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Dangerous Curves

Phil Kernen

Phil Kernen, CFA, is a portfolio manager and partner with Mitchell Capital, a financial planning and investment management firm in Leawood, Kansas. When he's not working, Phil enjoys spending time with his family and friends, reading, hiking and riding his bike.

Dangerous Curves

Phil Kernen  |  Mar 22, 2022

FINANCIAL MARKETS are full of indicators and data relationships from which we tease conclusions. Few signals grab our attention more than an inverted yield curve and its habit of showing up before recessions. But is this signal still accurate in predicting economic trouble?
When U.S. Treasury bond yields are plotted on a graph, they normally have an upward slope, with short-term yields generally lower than longer-term yields. That makes sense: Lenders demand a higher rate for 30-year loans than 10-year loans because their money is at risk for longer.

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AAA Is for Apple

Phil Kernen  |  Jan 28, 2022

TO BE AWARDED a triple-A credit rating was once a priority for some of the biggest and best-known U.S. companies. Only the financially strongest companies, organizations and governments can earn a triple-A rating.
The triple-A rating typically bestows the lowest borrowing rates and suggests the highest ability to repay bondholders. But the triple-A club has been shrinking over the past four decades. Apple recently became only the third current corporate member of this exclusive club.

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Too Much Talk

Phil Kernen  |  Jan 20, 2022

OVER THE PAST 25 years, the Federal Reserve has become more transparent than ever. Much of this is the result of political pressure. Still, the Fed has taken it further, believing greater transparency to be a good thing in helping the public understand the likelihood of future policy changes. Talking more may have helped us move past the 2008 financial crisis. But it isn’t helping us now.

Congress created the Federal Reserve in 1913.

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Pain Postponed

Phil Kernen  |  Dec 21, 2021

BUY NOW PAY LATER is an online payment method that’s growing in popularity. Money and investors have moved toward participating companies big and small, as they seek to stake their claim in this growing market. What’s the big deal and why is everyone excited?
Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) allows consumers to purchase goods and pay for them in the future. Approval happens in seconds. You make a down payment, such as 25% of the total purchase,

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All in the Execution

Phil Kernen  |  Nov 15, 2021

A FRIEND WAS RECENTLY asked by his father to be executor of his estate—and, without hesitation, my friend agreed. But then the conversation quickly moved on to other topics, leaving my friend confused about his role.
My suggestion to my friend: Have another conversation with your dad—and ask these four questions:
What are your expectations? Someone who creates a will is known as a testator. The primary role of an executor is to settle the testator’s estate.

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Keeping Score

Phil Kernen  |  Oct 19, 2021

WHAT’S YOUR CREDIT score? That’s hard to answer because none of us has just one. You likely have a dozen or more. So how did consumers come to think that one credit score—the FICO score—is the sole reflection of their ability to repay a loan?
Following decades of growing consumer spending, and associated data collection, the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 required credit bureaus to open their files. The intent was to protect consumers from lenders who were relying on incorrect information.

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Help Helping Others

Phil Kernen  |  Sep 30, 2021

AMERICANS ARE a generous people. They gave $471 billion to charity in 2020, according to Giving USA. Of that sum, 69% was contributed by individuals like you and me, as opposed to foundations or corporations, plus another 9% took the form of bequests.
Are you charitably inclined? Donor-advised funds can offer a tax-efficient way to make financial gifts, allowing folks to fund their own giving foundation and then direct money to charities for years to come.

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No Green Light

Phil Kernen  |  Sep 7, 2021

MORE AND MORE investors are using environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria to direct their investment dollars toward companies fighting climate change. An obvious question: Do companies that deliver “green” innovations earn high ESG scores?
It seems not. The authors of a recent study from the European Corporate Governance Institute found that:

Companies with lower ESG scores are producing more and higher-quality innovations designed to mitigate climate change.
A sizable percentage of recent U.S.

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Going Direct

Phil Kernen  |  Aug 23, 2021

HEARD OF DIRECT indexing? It’s supposed to be the next big thing in investing. Let me tell you why that isn’t likely.
Direct indexing arose from a shortcoming in the way exchange-traded funds (ETFs) work. Most ETFs mimic a market benchmark such as the S&P 500 or the Russell 2000, and are bought and sold on an exchange like stocks. Their main selling point is that there are no active portfolio managers selecting the securities,

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Three Other Legs

Phil Kernen  |  May 7, 2021

THE THREE-LEGGED stool is a metaphor for how the post-Second World War generation looked at retirement. The legs represented Social Security, an employer pension and personal savings. All three legs were viewed as necessary for a solid retirement plan.
Today, that notion seems quaint. Pension plans continue to be phased out. The number of employees covered by a defined benefit pension has been declining for decades, falling to 26% as of 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Virtue’s Vice

Phil Kernen  |  Apr 22, 2021

IT’S BEEN A GREAT stretch for many mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that buy stocks based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. For instance, the actively managed Parnassus Core Equity Fund notched 19.3% a year over the three years through March 31, Fidelity U.S. Sustainability Index Fund has climbed 17.4% and iShares ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF 18.2%. All three funds look like winners compared to the S&P 500’s 16.8% annual total return.

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Staying Safe

Phil Kernen  |  Mar 30, 2021

FOLKS FORGET passwords every day, an inconvenience that can usually be quickly fixed—but not always.
In January, The New York Times wrote about a German programmer living in San Francisco. A decade ago, he had been paid 7,002 bitcoins for making a video explaining how cryptocurrencies work. He stored them in a digital wallet on a hard drive and wrote the password on a piece of paper, which he has since lost.

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We’re All Active

Phil Kernen  |  Mar 16, 2021

OVER THE PAST TWO decades, investors have increasingly shunned actively managed mutual funds, instead embracing index mutual funds and exchange-traded index funds. This has led to a contrived debate over whether active or passive investing is better.
My contention: It’s wrong to position indexing as somehow the mirror opposite of active management. Why? Even if you eliminate active mutual fund managers and their fees from your portfolio, you still need to grapple with three crucial investment decisions—all of which involve the sort of judgment call active investors must make.

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What? Spend It?

Phil Kernen  |  Mar 5, 2021

HISTORY IS FULL of fringe investments that make headlines after rapid—and often inexplicable and indefensible—price increases. Bitcoin is one of the latest examples, leaving even casual observers asking, “What is it and should I buy some?”
First traded in 2009, bitcoin is the best-known cryptocurrency. Thousands of others have been introduced, but many have since died. That’s one problem with trying to pick the right digital currency to purchase: There are low barriers to entry.

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