The Investment Scientist

Archive for the ‘Investor Behavior’ Category

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 »

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.
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Sunk-shipMany people keep their bad annuity investment because it imposes a stiff surrender charge. This is a stereotypical example of sunk cost fallacy, an academic term which describes people throwing good money after bad.

Why surrender charges are sunk costs?

Imagine you were sold a $100k variable annuity with a ten year surrender period. The agent who sold you the contract collected a 10% commission, or $10,000. Where do you think this money came from?

Bingo! Your pocket. I hate to break it to you, but insurance companies are not in the charity business and they sure as heck aren’t gonna tell you that 10 of the 100Gs you just handed over to them are going to pay the agent’s commission! If they did that you’d pull your money out and rightly avoid them like the plague in the future.

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images-46Following the post I wrote about deep risk vs shallow risk, I went to Amazon and flipped through Bill Bernstein’s latest book “Deep Risk” to see if he feels the same way as me.

It turns out there is a lot that we agree on, but not everything.

Here’s where we see eye to eye: 1) our definitions of deep and shallow risks are almost the same: 2) we both see market fluctuation as a shallow risk and 3) we both see inflation as the #1 deep risk.

Our agreement stops there however. Bernstein does not seem to believe behavior risk and agency risk are deep risks, as I do. Instead, he mentions the following three risks as deep risks in addition to inflation risk.

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images-54Recently, a prospective client of mine sent me an email asking about my thoughts on Bill Bernstein’s new book “Deep Risk.” I have not read the book yet, but I do have my own ideas about deep risk vs shallow risk.

I define shallow risk as a potential loss that you can recover from and deep risk as a loss that you cannot recover from.

Market volatility, for example, is a shallow risk. It is very visible and it is scary, there is even a TV channel devoted to it. (That TV channel is called CNBC.)

But taking on shallow risk is how you earn your investment keep. Thus, it should not be feared, it should be welcomed.

Now what are the deep risks you should ardently avoid? I can think of three: inflation risk, behavior risk and agency risk.

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ImageA few days ago, my wife came home telling me the story of a sweet old lady she had met at her army clinic.

She is a 75 year old lady from Thailand, married to an American veteran for 40 years. Her husband just passed away a few months ago at the age of 92.

She couldn’t stop telling my wife how much she missed her husband, that he had married her despite the fact that she was a divorced woman with kids and that she could barely speak English. She went on and on about how he had treated her like a queen, buying her all the pretty things women like and so on and so forth.

Now everytime she passes by her husband’s picture, she still cries; and yet the memory of her husband is all she’s got left, now that she has no income and the home she has lived in for 40 years is being foreclosed.

What happened?

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Image

One very very sharp reader of my blog sent an email to me, and here is what it said:

Aren’t these 2 philosophies opposites of each other? If the market prices correctly based on all available information, how can the stock price be different from the expected dividend? Aren’t these 2 prize winning economists speaking in opposites?

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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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