HAVE YOU EVER HELD a stock for years and grown to love it? What if your research now says it might be time to break up?
Many years ago, I bought AT&T. It was the perfect stock for a dividend investor like me. It was a dividend aristocrat, meaning it had increased its dividend for at least 25 years. In fact, AT&T had been increasing its dividend for more than three decades.
But while the dividend was always generous,
FOURTEEN YEARS AGO, my father-in-law was diagnosed with a blood cancer—multiple myeloma—and given five years to live. Ever since, he’s been battling it like a warrior. But he’s dying now, and he won’t be around much longer.
My father-in-law grew up without money to Depression-era parents. He earned his way into a prestigious college, and eventually received a PhD in chemical engineering. He had an impressive career as an engineer with a large chemical company in the Midwest.
EARLIER THIS MONTH, The Wall Street Journal carried a seemingly innocuous article by Derek Horstmeyer, a finance professor at George Mason University. Horstmeyer described an analysis he and his research assistant had recently conducted. The question they sought to answer: Could investors achieve better results in their 401(k)s by avoiding target-date funds and instead constructing their own portfolios?
If you aren’t familiar with them, target-date funds are intended as all-in-one solutions for investors.
BURTON MALKIEL, in his bestseller A Random Walk Down Wall Street, recounts showing a stock chart to a friend who was a devotee of technical analysis.
“What is this company?” the friend asked Malkiel. “We’ve got to buy immediately. This pattern’s a classic. There’s no question the stock will be up 15 points next week.”
Problem is, the chart that Malkiel shared wasn’t that of an actual stock. Instead, it was the result of flipping a coin and then assuming the share price rose or fell each day depending on whether the coin came up heads or tails.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE to earn a guaranteed 6.7% or more on your money without taking any risk? Although it sounds too good to be true, that’s exactly the opportunity that will be offered on Nov. 1. The investment? Series I savings bonds.
I bonds are 30-year bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury, which are available to anyone who opens a free TreasuryDirect account. These bonds are the quintessential risk-free asset. Backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S.
THERE’S A LITANY of investment sins. But one may top them all. I’m guessing it’s one you haven’t given much thought to. Until recently, neither did I. The cardinal investment sin: selling your winners too soon.
From 1926 to 2016, more than half of all U.S. stocks—57.4% to be exact—returned less than one-month Treasury bills. In other words, you were better off putting your money into risk-free T-bills than owning these stocks. In fact,
AT 40 YEARS OLD, I missed out on the phenomenal early years that allowed Berkshire Hathaway to return nearly 3,000,000% since 1964, versus a “mere” 23,500% for the S&P 500. Yet my investment time horizon is still long—and that’s a huge advantage as an investor.
How should I use that advantage? As I write this, Berkshire’s total stock market value is roughly $650 billion. By contrast, one of the stocks my wife and I bought—Boston Omaha—is worth less than $1 billion.
LIKE MANY READING this article, index funds constitute the lion’s share of my family’s investments. But I also own small positions in two individual stocks: Boston Omaha and Markel.
Why have I strayed from a 100% indexing approach? Both companies are conglomerates—multiple businesses that function as a single entity. Conglomerates should—in theory—be able to deliver slightly higher returns, thanks to the business efficiencies and synergies they realize. On top of that, they can offer some of the strengths of a mutual fund: diversification plus intelligent capital allocation.
OTHERS MIGHT BE hoping to add to their wealth by picking the next hot stock. But here at HumbleDollar, we’re much more concerned about subtraction.
The goal: Keep more of whatever the financial markets deliver by minimizing investment costs and avoiding unnecessarily large tax bills. This is a reason to favor index funds. But even if we index, we need to be alert to another threat—that posed by the person in the mirror.
STEPPING INTO the HumbleDollar confessional, I admit to dabbling in a few high-fee, low-liquidity investments. It goes against much of what I stand for. But on occasion, I, too, reach for yield and the promise of returns uncorrelated with stocks. Before the chastising begins, please know that these speculative stakes total less than 3% of my portfolio. The rest is invested mainly in funds with expense ratios under 0.15%—and some have zero costs.
I HAVE A RELATIVE—let’s call her Jane. Last year, in the early days of the pandemic, Jane had the foresight to buy shares in vaccine maker Moderna. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a smart decision.
But it wasn’t a difficult one, in Jane’s view. It was no secret that the company was working on a COVID-19 vaccine. It was also clear that vaccines would be in high demand. That made the investment case clear.
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,
TODAY’S STOCK MARKET reminds me of Charles Dickens’s famous line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”
It’s the best of times, of course, because the market continues to hit new highs. From a low of 2,237 in March 2020, the S&P 500 has doubled. Over the 10 years through July, the S&P has delivered an average annual return of 15.4%, including dividends, far above the historical average of 10%.
AS AN INVESTOR, I’d describe myself as a small-cap-value-aholic with a worldly outlook. Right now, I’m betting that one of world’s least loved overseas markets will finally return to favor after decades of disappointment. You can laugh out loud now.
Last year, my investment in U.S. small-cap value stocks was a great play from the March 2020 market bottom through about mid-May of this year. I didn’t catch the market bottom perfectly, but—luckily—I was close.
THE 19TH CENTURY feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys doesn’t hold a candle to the debate between supporters of index funds and supporters of active management.
Those in the index fund camp cite decades of data—going back to the 1930s—to support their view that active management is a fool’s errand. In fact, Standard & Poor’s regularly publishes a study it calls SPIVA, short for S&P Index Versus Active. Each time, analysts there reach the same conclusion—that it’s exceedingly difficult for an actively managed fund to beat its benchmark.