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Fire Drills and Why We Do Them

Buttons to report a fire or call police

Every meeting we have with clients includes a line item on the agenda: Fire Drill. 

What would you do if the market dropped significantly tomorrow? What would that look like for you? For years now it has felt like an unnecessary discussion point, even with the occasional pull back due due to a tweet or tariff threat. Yet we keep it on the agenda because, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face.”

Two months ago, no one could have anticipated a worldwide pandemic resulting in a virtual halt of economic activity. Yet it happened. But isn’t that the purpose of fire drills? To know what the plan is if-and-when something disastrous happens?

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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. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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Timeless Truths & The Cycle of Market Emotions

The Cycle of Market Emotions

Just 30 days ago, on Feb. 18th, markets were at all-time highs. Today, fear grips the market and recession is at the top of every financial pundits’ mind.  Benjamin Graham, said to be one of the best investors of all time, and a mentor to Warren Buffett reminds us:

Control what you can control: yourself, your emotions and your response (or behavior) to those emotions.

Through many of the articles I’ve read this week, one stood out to me. Here’s an excerpt, written by the Collaborative Fund:

The majority of your lifetime investment returns will be determined by decisions that take place during a small minority of the time.

Most of those periods come when everything you thought you knew about investing is thrown out the window.

How you invested from 1990 to 1998 wasn’t all that important. The choices you made from 1999 to 2001 shaped the rest of your investing career.

What you did from September 2008 to March 2009 likely had more impact on your lifetime investment returns than what happened cumulatively from 2002 to 2007, or from 2009 to 2017.

The pilot’s famous answer when asked about his job — “Hours of boredom punctuated by brief moments of terror” — applies perfectly to investing. The brief moments of terror are the rise and fall of markets like this.

Ask yourself: Am I a speculator or an investor? What is the difference?

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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. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Investing in Panic

Emergency Exit Sign

A lot can change in 30 days. One short month ago, markets were knocking on the door of all-time highs, businesses were doing well, and Joe Biden was behind several candidates in the Democratic primaries.

Oh, how things change quickly. Very quickly.

Even when compared to historic drops, the decline of about 18 percent that we’ve seen in the broad market indices took only 13 days. The start of the Great Depression took 28 days to reach that level. In 1998, it took 31 days. The Great Recession didn’t even make it in the top five fastest drops.

I want to focus on two questions in this column: First, to what can this speed of this market drop be attributed; and second, is it warranted?

All dramas need a villain. This time it’s the Coronavirus. The rapid spread of the virus led to ghost towns (Wuhan), which in turn led to locking down an entire country (Italy). This is a serious virus, and any amount of death or damage caused by it is too much. I don’t intend to trivialize it, nor the efforts of healthcare workers around the world fighting on the front lines.

But as investors, we have a mandate to try and understand where to draw the line between reasonable concern and emotion-driven panic. Too much emotion leads to panic selling, which in turn creates opportunities for those willing to buy when others are fearful.

I’d argue that we are well over the line of reasonable concern and deep into an emotional panic. During the 2008-2009 recession, corporate profits declined 46 percent, according to Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust. Comparably, the current declines point to an estimated profit decline of 50-80 percent. Effectively, the market is saying that Coronavirus will have a greater effect on American businesses than the Great Recession, a time in which the entire monetary system seemed to be teetering on edge.

Consider these five critical elements of an economy: The Federal Reserve, taxes, regulatory policy, trade policy, and spending. What’s the status of these? The Federal Reserve just announced yet another cut to rates last week, making them even more accommodative than they already were. We just passed significant tax reform two years ago. Burdensome regulatory policies have been reduced. Trade policies (while challenging) have shown progress. All that to say that our economy is a pretty good place for business right now, and far better than it was during 2008-2009.

If the economy is strong and unemployment continues to be at an all-time low of 3.5 percent, why is there such a panic? I think part of it is the unknown. We’ve seen movies and TV shows designed to scare us with viruses. A disease that demolishes populations, creates zombies and generally wreaks havoc. We’re seeing something we don’t fully understand, and governments around the globe are reacting. Social media posts are encouraging everyone to start wearing gas masks and stockpiling toilet paper. Media, both traditional and social, perpetuates panic with continuous updates from a variety of “experts.” Couple that with the financial industries’ recent trend of eliminating trading costs and arming investors with phone apps, and you start to understand how easy it is for investors to panic sell with virtually no barriers.

