IF YOU WANT to beat the market, you need to pick stocks that perform well enough to overcome the investment costs you incur. That task is made harder not only by the market’s efficiency, but also by another hurdle: skewness.
What’s that? The most a stock can lose is 100% of its value, but the possible gain is far greater than 100% and potentially infinite (though no stock has got there yet). In any given year,
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST challenge facing investors? Forget politics, low interest rates or high stock market valuations. I would argue there’s an even bigger challenge: How do you find financial advisors who are worth their fee?
On offer are brokerage firms, insurance companies, banks, mutual funds, accountants and independent advisory firms, all of them employing charming people who would love to help you. Problem is, there isn’t a lot of uniformity in the products and services they offer,
IN 1934, when I was age one, a federal income tax return was one page, and came with two pages of instructions. It was hand carried to the house by a live postman. The IRS regulations were 200 pages—though some say it was 400—all of which were memorized by the tax author J. K. Lasser.
When I was a young man in the workforce, we still got the several-page income tax form by mail,
IS “SMART BETA” truly smarter and better?
The world of smart beta, sometimes called factor investing, used to be fairly easy to grasp. In 1981, academic Rolf Banz noted that small-company stocks didn’t just outperform their larger brethren. Rather, they outperformed by more than could be explained by their extra risk, as reflected in greater share price volatility. Similarly, in 1992, finance professors Eugene Fama and Kenneth French documented the strong performance of bargain-priced value stocks—and noted that this couldn’t be explained by volatility,
LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I’ve made my fair share of financial blunders. I’ve also had some successes. But I definitely spend more time beating myself up over my errors than celebrating my successes.
Undoubtedly, my biggest mistake fits into the relatively obscure category of asset location. If you aren’t familiar with the term, I can explain it by way of an example. Suppose you have two investment accounts: a retirement account and a standard, taxable account.
YOU CAN TELL the story of my generation in myriad ways—including through our evolution as investors. I entered the world of stock investing with the purchase of shares in Twentieth Century (now American Century) Select Fund. It was the summer of 1987 and I was 26 years old. By autumn, the stock market had crashed and the value of my shares along with it. It was the first of three major market declines that my generation would face.
OTHERS ARE LUCKY. But we deserve every penny we have, right? The distinction between “just deserts” and “just plain lucky” strikes me as far messier than we might initially assume. Consider just seven of the ways that we can be financially lucky or unlucky:
1. Birthplace. If we were born in the U.S. or another part of the developed world, we’re pretty much starting the 100-meter sprint within a few strides of the finish line,
I HAVE MADE some glaring investment mistakes over the years. For instance, in my 20s, I was too conservative. I opened an individual retirement account and regularly invested the maximum annual contribution in a mortgage-backed bond fund. I still think about how much further ahead I would have been, if I had invested more of the money in stocks.
In my 30s, I received a $5,000 performance award from my employer. I wanted to invest the money,
IN THE 1990s, when I started working fulltime, conventional wisdom suggested two possible routes to a comfortable retirement: Find a public sector job that offered a traditional pension plan or, alternatively, join the private sector and set aside 10% of my salary each year in my employer’s 401(k) plan. I was led to believe that if I followed either recommendation, I could sit back, let compound interest do its magic and achieve a financially secure retirement.
IMAGINE YOU HAD one shot at offering financial advice to a high school or college graduate. Your mission: Come up with 10 rules that’ll help your graduate succeed financially in the years ahead. What would you recommend? Here’s my list:
1. Question yourself. No doubt you’re entering the adult world with a slew of strong opinions—about what you want from life, what will make you happy, what you’re good at, what constitutes success and how to achieve it.
I LIKE LEARNING from successful people. If you want to be good at something, why not hear from somebody who’s actually done it?
Back when it was first published, I read The Millionaire Next Door and became fascinated with these folks. Over the next couple of decades, I applied the book’s teachings and eventually reached millionaire status myself.
Along the way, I started writing about personal finance, combining my interest in millionaires with my passion for learning from experts.
WHILE TALKING recently to an estate-planning client about investments costs, she showed me a letter from her financial advisor stating that he charges her 1% of assets a year. Maureen didn’t understand that she also pays each mutual fund’s annual expenses, a portion of which is also paid to her advisor. Her fund expense ratios average 1.14%, which includes a 0.25% 12b‑1 fee that her advisor pockets. Result: Maureen’s total cost is 2.14% a year,
NO DOUBT YOU would draw up a somewhat different list. But here’s what I consider life’s greatest pleasures:
Talking to my wife over a glass of wine at the end of the day
Losing myself for a few hours in an interesting piece of work
Walking in nature
Spending time with my kids
Waking up after a great night’s sleep
Knowing I did the right thing
Wrapping up work on a Friday
A raucous dinner party
Feeling physically spent after a good workout
Finally sorting out a long-simmering problem
Taking a nap
Ending the day with a sense of accomplishment
MY SISTER JUST had a baby, our family’s first grandchild. That officially makes me a PANK: a Professional Aunt, No Kids. This often-overlooked demographic takes an active role in the lives of children they’re close to. They spend not only time, but also money: 76% of PANKs lavish more than $500 a year on each of their nieces and nephews, resulting in some $9 billion in annual purchases.
The opportunity to buy adorable items for baby Henrik is not lost on me.
MY FAVORITE divorce quote, if one can have such a thing, comes from comedian Louis C.K.: “No good marriage has ever ended in divorce. If your friend got divorced, it means things were bad. And now, they’re better.”
For myself, these words certainly ring true. But “better” comes at a price: Being a divorced, middle-aged woman means looking at financial matters from a different perspective than my married friends. Since I no longer have a spouse,