Purchasing power and the big power of small changes

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore” — Yogi Berra

Odds are, you’re now familiar with the Parable of the Boiling Frog. A story that posits that a frog dropped in boiling water will hop right out of the pot, but that one placed in tepid water that is gradually raised to boiling will meet its demise. The absolute veracity of this metaphor is questionable, but the illustrative quality of the narrative is beyond reproach. The fact is, slow, incremental change can be damaging to us in profound ways. The imperceptibility of these changes leaves us helpless to react, and we only become aware of what’s happening once it is too late.

Sadly, there is a “boiling frog” dynamic at play in the way you think about money, something behavioral economists call the “money illusion.” As best described by Shafir, Diamond and Tversky, the money illusion “refers to a tendency to think in terms of nominal rather than real monetary values.”

In a nutshell, we think of numbers in a way that is disconnected from their purchasing power, and in doing so can make irrational personal financial decisions. Consider the ways in which a six-figure salary or being a millionaire are still considered useful shorthand for wealth. While these may have been meaningful distinctions in say, the ’70s and even eye-popping in the ’20s, they simply don’t mean what they used to because of inflation and decreased purchasing power. The fact is that going forward, multimillionaire status will be required of even middle-class Americans who want to retire with peace of mind.

purchasing power

Inflation creep is slow and insidious, just like the proverbial boiling water, and just like the water, it can have lasting detrimental effects. Consider Yale professor Robert Shiller’s comments on the money illusion as we mentally account for our housing purchases,

“Since people are likely to remember the price they paid for their house from many years ago, but remember few other prices from then, they have the mistaken impression that home prices have gone up more than other prices, giving a mistakenly exaggerated impression of the investment potential of houses.”

Thus, people may overextend themselves to get into an expensive house, hoping for a large nominal return over the years, never realizing that the numbers they are looking at may not even be keeping up with inflation.

While getting in over your head on a home represents excessively risky behavior precipitated by the money illusion, it can just as soon lead to inappropriate risk aversion. Consider the “flight to safety” that occurs during most economic downturns. Investors flood into treasuries, which may not even keep up with inflation, while ignoring equities, which are at their greatest value in years. Truly conceptualized, nothing could be less safe than putting your assets in a class that minimizes purchasing power. By conceptualizing assets in nominal terms instead of “real dollars,” investors irrationally lock in an absolute loss in their efforts to protect against a nominal one.

Financial professionals can help their clients understand purchasing power in a way that is aligned with their individual desires and aspirations. Advisers should emphasize that investors can be lured into focusing on illusory numbers that have little impact on their ability to meet their own needs. As we’ve seen, incremental negative changes can be as bad for your financial future as they are for a frog’s health.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800-333-4573.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Are you worrying about the wrong things?

Crosby_2015-150x150Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Take a moment and imagine the person you love the most. Perhaps it’s your spouse or partner; maybe it’s a beloved parent. If that person is near, I’d like for you to put the phone or tablet down and go give them a big hug. Tell them how much you appreciate them and all the reasons why you love them. If they aren’t proximal, say a small prayer of thanks or think good thoughts about the positive impact they have in your life before you return to reading. Go on…

…You back now? Ok, great, welcome back.

Now, I want you to realize that the person you’ve just spent the last few minutes idolizing is more likely to kill you than any stranger, terrorist, or bogeyman. In fact, your appendix is more likely to off you than Al Qaida or ISIS. We tend to fear all the wrong things. We’re scared of high-profile, low probability threats like terrorist attacks and home invasions, but we routinely ignore more mundane but probabilistic hazards like not wearing a seatbelt or eating unhealthily. In general, we stink at assessing risk in many predictable ways – chief among them is our tendency to worry disproportionately about low-probability-high-salience events.

Quick! Name all the words you can that begin with the letter “K.” Go on, I’m not listening. How many were you able to come up with? 

Now, name all the words you can in which K is the third letter. How many could you name this time?

If you are like most people, you found it easier to generate a list of words that begin with K; the words probably came to you more quickly and were more plentiful in number. But, did you know that there are three times as many words in which K is the third letter than there are that start with K? If that’s the case, why is it so much easier to create a list of words that start with K?

It turns out that our mind’s retrieval process is far from perfect, and a number of biases play into our ability to recall. Psychologists call this fallibility in your memory retrieval mechanism the “availability heuristic,” which simply means that we predict the likelihood of an event based on things we can easily call to mind. Unfortunately for us, the imperfections of the availability heuristic are hard at work as we attempt to gauge the riskiness of different ways of living.

