Category Archives: Investment Planning

Wealth Managers Enlist Savvy Spy Software to Map Portfolios

profit-loss-riskMy Comments: I’ve been playing this financial game now for almost 40 years. And like so much in today’s world, it’s very different today than it was then. Technology forces us to embrace new thoughts and ways to deal with so much in life.

When it comes to managing your money, my role as an investment advisor and financial planner causes me to try and stay at least near the front of the line, otherwise I’ll get left behind.

Much better returns on investment (ROI) can be had today, hypothetically, than we could have hoped for 30 years ago. Do you remember when interest rates less than 10% were thought to be ridiculous? Now we are living with interest rates near zero and have been for some time. So how is it possible to predict that a 10% ROI is reasonable today?

The following article talks about people of wealth that no one around here fully understands. And so for the rest of us, it’s kind of meaningless. Except when they talk about technology and how far its come so that mere mortals like us can benefit. Having access to these technologies can make a huge difference in your life.

Posted by Steven Maimes, Contributor – on August 5th, 2014
NYT article by Quentin Hardy

Some of the engineers who used to help the Central Intelligence Agency solve problems have moved on to another challenge: determining the value of every conceivable investment in the world.

Five years ago, they started a company called Addepar, with the aim of providing clear and reliable information about the increasingly complex assets inside pensions, investment funds and family fortunes. In much the way spies diagram a communications network, Addepar filters and weighs the relationships among billions of dollars of holdings to figure out whether a portfolio is about to crash.

Professional wealth managers are going to be seeing a lot more of big data. Last spring, Addepar raised a substantial sum to take this mainstream, and although it is not the only one bringing big data to a portfolio statement, its cast of characters sets it apart.

“One of the most foundational questions in finance is ‘What do I own, and what is all of this worth?’ ” said Eric Poirier, the chief executive of Addepar. “ ‘What is my risk?’ turns out to be an almost intractable problem.”

Although the list of wealth managers who use Addepar is confidential, Mr. Poirier says it has already grown from people like Joe Lonsdale, its tech-billionaire founder, and Iconiq Capital, which manages some of the Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s money, to include family offices, banks and investment managers at pension funds.

“In this state, some people are just getting wealthier,” said Joseph J. Piazza, chairman and chief executive of Robertson Stephens L.L.C., a San Francisco investment adviser that manages about $500 million using software from Addepar. Ten years ago, he said, “it might be a young entrepreneur with $50 million. Now it could be 10 times that, and they are thoughtful, bigger risk-takers.”

Investing used to be a relatively simple world of stocks, bonds and cash, with perhaps some real estate. But deregulation, globalization and computers have meant more choices. For a wealthy person, this could mean derivatives, private equity, venture capital, overseas markets and a host of other choices, like collectibles and Bitcoin.

And for all the computers on Wall Street’s trading floors, a lot of money management is surprisingly old-fashioned. Venture capitalists may invest in cutting-edge technology, but they sometimes still send out quarterly reports on paper. Financial custodians, which hold securities for people, often have custom-built computer systems. That makes it hard to compare a trade at one with a trade at another.

“The market is much more complicated than it used to be,” said David G. Tittsworth, president and chief executive of the Investment Adviser Association, a trade group of 550 registered firms. “The rich have bigger appetites for futures, commodities, alternative investments. There’s a lot of demand for helping them keep track of what their holdings actually are.”

Mr. Poirier, 32, a New Hampshire native who started a coding business at 14 before heading to Columbia University, worked on analyzing fixed-income products at Lehman Brothers from 2003 to 2006, before that Wall Street firm collapsed from mismanagement of its own risk. “Trying to figure out a yield, I’d work with a dozen different computer systems, with different interactions that people didn’t understand well,” he said.

He then took a job with Palantir Technologies, a company founded to enable military and intelligence agencies to make sense of disparate and incomplete data. He went on to build out Palantir’s commercial business, managing risk for things like JPMorgan Chase’s portfolio of subprime mortgages.

There were plenty of parallels between the two worlds, but instead of agencies, spies and eavesdropping satellites, finance has markets, investment advisers and portfolios. Both worlds are full of custom software, making each analysis of a data set unique. It is hard to get a single picture of anything like the truth.

Even a simple question like “How many shares of Apple do I own?” can be complicated, if some shares are held outright, some are inside a venture fund where the wealthy person is an investor and some are locked up in a company that Apple acquired.

Finance “was the same curve I encountered in the intelligence community,” Mr. Poirier said. “How do you make sense of diverse information from diverse sources, when the answer depends on who is asking the question?”

The parallel was also evident to Mr. Lonsdale, a Palantir co-founder. From an earlier stint at PayPal, he had millions in cash and on paper is a billionaire from his Palantir holdings. He also knew lots of other young people in tech who could not make sense of what was happening to their money. “Wealth management is designed for the 1950s, not this century,” he said.

Mr. Lonsdale left Palantir in 2009, starting Addepar with Jason Mirra, another Palantir employee, in 2009. “It didn’t make sense for Palantir to hire 20 or 30 people to work in an area like this,” Mr. Lonsdale said. Mr. Mirra is Addepar’s chief technical officer. Mr. Poirier joined in early 2013 and became chief executive later that year.

Besides Mr. Lonsdale, early investors in Addepar included Peter Thiel, a founder of both PayPal and Palantir. More money came from Palantir’s connections to hedge fund investors. Addepar’s $50 million funding round last May was led by David O. Sacks — another PayPal veteran, who sold a company called Yammer to Microsoft for $1.2 billion in 2012 — and Valor Equity Partners, a Chicago firm that has also invested in PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, among other companies.

Despite the pedigree, Mr. Lonsdale says Addepar, which has 109 employees, is not meant just as a tool for rich tech executives or family money. They are, he said, “just the early adopters.”
Karen White, Addepar’s president and chief operating officer, says a typical customer has investments at five to 15 banks, stockbrokers or other investment custodians.

Addepar charges based on how much data it is reviewing. Ms. White said Addepar’s service typically started at $50,000, but can go well over $1 million, depending on the money and investment variables involved.

And in much the way Palantir seeks to find common espionage themes, like social connections and bomb-making techniques, among its data sources, Mr. Lonsdale has sought to reduce financial information to a dozen discrete parts, like price changes and what percentage of something a person holds.

As a computer system learns the behavior of a certain asset, it begins to build a database of probable relationships, like what a bond market crisis might mean for European equities. “A lot of computer science, machine learning, can be applied to that,” Mr. Lonsdale said. “There are lessons from Palantir about how to do this.”

A number of other firms are also trying to map what everything in a diverse portfolio is worth. One of the largest, Advent Software, in 2011 paid $73 million for Black Diamond, a company that, like Addepar, uses cloud technology to increase its computing power and more easily draw from several databases at once.

“We’ve been chipping at the problem for 30 years,” said Peter Hess, Advent’s president and chief executive. “There is a lot more complexity now, and the modernization of expectations about how things should work is led by the new tech money. But because of Apple and Google, even my parents have expectations about how easy tech ought to be.”

3 Market Warning Signs Predict 20% Stock Tumble

My Comments: No need for any commentary from me. Just draw your own conclusions, and hope that if the author is right, you’ve talked with me about how to make money when everyone around you is losing theirs.

On the other hand, essentially this same argument was made last April and yet the crash has not happened. Yet.  Another example of the boogyman creating uncertainty. All you can do is be prepared, which I hope you are.

MarketWatch commentary by Mark Hulbert / August 3, 2014

Over the past 45 years, the stock market has lost more than 20% each time three warning signs flashed simultaneously.

After a selloff this past week dragged the Dow Jones Industrial Average into negative territory for the year, it’s worth noting that all three are flashing today.

The signals are excessive levels of bullish enthusiasm; significant overvaluation, based on measures like price/earnings ratios; and extreme divergences in the performances of different market sectors.

They have gone off in unison six times since 1970, according to Hayes Martin, president of Market Extremes, an investment consulting firm in New York whose research focus is major market turning points.

Bear in the air

The S&P 500’s average subsequent decline on those earlier occasions was 38%, with the smallest drop at 22%. A bear market is considered a selloff of at least 20%, with bull markets defined as rallies of at least 20%.

In fact, no bear market has occurred without these three signs flashing at the same time. Once they do, the average length of time to the beginning of a decline is about one month, according to Martin.

The first two of these three market indicators — an overabundance of bulls and overvaluation of stocks — have been present for several months. Back in December, for example, the percentage of advisers who described themselves as bullish rose above 60%, a level Investors Intelligence, an investment service, considers “danger territory.” Its latest reading, as of Wednesday, was 56%.

Also beginning late last year, the price/earnings ratio for the Russell 2000 index of smaller-cap stocks, after excluding negative earnings, rose to its highest level since the benchmark was created in 1984 — higher even than at the October 2007 bull-market high or the March 2000 top of the Internet bubble.

Three strikes and you’re out

The third of Martin’s trio of bearish omens emerged just recently, which is why in late July he advised clients to sell stocks and hold cash. That’s when the fraction of stocks participating in the bull market, which already had been slipping, declined markedly.

One measure of this waning participation is the percentage of stocks trading above an average of their prices over the previous four weeks. Among stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange, this proportion fell from 82% at the beginning of July to just 50% on the day the S&P 500 hit its all-time high.

It was one of “the sharpest breakdowns in market breadth that I’ve ever seen in so short a period of time,” Martin says.

Another sign of diverging market sectors: When the S&P 500 hit its closing high on July 24, it was ahead 1.4% for the month, in contrast to a 3.1% decline for the Russell 2000.

Expect up to a 20% S&P 500 decline

How big of a decline is likely? Martin’s best guess is a loss of between 13% and 20% for the S&P 500, less than the 38% average decline following past occasions when his triad of unfavorable indicators was present. The reason? He expects the Federal Reserve to quickly “step in to provide extreme liquidity to blunt the decline.”

To be sure, Martin focuses on a small sample, which makes it difficult to draw robust statistical conclusions. But David Aronson, a former finance professor at Baruch College in New York who now runs a website that makes complex statistical tests available to investors, says that this limitation is unavoidable when focusing on past market tops, since “by definition it will involve a small sample.”

He says that he has closely analyzed Martin’s research and takes his forecast of a market drop “very seriously.”

Martin says that expanding his sample isn’t possible because most of his current indicators didn’t exist before the 1970s and “the comparative math gets very unreliable.” But he says he does use several statistical techniques for dealing with small samples that increase his confidence in the conclusions that his research draws.

Russell 2000 could take 30% hit

He says stocks with smaller market capitalizations will be the hardest hit in the decline he is anticipating, in part because they currently are so overvalued. He forecasts that the Russell 2000 will fall by as much as 30%.

Also among the hardest-hit stocks during a decline will be those with the highest “betas” — that is, those with the most pronounced historical tendencies to rise or fall by more than the overall market. Martin singles out semiconductors in particular — and technology stocks generally — as high-beta sectors.

He predicts that blue-chip stocks, particularly those that pay a large dividend, will lose the least in any decline. One exchange-traded fund that invests in such stocks is iShares Select Dividend, which charges annual expenses of 0.40%, or $40 per $10,000 invested.

The average dividend yield of the stocks the fund owns is 3%; that yield is calculated by dividing a company’s annual dividend by its stock price. Though the fund’s yield is higher than the S&P 500’s 2% yield, it nevertheless pursues a defensive strategy. It invests in the highest-dividend-paying blue-chip stocks only after excluding firms whose five-year dividend growth rate is negative, those whose dividends as a percentage of earnings per share exceed 60% and those whose average daily trading volume is less than 200,000 shares.

The consumer-staples sector has also held up relatively well during past declines. The Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR ETF currently has a dividend yield of 2.5% and an annual expense ratio of 0.16%.

If the broad market’s loss is in the 13%-to-20% range that Martin anticipates, and you have a large amount of unrealized capital gains in your taxable portfolio, you could lose in taxes what you gain by selling to sidestep the decline. But the larger losses he anticipates for smaller-cap stocks could be big enough to justify selling and paying the taxes on your gains.

5 QLAC Questions and Answers

My Comments: QLAC? What the heck is a QLAC?

By Jeffrey Levine / July 18, 2014

On July 1, 2014 the Treasury Department released the long-awaited final regulations for Qualifying Longevity Annuity Contracts (QLACs). These new annuities will offer advisors a unique tool to help clients avoid outliving their money.

The QLAC rules, however, are a complicated mash-up of IRA and annuity rules, and clients may need substantial help in understanding their key provisions. To help advisors break down the most important aspects of QLACs, below are 5 critical QLAC questions and their answers.

1) Question: What are QLACs?
Answer: QLACs, or qualifying longevity annuity contracts, are a new type of fixed longevity annuity that is held in a retirement account and has special tax attributes. Although the value of a QLAC is excluded from a client’s RMD calculation, distributions from QLAC don’t have to begin until a client reaches age 85, well beyond the age at which RMDs normally begin.

2) Question: Why did the Treasury Department create QLACs?

Answer: Prior to the establishment of QLACs, there were significant challenges to purchasing longevity annuities with IRA money. The rules required that unless an annuity held within an IRA had been annuitized, its fair market value needed to be included in the prior year’s year-end balance when calculating a client’s IRA RMD. This left clients with non-annuitized IRA annuities with an inconvenient choice to make after reaching the age at which RMDs begin. At that time, they needed to either:
1) Begin taking distributions from their non-annuitized IRA annuities, reducing their potential future benefit, or
2) Annuitize their annuities, which would obviously produce a lower income stream than if they were annuitized at a more advanced age, or
3) “Make-up” the non-annuitized annuity’s RMD from other IRA assets, drawing down those assets at an accelerated rate.

None of these options was particularly attractive and now, thanks to QLACs, clients will no longer be forced to make such decisions.

3) Question: How much money can a client invest in a QLAC?

Answer: The final regulations limit the amount of money a client can invest in a QLAC in two ways: a percentage limit; and an overall limit. First, a client may not invest more than 25 percent of retirement account funds in a QLAC.

For IRAs, the 25 percent limit is based on the total fair market of all non-Roth IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, as of December 31st of the year prior to the year the QLAC is purchased. The fair market value of a QLAC held in an IRA will also be included in that total, even though it won’t be for RMD purposes.

The 25 percent limit is applied in a slightly different manner to 401(k)s and similar plans. For starters, the 25 percent limit is applied separately to each plan balance. In addition, instead of applying the 25 percent limit to the prior year-end balance of the plan, the 25 percent limit is applied to the balance on the last valuation date.

In addition, that balance is further adjusted by adding in contributions made between the last valuation and the time the QLAC premium is made, and by subtracting from that balance distributions made during the same time frame.

In addition to the 25 percent limits described above, there is also a $125,000 limit on total QLAC purchases by a client. When looked at in concert with the 25 percent limit, the $125,000 limit becomes a “lesser of” rule. In other words, a client can invest no more than the lesser of 25 percent of retirement funds or $125,000 in QLACs.

4) Question: What death benefit options can a QLAC offer?
Answer: A QLAC may offer a return of premium death benefit option, whether or not a client has begun to receive distributions. Any QLAC offering a return of premium death benefit must pay that amount in a single, lump-sum, to the QLAC beneficiary by December 31st of the year following the year of death.

Such a feature is available for both spouse and non-spouse beneficiaries. In addition, the final regulations allow this feature to be added regardless of whether the QLAC is payable over the life of the QLAC owner only, or whether the QLAC will be payable over the joint lives of the QLAC owner and their spouse.

QLACs may also offer life annuity death benefit options. In general, a spousal QLAC beneficiary can receive a life annuity with payments equal to or less than what a deceased spouse was receiving or would have received if the latter died prior to receiving benefits under the contract. An exception to this rule is available, however, to satisfy ERISA preretirement survivor annuity rules.

If the QLAC beneficiary is a non-spouse, the rules are more complicated. First, clients must choose between two options, one in which there is no guarantee a non-spouse beneficiary will receive anything; but if payments are received, they will generally be higher than the second option.

The second option is a choice that will guarantee payments to a non-spouse beneficiary, but those payments will be comparatively smaller than if payments were received by a non-spouse beneficiary under the first option. Put in simplest terms, a non-spouse beneficiary receiving a life annuity death benefit will generally fare better with the first option if the QLAC owner dies after beginning to receive benefits whereas, if the QLAC owner dies before beginning to receive benefits, they will generally fare better with the second method.

5) Question: Are QLACs available now
Answer: Yes…and no. Quite simply, the QLAC regulations are in effect already, but that doesn’t mean that insurance carriers already have products that conform to the new IRS specifications.

To the best of my knowledge, and as of this writing, QLACs exist in theory only.
It’s likely, however, that in the not too distant future, QLACs will go from tax code theory to client reality. Exactly which carriers will offer them and exactly which features those carriers will choose to incorporate into their products remains to be seen.

But make no mistake: QLACs are coming (or here, depending on your point of view). If such products may make sense for clients, it probably makes sense to reach out to them now and begin the discussion.

Increased Consumer Spending Driving Strong Economic Growth In USA

USA EconomyMy Comments: On Thursday, July 30 the market dropped 300 points. The blogosphere and media were all a chatter about “was this the start of the correction?”. Who knows ?!?

It illustrates why those of us who profess to be financial advisors are more in the dark than you are. Here we are talking about a looming market correction, one that will happen, and the longer it takes to start the more violent it is likely to be. And here I am this morning, coming to you with good news about the economy. Seems totally weird, doesn’t it?

What has to be remembered is that the markets are always forward looking. I want to invest my money before it goes up, if at all possible. If I think it’s going to crater, I’m taking my money out. At least that’s the plan, unless you use some of the approaches favored by us at Florida Wealth Advisors, LLC.

What this headline tells me is that when the correction happens, it will be relatively short term and though perhaps dramatic, it will not be systemic.

Jul. 31, 2014 / APAC Investment News

Summary
• The Bureau of Economic Analysis is reporting 4 percent growth in the second quarter, a strong rebound from the first quarter.
• Consumer spending in both durable and non-durable goods is up. Both exports and imports also rose, along with most other indicators.
• This economic growth should provide some upward pressure for markets, at least in the short term.

The United States has struggled to fully recover from the 2008 Financial Crisis. While stock markets have rebounded, unemployment has remained high and economic growth has been tepid. New data points to the U.S. economy growing a solid 4 percent in the second quarter, however, propelled by an increase in consumer spending. This should help stabilize markets and perhaps even push them higher.

With consumer spending accounting for roughly 2/3rds of America’s economy, any increase in consumer spending should come as a relief for those concerned of yet another slowdown. Still, stock markets hovered in place following the release of the data on Wednesday, likely over concerns about the Fed’s next move with interest rates and the continued wind down of its asset buying program.

Consumer Spending On The Rise
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis consumer spending increased a solid 2.5 percent in the second quarter, up from 1.2 percent in the first quarter. Durable goods, which includes automobiles, appliances, and other similar goods, increased by an astounding 14 percent, compared with an increase of just 3.2 percent in the first quarter. Non-durable goods, which includes food and clothing, increased by 2.5 percent. The BEA presents its numbers in seasonally adjusted annual rates.

Automobiles have been performing particularly well as of late, even while General Motors is still feeling the fallout from a major scandal and many automakers are suffering a rash of recalls. There were some fears of a major slowdown following the economic contraction in the first quarter, but for now it appears that the feared slow down hasn’t materialized.

Ford did suffer a decline in sales in June, falling some 5.8 percent YOY. While this may not seem like good news, the drop was not as bad as expected. Meanwhile, General Motors sales rose 1 percent even in spite of the bad publicity from the ignition scandal, and Chrysler posted a solid 9.2 gain.

Growth Being Driven By Other Factors
Besides consumer spending, other areas of the economy have also performed well. Exports rose by 9.5 percent, following a sharp decline of 9.2 percent in the first quarter. This suggests that the global economy may also be growing. Imports also rose 11.7 percent, compared with an increase of only 2.2 percent in the first quarter.

Investment in equipment rose 7 percent, while investments in non-residential structures rose by 5.3 percent.

Interestingly, federal government consumption actually decreased by .8 percent, suggesting that the rise in spending is being driven by private businesses and consumers. This should come as a welcome sign given the government’s high debt burden. Simply put, the American government likely couldn’t afford to drive up consumption even if it wanted to.

Strong Economic Growth Should Re-enforce Markets
For now, strong economic growth should keep markets buoyant even with many factors exerting downward pressures. Sanctions on Russia, tensions in the South China Seas, political infighting in Congress, the possible fallout of the Fed curtailment of its asset buying program, and numerous other factors have created jitters. Strong economic growth can counteract these downward pressures, at the very least.

Meanwhile, as stock indexes have surged to all time highs, there have been some concerns that a bubble may be building. While stock markets have been performing well, the economy in general seemed to be suffering from sluggish growth, suggesting that something besides actual economic performance has been driving stock prices upwards. Now, however, economic growth finally appears to be in line with the rising stock market indexes.

So long as the economy continues to grow, markets should remain stable. Of course, the economy itself could quickly swing back into contraction. Government debt levels remain high, profits can evaporate over night, and consumer sentiments can change quickly.

Further, as the economy continues to grow, the Fed will almost certainly continue to cut back its stimulus measures, and eventually even raise interest rates. This, in turn, could slow economic growth. Meanwhile, stagnant wages, continued high unemployment, high debt levels, and other factors could eventually pose a threat.

Powered by the U.S., Global Assets Forecast to Hit $100 Trillion

My Comments: So, just how much is $100 Trillion?

Can you say “A lot!”?  What’s equally mind boggling to me is that in 1967 ( or maybe it was 1966?) I built a house for myself and my wife. In those days I acted as my own general contractor. Back then, I could also dig my own footers. The plans were drawn by an architect friend who charged me something but I have no idea what.

My point is the house cost less than $10 per square foot to build. And today is stands proudly in a quiet Gainesville neighborhood, though it could use a coat of paint. At the time, though the total was less than $17,000, it was a lot of money. Back then, to have been told that in 2014 it would cost at least $250,000 to build a house of similar size would have been equally mind boggling.

So while $100 Trillion is a lot of money, it’s all relative. It’s what you do with the money that counts, not how much there is. And if you can’t use it to spend on stuff you need and want, it has very little value.

By Nick Thornton / July 1, 2014

Worldwide assets under management are poised to hit $100 trillion by 2018, so long as U.S. markets continue to lead the way, according to Cerulli’s latest research.

The U.S. accounts for just under half of global assets under management.

Low interest rates around the globe have pushed cash into equity, boosting financial markets.

Cerulli’s five-year prognosis is optimistic, though the report predicts that managing assets going forward will be trickier than in the past several years.

“The dark days of late 2008 and early 2009 may be well behind us, but there continues to be pressure on net revenues,” said Shiv Taneja, a London-based managing director at Cerulli.

The firm’s annual report, now in its 13th year, is a massive analysis on markets around the world, from emerging markets to the developed economies of Europe, Asia and North America.

“For all the bashing the global emerging markets have taken over the past couple of years, Cerulli’s view is that it will be markets such as Southeast Asia and a handful of others that will top the leader board of mutual fund growth over the next five years,” said Ken F. Yap, Cerulli’s Singapore-based director of quantitative research.

3 Retirement Planning Essentials to Understand

retirement-exit-2My Comments: I’ve now reduced retirement years to three types of years. They are “go-go”, “slow-go” and “no-go”. Planning for them before you reach retirement is a matter of attempting to get as many $ in the pot as possbile.

After that, it’s a timing issue that is driven by health, the expected life style, and the nature of your bucket list. Plan to spend more in the “go-go” years than you will in the “slow-go” years and they dry up in the “no-go” years.

by: Rachel F. Elson / Financial Planning / Monday, June 9, 2014

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Longevity increases and cultural shifts have changed the way Americans plan for retirement — and advisors need to make sure they’re keeping pace.

That was the message from Lena Rizkallah, a retirement strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, at the Pershing Insite conference here on Thursday.

A generation ago, said Rizkallah, the mantra was “be conservative” — whether in lifestyle or in investment decisions. “Now, though, boomers have a bucket list,” she said. “They want to retire in good condition financially but also have goals for themselves.”

That changes some of the calculus for advisors said Rizkallah, who joined Elaine Floyd, a director of retirement and life planning at Horsesmouth, for an energetic discussion of retirement planning.

Among the recommendations they made:

1. Make sure clients have a retirement plan.

“I call this the heart attack slide,” Rizkallah said, posting a chart that mapped a client’s age and current salary against retirement savings benchmarks. “It helps clients gauge where they are.”

She encouraged advisors to talk frankly about both saving rates, for those still in the workforce, and spending plans. In general, she said, spending tends to peak at age 45, then decline in all categories except health care.

But she added a big caveat: “Note that housing continues to be 40% of spending. … More people are entering retirement with a mortgage.”

2. Know the threats to a secure retirement.

Rizkallah outlined three big risks for retirees.

Outliving life expectancy. Remember, she cautioned, that as we age our life expectancy gets longer. There is now a 47% chance that one spouse in a 65-year-old couple will live to 90,” she said, pointing out that the likelihood had increased even during the last year.

Not being able to keep working. People may think they’re going to bolster their retirement plan by working longer, but not everyone can control the timing, Rizkallah said, citing such issues as poor health, family care needs, and layoffs and other workplace changes. “There is a disparity between people’s expectations and the reality,” she said, encouraging advisors to tell clients: “You want to keep working? Great. But don’t make that part of the plan.”

Facing higher costs of health care. Costs continue to rise, she pointed out, adding that there’s a lot of uncertainty around future costs. “It’s really crucial to have this conversation,” she said. “Say, ‘Because we’re seeing this, let’s talk about saving, let’s talk about diversifying.'”

3. Do the math on Social Security.

It’s critical that advisors understand — and are able to communicate to clients — the real impact of delaying Social Security benefits, Floyd told listeners.

She cited as an example a maximum earner who turns 62 this year, noting that if the client takes Social Security at 62, he or she will have collected $798,387 by age 85. But by deferring until age 70, that same client will have $1,035,653 by 85. If the client lives to 95, Floyd added, the deferral would have a more than $600,000 payoff.

Other Social Security nuances are important as well, said Floyd, who received the lion’s share of questions during the Q&A period at the end of the panel. “We are getting lots of questions about the earnings test … which suggests that people are continuing to work and filing for Social Security” — something she said clients “just shouldn’t do.”

Advisors should understand whether their clients are eligible for spousal benefits, whether and when clients can change their minds and undo a Social Security election, and how to maximize benefits for a surviving spouse. That last part gets particularly tricky given boomers’ penchant for divorce, Floyd added: “Social Security rules can get really complicated when there are multiple divorces.”

The Rise of Tactical Asset Allocation

retirement_roadMy Comments: Yesterday I talked about investment risk, and how we, both clients and advisors alike, should understand it. Today, I’m reposting an article that describes, for me, a way to help clients achieve their perceived objectives, and keep the risk element under control.

As before, risk is not to be avoided, but to be managed. It’s only with risk can we hope to realize our financial goals, which for most people is a bigger pile of money than you started with, one that will translate to peace of mind and a greater ability to enjoy life.

