How We Improve on Index Funds

April 5th, 2016 by

Using DFA (Dimensional Fund Advisors) funds allows us specific advantages over other index funds. Early on, investors used indexes to track managers’ performance on a risk-adjusted basis. Years later, many indexes have been licensed to fund providers allowing investors to gain diversified exposure to an asset class. However, if the index fund is not a precise representation of the asset class, it may not be worth the cost required to track them. Unfortunately, the huge inflows into index funds have changed the dynamics of indexes. Remember that indexes are now investment vehicles, not simply a long list of stocks to reference relative performance. There are three major issues that the growth of index funds has created.

Investor with growth chart of profits.

First, there are potentially higher costs in reconstitution of index funds. Since a commercial index rebalances once or twice per year, an index fund manager must buy and sell securities at a specific time. When a stock is dropped from an index it tends to have selling pressure, and stocks added to an index see price increases. So, the manager must buy and sell stocks on a particular date that everyone else on the planet knows about ahead of time. Needless to say, this is disadvantageous. Our goal is to gain exposure to a particular asset class, not mimic a commercial index that holds a stale allocation.

Second, style drift occurs between the reconstitution dates. Since prices change constantly, we want a fund provider that will update and keep the basket of stocks consistent with the objective. Remember our objective is to gain exposure to an asset class, not an arbitrary list of stocks that changes infrequently. By constraining the ability to keep the list of stocks fresh and reflective of the asset class, an index fund manager may reduce the expected return relative to the intended asset class. For example, if we hold a long list of value stocks and one company increases in price it may have a lower expected return. By having stale and infrequent reconstitution, the index fund may hold stocks that don’t match the intended asset class.

Third, concentration risk can derail an otherwise solid plan. Commercial index fund managers may be susceptible to concentration risk when one sector dominates the market capitalization of an asset class. For example, during the dot.com boom big tech stocks bubbled to huge valuations. If you were an index manager charged with tracking the market capitalization on an index, you could be forced to concentrate the portfolio in very few names in one sector. We seek to have a strategy that considers the risk of single securities, sectors and countries relative to the market. This addresses unnecessary concentration risk.

The bottom line is our objective to obtain exposure to specific asset classes while remaining diversified and keeping costs down. Avoiding the costs of reconstitution on specific dates, style drift that occurs in between distant reconstitution dates, and reducing concentration risks by implementing risk management rules will help us achieve our two objectives.






How To Play Q2 2016 Buying Soap and Ice Cream

March 30th, 2016 by

For Immediate Release

Lee Munson, co-founder and chief investment officer at Portfolio Wealth Advisors, was asked his opinion on the top-rated Fox business show, “After The Bell”. Ashley Webster was filling in for Liz Claman for the interview in which he asked for Munson’s investment strategy for the second quarter. We asked Munson what he thought about the interview. Link to the video is here.

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“Ashley was polite and professional as always when filling in for Liz, who has been a big supporter of my unique way of bringing out the big picture on a chaotic market. I really wanted to focus on a few stocks as examples of the big picture of what is going on, and how investors can commit capital after a huge run up since February 11th. Instead of discussing my usual love for evidence-based investing, I gave the crowd what they wanted – a few stock picks. Keep in mind our clients are baby boomers who are at or near retirement and want to spend more time on the mountain, but when you want to capture the viewer’s attention, you pick a few stocks that are an example of a larger overall picture.

For instance, we discussed Unilever. Why? It’s got the trifecta of what we look for going forward this year. First, it’s cheap and in the ballpark of undervalued securities in from the developed international asset class. Let’s just call that international value. Second, it pays a dividend of around 150% of what the S&P 500 pays and even more than a 10-year treasury. Cash flow counts when you get into a volatile period. Third, if the dollar stops going up every day like the last few years, US-based investors will benefit from our currency going down against the Euro. This creates a tailwind for international stocks. Plus, when things get crazy, people buy what they know. Just remember that back in 2008 McDonalds was one of the only big blue chip stocks that when up. Come on, the world was ending and people knew they had a 99 cent menu. Case closed! Can’t wait for the next hit with Liz – and hope to see her live in May.”

Munson

If you would like more information on how Lee Munson can help you spend more time on the mountain, reach him at Lee@PortfolioLLC.com or 505.884.3445.

