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My One and Only

Jonathan Clements  |  Jul 7, 2018

IS IT TIME TO STOP messing around with our portfolios—and go for radical simplicity? I’ve been asking myself that question in recent months, as I eye the growing list of funds that offer broadly diversified “one-stop shopping” portfolios built solely with low-cost index funds.
Take Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 Fund, which invests its assets in four Vanguard index funds and is geared toward those retiring in 2050 or thereabouts. The 2050 fund has a $1,000 investment minimum and charges just 0.15% a year,

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Yes, Yes, Hmmm

Jonathan Clements  |  Jun 16, 2018

SOCRATIC DIALOGUE, anyone? Today, we’re tackling three questions. Almost all HumbleDollar readers will, I suspect, readily answer ”yes” to the first two questions—and balk at the third.
1. Are markets efficient? We can debate just how efficient the market is. But most readers, I suspect, will agree that the financial markets are sufficiently efficient that there’s no easy way to score market-beating gains—especially once we factor in the investment costs involved.

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Proceed with Caution

Adam M. Grossman  |  Jun 7, 2018

MY FRIEND ROSTISLAV, who would know, tells me that in Russian there’s no equivalent for the word “privacy.” That’s because privacy—as we understand it—is a foreign concept. Children’s grades are posted publicly in schools and it isn’t considered impolite to ask someone’s salary.
Why is this relevant? As a stock market investor, if you have international exposure, you’ll want to be aware of these cultural differences, because they impact how other countries run their economies and how they regulate—or don’t regulate—their investment markets.

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Leap of Faith

Dennis Friedman  |  Jun 5, 2018

SOME PEOPLE SAY I eat like a dog. I eat the same food everyday. For breakfast, I have egg whites with mushrooms on a whole wheat tortilla, and oatmeal with fruit and almonds. For lunch, I have a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, avocado and baby spring mixed lettuce, and usually a nonfat bean and rice burrito.  For dinner, I have vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and squash with fish or poultry. When I feel adventurous,

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One Cheer

Jonathan Clements  |  May 29, 2018

ANNUITIES ARE OFTEN dismissed as costly, complicated contraptions that are more lucrative for Wall Street than investors. And I’m half-inclined to stick with that blanket condemnation, rather than muddy the waters by offering a more nuanced view. I hate the idea that somebody might read this article and then buy the wrong type of annuity—and end up making a horribly expensive mistake.
Still, I believe there are four types of annuity that can make sense for investors. 

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Old Story

Adam M. Grossman  |  May 27, 2018

PERHAPS YOU’VE HEARD the story of Ronald Read. A lifelong resident of Brattleboro, Vermont, Read was a quiet man. He preferred flannel shirts and spent much of his career as an attendant at a local gas station. Yet, when he died in 2014, even his closest friends were surprised to learn that Read had accumulated a fortune of more than $8 million.
Stories like this appear with some regularity. In 2010, Grace Groner, who was an administrative assistant in Lake Forest,

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Beyond Stuff

Jonathan Clements  |  May 26, 2018

WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I remember my parents putting great store by antique furniture, silver cutlery, bone china, cut glass and fine rugs. My maternal grandparents had rare books and old prints. My paternal grandfather had built an extensive stamp collection.
When Clem—as we all called him—died in 1988, he left me his stamp collection. I rarely look at it these days, but I’ve been dutifully carting it around for 30 years, through six changes of residence.

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Slipping Away

Adam M. Grossman  |  May 20, 2018

THE FEDERAL government recently issued its monthly inflation report. The resulting headlines could have put you to sleep: “Consumer Price Index Rises 0.2% in April.” It would have been easy to skip over this seemingly insignificant story for two reasons: First, the way the government reports inflation data, focusing on the monthly increase, isn’t terribly meaningful. Second, even if you looked at the annual rate, which is 2.5%, inflation just doesn’t seem like much of a concern.

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Looking Sharpe

Adam M. Grossman  |  May 8, 2018

WHEN ASKED WHY HE robbed banks, Willie Sutton replied, “because that’s where the money is.”
Similarly, private investment funds—such as hedge funds and private equity funds—are attractive to high net worth investors, because they carry the potential for outsized returns. That, supposedly, is where the big money is. Several factors explain this potential. Among them: These funds not only use leverage to increase the size of their investment bets, but also they may buy investments that aren’t publicly traded—and hence they could receive higher returns because these investments are mispriced or as an inducement to accept their illiquidity.

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Anything but Average

Adam M. Grossman  |  May 4, 2018

SHOULD YOU INVEST in the stock market? The answer seems obvious: Over the past 90 years, stocks have returned an average 10% a year, far outpacing bonds at 5% and cash investments at less than 3%.
So why ask the question? The reason is the word “average.” Stock market returns are, of course, uneven from year to year and uneven from stock to stock. That’s well known. But the degree to which stock performance varies from stock to stock may surprise you—and that has implications for how you invest.

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Losing It

Adam M. Grossman  |  Apr 27, 2018

I REMEMBER SPEAKING with an industry colleague about a company that had been in the news. He told me that he liked the company’s stock and, in fact, had bought it for the mutual fund he managed. Then he added, parenthetically, “I owned it, then I sold it, then I bought it back.”
This discussion highlights a fundamental challenge for investors: Mutual fund managers face incentives that often diverge from their clients. Specifically, fund managers are graded and compensated for their performance before taxes.

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Exposing Yourself

Jonathan Clements  |  Apr 21, 2018

PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR shoes. I’ve been doing that in recent weeks, thinking about how I’d design a portfolio if I lived in, say, Australia, Japan or the United Kingdom. What prompted this navel-gazing? I’m in the middle of revising my 2016 book, How to Think About Money, for an international audience.
One conclusion: Here in the U.S., we have it far easier than foreign investors—and a big reason is currency exposure.

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Feeling Lucky?

Adam M. Grossman  |  Apr 12, 2018

ANYONE WHO FOLLOWS my work knows I am a staunch advocate of index funds and believe that stock-picking is a difficult road. That said, there are three undeniable facts about picking stocks:

All of the great fortunes—Rockefeller, Carnegie, Gates, Buffett—were built by owning one stock: a very good one but, nonetheless, just one.
There are rare investors who are able to outperform the market averages by picking the right stocks. It’s hard, but it can be done.

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Unanswered

Jonathan Clements  |  Apr 1, 2018

THERE ARE MANY financial debates that shouldn’t be debates at all. Folks strike strident poses, but often their positions don’t reflect a careful weighing of the arguments. Rather, they either have a vested interest or their ego is invested. Think of commission-hungry insurance agents who pound the table for cash-value life insurance, or retirees who took Social Security early and then insist that early is always best.
In most of these cases, if we marshal the facts and apply some reasoning,

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Four Pillars

Jonathan Clements  |  Mar 31, 2018

SUCCESSFUL INVESTING is simple, but it’s rarely easy. Yet millions of investors, both professional and amateur, assume they know what they’re doing. “We live in this mystical state where everybody thinks they can practice finance,” notes William Bernstein, retired neurologist and author of a fistful of acclaimed finance books. “But you shouldn’t practice without understanding the science of finance.”
What science? Bernstein, whom I’ve known for more than two decades, says it has four elements: investment theory,

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