OPEN A FINANCE textbook, and you’ll find discussions of volatility and beta, value-at-risk, the Sharpe ratio, the Sortino ratio, the Treynor ratio and many other quantitative tools for measuring risk. But what should you make of these metrics? Are they an effective way to control risk in your portfolio?
These tools do have decades of research behind them, and they can be useful. But I believe they’re also incomplete. Worse yet, they can be misleading.
INVESTING IS PRETTY simple. If you don’t need to touch your money for 10 years or so, a good chunk of it can be invested in a globally diversified basket of stocks, preferably using very low-cost index funds. The likelihood that your stock holdings will have lost money after a decade is quite low, and exceedingly low if your holding period is 15 years or longer. Moreover, your investment is likely to outperform all other asset classes,
IN THE WEEKS SINCE Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) disintegrated, there’s been a fair amount of post-mortem analysis. In the end, two factors drove the bank’s demise.
First, SVB’s customer base was concentrated among venture capital-backed technology companies. Because of that, nearly 90% of deposits topped the FDIC threshold and were thus uninsured.
Second, owing to 2022’s rise in interest rates, SVB’s bond portfolio took a hit. That sparked concern about the bank’s solvency, prompting depositors to overwhelm the bank with withdrawal requests.
THREE YEARS AGO this month, in the middle of the pandemic-driven market meltdown, I went on a dividend-stock buying spree.
I had just turned 60 and was looking to step away from the corporate world in 18 months’ time to take up a second-act career as an author. As part of my retirement plan, I had a sizable money-market account that I planned to live on for a few years before I started taking Social Security and pulling from my retirement accounts.
MY UNCLE GAVE ME one share of Chevron for my 20th birthday. It was 1995, and he was the stock transfer agent for the company, overseeing its dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP). The share was a modest $48 gift, but the accompanying advice became the foundation of my investing career for the 27 years since.
As a young kid, I would comb through the business section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, monitoring the performance of my dad’s two mutual funds.
PUBLISHED IN 1958, Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Philip Fisher was the first investment book to make The New York Times bestseller list.
Never heard of Fisher? Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett points to two key influences on his investment thinking: legendary value investor Benjamin Graham—and growth-stock proponent Phil Fisher. Indeed, I’d argue that Fisher’s words of advice on bonds, dividends and war scares are as relevant now as they were in 1958.
I’M A 70-YEAR-OLD retiree with a conservative fund portfolio. I have 65% in short- and intermediate-term bonds, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and cash, with the other 35% in stocks.
Last year was a rough one for retirees. Rising interest rates and unexpectedly high inflation resulted in a losing year for stocks and bonds. My bond funds lost some 10%. It was one of the worst annual losses for bonds ever. Bonds have only lost value in five of the past 45 years,
IN AN EFFORT TO identify the simplest, most resilient lifetime investment portfolio, author and investment analyst Chris Pedersen concluded that a minimum of two funds is required. His recent book, 2 Funds for Life, summarizes his back-testing study to find a simple yet effective portfolio. The book is available free at PaulMerriman.com.
Pedersen found that a 90% allocation to a Vanguard Group target-date fund coupled with a 10% allocation to a small-cap value fund provides meaningful diversification across stocks and bonds,
I’VE SPENT THE PAST 10 years or so without any bonds or bond funds in my portfolio. What am I missing? And why did this happen?
Investing in bonds directly was always confusing to me. There are coupon rates, bond ladders, bond ratings and so much more. In the beginning, I just found it easier to ignore all the confusion. I know that bonds, in aggregate, represent a greater investment pool than stocks, but I just kept putting it off.
REMEMBER THAT PLANE ride when the woman next to you was consumed with the Times crossword puzzle? Every so often, she would grimace in frustration and rapidly tap the pencil against her forehead. But after a few deliberate sips of red wine, she returned to her obsession.
I have my own fetish. It’s called the January effect.
As December winds down, the tendency of stocks to rise in January becomes a favorite topic of market pundits.
I’VE OFTEN COMPARED the stock market to a Rorschach test. Depending on your perspective, what’s happening can look very different. But even in a market full of Rorschach tests, one company’s stock stands out: Tesla. Some people see it as a world-class company that’s changing the world. Others see it as a company led by an erratic genius that one day will inevitably fade—like MySpace or Polaroid.
Recently, a blogger named Alex Voigt wrote that Tesla’s head start in electric vehicles “will soon make Toyota look like what it is—a loser.” He then added for emphasis: “Dead man walking.”
Is Voigt right or wrong?
I RECENTLY READ AN article in Barron’s that inadvertently revealed two more reasons investing in broad-based index funds is the only sensible course of action.
The article, titled “This ‘Crazy’ Retirement Portfolio Has Just Beaten Wall Street for 50 Years,” touted the “All Asset No Authority” (AANA) portfolio. This “simple portfolio” consists of splitting your money equally among U.S. large-company stocks (S&P 500), U.S. small-company stocks (Russell 2000), developed international stocks (MSCI’s Europe,
FRANK CAPPIELLO and Carter Randall were longtime panelists on the television show Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser. Panelists typically worked at investment firms, with their affiliations displayed on the screen. At some point, Cappiello and Randall retired. On the screen, each was simply identified as an “independent investor.” At least one regular guest, John Templeton, also achieved this listing after retiring from running the Templeton Funds.
That “independent investor” label intrigued me then and does to this day.
I BEGAN BUYING Series I savings bonds in 1999. At the time, you could purchase them at a local bank and receive paper bonds. Amid 2022’s spike in inflation, those early bonds that I bought were—for a six-month stretch last year—yielding an annualized 13.08%. Not bad for a low-risk investment.
One drawback to buying savings bonds: the limit on how much a person can purchase each year. When I began buying Series I savings bonds,
AS A REGULAR READER of HumbleDollar, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, I pick up all kinds of pointers on investing. And the more I read, the more I think I may have been doing it wrong all these years. My approach to picking investments is more aligned with a dartboard than a spreadsheet.
I’ve never owned an exchange-traded fund. I don’t know what the VIX is,