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Are Financial Asset Classes like a Box of Valentine Chocolates in 2019?

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On Valentine’s Day Diversification

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

Rick Kahler CFPWith displays of Valentine candy in every store, February is the perfect time to talk about chocolate. A creative financial planner might even steal Forrest Gump’s analogy and say, “Diversification is like a box of chocolates.”

Except that it isn’t.

True, a box of chocolates might have a lot of variety. Cream centers. Caramels. Nougats. Nuts. Dark chocolate. Milk chocolate. Truffles. Yet it’s all still chocolate.

Retirement Savings

Buying that box would be like investing your retirement savings in a variety of US stocks. Even if you had a dozen different companies, they would all be the same basic category of investment, or asset class.

For example, suppose you gave your true love a slightly more diversified Valentine gift made up of chocolates, Girl Scout cookies, baklava, and apple pie. That would compare to investing in different types of stocks like US, international, or emerging markets. But, everything would still be dessert.

Wiser Physician-Investors

You would be a wiser doctor-investor if you took your true love out for dinner and had a meat course, a salad, vegetables, bread, dessert, and wine. Now you’d start to see real diversification.

In addition to US, international, and emerging market stocks (all dessert), you might have some other asset classes like US and international bonds (meat), real estate (bread), cash (salad), commodities (veggies), and absolute return strategies (wine).

***

box

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Long Term Growth Generator

This kind of asset class diversification is the best investment strategy for long-term growth. My preference is eight or nine different classes. For many clients, I recommend a mix of US and international stocks and bonds, real estate investment trusts, a commodities index fund, market neutral funds like merger arbitrage and managed futures, junk bonds, and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS).

Market Fluctuations

Fluctuations in the market will tend to affect the various securities within a given asset class in the same way. Most US stocks, for example, would generally move up or down at the same times. So, owning shares of several different stocks wouldn’t protect you against changes in the market. When a portfolio is well-diversified, the volatility is reduced even during times when the markets are moving strongly up or down.

When I talk about investing in a variety of asset classes, I don’t mean owning stocks, real estate, gold, or other assets directly. For individual investors, mutual funds are a much better choice. Occasionally, someone will ask me, “But why should I have everything in mutual funds? That isn’t diversified, is it?”

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are not an asset class. A mutual fund isn’t like a type of food; it’s like the plate you put the food on. A single plate might hold one food item or servings from several different food groups. More specifically, mutual funds are pools of money invested by managers. One fund might invest in real estate investment trusts (REITS). Another might have international stocks chosen for their high returns. Still others invest in a diversified mix of asset classes. The mutual fund is just the container that holds the investments.

heart[Courtesy GE Healthcare]

Annuities

Annuities and IRAs aren’t asset classes, either, but are also examples of different types of containers that hold investments. If you use your IRA to purchase an annuity, all you’re doing is stacking one plate on top of another. It doesn’t give you another asset class, it just costs you more for the second plate.

Assessment

Having a box of chocolates for dinner might seem more appealing in the short term than eating a balanced meal. Investing in the “get-rich-now” flavor of the month might seem tempting, too. Yet in the long run, asset class diversification is the best way to make sure you have a healthy investment diet.

***

February 14th, 2019

***

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Morningstar Expense Ratio Study Shows Fund Costs Falling

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Asset-Weighted Expense Ratios and Market Share

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***

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The Danger of Groupthink with Endowment Fund Portfolio Managers

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A Historical Look-Back to the Future?

wayne-firebaugh

By Wayne Firebaugh CPA CFP® CMP™

www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

It is not unusual for endowment fund managers to compare their endowment allocations to those of peer institutions and that as a result, endowment allocations are often similar to the “average” as reported by one or more survey/consulting firms.

One endowment fund manager expanded this thought by presciently noting that expecting materially different performance with substantially the same allocation is unreasonable [personal communication]. It is anecdotally interesting to wonder whether the seminal study “proving” the importance of asset allocation could have even had a substantially different conclusion. It seems likely that the pensions surveyed in the study had very similar allocations given the human tendency to measure one’s self against peers and to use peers for guidance.

Peer Comparison

Although peer comparisons can be useful in evaluating your institution’s own processes, groupthink can be highly contagious and dangerous.

For example, in the first quarter of 2000, net flows into equity mutual funds were $140.4 billion as compared to net inflows of $187.7 billion for all of 1999. February’s equity fund inflows were a staggering $55.6 billion, the record for single month investments. For all of 1999, total net mutual fund investments were $169.8 billion[1] meaning that investors “rebalanced” out of asset classes such as bonds just in time for the market’s March 24, 2000 peak (as measured by the S&P 500).

Of course, investors are not immune to poor decision making in upward trending markets. In 2001, investors withdrew a then-record amount of $30 billion[2] in September, presumably in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. These investors managed to skillfully “rebalance” their ways out of markets that declined approximately 11.5% during the first several trading sessions after the market reopened, only to reach September 10th levels again after only 19 trading days. In 2002, investors revealed their relentless pursuit of self-destruction when they withdrew a net $27.7 billion from equity funds[3] just before the S&P 500’s 29.9% 2003 growth.

The Travails

Although it is easy to dismiss the travails of mutual fund investors as representing only the performance of amateurs, it is important to remember that institutions are not automatically immune by virtue of being managed by investment professionals.

For example, in the 1960s and early 1970s, common wisdom stipulated that portfolios include the Nifty Fifty stocks that were viewed to be complete companies.  These stocks were considered “one-decision” stocks for which the only decision was how much to buy. Even institutions got caught up in purchasing such current corporate stalwarts as Joe Schlitz Brewing, Simplicity Patterns, and Louisiana Home & Exploration.

Collective market groupthink pushed these stocks to such prices that Price Earnings ratios routinely exceeded 50. Subsequent disappointing performance of this strategy only revealed that common wisdom is often neither common nor wisdom.

Senate house conference committee meets wall street reform

[Wall Street Reform?]

More Current Examples

More recently, the New York Times reported on June 21, 2007, that Bear Stearns had managed to forestall the demise of the Bear Stearns High Grade Structured Credit Strategies and the related Enhanced Leveraged Fund.

The two funds held mortgage-backed debt securities of almost $2 billion many of which were in the sub-prime market.  To compound the problem, the funds borrowed much of the money used to purchase these securities.

The firms who had provided the loans to make these purchases represent some of the smartest names on Wall Street, including  JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Deutsche Bank.[4]

Assessment

Despite its efforts Bear Stearns had to inform investors less than a week later on June 27th that these two funds had collapsed.

Conclusion

Is this same Groupthink mentality happening on Wall Street, today? 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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[1]   2001 Fact Book, Investment Company Institute.

[2]   Id.

[3]   2003 Fact Book, Investment Company Institute.

[4]    Bajaj, Vikas and Creswell, Julie. “Bear Stearns Staves off Collapse of 2 Hedge Funds.”
New York Times, June 21, 2007.

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Is Passive Investing Right for You?

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On the “Buy low and Sell high” Strategy 

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

Rick Kahler CFP“Buy low and sell high.” That was my simple approach when I was a smart young investment advisor. I poured over a company’s balance sheet, earnings statements, and forecasted returns. Then I bought those companies that were bargains and waited for my gains to roll in. More times than not, they did—eventually.

The problem came with the “not” and “eventually.” A majority of my picks did go up in value, but the minority that were “nots” still lost enough to have a negative impact on my bottom line. Even more frustrating, some of my “nots” turned into gains “eventually” after I sold them.

My investment returns were similar to findings from Dalbar, Inc., a financial services research firm. Dalbar’s studies have shown that average active investors barely beat inflation over the long term. They significantly underperform investors who put their money in an index fund of stocks and leave it alone.

So much for my early investment brilliance! Over the past 40 years, I’ve learned that with every passing year I know less than I thought I did the year before. I’ve proven to myself I have no idea where any market is going tomorrow, next month, next year, or in the next 10 years.

This awareness has led me to become increasingly passive in my investments. In passive investing, rather than trying to time the buying and selling of winners and losers, you instead buy a representative sample of the entire market. This is possible in any market: bonds, stocks, real estate investment trusts, or commodities. You simply buy mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETF’s) called index funds.

Benefits

The two biggest benefits of passive investing are cost and diversification.

Costs

Index funds have incredibly low costs, with annual fees as low as 0.1%. Contrast that with the average equity fund that costs 1.5%, fifteen times more. According to research, 97% of active mutual fund managers don’t beat the index over 20 years. Even the 3% who do must beat the index by more than the 1.5% fee they charge, in order for their investors to come out ahead.

Diversification

The smaller number of stocks owned – the more my fortunes are tied to those few companies. It’s the old adage, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” By owning index funds, I own hundreds or thousands of securities. While I will never hit a home run, I also will never strike out. My returns will be “average.” Investing may be one of the few professions where being average puts you in the 97th percentile of all investment managers.

