Blog #488

Cost of NOT staying in the market

We have often talked about the importance of staying in the market. Think long-term. Stick with it, through the good and bad markets, to reap the long-term benefits that investing in stocks can provide.

It can be hard to remain invested in stocks (appropriate to your personal stock allocation), especially when stocks are declining. It can be particularly difficult to remain invested in stocks during periods of great uncertainty, such as in the spring of 2020, at the onset of the Covid pandemic, or in 2008-09, during the Great Financial Crisis.

We want to share some thoughts and data with you, while markets are good….so you can be mentally prepared the next time markets decline significantly in the future.

Missing only a few days of strong returns can drastically impact your overall investment performance.

While we recommend a global and broadly diversified allocation mix of stocks, for purposes of this discussion, we are using the S&P 500 Index, from January 1, 1990 – December 31, 2020. Note that the companies in the S&P 500 Index are primarily US Large companies, and the companies in the Index change over time, as the economy changes, as companies grow, merge, are bought or their financial performance declines and they are removed from the Index.

As the chart below reflects, if a hypothetical $1,000 was invested in the S&P 500 in January 1990, it would have grown to $20,451 by the end of 2020. The increase over this 30 year period, including all kinds of economic and societal changes, most of which could NOT have been anticipated in advance.

  • Staying invested and focused on the long term would help you to better capture the benefits that the stock market has to offer.

However, if you had missed only a few of the best performing days during this 30 year period, the growth of the $1,000 would be dramatically less. If you had missed the best 25 days over the last 30 years, $1,000 would have only grown to $4,376, which is only 21% of what you would have had if you had left the money in the S&P 500 the entire period. Let’s review the results**:

There is no proven way to time the markets – trying to target the best days and to get out of the markets to avoid the worst days. History argues for staying put through the good times and the bad.

We further reviewed the best 15 days of the last 30 years of the S&P 500, which are provided in chronological (date) order, in the table below. There are a few key lessons to be learned from these large daily increases:

  • The significant daily gains all occurred during times of great uncertainty and fear among investors, during periods of great volatility.
  • They occurred in three groups, days in 2002 (during the tech meltdown and during a number of corporate scandals, including the Enron crisis), 2008-09, and in the spring of 2020, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • None of the top 15 days occurred during times of relative calm for the US stock markets.
  • None of the top 15 days occurred during times when markets had been rising for a few years.
  • Some of the days were during bursts of market rebounds, shortly after a bottom had been reached (but few would have known it was the real the bottom at that time).
  • However, a number of the days occurred during huge downturns, but the markets continued to decline even further after these large gain days, before they eventually recovered.

Financial history teaches us that is important to be patient and stay the course during times of economic crises, when stocks are falling, to reap their long-term benefits.

We do not know when financial markets will next incur a significant decline. Hopefully reviewing data like this, when we are not in the midst of a scary period of stock decline, will provide you with the mental fortitude to adhere to your planned stock allocation when future downturns occur.

 

Talk to us. We want to listen to you. we want to assist you, your family members and friends.

Source and disclosures:

** “The Cost of Trying to Time the Market”, can be found at this link Dimensional Fund Advisors, www.dimensional.com, 7/6/21. The missed best day(s) examples assume that the hypothetical portfolio fully divested its holdings at the end of the day before the missed best day(s), held cash for the missed best day(s), and reinvested the entire portfolio in the S&P 500 Index at the end of the missed best day(s). Annualized returns for the missed best day(s) were calculated by substituting actual returns for the missed best day(s) with zero. S&P data © 2021 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. All rights reserved.

***Information provided to WWM by DFA.
As noted above, WWM generally invests in globally diversified portfolios for their clients, which would include various US, International and Emerging Market asset classes, not just US Large Companies, as represented by the S&P 500 Index. The use of the S&P 500 Index in this article is for illustrative purposes only. The Index does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio, including any advisory fees that WWM would normally charge.

If you would like to read our previous blog posts, click here.

Let us know what you think. If you would like to contact us, please email or call Brad Wasserman (bwasserman@wassermanwealth.com) or Keith Rybak (krybak@wassermanwealth.com); or 248-626-3900 (or visit the Contact Us section of our website).

 

~ Developing Relationships by Doing the Right Thing ~
Wasserman Wealth Management, 31700 Middlebelt Road, Suite 130, Farmington Hills, MI 48334

 

How does your financial advisor invest?

Blog post #487

You should want to know and understand how your financial advisor invests his or her own money, and whether they invest it in a manner that is consistent with the recommendations that they make for you.

This is an important matter that you should ask about. Surprisingly, very few clients or prospective clients ask us about this.

Our answer is a clear yes. The partners of our firm invest our assets in stock and fixed income mutual funds or ETFs that are the same or consistent with the investments that we recommend to our clients. And relatives of the partners who are clients are invested in the same manner as well.

If you are not a client of our firm or have an account with a major brokerage firm or bank, the answer from those brokers and advisors may likely be very different than ours. If your advisor is investing differently than their recommendations, that should concern you. It should lead to more questions. Maybe that should lead to a conversation with us.

Investing our money alongside our clients is one of the guiding principles we have had since the inception of our firm. For example, I own the same US large, US small value and International large value fund that we recommend for your portfolio (or ones that are very similar in investment strategy and philosophy). If you own an International Core fund, I likely own the same one. You get the picture. The exact allocation of the investments that I own may be different than yours, as the allocations are based on each person’s specific situation. The same goes for Keith, my partner.

We feel this is a vital distinction. Our investments and interests are aligned with yours. We have the same skin in the game as you do. If you are making money, we are making money. If your accounts are going down, our accounts are going down.

I learned many years ago, prior to forming our investment advisory firm, that this was not always the case. In various situations, I realized that some brokers were making recommendations but not investing their own money in a manner consistent with how they advised their clients.

I asked this question when meeting with the brokers who managed my prior firm’s profit-sharing plan. I was very surprised to learn that the brokers, who were close in age to myself (so should have had similar objectives, goals and time-frame), did not own investments or have portfolio allocations that were consistent with what they were recommending to our firm. This made no sense to me. This was a defining lesson for me.

We don’t make recommendations to you and then do the opposite for ourselves. As a guiding principle, we follow the same philosophy and recommendations for ourselves that we provide to our clients. We are consistent in this manner.

This is another reason that you should be confident and comfortable with our firm and our principles.

Your financial future is based on our recommendations and financial advice. Our financial future is dependent on the same investments, strategy and philosophy.

Shouldn’t it be this way?

 

Talk to us. We want to listen to you. we want to assist you, your family members and friends.

If you would like to read our previous blog posts, click here.

Let us know what you think. If you would like to contact us, please email or call Brad Wasserman (bwasserman@wassermanwealth.com) or Keith Rybak (krybak@wassermanwealth.com); or 248-626-3900 (or visit the Contact Us section of our website).

~ Developing Relationships by Doing the Right Thing ~

Wasserman Wealth Management, 31700 Middlebelt Road, Suite 130, Farmington Hills, MI 48334

www.wassermanwealth.com

 

Opportunity, Faith and Optimism

Blog post #486

Opportunity, Faith and Optimism

Next weekend, we celebrate the annual 4th of July holiday. We should be thankful every year for the freedom and opportunities which our country provides to so many of us, but this year has even more significance, compared to the state of the country last year.

The US has much to be proud about. The scientific innovations and efforts to develop the Covid vaccines, as well as the vast distribution efforts, have enabled much of our country to return to normalcy. However, like most other countries, companies, institutions and individuals, there is room for improvement. We can all strive to be better.

We should be grateful for the incredible thoughtfulness and priorities of our country’s core, guiding principles in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

We should celebrate capitalism and the opportunity that it has provided to so many of us.

We should celebrate innovators of all types, as well as the people who protect and serve our nation, both past and present.

Having faith and being optimistic about the future are some of the key ingredients to the success of our country, as well as for each of us individually. These are key characteristics that we think are vital in striving to be successful long-term investors.

You must have faith in the future and be rationally optimistic to handle the ups and downs of the stock market. You must have a positive long-term view of the ability of companies to innovate and respond to challenges that continually arise, many of them unexpected.

We should celebrate the freedom of many of the choices that we have, including the freedom to get an education, choose a career (or a few of them), earn, save, spend, take risks and invest money freely, without the government controlling each of our actions.
We hope that you celebrate and reflect upon the vast freedoms, choices and opportunities which our country enables us to have.

If you are sometimes overwhelmed by all these financial choices, you know that you can rely upon our firm to help guide and advise you in making sound financial decisions.

We hope you enjoy the 4th of July holiday weekend with your family and friends!

 

Talk to us. We want to listen to you. we want to assist you, your family members and friends.

If you would like to read our previous blog posts, click here.

Let us know what you think. If you would like to contact us, please email or call Brad Wasserman (bwasserman@wassermanwealth.com) or Keith Rybak (krybak@wassermanwealth.com); or 248-626-3900 (or visit the Contact Us section of our website).

~ Developing Relationships by Doing the Right Thing ~

Wasserman Wealth Management, 31700 Middlebelt Road, Suite 130, Farmington Hills, MI 48334

www.wassermanwealth.com

 

 

 

 

 

Inflation: Our thoughts

Blog post #485

The headlines are everywhere….inflation is rising.