In addition to having a memory better suited to recall things at the beginning and the end of a list, we are also better able to envision things that are scary. I know this first hand. Roughly six years ago, I moved to the North Shore of Hawaii along with my wife for a six-month internship. Although our lodging was humble, we were thrilled to be together in paradise and eager to immerse ourselves in all the local culture and natural beauty it had to offer. That is, until I watched “Shark Week.”

For the uninitiated, “Shark Week” is the Discovery Channel’s seven-day documentary programming binge featuring all things finned and scary. A typical program begins by detailing sharks’ predatory powers, refined over eons of evolution, as they are brought to bear on the lives of some unlucky surfers. As the show nears its end, the narrator typically makes the requisite plea for appreciating these noble beasts, a message that has inevitably been over- ridden by the previous 60 minutes of fear mongering.

For one week straight, I sat transfixed by the accounts of one-legged surfers undeterred by their ill fortune (“Gotta get back on the board, dude”) and waders who had narrowly escaped with their lives. Heretofore an excellent swimmer and ocean lover, I resolved at the end of that week that I would not set foot in Hawaiian waters. And indeed, I did not. So, traumatized was I by the availability of bad news that I found myself unable to muster the courage to snorkel, dive or do any of the other activities I had so looked forward to just a week ago.

In reality, the chance of a shark attacking me was virtually nonexistent. The odds of me getting away with murder (about 1 in 2), being made a Saint (about 1 in 20 million) and having my pajamas catch fire (about 1 in 30 million), were all exponentially greater than me being bitten by a shark (about 1 in 300 million). My perception of risk was warped wildly by my choice to watch a program that played on human fear for ratings and my actions played out accordingly.

The easy availability of financial news (especially the scary kind) paired with the human tendency to overweight danger means that many investors walk around in a state of near-panic all the time. All the while, they are ignoring things that are truly damaging wealth over time like bad behavior, excessive fees, a lack of diversification and inadequate savings. It is only by understanding how our brains can play tricks that we truly grasp that panic selling is more hazardous than a recession just as surely as a hamburger can be more harmful than a shark.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800-333-4573.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

Can money buy happiness?

Crosby_2015-150x150 Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau

In your Psych 100 class, you were likely introduced to the concept of “operationalization,” where one concrete variable serves as proxy for a fuzzier, harder to measure construct. It is no secret that for many, the amount of wealth they have amassed serves as shorthand for happiness, but such is hardly the case. While wealth is positively correlated with well-being to a point, disconnecting money from purpose is a formula for emotional bankruptcy. One such self-delusional variant of chasing money for happiness is the “I’ll stop ignoring my happiness when I reach XYZ number.” Your magic number may be a salary or it may be a wished-for dollar amount to have in the bank. Whatever it is, I can promise you that when you get there, it won’t seem like enough. You see, we are not conditioned to think of money in terms of “enough.” As one of my clients once said to me, “Doc, you can never be too rich or too skinny.”

The scientific name for this phenomenon is the “hedonic treadmill” or “hedonic adaptation,” referring to the fact that we must make more and more money to keep our level of happiness in the same place. What tends to happen is that our expectations rise and fall with our earnings (as well as other circumstances in our life), keeping our happiness at a relatively stable place. To demonstrate this effect, I’d like for you to consider two groups that seemingly have little in common – paraplegics and lottery winners.

Can money buy happiness

 
Suppose I asked you, “Which would make you happier, winning the lottery or being in a crippling accident?” Not too tough, right? So, we would hypothesize that one-year after the life-changing event, lottery winners would be much happier and paraplegics would be much sadder. But this is simply not the case. One year after their respective events, it makes little difference whether you are riding in a Bentley or a wheelchair – happiness levels remain relatively static.

Why? We tend to overpredict the impact of external events on our happiness. One year later, paraplegics have discovered their accidents were not as catastrophic as they may have feared and have coped accordingly. Similarly, lottery winners have found out that having money brings with it a variety of complications. No amount of spending can take away some of the tough things life throws at each and every one of us. As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” In much the same way, we tend to project forward to a hypothesized happier time, when we have more money in the bank or are making a bigger salary. The fact of the matter is, when that day arrives, we are unlikely to recognize it and will simply project forward once again, hoping in vain that something outside of ourselves will come and make it all better.

