emotionalOver the last couple of years, volatility has really become the norm. And it’s gut-check time, it’s a shakeup, it’s an opportunity to check your emotions at the door and change the way you invest. If you’ve been feeling emotional lately (and you’re not alone), it’s an opportunity to drop it. If a swing of a few hundred points in a day is getting to you, then consider doing and thinking about things differently. If you’ve lost your perspective, or perhaps you never even had one, it’s an opportunity to regain it, or formulate one now, finally. And be honest in doing so, above all. Where are your one-sided stock picks and investment choices today? Where are your risky bets on marijuana stocks sitting right now? You have an opportunity right now to stop gambling and embrace passive investing.Continue reading

gold pendulumGold is often touted as a must-have investment for the most intense of risk-mitigation situations, a “when all else fails” hedging instrument. Indeed, pick an ailment: Inflation? Hedge with gold. Economic and political crises? Hedge with gold. Collapse of modern society? Say it with me, folks, “Hedge with gold”. With the global economy as shaky as it is, multiple countries in one crisis or another, and plenty of uncertainty as to what the future holds to go around, gold continues to make the rounds as a necessary holding despite the fact that its value in US dollar terms has been steadily declining over the last four years after reaching a peak in 2011 of almost $1,900 an ounce. In the wake of the Fed’s recent decision to stand pat on interest rates and gold’s subsequent jump today, here are 3 reasons to avoid gold, both as a physical or paper holding, apart from a very small percentage of a well-balanced and diversified passive or lazy investment portfolio:

  • It’s a highly emotional and psychological asset
  • There’s no historical evidence that it hedges well against any risk
  • It has very little practical use

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crude oil rigPreviously we reviewed how, historically speaking, gold has proven to be a rather poor hedge against inflation, despite the reality that many continue to promote it for just that purpose. What, then, is a reasonable inflation-hedging investment vehicle? It just so happens that a historically-significant and helpful one is also a commodity – crude oil, the most widely and heavily traded commodity in existence today. Historical data indicates that it functions better than most other proposed hedges out there, especially gold. Continue reading

golden nickelGold is not a good inflation hedge. Yes, it has been touted as one in the past and continues to be touted as one now, but there is little evidence supporting the claim. What’s more, it is rare that any wealth manager or gold bug or supporter of such an idea will tell you why or how it is an effective hedge. It is typically presented as nothing less than a simple statement of fact, a truth everybody should already be familiar and comfortable with. If any reasoning is provided, it might sound something like this – fiat currencies are not backed by anything anymore, unlike before when they were backed by gold. Hence, as central banks the world over pump paper into the system to salvage their ravaged economies, it is inevitable that they will ultimately devaluate their currencies and trigger inflation in the process; they will overdo it, overshoot the mark, mismanage, screw up. People will “wake up” and realize that paper is just paper, that the overzealous “printing” of it has created too much of it chasing too few goods, and they will lose confidence in their central banks and in the currencies they manage. As confidence is lost, so will be value and purchasing power. Furthermore, paper is not like gold, which is a physical thing that has a limited supply (there’s only so much of it that is accessible, anyway), a thing that must be mined, processed, and stored, whereas paper is just…paper. Continue reading

Ranakpur Jain Marble Temple Pillars Frescoes

By Acred99 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

You want to invest, and you figure the way to do it is to (somehow) pick the best stock out there and load up. What’s the best stock out there? Right now, some people will tell you it’s Apple, some people will tell you it’s some small company in the marijuana industry, some people will tell you it’s Berkshire Hathaway, and they’ll all have their reasons why. For the sake of our discussion, it doesn’t really matter what that one stock is, let’s just pretend that you have picked your one stock and you’re going to put your money into that stock because you believe your money will be best put to use there. After all, what’s the point of diversification if you’ve picked the best stock out there? It’ll only dampen your returns, right? Well, besides the reality that you can’t predict the future, there are a host of threats your investment continuously faces. Through diversification, you can hedge your risk of investing in that one equity high-flier. Utilizing broad-based, poorly correlated assets in a well-balanced lazy portfolio minimizes your risk to each individual stock, protecting you from the possibility of an outright loss. And rest assured, there’s an immense amount of risk out there to mitigate. Continue reading

