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Improving Investor Behavior: Managing Your Fears

Note

This article is set to appear in the Denver Post in about one week. We felt it was worthwhile to share with our clients now, given the events of the past few days.

Shark Week is among the longest running and most popular cable programs in history. First appearing 30 years ago in 1988, the show has since been watched and celebrated by millions. Why would a program about sharks and their danger be so popular? I think it plays on the emotion of fear, and more interestingly, people’s desire to be a little bit scared.

This is quite the paradox: some people enjoy engaging in an activity designed to make them uncomfortable. The same can be said for horror movies, especially at this time of year. In both circumstances, however, the fear is often wholly unfounded. Sharks are responsible for about six deaths per year, and I highly doubt zombies will be taking over the world anytime soon. Instead, people should be much more afraid of mosquitos with their death toll last year of more than 830,000 people.

My point is this: sometimes our greatest fears are the most unfounded. Whether it’s an oversized fish or monsters under the bed, our worst fears take up an oversized portion of our conscious and drive actions that can be damaging and counterproductive. Fear is a powerful emotion and one you must learn to rein in if you want to be a successful investor.

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Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post.

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Anxiety and Investing: Taking the Fear Out of Finances

The chances that either you, a loved one, or a friend have had an incident with, or an ongoing relationship with heightened anxiety are likely. Almost 20 percent of the population expresses some sort of anxiety disorder in a lifetime. It comes from a combination of genes and impactful experiences throughout life. Whether relatively mild, or the cause of full on panic attacks for the victim, it is a disruptive force.

Fear and worry can be associated with any number of events or circumstances, but I’ve found that finance can be a leading cause. This post is written for anyone who has anxiety around their money, or for those with a loved one who might. In either situation, it’s important to understand how to take the “fear out of finances.” In this three part series we’ll talk about how to Process, Plan, and Pursue more comfort and confidence in personal finances and investing, hopefully leading to decreased anxiety for those affected by this part of life.

As you get to know our “characters” by their “style of attachment” (the basis for how we think about and interact with our financial lives), I’ve written the characters to represent the extremes. You, or your peer / loved one, may not feel as strongly one way or the other as the examples, but you may find more similarities to one character than another. Wherever one finds themselves in the spectrum, they are not alone, and these processes can be put into practice for a confident future with your finances.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Fear of Missing Out

Note

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, September 16, 2018.

When you are stuck in traffic on the interstate, creeping along, do you find yourself wanting to switch from one lane to another? Do you glance to the left and see the “fast lane,” and are envious of how quickly they are moving? You look for an opening, signal and move over to gain some speed… only to come to a stop. You then notice the car you were following in the lane to the right moves along past you. A few minutes later, it has moved way ahead, out of sight.

This is an illustration to which investors can relate. Making a move from one strategy to another – one that looks more attractive because it is moving along faster than you are –  often has the same frustrating result. As with driving, you may take the risk and make a financial strategy change to feel like you are getting ahead, only to find yourself coming to a stop since you made that investment at the wrong time, or for the wrong reason. This is FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out.

Buying an investment in today’s world is rather easy. From apps on your phone to Mutual Fund stores in strip malls, purchasing investments has never been simpler. What previously involved a call to your broker to make an investment purchase is now even easier with these multiple alternatives.  Investment companies, however, thrive on investors making changes whether it comes from transaction commissions or asset management fees.

Some financial companies encourage lane-changing behavior, where investors hop from one product or strategy to another, in an attempt to “beat the market.” Frankly, beating the market is a lot of work (and luck). You must buy something before the value rises, sell it high, and reinvest those dollars in the next low-value stock that goes up in price. One’s ability to do this consistently is practically non-existent. Yet people believe they can, spurred on by a variety of messaging we receive. The bottom line is that investing takes discipline.

We also know that FOMO has a close cousin: Comparison. Comparing is said to be human nature. We tend to examine what we have, make, how we look, and where we live to others. The funny thing about this habit is that there is never a winner. That is because there will always be someone, somewhere with more than what you have, look better than you do, have a bigger house, etc. The habit of comparison envelops people and can significantly harm their investment behavior. It plants the seed for FOMO and leads to comparing how fast you are going versus the person in the other lane.

I encourage my clients to measure progress. Are you on plan or target? If so, great! If not, what adjustments do you need to make to get back in your lane and make progress toward your destination? Measuring how far you’ve come is a much healthier measure than judging against perfection. Comparing yourself to someone else, or to an ideal, only generates negative feelings and emotions. Measure progress, not perfection.

At the end of the day, the only reason people invest and save is for income – either income today or income tomorrow. Attempting to grow your money pile bigger and bigger may sound appealing, but capital gains are an unreliable source of income. Trying to trade your way up the pile is a lot of work and a goal for which few have the skill and discipline to achieve. Most financial advisors coach people to build up a financial “retirement pile” then spend down or make distributions based on a “safe” distribution rate. Growth is an unreliable source of income, and that strategy can lead to unfortunate timing decisions.

