Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Sports Gambling

NBA slot machine

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down the 1992 federal law that said states couldn’t “sponsor, advertise, promote, license or authorize” sports gambling. The ruling in Murphy vs. NCAA agreed with New Jersey that the law was an intrusion into states’ rights to regulate activity within their borders. NJ had waged a six-year battle against the NCAA, NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL to allow sports betting. NJ will now join Nevada as the two states with legalized gambling. More will certainly follow. Illinois and South Carolina have already introduced bills and are moving towards legalization.

The states, the leagues and lots of others are all licking their chops to participate. The American Gaming Association estimates that $150 billion is wagered every year on illegal bets. Now, sports gambling could become more widespread, more systematic with an even larger market. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, believes that the overall value of sports franchises has doubled overnight. “It will increase interest in the arena or stadium, it will increase the viewership for customers online, and help traditional television networks.”

The NBA has discussed with state officials what it calls an “integrity fee” of 1% on all betting. The integrity fee would be needed, in part, to pay for more assistance to league officials to keep the league honest, thus policing players and coaches so that games are not “thrown” to win bets. MLB has proposed a .25% integrity fee. Ted Leonsis, owner of both the Washington Capitals and Wizards, said that the sport franchises need to be paid “equitably” for the content and “intellectual property” they provide to television.

Pennsylvania last year passed legislation to allow sports betting, which included a 36% tax on sports betting revenue. Nevada’s rate is 6.75%. While some states may resist on moral grounds (Utah’s anti-gambling stance is written into its constitution), most will jump on the bandwagon as soon as possible. It has been estimated that $245 billion in legalized sports betting could generate $16 billion in additional state tax income.

Sports data companies, like Sportradar and gambling companies, like MGM and Caesars Entertainment, are hoping to cash in. The betting public can now come out of the “underground” market. Legal bookmakers should do well-Nevada sportsbooks haven’t had a losing month since 2013.

And what about the players and their salaries? If the NBA received a 1% fee, under the current union contract, half of that would be owed to the players. So, if $50 billion of NBA related sports betting produced a $500 million “bonus”, half of that would go to the players. And, this extra money might raise the salary cap and cause crazy gyrations with many top players changing teams.

However, there’s only so much money to go around. Last year, Nevada’s sportsbooks had a 5% profit margin, according to the state’s gaming board. A 1% “integrity fee” would represent 20% of the profit. With everyone fighting for their piece of the pie, legalized gambling may not take off as quickly as expected.

Joe Asher, chief executive of William Hill US, part of a major British sports betting operation, cautions that tax rates and league fees could add to the complexities: “It’s not going to be easy to move customers from the black market into the legal market.” Time will tell.

The Other Side of the Bitcoin

With the rise of new technologies, each one more advanced than the last, a new form of electronic payment has emerged.
Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency created for efficient electronic payments. It is run and controlled by what is known as a ‘blockchain’, a public ledger of all transactions in the bitcoin network. A ‘blockchain’ is essentially a company-wide spreadsheet that can be accessed by all. The purpose of the ‘blockchain’ is to determine legitimate transactions and deter attempts to re-spend coins that have already been spent.
Bitcoin works similarly to a check in that there are two different numbers per transaction: your personal private key (or account number) and a signature that confirms your transaction on the above mentioned ‘blockchain’. The digital currency can be spent in a number of different ways, but can only be held in two forms. A bitcoin user can hold an electronic wallet (e-wallet) via a web wallet or a software wallet by using a downloadable software. An e-wallet is essentially an online bank account that allows you to receive bitcoins, store them, and send them to others. A software wallet is a downloadable software that allows the consumer to be the custodian of their bitcoins. Often the latter leads to more liability for the consumer.
It all sounds pretty enticing, and maybe you are wondering if you should jump into this next innovative technological trend. But the rapid growth of bitcoin has many people concluding that it’s just another bubble waiting to burst.
Markets have seen many different financial bubbles over the years, and none of them have ended particularly well. A financial bubble occurs when market participants drive prices above market value. This investment behavior can be attributed to herd mentality, where people think that because everyone else is investing in a certain entity and seeing short-term success, that means it’s a good investment. Inevitably, these financial bubbles can’t be sustained long term and they burst.
The first documented economic bubble in history occurred in the 17th century, when Dutch tulips were all the rage. The contract prices of the newly introduced and popular bulbs grew to an outrageous high, eventually leading to a dramatic collapse or “burst” in February of 1637. Today this is known as “tulipmania.” More recent examples include the dot-com bubble of the late ‘90s and the housing bubble in the 2000s. I’m sure we all remember how those financial bubbles ended, and the repercussions that followed those bursts.
Looking back on all of these events, it’s easy to see now how these bubbles formed, so we can use these prior experiences to better predict financial bubbles. Today, the cause for concern is bitcoin, and it’s more the question of when the bubble will burst rather than if it will.
Bitcoin got its humble start six years ago at $2. Three years later it was at $300 and last week it topped off at $11,000. With a 1000% increase so far this year alone, it’s easy to see why many people are raising the alarm or joining the frenzy, depending on the person!
With its frequent surges and sharp price moves, bitcoin is as volatile as they come. In other words, if you think you want to give bitcoin a shot, it’s best to assume that you’ve already lost that money. Everything we’ve learned about financial bubbles over the past four centuries points to an imminent burst in this digital currency’s future, and you and your money don’t want to be caught in a tight spot when it does.
There is also speculation that regulators will step in at some point because of the potentially disastrous economic consequences associated with the runaway bitcoin prices. The first concern is as we’ve outlined above, the bubble will burst and cause devastating losses. Additionally, future contracts are opening bets for bitcoin, and some funds are set to take form in early 2018 to pitch bitcoin to more mainstream investors. The more bitcoin gets wrapped up in our financial system, the worse it will be for everyone when it bursts.
The other major consequence presents the other side of the “bitcoin”: what if the bubble doesn’t ever burst, and bitcoin becomes an alternative, or worse, a replacement for standard U.S. currency? We cannot see regulators allowing what to happen, so it’s safe to say that even if this bubble miraculously doesn’t burst, it will most likely lose traction one way or another.
As many of you know, at DWM we don’t try to time the markets, and when it comes to speculative investments that require you to do so, it’s best to avoid them altogether.

