the funds’ prospectus and avoid any fund that lacks it. Even with higher fees, market-neutral investing is superior to most traditional mutual fund investing on a risk-adjusted return basis.

[D] Transparency

Mutual funds report their positions to the public regularly. This is not the case with market-neutral hedge funds. Full transparency could jeopardize accumulation of a specific position. It also generates front running: buying or selling securities before the fund is able to do so. While you should not expect to see individual portfolio positions, many hedge fund managers do provide a certain level of transparency by indicating their geographical or sector exposures, level of leverage and extent of hedging.

It does take a bit of education to understand these numbers, but the effort is definitely worthwhile. 

[E] Taxation

The issue of hedge fund taxation is quite complex and is often dependent on the fund and the personal situation of the investor. Advice from a competent accountant, specialized financial advisor, tax attorney with relevant experience is worthwhile. The bottom line is that investing in market-neutral funds is not a tax-planning exercise and it will not minimize your taxes.

On the other hand, it should not generate any more or fewer taxes than if you invested in more traditional funds.

From the medical investor’s perspective, the principal advantages of market-neutral investing are attractive risk-adjusted returns and enhanced diversification.

Ten years of data indicate that market-neutral portfolios have produced risk-adjusted returns superior to traditional investments. In addition, the correlation between the returns of market-neutral funds and traditional asset classes has been historically negligible.

Adding exposure of market-neutral return strategies to the asset mix within a consistent, long-term investment program offers a medical investor the opportunity to improve overall returns, as well as achieving some protection against negative market movements.

Now, after all of the above, has your impression of hedge funds in general or MN funds in particular, changed?

APPENDIX:  

Asset class weighting in traditional portfolios:
Portfolio US Treasuries US High Grade Corp Bonds US Low Grade Corp Bonds Large Cap Stocks Mid Cap Stocks Small Cap Stocks
1 50% 50%        
2   50% 50%      
3 10% 30% 50% 40%    
4   50%   50%    
5   10% 10% 50% 30%  
6     10% 50% 20% 20%
7     10% 30% 20% 40%
8       20% 20% 60%
9         20% 80%
10           100%

 

Conclusion

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