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Passive Investing, Like Buying Used Cars, Is a Wise Strategy

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By Rick Kahler MS CFP®

***

Need a car? Buy used. It’s what I always do. My sweet spot is a low-mileage vehicle two or three years old, which I routinely can find for 25% to 35% less than the original cost. I recommend this strategy to my clients, staff, and friends.

If everyone followed this advice, you’d think the approach would eventually fail dismally. After all, someone has to buy new cars. No worries, though; there are millions of people who will continue to buy new cars. Financial planners have recommended this strategy for decades, and nothing has changed in the supply of great deals on low-mileage cars.

The same applies to investors who invest “passively” in index mutual funds. Passive investors embrace a philosophy that extremely few investors can beat the average return of the stock market. Research by Dalbar, Inc. shows that over a 20-year-period, 97% of fund managers who tried to beat the market actually ended up doing worse than the market average. They suggest that, instead of paying a manager to try and beat the market, you pocket that money yourself and beat them by investing in low cost index mutual funds that simply earn average market returns.

As you might guess, those pushing the high-fee mutual funds that are actively trying to beat the market returns are the big Wall Street firms that need your money to keep their companies thriving. Not surprisingly, these firms regularly attempt to dissuade investors from passive investing.

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active mamt

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An article at ETF.com by Larry Swedroe, the director of research for The BAM Alliance, lists a few of these attempts. Representatives for two large brokerage firms call passive investing “worse than Marxism” and those that do it “parasites.” Another, however, gives a more reasoned warning that is worth exploring. Tim O’Neill, global co-head of Goldman Sach’s investment management division, says “if passive investing gets too big, the market won’t function.”

Up to a point, this idea has some validity. Swedroe says, “Active managers play an important societal role. Specifically, their actions determine security prices, which in turn determine how capital is allocated. And it is the competition for information that keeps markets highly efficient, both in terms of information and capital allocation.”

Passive investors get a free ride at the expense of active investors. As Swedroe notes, they receive all the benefits from the role that active managers play without having to pay their costs. Passive investors need active investors to continue to believe they can beat the markets, just as used car buyers need new car buyers to supply them with used cars.

Just how likely is it that all the people who invest with active investors will figure out that paying active managers is not in their best interests and will shift to passive investing? About the same chance everyone will stop buying new cars.

Consider this. A study by Vanguard, one of the largest passive fund managers, found that $10 trillion, or 20% of the global market equity, is invested in index funds. More importantly, this 20% accounted for only 5% of all the trading. It’s the trading that drives market prices and makes markets efficient and liquid. Swedroe says “we are nowhere near” the chance that passive investing will become so dominant that the efficiency of the markets would be threatened.

Just as there is no immediate threat of the used car supply drying up because no one is buying new cars, there is also little chance that the majority of investors will give up the delusional dream of beating the market. That means wise used-car buyers and wise passive investors can keep on following their wise wealth-building strategies.

***

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MDs Must Know When it’s OK to be Average

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Should Active Investors Expect to Lose?

Rick Kahler MS CFP

By Rick Kahler MSFS CFP®

When it comes to investing, it’s a losing proposition to try and be anything better than average. Even if you are a doctor.

I was recently reminded of this important investing precept when I attended a presentation by Ken French, a noted professor of finance at Dartmouth College.

Dr. French Speaks

“The theory is institutions are smarter than ‘dumb’ individual and can add value,”

said French.

“That is simply not true.”

His research has found that institutions are no better at trying to beat the market than individual investors. When you pay someone to do better than the market, French told us,

“You should expect to lose. It’s really hard to identify the great managers. You are wasting your time and money trying to beat the market.”

If there’s no point in trying to beat the market through “active” investing, what is the best way to invest? Through “passive” investing, that accepts average market returns. You need to reduce expenses, diversify your portfolio into index funds of various asset classes, minimize taxes, and exhibit discipline.

  1. Reduce expenses. Passive investing generally costs around 0.20% a year in fees, compared to around 1.35% for active investing.
  2. Diversify into index funds. Simply select an index in the asset classes you want to hold. The inherent strategy of the index will determine when to buy and sell. For example, the inherent strategy of the S&P 500 is to own a fraction of the largest 500 companies in the US. Every June, those companies that fell out of the top 500 largest are sold and those that made it into the top 500 are purchased.
  3. Minimize taxes. The limited buying and selling of passive investing tends to reduce investment-related taxes.
  4. Exhibit discipline. Relying on the inherent strategy of an index fund puts some distance between you and buying/selling decisions, making it easier to maintain your investment discipline during market fluctuations.