A recent Princeton study set out to answer the age-old question, “Can money buy happiness?” Their answer? Sort of. Researchers found that making little money did not cause sadness in and of itself but it did tend to heighten and exacerbate existing worries. For instance, among people who were divorced, 51 percent of those who made less than $1,000 a month reported having felt sad or stressed the previous day, whereas that number fell to 24 percent among those earning more than $3,000 a month. Having more money seems to provide those undergoing adversities with greater security and resources for dealing with their troubles. However, the researchers found that this effect (mitigating the impact of difficulty) largely disappears at $75,000.

For those making more than $75,000 a year, individual differences have much more to do with happiness than money. While the study does not make any specific inferences as to why $75,000 is the magic number, I’d like to take a stab at it. Most families making $75,000 a year have enough to live in a safe home, attend quality schools, and have appropriate leisure time. Once these basic needs are met, quality of life has less to do with buying happiness and more to do with individual attitudes. After all, someone who makes $750,000 can buy a faster car than someone who makes $75,000, but his or her ability to get from point A to point B is not substantially improved. Once our basic financial needs are met, the rest is up to us. Hard work provides the means, but we must find our meaning.

If happiness does not come from hitting the lottery and sadness is not borne of personal tragedy, what does make us happy? Well, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how well-adjusted your parents are), a great deal of happiness comes from our “hedonic set point,” which is genetically determined. A ten-year, longitudinal study of 1,093 identical twins found that between 44 percent and 52 percent of subjective wellbeing is accounted for by genetic factors. So, roughly half of what makes you happy is out of your control I’m sorry to say.

Of the remaining 50 percent, roughly 10 percent is due to external circumstances and a whopping 40 percent is due to intentional activities, or the choices we make and the purpose we create. We discussed before how we tend to overrate the importance of the things that happen to us, and sure enough, only 10 percent of what makes us happy is accounted for by lucky and unlucky breaks. Eighty percent of the non-genetic components of happiness can be controlled by our attitude and by making choices that are consistent with finding true joy. The first step in this pursuit is ensuring that the goals we are setting for ourselves are consistent with finding true happiness.

If 80 percent of the happiness that is in our control comes from setting and working toward positive goals, what sort of goals should we be setting? Headey has found that goals focused on enriching relationships and social resources are likely to increase wellbeing. We connect with a number of close friends and find joy within those relationships. On the other hand, he found that goals based around monetary achievement have a negative effect on overall wellbeing. Unlike friendship, which we “consume” in limited but satisfying quantities, we feel as though we can never really reach a financial goal. Having a core group of close friends sates us; it is sufficient to meet our social needs and we do not pine for ever-greater numbers of friends. Not so with financial goals; just as we reach our former goal, the hedonic treadmill kicks in and our excitement over having “arrived” is gone in an instant. Dr. Daniel Gilbert, a happiness expert at Harvard University, says that pursuing wealth at the expense of more satisfying goals has a high opportunity cost. “When people spend their effort pursuing material goods in the belief that they will bring happiness, they’re ignoring other, more effective routes to happiness.” The simple fact is this: chasing money and material goods is an itch that our flawed psychology will never let us scratch, unless we can define our financial goals in terms of the personal ends they will meet.

In a money-obsessed world that has socialized us to chase the almighty dollar, it can be weirdly unsettling to learn that money isn’t everything. As much as we whine about money, having something that is the physical embodiment of happiness is nice. We can hold it, save it, get more of it, all while mistakenly thinking that getting paid is how we “arrive.” Realizing that money does not directly equate to meaning can leave us with a sense of groundlessness, but once we’ve stripped away that faulty foundation, we can replace it with things that lead to less evanescent feelings of happiness. Breaking your overreliance on money as a substitute for real joy is a great first step, a second step is learning to spend your wealth in ways that matter.

