Tag Archives: investment advice

The Fiduciary Rule Is Dead. What’s an Investor to Do Now?

My Comments: Under the Obama administration, a long awaited and necessary step was taken to introduce rules that protected consumers of investment advice. It created a fiduciary standard for licensed financial professionals that formalized a ‘best interest’ mindset for professionals when working with clients.

Very soon after Trump became president, he announced this idea was a waste of time, presumably responding to pressure from Wall Street firms. As someone who has embraced a fiduciary standard in my practice for over 40 years, I saw it as a way to better serve my clients and to level the playing field among financial professionals, some of whom choose to cheat.

Interestingly, many national and regional financial firms of every stripe chose to embrace the idea of a fiduciary standard, recognizing it’s value in an ever competitive world. My suspicion is that if and when Trump is gone from the scene, this valid idea will resurface. Finding ways to cheat and not be held accountable is not in my client’s best interest.

By Lisa Beilfuss Sept. 9, 2018

It is a tricky time to be working with an investment professional.

Regulation is in flux, and different types of professionals are held to different standards when it comes to giving advice and recommending products. So, it can be hard to know exactly what you’re paying for.

Muddying the waters, a U.S. Circuit Court in June threw out the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, an Obama-era regulation that sought to curb conflicts of interest in financial advice that the Obama administration said cost American families $17 billion a year and a percentage point in annual returns.

The decision was a final blow to a rule that the financial-services industry fought, saying it would make advice more costly, and that the Trump administration had put under review for revision or repeal.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, meanwhile, has been working on its own investor-protection measure. The agency’s version may wind up replacing the fiduciary rule, though it is shaping up to be less restrictive for brokers, and consumer advocates say that it would do little to raise the standard of care that is currently required.

Here are a few things investors should know as they navigate their financial relationships.

Names can be crucial
Financial pros can go by a number of titles: There is wealth manager, financial planner, broker, financial adviser—as well as “advisor” with an “o”—and more. The difference is sometimes semantics, but it is often much more.

For one, financial advisers, regulated by the SEC, have for decades been held to a fiduciary standard, meaning they have to put clients’ interests before their own. The requirement traces back to the stock-market crash of 1929 and subsequent Depression, which Congress in part blamed on abuses in the securities industry.

Brokers are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, the securities industry’s self-regulatory body. They must provide what the agency describes as “suitable” investment advice—short of the fiduciary care required of their adviser counterparts.

Where things get tricky is that some financial professionals are dually registered, and some have professional designations that carry requirements trumping the standards required by regulators. For example, a broker who’s also a certified financial planner has to serve as a fiduciary, when doing financial planning, to maintain the designation.

The best way to know whether your adviser is a registered investment adviser, broker or both is to search BrokerCheck, a database maintained by Finra. An individual’s profile will denote his or her title and regulatory overseer.

But industry professionals and consumer advocates say investors should confirm any information with their adviser. Even better, the experts say: Investors should ask a financial professional to put in writing whether he or she is a fiduciary in their particular relationship.

Location matters
When it comes to which standard of care is required of an investment professional, where he or she works matters. Advisers who are held to a fiduciary standard must choose products that are in the best interest of the client. But what products an adviser can pick varies from firm to firm.

For example, at stand-alone investment advisories—-those that aren’t connected to a bank or brokerage—advisers typically have access to the universe of investment products, including the cheapest index funds. Some brokers at firms connected to banks do too, but not always. Some firms have house funds and lucrative partnerships with fund companies, and their brokers have more limited menus of investment options from which to choose.

To understand any constraints and incentives an investment adviser might have in recommending products, consumer advocates suggest checking firms’ securities disclosures. Advisory firms regulated by the SEC have to spell out conflicts of interests in those.

With the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule dead, brokers don’t have to disclose conflicts the way they did under the rule. Observers say potential rules from the SEC requiring that brokers serve clients’ best interest may emphasize disclosing conflicts over mitigating them.

For now, the best way to understand conflicts and constraints is to ask your broker, and to have him or her explain product selections.
“Never own something you don’t understand,” says Patti Houlihan, who heads the advocacy group Committee for the Fiduciary Standard. “If you can’t understand [a product] after reading a few pages on it, you shouldn’t be buying it,” she says, suggesting investors walk away from anything that is confusing or sounds too good to be true.

Fees don’t necessarily mean ‘best interest’
Many investment advisers, already required to act as fiduciaries, charge investors a percentage of their assets under management. Doing so eliminates commissions, which can cause conflicts of interest by pushing an adviser to recommend one product over another to the detriment of the client.

After the fiduciary rule was unveiled—and then went into temporary effect—many brokerages accelerated moving clients toward fee-paying accounts from commission accounts. They said it made compliance with the new regulation easier, because charging commissions under the fiduciary rule would require disclosures and contracts that executives said were too onerous and costly.

Fee accounts are regulated by the SEC, meaning once you’re in one, the adviser needs to act as a fiduciary. But that doesn’t mean being put into one was actually in your best interest.

A fee account “doesn’t keep your fees from being way higher than they should be,” says Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America.

“The fee-based accounts at brokerage firms still incorporate the conflicts of the broker-dealer model,” Ms. Roper says, such as revenue derived from fund companies, proprietary products and incentives meant to encourage broker behavior.

Ms. Roper encourages investors to ask their financial professionals for detailed fee breakdowns. For example, is a 1% advisory fee all-inclusive, or is that separate from underlying product fees? Investors with more complicated financial pictures might pay more to get more service, but even they should be wary of paying much more than 1%, Ms. Roper says.

“That’s a hole you have to dig out of,” she says, referring to the long-term effect of fees on investment returns.

By the same logic, paying commissions doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a fiduciary. In the spirit of the obligation, investment professionals are expected to evaluate on an individual basis what type of model is best.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fiduciary-rule-is-dead-whats-an-investor-to-do-now-1536548266

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Behold the ‘scariest chart’ for the stock market

My Comments: By now you’ll perhaps realize that whatever I say about what is likely to happen in the markets is wrong, and that you’d be better off doing just the opposite.

That’s OK. And if you are young and retirement is a few decades away, it’s OK to ride it out. But if you’re no longer young and foolish, then articles like this one from Sue Chang need to be read. What you do about it is up to you.

by Sue Chang, August 9, 2018

A lot has changed since the stock market crash of 2000. Apple Inc. has gone from being just another computer brand to becoming the most valuable company in the world, Amazon.com Inc. went from being an e-book retailer to a byword for online shopping and Tesla’s Elon Musk has risen from obscurity to Twitter stardom.

Yet some things never change and Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at Leuthold Group, has been on a mini-campaign highlighting the parallels between 2000 and 2018.

Among the numerous similarities is the elevated valuation of the S&P 500 then and now, which Ramsey illustrates in a chart that he has dubbed as the “scariest chart in our database.”
“Recall that the initial visit to present levels was followed by the S&P 500’s first-ever negative total return decade,” he said in a recent blog post.

Price-to-sales ratio is one measure of a stock’s value. It isn’t as popular as the price-to-earnings ratio, or P/E, but is viewed as less susceptible to manipulation since it is based on revenue.

He also shared a chart which he claims is “unfit for a family-friendly publication” that shows how in terms of median price to sales ratio, the S&P 500 is twice as expensive as it was in 2000.
“Overvaluation in 2000 was highly concentrated; today it is pervasive, with the median S&P 500 Price/Sales ratio of 2.63 times more than double the 1.23 times prevailing in February 2000.

In a follow-up post, he then reiterates how 2018 is starting to increasingly look like 2000.

“The statistical similarities between the two bulls are on the rise, and the wonderment surrounding the disruptive technology of today’s market leaders seems to have swelled to maybe 1998-ish levels,” he writes.

That upward trajectory of the market isn’t sustainable, he warns. Ramsey admits that history isn’t the best guide for the future but the S&P 500’s performance since it touched its peak on Jan. 26 is closely mirroring what happened 18 years ago.

“In the earlier case, a volatile five-month upswing that began in mid-April ultimately fell just a half-percent short of the March 24th high by early September. This year, a similarly choppy, six-month rebound has taken the S&P 500 to within 1% of its January 26th high,” Ramsey said.

(At this point, if you are still interested in this idea, I’m going to send you to the article as it first appeared. Here’s the link: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/behold-the-scariest-chart-for-the-stock-market-2018-08-08 )

7 Myths About Variable Annuities: Exposing Their Dark Side

My Comments: Anyone now retired or thinking about retirement spends time and energy coming to terms with how to manage their money.

Increasingly, fees charged by advisors and/or their companies are perceived as a threat somewhere along the way. However, unless you have the skills to do it all yourself, you are necessarily going to have to pay fees to gain the peace of mind you crave.

But there are fees and there are fees. My experience with variable annuities suggests they are generally excessive and you can gain the same positive outcome at a lower cost using a different approach.

These comments from Craig Kirsner are not definitive. But if you have variable annuities in your portfolio or are being encourage to buy one, I advise you to think again.

by Craig Kirsner, July 31, 2018

One of the most misunderstood investment strategies I’ve come across over the past 25 years is the variable annuity. When I audit existing variable annuities, I get the facts about them by calling the insurance company directly rather than the broker who sold them. Why? Because I believe you should trust but verify, and I like to get my information directly from the horse’s mouth.

When I call the insurance company, among other questions, I ask: What are all the fees? What is the risk? What are the features? After going through that drill numerous times, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Based on my experiences over the past 25 years, the following are the seven most common myths I’ve learned about variable annuities and the facts dispelling those myths:

Myth #1: A variable annuity is a suitable investment for a retiree

I typically work with high-net worth clients, but regardless of your means, your investing goals and strategies evolve as you grow older.

Early in life, you were probably happy to ride with the ebb and flow of the market, waiting and hoping to hit that investment “home run.” And why not? Suffering a loss now and then didn’t bother you because you were certain of a rebound, and you knew you had plenty of time to recover, long before retirement.

But years pass and investing approaches change. Entering retirement, most people start thinking about protecting and preserving what they have, not making a big splash in the market.
You may have heard it said that these days the return OF your principal is more important than the return ON your principal, and that is definitely true for most of our clients. That’s why the variable annuities some retirees count on for a regular income may not be the best route to take. Which brings us directly to Myth #2.

Myth #2: Your money is safe

People are often led to believe by their brokers that with variable annuities their money is safe, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Your money is invested in mutual funds with no real protection of your principal.

The name of the annuity pretty much sums it up: “Variable,” as in the principal varies, unlike a fixed annuity, where the principal is guaranteed by the insurance company.

Continue reading HERE: https://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T003-C032-S014-7-myths-about-variable-annuities.html

The Bull Market Could Be Speeding Right Into a Brick Wall

My Comments: I’ll admit to having done poorly as an investment advisor these past few years. My history was and has been shaped by our collective experience following what became known as Black Monday on October 10, 1987. On that day, we were glued to the radio or TV as the DOW dropped over 22% and fear gripped the country.

For the past three years, I’ve been expecting and counseling clients to expect another, and as a result, I’ve not been positioned correctly as the markets have defied my expectations and largely continued to rise. I’m reminded of how a broken clock is right twice every 24 hours.

But over the past few weeks, in meetings with clients and prospective clients, each time someone other than I have brought up the question of another dramatic price drop. And each time I’m reminded of my inability to offer anything other than caution.

Some of that advice includes the understanding that a recession and a stock market crash, while related, are not synonymous. But it can be argued that either can trigger the other.

It’s also colored by the fact that I’m now in my 70’s and those I’m talking with are either in or are approaching retirement. A mistake now will be far more painful that it would have been 30 years ago. Then we had time to wait for a recovery. Today, not so much.

