Investments play an important role in your ability to accumulate and preserve wealth. However, it’s crucial to realize from the start that no single investment is right for everyone. Nor can any one investment accomplish all of your needs and goals. You have unique financial needs, goals, and personal circumstances that determine which specific investments are appropriate for your individual situation.
Why is Investing Important?
To accumulate wealth successfully, selecting appropriate investment vehicles is a must. Thus the most important financial planning question isn’t, “What’s the best investment?” but rather, “How do I determine which investments are best for me at this stage in my life?”
Here are five steps to help you get started in answering that question:
Step 1: Set your financial goals.
Step 2: Understand investment vehicles.
Step 3: Recognize dangerous investment myths.
Step 4: Understand what investing requires.
Step 5: Acknowledge the variety of risks associated with investing.
Setting Your Financial Goals
Your financial goals will determine what investments you should make. The more specific your financial goals, the more easily you can select investments that will help you meet those goals. Imagine, for instance, that you state one of your financial goals as follows: “I want to be able to retire someday.” A more specific goal would be: “I want to retire at age 55 and be able to spend $50,000 in today’s dollars annually for the rest of my life.”
From a financial planning standpoint, these two statements are worlds apart. Merely setting the goal of eventual retirement doesn’t indicate what you need to do to achieve your goal. The second statement, however, lets you begin to project how much money you’ll need for retiring in the manner you desire. From there you can determine the amount of annual savings and the mix of investments that can help you accumulate funds for retirement.
Here are four factors that determine how you can set your financial goals:
● Your Investment Time Horizon
● Your Priorities
● Your “Numbers”
● Your Personal Investment Profile
Your Investment Time Horizon
The length of time you have to reach your goal is considered by many financial advisors as the most important factor in determining which types of investments are best suited to meet your goals. Investments that are appropriate for funding a long-term goal (such as retiring in 15 years) would generally not be appropriate for a shorter-term goal (such as saving money to buy a vacation home in 3 years). The reverse is also true.
You must prioritize your financial goals and decide which are necessary and which are merely desirable. Depending on the time frame, you may need to invest for your highest-priority goals first, and then wait until you feel confident you’ll attain them before investing to meet lower-priority goals.
After determining your financial priorities, you should develop financial projections and calculate different alternative scenarios to quantify your goals. From these calculations, you can then establish the amount you can save and what rate of return is necessary from your investments to assure that you’ll achieve your goals.
Quantifying your goals involves projecting income and expenses, for both the short and long terms. Using these projections, you can establish parameters for funding multiple goals; lacking these parameters, however, you simply won’t have enough information to allow for informed decision making.
Whether you seek assistance from financial advisors or use financial planning software, you must know where you stand and where you want to go in specific, numerical terms.
Your Personal Investment Profile
Your investment profile is the key to determining which types of investments are right for you. Your investment profile is shaped by such things as:
● Your age and the stage of your career. Generally, if you are young and in the early stages of your career, you have time on your side. You may be able to experience a loss and recover through years of additional savings. On the other hand, if you are older, investment loss can be devastating because you have little time to replace your losses with additional savings.
● Your need for liquidity. A liquid asset is one that can be converted to cash in a short period of time without loss of principal. You may require higher investment liquidity to cover large near-term expenditures (such as tuition for a son or daughter about to enter college) or to fund your contingency or emergency fund.
● The size of your portfolio. This means the total value of your investments. Your portfolio’s size will dictate the manner in which to invest. For example, if you have $50,000 to invest in stocks, buying the stocks of only a few individual companies may not be appropriate. You simply cannot achieve sufficient market diversification. Mutual funds that invest in stocks would be a better investment choice. In addition, certain risky investments are inappropriate for a smaller portfolio.
● Your cash flow needs. If you need to supplement your cash flow from your portfolio, investments providing current income (such as dividends or interest payments) may be preferable to those whose return comes largely from capital appreciation. Cash flow becomes critical at retirement, when you will no longer draw a paycheck. Cash flow is also an important factor in real estate investments which may create a negative cash flow if they remain unoccupied for extended periods of time.