It’s somewhat technical, so if that turns you off, then either struggle with it or call me for an explanation. Or both.

Posted by Michael Kitces on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The foundation of investment education for Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certificants is modern portfolio theory, which gives us tools to craft portfolios that effectively balance risk and return and reach the efficient frontier. Yet in his original paper, Markowitz himself acknowledged that the modern portfolio theory tool was simply designed to determine how to allocate a portfolio, given the expected returns, volatilities, and correlations of the available investments.

Determining what those inputs should be, however, was left up to the person using the model. As a result, the risk of using modern portfolio theory – like any model – is that if poor inputs go into the model, poor results come out. Yet what happens when the inputs to modern portfolio theory are determined more proactively in response to an ever-changing investment environment? The asset allocation of the portfolio tactically shifts in response to varying inputs!

The evolution of the industry for much of the past 60 years since Markowitz’ seminal paper has been to assume that markets are at least “relatively” efficient and will follow their long-term trends, and as a result have used historical averages of return (mean), volatility (standard deviation), and correlation as inputs to determination an appropriate asset allocation. Yet the striking reality is that this methodology was never intended by the designer of the system itself; indeed, even in his original paper, Markowitz provided his own suggestions about how to apply his model, as follows:

“To use [modern portfolio theory] in the selection of securities we must have procedures for finding reasonable [estimates of expected return and volatility]. These procedures, I believe, should combined statistical techniques and the judgment of practical men. My feeling is that the statistical computations should be used to arrive at a tentative set of [mean and volatility]. Judgment should then be used in increasing or decreasing some of these [mean and volatility inputs] on the basis of factors or nuances not taken into account by the formal computations…
…One suggestion as to tentative [mean and volatility] is to use the observed [mean and volatility] for some period of the past. I believe that better methods, which take into account more information, can be found.”
– Harry Markowitz, “Portfolio Selection”, The Journal of Finance, March 1952.

Thus, for most of the past 6 decades, we have ignored Markowitz’ own advice about how to apply his model to portfolio design and the selection of investments; while Markowitz recommended against using observed means and volatility of the past as inputs, planners have persisted nonetheless in using long-term historical averages as inputs and assumptions for portfolio design. Through the rise of financial planning in the 1980s and 1990s, though, it didn’t much matter; the extended 18-year period with virtually no material adverse risk event – except for the “blip” of the crash of 1987 that recovered within a year – suggested that long-term returns worked just fine, as they led to a stocks-for-the-long-run portfolio that succeeded unimpeded for almost two decades. Until it didn’t.

As discussed in the 2006 Journal of Financial Planning paper “Understanding Secular Bear Markets: Concerns and Strategies for Financial Planners” by Solow and Kitces, the year 2000 marked the onset of a so-called Secular Bear Market – a one or two decade time period where equities deliver significantly below average (and often, also more volatile) returns. The article predicted that the sustained environment of low returns would lead planners and their clients to question the traditional approach of designing portfolios based on a single, static long-term historical average input (which leads to a buy-and-hold portfolio), and instead would turn to different strategies, including more concentrated stock picking, sector rotation, alternative investments, and tactical asset allocation. In other words, stated more simply: planners would find that relying solely on long-term historical averages without applying any further judgment regarding the outlook for investments, as Markowitz himself warned 60 years ago, would become increasingly problematic.

The Growing Trend of Tactical
Although not widely discussed across the profession, the FPA’s latest Trends in Investing study reveals that the rise of tactical asset allocation has quietly but steadily been underway, and in fact now constitutes the majority investing style. Although not all financial planners necessarily characterize themselves in this manner, the study revealed that a shocking 61% of planners stated that they “did recently (within the past 3 months) or are currently re-evaluating the asset allocation strategy [they] typically recommend/implement” which is essentially what it takes to be deemed “tactical” in some manner.

When further asked what factors are being re-evaluated to alter the asset allocation strategy, a whopping 84% of respondents indicated they are continually re-evaluating a variety of factors: 69% indicated following changes in the economic in general, 58% indicated they watch for changes in inflation, and another 58% monitor for changes in specific investments in the portfolio. Notably, only 14% indicated that they expected to make changes based on what historically would have been the most popular reasons to change an investment, such as changes in cost, lead manager, or other administrative aspects of the investment.

Although not directly surveyed in the FPA study, another rising factor being used to alter investment allocations appears to be market valuation, on the backs of recent studies showing the value and effectiveness of the approach, such as “Improving Risk-Adjusted Returns Using Market-Valuation-Based Tactical Asset Allocation Strategies” by Solow, Kitces, and Locatelli in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning, and more recently “Withdrawal Rates, Savings ratings, and Valuation-Based Asset Allocation” by Pfau in the April 2012 issue, along with “Dynamic Asset Allocation and Safe Withdrawal Rates” published in The Kitces Report in April of 2009.

Notwithstanding the magnitude of this emerging trend towards more active management, it doesn’t necessarily mean financial planners are becoming market-timing day traders. The average number of tactical asset allocation changes that planners made over the past 12 months was fewer than 2 adjustments, and approximately 95% of all tactical asset allocators made no more than 6-7 allocation changes over the span of an entire year, many of which may have been fairly modest trades relative to the size of the portfolio. In other words, planners appear to be recognizing that the outlook for investments doesn’t change dramatically overnight; however, it does change over time, and can merit a series of ongoing changes and adjustments to recognize that.