The so called tax cut passed by Congress and signed by Trump will likely make the next crash worse. That’s because so much of the impetus for the current gains is driven by corporations buying back stock from the general public with their tax savings. This extra demand pressure is driving stock prices up. The story we got was it would be spent on employee raises, new hiring, or benefits. The con job continues.

by Brian Sozzi – July 30, 2018

Too much hot money is concentrated in surging FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet’s Google), and it may be about to end badly for investors.

Facebook’s (FB) post-second quarter earnings meltdown has shed light on increasingly narrow market breadth — an often negative development for stocks — explains Goldman Sachs strategist David Kostin. Narrowing breadth has been masked by the out-sized appetite for tech stocks such as Facebook and Netflix (NFLX) . The top 10 contributors in the S&P 500 have accounted for 62% of the S&P 500’s 7% year to date return. Of these 10 stocks, nine are tech or internet firms.

The tech sector alone accounts for 56% of the S&P 500’s year to date return, or 76% including Amazon (AMZN) and Netflix.

Stock Spotlight

Nvidia shares have trailed the Nasdaq Composite since late June as investors book profits ahead of second quarter earnings on August 16. Remember, Nvidia saw a mixed response to its strong first quarter results back in May. At the time, investors called out some weakness in the auto chip business and in chips used in cryptocurrency mining to head for the hills. But given the company’s widening competitive advantages in the chip space, it will be hard for investors to stay away from Nvidia for too long.

“We see many reasons to maintain our 2-year-old bullish thesis on Nvidia,” says Arthur Wood analyst Jeff Johnston. “They are the leader in some of the fastest growing areas in tech and should continue to be so for the next several quarters. Additionally, they are well positioned to maintain/grow their dominant market share position in their legacy markets.”

The call from yours truly: Softbank will buy Nvidia within the next three years (It has a 5% stake in the company that it took in 2017).

What’s Next For Investments???

My Comments: You have not heard much from me lately. That’s because I’ve been spending hours and hours building an internet course on retirement planning. I’m not there yet but soon will be. Keep following this blog and you’ll get an announcement when it’s ready.

In the meantime, we’re at the end of Quarter 1 of 2018 and it was an interesting quarter for a lot of reasons. For those of you with time on your hands and sufficient interest to explore the details, the following article from The Heisenberg Report is revealing. Whether it helps you make money or helps you not lose money remains to be seen.

Go HERE if you are ready to wade through 8 pages of commentary and graphs. The conclusion you will discern is that market complacency is diminishing rapidly and that something uncomfortable is likely to happen soon.

How your 401(k) can survive and thrive in the next bear market

My Comments: Some of you reading this have money in 401(k)s and 403(b)s and cannot simply remove it and place it somewhere safer. Which means you’re completely exposed to the vagaries of the markets and you can only hope for the best.

I learned long ago that HOPE is not an effective investment strategy. So these words from Adam Shell may make your life a little easier. If you want more information, you know how to reach me.

Adam Shell, March 9, 2018

The nine-year stretch of rising stock prices won’t last forever. So now’s a good time for investors to bear-proof their 401(k)s before the next financial storm.

The current bull market, now the second-longest ever and celebrating its 9th birthday on Friday, is most likely in its final stages, Wall Street pros say. That means a bear market will occur at some point, and the stock market will tumble at least 20% from its peak.

What could cause it and when? No one can know for sure. A recession perhaps, or a surge in interest rates and inflation? An unexpected event or investors getting too giddy about stocks and driving prices up to unsustainable levels? All could be the triggers of a big drop in stocks.

Remember, if you have any money invested in stocks, you won’t be able to avoid all the pain that a bear inflicts on your 401(k). While a drop of 20% from a prior peak is the classic definition of a bear market, most drops are more sizable. The average decline for the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index in the 13 bears since 1929 is 39.9%, S&P Dow Jones Indices says. A swoon of that size would shrink a $100,000 investment in an index tracking the broad market to roughly $60,000.

Prepare ahead of time

“The best way to survive a bear market is to be financially prepared before one happens,” says Jamie Cox, managing partner for Harris Financial Group.