The NaySayers

Not all of my peers agree with this philosophy. Many very smart investment advisors jumped off the passive investing bandwagon after 2008 and returned to tactical asset allocation, which is another name for timing the markets.

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Harold’ Strategy

A noted investment advisor, Harold Evensky MBA CFP® of Evensky & Katz, addressed this issue at a conference last year. After the 2008 crisis, his firm hired researchers to evaluate whether they could find any tactical strategies that would have avoided the crisis. They found some that, in hindsight, would have worked. Yet he didn’t feel those strategies could be comfortably applied looking forward. Instead, the firm decided to add a 20% allocation to non-correlated alternative investments, something I’ve done since the late 90’s. In other words, they increased their clients’ diversification.

Assessment

The bottom line is that passive investing actually gives you more control. It allows you to focus on reducing costs and taxes, the aspects of investing you can control. It frees you from trying to beat the market and worrying over what you can’t control.

Conclusion

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Are Physicians Investing in International Bonds?

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A Global Approach to Investing

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

Rick Kahler CFPUS investors and fans of the St. Louis Rams have something in common. Both have seen their home teams fall from prominence to mediocrity in the past ten years. In 2000 the Rams won the Super Bowl, but in 2011 they ended the season tied for the worst record in the league. The US ranked as the world’s third freest economy in 2000, but by 2010 had fallen to number 18.

So, how do physicians and other investors allocate their funds in a country that’s in economic decline? Much like an ardent fan of the Rams who is also an astute gambler! You cheer for your team to win, but you place your bets on the stronger opponents.

Global Investing

It’s critical today to take a global approach to investing. Since the US now makes up less than half of the world’s wealth, it makes sense to invest the majority of your portfolio in the stocks and bonds of other countries. This is simply another form of diversification. Not only does it make sense to have US government bonds and the bonds from a wide range of companies in your portfolio, it also makes sense to diversify and hold a wide range of bonds of international companies and foreign governments.

While it isn’t uncommon for physician investors to have some exposure to international stocks, I find it is unusual for them to have investments in international bonds.

Investing in Bonds

When you invest in bonds, you are lending to a borrower who promises to pay interest and to repay the loan on a certain date. Bonds represent an IOU from a US or foreign corporation or government.

As with any bond, an important factor to consider is the credit quality of the issuer. This can become more complex with foreign bonds, as many countries don’t have the same standards of accounting required in the US.

More:

Foreign Bonds

A unique feature of foreign bonds is the effect that currency exchange rates have on your investment. Fluctuations in the local currency can enhance or depress your returns.

For example, if you want to purchase bonds denominated in the Australian dollar (AUD) you will first need to exchange your US dollars (USD) for AUD and then purchase the bonds. If the USD drops in value against the AUD, then the value of your Australian bonds goes up because your AUD now buy more USD. The reverse happens if the USD appreciates against the AUD.

Global investing

Direct Purchase of Mutual Funds

There are two ways to purchase international bonds. You can buy bonds directly from a securities broker or purchase shares of a mutual fund that invests in foreign bonds. Any fund with “international” in its name invests only in bonds of countries outside the US. If the fund has “global” in its name, it includes both foreign and US bonds in its mix.

The two categories of international bonds include those issued by developed nations like the United Kingdom, Japan, or Germany, and those issued by emerging market nations like India, Brazil, or Morocco. Emerging market bond funds invest in bonds from developing nations, risking greater losses for the chance of higher returns.

In my portfolios, I generally split my bond allocations 50/50 between the US and foreign bonds. Currently, our fund manager favors the bonds of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Assessment

The Rams did better in 2012 than in 2011, so fans can hope they regain their top status in 2013. We can also hope the US can stop its economic slide and regain its global prominence in the next decade. But, until there is evidence of a turnaround, international bonds are one way physicians can avoid betting too heavily on the home team.

Conclusion

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Are Target Date Mutual Funds a Good Choice?

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An Easy Answer to Retirement Planning -or- MisStep?

By David Wallace [Search and social media marketer from Anthem, Arizona]

Investing in a target date mutual fund seems like the easy answer to retirement planning.

But, how can a single fund be appropriate for thousands of investors, doctors and medical professionals?

Assessment

Check out the above infographic published by Jemstep to see the limitations of target date funds.

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