While the S&P 500 remained near its all-time high, the recent massive selloff in the technology sector went mostly unnoticed. But for investors who follow the so-called “FANG” stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) the hit was painful: About $60 billion in value was wiped out in just one afternoon, representing the largest selloff in nearly 2 years.
The wipeout was a function of just how big these companies have become and the position they are in with new tax reform looming. Tech companies are expected to receive little benefit given its already-low average tax rate of 18.5% (below the 20% proposed rate).
This has caused investors to rotate out of the tech stocks and into the financial services sector, which stands to benefit more from a corporate tax rate that would drop from the current 35% to 20%.
Interestingly, the S&P 500 was relatively unaffected while this rotation into financials and out of tech ensued. The index’s volatility actually remained low, as did correlations among the S&P 500’s member stocks.
In other words, the diversity offered by the S&P 500 Index allowed for the index too remain relatively unscathed by the trading within the tech and financial sectors, a key reminder to investors that having proper exposure across the markets continues to be important with the S&P 500 near its all-time high.
Does intelligence equate with investment management success?
What might it take to succeed in investing? Intelligence alone? You have to be intelligent to get into Mensa. They only accept applicants with IQs that place them in the top 2 percent of the population. One might expect that if Mensa members formed an investment club, their returns would exceed market averages, or at least match them. In actuality, between 1986 and 2001, while the S&P 500 was returning a robust 15.3% annually, the Mensa Investment Club had average returns of 2.5% per year.
How did these geniuses and near geniuses manage such poor results in such a strong market? Their basic problem was a lack of discipline. Instead of using their intellects to determine a sound investment approach and sticking with it, they got sidetracked into exploring trendy new tools and theories of how to predict market trends. When one strategy didn’t work they tried another. They made frequent trades, thus increasing their transaction costs. In short, they provided a perfect example of Warren Buffett’s comment: “Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with the 130 IQ.” Common sense and discipline will beat erratic genius every time.
At this point in your journey toward financial strength, you already may have great momentum. All you need to reach the goal line is to exercise self-control in a few vital areas. I call these personal finance disciplines the High Five because they are the key to achieving your highest potential in life. They are:
- Saving Awareness and Control
- Spending Awareness and Control
- Work Ethic
By automating or delegating a huge share of the discipline needed to master wealth, you can reserve your energy for situations when it is needed most. This is one of the secrets of the successful people with whom I have the privilege to work. They devote their best to challenges associated with their greatest ambitions, rather than squandering valuable energy on secondary pursuits.
Compare your finances to standards of excellence and use them to make enhancements
When people with wealth describe to me how they view their current position, they use a wide variety of yardsticks to measure themselves. Some are troubled because they are comparing their finances to friends, family, or associates who appear to be much better off. Others are troubled because they have lost a large portion of their net worth through market declines, bad investments, or business setbacks.
It is more common, though, to meet people who feel quite confident and secure because they’re doing much better than they imagined they would when they were younger. Their confidence may be fueled by the good opinion of others around them, since wealthy, successful people are often accorded tremendous respect and kid-glove treatment.
There is nothing wrong with these benefits of success, but you can’t allow them to lull you into false assumptions about your financial position. If you want to know where you really stand in terms of financial strength, you need to employ objective standards of excellence.
In this article, I will discuss what I call the first guiding principle for managing wealth:
Make your balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio your friend
There is a critical distinction between possessing a high net worth and having a strong balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio. Problems in these three areas can give rise to huge frustrations and mistakes. The predicament of a gentleman I’ll call “Harry” illustrates this point.
In terms of net worth, Harry was in an excellent position, with total assets valued at somewhere north of $60 million. I would have thought it safe to assume that his balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio were spectacular, but that was not the case. A very high percentage of his assets was locked up in a private company he owned, or in his homes and other personal property. In fact, when I first met him, his liquid and semi-liquid assets were not sufficient to sustain his rate of spending for much longer. Though he had a $3 million portfolio, he was beginning to tap it at an unsustainable rate. Harry was wealthy and he felt wealthy, but he was heading toward an inevitable cash crunch.
Part of Harry’s problem was that he needed to be more cost conscious. A lot of his cash flow problems came down to over-paying for various goods and services. His mortgage payments were much higher than they needed to be. He was bleeding cash in the form of high brokerage fees. He was paying far too much for financial advice and services that were focusing on the 85% Trap and missing the Essential 15%.
An Ill-Advised Investment
In 1929 Winston Churchill, the future British Prime Minister, was touring the United States and Canada. Churchill had just stepped down as Chancellor of the Exchequer, a high government post equivalent to the Treasury Secretary in the U.S. Freed from his duty of overseeing financial policy for the British Empire, Churchill had time to focus on his personal wealth management and investments. In a letter to his wife, Clementine, dated September 19, he boasted of his success in this new pursuit:
My favorite productivity coach of all time is David Allen, famed author of Getting Things Done.
When you first work with David’s concepts and materials, you think it is all about optimal levels of productivity…but you soon realize his methods also have a wonderful way of unleashing you from all the complexity and worry that often accompanies high levels of achievement.
In one of his audio recordings, he says: “Too controlled is out of control” and this immediately resonated with me. Actually, it articulated the “sweet spot” I have always aimed for as I created (and ultimately patented) Systems and Methods for Optimizing Wealth and most all of the other wealth and investment management systems, structures, support and tools I’ve created over the years. I always have heard that you can have a form of “unconscious competence” that serves you, but you can typically build upon it at an even higher level when you become aware of it and it becomes “conscious competence” – this was the case for me with this concept.
Whether you are seeking to better invest your money or seeking to be a better “depletion-resistant” wealth steward, my advice is to keep the “too controlled is out of control” insight in mind. Here are some tips: