Stock market volatility recently returned to normal levels after a few years of abnormally low volatility. It’s a good time to remind ourselves how to take advantage of this very natural dynamic of investing rather than be deceived by it.
Here are five important reminders:
1. Volatility is your friend.
The very reason equity markets offer the possibility of higher returns than saving or investment vehicles with less perceived risk, such as U.S. Treasury Bonds or Certificates of Deposits (CDs), is the higher risk and greater volatility associated with such holdings.
This is called the risk premium, something investors as a whole build into liquid, open, transparent financial markets every business day of the year around the world.
For instance, the S&P 500, over the last 90 years returned about 10% per year.* However, there were very few individual years it actually returned that amount. The reality is that in 40 of the 90 years, the index was up more than 20% or down more than 20%.
So, remember, the premium (return over less risky assets) you are seeking to receive in risk assets is precisely for accepting the bumpy ride associated with the investment vehicle.
So long as you genuinely are a long-term investor who can ride out the bumps to the level you have accepted, history demonstrates you can be fine. Exhibit 1 illustrates the long-term historic view of what broad asset classes look like: **
The Art and Science of Getting and Staying “On a Roll”
I love adapting engineering and physics concepts to solve common financial problems many people, even financially savvy people, encounter all the time. That’s why I’m so excited about my latest invention, the Wealth Allocation Wheel.
The challenge, in simple terms, is “staying on a roll.” There is an art and science to staying on a roll with your wealth. This means having enough inertia with your wealth to successfully navigate the Stages of Financial Freedom (see Illustration 1). The clear aim I have written about extensively is how to achieve controlled growth while avoiding short or long periods of stagnation or depletion.
Brady Siegrist, CFP, Managing Director of Wealth Management at Janiczek Wealth Management explains how the color-coded Wealth Optimization Dashboard, a key exclusive feature of Janiczek’s patented system, can help all clients, regardless of their net worth, business knowledge, age or investment savvy.
We monitor and measure things everyday. We glance at our speedometer to confirm we are not exceeding the speed limit. Thermometers tell us if we are running a fever or if our outside plants are in danger of freezing. A scale lets us know if an envelope requires extra postage. Think of all the diagnostic tests that report plusses and minuses of our physical well-being. How, then, do we measure our financial well-being? Why does financial strength matter?
Strength = Durability
Contrary to what some may assume, the number of digits it takes to record a person’s net worth is not an indicator of his or her financial strength. Size does not determine financial strength. Rather, durability is the measure of strength.
Carole McKeown has regularly rolled out new features of our service packages for 18+ years on the Janiczek® team. In this post, she highlights the features of J-Vault. J-Vault is an application that provides our clients with secure access to all their financial information from any device–desktop, tablet and even your smartphone!
We are aware some advisory firms serving high net worth individuals charge as much as $25,000 a year for an advanced online system that aggregates all of a client’s financial information. At Janiczek® Wealth Management such an application, J-Vault, comes standard with our services. We rolled out our J-Vault application, on a pilot basis, to several clients over the last year. We are excited to announce we will offer the J-Vault application to all clients over the next year.
Secure Current Financial Snapshot
Imagine…a highly secure location from which you can obtain a current financial snapshot on your smartphone. Yes! A complete balance sheet with liquid accounts updated with the prior day’s closing prices; a balance sheet so precise it has your latest checking account, credit card, and mortgage balances. And, of course, all investment accounts, retirement accounts and even private investments are included. A nice snapshot of where you are and that’s not all.
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: