The Investment Scientist

Archive for the ‘Investor Behavior’ Category

ImageA client of mine is trying to get his money out of an ill-conceived investment. I want to share this with you so you don’t make the same mistakes.

In 2009, he had a windfall of $1m. He asked a lady who had sold him a bunch of annuities where he should put his newfound cash. He further told her he was already up to his neck in annuities so he wanted to take some risks.

The agent pointed him to a celebrity business. Basically, some hollywood celebrity was trying to start an online gaming business, and needed $30m to do so.

My client went to their presentation and was mesmerized by the income projection. Then, when he saw that one of his relatives was a minority partner in the venture, he was totally sold. He signed a check for $1m on the spot.

He might as well have flushed it down the toilet.

Here is what he did wrong.

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Look forward when investing.

It is well established that investors’ sense of risk reward is shaped by immediate past experience.

However, investing based on immediate past experience is like driving while only looking through your rear view mirror. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The proper way to think about risk reward is to see investing as a risk taking occupation. When there are more job openings than job seekers, wages will rise. When there are many job seekers chasing too few openings, wages will be lower. It’s just simple economics.

In academic circles, this wage of taking risk is called risk premium.

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teenreader1. ThinkAdvisor highlighted a Maryland study which showed that states which pay the highest fees to Wall Street (for managing pensions) have the lowest returns. That says it all about Wall Street. No wonder Rick Ferri wants you to steer clear of actively managed funds.

2. Reuters Money reported how Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can be used as retirement savings accounts. This information is especially useful for small business owners and self-employed individuals who tend to neglect their retirement savings and face high deductibility in their health insurance. Here is the garden variety of ways they can save for retirement.

3. DIY Investor Robert Wasilewski encountered a bear while hiking. He survived to write about it, but he mused that the same reactions that kept him in the gene pool will surely “eliminate you from the investment pool.”

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P2P Lending

P2P Lending

Last night I was “wasting” time on Google+, when I stumbled upon Joe Udo’s blog where he had written about how he made an 11.3% annualized return with P2P lending. The next thing I knew, it was past midnight and I just had spent three hours eyeballs deep in the subject.

Let me first tell you what P2P lending is. P2P stands for person-to-person or peer-to-peer. P2P lending is the practice of lending to strangers, enabled by technology and the web.

The two leading companies in this arena are LendingClub and Prosper. Between the two of them, they’ve enabled nearly $2 billion of lending between investors and borrowers. However, that still pales to the total US consumer credit of $1 trillion.

I am super excited about P2P lending! Let me tell you why.

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investment-portfolio

When I write a blog post, I like to drive home one and only one point at a time.

In my last blog post, the point I wanted to make was that cost matters. In case you didn’t notice, not only did I reduced my new client’s cost by 85 basis points, I also reduced the number of funds in her portfolio from 39 to 4.

With such a small numbers of funds, is the portfolio diverse enough?

Emphatically yes. In fact, it is much more diversified than the previous portfolio of 39 actively managed funds.

What I use are asset class funds; DFQTX holds all 5000+ stocks traded in the US equity market; DFTWX holds all foreign stocks; DFGEX holds all domestic and foreign REITs and of course VBTIX holds all bonds. With these four portfolios, you are holding all of the world’s productive assets. How much more diversified can you get?

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Rebalancing your portfolio

Rebalancing your portfolio

Recently, I visited a prospective client in New Jersey. He is currently a client with Fisher Investments, and his advisor told him never to rebalance since that involves market timing.

I have to hand it to this financial advisor for recognizing that market timing is an unproductive endeavor, but he is so wrong about rebalancing that I am compelled to write this article.

Rebalancing is not a market timing activity, it is calendar-driven or condition-driven. For instance, you may decide that you will rebalance your portfolio on January 1st of each year or whenever an asset class allocation is off by 20%.

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New York Stock Exchange

New York Stock Exchange

The S&P 500 closed the first quarter at a record high. Should that worry investors? The short answer is, No.

When the market was 30% below the high three years ago, I did some research. I categorized all market conditions into:

1. Breaking a new high.

2. Less than 10% below historical high.

3. Between 10% and 20% below historical high.

4. Between 20% and 30% below historical high.

5. Between 30% and 40% below historical high.

6. More than 40% below historical high.

Then I calculated the one year forward returns of the six conditions.

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house for sale

House for sale

Recently, a client called to tell me that he had finally got the big boulder off his back, and it was such a relief for him.

The “big boulder” he referred to was his big house, with a swimming pool and a tennis court. The house had been costing him $100k a year in property taxes and upkeep, more than 50% of my client’s retirement income. No wonder he called it a big boulder on his back.

He bought the house 25 years ago for $2.2mm, and he just sold it for $2.1mm. After all the costs associated with selling the house, he took home $2mm and change.

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New York Stock Exchange

New York Stock Exchange

With the market up about 5% in January, a prospective client of mine called to let me know he is not going to invest in stocks at this time – in fact, he is going to pull all of his money out of the market.

This may not be the best course of action for him.

According to research done by Cooper and McConnell, what the market does in January has a strong predictive power for what the market will do for the rest of the year.

Using data since 1940, they found that if the market is up in January, it will rise an additional 14.8% for the rest of the year; if the market is down in January, it will rise only 2.92% for the rest of the year. This gives rise to a spread of almost 12%, a highly statistically significant number.

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pump-jack group

Oil and Gas Investment Scam

In the last month alone, I’ve gotten calls from two clients asking me if they should invest in tax advantaged oil and gas investments being pitched to them?  Both of these clients are physicians.

The pitch is that oil and gas investments are like IRA accounts, but without the contribution limit. Whatever amount you invest can be written off right away.

The pitch is quite alluring to high-income professionals like physicians who are facing higher taxation. But it sounds too good to be true, so I did a study.

It turns out what is being pitched as “tax advantaged” is in fact the riskiest part of an oil and gas investment.

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New Year's investment resolutions

New Year’s investment resolutions

After working as a financial advisor for six years and after reading tons of research, I have developed a good sense about how the average investor loses money. As the New Year approaches, I think it’s good to share my insight so that readers can determine if they are making these mistakes.

Conflict of interest

I cannot emphasize this enough: Wall Street firms don’t work for you. If you have a Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley advisor, expect to give away 2.5% of your money every year – about half of it will be in explicit fees, the other half will be in hidden fees. If you invest through insurance products, expect to give up 3.5 percent of your money.

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Like Odysseus, automatic investments help investors avoid the Siren call of market timing

We call it stupid if someone takes a $55k job, even if he is offered the same job at $100k.

We call it market-timing when the same thing happens in the stock market. The long-term average annual market return is 10%, but the long-term average annual investor return is only about 5.5%. This is documented both by Dalbar’s study titled “Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior” and Morningstar’s research on fund returns and investor returns.

How could this possibly happen?

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financial blogging

I was in Denver attending the Financial Blogger Conference (FinCon12), and I was thrilled to meet Allan Roth there.

If you don’t know Allan Roth, for the sake of your financial wellbeing, you should.

Allan is an hourly fee-only financial advisor practicing in Colorado Spring. He also writes an investment column for CBS MoneyWatch. Recently, Jason Zweig invited him to write a column in the Wall Street Journal as well. Read the rest of this entry »

New York Stock Exchange

When talking to prospective clients, I am upfront about what I can and can not do. I can NOT beat the market.

Recently, that straightforwardness caused me to lose a prospective client to a major Wall Street firm. Apparently, the financial advisor from that firm was able to convince him that with their exclusive location, expensive brochure, and nice Armani suits, they could beat the market.

This led me to do a mental exercise.

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Facebook Winners’ Curse

Back on April 9, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had agreed to acquire Instagram for a jaw dropping $1b.

What is Instagram? It is an iPhone app that allows people to swap photos with friends. The one and a half year old company has about 16 employees and its revenue is a cool zero.

Most commentators said that Zuck was either trying to pre-empt a potential competitor or to expand in the mobile market where Facebook is weak. There is nothing Instagram does that Facebook cannot replicate, make available to its 900 million users, and instantly kill Instagram. Why pay $1b for something that is essentially worthless?

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Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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