Lest we swing from the extreme of “money is the only good” to the opposite extreme of “money is no good,” it is worth noting that there are ways in which money can be spent to improve happiness. A lot of our troubles with money stem from the way we spend it, thinking that buying “things” will make us happy. We engage in retail therapy, which is quickly followed by feelings of regret at being overextended. Before we know it, we’re surrounded by the relics of our discontent; the things we bought to be happy become constant reminders that we’re not. Instead of amassing a museum of junk, spend your money on things of real value. Spend a little more on quality, healthy food and take the time to savor your new purchases. Use your money to invest in a dream – pay yourself to take a little time off and write that novel about which you’ve always dreamt. Give charitably and experience the joy of watching those less fortunate benefit from your wealth. A growing body of research suggests that the most important way in which money makes us happy is when we give it away. Finally, spend money on having special experiences with your loved ones. It’s true that money doesn’t directly buy happiness, but it can do a great deal to facilitate it if you approach it correctly.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800-333-4573.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Diversification: The power of winning by not losing

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital 

The image is indelibly etched in the mind of baseball fans everywhere. In 1988, an injury-hobbled Kirk Gibson, sick with a stomach virus to boot, limp-running around second base and pumping his fist. Without a doubt, Gibby’s homerun is one of the most memorable in baseball history, setting up the Dodgers for an improbable Game One “W” and eventual World Series win. But in remembering the heroics of the moment, we tend to forget all that came before.

The score at the time of Gibson’s unexpected plate appearance was 4 to 3 in favor of the Oakland Athletics, whose mulleted (and we now know, steroid-fueled) superstar Jose Canseco had hit a grand slam in the first inning. Canseco had an outstanding year in 1988, hitting .307 with 42 homeruns, 124 RBIs and, eye-popping by today’s standards, 40 stolen bases. Loading the bases in front of Canseco was massively risky as was throwing him the hanging slider that he eventually parked over the center field fence. But riskier still was sending Gibson to bat sick with the flu and hobbled by injuries sustained in the NLCS. That we don’t perceive it as risky is an example of what psychologists call “counterfactual thinking.” It turned out in the Dodgers favor, so Tommy Lasorda is viewed as a strategic genius. But had it not, and simple statistics tell us that getting a hit is never in even the best hitter’s favor, Lasorda would have been a goat.

Just as we laud improbable and memorable athletic achievements without adequately accounting for risk and counterfactuals, we do likewise with large and singular financial events. Paulson’s shorting of subprime mortgage products. Soros shorting $10 billion in currency. These events are so large, so memorable and worked out so favorably that we ascribe to them a level of prescience that may not actually correspond with the expected level of risk-adjusted return. A friend of mine once joked that, “every man thinks he is ten sit-ups away from being Brad Pitt.” Having observed significant overconfidence among both professionals and novice traders alike, I might similarly assert that “every stock market enthusiast thinks that (s)he is one trade away from being George Soros.” The good fun we can have talking about, “The Greatest Trade of All Time” notwithstanding, most real wealth is accumulated by not losing rather than winning in spectacular fashion.

Diversification.Power of Winning by not Losing

The danger in taking excessively risky bets with the hope of a spectacular win is best illustrated by what is formally known as variance drain. Variance drain is the difference between mean return and compound return over a period of time due to the variability of periodic returns. The greater the variability from peak to trough, the more the expected returns will deviate negatively. Confused?

Say you invest $100,000 each in two products that both average ten percent returns per year, one with great volatility and the other with managed volatility. The managed volatility money rises 10% for each of two years, yielding a final result of $121,000. The more volatile investment returns -20% in year one and a whopping 40% in year two, also resulting in a similar 10% average yearly gain. The good news is that you can brag to your golf buddies about having achieved a 40% return – you are the Kirk Gibson of the market! The bad news, however, is that your investment will sit at a mere $112,000, fully $9,000 less than your investment in the less volatile investment since your gains compounded off lower lows.

A second, behavioral implication of volatile holdings is that the ride is harder to bear for loss-averse investors (hint: that means you and everyone you know). As volatility increases, so too does the chance of a paper loss which is likely to decrease holding periods and increase trading behavior, both of which are correlated with decreased returns. Baseball fans know the frustration of watching their favorite player “swing for the fences”, trying to end the game with a single stroke of the bat, when a single would do. Warren Buffett’s first rule of investing is to never lose money. His second rule? Never forget the first rule. The Oracle of Omaha understands both the financial and behavioral ruin that come from taking oversized risk, and more importantly, the power of winning by not losing.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800-333-4573.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

Communication, trust & stewardship: the key elements of a successful wealth transfer

Coyne_Headshot-150x150John Coyne, Vice Chairman

Ask any advisor who has been at it for a while, most clients come to them having spent more time planning vacations than planning for retirement. Similarly, parents spend their working lives preparing money for the family, but don’t prepare the family for the money.

Research supports both sentiments. Forty-five percent of parents remain close-lipped on the topic of wealth, while only 4 percent of those surveyed indicated they hold regular family meetings where money is the main topic.

Whether talked about or unspoken, the next generation stands to inherit a good deal of wealth. Industry experts estimate between $30 to $41 trillion will transfer from the Baby Boom generation to Generation X and Millennials over the next 30 years. Another reality is that in the majority of instances, seven out of ten, the second generation loses the wealth it inherits. In 90 percent of families studied, the money disappears by the third generation.

Untitled-design-584x292

Research cited in a 2014 Forbes article set out to better understand the shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves paradigm. It found that communication and trust played a far more influential role in predicting the success of the intergenerational transfer of wealth than planning or investments. Six out of ten of those who lost their family fortune blamed their condition on a lack of communication and trust in the family. Nearly a quarter of the respondents indicated their heirs were not prepared financially to inherit the wealth. Interestingly, only 3 percent attributed the losses to poor planning and investments.

The more the next generation knows of your hopes and dreams for the assets you’ve accumulated and plan to leave behind, the better positioned they will be to conduct themselves as financial stewards. Heirs inherit assets. Financial stewards assume the responsibility of caring for the wealth to benefit the family.

Below are five ways to encourage financial stewardship among heirs:

  1. Introduce the concept of family wealth planning. Begin to explain how family values contributed to the creation of the wealth, and how financial resources helped past generations achieve individual and family goals. Emphasize the notion that in order for wealth to serve multiple generations, family members must talk openly, trust each other and act as financial stewards.
  2. Create a family mission statement. Like a corporate mission, a family mission defines the full scope of the family’s wealth, its values and why money is important.
  3. Expand decision-making powers. The education-by-inclusion approach has proven quite successful in preparing the next generation for the assets it will one day inherit. Instead of you and/or your spouse making all of the financial decisions, you could gradually involve the next generation. Philanthropy and family vacation planning are the most common places to expand the decision-making dynamic in the family. To start, you provide parameters, set a budget, and establish your voting authority, but later take a step back and let your heirs develop a plan.
  4. Conduct regular meetings. Make legacy discussions part of your family’s calendared events so you have a forum for an open dialogue about your family’s values and vision for the future. Many families plan these discussions around events intended to create a shared experience, make memories and have fun. The activity doesn’t matter. Rather, building trust, cultivating harmonious relationships, having candid discussions and creating a healthy decision-making environment matter.
  5. Introduce your advisory team. Include your financial advisor in family meetings so children and grandchildren know where to turn when the time comes. A financial advisor can help set achievable investment goals and maintain reasonable performance expectations. When an advisor monitors, tracks and communicates progress toward goals, family members can more easily refrain from acting on short-term market conditions.

For 30 years, Brinker Capital has served financial advisors and their clients by providing the highest quality investment manager due diligence, asset allocation, portfolio construction and client communication services. Brinker Capital Wealth Advisory works with business owners, individual investors and institutions with assets of at least $2 million. To learn more about the services available through Brinker Capital Wealth Advisor, click here.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

A battle of wits with the market

Williams 150 X 150Dan Williams, CFA, CFP, Investment Analyst

One of the greatest temptations of investing is trying to increase investment performance by continuously buying stocks right before they go up and selling stocks right before they go down. As a theoretical matter “timing the market” seems simple as in retrospect the overreactions or ignorance of the markets are clear. Yet, in practice, the task is regarded mostly as a fool’s errand as the timing always seems to be off.

The extremes of market movements relative to economic reality is not a new observation. In his 1949 book, “The Intelligent Investor,” Benjamin Graham asked readers to imagine themselves as a partner in a business with a fellow named “Mr. Market.” On a daily basis, Graham’s Mr. Market becomes wildly optimistic or pessimistic about the business’ value, therefore, is always trying to sell out or buy you out. Graham notes that an investor finds himself in that very position when he owns a listed common stock. The problem is that we are not separate from Mr. Market. Rather, we all contribute a little of ourselves to create this Mr. Market and what he feels, we collectively feel. When he is panicking and wants to sell, so do we. When he is euphoric about market prospects and wants to buy, so do we.

Additionally, Mr. Market is smart most of the time as he knows just about everything we collectively know, and given available information is approximately right about most stocks most the time. This is the oversimplified basis for the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) that states that the market incorporates all relevant information efficiently and accurately into market prices. So what is to be done?