Tactical Asset Allocation: An Extension of MPT

At a more basic level, though, the trend towards tactical asset allocation is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that it feels somewhat “odd” to craft portfolios using long-term historical averages that are clearly not reflective of the current environment, whether it’s using a long-term bond return of 5% when investors today are lucky to get 2% on a 10-year government bond, or using a long-term historical equity risk premium of 7% despite the ongoing stream of research for the past decade suggesting that the equity risk premium of the future may be lower.

Consistent with the idea that financial planners are recognizing tactical asset allocation as an extension of modern portfolio theory and not an alternative to it, a mere 26% of financial planners answered in the Trends in Investing survey that they believe modern portfolio theory failed in 2008. For the rest, the answer was “no”, modern portfolio theory is still intact, or at least “I don’t know” – perhaps an acknowledgement that while MPT may still work, many of us lack the training in new and better ways to apply it. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped the majority of planners adopting a process of making ongoing changes to their asset allocation based on the economic outlook and other similar factors.

Unfortunately, though, perhaps the greatest challenge for planners implementing tactical asset allocation is that we simply aren’t trained to do so in our standard educational process. Some financial planning practices are responding to the challenge by investing in training, staff, and/or research to support a more tactical process. Others are responding by outsourcing to firms that can help; the Trends in Investing survey showed nearly 38% of advisors intend to outsource more investment management over the next 12 months, and 42% are already outsourcing more now than they were 3 years ago.

Regardless of how it is implemented, though, the trend towards tactical itself appears to have grown from a broad dissatisfaction amongst planners and their clients that the “lost decade” of equity returns has left many clients lagging their retirement goals. Even if diversified portfolios have eked out a positive return, it is still far behind the projections put forth when clients made their plans in the 1990s, forcing them to adjust by saving more, spending less, or working longer, to make up for the historical returns that never manifested. And as long as the secular bear market continues, the strategy will continue to be appealing. Ultimately, though, the sustainability of the tactical asset allocation trend will depend on it delivering effective results for clients.

So what do you think? Would you characterize yourself as a tactical trader? Is tactical asset allocation a short-term phenomenon, or here to stay? Is tactical asset allocation simply modern portfolio theory done right, or does it represent an entirely new investing approach?

The Paradox of Investment Risk

profit-loss-riskMy Comments: First, let’s both understand we are talking about financial risk. Second, financial risk for me is likely to be defined differently from how you define it. Third, there is always an element of uncertainty about any future outcome, whether it’s getting married, having children, accepting a new job, etc. Uncertainty implies a potentially unfavorable outcome for almost anything we do, but to the extent it is “risky” depends on our frame of reference.

For example, walking along the roofline of my house, at age 73, is much riskier for me that it might be for someone age 22, who is a chamption gymnast. Mind you that’s physical risk and not financial risk, but there are parallels when it comes to money.

I’ve just taken a step that caused me to reflect very carefully because it has caused me to trust someone to do something with my money that I personally cannot replicate. For me, I had to come to terms with the “risk” involved because it’s something I can’t do. The person who I’m trusting has done this successfully for the past 35 years. For him, it is considered safe and conservative. Only I don’t “know” that, so there is an element of risk involved.

by: Franklin J. Parker / Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Like most retail financial advisors, I have thought a lot about how to reduce both actual risk and the perception of risk in my client’s portfolios. Since 2008 we have all thought, rethought, written and rewritten about risk.

I focus on financial planning to help clients understand why they are investing. I have had discussions about why portfolio allocation helps to protect clients; I’ve used all the financial metrics and Monte Carlo simulations. But no matter the conversation, it seems that clients see themselves forever in danger of falling off a 1,000-foot cliff — a fall they feel is one small misstep away.

And this, to me, is the real problem with the current wealth management paradigm. We do hours of financial planning work: calculating different saving scenarios, market returns and retirement dates. But when it comes time to actually construct a portfolio, we give the client a risk-tolerance questionnaire that is entirely unrelated to their financial planning needs.

What if a client scores very conservatively on the questionnaire but actually needs a more aggressive portfolio? Or vice versa? To not use the financial planning process to directly inform the investment management process makes no sense to me. Well, actually it does.

Let’s be honest: As an industry, planners continue to use risk-tolerance questionnaires because they are defensible in court. But these do the client a disservice; they let advisors avoid the real conversations our clients need.

We must ask clients which competing risks they are willing to accept: Are you willing to accept the risk of not retiring on time? If not, are you willing to take on more portfolio risk? That is the proper role of a risk-tolerance questionnaire: to inform the conversation about risk, but not to dictate it.

It is an easy thing to calculate the return requirement of a future goal. It seems sensible to assign a portfolio allocation that has the best likelihood of achieving that goal. And, taking this idea a step further, it is not a hard thing to figure out the maximum loss a portfolio can sustain before a plan gets derailed. You can even dust off the old stop-loss tool to help limit the risk of those catastrophic losses.

Using such a process might help give clients context, and a better sense of the risks they are actually willing to take. By assigning a loss threshold coupled with some hedging strategies (even as simple as stop-losses), we can help clients better understand which losses are tolerable and which are not.

This may be the point. As retail advisors, it is our job to keep clients rational and on track. With some safety nets, we may be able to help clients stay rational and not fear that 1,000-foot cliff so viscerally.

Franklin J. Parker is managing director of CH Wealth Management in Dallas.

There Isn’t Going To Be A Crash Anytime Soon

080519_USEconomy1My Comments: Last week I posted an article that suggested you be very cautious with your investments going forward. This article says “never mind”, all is well, keep going.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, both are completely rational, plausible, and probably accurate. Which means that I have no earthly idea how this is going to play out. One thing I do agree  with this author about is there is not going to be a giant market drop anytime soon. Those things come along about once every 65-75 years which means most of us will be dead before the next one.