 






Trump or Hillary: Both Irrelevant for International Investors

March 28th, 2016 by

Lee Munson was just featured in Fobes.com discussing his take for the popular series “How To Invest Your Money In Q2 2016” by Ky Trang Ho. Below is an excerpt of Munson’s take on why you need to take a long view when trying to guess the impossible.

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  1. iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index ETF (EEM)
    By Lee Munson CFA, CFP

We know a few things about stocks that don’t always work with bonds: they mean revert over time. In English, that means that over time stocks generally will go back to their longer-term average. The rub is that we don’t always know when that will happen or by what magnitude.

Certain asset classes do better than others for a reason. First, more risk means more expected return. Second, you have a better shot at making money over the long, intermediate, and short term if you buy broad asset classes that are relatively cheap, crash or no crash, Trump or Hillary, China or no China. That’s it.

Munson on Forbes

The best opportunities in the market that are long in the tooth are those that have a relative value versus the broad markets. That is a roundabout way of saying stick to value. We are probably already in a bear market if you only take price into consideration. Come on; we hit a 20% correction of February 11, and people act like it never happened. The valuation of U.S. markets is not cheap. But they are far from the overpriced insanity of the dot-com days.

On top of the obvious is the strength of the dollar. While that may continue, I would bet it will die out. Currencies don’t move in one direction forever, and this is one of the longest bull runs for the dollar in my lifetime. Of course, you could just create fear by saying if Donald Trump wins the dollar will fall under protectionist policies, that is just a sexy way of stating the obvious.

Money has been hiding in the U.S. during a commodity collapse affecting emerging markets, not to mention the new recent trend of emerging firms issuing dollar denominated bets. That trade was pure speculation since most of the time firms in developing countries issue debt in their home currency and pay it down with U.S. dollars paid for their goods and services.

So, with the double whammy of a slower growth rate, ill-conceived financial engineering, and a heightened political risk that never goes out of style, you can see why the valuations are cheap. While not rock bottom, why not consider an asset class that has been left for dead and kicked in the stomach from a strong dollar? I’ll give you a simple reason. Because you will have to come back in the second quarter of 2026 to see how well the mean reversion worked out.

Lee Munson CFA, CFP, is chief investment officer at Portfolio Wealth Advisors in Albuquerque, N.M. overseeing $215 million in assets.






Lee Munson on Forbes: No mystery to financial planners why Genworth was on the edge of default.

March 21st, 2016 by

Click here to read Lee Munson’s article which appeared on Forbes March 21, 2016:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/leemunson/2016/03/21/genworth-schools-bondholders-in-long-term-care-costs/#4b2967bb5418

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Here’s an excerpt:

“Here is what you really need to know. Unlike oil prices, which have killed that sectors earnings short term, all of us will still need to put gas in our cars to get to work. But when your LTC policy goes up 50% and you are 80 years old and living on a pension or fixed budget, you may not have the option to keep paying. While some may think this is great for the insurance company since they get people off their books after paying for years and not making a claim, the very opposite is true. The insurance business survives only if the firm can price the policies right, manage the risk, and keep people paying into a large pool.”

Genworth






Lee Munson Says “Get Real” About “Too-Good-To-Be-True” Dividends

March 11th, 2016 by

Guest contributor Lee Munson was featured on Forbes again today, this time he discussed Linn Energy Investors, unrealistic dividend yields and why you should hate them.

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Read the whole article here:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/leemunson/2016/03/11/line-energy-stop-being-greedy-and-learn-to-hate-fat-dividend-yields-that-are-too-good-to-be-true/#3b1ed2fc2c5b

Reach us at info@portfoliollc.com or call us at (505) 884-3445 if you have any questions, or want to review your portfolio.






Why are indexed annuity sales surging?

March 11th, 2016 by

Over the last five years indexed annuity sales are up around 69% while variable annuity sales are down 16%. This is according the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute’s fourth-quarter U.S. Individual Annuity Sales Survey. I’m not a fan of expensive variable annuities, which I will discuss later, but more importantly we want to understand why this small part of the annuity market is growing. Also, should we even care?