Timing the market

 
As always, I find a movie to reference. This time I am drawn to a scene in “The Princess Bride” where our protagonist, Westley, sits down to play a game of wits with the mastermind bandit, Vizzini. In the scene, two glass of wine are poured, Westley poisons one glass of wine, but mixes up which is which and places both glasses on a table. Vizzini then gets to pick which glass to drink from and Westley is compelled to drink the other. Vizzini, after thinking and overthinking all of the factors to consider and even switching the placement of the glasses on the table while Westley is distracted, takes a drink from one of the glasses and drops dead. We then find that Westley had actually poisoned both glasses and had previously made himself immune to the poison used. Therefore, the whole game of wits was moot.

Similar to trying to beat the market through market timing, the battle of wits Vizzini was engaging in was with himself. Westley instead played the game right by avoiding the game of wits by doing work beforehand. This is exactly what Graham prescribed for investing.

Graham felt through the deep fundamental analysis of individual securities an investor could know with a reasonable degree of confidence what the price/value of a security should be. This value is adjusted to new information that fundamentally changes the business prospects, but most often the investor just patiently waits for Mr. Market to make a mistake. Like Westley, the intelligent investor just waits for Vizzini to drink.

The moral of the story is that to outperform the market you must either do your homework (independent analysis to make yourself immune to the poison of market noise) or do not play the game at all (buy and hold a proper asset allocation and ignore the market noise). In neither case, do you try to use your own emotional intuitions to outthink and time the market.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

New year, new solutions

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

There are few traditions as optimistic in spirit as resolution setting. While losing weight, enjoying life more, and living a healthier lifestyle typically top the resolutions charts, many Americans seek to create better financial outcomes in the upcoming year. The GoBankingRates.com 2017 Financial Resolutions Survey listed ‘save more, spend less,’ at the top of the list of financial resolutions, followed by paying down debt and increase income.

shutterstock_352783094

If you aim to create better financial outcomes in the upcoming year, and beyond, here are five steps to bring you closer to your goal:

  1. Look within. The more you know about investment principles and the long-term historical record of the market, the better outcomes you can expect to achieve. Making your investment education a priority is proven to make a significant difference in outcomes. The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) found that investing knowledge enhances risk-adjusted returns by at least 1.3% annually. Over 30 years, the improved portfolio performance can lead to up to 25% greater wealth.
  2. Control what matters most. What matters even more than picking the right stock, is controlling the impulses and biases that prove self-destructive, like trying to time the market or trusting your gut. For better investment outcomes, you must know your emotional triggers and come up with strategies to defuse them from sabotaging your success.
  3. Think purchasing power. Purchasing power is the most common objective and destination of a long-term investment strategy. It is the experience most investors want. Investors know they like the lifestyle they now enjoy and want to do what is needed to keep that lifestyle in the long-term. To do so, you must appreciate multi-asset class diversification and accept market volatility to increase future purchasing power.
  4. Benchmark against your goals, not market indices. Instead of looking to the Dow Industrial Average to gauge the adequacy of your performance, look to your goals. Personal benchmarking motivates positive savings behavior and helps you tune out the noise of the markets. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down, nor hyped up, by the current buzz. Instead, let personal goals and the long-term historical market record guide your decisions.
  5. Stack the deck. By working with a trusted advisor who provides behavioral coaching, you stack the deck in your favor. Research has found that when an advisor applies behavioral coaching, performance increases from 2-3% per year. In times of uncertainty and market volatility, which you are bound to encounter, your advisor will help you stick to your financial resolutions.

For 30 years, Brinker Capital has provided investment solutions based on ideas generated from listening to the needs of advisors and investors. From being a pioneer of multi-asset class investments to using behavioral finance to manage the emotions of investing, our disciplined investment approach is the key to helping investors achieve better outcomes.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

Start the New Year off right: Resolve to read more

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

Many New Year’s resolutions focus on developing healthy habits. An important one to keep is intellectual curiosity. In no particular order, below is a reading list for 2017. Some deal more directly with finance than others, but they each explore economic, sociopolitical, cultural and behavioral issues that are ultimately relevant to global markets.

  1. Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It. Wendell Potter & Nick Penniman, Bloomsbury Press, 2016.

Nation on the Take explores the evolution of lobbying in the United States and the increased role of money in politics following the Citizens United case of 2010. What is most satisfying about the book is the extent to which its authors manage to remain nonpartisan, calling out Republicans and Democrats alike. If your New Year’s resolution involves lowering your blood pressure, I advise against skipping over this suggestion.

