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.