A Common Challenge for Individual Investors
As defined by Investopedia: A retail investor, also known as an individual investor, is a non-professional investor who buys and sells securities, mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) through traditional or online brokerage firms or savings accounts.
Behavioral biases are common triggers that can affect individual investors who manage their own money. Some individual investors will manage their own investments using one of the many tools or apps that can be easily downloaded to a smartphone. Schwab.com for example has a few apps that will allow you to monitor your holdings and even execute a trade. This type of unprecedented access to the markets has allowed the individual, or non-professional to easily buy and sell stocks with ease. This ease of access to trading stocks can be both good and bad depending on the direction of the market. Often the negative side effects of individual investing can lead to significant underperformance if trades are made at the wrong time.
Most people are affected by the 24 hour global, domestic and investment news cycles. News flow is real time using apps like Twitter, and the constant flow of news can often have negative ramifications for the average investor. As news flow comes in, it will affect emotions, and the behavior biases that we all have start to kick in and push people to action, or reaction. This push to action is often driven by emotional biases. Emotional actions, or reactions by investors can ultimately lead to underperformance.
To give another example of emotional and reactive responses, we can look at how people often use their Twitter account. The use of Tweets, or Twitter posts, is often the result of an impulsive response to a situation and often not a well thought out response. The use of a smart phone, the Internet, and the constant news cycle may similarly drive investors to impulsively respond to a news item without acting like a professional asset manager. A professional asset manager, like Robert Bender & Associates, will take many factors into consideration before making a buy/sell decision on a stock and will not impulsively react to a single news item or press release from a company. Our research is based on a wide array of data points, and rarely does a single data point drive our decision in a stock. Robert Bender & Associates will use a combination of fundamental, quantitative, and qualitative characteristics of a stock to form a top down and bottom up investment opinion. The bottom up analysis of a stock is merged with a top down analysis, or a broad market analysis, which helps us make a more informed and rational decision about an investment holding.
The joke on Wall Street goes that if the bus driver is giving you stock tips, or the construction worker is telling you an options strategy, there may be some irrational exuberance in the market. Let’s examine this. As the market cycle begins with a move from a low, a recession, or a bear market, there will be few people who want to jump into new positions in stocks. As the market cycle matures, more and more people will see that stocks are performing well and they’ll want to enter the market. As the market nears a top, literally everybody will become an expert at the stock market and they’ll be making recommendations about individual companies as well as trading strategies. While some recommendations are viable, often the analysis is lacking depth when compared to what a professional would apply to the situation.
The cost of making the wrong decision at the wrong time can be costly for your portfolio. Missing the 10 best days of the market over a 20 year period can have dramatic ramifications for a portfolio. As reported by BusinessInsider.com, the difference between staying fully invested and missing the best 10 trading days over a 20 year period can cut investment returns in half. The decision of when to put money to work, or pull money out of the market can have a dramatic effect on overall wealth. The timing of investment decisions is difficult for investment professionals, and often impossible for the average individual investor. We do not try to time the market, instead, the portfolio managers at Robert Bender & Associates invest using a data driven process that aims to limit emotional trading responses and aims to limit individual behavioral biases. Our goal is to implement a structured investment process to achieve above average returns for our clients while adhering to client portfolio objectives and constraints.
A professional investor is typically able to see beyond the short term market movements, and at Robert Bender & Associates we implement a top down and bottom up analysis to make more informed decisions. Having a professional invest assets can also help to ensure that the individual investor doesn’t let their emotions take over and a professional often avoids costly impulsive trading mistakes. When an investor lets their emotions make the trading decisions, they risk making the wrong decision. We encourage you to contact Robert Bender & Associates to inquire about our professional money management services.
Concerns with ETF and Mutual Fund Investing
The world of investing is riddled with decisions that have no clear cut answers. Most investment decisions are made with less than perfect information, and most decisions include a lot of estimates. This uncertainty, or risk, is usually a primary factor that helps investors to calculate an expected return from an investment. But aside from the risk inherent in a security or asset class, an investor must also choose the investment vehicle, which typically also affects the total return.
Once an investor makes a decision to invest into a specific strategy, they must then decide on the vehicle or method to implement that investment decision. With an investment in equities, for example, an investor can choose to invest directly into a portfolio of stocks using a separate account, or choose a mutual fund, an ETF(exchange traded fund), or an option/derivative. All of these methods for investing into equities are implemented in different ways, they will yield different returns, have different risks, different tax consequences and are typically invested into by different specialists. In this article, I’d like to discuss the benefits of investing into stocks using a separate account over a mutual fund or ETF.