Understanding Risk and Reward

Electronic Discovery Risk Assessment3-1024x664Mark Twain once said “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics”.  We are inundated nowadays with statistics.  Statistics are a scientific method for collecting and analyzing data in order to make some conclusion from them.  Very valuable indeed, though not a crystal ball by any means. 

When you study investment management, you must conquer the statistical formulas and concepts that attempt to measure portfolio risk in relation to the many variables that can affect one’s investment returns.  In the context of investing, higher returns are the reward for taking on this investment risk – there is a trade-off – the investments that usually provide the highest returns can also expose your portfolio to the largest potential losses.  On the other hand, more conservative investments will likely protect your principal, but also not grow it as much. 

Managing this risk is a fundamental responsibility for an investment advisor, like DWM.  You cannot eliminate investment risk. But two basic investment strategies can help manage both systemic risk (risk affecting the economy as a whole) and non-systemic risk (risks that affect a small part of the economy, or even a single company).

  • Asset Allocation. By including different asset classes in your portfolio (for example equities, fixed income, alternatives and cash), you increase the probability that some of your investments will provide satisfactory returns even if others are flat or losing value. Put another way, you’re reducing the risk of major losses that can result from over-emphasizing a single asset class, however resilient you might expect that class to be.
  • Diversification. When you diversify, you divide the money you’ve allocated to a particular asset class, such as equities, among asset styles of investments that belong to that asset class. Diversification, with its emphasis on variety, allows you to spread you assets around. In short, you don’t put all your investment eggs in one basket.

However, evaluating the best investment strategy for you personally is more subjective and can’t as easily be answered with statistics!  Investment advisors universally will try to quantify your willingness to lose money in your quest to achieve your goals. No one wants to lose money, but some investors may be willing and able to allow more risk in their portfolio, while others want to make sure they protect it as well as they can.  In other words, risk is the cost we accept for the chance to increase our returns.

At DWM, when our clients first come in, we ask them to complete a “risk tolerance questionnaire”.  This helps us understand some of the client’s feelings about investing, what their experiences have been in the past and what their expectations are for the future.  We also spend a considerable amount of time getting to know our clients and understanding what their goals are and what their current and future financial picture might look like.  With this information in mind, we can then establish an asset allocation for each client’s portfolio.  We customize the allocation to reflect what we know about them, looking at both their emotional tolerance for risk, as well as their financial capacity to take on that risk.  We also evaluate this risk tolerance level frequently to account for any changes to our clients’ feelings, aspirations or necessities.  While we use the risk tolerance questionnaire to start the conversation, it is our understanding of our client that allows us to fine tune the recommended allocation strategy.

A Wall Street Journal article challenged how clients feel about their own risk tolerance and suggested that being afraid of market volatility tends to keep investors in a misleading vacuum.  The article suggests that investors must also consider the risk of not meeting their goals and, that by taking this into account, the investor’s risk tolerance might be quite different.

The WSJ writer surveyed investors from 23 countries asking this question:

“Suppose that you are given an opportunity to replace your current portfolio with a new portfolio.  The new portfolio has a 50-50 chance to increase your standard of living by 50% during your lifetime.  However, the new portfolio also has a 50-50 chance to reduce your standard of living by X% during your lifetime.  What is the maximum % reduction in standard of living you are willing to accept?” Americans, on average, says the article, are willing to accept a 12.65% reduction in their standard of living for a 50-50 chance at a 50% increase.   How might you answer that question?

So, bottom line, it is the responsibility of your advisor, like DWM, to encourage you to choose a portfolio allocation based on reasonable expectations and goals.  However, understanding your own risk tolerance and seeing the big picture of your investment strategy is also your responsibility.  Our recommendations are intended to be held for the long-term and adhered to consistently through market up and downs.  We know that disciplined and diversified investing is the strategy that works best for every allocation!

We want all of our clients to have portfolios that give them the best chance to achieve their financial aspirations without risking large losses that might harm those chances.  Through risk tolerance tools and in-depth conversations, we get to know our clients very well, so we can help them make the right choice.  After all, our clients are not just numbers to us!

Ready for a quick quiz?

financial-literacy-quiz

Two-thirds of the world can’t pass this financial literacy test.  Can you?  You don’t need a calculator, just 3-5 minutes of time.

 

Risk Diversification: Suppose you have some money to invest.  Is it safer to put your money into one business, piece of real estate or investment or to put your money into multiple businesses or investments?

a)One business, piece of real estate or investment

b)Multiple businesses, pieces of real estate or investments

 

Inflation:  Suppose over the next 10 years, the cost of things you buy including housing, food, taxes and health care and all others double.  If your income also doubles, will you be able to buy less than you can buy today, the same as you can buy today, or more than you can buy today?

a)Less

b)The same

c)More

Mathematics: Suppose you need to borrow $100 for one year.  Which is the lower amount to pay back: $105 or $100 plus 3% interest?

a)$105

b)$100 plus 3% interest

Compound Interest:  Suppose you put money into a bank and the bank agreed to pay 3% interest per year to your account.  Will the bank add more money to your account in the second year than the first year, or will it add the same amount of money for both years?

a)The same

b)More

Compound Interest II:  Now suppose you have $100 to invest in a (very aggressive) bank who will pay you 5% interest per year.  How much money will you have in your account in 5 years if you do not remove any of the principal or earned interest from the account?

a)Exactly $125

b)More than $125

c)Less than $125

 

Pretty simple, right.  The answer is b for all.  We’re sure our regular DWM blog readers got them all right.

Across the world, however, the 150,000 people who took the test didn’t do so well.  Two-thirds of them answered at least 2 of the 5 questions incorrectly.  The survey pointed out some key findings.  Norway has the greatest share of financially literate people worldwide.  Canada, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany also finished in the top 10. The U.S. didn’t.

downloadIn the Emerging Market countries, like China, India, Brazil and Russia, the young people, ages 15 to 35 were the most financially literate.  Apparently the kids in Shanghai “knocked the cover off the ball” (just like George Springer of the Astros).

So, what’s the takeaway? Financial literacy for Americans could use improvement.  In addition, as we pointed out in our blog two weeks ago highlighting Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler, people, even if they are financially literate, can make systematically irrational decisions.  This means you may need a financial coach and advocate.  That’s what we are for our DWM clients.  Whether it’s professional investment management, financial decisions and planning, income tax planning, insurance and estate planning matters, we provide our financial literacy, rational analysis and proactive solutions and suggestions.  It’s our expertise and our passion.  At DWM, this is how we hit home runs!

Is the Bull Market Turning to Bear?

bears stalk goldilocks marketStocks tumbled again last week. The last three weeks have seen a major pullback in equities of all types. The DJIA is now in negative territory for the year, the MSCI global index is at 1.14% ytd, small caps, the big winners last year, are now down 8.57%. The S&P 500 index is the one “bright spot” in equities, up 4.78% ytd.

This a big change. For several years, we’ve been in a “Goldilocks” economy, “not too hot, not too cold” which has produced calm, growing equity markets. Now, many investors are wondering if this pullback (a drop of 5% or more) will turn into a correction (10% or more loss) or a crash (20% or more fall) and signal the start of a bear market. Of course, every financial pundit has their own opinion which they are happy to share. Truth is, no one knows the future. We don’t.