On the contrary, stay focused on a strategy with a history of success. Ignore the whispering emotions of fear or greed, and you can reach your destination with a lot less “lane-changing risk.” We believe in investing in great companies with a broad business moat. They sell their goods or services to everyone, everywhere, every day, and share a portion of the profits with their owner-shareholders in the form of a dividend. Dividends may not be the only path for investor success, but if there is a better one, I have yet to find it.

Decide your destination and map out a course. Be very careful making those lane changes.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post.

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An Open Letter to Employers

There is a national debate right now on how to make 401k plans more effective for retirement plan participants. The question isn’t “how do we supply the workforce with access to retirement savings vehicles?”, but rather “Why are so few employees taking advantage of these important benefit offerings?” In the end, it’s about a lack of familiarity and trust.

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The 8th Wonder of the World – Compounding Interest

I would like to take a look at the concepts of compounding and inflation. The principles of the two are identical. One works for you in a positive growing way, the other in a silent negative manner.

Let’s take a look at inflation first.

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Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson

As an advisor, Dave Anderson places a high priority on developing strong personal relationships with his clients. Frequent communication is important so that he works from an informed and timely view of his clients personal and life goals, financial objectives, priorities and risk tolerance. Learn more about Dave here.

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Patience Isn’t a Virtue, It’s a Necessity

With the increased fluctuations and heightened volatility we have experienced in the markets in the past several months, I would like to share my thoughts and perspective.

I feel the most important point I would like to state is: short-term volatility is normal. We will look at some statistics shortly, but first I desire to express that volatility is to be expected. We do not let volatility sway our opinion of the investments we own.

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Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson

As an advisor, Dave Anderson places a high priority on developing strong personal relationships with his clients. Frequent communication is important so that he works from an informed and timely view of his clients personal and life goals, financial objectives, priorities and risk tolerance. Learn more about Dave here.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Myths & Language

Note

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, June 17, 2018.

Many people believe the stock market is risky. It’s often described as a casino, using words like crash, falling, and my favorite Wall Street word: “correction” meaning falling 10 percent or more from a previous high price. My definition of a correction is a temporary decline, which is then followed and surpassed by a permanent advance.

I help people to understand that risk is a permanent loss, or (more likely) the permanent loss of your purchasing power. In reality, money has never been lost when invested in a broadly diversified portfolio held long-term. You can easily lose money investing in stocks, but capital is not lost by an investor who is willing to hold a well-diversified portfolio of quality equities through their normal, sometimes frequent, short-term declines.

So why is it that our society seems to hold the belief that stocks are fraught with risk – a clear and present danger – when history does not show an example of this? The historical evidence is on the other side. Could it be the contrary financial messaging you hear? Could it be selling fear has a more significant impact than selling discipline?

I think the fear is inherited. The terror of a stock market crash capable of wiping out a lifetime of savings is so ingrained that it brings back generational stories of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The Depression was indeed tragic leaving generational scars. Retirees fear to invest in the ownership of companies in the form of stocks because they can crash. No wonder less than 50 percent of our population has any investments in stocks.

Over the lifetime of an individual, it is not uncommon for stocks to increase in value upwards of 100 times since birth. I was born 62 years ago in 1956. The S&P 500 equivalent was at 44.43, and today it is approximately 2,700. That is 61 times higher in 62 years. The scenario is even more stunning today for a 65-year-old born who was born on January 1, 1953. At that time, the S&P 500 was at 26.18 – versus 2,700 today – more than 100 times higher (same source). To find out where the market was when you were born, search online for “S&P 500 historic prices by month.”

When you consider a typical retirement time frame, say 30 to 40 years, living costs could more than double for a retiree due to inflation. The real risk is running out of income. The rising tide of dividend income from high-quality companies can more than offset inflation over a three or four-decade time horizon. The myth, however, is that stocks are “too risky.” My question: “Where did you get that idea?”

Good investor behavior means paying less attention to the value of your investments and more attention to the income or dividends. Since 1960, the cash dividend of the S&P 500 has increased at a compound rate of 5.76 percent versus about 3 percent for inflation or the CPI. People shouldn’t spend their principal; they should spend the income from their principal. So why is there such an emphasis on the daily fluctuation of principal?

Could it be a belief that Blue Chip companies are like casino chips? In reality, ownership in American companies represents the direct ownership in the earnings, cash flow, dividends and net assets of the very businesses you frequent each day. Ownership can be in the form of your 401(k), mutual funds, ETF products or direct ownership in the actual shares of companies. Prices fluctuate on the stock market, but long-term values are driven by real earnings and real dividends, yet most people see stock prices as random and inherently unstable.

