IS THE STOCK MARKET too high? It’s a question I’ve heard a lot recently. Each time, I’ve offered this recommendation: It’s impossible to predict where the market will go next, so your best defense is to have an appropriate asset allocation. But how exactly can you determine an ideal allocation?
The textbook method originated in the 1950s, with the work of a PhD student named Harry Markowitz. Up until that point, investors had mostly picked stocks and bonds in a vacuum,
SCOTT ADAMS, the creator of Dilbert, has this to say about making forecasts: “There are many methods for predicting the future. For example, you can read horoscopes, tea leaves, tarot cards, or crystal balls. Collectively, these methods are known as ‘nutty methods.’ Or you can put well-researched facts into sophisticated computer models, more commonly referred to as a complete waste of time.”
This is funny but, for the most part,
WHEN WE’RE YOUNGER, we tend to focus almost exclusively on our portfolio’s performance. But as we grow older, risk becomes a bigger concern. The irony: That greater focus on risk is often the key to better long-run investment results.
Want to make wiser portfolio choices? Keep these nine notions in mind:
1. Bad results happen to good investors. Let’s start with one of the most counterintuitive notions in investing: Just because we score spectacular short-term gains doesn’t mean we made smart decisions—and just because our portfolio struggles in the short run doesn’t mean we got it badly wrong.
GET TO KNOW OUR NEW website: BraggingBucks.com. Intended as a sister site to HumbleDollar, the new website is designed for those who can’t quite shake that hankering for market-beating returns.
It’s become clear that notions like indexing, diversification and a sense of contentment have limited appeal—and that many folks want more excitement from their financial life. Perhaps an occasional flier on a hot stock. Or playing the commodities market. Or going from all-stocks to all-cash and then back again.
IT’S BUYER BEWARE for bond fund investors. Three big risks have snuck up on today’s fund shareholders, which—taken together—mean higher volatility and lower returns.
I discussed these pitfalls with Ben Johnson, director of global exchange-traded fund research at Morningstar, the Chicago investment research firm. “In recent years, the market’s standards have loosened significantly and durations have lengthened,” Johnson told me. “People are generally willing to lend money to less creditworthy borrowers for longer terms….
WITH STOCK PRICES so high and interest rates so low, many folks are thinking about buying gold. Tempted to take the plunge? Ponder these nine issues:
1. No income. Gold pays no interest or dividends. That means gold’s return hinges entirely on its price going up. Gold ownership also means you must forgo the interest and dividends you’d have otherwise earned on alternative investments. Still, with interest rates so low, the opportunity cost of owning gold—at least in terms of lost income—is very low right now.
THIS IS THE STORY of how I thought I’d successfully timed the market—but didn’t.
I started investing in 2007, when the stock market peaked, which wasn’t great. But then came 2009 to 2019. Stocks enjoyed the longest and one of the strongest bull markets in history, averaging some 15% a year. Thanks to that great bull market, my wife and I found ourselves with more in our taxable mutual funds than we owed on our home mortgage.
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.
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.
REMEMBER THE OLD joke about the efficient markets theory? An economics professor and a student are walking across campus, when the student says, “Look, there’s a $100 bill on the path,” to which the professor replies, “That can’t be true, because somebody would’ve already picked it up.”
I’ve been thinking about that joke not because of the efficient markets theory, but because I’m amazed at how many smart people walk by a $100 bill every day.
A POPULAR MYTH holds that individual bonds are safer than bond funds—because individual bonds supposedly come with no interest rate risk.
Proponents of this notion claim that if you buy a bond and interest rates rise—which they have this year—you won’t lose any principal because you’ll eventually get back the bond’s par value, assuming you hold the bond to maturity and the issuer doesn’t default. This is true, but it doesn’t mean individual bonds don’t involve interest rate risk.
SPECIAL PURPOSE acquisition companies are hot. But will investors get burned?
Also known as “blank check” companies, special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) are shell companies with no current business operations that raise investor funds through an initial public offering (IPO). The companies then seek a merger with a private company, allowing its new partner to go public without the delays and demands of a traditional IPO.
An additional advantage: The acquired companies are allowed to make projections about their business prospects,
CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE coined the term “single story” in 2009. A novelist and a native of Nigeria, Adichie first came to the U.S. to attend college. Almost immediately, she was struck by the one-dimensional lens through which many saw her. It started with her roommate.
Knowing that Adichie had just arrived in this country, her roommate—an American—asked how she was able to speak English so well. Adichie had to explain that English is Nigeria’s official language.
BACK IN 2017, I wrote about an oddity in my portfolio—an actively managed mutual fund that I bought without much thought to how it fit with my overall financial goals. Today, I have a confession. That fund isn’t the only oddity I own. In the interest of transparency—and because I hope readers will find it instructive—here are five more oddities, plus the thinking behind each:
While I firmly believe that low-cost index funds are the best way to build wealth and I believe that stock-picking is a fool’s errand,
I’VE LATELY FACED one of the investment world’s greatest dangers: It’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. If you pay attention to the financial news, you may be wrestling with this one, too.
Let’s start with bitcoin. I’ve studied it, but never invested. I’ve got friends who own the digital currency. I’m thrilled they’ve been wildly successful. But you know how awkward you feel when somebody tells an inside joke that you don’t get?