Posts tagged ‘risk’

One Size Does Not Fit All

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When you go shopping for a pair of shoes or clothing what is the first thing you do? Do you put on a blindfold and feel for the right size? Probably not. Most people either get measured for their personal size or try on several different outfits or shoes. When it comes to investments, the average investor makes uninformed decisions and in many instances relies more on what other advisors recommend. Sometimes this advice is not in the best interest of the client. For example, some broker recommendations are designed to line their personal pockets with fees and/or commissions. In some cases the broker may try to unload unpopular product inventory that does not match the objectives and constraints of the client. Because of the structure of the industry, there can be some inherent conflicts of interest. As the famous adage goes, “You don’t ask a barber if you need a haircut.”

Tabulate Inventory

A more appropriate way of managing your investment portfolio is to first create a balance sheet (itemizing all your major assets and liabilities) individually or with the assistance of an advisor (see “What to Do” article) – I recommend a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA)* who has a fiduciary duty towards the client (i.e., legally obligated to work for the best interest of the client). Some of the other major factors to consider are your short-term and long-term income needs (liquidity important as well) and your risk tolerance.

Risk Appetites

The risk issue is especially thorny because the average investor appetite for risk changes over time. Typically there is also a significant difference between perceived risk and actual risk.

For many investors in the late 1990s, technology stocks seemed like a low risk investment and everyone from cab drivers to retired teachers wanted into the game at the exact worst (riskiest) time. Now, as we have just suffered through the so-called Great Recession, the risk pendulum has swung back in the opposite direction and many investors have piled into what historically has been perceived as low-risk investments (e.g., Treasuries, corporate bonds, CDs, and money market accounts). The problem with these apparently safe bets is that some of these securities have higher duration characteristics (higher price volatility due to interest rate changes) and other fixed income assets have higher long-term inflation risk.

Risk-Return Table

Source (6/30/09): Morningstar Encorr Analyzer (Ibbotson Associates) via State Street SPDR Presentation

A more objective way of looking at risk is by looking at the historical risk as measured by the standard deviation (volatility) of different asset classes over several time periods. Many investors forget risk measurements like standard deviation, duration, and beta are not static metrics and actually change over time.

Diversification Across Asset Classes Key

Efficient Frontier

Source: State Street Global Advisors (June 30, 2009)

Correlation, which measures the price relationship between different asset classes, increased dramatically across asset classes in 2008, as the global recession intensified. However, over longer periods of time important diversification benefits can be achieved with a proper mixture of risky and risk-free assets, as measured by the Efficient Frontier (above). Conceptually, an investor’s main goal should be to find an optimal portfolio on the edge of the frontier that coincides with their risk tolerance.

Tailor Portfolio to Changing Circumstances

BellyIn my practice, I continually run across clients or prospects that initially find themselves at the extreme ends of the risk spectrum. For example, I was confronted by an 80 year old retiree needing adequate income for living expenses, but improperly forced by their broker into 100% equities. On the flip side, I ran into a 40 year old who decided to allocate 100% of their retirement assets to fixed income securities because they are unsure of stocks. Both examples are inefficient in achieving their different investment objectives, yet there are even larger masses of the population suffering from similar issues.

Financial markets and client circumstances are constantly changing, so the objectives of the portfolio should be periodically revisited. One size does not fit all, so it’s important to construct the most efficient customized portfolio of assets that meets the objectives and constraints of the investor. Take it from me, I’m constantly re-tailoring my wardrobe (like my investments) to meet the needs of my ever-changing waistline.  

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

*DISCLOSURE: For disclosure purposes, Sidoxia Capital Management, LLC is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) certified in the State of California. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 10, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Howard Right on the Mark(s)

Legendary investor Howard Marks opines on the financial markets in his recently quarterly client memo. One should pay attention to these battle-tested veterans with scars to prove their survival skills.  Rather than neatly package a common theme from the long document I will highlight a few areas.

Marks is cautious but sees better buying opportunities ahead.

Marks is cautious but sees better buying opportunities ahead.

Recent Past vs. Long Past: For most of the 16 page memo Howard Marks reminisces on his 40+ years in the investment industry and contrasts the 2003-2007 period with the majority of his years. He states in the old days, “There were no swaps, index futures or listed options. Leverage wasn’t part of most institutional investors’ arsenal…or vocabulary. Private equity was unknown, and hedge funds were too few and outré to matter. Innovations like quantitative investing and structured products had yet to arrive, and few people had ever heard of ‘alpha.'”

Marks on Siegel: Marks targets Wharton Professor Jeremy Siegel as a contributor to the overly bullish mentality of 2003-2007, “Siegel’s research was encyclopedic and supported some dramatic conclusions, perhaps foremost among them his showing that there’s never been a 30-year period in which stocks didn’t outperform cash, bonds and inflation…but…30 years can be a long time to wait.”

Marks on Risk: “So yes, it’s true that investor’s can’t expect to make much money without taking risk. But that’s not the same as saying risk taking is sure to make you money…If risky investments always produced high returns, they wouldn’t be risky.” On the psychological impacts of risk, Marks goes on to say,  “When investors are unworried and risk-tolerant, they buy stocks at high p/e ratios and private companies at high EBITDA multiples, and they pile into bonds despite narrow yield spreads and into real estate at minimal “cap rates.'”

On Quant Models and Business Schools: Marks quotes Warren Buffet regarding the complexity of quantitative models, “If you need a computer or a calculator to make a calculation, you shouldn’t buy it.” Charlie Munger adds his two cents on why quantitative models exist: “They teach that in business schools because, well, they’ve got to do something.”

Investing as a Mixture of Art & ScienceIn my book I describe investing as a combination of “Art” and “Science.” Marks addresses a s similar insight through an Albert Einstein quote:

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Views on the Credit Rating Agencies: To highlight the absurdity of the mortgage credit rating system, Marks compares the agencies’ ratings to hamburger:  “If it’s possible to start with 100 pounds of hamburger and end up selling ten pounds of dog food, 40 pounds of sirloin and 50 pounds of filet mignon, the truth-in-labeling rules can’t be working.”

If you would like to access the remainder of memo, click here to read the rest. Overall, Mr. Marks gives a balanced view of the markets and economy, but feels “better buying opportunities lie ahead.” Thankfully, I’m finding some myself.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

July 30, 2009 at 4:00 am 1 comment

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