Wealth Management Blog

Posts tagged Investing

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket – The Principle of Diversification

By JJ Burns

March 29, 2018

Last night as I went out to my chicken coop to collect eggs for Easter (see picture below), I was reminded of the age-old lesson: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This principle serves as the core foundation upon which we build long-term investment plans for our clients.

At heart, we’re all little kids. Our big hearts tell us to run out to the coop, fill up our baskets with as many eggs as we can possibly fit. Then we run back inside to count our eggs. We hope we’re the best and that we have more than our siblings. We make grand plans for how we will color them, where we’ll hide them or what we will trade them for.

But what happens to my little 9-year-old “mermaid” Caroline, who in all her excitement, running back to the house, drops her basket and all her eggs go crashing to the ground? She has lost almost everything! While some may be salvageable, the others are permanently gone. Worse yet, she is emotionally scarred by the experience, vowing never to make that mistake again. But when next year comes around, will she remember the lesson of Easter 2018? Or in her exuberance, will she be doomed to make the same mistake again?

Fortunately for Caroline, she has parents who are there to help her, to teach her, to coach her and to guide her. Her parents have learned the principle: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We spend time teaching her how many baskets to have, how many eggs she should have in each basket, how some eggs might be better than others, which chickens to choose from, and how many trips to make. We teach her the value of those eggs, what she needs to do to protect them, and what she can do with them.

When it comes to investing, for many investors regardless of how old we are, our age-old wiring is very similar to my precious Caroline. We either put all our eggs in one basket, or we don’t choose the right basket, or we don’t choose the right eggs, or some combination of all of the above. We are each wired a little differently when it comes to how risky we want to be with our proverbial eggs. This is why our baskets might be balanced differently, yet the principles still remain the same.

The foundational principle for a sound long-term investment plan is DIVERSIFICATION. There are many reasons why we diversify. In light of what we’ve shared about volatility in recent weeks, one of the key benefits of diversification is that it makes for a smoother ride on your path to achieving your goals. A well-diversified portfolio can provide the opportunity for a more stable outcome than a single security.

Put even more broadly, a well-diversified portfolio can provide for a more stable outcome than a single asset class.

A disciplined approach built on foundational principles of investing can provide for a more stable outcome. It’s the best defense and offense we have to help investors ride out the inevitable emotional ups and downs on your path to achieving your most important life goals. It may not feel as good as we’d like at times, but it’s a lot better than the alternative.

So, as you go about collecting your eggs this Easter holiday weekend, remember: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Or as Barry Goldberg, our Director of Business Development likes to say, “Don’t put all your matzah balls in one bowl!”

From our family to yours, we want to wish you a Happy Easter and a Happy Passover. We are grateful for the work that we do in helping families like you live more confidently and securely. Thank you.

As Goes January, So Goes the Year?

By JJ Burns

January 31, 2018

As the year begins, the pundits and talking heads are out in full swing with their predictions for 2018. But can anyone really predict the future consistently and predictably? Much of what investors see in the financial media is just noise. Some of that noise appears to be based on fundamentals but when one digs deeper, this is rarely the case.

For example some of the more popular headlines are about the “January Indicator” or “January Barometer.”

This theory suggests that the price movement of the S&P 500 during the month of January may signal whether that index will rise or fall during the remainder of the year. In other words, if the return of the S&P 500 in January is negative, this would supposedly foreshadow a fall for the stock market for the remainder of the year, and vice versa if returns in January are positive.

So have past Januarys’ S&P 500 returns been a reliable indicator for what the rest of the year has in store? If returns in January are negative, should investors sell stocks? The chart below shows the monthly returns of the S&P 500 Index for each January since 1926, compared to the subsequent 11-month return (i.e., the return from February through December). A negative return in January was followed by a positive 11-month return about 60% of the time, with an average return during those 11 months of around 7%.

This data suggests there may be an opportunity cost for abandoning equity markets after a disappointing January. Take 2016, for example: The return of the S&P 500 during the first two weeks was the worst on record for that period, at -7.93%. Even with positive returns toward the end of the month, the S&P 500 returned -4.96% in January 2016, the ninth-worst January return observed from 1926 to 2017. But a subsequent rebound of 18% from February to December resulted in a total calendar year return of almost 13%. An investor reacting to January’s performance by selling out of stocks would have missed out on the gains experienced by investors who stuck with equities for the whole year. This is a good example of the potential negative outcomes that can result from following investment recommendations based on an “indicator.”

Conclusion

Over the long term, the financial markets have rewarded investors. People expect a positive return on the capital they supply, and historically, the equity and bond markets have provided meaningful growth of wealth. As investors prepare for 2018 and what the year may bring, we should remember that frequent changes to an investment strategy can hurt performance. Rather than trying to beat the market based on hunches, headlines, or indicators, investors who remain disciplined can let markets work for them over time. At JJ Burns & Company, we adhere to a disciplined investment strategy focused on broad global diversification, asset allocation, rebalancing, dollar cost averaging and managing costs.

