Long-term strategies may challenge investors to stay focused. The fight against short-term thinking is getting harder as we accomplish so many things with increasing ease and speed.
There is more computing power in an iPhone than what NASA had during the first landing on the moon. Remember when Netflix mailed DVDs to your home? Now we can stream just about anything to our smartphones. And what would you have said ten years ago if I had told you the President of the United States’ main communication tool in 2018 would be Twitter?
But speed doesn’t change everything.
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.
What Are Your Own Possibilities?
Sometimes, the pursuit of wealth can leave a void in our lives—a place left empty because we lacked the energy or time to pursue a dream. There is a saying: “Wealth is not an end, it is a means to an end.” The problem is that the complexity of creating wealth and the subsequent financial planning often gets in the way of seeing and pursuing an end truly aligned with your highest purpose in life.
My life’s work has been focused on this critical unmet need. I hope to help people see the possibilities that open up once you escape from the chaos and confusion that characterize so much of the wealth management field today. I absolutely know it is possible to put a large portion of wealth management on automatic; I have built the system, structure, support and discipline to achieve this; and I’ve seen how using these benefits helps people define and achieve their highest ambitions. This approach is both effective and rewarding.
Clients are surprised sometimes when I ask them about their higher purpose and possibilities. It is not that they feel I’m prying; they just don’t expect an advisor to be concerned with such matters. I tell them that these are the most important questions for them to consider when it comes to financial planning.
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.
The financial markets are now closed for the year and with all of the theatrics the verdict is in. Those investors with the following five characteristics prevail over those who fall victim to a host of mistakes and unsuccessful approaches:
- Investing from a superior position of financial strength.
- Being well prepared for a range of possible outcomes.
- Having an investment philosophy and approach you can confidently stick with and win with through thick and thin.
- Tuning out the noise, taming the emotion and focusing on what you can control.
- Investing for long-term success and, in the process, avoiding anxiety-toxic predictions, moves, comparisons, concentrations and traps.
What are tactical adjustments? In their 1986 asset allocation research, Brinson, Beebower, & Hood defined tactical asset allocation as:
“…strategically altering the investment mix weights away from normal in an attempt to capture excess returns from short-term fluctuations in asset class prices (market timing);”
The role of tax strategies in trading and managing investment portfolios
Certain tax strategies can add a meaningful boost to portfolio performance because taxes are an explicit cost to any portfolio and, therefore, a detractor from performance. Although tax situations are unique to each individual, any strategy that limits or delays the tax bill and retains more after-tax return for investors will face little argument.
“Avoidance of taxes is not a criminal offense. Any attempt to reduce, avoid, minimize, or alleviate taxes by legitimate means is permissible. The distinction between evasion and avoidance is fine yet definite. One who avoids tax does not conceal or misrepresent. He shapes events to reduce or eliminate tax liability and upon the happening of the events, makes a complete disclosure. Evasion, on the other hand, involves deceit, subterfuge, camouflage, concealment, some attempt to color or obscure events, or making things seem other than what they are.”— Internal Revenue Manual Code 184.108.40.206.2.1 (05-15-2008) 26 USC §7201 – Avoidance Distinguished from Evasion
Assuming all investors pay taxes either now or later, the chart below illustrates the benefit of delaying taxes. We assume a portfolio of 60% stocks, 40% bonds that is rebalanced every year. The solid line depicts the growth of the 100% taxable portfolio, while the dotted line shows portfolio growth in a 100% tax-deferred portfolio. Of course, the taxman arrives eventually, so we show the hit (a worst-case all-at-once tax consequence) to the tax-deferred line when withdrawing at ordinary income tax rates.
No single input is more important to a portfolio’s success than asset allocation, or determining how much to allocate to various asset classes.
In 1986, authors Gary Brinson, Gilbert Beebower, and Randolph Hood conducted an in-depth study of the various sources of investment returns. Specifically, they analyzed quarterly returns from 1974-1983 for the 91 largest pension funds, and determined that 93.6% of the returns generated were a result of asset allocation.
In a follow-on study in 1991, the authors concluded that 91% of portfolio returns are determined by asset allocation.
Financial advisors can provide peace of mind. But do they deliver a demonstrable, dollars-and-cents advantage to their clients?
Two studies show that the answer is yes—if the advisor is diligent in providing several key services. Let’s start with research from Morningstar, the big Chicago-based investment research firm. A 2012 Morningstar study found that advisors who use an “efficient financial planning strategy” can help clients increase their retirement assets significantly.
When it comes to financial planning, I have found that a systematic approach is needed to make important decisions, focus on what matters most, and evaluate options. In previous posts I introduced the guiding principles of wealth management:
- Make your balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio your friend
- Compare your finances to standards of excellence
- Stress-test your financial plan
- Know what is holding you back and spurring you forward
- Be specific and proactive to make permanent changes