Chart for indexed annuities

Before we try to understand why people have an interest in this stuff we should understand what they are. In a nutshell, an indexed annuity is unique in that the interest your contract in credited is based on the performance of an equity index like the S&P 500. In a low rate environment, some investors would rather take their chances with the stock market over a 10-year period rather than interest rates. Yes, there are some strings attached like fees, caps and participation rates, but any annuity that is worthwhile will do one important thing: protect your principle.

Our clients have three big ideas they want to address when looking at an annuity. First, when money only goes out in retirement and nothing comes in from savings, the math is different. You don’t have the luxury of throwing cash into the market during a bear market after your wage earning years are over. Our firm works hard to provide client’s with a strong allocation of cash and bonds to get through the hard times. Why sell stocks low to pay for your lifestyle? Have enough cash and bonds to get through a winter like 2008 or whatever crisis we will see in the future. An indexed annuity is just another tool that can help some clients structure a portfolio that will provide income to keep them in their lifestyle. Plus, imagine if you added a little strategy to mix?

Next on the list is the low rate environment that has turned many investors away from traditional annuities that are based loosely on a 30 year Treasury. If you are in your 70s and looking for immediate income that you won’t outlive this may be a smaller issue. However, if you are in your 50s or 60s your longevity could see several interest rate cycles.

Last is the simple truth that as we get older, guaranteed income plays apart in our general happiness. Remember the four steps to being happy as you age. Health comes first so you can be mobile. Mobility allows you to socialize. Being social and having fun requires some level of guaranteed income.

The decline in variable annuities is something to celebrate. In our view many variable annuities are just expensive mutual funds in a more expensive insurance wrapper. If you are going to invest in mutual funds, keep the expenses down and tax cost low. Move on if an annuity doesn’t protect the principle.

There are things we can’t ignore when looking at these contracts. Specifically, features such as caps can limit how much you can earn on a given index. We like contracts that have no limit on your upside. One thing you will rarely get is a sweetheart participation rate. In simple terms, the participation rate defines how much of your money is allocated to a given index versus a fixed rate, which is usually low these days. When you can find a contract that will allow 50-70% participation in a well-regarded index like the S&P 500 you are on the right track in most cases. It gets even better if there is an explicit fee to participate versus complicated formulas that only the insurance companies can understand.

At our firm we find that most people choosing an index annuity are traditional stock and bond investors looking for a vehicle that will provide similar performance over time but with a principle protection feature just incase the next 5-10 years throws a curve ball from either the market or personal circumstances. Be realistic, we don’t know how the markets or your life will play out over the next 10 years. If you will be leaving your money making days behind you, a little insurance can be helpful to your general outlook.

If you would like our firm to analyze your existing contracts or are curious if you should even consider looking at this stuff, call us. Our last unsolicited advice is never purchase an annuity or life insurance policy unless it is part of a well-planned strategy. Experience has taught us buying one off products leads to buyers’ remorse and damage control later down the road. You can imagine this is a leading cause of “I wish I never bought that” syndrome. Don’t worry; the same applies for stocks, bonds and real estate. No plan, no success.

Reach us at info@portfoliollc.com or call us at (505) 884-3445. We can analyze your current annuity and life insurance policies to understand how they relate to your overall plan.






Social Security Strategies Wiped Out On April 29th, 2016

March 10th, 2016 by

If you are 66 years old and not collecting Social Security, you have 50 days before they wipe out file and suspend strategies.

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The Social Security Administration issued an emergency message this month detailing new rules that wipe out file and suspend strategies for retirees. Why is this happening? Simple. It’s part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 that President Obama signed into law late last year. Yes, both parties agreed to take away benefits with no public comment period and no chance for citizens to express their opinion.

Here is what you need to know. You have 50 days left until the April 29th deadline. After that, you may not file and suspend your benefits for the purpose of allowing your spouse to rile a restricted claim when they turn 66.

Put it this way, if one of you is 66 or older, and the other is at least 62 or older, get with an advisor right now before it’s too late.

Under the current rules a worker can trigger benefits for a spouse while their own benefit continues to grow by 8% per year until age 70. Starting April 30th, 2016, no one can receive spousal benefits while the primary worker is suspending benefits. This prevents the primary worker from growing their benefits by 8% per year while their spouse collects spousal benefits.

If you are single, at least 66 years old, have not yet filed for benefits, you have 50 days until they take away your rights for a lump sum payment upon reinstatement.

