Improving Investor Behavior – Fear of Missing Out

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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.

Improving Investor Behavior – The Prosperity Mindset

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, August 19, 2018.

Wealth is a mindset. In my years as a financial advisor I’ve worked with many wealthy individuals who have everyday-type jobs. From bus drivers to teachers, entrepreneurs to an administrative assistant at the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve learned that income is not the best determinate of future wealth. Instead it’s a mindset, one I like to call the prosperity mindset.

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Mid-Year Outlook 2018: The Plot Thickens

Presenting the LPL Research Midyear Outlook 2018: The Plot Thickens, packed with investment insights and market analysis to guide you through all the action we may see in the year ahead.

When we as investors began 2018, we were tuned in to the recent fiscal policy changes that were expected to propel economic activity and the financial markets higher in the coming year. The handoff in leadership from monetary policy to fiscal policy was well underway as a driver of consumer spending, business investment, and corporate profits. Instead of depending on the Federal Reserve (Fed) to move this expansion forward, fiscal incentives are now critical for continued growth, with the new tax law taking the lead.

Although we expect continued growth, there is also the potential for greater market sensitivity due to the late cycle concerns that can emerge when the economy is doing well. So indeed, the plot has thickened. But that doesn’t mean we’ve taken a turn for the worse. The underlying forces are still forging ahead and this expansion and bull market have not been defeated. Right now, there are many positive fundamentals, like business investment and corporate profits, supporting economic growth and potential market gains.

Armed with the investment insights of LPL Research’s Midyear Outlook 2018, and supported by the guidance of a trusted financial advisor, we expect investors can remain optimistic about what’s ahead for their investment portfolios. Read more about our forecasts and key themes to watch in the full publication. This guidance and investment insight can benefit investors in their search for long-term success. Download your copy today!

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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A Retirement Plan Sponsor is Like the Pilot In Command of An Aircraft

The responsibility of being a retirement plan sponsor is like the responsibility of flying a group of passengers from one location to another. Are you and your team operating like a “pilot in command?”

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Improving Investor Behavior – Longevity and the Fear of Running Out

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, July 15, 2018.

When do you plan to die? Weird question, right? It’s one that financial advisors have to ask their clients. The typical approach to retirement planning involves spending down the portfolio, a lifetime of savings for a client, at a rate that will ensure they have enough to live on now and for the rest of their life. The hard part is knowing how many years a person has left.

If risk is defined as the potential of making a mistake, I believe the most significant risk facing investors and their retirement is judgment about their life expectancy or longevity. Live too long, and you’re liable to run out. Die young? Well, you can see the problem with this. It’s a variable that few people like to discuss, so it gets tossed to the backburner with a “let’s just say 85 and go from there” type answer. Ask a client how long they’ll live, and nine times out of ten they say they will die at the same age their parents did.

The problem with this approach is advancements in healthcare, education, and technology. I think most Americans significantly and consistently underestimate their life expectancies. Much of this is due to the increased rate at which people are living longer.

Life expectancy is increasing due to innovations in vaccines and antibiotics; they have indeed caused our health to be significantly better. Stories of pandemic flu today are solved in a matter of weeks or months, yet just 100 years ago it wiped out millions. Tuberculosis and polio were common in the early lives of today’s 70-year-olds. Today they are non-existent. Knee, hip, and shoulder replacements are common, as are cataract and heart stents, enabling people with worn out parts to lead active lives free of what used to be life-limiting pain.

When baby boomers consider their life expectancy, they are using a measuring stick for someone who was born in the 1930’s, expecting continuing improvements in healthcare. But advancements in the past 30 years have been exponentially greater. This creates a significant gap between the estimates of how long retirees will live, and how long they actually live.

More concerning is the combination of a couple in retirement, and their joint life expectancy. It’s like taking the same issue and multiplying it by two.

Data reveals couples live longer than single people. This may be attributed to caring for one another, socialization, and plain old love. Living for another gives purpose to your day. Rarely do people plan for and consider the life expectancy of a couple. In all actuality, the issue becomes even greater than the sum of its parts.

Education is also a significant factor in determining life expectancy. Today, the vast majority of our population is well educated. Educated people have higher incomes, and are more active, eat better, and more in tune with their health. If education is the trump card to longevity, today’s Americans may break out way ahead in life expectancies.

Underestimating your longevity is a significant risk and can become a large financial problem especially for those planning to retire in the next 20 years. Pensions plans cover the life of the individual, but as those plans are replaced with independent retirement savings, will retirees be prepared? Social Security may provide a base of income, yet it escalates at an anemic rate (only 2 percent this year, 0.3 percent in 2017, and none in 2016) and inflation has historically risen at 3 percent per year. This means the purchasing power of your Social Security income falls in half in just 35 years. Live ten more years, say from 85 to 95, and you might see another 35 percent reduction in your purchasing power.

According to a study released this month from The Senior Citizens League, the reduction in the buying power of Social Security benefits from 2000-2018 was 34 percent. Some of the largest cost increases during this period were medical related: Medicare Part V monthly premiums (195%), prescription drugs (188%) Medigap (158%) and medical out-of-pocket expenses (117%). (Source: https://bit.ly/2ItT6NW)

Living longer is a goal to which we should all aspire. With advances in modern healthcare and technology, the goal seems more attainable than ever. As such, we need to start accounting and planning for longer lives and the effect it may have on your retirement. Your investments should support you at all stages of life, whether that’s 65 or 105, especially when going back to work is no longer an option. If you haven’t already, talk with your financial advisor to discuss your longevity plan so your money doesn’t run out before you do.

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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My Dad’s Story

I work with people in many different ways, but one of my favorites is helping business owners retire the right way.

When my dad met my mom he told her he would be a millionaire one day.  He knew he wasn’t going to reach that goal by selling pharmaceuticals.  So, at 35 he took a big leap of faith. He left his stable salaried job with benefits to start a business selling used hubcaps to the consumer cheaper than they could buy directly through the manufacturer.

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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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Improving Investor Behavior – Myths & Language

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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.