In the meantime, find someone to help you maintain a healthy balance, with the ability to adjust quickly to changing fortunes, leaving you at the end of the day with more money than you started with. Go here to see my best soluttion: http://goo.gl/Z5iICf

Jun. 8, 2014 1:01 AM ET

Summary
• The SPY is not rising out of control and there is a lot of data to prove it.
• As of May 2014, the Domestic Market Capitalization of the main U.S. Exchanges was $24.9 trillion, not that drastically higher than the 2007 and 2008 time period.
• For ETFs like SPY, there will continue to be allocations away from other smaller capitalization companies to companies indexed by the SPY ETF.

Introduction
For the last few months, the amount of articles published about the “impending market meltdown” has gotten a bit excessive after considering the contributors’ conclusions and how they reached them (using some sort of data set with no actual triangulation of ideas). So here is my shot at this topical obsession.
Just a general note, my position on the markets is that market levels are just not that out of the ordinary. I strongly believe that market levels are warranted and I have the data to back it up. This article will mainly cover the objectivity of a sound SPY investment and how investors should not be too worried about ridiculously volatile changes in the market (there will not be another giant market drop anytime soon).

Instrument of Choice: SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
The SPY seeks to provide investment results that, before expenses, generally correspond to the price and yield performance of the S&P 500 Index. The Trust holds the portfolio and cash and is not actively managed. To maintain the correspondence between the composition and weightings of portfolio securities and component stocks of the S&P 500 Index, the Trustee adjusts the portfolio from time to time to conform to periodic changes in the identity and/or relative weightings of Index Securities.

Below is a summary of indices, comparing the S&P 500 index to the rest of the major indices. It’s fairly easy to point out that SPY is not narrow enough to be classified as a “narrow” indicator and not broad enough to be a “broad” indicator (I consider the Russell 2000 a broad index), so this will need to be kept in mind throughout the remainder of the article. Overall, the SPY has captured a significant portion of the 2013 to 2014 price rises and that may be a direct link to market confidence; however, this is a premature conclusion and will need more than just loaded statements to defend my position on the market (that a market crash is not coming anytime soon and current levels are not that out of the ordinary).


CONTINUE-READING

Be Flexible On 4% Rule

retirement_roadMy Comments: Increasingly, I find myself working with older clients. After all, I’m an older advisor. From time to time there is a question of how fast you should decumulate your nest egg(s). (I’m not sure if “decumulate” is an approved word, but the intent is to convey the opposite of accumulate.)

The rule of thumb has been to restrict withdrawals to 4% annually to help insure the money will last until you die. Only no one is willing to tell me when they will die. From my perspective as an advisor, I try to find common ground with a client so that in their mind we have reached a reasonable conclusion. It might be 3% or it might be 6%, leaving 4% somewhere in netherland.

May 21, 2014 • Debbie Carlson

Although many advisors have used the 4 Percent Rule for determining clients’ retirement withdrawals, there are times to break it, says J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s chief retirement strategist.

After taking account of longevity, health, investment returns, income and other factors, financial advisors need to talk to their clients about what makes their retired clients happy, said Katherine Roy, executive director of individual retirement at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Rather than looking at how much money can be withdrawn from portfolios and then adjusting spending, she said, financial advisors should run simulations to determine how much money clients can spend based on their risk profile and projected investment returns. Retirees should be able to enjoy the early years of their retirement when they are more active but still have enough money for their later years when health-care costs start to rise, she said.

In other words, if an active retiree couple wants to take their family to Europe, they should do that while they are healthy enough to enjoy the time and not worry about making a future trade off. By talking with their clients about their portfolio income and projected returns, financial advisors can guide spending decisions to maximize happiness in retirement and avoid the fear of running out of money at an older age. What she’s concerned about is clients regretting not having enjoyed their golden years, she said.

Roy spoke at the HighTower Apex 2014 conference in Chicago Tuesday and presented J.P. Morgan Funds’ 2014 Guide to Retirement, released earlier this year.

She broke down retirement spending into three categories, “go-go,” “slow-go” and “no-go,” a concept popularized by Michael Stein, CFA, in his book, The Prosperous Retirement, Guide to the New Reality. The concept suggests that in the “go-go” stage, usually the first 10 years of retirement, retirees spend more on travel and other luxuries. In the “slow-go” years, clients stay home more and spending less on luxuries, while in the “no-go” years, they may do even less but spend more on health-care costs.

She said she spoke to Stein, who is now retired, and he told her his own retirement trajectory has fallen into these categories. “But he said if he could go back and write his book, he would add that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, but that you must be happy,” she said.

Thus, she said, taking a dynamic approach to retirement planning is critical for financial advisors and their clients, rather than advisors sticking to the 4 Percent Rule, which basically sets the total withdrawal in the first year of retirement at roughly 4 percent of a client’s portfolio and in every subsequent year that initial amount is adjusted for inflation. In a more dynamic approach, advisors may adjust client’s spending annually so that they spend less when portfolio returns are lower and may spend more when returns are higher.

Roy said one way financial advisors can map out spending in retirement is to make health-care costs their own line item. Health-care costs rise toward the end of a person’s life and have higher inflation than other expenses. By making health care its own category, it will help clients understand what they have available for other living expenses.

What’s critical to making this dynamic approach work, versus sticking to the 4 Percent Rule, is that financial advisors meet at least annually to update the client’s goals, age, portfolio size, market assumptions and other factors.

“It’s important to have discussions with clients, rather than (relying on) just a rule of thumb,” Roy said.