You may be thinking that, if “passive” is the way to go, you might as well make things even simpler. Why not just put your retirement money in the bank and forget it? While you can certainly do that, the results may be disastrous. If you want more than just Social Security for your retirement, you need your money to grow.

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stock-exchange

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Considerations

In 1913, nine cents bought a quart of milk. In 1963, the same nine cents bought a small glass of milk. In 2015, nine cents bought seven tablespoons of milk. Clearly, putting money under the mattress doesn’t work for the long term. The culprit of the declining purchasing power of that nine cents is inflation. The moral of this story is to make sure your money grows at least as fast as inflation. That requires investing it.

Example:

It would require $13 today to equal the purchasing power that $1 provided in 1926. Had you put one dollar in the bank in 1926, you would have $21 today. Having invested the dollar in long-term bonds would give you $132. However, invested in the S&P 500 Index (stocks), you would have $5,386.

A Mix

Does that mean you should invest all of your retirement assets in stocks? If you are one year old, probably so. If you are 60 years old, probably not. For most of us, a mixture of index funds that include many asset classes—such as global stocks, global bonds, global real estate, and commodities—is the best strategy.

Assessment

Research supports the value of diversified passive investing as long-term strategy. According to a study by Dalbar, Inc., average passive investors earn 3% to 4% more annually than average active investors. Over time, that makes a huge difference.

Conclusion

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Selling Financial Advice!

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It is All About Sales

Rick Kahler MS CFP

By Rick Kahler MS CFP®

Steve Forbes, editor of the well-respected financial publication Forbes Magazine, once said,

“You make more selling advice than following it. It’s one of the things we count on in the magazine business, along with the short memory of our readers.”

Scores of publications sell advice on their proprietary investing secrets. In addition, hundreds of thousands of active money managers claim they can “beat the market” and give you above average returns. Usually, “the market” this advice refers to is the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Investing in the S&P 500 Index simply means owning a fraction of every one of the largest 500 companies in the US. No skill is involved at all; a third grader can do this.

Accepting average market returns through an index fund is termed “passive” investing, while trying to beat the market is called “active” investing. Enticing as the latter may seem, very few active investors manage to do it.

Dimensional Fund Advisors

A recent study cited by Dimensional Fund Advisors found that only 17% of money managers beat the S&P 500 Index over 15 years. A similar study done by Dalbar, Inc. found that over 20 years, just 3% of money managers beat the S&P 500 Index. In other words, 97% of all money managers didn’t do as well as a third grader who invested in the S&P 500 Index.

In addition, active investors generally pay around 1.35% a year in fees, compared to around 0.20% a year for passive investors. According to the Dalbar study, the average active investor earns 3% to 4% less annually than the average passive investor. That’s a really big deal.

With all the research to the contrary, why does active investing flourish?

There are three reasons:

First, people are confused. Few investors understand that Wall Street has every financial incentive to keep you confused. So does much of the financial press, because passive investing doesn’t sell papers or magazines. We don’t see headlines reading, “What You Need To Do With Your Portfolio Now: NOTHING!”

Second, people tend to be extremely overconfident. Most of what people mistake for outperformance in a money manager is actually just dumb luck. According to Ken French, professor of finance at Dartmouth, it takes 64 years of data to sort through all the random probabilities to assess whether a manager’s short-term beating the market is due to skill rather than chance.

To emphasize this, try an experiment that can make you a stock-picking genius. Select 64 people, preferably not friends. Tell 32 of them the price of a share of Apple will be higher at the end of the month; tell the other 32 it will be lower. Of course, your “prediction” will be true for one group or the other. At the end of the month take the “true” group, divide it into two groups of 16, and repeat the exercise. At the end of the second month, divide the “true” group in half and repeat. Continue the pattern with the remaining 8, then 4, and the last 2. After six months you will have correctly predicted the movement of Apple stock to one person—who will think you are a financial genius.

The third reason active investing flourishes is the superior skill of the top 3%—the Bill Millers and Jim Simons. Such investment gurus provide encouragement that you, too, can beat the market. Yet actually, the fact they exist is exactly the reason why you shouldn’t try. Why?