● Your income tax bracket. Your income tax bracket determines how much of your taxable income you can keep. Being in a high tax bracket may lead you to invest in more tax-favorable investments such as tax-free municipal bonds. Being in a lower tax bracket allows you to realize a greater after-tax return from investments that are fully taxable.
● Your required rate of return. This is the amount of total return you need from your investments to meet your financial goals. For example, you may determine that to retire as planned; you need an average annual return of 5% per year, assuming inflation is 2% per year or less. This required return will you help you determine the types of investments you need to meet your financial goals.
● Your risk tolerance. This factor relates to the degree that risk influences your choice of investments. If you’re like most investors, you’re risk-averse. You don’t want to take any more risk than is absolutely necessary. However, the phrase “no risk, no reward” applies here just as in other situations. The degree of risk you’ll accept will affect your potential return. If you have a low risk tolerance, you may tend to avoid investments you perceive as risky; however, you’ll pay a price in the return you will achieve..
Understanding Investment Vehicles
Cash and Cash Equivalents
These are investments with a high level of liquidity and little or no risk to principal. In general, cash investments are short-term interest-bearing securities and deposit accounts that offer liquidity, safety of principal and current interest. Individual investors most frequently use savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), money market funds, U.S. Treasury bills, and U.S. savings bonds.
Bonds and Debt Instruments
Bonds are debt instruments, typically issued by a government or a corporation. When you purchase a bond, you are granting a loan to that issuer. You put up current cash in exchange for regular interest payments and the return of principal at maturity. Bonds are typically appropriate if you are seeking steady cash flow and you don’t have an immediate need for the principal invested.
Investments that fall into this category include:
● Corporate bonds
● U.S. Government securities
● Municipal bonds (which are issued by states and municipalities and are free from federal income taxes
● Mortgage-backed securities
Bonds can be used to diversify your portfolio and can be excellent vehicles for funding short to intermediate term goals, since you can match the bond’s maturity to the date you need funds for that goal.
Generally speaking, the longer the maturity of a bond, the higher the interest. That’s because enticing you to commit money for a longer period requires the issuers to pay a comparatively higher rate. Before selecting a bond, you should therefore consider whether the issuer is offering sufficient additional interest for the length of time you’re investing your money.
The strength and character of the government or corporation that issued the bond is all-important, since this will determine the quality and safety of the bond. Different issuers may have higher or lower credit ratings, which means that the possibility of default varies from one issuer to another.
Stocks represent an ownership interest in a company. As an owner, you’ll realize a positive return from the investment only to the extent that the company’s earnings are more than sufficient to satisfy the claims of the company’s creditors.
After a company has paid all its bills (including any payments to bondholders), the remaining cash flow belongs to the shareholders. For this reason, a stock investment is considered a residual interest in the company. This residual interest may be paid to shareholders each year in the form of a dividend, or it may be reinvested in the continuing operation of the company, thereby increasing the value of the stockholder’s shares over time, hopefully resulting in growth and capital gains. Dividends are generally fully taxable when stockholders receive them. Capital gains generally are not taxable until the stock is sold. At that time the gain may be taxable at favorable rates, depending on the tax law in effect at the time.
The most common form of stock is common stock. However, preferred stocks offer investors another option that is typically less risky than common stocks. Preferred stocks have a priority in the distribution of dividends from the corporation, compared to common stocks.
Common stocks can accumulate wealth in two ways:
● They can provide income through dividends, which are distributed to shareholders from corporate earnings.
● They can appreciate in value, generally as a result of successful company operations or the prospect of successful future operations.
However, keep in mind the possibility that capital appreciation is mirrored by the possibility of a decline in the value of your investment. Risk varies from stock to stock and from industry to industry.
Mutual funds are one of the most appropriate means of investing for many people. That’s because selecting individual securities in which to invest, such as stocks and bonds, requires time, effort, knowledge, and access to information. While this can be done through a professional asset manager in a separate account, most people don’t have sufficient investable assets to make this feasible. Mutual funds offer several advantages:
● Professional investment management of assets at a relatively low cost
● Ownership in a diversified portfolio
● Potentially lower commissions, since the investment manager buys and sells in large blocks
● Readily available information to assist investors to access information needed to compare various funds and fund companies
● Other special services such as dividend reinvestment plans, periodic withdrawal and investment plans, telephone and online switching, and in some cases check writing.