Here are some risks and concerns of investing using a Mutual Fund as the vehicle for investing into Equities. Equities, or stocks, when sold will typically yield either a capital gain or loss which will accompany the transaction. A risk or concern with an investment into a stock, will be related to the taxable effect of this investment over time.
Concerns when owning a mutual fund or ETF:
- Taxable or Non-Taxable Account - First, as an investor considering a mutual fund, you will want to take into consideration the tax status of your investment portfolio.
- Holding period of the investment - How long do you plan on holding this investment, and is there a scenario where the funds would need to be accessed earlier than expected? The holding period of the investment will be used in a calculation of expected short term or long term capital gains.
- Fund Fees - Mutual fund fees are often well in excess of ETF fees so they are disadvantaged in this way over ETFs. ETFs have a major disadvantage over mutual funds in that they are usually passively managed, meaning all of the poorly performing stocks are lumped in with the better performing stocks. Because mutual funds are commingled the management expense ratios (MERs) need to taken into consideration.
- Separate account fees - If you choose to invest using a separately managed account, there will be fees associated with the management of this account. These fees can be similar to a mutual fund, or in excess of the mutual fund depending on the manager. Below we will talk about some of the benefits of having a separately managed account instead of a mutual fund or ETF. This analysis will hopefully help you to decide which investment vehicle is best for your situation.
- Built in gains/losses - At the time that you buy into a mutual fund, you are buying into existing gains/losses inherent in the fund. What this means is that you will be sharing in the gains/losses that earlier investors have benefited from. And, in a taxable account, if you buy into a fund and simply hold that fund through year end, you may get a tax bill because the overall fund is making buys and/or sells. If you must own a mutual fund, you are better off doing this in a non-taxable account.
Now let’s discuss the benefits of having a separate account for investing into equities:
- Buy/Sell Decisions - Most importantly, an investor can tailor their risk tolerance and work with their account manager to stay within their objectives and constraints. Tailoring your risk tolerance will allow you to create guidelines and boundaries for the portfolio manager to follow.
- Tax Consequences - More control over the timing of the taxable consequences of the account. One of the large downsides of buying into a mutual fund, is that you are buying into any existing gains or losses that the portfolio may have. This means that as a mutual fund has capital inflows and outflows, taxable events are occurring that may affect your account. Taxable events that can be passed on to you as a investor. One way to avoid these taxable events of a mutual fund, is to own them in a non-taxable account like an IRA. Depending on your situation, not owning a mutual fund or ETF may be the best decision.
- Transaction Costs - You can control the transaction costs by limiting the buys/sells. When you own a separately managed account, the amount of turnover in assets can be controlled to limit the added expense of transaction costs. In a shared account like a mutual fund or ETF, the transaction costs can be substantially higher and this cost is passed onto the investors.
- Taxable Gains/Losses - The timing of taxable events can be controlled by the investment advisor. Commingled accounts like mutual funds and ETFs don’t take into consideration any individual, they are managing the assets for the benefit of the entire fund. And so, the timing of you buying into the fund or selling are not relevant to their investment decisions. When you have a separate account, the gains and losses can either be managed and matched against long term and short term transactions to minimize the taxable effect to the account holder. The investments can be held on to until they are considered long term, and thus limiting the tax liability of the account.
- Your investment strategy run by a professional - A common problem that individual investors encounter, is making the wrong decision at the wrong time. It’s often difficult for an individual investor to find the time necessary to analyze the markets and potential investment decisions, which can make hiring a professional a wise choice. Whether that is at a separate account, a mutual fund, or an ETF a professional can help you to navigate the ups and downs of the markets. Any of these options are often better choices than running your investments on your own. With that said, when you have a professional managing a separate account, you will have the opportunity to discuss objectives and co-create a custom strategy for your account. The investment manager will take your preferences and help you to mold this into an investment strategy that is agreed upon by all parties. Once this is done, you as the investor should feel more comfortable that your investment targets will be prioritized within the confines of your objectives and constraints.
Choosing a mutual fund, ETF, or separate account is usually not a quick, simple or easy choice for an investor. Investors often get overwhelmed with making strategy decisions regarding the investment vehicle that is best for their situation. At Robert Bender & Associates, we specialize in managing separate accounts for investors because we feel the long term benefits are greater than investing in an ETF or mutual fund. Before choosing to invest in a fund, be sure to take all factors into consideration by comparing management expenses, total returns and potential tax consequences.
