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.
MLPs May Increase Portfolio Performance
Owning oil and gas pipelines can add octane to a portfolio’s performance, particularly in today’s energy and economic backdrop.
It’s our job to help clients gain the proper exposure to safety, market and aspirational asset categories. It’s also our job to identify pockets of the market that, when available, have attractive fundamentals and/or characteristics worth considering. Oil & Gas MLPs in the midstream space (storing and transporting energy) has caught our interest for years and remain an asset class of interest. While we take care of researching and handling the details for our clients, it doesn’t hurt for you to pipe into the conversation. Here’s a quick primer on the space.
For the fourth year in a row Janiczek Wealth Management has been named to Barron’s Top Financial Advisor list*, now for 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014!
Mr. Janiczek was named one of America’s top financial advisors* in the March 4th, 2017 Barron’s issue. The prestigious list of top investment advisors was also published in The Wall Street Journal by Dow Jones & Company, a division of News Corp on March 9, 2017.
The rankings are based on data provided by over 4,000 of the nation’s most productive advisors. Barron’s draws from all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. It includes a cross-section of private-wealth advisors—from independents who own and operate their own practices to advisors from the large Wall Street firms. Barron’s states, “This special report lists the top advisors in each state, with the number of ranking spots determined by each state’s population and wealth.
The rankings are based on assets under management, revenues generated by advisors for their firms, and the quality of the advisors’ practices. In evaluating advisors, we examine regulatory records, internal company documents, and 100-plus points of data provided by the advisors themselves.”
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 126.96.36.199.2.1 (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.
The last 18 months have been a volatile time in the market with fears of a Chinese recession causing a temporary market pullback in August 2015, Eurozone concerns causing a dip in February 2016, and Brexit triggering a quick decline at the end of June this year. Through all of that, the S&P 500 is actually up 3.67% over the last 12 months and 6.17% year-to-date. Because the S&P 500 is up 6%, your portfolio should have returned around 6% this year, right? Not necessarily, and if you’re in a diversified portfolio, likely not.
The problem with comparing a diversified portfolio to “the market” is that the S&P 500 only measures companies that make up a portion of a well-diversified portfolio. Football is top of mind as it is nearly football season again (HALLELUJAH!) so allow me to draw an analogy. Lineman, the largest players in football, make up only a portion of NFL football players. Comparing the S&P 500 to a diversified portfolio is like comparing the average size of an NFL lineman to the average size of an NFL football player. While players of the same sport are being compared, the comparison is apples to oranges because there are a large variety of statures in the NFL. The same goes for investing where there are countless asset classes available.
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%.
What can you learn about systematic investment management from Henry Ford?
Henry Ford is recognized as the father of the auto industry, largely on the strength of one innovation: the automotive assembly line. Looking back at the process he pioneered, Ford recalled the inefficiencies it replaced:
A Ford car contains about five thousand parts. … In our first assembling, we simply started to put a car together at a spot on the floor, and workmen brought to it the parts as they were needed in exactly the same way one builds a house. … The rapid press of production made it necessary to devise plans of production that would avoid having workers falling over one another. The undirected worker spends more of his time walking about for materials and tools than he does in working; he gets small pay because pedestrianism is not a highly paid line.†
Ford knew that in his new system, the assembly line, there were high-value tasks, such as welding the parts of a car together, and there were tasks with little or no value, such as fetching tools and parts. The more workers were occupied by the former tasks and not the latter ones, the more efficient the overall system became.
An exceptional quarter century came to a close
Most investors today in mid-career or nearing retirement age have prospered in what I would term a secular, multi-asset, mega-bull market – a multi-year period of above average returns in several asset classes primarily at the same time. During this time, investment management did not necessarily require the same discipline as in later years.
It is often useful to review bull and bear market cycles in retrospect, because the full extent of the extremes are revealed. Looking back on the previous bull market cycle, the 25-year period from 1982 to 2007 was arguably the single best quarter century ever enjoyed by U.S. investors. Bonds were in a bull market that extended throughout this whole period. Stocks were in a secular (long-term) bull market from 1982 to 2000. There was one memorable decline in 1987, when the market suffered its largest one-day drop in history (22.6 percent). But that “Black Monday” proved to be a mere hiccup in the Dow’s climb from a value of just over 800 in 1982 to 11,722 in January 2000.
Lessons in Financial Strength
“A financially strong investor is a superior investor.” This observation, distilled from my 25 years in the field of wealth management, is simple and yet so profoundly true, I decided to make it the motto of my company. All too many investors learned this truth the hard way during the recent financial crisis: You do not become financially strong by achieving superior results; you achieve superior results by becoming financially strong.
Early in life, my family drove home the importance of strength. My family didn’t buy the home we lived in, we built it. My brothers and I helped my father pound in the nails that held the frame of the house together, and you can bet we didn’t just walk away from boards or joists that still felt rickety. My father built nuclear power plants and oil refineries, structures that must be built to last and able to weather hurricanes and earthquakes. His duties gave him a “stronger is better” way of looking at life, which rubbed off on me.