Mutual funds are classified according to their investment objectives. Here is a summary of the various types of funds categorized by their investment objective:
● Aggressive growth funds. These funds are characterized by high-risk and high return. They typically seek capital appreciation and do not produce significant interest income or dividends.
● Growth funds. Growth funds aim to achieve an increase in the value of their investments over the long term (capital gains) rather than paying dividends.
● Growth and Income funds. Also called “equity-income” and “total return” funds, these funds aim to balance the objectives of long-term growth and current income.
● Balanced funds. These funds have three objectives: to conserve investors’ initial principal, to pay high current income through dividends and interest, and to promote long-term growth of both principal and income. Balanced funds invest in both bonds and stocks.
● Bond funds. Bond mutual funds invest primarily in bonds. Some funds may concentrate on short-term bonds, others on intermediate-term bonds, and still others on long-term bonds. Some funds concentrate on tax-free municipal bonds, others on corporate bonds of varying grades, and others on U.S. Treasuries.
● Sector funds. Sector funds invest in one industry, such as biotechnology or retail, and therefore do not offer the diversity you generally receive from a growth mutual fund, for example.
● Index funds. Index mutual funds recreate a particular market index such as the S&P 500. The holdings and the return should thus mirror that of the index.
Annuities and Cash Value Life Insurance
Annuity contracts with insurance companies are other popular forms of investment for American families. An annuity is a contract between the annuitant and an insurance company. You invest in the contract and receive a promise from the insurance company to pay a series of payments for a fixed number of years or over your lifetime. The payments can begin immediately or can be delayed to a future date, such as when you plan to retire.
There are two principal kinds of annuities: immediate and deferred.
● Immediate annuities. With an immediate annuity you invest in the annuity and your payments start immediately.
● Deferred annuities. With a deferred annuity you pay your premium (either single pay or monthly) and payments don’t start until later. Deferred annuities constitute the larger segment of the annuity market by far. The reason for their popularity is that the annuity’s buildup, like that of an IRA, is tax-deferred until withdrawn.
There are two phases in the life-cycle of a deferred annuity: the accumulation phase and the distribution phase. During the accumulationphase, the annuity contract builds or grows in value depending on the investment engine inside the annuity contract, taking advantage of the tax-deferred nature of annuity contracts.
During the distribution phase, an annuity pays out a stream of income measured by a number of years, one or more lifetimes, or a combination of lifetimes plus a guaranteed number of years. This feature can create guaranteed income that the client cannot outlive, regardless of longevity.
Deferred annuities themselves come in two types. One is the fixed annuity, which functions like a CD in a tax-sheltered wrapper. Your account is credited with a fixed interest rate based on the terms of the contract with the issuing insurance company. As described in more detail in Chapter 4, a fixed annuity can be combined with a long-term disability rider to provide leverage and protection against the huge costs of a protracted stay in a nursing home or an assisted living facility.
By contrast, the fixed indexed annuity can be designed to capture a portion of the growth of the stock market without the risk of losses due to stock market downturns. Fixed Indexed Annuities often peg the S&P 500 or other well established benchmarks and climb in value during years when the underlying index grows, and then permanently lock in that growth. In down years, however, the value of the annuity does not go down, but stays in place with no risk of backsliding.
Because of this unique feature—growing when the stock market grows but not going down when the market falls—I refer to this as a “RatchetWrench Strategy.” Like a ratchet wrench, which can only turn in one direction, this unique feature allows ordinary investors to enjoy the best of both worlds: stock market upside potential when the market is headed up without the risk of downdrafts when the market goes south, such as we experienced in 2008.
Fixed Indexed Annuities are quite popular because they allow both tax-free deferral of investment income and the ability to capture stock market gains and avoid stock market losses. With current high tax rates and the volatility of the stock market, the attraction is obvious.
What makes one type of annuity better than another? It depends on whether your primary desire is a predetermined rate of return (fixed) or tax-advantaged investments with upside potential based on the long-term potential of the stock market (indexed).