Assessment

In order for them to do better than the market, they need lots of others to do worse. As Ken French reminds us, trying to beat the market is a zero sum game. 

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investing

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Conclusion

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***

More on “Passive Investing” for Physicians

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Basic Financial Concepts

tim

By Timothy J. McIntosh; CFPMBA MPH CMP [hon]

By Jeffery S. Coons; PhD CFA

By Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA CMP™

Passive investing is a monetary plan in which an investor invests in accordance with a pre-determined strategy that doesn’t necessitate any forecasting of the economy or an individual company’s prospects.

Premise

The primary premise is to minimize investing fees and to avoid the unpleasant consequences of failing to correctly predict the future. The most accepted method to invest passively is to mimic the performance of a particular index. Investors typically do this today by purchasing one or more ‘index funds’. By tracking an index, an investor will achieve solid diversification with low expenses.  Thus, a physician-investor could potentially earn a higher rate of return than an investor paying higher management fees.

Passive management is most widespread in the stock markets.  But; with the explosion of exchange traded funds on the major exchanges, index investing has become more popular in other categories of investing. There are now literally hundreds of different index funds.

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Bull Markets

[Domestic Bull Markets – Historical USA]

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Passive management is based upon the Efficient Market Hypothesis theory.  The Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) states that securities are fairly priced based on information regarding their underlying cash flows and that investors should not anticipate to consistently out-perform the market over the long-term.

The Efficient Market Hypothesis evolved in the 1960s from the Ph.D. dissertation of Eugene Fama.  Fama persuasively made the case that in an active market that includes many well-informed and intelligent investors, securities will be appropriately priced and reflect all available information. If a market is efficient [even emerging and/or world markets], no information or analysis can be expected to result in outperformance of an appropriate benchmark.

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World Markets

[USA versus World Index]

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The Author

Timothy J. McIntosh is Chief Investment Officer and founder of SIPCO.  As chairman of the firm’s investment committee, he oversees all aspects of major client accounts and serves as lead portfolio manager for the firm’s equity and bond portfolios. Mr. McIntosh was a Professor of Finance at Eckerd College from 1998 to 2008. He is the author of The Bear Market Survival Guide and the The Sector Strategist.  He is featured in publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Investment Advisor, Fortune, MD News, Tampa Doctor’s Life, and The St. Petersburg Times.  He has been recognized as a Five Star Wealth Manager in Texas Monthly magazine; and continuously named as Medical Economics’ “Best Financial Advisors for Physicians since 2004.  And, he is a contributor to SeekingAlpha.com., a premier website of investment opinion. Mr. McIntosh earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics from Florida State University; Master of Business Administration (M.B.A) degree from the University of Sarasota; Master of Public Health Degree (M.P.H) from the University of South Florida and is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® practitioner. His previous experience includes employment with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, Enterprise Leasing Company, and the United States Army Military Intelligence.

Conclusion

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How to Succeed as an “Active-Passive” Investor [Part I]

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An Oxymoron—Part One

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

Rick Kahler CFPA fundamental principle I preach is that having a core of passively managed mutual funds is the foundation of successful long-term wealth building. I practice that principle, as well: about 75% of the securities in my personal portfolio are passively selected.

My commitment to this approach has evolved both from my own years of investing experience and from reading reams of research. I’m convinced that “beating the market” over the long term is as elusive a goal as capturing a wild jackalope.

Fundamental Strategy

Does that mean investing is as simple as giving most of your money to passive managers and kicking back? Not quite. Yes, investing in the index funds of a diversified group of asset classes and leaving them alone is a good fundamental strategy that will help you secure your financial future. To be even more successful, however, it helps to actively apply some additional strategies.

Additional Strategies

I was reminded of this by a June 2013 blog post from Bob Seawright of Madison Avenue Securities. Here, inspired by and adapted from his “top ten” list, are some of the factors that strongly affect the success of passive investors. While financial professionals can help with all of these strategies, investors going it alone can also benefit from paying attention to them.

Link: http://rpseawright.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/financial-advice-a-top-ten-list/

Top Ten List

1. What’s the point?

A successful investment strategy starts with establishing clear, objective, and realistic goals. Most people bypass this step, thinking it is unrelated to their investment selection. Yet very few people on their deathbeds focus on how great it was to get a 7% annual return on their investments. Drilling down to what is really important in your life is no simple task, but it is essential. Creating a life worth living means using portfolio returns to support your dreams and desires! Knowing where you are going and why is the first step to establishing a successful portfolio.