The US Labor Department reported on Thursday that consumer inflation climbed “strongly in May, surging 5% from a year ago, to reach the highest annual inflation rate in 13 years.”*

We want to address a few of the issues surrounding inflation and the impact this issue may have on your financial future:

  • What is happening with inflation and how does it compare to the past?
  • What should we (as your advisor) and you do about this, as it relates to your investment portfolio?
    • What is the impact on your stock portfolio?
    • What is the impact on fixed income investments?

What is happening with inflation and should you be concerned?

Clearly, prices of most or all categories of consumer goods are increasing, but perspective is needed. It is not surprising that prices are increasing over last year, as prices were depressed a year ago, as the US and world were in the midst of pandemic shutdowns. Most of the consumer price increases have been in the energy, used vehicles and transportation services sectors.

The automobile sector is having a very significant impact on the inflation. Prices for used cars and trucks increased 7.3% in May, from April, 2021, which accounted for 1/3 of the overall May inflation index increase. Much of this is likely temporary, as car makers are not able to ship certain vehicles due to computer chip shortages, which is putting price pressure on used cars.

It is not surprising that inflation has increased from a year ago, given the pandemic impact. It is not surprising that gas prices at the pump were down last spring and summer from 2019 levels, as most people were driving much less than normal a year ago.

Let’s look at the price per barrel of oil (which correlates with the price of gas at the pump) over the past two years, which I think is a key perspective.  The price per barrel of oil, as reported by WSJ.com, shows over the past two years a huge increase from 2020, but a much more reasonable increase from pre-pandemic level of June 2019, as follows:

Oil per barrel:

June, 2019                    $57-60

June, 2020                    $37-40

June, 2021                    $68-70

In an excellent WSJ article** on Monday, economics reporter Jon Hilsenrath wrote about the importance of a two-year time perspective for viewing inflation and other economic data (including corporate profits), versus making conclusions based on only 2020 data.  He feels that using pandemic-related data (the 2020 base) will distort many economic statistics, including inflation.

While the May inflation increase of 5% in certainly large, as the accompanying chart reflects, “the consumer price index rose 3.5% every two years during the decade before the Covid-19 crisis. That was within a range between 5.8% in 2012 and .8% in 2016. In April this year, the index was up 4.5% from two years earlier.”**

 

Hilsenrath wrote Monday, prior to the release of the May inflation data, “the message from this perspective (taking a two-year view) is that inflation is trending a bit higher than usual but not exceptionally so as of April.” **

We think that future inflation is something that should be monitored, but it does not seem like we are headed towards a period of hyper-inflation, where prices are increasing anywhere near the inflation levels of the 1970s. During that time, inflation increased many years above 6% annually and there were 3 years above 12%, including 1980.

 

 

 

What is impact on your portfolio of these inflation concerns?

One of the best long-term inflation hedges that you can have is investing in stocks and maintaining your long-term stock allocation. That is what we recommend you continue to do. As the data below shows, concerns about inflation is more of a reason to be invested in stocks, not a reason to sell stocks, as the long-term performance of stocks has far outpaced the cumulative rate of inflation.

S & P 500 annual return, 1926-2020 :                                                  around 10%

Many other asset stock classes, such as small and value:                 greater than 10%

Long term Consumer Price Index (CPI):                                              little less than 3%

 

While we believe in broadly diversifying among many stock asset classes, both in the US and Internationally, the S&P 500 provides a good illustration of the benefits of long-term stock ownership, as a solid hedge against inflation.  Since 1960, the S & P has increased by more than 71 times, while inflation has increased by only 9X. Over a very long term period, and certainly with many ups and downs, owning stocks has provided an excellent way for your money to grow at a rate that far surpasses the rate of inflation, so you are not losing spending power due to inflation.

S & P 500,    1960:                   58

S & P 500, June, 2021:                        4,200+   That is an increase of 71X

Inflation,   1960:                      30

Inflation, June, 2021:                          268        That is an increase of 9X

 

Stocks may be impacted by higher inflation, as pricing pressures throughout the economy impact companies and their earnings. There is no way to predict this, especially in the short-term. We cannot predict the future rate of inflation, nor how long inflationary pressures will exist above the Federal Reserve’s 2% long-term inflation target.

We focus on your long-term goals. We don’t make major changes in client portfolios based on things that we cannot predict, as well as things we cannot quantify or know their duration.

Inflation can have an impact on your fixed income portfolio, if inflation causes interest rates to rise. However, due to Federal Reserve actions over many years, even before the pandemic, interest rates remain very low on a historical basis. For example, the US 10-year Treasury Note remains around 1.50% today, while it was at 1.745% on 3/31/21. It has increased from under 1% at the beginning of 2021 but is still far below the 2.8% – 3.2% range in the second half of 2018.

It is particularly interesting that the 10-year rate has declined from 3/31, from 1.745%, to around 1.50% today, as inflation concerns have increased recently. If bond traders thought inflation was going to continue to increase significantly over the long-term, one would think a 10-year Note interest rate would be increasing, not decreasing. This is why we don’t make interest rate bets, but would rather build diversified fixed income portfolios for our clients, with varying high quality investments and maturities.

 

We have structured your fixed income portfolios to be defensive, by holding short term bonds and bond funds/ETFs. Generally, most fixed income investments that we recommend will have maturities that range from a few years to a duration of 6 years (the shorter end of intermediate maturities). We do not recommend holding longer term fixed investments, say 10 years or longer, due to inflation and interest rate risk. We have also added, and will be continuing to evaluate, adding other inflation protected fixed income investments to certain portfolios, as considered appropriate.

 

We hope that this information is beneficial to you, as you read and hear about increased inflationary pressures on various segments of the economy. We remain optimistic about the future of corporate earnings, as successful companies are always innovating and dealing with change.

 

Talk to us. We want to listen to you. we want to assist you, your family members and friends.

 

If you would like to read our previous blog posts, click here.

 

Let us know what you think. If you would like to contact us, please email or call Brad Wasserman (bwasserman@wassermanwealth.com) or Keith Rybak (krybak@wassermanwealth.com); or 248-626-3900 (or visit the Contact Us section of our website).

 

~ Developing Relationships by Doing the Right Thing ~

 

 Wasserman Wealth Management, 31700 Middlebelt Road, Suite 130, Farmington Hills, MI 48334

 

Sources:

*“U.S. Consumer Prices Rose Strongly Again in May,” Gwynn Guilford, June 10, 2021, 8:54 am, WSJ.com.

** “For Inflation, Looks Can Be Deceiving,” Jon Hilsenrath, June 7, 2021, Wall Street Journal print edition, page A2.

Conversations You Should Have

Blog post #484

Hopefully many of you will gather with your family or extended families this Memorial Day weekend. The discussions at these gatherings are generally the same: updates on kids, grandchildren and relatives, health, politics, sports, food and restaurants. We can even include future travel plans this year!

In most families, however, the topic of money is rarely discussed. These types of discussions should be occurring.

We all have unique and different family backgrounds and stories about money. I did not get an education about money or investing from my parents. We grew up as a lower-middle income family. I know that my mom struggled financially and worked very hard to support me and my three sisters. As there was no extra money to invest, I did not get the opportunity to learn about investing from my parents.

While in high school, I often talked with my mom about how I would pay for my college education, how much I had to work and save for my college education.

Fast forward 40+ years… and now I advise people professionally about their money. We have many discussions about your finances, your goals and how to deal with the volatility of the world and financial markets. These discussions are critical, and the educational aspect of these conversations hopefully makes you, our clients, better and more successful investors.

I want to emphasize having conversations about money between generations. These can be uncomfortable discussions, but they don’t need to be. Start gradually. Find a topic to begin with. Dip your toe in the water. If these discussions take place, great sharing and important long-term benefits can result. They can be some of the most memorable family conversations you can have.

  • Talk to your children or grandchildren about your financial successes, as well as your financial mistakes. Be willing to share the good and the bad.
    • Be vulnerable.
  • Share with them how you were able to save money. When did you start saving?
    • What kind of sacrifices did you make, for your long-term future?
    • We gave up extravagant trips when my children were young, in order to save money for their college educations. They have benefited from that today, which we have talked about, as they don’t have student loans.
  • Talk about what types of investments have worked out (individual stocks or mutual funds?) and what types of financial advisors you have used.
    • Why were some successful and some not as good? What was the difference?
  • You can talk about credit cards, reward points or password security. Just begin the conversation.

A possibly harder, but important conversation, deals with talking about your estate planning. Once an estate plan is completed, it usually becomes a set of documents that remains locked in a cabinet. Depending on your age, and the age of your next generation of family, you could discuss your estate plan. This can be done in broad terms, without focusing specifically on the numbers.

If this kind of estate planning discussion is relevant to your stage of life, I’m suggesting that parents and grandparents sit down with their next generation, or generations, and talk about their “family finances.” What is your intent? How will things be handled? By whom? I’m encouraging you to make your estate plan real. Make it a living, breathing document and set of plans. Do it now, while you are healthy and able to have the discussion.

Not everyone is comfortable with this type of estate planning discussion. If you want to have this conversation with your family and would like our assistance, we would be pleased to join your family for this discussion.

The telling of stories is how family histories are remembered and past down to future generations. Discussions about money, how you saved and possibly sacrificed, are worthwhile. Sharing the good and the bad, the mistakes and the successes, are important as well. Parents and grandparents should share their financial and investment lessons with their next generations. These would be very valuable, memorable and impactful.

Do it sometime. Anytime. But sooner rather than later.