While cash value life insurance, such as universal life, is initially more expensive than term insurance, it offers a wide variety of savings, investment, and payment options. Cash value build-up occurs in a tax-advantaged environment over a significant number of years. A cash value policy also offers a form of investment discipline—in essence forcing you to put away money each month to provide for your future. For more information about cash value life insurance, see Chapter 5.
Real estate has long been popular, for more reasons than investment alone. Fully 60% of Americans own their own homes, and many do so for reasons that go beyond considerations of financial planning. It’s a small wonder that many people regard home ownership as part of their concept of the American Dream.
You can own real estate either directly or indirectly. Direct ownership involves purchasing particular properties, for example your home or a rental duplex. Indirect ownership involves investing money in a partnership or trust that owns one or more pieces of real estate. Direct ownership is the most common method of investing in real estate, dominated by ownership of primary residences. Ownership of vacation homes or rental properties is the second-most-common arrangement. Indirect ownership is accomplished primarily through limited partnerships and real estate investment trusts (REITs).
To protect against inflation and to diversify your portfolio, some investment advisors recommend allocating a small percentage of your funds to gold and other precious metals. Historically, gold has provided a hedge against falling stock prices, since it tends to behave in a manner opposite to that of stocks in most economic scenarios. When there is a financial or political crisis, some investors abandon stocks for a tangible asset which they feel will always have value. Gold and other precious metals may therefore be significant investments from a diversification standpoint.
Owning gold and other precious metals involves costs atypical of other investments. These include the cost of assaying—examination and determination as to weight, measure, and quality—storage, insurance, and transactions costs.
Resisting Dangerous Financial-Services Myths
In the 1980’s, Baby Boomers reached their peak earning years and started putting away substantial assets for their children’s education and their own retirement. More people than ever before turned to investing. With the wide-spread availability of financial services, certain financial-service myths have gained credence among the investing public. Many of these were spawned and perpetuated by sometimes-too-close alliances between the financial services industry and the financial-services media.
Those who hope to safely navigate the often-dangerous currents of investing must learn to recognize these myths when they are espoused by the media and a wide variety of “financial experts.” Three of the most insidious of these financial myths are:
● MYTH #1: Stock Selection: The belief that you can outsmart the market by picking certain companies’ stocks.
THE MYTH: Financial advisers can consistently and predictably add value through individual stock selection.
● MYTH #2: Mutual Fund Track-Record Investing: The use of performance history to determine the best mutual funds for the future.
THE MYTH: Finding funds that did well in the past will equal future success.
● MYTH #3: Market Timing: An attempt to adjust the mix of assets based on a prediction or forecast about the future.
THE MYTH: Financial Advisors are able to predict up and down markets before the rest of the world, and then move assets based on these predicted cycles.
MYTH #1: Financial advisers can consistently and predictably add value through individual stock selection.
The most prominent investment theory is that the stock market is “inefficient,” that is, the stock market fails to properly price stocks. This belief gives rise to the notion that “smart” financial advisors can take advantage of the market’s failure to price stocks properly. They can recognize which stocks are underpriced or overvalued and which stocks will rise and fall. This leads to “Active Management” – they are constantly buying and selling stocks.
This philosophy is taught by the investing world, by brokerage firms, and by so-called “stock jockeys.” The media is complicit in this philosophy by saying “this stock is great!” or “this stock is horrible!” or “you should buy this stock NOW!”.
Extensive and long-standing academic studies have shown that the stock market is actually “efficient.” That means that, at any point in time, the actual price of a security will be a good estimate of its intrinsic value. The randomness of the market makes it impossible to figure out what’s going to happen next and which stocks are going to do better than others. Several Nobel Prizes in Economics have been awarded to academicians for proving this point, including those given to Harry Markowitz and Merton H. Miller in 1990, and Eugene F. Fama in 2013.The reality is that more times than not, Cramer and his colleagues are wrong. The Kellogg School of Management at the University of Michigan studied Cramer’s stock picks and found that, notwithstanding all his shouting, an investor would do better selling things he was telling people to buy.
So what does this all mean? It means that a stock jockey's ability to pick stocks in the past has little to no correlation with his ability to do so consistently in the future.
The truth of the matter is that STOCK PICKERS CANNOT CONSISTENTLY BEAT THE MARKET .
MYTH #2: Finding mutual funds that did well in the past will equal future success.
Most average investors believe that the way to identify the best mutual funds for their money is to see which ones performed best in the past few years. The Morningstar rating system—which awards funds a certain number of stars from one to five—reinforces and perpetuates this myth.
Mutual fund companies like Fidelity, Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, and dozens of others know that 72% of all funds flowing into mutual funds goes to those funds that have 4 or 5 stars, and that that money typically moves from one fund to another every three years or so.
In an August 11, 2013, article in the New York Times entitled “Mutual Fund Merry-Go-Round,” David F. Swensen, Chief Investment Officer for the Yale University Endowment, wrote:
“Mutual Fund companies, retail brokers and financial advisers aggressively market funds awarded four stars and five stars by Morningstar, the Chicago-based arbiter of investment performance. But the rating system merely identifies funds that performed well in the past; it provides no help in finding future winners. Nevertheless, investors respond to industry come-ons and load up on the most ‘stellar’ offerings.”
Investors’ hope of achieving future performance based on past results is unfortunately ill-founded. This graph shows how many of the top 100 funds in any given year were still in the top 100 funds the following year. On average, only 7 funds repeated the second year.
So how do mutual fund companies create the illusion of success? The answer is “The Law of Large Numbers.” They operate so many funds that a few in their family will be successful, even though most will not. Thus while there were 14,089 stocks at the end of 2013, there were 30,586 mutual funds. Fidelity alone offered 1,257 funds.
When a fund consistently fails to perform, it is killed off and its assets are moved to another, more successful fund in the fund family. Over the years, 54,365 funds have been created and 23,778—over 43%—have been closed. The casualties are buried and never mentioned again.
Bottom line: it is a myth that last year’s star mutual funds can beat the market. The truth is that Last Year’s Star Mutual Funds Probably Won’t Be the Stars This Year—or Next.
MYTH #3: Financial Advisors are able to predict up and down markets before the rest of the world, and then move assets based on these predicted cycles.
The market timing myth comes in many guises. In its simplest, black-and-white version, it sounds something like this:
“I’m in stocks right now. I think the stock market’s going to go down because the Federal Reserve is going to change its policy. I’ve been reading about X, Y, Z in the Wall Street Journal, it looks like the market is overvalued, so I’m switching to cash.”
Another more sophisticated version is based on constant asset allocation and re-allocation:
“Let’s move from 60% stocks to 70% stocks because I think stocks are going up. Let’s move from 40% bonds to 30% bonds because interest rates are going to move. Let’s reduce/increase how much we have in cash.”
Here’s the problem: nobody can move your money in and out of the markets at just the right time, again, and again, and again. For a market timing approach to succeed you have to be correct twice: First, when you leave the stock market. And second, when you jump back in. So you actually double your chance of failure.
This is one of the toughest myths to break people of, because it is so encouraged by the media and the investing world. It’s like the great American pastime: “What’d the market do today?” People think they are getting a lot of help today by searching the Internet or watching the television. The media tells Americans every day they should be trying to time the market.
But ask yourself: If market timing worked and was possible, wouldn’t all the headlines in the financial press appear BEFORE the market moved up or down?
You’ve probably seen these numbers. If you invested $100,000 in 1929 and let it grow until 2010, it would have grown as follows:
One-month T-Bills $1,863,000
Diversified 70/30 U.S. Portfolio $377,991,030
So being in the market is good, right? Yes, EXCEPT . . .
96% of those returns occurred in less than 1% of the trading days.
Unfortunately, most ordinary and professional investors trying to time the market would likely have missed much of that gain. If the stock market crashes, the bad news will be all over the internet even as stocks are going back up in value. And most of the gains are going to occur in just a handful of days. Trying to time the market can be devastating because most investors will pull out of stocks after they go down, and only get back in after they’ve gone back up in value.
Here’s some other statistics that should scare a would-be market timer.
If you had invested one dollar in 1926 and let it grow to 2004, it would have grown to:
However, if you had missed the best 48 months during those 78 years, your dollar would have only grown to:
Notwithstanding what you read in the financial press and watch on financial TV, it is a myth that market timers can beat the market. The truth is that Market Timers Cannot Consistently Beat the Market.