  1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. D. Vance, Harper Collins Publishing, 2016.

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy details the disenchantment of Appalachia in a view that manages to be impartially critical but also remain in solidarity with the region. This book seems to be making its way onto every “essential reading” list, and deservedly so given its relevancy to the foundations of the new wave of populism that is still working its way across the globe.

  1. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia. Peter Pomerantsev, Public Affairs Publishing, 2015.

While Charles Clover’s more recent Black Wind, White Snow overtly concerns itself with the Kremlin as its sole subject, Nothing is True is a wide-ranging, colorful firsthand account of the backwards elements of Russia’s culture. A poll of a certain political party recently showed that 37 percent of respondents view Vladimir Putin favorably, versus just 10 percent in July 2014. As America’s attitude towards Russia evolves, this book is a warning to think twice before offering such a seal of approval—a stark illustration of just how diametrically opposed many Russian norms are relative to those of the U.S.

  1. The Crisis of Crowding: Quant Copycats, Ugly Models, and the New Crash Normal. Ludwig Chincarini, John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Chincarini’s The Crisis of Crowding could best be described as a mathematically detailed, focused version of Scott Patterson’s The Quants. The book analytically decomposes the 1998 collapse of Long-Term Capital Management and the 2008-09 Financial Crisis, exploring the common thread between them in that both resulted partly from incomplete pictures of risk in behaviorally erratic systems.

  1. Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat Casinos and Wall Street. William Poundstone, Hill and Wang, 2006.

Like the preceding choice on this list, Fortune’s Formula is a technical treatise of a subject that often gets “glossed over” despite its critical importance to markets. The author manages to explore the mathematically weighty Kelly criterion in a boiled-down, coherent, and practically applicable framework.

  1. Personal Benchmark: Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management. Chuck Widger and Daniel Crosby, John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Financial advisors do their clients a great service by educating them about investing best practices, but at times of volatility, logic is often thrown out the window. As the authors wrote in the book, “While investor awareness and education can be powerful, the very nature of stressful events is such that rational thinking and self-reliance are at their nadir when fear is at its peak.” The authors provide a framework for embedding good behavior into the investment process.

  1. The Laws of Wealth: Psychology and the Secret to Investing Success. Daniel Crosby, Harriman House, 2016.

And if you are looking for a list of rules to follow in the year to exercise good investing behavior, The Laws of Wealth helps keep you on the straight and narrow. The book provides clear, concise direction on what investors should think, ask and do.

Once you finish these books, more books can be found from the recommended lists by The Economist, Financial Times, and Bloomberg

Enjoy, and happy New Year!

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

 

Investment Odyssey

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFA, CFP, Investment Analyst

In Homer’s Odyssey there is a memorable section where Odysseus and his crew must shutterstock_369235274sail past the island of the lovely Sirens. He has been warned to plug his crew’s ears with wax so that they will not be susceptible to the Sirens’ call. However, wishing to hear the Sirens’ calls for himself, he orders his men to tie him to the mast of the ship and ignore his future orders until they are clear of the island.

The need to stay the course and to ignore distractions are relevant to many facets of life, but I find special meaning related to long-term investing. When people think of investment risk they normally focus on the volatility seen in recent investment returns. However, the returns of a random month, quarter or even a year has an overrated impact on an account’s growth over a 10+ year horizon.

Tolerance for this volatility/risk typically has more to do with investor psychological make-up than the mathematical impact of these short-term returns on much longer term account performance. For me, this volatility and other market noise represent the Sirens that threaten to take investors off course. Two investors who are the same in every other way and invest in the same portfolio, will have a different investment experience based on how often they look at their account and how they feel about what they see.

In other words, similar to Odysseus’ crew, the journey can be made less stressful and easier by turning off the noise. While feelings and emotions are important considerations, as lost sleep and stress meaningfully impact a person’s well-being, a better course is set by focusing on more objective investment risks. Among the most relevant objective risks for investors is shortfall risk.

Shortfall risk

Most investors invest to fulfill a future goal/need years in the future. Shortfall risk is simply the risk that the money allocated and invested to this future goal/need proves to be inadequate to pay for it when the time comes. This risk is very real and goes well beyond how an investor feels about it. If an investor needs $100,000 a year in retirement but finds that due to insufficient account growth he or she can only sustainably take out $80,000 a year from his or her portfolio at retirement, the math will simply not work. No solace is offered by the smooth but inadequate investment journey of an overly conservative allocation when the investment goal is not achieved.