On February 3, some 12,000 Robin Hood (a “free trading” app) investors bought Tesla shares for the first time. It reminds me of Bitcoin in 2017 and the dot.com bubble of 1999. Greed is a powerful emotion. When prices decline, human nature extrapolates that values will go to zero. Fear overtakes common sense, rising to panic.

Going one level deeper, consider a popular investment these days called exchange-traded funds (ETFs). These derivatives are designed to mirror the performance of a basket of underlying assets, usually stocks. For example, this allows an investor to buy a share of an ETF that reflects the performance of the entire S&P 500. Investors like them as they provide a low-cost method of diversification.

But behind the scenes, there’s a lot of trading going on to keep the derivative in line with the underlying asset. This gets complicated quickly, but suffice it to say that I think ETFs may be contributing to the dramatic swings we’ve seen lately. Liquidity, options, and other derivatives drive big moves, and these funds utilize tons of them. Computer-driven buying and selling mean it can all happen in a moment’s notice. I think the very financial instrument that was designed to give investors an edge has increased volatility and speculation.

Even when armed with logic and facts, our emotions can still get the better of us. There’s no doubt that headlines are scary, and the market drops are meaningful. But logic has to win over emotion. Think about this: during the Apollo 13 mission of 1970, the moon landing turned bad when two oxygen tanks and two fuel tanks failed. According to Jack Swigert, the chief pilot on the mission, had those variables been thrown at them during the simulator drills, they would have responded, “Come on, you are not realistic.” No one could have seen this coming, but it happened. One month ago this whole scenario seemed impossible, but here we are.

It’s during times like these we are reminded of the importance of good investor, and indeed financial, behavior. Get back to basics: Do you have a financial plan? Do you have savings? Do you have a project account set aside for emergencies? Are you spending less than you make? Are your investments diversified?

If all these boxes are checked, good investors will look at moments like these as opportunities. Asset prices have declined, allowing us to purchase some of the best companies in the world at discounts unimaginable only 30 days ago.

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. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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A Note to Clients on Virus Volatility

Rollercoaster

As I’m sure many of you are aware, this past week has been a difficult one for investors. The broad market indices have seen swift and dramatic drops, leaving many scared, confused, and upset.

Make no mistake; it is moments like these that define all of us as investors. Fear is an emotion, and one that can quickly snowball into an all-out panic. We’ve often said your behavior as an investor will ultimately have a far greater effect on your outcome than when or how you are invested. This is one such moment.

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PRESS RELEASE: Steve Booren Recognized in Forbes as a 2020 Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado

Best in state wealth advisors

DENVER, Colo. — January 30, 2020 – Steve Booren of Prosperion Financial Advisors was recently ranked No. 26 in Colorado in the 2020 Best-In-State Wealth Advisors list published by Forbes.

According to Forbes, the annual list spotlights the nation’s top-performing advisors, evaluated based on a methodology developed by SHOOK Research. Advisors are also evaluated based on personal interviews, industry experience and revenue trends, among other criteria.

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The Decade in Review

As financial advisors we’re constantly advocating for investors to maintain a long-term view. We consider it to be fundamental, not only as an example of good investor behavior, but as a way of minimizing the emotional toll of “riding the rollercoaster”.

But what does it mean to have a long-term perspective? How long is long enough?

Improving Investor Behavior: Investing time now will pay dividends later

Person holding a TV remote

Note

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, November 17th, 2019.

The average American spends more than 85 hours per month watching TV. The same person will likely spend about 265 hours sleeping and 228 hours working. Know how much time they’ll spend working on their finances? About 1.8 minutes, (yes, that works out to 96 seconds) per day.

It seems crazy to me that people will spend an hour on Yelp trying to find the perfect taco bar for dinner, but will invest thousands of dollars based on a 30-second spot on the Mad Money TV show. Read more

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. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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Improving Investor Behavior: The Sharp Knife of Compound Interest

Knife digging into a log
Note

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, October 27th, 2019.

Anyone who has ever spent time outdoors understands and appreciates the value of a sharp knife. Whether stripping wood to start a fire, using it as a cooking utensil, cleaning a fish, or for any of a million other purposes, the trusty knife is an essential tool. But knives also have inherent danger as well. Used the wrong way, a knife can quickly put an end to a fun camping trip, or worse – a life.

With this in mind, let’s consider compound interest. For those who don’t understand the concept, compound interest is money earned on money spent or saved, typically expressed as a percentage. If you have a savings account, you’ve earned interest (albeit a tiny amount). This interest is compounded (i.e., multiplied) when the amount is left alone over a period of time.

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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. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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Improving Investor Behavior – The Prosperity Mindset

Note

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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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. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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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. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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