Compound Investment Returns – A path to achieving your investment goals
The topic of compound interest is a powerful investment concept that is essential for any personal investment strategy. Compounding can help you to slowly and steadily achieve your investment and retirement goals. Compound interest, or more commonly called “compounding” is defined by Wikipedia:
In a simple example, compound interest, or compounding your investments can be accomplished by seeding an investment account and allowing that investment account to grow over an extended period of time without withdrawing any funds. Over time, your investment will most likely generate capital gains, interest or dividend payments from your initial investment of capital. Here’s the essential part of compounding your investments: You must reinvest those new returns back into your investment strategy and allow that new cash work for you. When you do this, you will see your total invested capital grow slightly, and now your investment base is slightly larger than it was before. The reinvestment of returns over time can help your investment account to grow at an incremental rate.
To enhance the compounding of your investments, you should consider setting up a recurring investment each month into your investment accounts. The key to compounding is to allow any and all money to remain within the investment account and to reinvest any cash received back into your investment strategy.
To further this example, if you set up an investment account with $100,000 and it grows annually at 5% over 25 years, the total will grow to $339,000. In addition, if you also contribute $200 per month using the same example, your investment will grow to $453,000.
If you increase your expected return on your investments from 5% to 8%, you can start to see substantial growth in your returns over the same 25 year period. By slightly changing the assumption of growth rate from 5% to 8% and keeping the $200 per month contribution and an initial investment of $100,000 you will see your investments grow to approximately $860,000.
So what are the key tenets of compounding your investments:
- Invest consistently - Develop an investment plan that you can adhere to over the investment horizon.
- Reinvest - As most investment accounts generate cash over time, it is essential to allow your money to remain invested and allow your earnings to reinvest back into the investment strategy.
- Tithe to yourself - Set aside as much as you comfortably can each month to bolster your investment and savings accounts.
- Limit Withdrawals - Your investment account has the best chance of performing well if you avoid taking funds out of it. Allow your money to grow and also allow any interest or dividends to remain invested inside of your investment account.
- What if you fall off the horse? - Like all things in life, it’s hard to remain consistent for multiple decades. For example, over a 25 year period real people may find challenges in contributing a consistent amount, and it’s hard to commit to never withdrawing funds from your investment accounts. What’s important here is the concept, and staying dedicated to the concept of investing for the long term, staying consistent and committed to your investments.
Individual investors should be aware of compounding as a key concept to implement and consider during the planning phase of an investment strategy. You can visit Investor.gov to use their compounding calculator.
Interest rates are going to change...or are they?
The topic on all investors minds is when are interest rates going to change and by how much? In a world of globalization, Brexit, Chinese currency valuation concerns, trade wars, and Trump uncertainty, we investors are trying to gauge just how quickly rates will continue to tick upward.
It is interesting to see the FED vacillate between uncertainty over the economy, and Trump's rhetoric about obtaining 3% GDP growth over the short term.
With Trump and his agenda only as reliable as his Twitter app, who knows what the future holds for the Trump White House. Janet Yellen seems to be hanging on the words of Trump and not the action of Trump. We've heard a lot from Trump about a Wall, higher growth rates in the future, immigration, repealing Obamacare(also known as the Affordable Care Act), and more.
But where do the economic tires meet the road... Let's not forget that when Obama took office there were about 80 million people of working age who were not participating in the labor force, this number now stands at about 95 million workers not participating in the Labor Force. This is the highest number of Americans not participating in the labor force in the last 35 years and it's a record. Rate hikes are often conducted to slow an overheating economy, to pull money out of the economy and to slow growth and inflation expectations.
But if the economy was truly overheating with rising wages and with a low unemployment rate, wouldn't the labor force participation rate be improving and not deteriorating? Wouldn't higher wages draw idle workers back into the workforce? Since Obama became President, the Labor Force participation rate has been deteriorating and not improving.
Yet another sign of economic fragility comes from the SNAP program, otherwise known as "food stamps". When Obama took office in 2009 there were 32 million benefiting from SNAP, by 2016 that number had grown to 43 million receiving benefits.
Rates are expected to change in March 2017, but due to our tenuous economic footing I don't expect the FED funds rate to become as parabolic as some fear. So despite the prevailing uncertainties, the progression of rates will likely follow a muted rise as both Yellen and Trump look to prevent an economic relapse.