It is FALSE that really smart people can predict the economic future and pick better investments, thus beating the market! In reality, nobody “knows” anything. They think they know. They may sound like they know. They may be right sometimes. But you cannot bet on outsmarting the markets!
So what’s a middle income family to do?
I have three recommendations:
1. DON’T GET SUCKED IN BY THESE THREE INVESTING MYTHS.
2. DON’T TRY TO “PLAY IT SAFE” WITH TOO MUCH IN CASH, CDS, T-BILLS, ETC., BECAUSE YOU WILL LOSE ALL YOUR PURCHASING POWER TO INFLATION.
We should keep a portion of our portfolios in cash or cash equivalents, but we need to primarily invest to stay ahead of inflation.
3. STAY IN THE STOCK MARKET, BUT LET THE DUAL NATURE OF THE MARKET WORK IN YOUR FAVOR.
The stock market represents ownership—the assets and earning capacity of businesses. As such, the stock market (as a whole) tends to grow and stay ahead of inflation on a long-term basis. It may be one of the few classes of assets that can do that. However, it can be very cyclical, meaning it goes up and it goes down.
We know it will go up, and we know it will go down. We just don’t know when. What if we could capture the upside of the stock market and avoid the downside? What if, like a ratchet wrench, our retirement portfolio could only turn in one direction, i.e., could only go up and couldn’t go down?
Is that even possible . . . ?
For your retirement portfolio to go up when the market goes up but not go down when the market goes down?
The financial vehicle that goes up when the market goes up but doesn’t go down when the market goes down is called a “Fixed Indexed Annuity.” Fixed Indexed Annuities are a "Heads You Win,Tails You Don’t Lose” strategy for a chunk of your retirement portfolio.
A Fixed Indexed Annuity is a long-term contract with an insurance company. Using a stock market-based index like the S&P 500, it increases in value when the market goes up, but doesn’t decrease in value when the market goes down. It protects against inflation and allows the dual nature of the stock market to work in your favor.
They’re not for everybody, but in the right situation Fixed Indexed Annuities are a smart way to improve the quality of your retirement years.
What Does Investing Require?
1. Investing requires an on-going surplus.
2. Investing requires a commitment to an investment purpose.
3. Investing requires clarity about time horizons.
4. Investing requires an understanding of the time-value of money.
5. Investing requires an appreciation of the wonder of compounding, called by Albert Einstein “the greatest mathematical
discovery of all time."
Inflation is the silent assassin. It relentlessly robs your purchasing power even as you sleep. The stock market, on the other hand, is more violent. Who knows when it will crash next? Most retirees get mugged by one while trying to escape the other. No one has ever showed them how to capture the upside of the stock market while avoiding the downside AND staying ahead of inflation.
Consider two individuals, we’ll name them Pam and Sam. Both Pam and Sam are the same age. When Pam was 25 she invested $15,000 at an interest rate of 5.5%. For simplicity, let’s assume the interest rate was compounded annually. By the time Pam reaches 50, she will have $57,200.89 ($15,000 x [1.055^25]) in her bank account.
Pam’s friend, Sam, did not start investing until he reached age 35. At that time, he invested $15,000 at the same interest rate of 5.5% compounded annually. By the time Sam reaches age 50, he will have $33,487.15 ($15,000 x [1.055^15]) in his bank account.
What happened? Both Pam and Sam are 50 years old, but Pam has $23,713.74 ($57,200.89 - $33,487.15) more in her savings account than Sam, even though he invested the same amount of money! By giving her investment more time to grow, Pam earned a total of $42,200.89 in interest and Sam earned only $18,487.15.
Both investments start to grow slowly and then accelerate. Pam’s account grows faster as she nears her 50s not simply because she has accumulated more interest, but because this accumulated interest is itself accruing more interest.
Pam’s grows even faster (her rate of return increases) in another 10 years. At age 60 she would have nearly $100,000 in her bank account, while Sam would only have around $60,000, a $40,000 difference!
6. Investing requires the recognition that every investment has an acquisition cost, a holding cost, and a liquidation cost.
7. Investing requires an awareness that there are many kinds of investment risks and that every investment involves some form