Indices are not available for direct investment. Their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Diversification does not eliminate the risk of market loss.
There is no guarantee investment strategies will be successful. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision. There is always the risk that an investor may lose money. A long-term investment approach cannot guarantee a profit.
All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Are Your Politics Influencing Your Investment Strategies?

By JJ Burns

August 31, 2016

Whether you’re in the Trump or Hillary camp—or for the possible candidate in between—some have been asking, ”Are there financial strategies to take to protect your investments before, during and after election day comes around?”

We understand that it’s fun to banter with your friends around the dinner table about the merits of this or that candidate, what’s even more interesting is to examine how investors react to political change. Behavioral researchers have found over the years that if an investor’s favored candidate becomes elected, the investor experiences an increased market confidence and tends to take on more portfolio risk. Conversely, if the candidate-of-choice loses, investors expect fallout from the new administration and look for investment safety. 

Take the recent Brexit vote for example. Investors needed to be prepared for market risks if the vote went either way. Thankfully it didn’t create the significant market losses many predicted, but the impending vote had people on edge for a bit.

In the case of the U.S. presidency, researchers from the University of Miami, Brigham Young University and the University of Colorado at Denver conducted a study on how politics impacted investor behavior, reviewing three presidential-election years from 1991 through 2002.

Their behavioral research found that after the 1992 and 1996 elections when Bill Clinton won the presidency, Democratic voters tended to invest more in domestic stocks and to stay invested for a longer time. Conversely, Republicans felt less confident at that time about the economy and invested in foreign stocks and traded more frequently.

Then when George W. Bush won the presidential election in 2000, Republican voters did the same thing the Democrats did when their party representative was in office—they took on more risk, invested in domestic companies and traded less frequently.

The outcome from the researchers’ study was that both Republican and Democratic voters seemed to be influenced more by their political beliefs to help guide their investment choices than by listening to the logic and the advice of a financial advisor.

Voting—like investing—is a very personal act. And there’s no right or wrong way to cast your vote. The only thing that’s certain is it’s going to be quite a journey leading up to November.

The takeaway from studying investor behavior during election seasons is identical to why many investors fail to achieve reasonable returns…their own behavior is their most significant risk. We believe that investors who have a “true” diversified asset allocated portfolio will experience the variable returns from each asset class. Don’t be swayed by popular opinion or what you hear from the media about a certain candidate’s platform to make immediate portfolio changes.

Your financial situation is unique and needs an individual review to cover all potential scenarios. No matter what is happening in the world, a solid financial strategy should have the foundation of objective analysis. Whether you lean toward the Republican, Democratic, Independent—or any other political philosophy—our role is to help you create a solid financial plan.

Women’s Finance: There’s a Difference?

By JJ Burns

June 29, 2016

It’s not that women are from one planet and men are from another. It’s just that women tend to end up with different life circumstances than men. Top that off with lower salaries, and there’s a greater need for taking a closer look at financial strategies.

In my 25 years’ experience serving women clients, I find that they can multitask far more than men. They make the family’s social plans, maintain relationships, take care of kids, parents and in-laws—all while juggling their careers. This presents enormous challenges to their time.

It’s true that women control about half of household finances. That means they are watching the bank account, paying the bills, making large purchases, putting something in the savings account, and paying off the credit card.

But they often don’t understand the inner workings of investing. Some of them do, but they just have a lot on their plates. Looking from the outside, investing can appear to be a world of complicated strategies and men making deals.

Seeing Things Another Way

Of course having kids changes everything—finances and all the other aspects of your life. But even without kids, women can have cultural biases toward money, who handles finances, and how to save.

When attending financial workshops, our firm has noticed many men often ask about the best tips for investing. Many women, however, ask about balancing saving for retirement, sending the kids to college, and taking care of elderly parents.

They want to enjoy life while their kids are younger. Women feel some of the most precious gifts are right now in the present.

We often see men wanting tips on when to buy and sell. Women want to know how to support their daughter who’s moving home from college, and their elderly father who needs assistance to stay in his home a few more years. They wish to live a richer life, and at the same time successfully manage the relationships that are important to them.

Saving More, Having Less

Women tend to save a larger percentage of their salaries. They also contribute to their 401(k)s in greater numbers than men.

Despite putting more money away, we often see women ending up with less at retirement.  Salary disparities can take a toll on investing over the long run.

But for those women who started saving early, the benefits of compounding can help make up some of the difference in the total amount saved.

Life Happens

We have found women who have children might take some time off during pregnancy or after the kids are born. For some families, they’ve had to make the difficult decision of balancing childcare vs. going back to work. Re-entering the workforce can often lower wages and position.

When parents get older and need help, women are often the ones to take on the added responsibility. When kids are also in the mix, that makes those women part of the “sandwich generation.”

Life expectancies are increasing for men and women, but women still tend to live longer. That means women need more money for living out their retirement dreams.

Women also are usually the ones initiating divorce. They’re willing to be on their own, and want to know what they can get for themselves and their children, and can they be happy with that.

Risky Business

Getting help from a professional can help in many situations. Developing a financial strategy is one.

Women are often not as comfortable taking risks with their investments. Sometimes this is because they view money a little differently than men. Other times, they haven’t spent as much time learning about investments.

It’s been our experience that women often take fewer risks with their money. They want to remain in a position of control. They might not mind our assistance, but they want to feel in charge of the situation. Circumstance like being in debt can weigh heavily on a woman’s conscience. She might feel like she needs to get that paid off before taking what she could perceive as the risk of investing.

It can be easy to let a husband take care of the household finances. It can be nice to let someone do the worrying, researching and planning for you. But if something happens and he is no longer there, some decisions will need to be made—and that will fall on her.

Worry More, Plan More

Many women have more control over the well-being of the family. This can make them worry more about finances. The balancing act of life can fall heavily on women.

Seeking advice from a professional can help teach her about investing, planning for retirement, and even saving for the kids’ college education. Seeking help from someone who has been trained can help alleviate uncertainty in many situations—whether the advice is from a financial advisor, lawyer, or accountant.

Getting help from the pros can help women feel like they are placed back in control. They can learn about investing strategies, plan for contingencies, prepare for retirement, set goals, and balance all the financial elements of life.

Despite often being good planners, we’ve seen many women don’t seek advice until something major happens. But once they engage our help, they tackle the plan like the other aspects of their life.

Someone “Gets” Me

You’ve decided you’d like to talk with a financial advisor. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions. When you start your search, you want to make sure it’s a good fit. When a match “clicks,” you feel more confident and ready to take what comes your way.

Don’t be afraid to explore how your relationship with an advisor would work. You may want lots of contact or just a little. You may want your financial advisor to give you a couple of choices to choose from, or a wide range.

See how comfortable you are with the way they explain things to you. Are things clear, or do you need more information?

You are building a relationship, and not just with an advisor but also a team. Make sure it feels good to you. It may be one of the most important decisions you make regarding your family’s future.

Do You Understand Investments?

By JJ Burns

July 2, 2012

People who find themselves owning complex investment vehicles often leave the driving to the professionals. And that’s perfectly acceptable, but even “passengers” should have a basic understanding of how a particular investment works—especially when it’s your hard-earned money on the line.

Consider a retiree who’s looking into purchasing an annuity. Is it an investment product, an insurance product, or both? Will the annuity continue to pay income to heirs if the owner dies? Is the principal protected in case of a severe economic downturn? Surprisingly, many investors—including owners of annuities—are stumped by these basic questions.

Other commonly used terms often befuddle investors. Do you know the difference between an “annual effective yield” and an “average annual yield”? How about an “annual percentage yield”? It’s important to distinguish among different types of yield so you can make valid comparisons of investments.

Do you consider yourself an investment expert? Here are a few simple questions—with the answers below—to see how you measure up.

1. An insurance company generally begins payments under an annuity when:

  1. The accumulation phase begins.
  2. The accumulation phase ends.
  3. The annuity owner dies.
  4. The annuity owner retires.

2. Payments under a variable annuity are based on:

  1. Fluctuations in the current interest rate.
  2. Fluctuations in the current inflation rate.
  3. Performance of underlying stocks. 
  4. Performance of the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 index.

3. An annual effective yield is described best as:

  1. The annual return before interest is compounded.
  2. The annual return after interest is compounded.
  3. The annual return before inflation.
  4. The annual return after inflation.

4. The average annual yield often is used to:

  1. Compare the past performance of mutual funds.
  2. Distinguish Treasury bills from Treasury notes.
  3. Factor in the tax-free element of municipal bonds.
  4. Account for a guaranteed minimum-income benefit.

5. When you buy Treasury bills at auction, the rate is:

  1. Based on the current interest rate for loans. 
  2. Based on the S&P 500. 
  3. Equal to par.
  4. Discounted from face value.

6. A “private activity bond” is best described as:

  1. A corporate bond eligible for capital-gain treatment.
  2. A corporate bond exempt from income tax. 
  3. A municipal bond that is completely taxable. 
  4. A municipal bond that can trigger alternative minimum tax (AMT) problems.      

7. An exchange-traded fund (ETF):

  1. Trades like stocks.
  2. Trades like mutual funds.
  3. Involves trades between major stock exchanges.
  4. Involves trades between different currencies. 

Answers: 1-b; 2-c; 3-b; 4-a; 5-d; 6-d; 7-a