The Investment Scientist

Archive for the ‘Prudence & Fiduciary Duty’ 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-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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ImageThat was a message I got from a new client of mine. I must admit, it really bites. Yes, I sold his Apple stock. And yes, since then the price has gone up 15%. So of course, I can understand he’s upset and beginning to question whether I know what I am doing.

Having studied improvisational comedy, I’m aware that regardless of how I feel, it is wise to always validate others’ feelings. So I replied, “Yes, I should have asked you before I sold it.”

Afterward, I sent him some data to mull over.

Nasdaq just crawled its way back to 4000 a few days ago, and this time Apple is the biggest and hottest stock in the Nasdaq 100.

Last time when Nasdaq passed 4000, the top ten tech stocks (try saying that ten times fast) were, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Qualcom, Oracle, JDSU, Nextel, Sun Micro, Veritas and MCI Worldcom.

Since the last time Nasdaq passed 4000, Microsoft has gone down 34%, Cisco 59%, Intel 53%, Qualcomm, the only up stock in the group, has gone up 25%, Oracal has gone down 67%, JDSU 98% and the remaining four are no longer in business; they were either merged out of existence or end ignominiously.

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My Financial AdvisorWhen I am approached by a prospective client, the question they always ask without fail is “Are you properly licensed?”

This is actually the wrong question. The right question should be, “Which license do you have?”

Generally, there are two types of licenses for people who call themselves a “financial advisor.” People who passed the series 65 test and people who passed the series 7 test. The nature of these two licenses are as far apart as heaven and earth.

Series 7 is a securities license. People who have passed this test can legally be a broker. They are actually prohibited by law to give financial advice, except incidental to the financial products they are selling.

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ImageRecently a business owner asked me to review his investment portfolio. He is currently with an Ameriprise financial advisor and his gut feeling tells him something is amiss.

He is paying the advisor 1.6% in fees. First of all, this fee is quite exorbitant. For the size of his portfolio, he shouldn’t be paying more than 1% in advisor fees.

Adding insult to injury, for the fee that he is charging, this advisor puts his money into a collection of very expensive mutual funds like ODMAX.

It is very easy to check the expenses of a mutual fund. I just googled ODMAX and I found out it has a load of 5.75% and an expense ratio of 1.36%. (For those who don’t know, load is a one time charge to pay commision to the Ameriprise advisor who doubles as a broker. Expense ratio is an ongoing annual charge.)

ODMAX is a mutual fund that invests in emerging market stocks. If you use the low cost alternative, aka a Vanguard fund, you will pay no load and the expense ratio is only 0.33%, a saving of 1.06%.

Don’t ever underestimate these tiny savings. Because in ten years, the savings will be more than 10%, in twenty years, more than 20%. This businessman is in his 50s; he can easily live another 30 years. I asked him: “How would you like to be more than 30% poorer in retirement?” That is exactly what this financial advisor will make him.

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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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