We can help you navigate these waters, but only if you act now before the rules change and traditional file and suspend strategies go away forever.

Reach us at info@portfoliollc.com or call us at (505) 884-3445. Due to the impending deadline, we require you fill out a fact finder to efficiently answer your questions.

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Read the new rules right on the Social Security Administration’s website: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/suspend.html






About Oil: Lee Munson Feature Story on Forbes

March 8th, 2016 by

Lee Munson says we need to put production, consumption and inventories together in context to understand how energy costs are really affecting the stock market.

Forbes chart

Read today’s story by Lee Munson on Forbes here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/leemunson/2016/03/08/oil-inventories-mean-everything-and-nothing-in-a-market-searching-for-answers/#5976c614bcb1






Lee Munson Podcast of Guest Appearance on Feb. 27 Larry Kudlow Show

March 1st, 2016 by

On Saturday, February 27, 2016, National Financial Expert and Albuquerque Financial Planner, Lee Munson, was asked to be a guest on the Kudlow Show with Larry Kudlow. We asked Munson about his interview on one of his favorite radio shows.

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Link to podcast: http://www.wabcradio.com/2012/12/09/kudlowpodcasts/
Lee’s interview is from 57:30 to 1:17:00

“It’s always a pleasure to hang out on a Saturday morning with Larry.  He’s been an inspiration and a mentor ever since I started doing national media commentary on markets. Today, we had the opportunity to discuss a story that simply doesn’t get enough attention, and that’s the difference between pro forma and GAAP accounting for publicly traded companies.  There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal about it this week.  What it really tells us is one thing. Profits don’t look good so you better get off of owning high multiple, low-profit garbage and circle the wagon around highly profitable cheap securities in the US and outside the US.  While some people ask me why I’m buying things outside the US with the strong dollar and the recent poor performance, I would tell them one thing.  The most persistent long-term investment strategy for high-expected returns and outperforming markets is simple.  It’s long-term mean reversion. In English, you always go from worst to first.

While people like to talk about how cheap the S&P is right now, if you start looking at the forwards-priced earnings multiple, we’re at about 20, which isn’t as cheap as some people think, so while other advisors and pundits are trying to be apologists, I’m here to say it’s a real issue, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find good places to invest during a time when profits are weak, it just means that the one big index, the S&P 500 that everybody looks at, may not be the place you want to have all of your money.

After that, Larry and I got to talk about gold and oil, and as we’re sound boarding, we all agreed that, in theory, if we wanted to go to the casino and gamble, which I don’t recommend, selling gold at its high when the dollar may be getting stronger short-term and we have very cheap oil that runs our economy, but then going long, the energy sector, which is so beat up, would make a nice fantasy stock market play.  I suggested on a more practical level that people forget about trying to short stock, and if they want to go to the casino, either go to one, you’ll get a free buffet or steak dinner, or look at a low cost energy ETF like XLE, where you can buy the entire market sector or energy stocks that pay a great dividend and are dirt cheap, but just remember, this is a three to five-year step.  It’s not a retirement plan. It’s not an investment plan. It’s just something to keep you busy so you can let your long-term portfolio provide you income for life.”

If you’d like more information about how Lee Munson can help you retire and spend more time on the mountain, call him at 505-884-3445. His email is lee@portfoliollc.com.






General Electric Has Taught Long-Term Investors A Painful Lesson

January 22nd, 2016 by

While analysts try and figure out what to make of General Electric GE +0.00%’s earnings Friday, you will read about three main themes.

GE Capital

First, the effects of divesting GE Capital on making earnings higher quality, whatever that is suppose to mean. Don’t all of us want high quality earning? Wasn’t the whole point of financial engineering to create profit from clever ideas being brought to light? Beware of management that once touted a new era only to treat it like a bad employee they have to fire. Back in 2007 Jeffery Immelt wrote in his letter to investors that “our financial services businesses should do well in a year like 2008.” By the time he wrote the his letter for the 2014 annual report we are told that GE Capital returns are “below GE’s cost of capital.” Read between the lines and you get a sense that the sales pitch went from a growth story to how much they can return to shareholders. GE makes a fortune, but in the end buying a stock at too high a valuation won’t save you. One thing that hasn’t changed since Immelt took over is the constant references to being leaner. The stock price has certainly reduced its size over the years…

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