The Benefits of Small, Value and Patience

Blog post #483

Since our firm was founded in 2003, we have been strong believers in holding widely diversified portfolios, with significant exposure to factors that have historically provided greater expected returns.

In practice, this means building client portfolios with additional weighting of small company asset classes, as well as to value stocks, both in the US and Internationally.

One thing that we can all agree upon is that none of us could have predicted the events, technological and political changes and even a global pandemic that have occurred since 2000. We have experienced 9/11, the Great Financial Crisis in 2007-09, changes in Presidents and Congress, tax increases and tax cuts, iPhones and other technologies, as well as Amazon and changes in shopping.

How has this investment strategy worked over the past 21+ years, through all these changes?

As the data below shows, adding small and small value companies to a portfolio provided significant benefits since 2000, versus a portfolio consisting of only the S&P 500 (US Large companies). Please note that for purposes of this post, we are using indexes, rather than the actual mutual funds we recommend, for compliance reasons. We feel that our investment recommendations would show similar results. Also, this illustration is for US stocks only, and all references below are only to US asset classes.

From January 1, 2000 to March 31, 2021, as the chart below shows, the Russell 2000 Value index (US small company value index) grew from $1 million to $7,662,000, whereas the S&P 500 Index (US large company index) grew to $4,076,000 over the same time period. US small company stocks, as represented by the Russell 2000, would have also significantly outperformed the S&P 500 during this period, as $1 million grew to $5.8 million.

Some of the key takeaways from this chart are:
  • Despite all the events that have occurred over the past 20+ years, staying invested in stocks, large and small, growth and value, was rewarding to investors. It pays to be patient and remain invested for the long-term.
  • Owning US small value stocks was very beneficial, and more rewarding over the 20+ years, than only owning the S&P 500.
  • Owning small company stocks, not just small value stocks, was rewarding.

However, there is much more to this story. It is really three different stories, as the 2nd chart below shows. During the first decade beginning with 2000, small and small value stocks far outperformed US Large company stocks, as represented by the S&P 500. The Russell 2000 Small Value Index grew by 121% from 2000-2009, while the S&P 500 had a NEGATIVE 9% return for the same 10 years.

  • From January 1, 2000 – December 31, 2009, $1 million invested in these indices would have been worth the following as of December 31, 2009:

  • For a decade, those who only owned US Large company stocks were not rewarded with the expected returns from stocks, which averages around 8-10% per year.
  • The expected returns of each asset class does not always appear for extended time periods. That’s why we diversify and own many different asset classes.
  • Around 2010, small and value seemed liked winners and large company stocks were trailing badly.

The next decade, 2010-2019, was very different, as US Large company stocks (+257%, $3,567,000) far outperformed small (+206%, $3,058,000) and small value stocks (+173%, $2,730,000). While all these asset classes were rewarding, some investors were questioning whether owning small and small value made sense, as the technology heavy S&P 500 was doing so well due to stocks like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and others.

To us, and for you, our clients, the real evidence is in the far-right column of this chart. The returns for 21 years plus 3 months, from January 1, 2000 to March 31, 2021 are:

If you were disciplined and patient and kept an exposure to small and small value stocks, you were very well rewarded over the long term. 

We believe in having various exposures to most stock asset classes.

Technology:  we recommend owning them.

Growth stocks:  We recommend owning them.

Mid-cap stocks:  we recommend owning them.

Dividend paying stocks:  we recommend owning them.

You get the idea. All of these are components to a well-diversified portfolio, that we believe should include exposure to small and small value companies, as they have greater expected returns than the above asset classes.

As these charts explain, over varying time periods, certain asset classes will not always perform as expected or provide the best returns. But over the long-term, financial data and real market returns have shown that following these recommendations for building a diversified portfolio can be quite rewarding. 

These are strategies that can provide for your future growth for your retirement, or provide you with the funds to live and have the type of retirement that you desire.

Talk to us. We want to listen. We want to assist you, your family members and friends.

Important disclosures: See disclosures beneath each chart. Additional information provided by Dimensional Fund Advisors. This data does not include costs of the investments or any investment advisory fee, such as WWM would charge a client. WWM did not begin to provide investment advisory services until 2003, but we feel this information is relevant and consistent with our investment recommendations since 2003.

Investing at Market Highs

Blog post #482

At the end of April, 2021, most US stock market indices are near their all-time highs.

What does that mean for your current, and future, investments?

As Exhibit 1 below indicates, when the S & P 500 has reached highs in the past (for data from 1926-2018), the S & P 500 went on to provide positive average annualized returns over the one, three, and five years following new market highs. And those returns were significant, averaging over 14% during the subsequent one year and around 10% over the subsequent three and five year time periods.

Please see Exhibit Disclosures below.*

What does that mean for you today? It means there is justification, based on historical financial data of almost 100 years, that new market highs today are NOT a sign of negative returns to come over the next 1-5 years, on average. While none of us can predict what will occur in the next few weeks, months or years, this type of rational optimism is the basis for remaining invested for the future.

We believe in broadly diversified portfolios, investing in much more than just the S & P 500, which represents only large, US based companies. However, we feel this data should give you confidence to remain invested for the long-term, with a stock allocation that is appropriate for your personal circumstances and time frame.

While some asset classes are at high levels, other asset classes may not be at highs or have valuations which are significantly below the valuations of US large stocks. This is where our discipline and planning can benefit you.

When you begin as a client with us, we develop a target asset allocation plan, based on your personal goals and time horizon, say 65% stocks and 35% fixed income. As stocks have increased, your stock allocation may have grown from 65% to near 70%. As this occurs, we are disciplined. We would review your account and consider selling some asset classes of stocks to bring your stock allocation back to 65%.

This is called rebalancing. It is the discipline to sell when stocks increase and buy when they decline. We review this on an overall basis, on a US and International level, as well as at each asset class level. We balance the tax ramifications of selling versus the increased risk of allowing your stock allocation to grow way higher than the risk target level we planned with you.

As stocks have recovered since March 2020 and are now significantly higher, in general, we are actively reviewing client accounts that need to be rebalanced. This is the discipline and one of the values we provide to you. We will take profits and keep your stock allocation in line with your asset allocation target.

In addition to our rebalancing discipline, we want to remind you about expected volatility that is normal with investing in stocks.

You should expect that in most year’s there will be a decline of around 10% in stock values, from a peak. This does not mean that the full year will be negative, it just means that at some time during most years there are declines of around 10% and then recoveries. This is the normal volatility we must endure to reap the longer-terms rewards of investing in stocks.

In other periods, usually every 3-5 years, there are major stock market declines of more than 30%. These may be fast or take a few years to go down and many years to recover. These are normal and should also be expected.

A few mornings ago, the CNBC screen read something like: Analyst: brace for 10-20% decline. I thought to myself, investors in stocks should always be prepared for that type of decline. It is normal. We just don’t know when it will occur. Remember, declines are temporary on the long-term upward trend of stocks. 

If you can handle the volatility, the positive news is that you don’t need to be able to time markets to have a good investment experience. Over time, capital markets have rewarded investors who have taken a long-term perspective and remain disciplined in the face of short-term noise.

By focusing on the things you can control (like having an appropriate asset allocation, being diversified and managing expenses, turnover and taxes), you can be better positioned to make the most of what global stock markets have to offer.

Talk to us.  We want to listen.  We want to assist you, your family members and friends.  

*Exhibit 1 Notes:

In US dollars.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  New market highs are defined as months ending with the market above all previous levels for the sample period.  Annualized compound returns are computed for the relevant time periods subsequent to new market highs and averaged across all new market high observations.  There were 1,115 observation months in the sample.  January 1990–Present: S&P 500 Total Returns Index. S&P data © 2019 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. All rights reserved. January 1926–December 1989; S&P 500 Total Return Index, Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation Yearbook™, Ibbotson Associates, Chicago. For illustrative purposes only.  Index is not available for direct investment; therefore, its performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the managment of an actual portfolio.  There is always a risk that an investor may lose money.

Source:
“Timing Isn’t Everything”, Dimensional Funds, July 1, 2019

If it’s too good to be true….

Blog post #481

Bernie Madoff, who ran one of the largest Ponzi schemes ever, died this week in jail at age 82. He defrauded investors of almost $65 billion in paper losses, which came to light in 2008 during the Great Financial Crisis.

There are lessons to be learned from the Madoff incident, as well as how the regulatory system which governs investment advisory firms like ours changed for the better.

Madoff bilked many wealthy families, in NY and Florida particularly, as well as charities, institutions and endowment funds in the US and globally. They were lured by his years of positive returns and reputation as a leader on Wall Street.

The key lesson is that Madoff “reported” years and years of only positive returns to his clients. They became more confident of his firm and referred others. Madoff never reported down periods once his Ponzi scheme got going in the 1990s. That is not realistic.

We often talk about when you invest in stocks there will be frequent time periods that your investments will go down. We all know that, but these very wealthy individuals and institutions kept believing that Madoff was so good that he never lost money.

Our advice to you is that if returns are too good, or seem consistently too good, you should look at that investment concept/manager/advisor very carefully and with lots of skepticism.  No one can invest in the stock market and always generate positive returns.  No investment only goes up and never goes down (that we know of).  This is advice that you should always remember and discuss with your family, especially your kids or grandchildren, as they learn about investing.

After the Madoff scandal, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which governs our industry, encouraged Registered Investment Advisers (RIAs) to place their clients’ assets in the custody of an independent firm (like Fidelity or Schwab), unlike Madoff did. This is what is referred to as the custody rule. WWM does not have custody of your assets. When you open an account with our firm or make a future deposit, you write a check payable to the custodian (or wire funds directly to the custodian). You will never write a check to WWM. The funds are paid directly to the custodian, such as Fidelity Investments or Schwab. Madoff did not use an independent custodian like Fidelity, which is how he was able to pull off the Ponzi scheme.

When you want a disbursement of your assets, the custodian will never write a check to WWM.  The funds are only disbursed to the account holders, their bank account or if you want a check sent to another party, multiple forms are required for security purposes.  When you open an account, want to link your bank account to your custodian or get check writing privileges, there is always lots of paperwork.  All these steps, documents and requirements are to prevent a Madoff-like scenario from occurring again.

For nearly all of our client relationships, WWM is considered to not have custody over these assets. The assets are held at an independent custodian (Fidelity or Schwab) and WWM has no control or withdrawal privileges over these accounts.

There are situations where RIAs such as WWM can have “custody” rights for certain clients, at the client’s request. For example, WWM (or the firm principals) have been named as Trustee for several client accounts, at their request or in their estate planning documents. In these situations, we still use an independent custodian, but we are considered to have custody, or control of client assets. Because of the SEC custody rules, we must annually disclose these accounts to the SEC. WWM is then subject to an annual surprise exam by an independent CPA firm, to protect the investors’ assets and verify that those assets actually exist. This surprise examination provides another set of eyes on the clients’ assets, thereby offering additional protection against the theft or misuse of funds.

We take our responsibility to invest and safeguard your assets very seriously. We want you to know that we are diligent about adhering to our regulatory obligations. We know that Fidelity and Schwab work hard to maintain their custodial relationships with you very carefully.

We hope that a Madoff-like scandal never occurs again, but we know there will be other fraudulent incidents in the future. There are constant cyber-security threats ongoing all the time. We must all be careful and diligent.

We work hard to build our trust with you. And we plan to keep that trust.

Talk to us. We want to listen. We want to assist you, your family members and friends.

 

 

What a quarter and what a year!

Blog post #480

As we all know, the last 12 months have been unlike any that we have liked though before.

With further vaccine production and distribution, hopefully the US and world will gradually return to more normalcy in the coming months and years.

Financially, the past 12 months and the past quarter have provided excellent returns for investors of diversified portfolios.

We each have stories of how we have adapted to the Covid environment or how we have changed things in our lives. For me, purchasing a Peloton bike after Thanksgiving 2019 proved to be fortuitous. I have been more disciplined to ride consistently, as well as adding stretching and strength training, than I ever have in my life.

I have developed a discipline and routine that I want to continue for years to come. Exercising must be a lifetime commitment. This should be a habit that I continue for weeks, months, years and decades to come, similar to the best practices for long-term savings and investing.

Just as in investing and striving to reach financial goals, my exercise practice has been based on:

  • developing a plan,
  • being disciplined about exercising,
  • diversifying my exercises and types of rides,
  • and make adjustments as needed, over time.

During March 2020, as Covid cases worsened throughout the US and world, global financial markets dropped significantly…and then started an incredible rebound on March 23, 2020 (way before the economic recovery began!!).

As we have written about before, we recommended to our clients to remain disciplined throughout the Covid crisis.  Stick with your asset allocation plan.  Buy low.  Rebalance by selling fixed income and gradually purchasing stocks.

One year later, as we reflect on the past 12 months, being disciplined and sticking to your plan has been financially rewarding. Just as we benefit by doing different types of exercises (cardio and strength, not just cardio!), having a diversified portfolio has been rewarding.

Since the market bottom, but particularly since the beginning of November, 2020, the factors (or asset classes) that our firm emphasizes have far outperformed the broad US market indices, such as the S&P 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average. While large US growth stocks have done well for many years, late 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 have been outstanding for US small company stocks, US large value and US small value stocks. So far in 2021, International value, small and small value company funds have far outperformed US large growth stocks.

A financial academic would believe that the benefits of owning stocks, called the equity premium, should exist every day. That would mean that they expect that stocks should be positive every day. But we know that over the short term, or sometimes for years, this does not occur. Stocks can be very volatile in the shorter term. However, over long periods of time, the equity premium does exist, as the benefit of owning stocks for the long term far exceeds other investment classes, such as cash or fixed income (bonds).

We recommend globally diversified portfolios, which means that we recommend stock investments in nearly all broad sectors, such as large and small, growth and value, US and Internationally. But we recommend a tilt, or more exposure, to small and value companies, as well as investing internationally. We recommend this because these asset classes provide greater expected returns (premiums) and diversification benefits, than just owning US large company stocks.

By being patient, and rebalancing to maintain exposure to these varying asset classes, we are now seeing the benefits of remaining disciplined and owning small company stocks and value stocks, as these factors are providing significant rewards in their performance.

All these are factors that help you towards your financial goals.

I need to do different types of exercises to remain fit and healthy over the long-term. In our opinion, your portfolio needs to be well diversified for long term success.

I need to be disciplined to exercise many times per week. You need to be disciplined to be a successful investor.

I need to change my workouts as I get stronger or want to focus on different parts of my body. We need to rebalance and make adjustments to your portfolio, based on changes in your life and changing market conditions.

We wish you good financial and physical health in the future! We are confident that we can assist you with your financial needs, but we are not yet prepared to expand into exercise training (though Michelle Graham may be able to help you)

Talk to us. We want to listen. We want to assist you, your family members and friends.

 

A Philosophy You Can Stick With

Blog post #479

“The important thing about a philosophy is that you have one you can stick with.” 

~David Booth, founder and chairman of Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA).

That was the beginning of a blog post I wrote in July, 2013, almost 8 years ago. The philosophies and concepts from that blog post have endured the test of time.

Prior to founding this firm in 2003, after the tech bubble crash, I spent many years researching how best to provide investment advice. How would WWM be different? How could we provide a better experience for our clients than they were having with their existing financial advisors or by investing on their own?

I read extensively. I went to conferences. I attended my second AICPA Personal Financial Planning conference, in Philadelphia in 2001. I went from exhibitor to exhibitor and talked to many firms. And then it happened. I found the book that would change my business life, and the lives of our clients. It was my “aha” moment.

On the Friday afternoon train ride after the conference ended, I started reading “The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need,” by Larry Swedroe. I could not put it down. I read until late Friday night and throughout the weekend. I had found an investment philosophy that we could stick with. Today, we still strongly believe in many of those concepts.

For almost 20 years, we have strived to provide clients with an investment and financial planning experience that would enable them to meet their financial goals. We have used a consistent market philosophy and systematic investment process that provides transparency and clarity, which can increase your confidence that these strategies will deliver upon their objectives over time.

Many people view investing and the stock market as trying to make accurate predictions or forecasts.

They may ask, is now the right time to get into the market? Is now the right time to buy Apple, Google or Netflix? Is it safe to invest now, since the economy seems to be recovering? Great, in which case I’m going to move money from cash into stocks. But what if the market has already made its big move? How do you know when is the right time to buy or sell?

We take a different approach. One that is rational, understandable, disciplined and consistent. Instead of trying to make predictions and guess which stocks will do best, our strategies rely on decades of research into the expected returns that have benefited investors over the long term. Having a realistic view of the markets can help take the guesswork out of investing. You should be able to relax more by knowing that your strategy is built on a solid philosophical framework and a strong track record.

Instead of trying to predict the market, we work with you to determine an appropriate allocation to stocks, based on your needs, goals, timeframe and willingness to take risk. We view your life and your finances in a comprehensive manner and try to help you with advice as you need it.

Once we determine an appropriate allocation to stocks based on your individual circumstances, we design a broadly diversified portfolio of stocks which covers many asset classes, both in the US and globally. We strive to increase your expected returns by giving greater weight to small cap, value and high profitability stocks in US and International stocks. We don’t recommend this because we think these asset classes will do better over the next 6 months, but because they should do better over the long-term.

We know the future is uncertain. This is why we recommend broadly diversified investments, in both stocks and fixed income, as well as utilizing mutual funds and ETFs with very low costs. We strive to control those things which are controllable.

We utilize investments with clearly defined parameters, so that we can help you to understand the range of outcomes and what you are invested in. We do not invest in hedge funds or alternatives that are like black boxes, where we don’t know what’s inside. This transparency should enable you to invest with greater confidence.

Although the US stock market has returned about 10% a year on average, returns for individual companies and individual years can vary wildly. It’s always important to look at the big picture. A huge win on an investment bet today doesn’t mean much if you lose it tomorrow.

We spend a lot of time talking with our clients. We educate our clients about our philosophy and how markets work. If you are retired or withdrawing from your portfolio, we work with you to develop a withdraw strategy that meets your goals. We want you to realize there will be down markets, as they occur every 3-5 years, on average. We want you to be prepared to handle these periods, so you can stick to your long-term financial plan. We want you to be able to stay in the markets. Investing is a lifelong journey.

Having a philosophy that we believe in enables us to be more disciplined and helps you to adhere to your financial plan. We are fee-only financial advisors. This enables us to be independent and always act in your best interest.

If you have an investment philosophy you can understand and stick with, you can focus on activities within your control. You can remain diversified, minimize your fees and costs, and determine your savings rate (or withdraw plan), as well as your long-term asset allocation plan.

We hope that sticking with our philosophy helps you to feel comfortable and secure.

Talk to us. We want to listen. We want to assist you, your family members and friends.