2. A written investment plan.

Yes, you need your investment strategy in writing. This both insures that you have one and helps you clarify it. I find that writing things down often helps me find gaps and inconsistencies in what I thought was a complete and rational plan.

A written investment plan should state:

a. Your investment philosophy. Are you a passive or active investor, or both?

b. Your goals and objectives for your funds. This answers the question, “How and when will this money support my life?”

c. Guidelines and constraints you will adhere to in managing your money. What tenure do you want in a manager, what is your upper limit on expense ratios, how much flexibility will you give a manager, what quantifiable factors will take you out of a market or bring you back in?

A written plan will bring structure and discipline to your investment strategy, qualities most investors lack.

3. Manage your behavior.

We all have blind spots, biases, and delusions. How you behave in the face of market declines and advances will affect your long-term portfolio returns more than any other single factor. To make this even more challenging, your brain is naturally wired for investment failure. Identifying and reframing your money scripts can help you rewire your brain for success instead. Working with a financial coach or therapist can be invaluable to help you negotiate your own mind.

4. Financial planning.

Many people think financial planning is limited to investment advice. Yet it is much broader and deeper. Financial planning not only helps you build wealth, but helps you use it wisely to support the life you want.

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Assessment

Six more keys to successful passive investing will be covered soon in Part II.

How to Succeed as an “Active-Passive” Investor [Part II]

Conclusion

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Passive Investing with a “Steroid Twist”

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A Core and Satellite Philosophy

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

Rick Kahler CFP“Keep your hands away from your investments and back away from the market reports.”

That pretty much sums up passive investing, the approach I have practiced for years. I’ve preached it for years, too, and did so in a recent column. The wisest way to build wealth is by investing in a variety of asset classes, setting target allocations in each asset class, and then taking your hands off except to periodically rebalance to the original target allocations.

For most of us, including doctors, the best way to invest in an asset class is to give our funds to a mutual fund manager who will purchase the appropriate investments. Mutual fund managers have a choice of actively or passively managing the money you give them to invest.

Passivity 

Passive managers try to match market indexes, which are groups of companies representing a cross-section of a certain type of investment. The most popular index in the world is probably the S&P 500 index, which consists of the largest 500 companies in the United States. Another popular index is the Dow Jones Industrial Index which is made up of 30 companies. When we consider the US has almost 10,000 companies, we can quickly see that many indexes represent just a segment of the entire market.

Research indicates it is very hard to beat an index, especially with stocks, bonds, real estate investment trusts, and commodities. I prefer to keep about 80% of my investment portfolio in a broad variety of passively managed investments in these asset classes.

Timing or Strategy?

Where do I put the other 20%? In mutual funds with active managers who try to earn returns similar to stocks and bonds and that are not correlated to either.

This may seem to make me a hypocrite. I’ve been saying for years not to be a market timer, and now here I am suggesting you do just the opposite with a portion of your portfolio. Not hypocrisy at all. What I’ve preached for many years is that neither you nor I have any business timing investments. That doesn’t mean no one should ever do it.

So, is it timing or strategy?

Core and Satellite Philosophy

It can be wise to put a small portion [satellite] of our portfolios [core] into various investment strategies with active managers. The key is to find managers who have a disciplined approach that eliminates emotion and who have long-term track records of success. These strategies include managers who attempt to time markets by shorting stocks they think will decline in value and buying stocks they think will rise.

It also includes one investment strategy, managed futures, that I call “timing on steroids.”

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Bull markets

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Rationale

My reason for including some actively managed funds is to have part of my investment portfolio that is not correlated to stocks. I want these investments to have a positive return over a long period, but also to move in opposition to other major asset classes, especially stocks. So when stocks are up, I am not fazed if my managed futures are down. And, when stocks are down, I am thankful when my managed futures are up. If both asset classes earn 6 to 9% over a long period of time, I’m happy.

So, call it … passive investing with a steroid twist.

Assessment

So I stand by my commitment to passive investing. It’s based on research suggesting that timing the markets is a loser’s game.

Yet part of passive investing is having a fully diversified portfolio. This includes having a small portion—20% or less—in mutual funds with disciplined, successful active managers. My job is to research and find those managers. Then it’s okay to let them time their hearts out. I just make sure I don’t try to time the timers.

More:

Conclusion

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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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