When you own shares of a company, you are an owner of that company. Good investor behavior means acting like an owner, not playing gin rummy. Rather than becoming fearful as a result of negative financial messages, look around and pay attention to companies that provide goods and services to you and your family. Owners of successful businesses typically win.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post.

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Invest in Businesses Rather than Renting Stocks

Most business owners can feel the pulse of their business. If you own a coffee shop for instance, you can go to the location, see and interact with your employees, touch your inventory, and keep your customers happily caffeinated. You can smell the aroma of your business. You can feel it.

What if you had that same feeling as a shareholder of a public company? What if you thought like an owner? Consider one that sells coffee. Yesterday, you did not own any shares of this company, but today you are an owner – a shareholder.  The feeling of being an owner of that company is divorced from owning a percentage or shares in a public company. Some may think those shares represent a lotto ticket that goes up and down every business day on some stock exchange, based on public consensus or what some analyst says or does not say about that company’s future prospects. Some almost consider it like a casino.

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Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Make Steady Savings Your Strategy

Note

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, May 18, 2018.

There’s $15 on the line, and your buddy is stepping up to a 10 footer for a birdie on the 18th hole. It’s a slippery putt, but not slippery enough. As he takes his shot, human nature kicks in. “Miss it, miss it,” we say to ourselves. But there is no level of hoping or wishing we can do to have any measurable effect on that putt.

As humans, we do this a lot. We look at all manner of situations and hope for different outcomes. We hope the Broncos win. We hope to live well into our 100s. We hope the stock market goes up. In all of these situations, there’s very little we can do to affect what happens. We get so caught up hoping for one thing or another, that we forget the little steps we can take to improve our odds of success. Living to 100 is a hope; eating healthy and exercising is a choice. And when it comes to finance, choosing how much to save is far more important than hoping for better market returns.

Market performance tends to be the singular focus of investors and investment media alike. How is the market performing? What are the benchmarks doing? At what level are my holdings? All of these questions are similar in one regard: they are reactionary. They focus on elements that cannot be controlled.

Investment returns are important. The magic of compounding interest, sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world, is what helps rigorous savers be able to retire as millionaires. Regular old savings rates, however, can have a profound impact on the value of a portfolio over a lifetime. For compounding interest to work its magic, it has to have something on which to work. Consistency is a virtue, and it is an element YOU can control.

Life is filled with challenges, expenses, and emergencies, all of which can derail the best of intentions when it comes to saving. Having a method for saving becomes essential. Often that means “paying yourself first.” For example, can you have your employer automatically contribute to your 401(k) from your paycheck? Great! The sting of savings might hurt at first, but after a couple of months, you may not notice it. That’s the goal. We want to automate savings as much as possible. As a best practice, we encourage a 10-25 percent savings rate. The more you save, the better the outcome. It’s better to save 10 percent every month than 25 percent once or twice a year. Save until it hurts and make it a habit.

Pensions once made this easy for would-be retirees. Employees didn’t need to think about saving for retirement; it just happened. As retirement savings continues to shift away from companies and toward individual employees, making “saving” a routine becomes even more important. The great thing about Independent alternatives such as 401(k) plans is they allow you to contribute at your savings rate. You get to control how much you want to put in and where that money is invested, as well as take comfort in knowing that it’s your money, now and into the future.  These plans are designed to reward diligent savers.

Tomorrow the market may go up, down or sideways. No one knows which way it will move, and those who say they do are just guessing. The problem with guessing is that it is inherently inconsistent. Some days you’re right, and other days you’re wrong. How much you choose to save is controlled only by you. The consistency with which you choose to save is a decision over which you have complete control. The more you save, the less the market has to perform to end up with the same result. Steady savings over a lifetime helps take the “hoping” out of a retirement plan.

Praying to the golf gods won’t help us win the round. What we can do is take lessons, get a coach and practice. We can hit the driving range, and improve our odds that by the last hole it won’t matter if he sinks the 10 footer. Our goal is to stroll up to the 18th green a few shots ahead. This scenario relates to what consistent saving achieves. Make it a habit, practice it regularly, and watch your retirement account grow.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post.

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Renegotiating with our Business Partner, Donald Trump

Imagine you have a business relationship with a partner. You work and run the business, and take home 65 percent of the profits for your efforts and your partner received 35%. Last December your partner recognized your hard work and rewarded you with an additional 14 percent of the business, reducing their take to 21 percent. Suddenly you are receiving a much larger portion of the profits.

At the same time your business partner has made an effort to reduce friction in the business and keep borrowing costs low. These are ideal conditions for your business to grow, and they are exactly what the U.S. Government has done.

In short, the tax cuts passed by Congress late last year are a big deal. Corporations are getting around 20 percent more tax relief and reflecting that relief in well-publicized bonuses to workers, increases in earnings, and growing dividend payments to the shareholders. All of that is not just good – but incredibly good for the American economy and citizens.

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Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post.

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