“Buy low and sell high.” That was my simple approach when I was a smart young investment advisor. I poured over a company’s balance sheet, earnings statements, and forecasted returns. Then I bought those companies that were bargains and waited for my gains to roll in. More times than not, they did—eventually.
The problem came with the “not” and “eventually.” A majority of my picks did go up in value, but the minority that were “nots” still lost enough to have a negative impact on my bottom line. Even more frustrating, some of my “nots” turned into gains “eventually” after I sold them.
My investment returns were similar to findings from Dalbar, Inc., a financial services research firm. Dalbar’s studies have shown that average active investors barely beat inflation over the long term. They significantly underperform investors who put their money in an index fund of stocks and leave it alone.
So much for my early investment brilliance. Continue reading
Every now and then I get a call from a client wanting my opinion about starting a business with a friend, investing money in a business owned by a family member, or co-signing a loan to help a family member buy a business. Being in business with family is something I know a little bit about, having been in partnership with my father and brother for 40 years. Going into business with family members or close friends can carry a high degree of risk, both financially and emotionally.
In part this is because it is uncomfortable or difficult to ask the necessary dollars-and-cents questions. We don’t want to seem uncaring, unsupportive, or untrusting. We are concerned about damaging the relationship. Yet the relationship is far more likely to suffer if we don’t ask those questions and the venture fails.
The following are some things to consider before you invest or go into business with someone close to you:
Almost everyone has a story about a cousin or an aunt who bought a box of junk at an auction and found in it a diamond ring worth several hundred dollars. Every once in a while a valuable painting by a famous artist turns up in someone’s attic. “Antiques Roadshow” sometimes features odd items that have been sitting around in someone’s house for years and that are appraised for thousands of dollars.
This doesn’t mean buying and selling art or collectibles is a good way to make money.
Buying art, antiques, or collectibles is extremely speculative, in part because values are so subjective. What a given item is worth depends entirely on what a collector might be willing to pay at any given time. A piece of pottery or jewelry might fluctuate considerably in value as trends come and go. Yesterday’s hot collectible (think Beanie Babies or Jim Beam bottles) might be tomorrow’s overpriced embarrassment.
Does this mean you should never buy art or antiques in hopes that they’ll increase in value? Not necessarily. I am suggesting, though, that investment shouldn’t be the primary reason for your purchase.
After three decades as a financial planner, working with successful wealth-builders, you’d think I would have a clear idea of the right path for creating wealth.
Instead, what I’ve learned is that there is no such thing. Here are just a few of the paths that aren’t the sure routes to wealth they might seem to be:
1. Education and career choices. Going into a field like law or medicine might seem to guarantee financial success. Not necessarily. I’ve seen many physicians, for example, who have accumulated significant wealth. I’ve seen just as many who live paycheck to paycheck.
2. High earnings. Again, this isn’t the reliable predictor of wealth it would seem to be. Continue reading
You can spot comparison shoppers a few aisles away at any retail store. They are the ones carrying articles from Consumer Reports, badgering the salesperson with a million and one questions. People who manage money well are usually big fans of comparison shopping.
If comparison shopping is important before choosing a new refrigerator or lawn mower, it’s even more essential before choosing an investment advisor. Unfortunately, there is no easily available consumer’s report on advisors. Even more frustrating, those selling financial products often have incentives not to be forthcoming with the information that is crucial for comparing advisors.
One aspect of shopping for an investment advisor is knowing what questions to ask. Continue reading
Okay, I did it again in a recent column. And I got into trouble again. That’s what I get for using the F-word.
My most recent transgression was to point out the simple fact that insurance agents are compensated by commissions on the products they sell. They have no fiduciary duty to legally act in the best interests of their customers.
Every time I remind readers that sellers of financial products do not have a fiduciary duty to their customers, I get indignant responses from financial salespeople who seem to think I have accused them of being unethical.
Not so. Continue reading
It’s impossible for a financial columnist to please all of the readers all of the time. My recent column criticizing the Be Your Own Banker scheme drew the ire of several fans of whole life insurance. Two of them in particular, in a letter to the editor and a guest editorial published in the Rapid City Journal, disparaged my integrity, my professional qualifications, and my math skills.
Part of the problem is that these readers interpreted my warning about BYOB, which I called “one step from being a scam,” as an attack on whole life insurance in general. That was not the case.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of whole life as an investment. The purpose of life insurance, in my view, is not to provide retirement income or cash value, but to replace income when someone dies. For most people, the best and cheapest way to do this is through term life insurance. Obviously, someone who sells insurance will have a different opinion.
“Max out your retirement plans every year” has long been standard advice I’ve given to working adults who want to secure a reliable income when they retire. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), along with 401(k), 403(b), and profit sharing plans offered by some employers, are among the most accessible ways for middle-class workers to provide for retirement and build wealth.
If a proposal in President Obama’s budget plan is approved by Congress, however, retirement plans may no longer be the first and best stop along the road to financial independence.
The proposal would limit a person’s total balance in all tax-advantaged retirement plans to the amount it would cost to purchase an immediate annuity paying $205,000 a year This appears to not be indexed for inflation. The articles I’ve read and my own calculations suggest this would mean capping retirement accounts at around $3 million.
“The Feds Want Your Retirement Accounts.” This was the headline of a February 22 post on the American Thinker blog recently forwarded to me by a reader. Normally I hit delete on articles warning of some type of impending financial doom. I read this one, since Argentina confiscated its citizens’ retirement accounts shortly before I first visited there in 2009.
According to the article, in 2007 a professor of economic policy from the New School for Social Research, Theresa Ghilarducci, wrote a paper calling for the US government to eliminate private retirement accounts. She suggested confiscating the assets in those accounts and replacing them with a “Guaranteed Retirement Account” (GRA) guaranteeing a return of 3%, which is essentially another program like Social Security.
This is basically what Argentina did one year later.