However, we do know that there have been 12 pullbacks since March 2009 when this bull market started. The last correction was in 2011. The current bull market is now in its 68th month, which places it about in the middle in length and magnitude of the 17 bull markets since 1871.

We also know that at times like this people often lose track of the long-term. We humans don’t like uncertainty. Studies show we are not generally wired for disciplined investing. Therefore, when people follow their natural instincts, they tend to apply faulty reasoning to investing. These reactions can hurt performance.

We further know that markets have rewarded discipline. $10,000 invested in 1970 in the global equity markets would be worth $430,000 today ($370,000 net of inflation).

So, instead of following one’s emotions at a time like this, we suggest that you focus on what you can control:

  • Creating an investment plan to fit your needs and risk tolerance
  • Structuring a balanced portfolio using equities, fixed income and alternatives
  • Diversifying broadly
  • Reducing expenses and turnover
  • Minimizing taxes
  • Staying invested
  • Rebalancing regularly

A key point in these times is to review your risk profile. There are three components: First, your risk capacity, or financial ability to withstand risk. Second, your risk tolerance, which is your comfort level for risk. And, lastly, your risk perception, or how risky you feel about the current investment environment. For the long-term, you should focus on your risk capacity and risk tolerance and not your current risk perception.

We will be reviewing all of these important points and more at our DWM client seminars on 10/21 in Palatine and 10/28 in Charleston. And, of course, we’re available to our clients 24/7 to help you keep focusing on the key areas needed for long-term investment and financial success.

Concentrated Positions: Don’t Let a Torpedo Sink Your Hard-Earned Ship!

No torpedos

One of the many things we do when a prospect comes to us is analyze their current portfolio. We do this so we can assess the current risks in their portfolio that they may not be aware of and identify ways to minimize those risks, thereby getting the overall portfolio working for them, in a way that is in line with their particular risk tolerance.

We see many issues when analyzing portfolios, including, but not limited to:

  • asset allocation that is much riskier than their tolerance
  • lack of multi-asset class benefits by using only one or two asset classes (e.g. 100% equities / no fixed income / no alternatives)
  • heavy cash exposure – we often hear from people that they build up cash as they are hesitant to make a decision on how to invest it. Unfortunately, with cash returning about 0.001% these days it creates a huge drag on the portfolio.
  • the use of securities with high expenses (e.g. variable annuities (typically over 3.5% in expenses) or front-load mutual funds (may charge 5% up-front))
  • management fees that are higher than industry standards – we’ve seen people with significant size portfolios paying over 2% – that’s crazy!

We could do a blog on each one of these issues, but this week the focus will be on concentrated position risk.

So what is a concentrated position? It is a held position (typically equity) that makes up a substantial part (20% or more)

of an investor’s overall portfolio. A common example is a stock inherited from a grandparent. Another situation that we often see is a concentrated position risk stemming from a client’s company stock.

Some public companies offer many ways for the employee to get company stock. Here are just a few examples: restricted stock grants, ESOP programs, deferred comp programs, stock options, company stock within the company’s 401k plan, etc. Many people don’t realize how much these positions may have grown over time or, because of “bucket mentality”, they don’t even think of it as part of the overall portfolio. But they should.

In a recent meeting with a prospect, we identified that her company stock made up close to 30% of her overall portfolio. She wasn’t aware that her position was anywhere near this percentage until we pointed it out, but like many people she didn’t seem too concerned at first.

Here’s the problem: the major risk associated with such a portfolio is a lack of diversification; a concentrated position makes a large portion of the investor’s wealth dependent upon the performance of one particular stock. At DWM, we also call concentrated position risk ‘torpedo risk’, because that’s what a concentrated position can do to your whole portfolio, and hence your overall financial plan. It can hit and sink it just like a torpedo- not good. People tend to think this won’t happen to them, but so did the former employees of Worldcom and Enron.

Don’t let ‘torpedo risk’ from a concentrated position ruin your portfolio and/or financial future. A good rule of thumb is to keep all company-specific positions to less than 6% of your overall portfolio value, if possible.

Of course, there may be reasons for keeping a concentrated position such as restricted stock/options that follow vesting timelines, emotional attachment, low cost basis tax concerns, trading volume concerns, etc. An advisor like DWM can help you work through those issues via different strategies (e.g. dollar-cost averaging out, “collars” and other derivatives strategies, prepaid variable delivery forward contracts, exchange funds, etc.) and help you put together a portfolio that’s working for you, free of unnecessary risk and capable of meeting your long-term goals.