That means not having 100% of your money invested in stocks near a market top. It also means maintaining low levels of debt and having some emergency savings to avoid having to sell stocks in a down market to raise cash, he says.

From a portfolio standpoint, make sure your investment mix isn’t too risky. Are you loaded up on high-fliers that have greater odds of suffering steep drops if the market tanks? Make sure you own some “defensive” stocks, such as utilities, consumer companies that sell everyday staples like soap and cereal, or health care names, which tend to hold up better when markets fall overall.

“Investors should take the time to control the parts of their portfolios they can control,” Cox advises.

If, for example, your portfolio was designed to have 60% in stocks, and that percentage has ballooned to 80% due to the long period of rising stock prices, consider “rebalancing” your portfolio now. Sell some stock to get back to your initial 60% target.

Play defense

The time to be aggressive in the market is when stocks are up, and you can make tactical moves likes cashing out stocks, says Woody Dorsey, a behavioral finance expert and president of Market Semiotics, a Castleton, Vt.-based investment research firm. It makes more sense, he adds, to be defensive when the market is entering or in a period of falling prices.

“Does a bear market mean an investor needs to freak out? No. But it does mean you should be more careful,” Dorsey says. “If the market is going to be difficult for one or two years, just get more defensive. Keep in simple.”

One simple strategy to employ is to get “less exposed to the market and raise cash,” Dorsey says. “Most people are not used to that message, but it’s a good message.” While a normal portfolio might consist of 60% stocks and 40% bonds, a bear market portfolio, he says, might be 30% cash, 30% U.S. stocks and the rest in foreign investments and bonds.

Main Street investors could also consider defensive strategies employed by professional money managers, he says. They can buy things that hold up better in tough times, such as gold. Or add to “alternative” investments that rise when stocks fall, such as exchange-traded funds that profit when market volatility is on the rise or funds that can short the market, or profit from falling prices.

Identify severity of bear

The next bear isn’t likely to be as severe as the epic one following the Great Recession or the dive in early 2000 after the dot-com bubble burst, says Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab. Both of those bears saw market drops of about 50% or more.

“The next bear will be a more traditional one that likely comes from the market sniffing out a coming recession,” she explains. “We don’t think it will be caused by a global financial crisis or bubble bursting.”

That means fear levels likely won’t spike quite as high. Investors will also have a better idea of when the bear market might hit, as it will be foreshadowed by signs of a slowing economy.

It also suggests the market will likely rebound more quickly than the average bear of 21 months. As a result, employing basic investment principles, such as portfolio rebalancing, diversification and buying shares on a regular basis, which forces folks to snap up shares when prices are cheaper, can help investors emerge from the next bear market in decent shape.

“Diversification and rebalancing are boring to talk about,” says Sonders. “But they are more useful strategies than all the hyperbole on when to get in or get out of the market, which is not an investment strategy.”

Buy the ‘big’ dips

There are big market swings even in bear markets. A way investors can play it is to buy shares on the days or periods when stocks are under intense selling pressure. “There will be lots of wild swings,” says Mike Wilson, U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley.

Investors have to take advantage of stock prices when they are depressed and present good value, he says, even if it seems like a scary thing to do at the time.

“You have to be willing to step in” when market valuations fall a lot, no matter what’s going on in the world, Wilson advises.

Forecasting the Next Recession

My Comments: I may have retired from providing investment advice but I’ve not yet left the building. What happens in the world of money still interests me both professionally and personally.

Attached to this post, by way of a link to a 12 page, downloadable report, is a projection from Guggenheim that says we’ll experience a recession roughly 24 months from now.

Whether they are right or wrong, the next one is somewhere on the horizon. Knowing in advance when it might happen will help manage the financial resources you have that pay for your retirement.

Just don’t confuse the timing of a recession with the timing of market corrections of 10% or more. While there is some correlation, it is far from 100%. Also keep in mind the stock markets price things based on what people THINK will happen, not what actually does happen.

Here’s the link to download a copy of the report: Forecasting the Next Recession.