Tilting Spinning TopTilting, when done intentionally, is generally understood to be the act of pursuing an otherwise seemingly passive or lazy investment approach and then loading up on some specific additional investment so that your portfolio is more heavily weighted or biased toward that investment. This is done for the purposes of trying to earn greater return than the purely passive approach might afford you, i.e. you are attempting to outperform the market. For instance, you may buy an S&P index fund as part of your portfolio and then purchase additional shares of Apple separately. You are then tilted toward Apple in particular and technology more generally because your S&P index fund already contains shares of Apple, giving you exposure to the company and its sector. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with purposely tilting as a practice so long as you understand the risks – it’s your business – you must be wary that you not end up inadvertently doing it in your pursuit of passive portfolio diversification. If you never meant to tilt and your real objective was simply passive diversification all along, then you have done yourself a disservice without realizing it by exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. By paying careful attention to a fund’s holdings during fund selection, you can avoid this. Continue reading

mount-merapi-113620_1280To say that there are some serious headwinds that we as the collective investment community must face these days is putting it lightly. Between financial downturns and outright crises including Japan’s return to recession, Greece’s distaste for austerity, and Russia’s woes with sanctions, collapsing energy prices, and a devastated ruble; the perceived need (not unanimous) for quantitative easing (QE) in Europe eclipsing $1 trillion EUR; stark observations that the world economy is shrinking; and the actions of central banks that catch us on the toilet such as that of Switzerland removing the cap on its currency vis-á-vis the Euro, there is much to digest. How do you protect and defend your financial positions, your financial worth, your current and future holdings against such startling occurrences and circumstances? How do you protect and defend your financial, and hence personal, goals? You can do so by ensuring that you are passively invested in a well-diversified portfolio of broad-based assets with low intercorrelations, in-line with your true risk profile and investment horizon, and take advantage of the might it affords you. Continue reading

water-balance-280810Having read about how rebalancing can help you enter the financial markets with confidence irregardless of what may be around the corner, you may be wondering as to what is meant by the term in the first place. It’s fairly simple. Ideally, you are invested in a well-balanced portfolio comprised of specific allocations to certain investment vehicles that have low intercorrelations. Over your investment time horizon, you seek to maintain those allocations in order to control risk while striving to achieve your investment objectives given your particular investment profile. Continue reading

man-96868To many, the markets look expensive right now. If you’ve done a thorough job understanding and describing your investment objectives and your capacity to invest and bear risk, and you have money at the ready, you might be sitting on the sidelines wondering what to do right about now, especially as the markets see-saw. How to make a market entry? Do you wait for a big correction before you purchase anything or do you plow forward? It’s natural to feel hesitant. Nobody enjoys buying into something only to see it decrease in value in short order. It’s a sure way to feel like a sucker. Then again, if you wait for the markets to go down and they don’t, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot and missed out on returns. Instead of attempting to predict or time the markets, enter them with confidence and then rebalance your portfolio as necessary to deal with what comes next, including any potential corrections. Continue reading

HalloweenEffectThe Halloween effect just might be more of a trick than a treat – think less chocolate and more witch’s brew. The end of October and beginning of November mark the start of the six-month period of November-April during which, historical evidence shows, stocks have outperformed when compared with their performance during the other six months of the year, May-October, or with the performance of a general buy-and-hold strategy. Indeed, over the past year, the numbers seem to indicate something similar for the U.S. stock markets as per a mutual fund stand-in, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX) – positive returns of close to 10% from November 1, 2013 through May 31, 2014, as opposed to only a little over 5% from June 1, 2014 through October 31, 2014. This outperformance continues to lend credence to the concept of market timing and fuel the debate over active versus passive investment strategies. And so, with another potential bumper period for stocks possibly about to get under way, we owe it to ourselves to address the topic and speak to why we shouldn’t give the wolf in sheep’s clothing any candy; why it is not advisable to indulge in this active strategy in spite of evidence of a persistent seasonal pattern.Continue reading

IAI_Heron_1_in_flight_1The latest means being utilized by Mexican drug cartels of getting drugs into the United States appears to be flights by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones. These aircraft, which we may normally associate with surveillance or deadly military strikes with the often-touted (and disturbing) benefit of little-to-no domestic cost of lives, are reportedly being enhanced, repurposed, or built anew for carrying cocaine and other narcotics across the border for distribution and sale in the US. What’s even more fascinating than the reality that the cartels may be using them at all or how they are acquiring or developing them is how their use highlights traditional business and risk management behavior that you might otherwise expect of a bank or some other legitimized business entity and learn of in an undergraduate business course. Forget about the manufacturing of widgets or whatever other silly made-up product our made-up ACME Corp. is involved in producing as presented in some heavy hardcover textbook. Nah, instead let’s talk about cocaine and the real-life issues of how to get it to market while minimizing risks to the business organization. Here’s how the use of narcodrones highlights the ways in which cartels resemble any old rational corporate entity. Continue reading

scary parallel chartFor some reason (probably just because fear sells), a particular chart has been making the rounds of late. It draws a “scary parallel” between the recent performance of the DJIA and that of the same prior to the 1929 crash, implying that a significant decline is impending (maybe). Already just this month three analysts over at The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch have penned at least four articles inspired by the graphic (including this retort), after it first appeared in the McClellan Market Report in late November, and more articles than that have been posted since the start of December. What should you do about it? Continue reading