Addressing volatility

The challenge is often to achieve the long-term returns that can meet account balance requirements, volatility must be taken on. While Odysseus could have taken a long detour around the island of the lovey Sirens, his goal of getting home in a timely fashion would not have been met (and for those who know the story, he had a deadline). Similarly, an investor could ensure a very smooth investment journey by investing in a portfolio dominated by short-term bonds, but could find investment account growth inadequate to meet the goal of the investment. The good news is that if investors can find a way to plug their ears to the noise, they can get the longer-term returns they need and minimize the stress of the volatility along the way.

Multi-asset class goals-based investing is one way to have the investor take a longer view on his or her investing to see past the present sirens of volatility and recent returns to the goal at the end of the investing horizon. Without the ability to take the long-run prospective, we are like Odysseus hearing the Sirens call. Without an advisor to keep the ship on course, the journey is potentially doomed. Investing is only successful if the investor can stay the course and stay invested. The importance of keeping the investor from letting the heart rule the head is one of the most important roles of the investment advisor.

Brinker Capital understands that investing for the long-term can be daunting. That’s why we are focused on providing multi-asset class investment solutions that help investors manage the emotions of investing to achieve their unique financial goals.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Give thought to how you give this holiday season

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

The holidays represent a time when many Americans express love and affection with gifts. Gift giving serves many purposes in our society. It helps define relationships, express feelings, show appreciation, smooth a disagreement, share good fortune, and strengthen bonds. While the joy of giving is undeniable, excessive spending could put your financial goals in jeopardy and ultimately stand in the way of happiness.

The American Research Group projects that the average person will spend $929 on gifts this holiday season. To put this amount in perspective, consider the following:

  • Last year, the average consumer spent $882, so this year consumers believe they will spend on average $47 more than last.
  • The last time consumers spending exceeded $900 was in 2006.
  • We’ve had a somewhat steady climb in spending since 2009 when the average person spent $417.
  • Gift spending peaked in 2001 when the average person spent $1,052 on holiday gifts.

live-simplyAs with any benchmark, the amount of money “the average person” spends on holiday gifts should bear little relevance on your spending. Whether you spend more or less than this projection is a personal choice that is best made with intention and with your own financial situation and goals in mind. These common holiday spending triggers, however, could get in the way of mindfulness and prompt you to spend more than intended.

Keeping up with others. If you try to match the amounts spent by colleagues, friends, family or peers, you could find yourself spending beyond your means and putting your financial goals in jeopardy.

Trying to be fair. A common cause of spend creep happens to create a sense of balance or fairness. When you overspend on one relative, you may be inclined to create equalization by matching the dollar value of gifts for others.

Just getting it done.  For some, holiday shopping is just another task in an already long list of things to accomplish by the end of the calendar year. It’s easy to overspend if you haven’t committed to a spending budget, decided who to buy for and what to get, and taken the time to seek out the best deals.

Autopilot. Sometimes we gift without considering whether the expenditure aligns with current realities. As families evolve, a discussion about how each member would like to celebrate the holidays may be worthwhile. For example, as your extended family grows, it may make sense to discuss a kids-only gift policy, put monetary limits on spending, or do a gift swap.

Self-purchases. Nearly sixty percent of holiday shoppers (58%) will buy for themselves and will spend on average of $139.61 doing so. This year’s projected self-spending is up 4% from 2015 and is at the second-highest level in National Retail Federation survey’s 13-year history.

The holidays only come once a year. Many people enter the holiday season as they would a free zone. They buy until they get to the end of their ever-growing list of recipients. They decorate until every square inch reflects the feeling of festivity in their heart. Unfortunately, many people do so without regard to the implications on short and mid-range financial goals and thus experience feelings of regret.

The act of gift giving has tremendous intrinsic and extrinsic value. A growing body of research suggests that the most important way in which money makes us happy is when we give it away. Gift giving at the expense of long-term financial goals, however, will bring anything but happiness.

Temptations beset all sides of the path to your financial dreams. During the holidays, temptations may take an altruistic form but still involve spending for today’s pleasures and forgetting about the Future You. This holiday season, give thought to how you give because the Future You is depending on your ability to be mindful, spot (over)spending triggers, and positively influence your ability to endure.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor