Outside Economics

Investment Portfolio Performance

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Thu, Feb 05, 2015

Everyone envisions great performance within their investment portfolio. Performance is one of the most sought after characteristics of any portfolio. However, evaluating the return only ignores risk and several other factors that affect performance.

Achieving a balance between the risk and performance or return is what a balanced investment portfolio is all about. In a balanced portfolio the stocks generally provide the greater return and the bonds are there to help minimize the overall risk; risk management techniques are important to consider, providing a balance between two distinct asset classes, stocks and bonds.

These two major asset classes are often broken down between many other asset classes. For example, bonds may be divided between US Treasuries, US corporate bonds, international bonds, inflation protected bonds, junk bonds, municipal bonds, etc. Stocks are likewise divided; there are the large cap, mid cap and small cap, international stocks, real estate stocks, retail stocks, commodity stocks, natural resource stocks, utilities, etc.

Risk is also broken down, as there are several types of risk that each stock and asset class are subject to. There are four major types of risk: technical risk, fundamental risk, interest-rate risk and inflation risk. Each of these risks can play a significant role in a stock or bond’s performance. All publicly traded stocks are subject to technical risk (a.k.a. macro or market risk). Many simply rise and fall with the market as a whole. While fundamental risk, (business or default risk) deals primarily with the company itself; is the management team running things right? Default risk can come into play if the company gets in such a spot that it needs to file bankruptcy; such is the recent case for Radio Shack.

So here are a few things to watch when evaluating performance…

Don’t forecast.

Many folks have a wonderful year in the market and then think all the succeeding years will be the same and they expect the same. They figure that they will hit a jackpot in 10 or 20 years based on what their account did last year after all it should continue to perform at the same level in the future, right? Just like farming, farmers have seldom perfect farming weather year after year. Some years there is a drought and others flooding!

Don’t work off averages

An average return only tells us if the fund has been positive or negative over a period of time is all. Each year is a story to itself; long-term averages don’t always tell the whole story, the average will hide down years. If a portfolio goes up from $10,000 to $11,000 great we had a 10 percent gain. However, if the account goes down by 20% it will take 25% to get back to break even. This is the math of losses, which often plays a major role in the emotional choices to sell at the bottom or get out when things are not looking “great”.7Twelve_1

Keep a multi-year perspective

“Maintaining a multi-year perspective is vital to the mental and emotional health of an investor. Year-to-year returns are ‘noisy’ whereas 3-year rolling returns are more indicative of general performance patterns.”[1] One year’s return may not provide an accurate image of an entire portfolio model and may limit the investor’s vision.

While this may sound counter to the previous paragraph; it is not. The previous paragraph about averages is meant to keep the average return in perspective with the annual return. This section provides the reasoning to keep a long-term investment perspective; stick with the game plan for the long-term giving it time to work on your behalf. One year is not a sufficient amount of time to let a long-term portfolio model strategy work.

Expect Losses

According to Dalbar investors earned less than ½ the rate of return over the past 30 years that the market earned. Again, money is emotional, it is not math. This lack of return is due in part to investors pulling money out at inopportune times; the market is down, need college funds, down payment for a house, and other major unexpected expenses. The biggest looser is fear when the market tanks.

Yes it is wise to minimize losses, hence a properly balanced portfolio, but the best thing to do is have a game plan for when the market reverses. Ask that question now and make a plan. Are you going to hold on? Sell when the market is down by X% and get back in when? What if the market drops to your target sell level, we sell, and then it does not continue down, but reverses the next day and shoots back up! These bounces are devastating to portfolios; create a logical plan and agree on the plan with your advisor. The old adage of: “Buy low and sell high” might be part of your plan, when the market drops, should you buy more instead of selling?

Two Parts to Climbing a Mountain

If a person is not retired, then they ought to keep adding to their investment/retirement accounts, this will help immensely. (Many folks switch jobs and rollover their 401K to an IRA and let it sit never adding another nickel! To the extent possible keep adding.) This part of mountain climbing referred to as ascending, and when referring to investing, it is accumulating. Going up the mountain is typically easier, and less stressful on the body. Be an accumulator of assets and shares.

On the other hand, if a person is retired, then they are heading back down the mountain, descending or de-accumulating. It is always more trick getting down the mountain than up, for one it is much harder on the knees! There are far more accidents going down a mountain than up. It uses different tools and techniques; in this phase having some market exposure is good, but a person will want to develop greater security in their payouts too. Similar to having a sure footing with every step down.

Check emotions, make a plan for when the market does go down, and manage risk in a balanced portfolio and things should go alright. Most important keep a positive outlook, ask questions, do not be mean and nasty with advisors – they really do want to see investment accounts go up and up! Most advisors I know stress and lose sleep over client’s accounts and their performance.

[1] Craig L. Israelson, PhD. Architect of the 7Twelve Portfolio Model, Professor of Financial Planning at Utah Valley University (UVU).

Topics: retirement, Investment Portfolio, Investment, Risk Management

Questioning the Investment Market

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

With 2014 wrapped up a new year started many people are inclined to ask questions – it sort of reminds me of the old game “20 Questions”. All sorts of questions get asked at this time of year – often I wish I had all the answers; but when looking forward I soon realize that no matter how much experience anyone has in the market or investing professions no one has the answers to how a particular investment portfolio or market will behave – we just don’t know the future!Questions

Sometimes people may think they have right answers, only to realize that they answered the wrong question. I remember once in college, sitting in the testing center, taking a timed exam getting to the bottom of the Scantron answer sheet (where you fill in the bubbles with pencil and the machine grades the test in seconds) and realizing I had miss placed one answer, thus making all the subsequent answers wrong. That would have been an epic failure!

Fast forward thirty years and I still am amazed at the answers people give to questions asked. Maybe we really need to look at the questions better. I have learned that asking questions helps to crystallize your thinking or another person’s thinking.

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge” Thomas Berger

“A focus on questions recognized the ambiguity associated with economics, markets and investing – there are rarely “specifically” right answers, but more commonly, there are “generally” right answers. Investment answers may materialize abruptly, but often answers occur on a timeframe independent of consensus. Thoughtful questions point us generally in the right investment direction. In our view, “generally right” is a worthy, sustainable, long-term objective. On the other hand, “specifically right” investing is rarely repeatable and too often leads an investor onto unrealistic and unattainable market paths. We also recognize that sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, so the “right” questions may not even be on our radar.”[1]

Recently we have seen Germany’s central bank lower rates on its 10 year bonds to 50 basis points and Japan has lowered their rates to 25 basis points, while the US is around 2.0 percent. This begs the question how long can these governments keep rates so low? At some point won’t Germany and Japan have to raise rates somewhat closer to the US? Or will we have to lower our rates? After all, we could theoretically, borrow money from Japan and loan it out in the US and make 1.75 percent.

In the past six months oil prices have been cut in half. I was in a meeting listening to an oil analyst during the summer where he expected oil to hit $140+ per barrel before the end of the year. Perhaps he was not asking the right questions? Are the geopolitical assumptions we have been using the past five to ten years going to hold out for the next five years? What could cause a shift in the geopolitical environment that would cause a drop in the price of oil? Will the current oil prices remain low? What impact does a stronger dollar have on current commodity prices? Are derivatives going to be impacted by the low oil prices? Will the U.S. be able to continue producing oil from shale as prices continue to fall?

With all that is going on in the world the United States looks pretty good, but how long will that last? China is boasting that their economy is now larger than that of the U.S. Is the U.S. economy really picking up steam or are we still sputtering along? While our political leaders battle things out in Washington, leaving us in a solid gridlock (thank goodness), is the market advancing because of real value or because of central bank manipulation? The gridlock in many ways has kept lots of laws from being passed, thus creating new regulations, which have given us a bit of a break from the constant barrage of endless new regulations we must follow. I believe this has been a blessing to the economy and businesses in general.

Human nature can always make the markets rise and fall by how we react to news and information and mostly by our own emotions. We are susceptible to irrational behavior and emotional responses to “what just happened.”

All of these things can impact investments, markets and returns. However successful investing requires that we not only question what is going on in the markets, but also ask ourselves in an effort to seek greater understanding. Have we selected an investment approach that makes sense, is disciplined, and sustainable? Next – am I willing to follow this approach over the long term? Giving up is a challenge we all struggle with in the face of up or down markets or account values. Up, because we should have more of the return, we think “the strategy just isn’t working right”; down, “because the account should never go down, where is the downside protection!”

This is why long term investing is so difficult, sometimes it is better to just forget about it and let someone else worry about it. “Investment success is most likely to be achieved when finding the appropriate combination of diversified market risk and tactical strategy risk.”[2]

As an advisory firm, we worry plenty about our clients’ investment portfolio; we appreciate working with you and remain devoted to your overall long-term success. We are happy to answer questions about what is important to you. We wish y’all the greatest success in 2015.

If you want some basic questions to ask yourself about how you invest, check out our short investor profile - click the button below to get a copy.


Investor Profile Questions



[1] John Lunt, Lunt Capital Management, Inc.

[2] John Lunt, Lunt Capital Management, Inc.

Topics: Investment, Market

Start Saving For Retirement Now

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Thu, Dec 12, 2013

Americans these days talk a lot about retirement, what they want to do, when they want to retire and where they dream about living. While there are many issues in planning a comfortable retirement, the most important is having enough money.

One fear these days is that a retired person may outlive their money. With people living longer, the 10 year retirement plan that worked for our grandparent’s generation no longer equals security.

To be on the proverbial save side, plan for at least 25 years of retirement. This puts an

Retirement planningthing you can’t afford.
 extra strain on your retirement savings because it not only has to provide you with a decent income, but for a longer period of time. 

There are some things that will help. First, get started right now. Procrastination is one 
In fact, waiting 10 years to start will cost you over two time the savings rate. For example for every $100,000 you wish to have saved by the time you reach 65, it will cost you $28.64 per month at age 25 and $67.10 per month at age 35. You may think that’s no big deal, but at age 45 it will cost you $169.77 per month and it only goes up from there. 

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute only 39.4 percent of the 156.5 million Americans working participate in an employer sponsored retirement plan. This lack of savings will greatly affect the spending of future retirees.

Second, plan on working at least until you can collect 100 percent of your socia
l security benefits. For those born after 1958 this is age 67. The longer you work, the more social security you will collect on a monthly basis. Working longer, will also allow you to put more away in your retirement plan and let what is there grow.

Third, open a Roth IRA, use a Roth IRA as your primary retirement savings vehicle. (Unless your company matches your contributions in a company sponsored 401K). Between these two you should save a substantial amount of your retirement funds. The big thing is to save regularly, make regular contributions to these accounts. No one forces you to do this, so you must be self-disciplined in your savings and simply DO IT!

If you don’t like that idea, plan on increasing your savings rate. Currently Americans save approximately 4 percent of their income. It should be at least 10 percent, if not 15-20 percent. The more you save now, the less you will have to work during the golden years.

Finally, don’t be afraid to use mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETF’s). By using an effective portfolio management strategy, like the 7Twelve® portfolio model you can manage risk while at the same time maintain adequate returns. Outside Investment Advisors can assist in implementing this type of model. Using appropriate funds should keep your money growing at a fair rate and keep it ahead of taxes and inflation.

Topics: retirement, Saving, Investment, money, planning


Wendell W. Brock, MBA, ChFC

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