The Investment Scientist

images-83As 2014 draws to a close, my wife and I have sprung into action to save on our 2014 taxes. Here are a few things we do. We are no CPAs, so what we do is pretty easy to mimic.

Donate all the garbage. I couldn’t believe how many items in my household we literally didn’t touch, not even once, in the whole of 2014. Things like that are immediate candidates for donation. Things that fall into this category could be electronics, furniture, books, clothes, kitchenware, bedroom sets, used toothbrushes, etc. Ok, maybe not used toothbrushes, but just about anything you don’t use, you can find a better home for, and get a tax deduction for doing so. In some years, we’ve gotten $10,000 worth of deductions. Read the rest of this entry »

images-82Recently, a doctor nearing retirement age approached me with the question of how to maximize his social security income. He is 62, and his wife is 4 years his junior. He made substantially more money than his wife, and as a result, his PIA is $2400, and his wife’s PIA is only $1000.

PIA, or primary insured amount, is the monthly amount a retiree would get if he or she retires at the normal retirement age, currently 66. For every year earlier (or later) that one retires, one would get 8% less (or more). The youngest one may retire is 62 and the oldest is 70.

I’ve found over the years that many people give very little thought to maximizing their social security income, and they jump at the first opportunity when they turn 62 to claim their benefits. But in so doing, they could be leaving nearly half a million dollars on the table. Read the rest of this entry »

I asked my assistant to do an updated stock market seasonality study.

The data we used was the S&P 500 index from 1927 which we found in Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller’s database.

We assumed that at the beginning of each year we invested $1 in the index, and we observed how the investment fluctuated over the year. Then we took the average over three different periods of time: the last 20 years, the last 50 years, and the last 86 years.

Here is the chart we got: Read the rest of this entry »

1398912_10152119934156756_1775782914_oSome of you may have already known that my hobby is improv comedy. Here is what happens during a performance. I go on stage with my fellow actors, we ask for a suggestion from the audience, and then we create a comedy play from scratch using that suggestion.

It just so turns out that many lessons I learn in improv are totally applicable to real life. Since after all, life is a just a big improv show. Nobody wakes up with a script in hand for how to live the day.

So allow me to summarize the top three lessons I’ve learned.

  1. First things first; be a great listener.

Read the rest of this entry »

images-75Yesterday I received an email from a doctor client of mine telling me how he had a conversation with some fellow doctors, and all of them are pulling their money out of stocks because they feel that with the market breaking new high after new high, a crash is imminent. He wanted my opinion.

First of all, while all of his doctor friends might feel a market crash is imminent and certain, there is simply no such thing as certainty in the stock market. All we can work with are odds. The following are the odds of market corrections:

Magnitude of market decline Frequency of occurrence (out of 64 years from 1950-2013)
>5% Every year (94%)
>10% Every two years (58%)
>20% Every five years (20%)
>30% Every ten years (10%)
>40% Every fifty years (2%)

My study also shows that the market breaking a new high does not substantially change the odds of returns. In other words, the odds of the market dropping over 20% in the next twelve months are still about one in five; the odds of the market dropping over 30% in the next twelve months are still about one in ten.
Read the rest of this entry »

EIA Salesman

Typical Salesman’s Chart for EIA

Financial author Allan Roth once wrote an article called “Investment Trick – Annuity Style” where he asks a rhetorical question, “If the S&P 500’s total return is 12% in a given year, what do you think your equity index annuity (that is supposed to track the S&P 500) would return”?

  1. 10%
  2. 8%
  3. 5.4%
  4. 3.4%

Allan Roth goes on to explain why the correct answer is 3.4%. Boy, was he wrong! Read the rest of this entry »

images-65 A client of mine bought a fixed rate annuity a few years ago. She was told by the agent that it’s just like a savings account, only with a higher interest rate of 3%.

Recently, we took the money out in favor of a better investment, and boy was she in for a shock! There was a $17k surrender charge and nearly $3.6k in tax withholdings. All the interest she supposedly earned in the annuity went to the surrender charges, and now she has to pay income taxes on that interest!

Here is why a fixed rate annuity is nothing like a savings account.

1. A savings account is FDIC guaranteed, in other words, it has the full faith and credit of the US government behind it. A fixed rate annuity is NOT FDIC guaranteed, it only has the credit of the issuing company behind it. Think AIG! Read the rest of this entry »

Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC. He is also a regular contributor to Morningstar Advisor and Physicians Practice. To explore a long-term wealth advisory relationship, schedule a discovery meeting (phone call) with him.



You may also get his monthly newsletter, or join his Facebook page for regular wealth management insights. Michael's email is info[at]mzcap.com.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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