Ask DWM: Should I Consider Investing in Marijuana?

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana. This began, for many, the first opportunity to legally invest in this industry. In 2012, both Colorado and Washington State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Both events were monumental for the development of marijuana investments but, arguably, the most momentous day in marijuana investments occurred on October 17th, 2018 with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada. In June of 2018, Canada voted “yes” to legalization and became the first major country to do so. Interest in these investments have soared ever since.

Cannabidiol (“CBD”) is one of the major attractions in this story. CBD is a cannabis compound used primarily for medical purposes. CBD has been proven to provide benefits for pain management, sleep aid, and stress. The primary difference between marijuana and CBD is its lack of hallucinogenic properties. CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), the main hallucinogenic property found in marijuana. CBD is currently legal in all 50 states. As of February 2019, marijuana has been legalized in over 30 US states for medical purposes and ten, including Washington D.C., have approved it for recreational use.

Spending in the legal marijuana industry is expected to surge from $8.5 billion in 2017 to over $23 billion in 2022. As a side note and for comparison purposes, illegal sales of pot represented 87% of all North American sales and over $46 billion in 2016 according to Arcview Market Research. Hard to not get excited about those growth figures! Further, in a sign of credibility to the industry, major investments from some of the world’s largest beverage makers including Coca-Cola and Corona brewer Constellation Brands have created even more hype and have sent some pot stocks soaring. It’s not just Wall Street taking notice, but ordinary people are wondering if they should get in on the craze.

But just like Bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies, this upstart legal cannabis industry has many red flags and may lead to some scary results.

First off, “FOMO” or the Fear Of Missing Out is no reason to plow good money into a speculative area. It is prudent to do some serious research before dipping into the waters of an industry that faces many legal, regulatory and other hurdles. Further, beware of fraudsters on the internet claiming “this pot stock is the next big thing!” Investing in cannabis is like the wild, wild west and similar to the dot.com mania of the 90s with tons of extreme volatility and broken promises.

More specifically, there are a variety of risks associated with investing in this area. Marijuana is still not legal at the Federal level, which makes banking for marijuana companies within the US difficult and future issues uncertain. Second, most marijuana companies are considered “start-ups” where company revenues are low or nil, and they may be running at a loss. In addition to this, overall investments in marijuana continue to remain small, albeit growing, in comparison to developed industries. For example, the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (symbol: MJ), one of the largest marijuana funds available, holds just $1 billion in capital. Lastly, with only a handful of well-known “reputable” companies in this area, don’t get burned by loading up in just one or two names and thus becoming subjected to company-specific risk.

If you are still interested in investing in marijuana, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. As a general rule, you should not allocate more than a couple percent of your total investment portfolio to one company name. Further, prudent portfolio management suggests to limit your overall exposure to a speculative area like this to no more than 5% of your total investable assets. Avoid concentrated company-specific risk and diversify. A diversified mutual fund or ETF like the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (symbol: MJ) mentioned above is a great choice for those that aren’t good at research but “have to get in”…

At the end of the day, investments in marijuana should be considered widely speculative and highly susceptible to losses. Volatility in both specific companies and funds have been extremely high since their inception. Investments in these areas should be considered more like taking your money to Las Vegas. It’s a gamble and you could potentially lose your entire investment.

At DWM we consider ourselves to be financial advocates for our clients and we love being a part of all of our client’s financial decisions. Questions such as investments in marijuana have been a reoccurring theme as of late, eerily similar to those in 2017 about Bitcoin and we know what happened there….In other words, if you are still interested in this area, PROCEED WITH CAUTION!!!

At this time, DWM is not investing in marijuana for managed accounts due to the many issues mentioned above. For clients still interested in reviewing marijuana investments via a self-directed/unmanaged account, we welcome your calls.

“Nowhere to Hide for Investors”

Nowhere-To-Hide_stock_market.png

Most years, financial markets are a mixed bag; some asset classes are up and some are down. Some years, like 2017, everything is up. And then there are years, like 2018, when everything is down. It’s been decades since stocks, bonds, commodities and gold all have reported negative results. Even though the American economy remains strong, with low unemployment and steady growth, expectations for the future have diminished. Rising trade tensions, a sharp slowdown in Chinese spending, rising interest rates and no additional tax reform have reduced the outlook for economic growth and corporate profits worldwide.

So, what’s an investor to do? We suggest you go back to the basics and review your financial and investment strategy for the future:

1)Determine how much risk you need to take on to meet your financial goals. What is the annual real rate of return you need to have enough money for your lifetime(s) and the legacy you wish to leave? When we say real return, we mean the nominal return less inflation. You, perhaps with help from your financial adviser, need to determine your expected investment portfolio at your time of “financial independence,” the annual amount you expect to withdraw from the portfolio to cover your needed and wanted expenses (any annual amount over 4% of the portfolio could be a problem), estimated inflation and estimated longevity. The calculation will produce a rate of return needed to meet your financial goals.

2)Next, determine how much risk you want to take on. Your “risk profile” is based on your risk capacity (your financial assets), your risk tolerance (your attitudes about risk), and your risk perception (your current feelings about risk). We’re all hard-wired with certain attitudes about risk. Some of us are aggressive and some of us are conservative or even defensive. Some of us are victims of the “recency bias,” which means that we think that whatever direction the markets have moved recently will continue (forever). At a minimum, we need to take on the risk we earlier determined necessary to meet our goals. If that seems too aggressive then we need to revise our financial goals downwards. If we want to take on more risk than is needed to reach our goals, that’s a personal choice.

3)Your risk profile should be based on the long-term, but may need to be adjusted. Once you, perhaps with help from your financial adviser, have determined you long-term risk profile as defensive, conservative, balanced, growth or aggressive, you should maintain that profile for the long-term and not move up or down due to short-term market conditions. Don’t try to time the markets’ ups and down. Staying invested for the long-term in an appropriate risk profile is your best strategy. However, life events can result in major changes in a person’s life. Death of a family member or loved one, marriage, relationship issues, changes in employment, illness and injury are all examples. At these times, your risk profile should be reviewed and, if appropriate, adjusted.

4)Determine an asset allocation based on your risk profile. There are three major asset classes; stocks (equity), bonds (fixed income), and alternatives (gold, real estate, etc.). Your risk profile will determine how much of your portfolio would be in each of these categories. A defensive investor would likely have little or no equity, substantial fixed income, and some alternatives. An aggressive investor could have most or all in equity, some or no fixed income and some or no alternatives. A balanced investor might have 50% equity, 25% fixed income and 25% alternatives.

5)Compare the real return you need to the asset allocation. Let’s use a balanced investor, for example. If equities have an expected net long-term return of 8-10%, fixed income 2-4%, and alternatives 2-4%, a balanced investor would have a hypothetical long-term net return of 6%. (9%x.5 + 3%x.25 +3%x.25). A 6% nominal return during times of 3% inflation produces a 3% real return. Compare this real return to your return needed in exercise one. A defensive investor who has no equities will be fortunate to have a hypothetical return equal to inflation. Someone who sits in cash will not even keep up with inflation. An aggressive investor, with all or mostly equities, will, over time, have the greatest return and will experience the greatest volatility. Aggressive is not for the faint of heart, aggressive investors generally lost 30-45% of their portfolio value in 2008.

6)Diversify your portfolio. After selecting your asset allocation, you need to look at your “investment styles” within each asset class. You should consider a global allocation for diversification. In 2018, while all equities are down, the S&P 500, led by Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google, has been down the least. But, it doesn’t always work that way. The S&P 500 index was down 9.1% cumulatively from 2000-2009, while international stocks were up 17% cumulatively including emerging markets, which were up 154%. In the 11 decades starting in 1900 and ending in 2010, the US market outperformed the world market in 5 decades and underperformed in the other six. Consider perhaps having 20-30% of your equities in international holdings and make sure you have exposure to mid cap and small stocks domestically.

Conclusion: 2018 has been a tough year, particularly after 2017 was so good. We sometimes forget that even with the 10% and more corrections in the markets since October 1, equities have been up 7-10% per year, fixed income and alternatives up about 2% per year over the last three years ending this Monday, December 17th. If you need/want a real return above zero, you will likely need to invest in equities in some proportion. Determine how much risk you need/want and stick with it for the long-term, subject to life events changing it. Stay diversified and stay invested. Focus on what you can control, including enjoying the holiday season. Happy Holidays.

 

 

 

 

DWM 1Q18 Market Commentary


In our last quarterly commentary, we cautioned not to get complacent, overconfident, or “too far out over your skis”. It’s ironic how just three months later, many investors’ emotions are just the opposite: unsure, cautious, and even scared. And rightly so, given the extreme up and downs for the first quarter of 2018. The stock market was in a classic “melt-up” state in January, only to quickly drop into correction territory in early February, then bounce and fall and bounce again from there. Yes, as I mentioned in my February 12th blog, volatility is back and here to stay (at least for the near future)!

Before looking ahead, let’s see how the major asset classes fared in 1Q18:

Equities: The S&P500 had its first quarterly loss since 2015, falling 0.76%. On the other side of the globe, developed countries also suffered, evidenced with the MSCI AC World Index registering a -0.88% return. Emerging markets were a stand-out, up 1.28%*. In a turn of events, smaller caps significantly outperformed larger caps. Much of this has to do with the trade war fears, i.e. many feel that smaller domestic companies will be less affected than some of the bigger domestic companies that rely on imports. Growth continued to outperform value. However, that gap narrowed in the last couple of weeks with some of the biggest cap-weighted tech names getting drubbed, including Facebook because of their user-data controversy and Trump’s monopolistic tweets at Amazon.

Fixed Income: Yields went up, powered by increasing expectations for growth and inflation in the wake of the recent $1.5 trillion tax cut. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose from 2.4% to 2.7%. When bond rates go up, prices go down. So not surprising the total return for the most popular bond proxy, the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, showed a 1.46% drop. Fortunately, for those with international exposure, you fared better. The Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index rose 1.37%, helped by a weakening U.S. dollar (-2.59%**) pushing up local currency denominated bonds.

Alternatives: The Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, was down 1.72%. Losers in the alternative arena include: trend-following strategies, like managed futures (-5.08%***), that don’t do well in whipsaw environments like 1Q18, and, MLPs, which were under duress primarily due to a tax decision which we think was overdone. Winners include gold****, which was up +1.76% for its safe haven status, and insurance-linked funds† (+1.60%), which have hardly any correlation to the financial markets.

In conclusion, most balanced investors are seeing quarterly losses, albeit small, for the first time in a while. So where do we go from here?

Inflation concerns were the main culprit to the February sell-off, but there are other concerns weighing upon the market now: fears of a trade war brought on by tariffs, escalated scrutiny of technology giants, new Fed leadership, increasing interest rates, stock valuation levels, and a bull market long in the tooth in its 10th year.

Opposite these worries is an incredibly hot economy right now, supported by the tax cut which should boost corporate earnings to big heights. In fact, FactSet has projected earnings for S&P500 companies to increase 17% in 1Q18 from 1Q17!

And, whereas there has been much dialogue regarding how the S&P500 has been trading at lofty valuations, the recent move of stock prices downward has really been quite healthy! It has put valuations back in-line with historical averages. In fact, the forward 12-month PE (Price-to-Equity Ratio) of the S&P500 at the time of this writing is almost identical to its 25-yr average of 16.1. International stocks, as represented by the MSCI ACW ex-US is even more appealing, trading at a 13.3 forward PE.

We don’t think inflation will get out of hand. Even with unemployment around all-time lows, wage growth is barely moving up. So we doubt that we’ll see inflation tick over 2¼%. That said, we do think the Fed will continue to raise rates. Frankly, they need to take advantage of a good economy to bring rates up closer to “normal” so that they have some fire-power in the event of future slow economic times. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be overly aggressive. The new Fed Head, Jerome Powell, like his predecessor, most likely will be easy on the brakes, keeping focus on how the Fed actions play off within the market.

Put it all-together and it seems like we’re in a tug-of-war of sorts between the positives and the negatives. At DWM, we feel like the positives will outweigh the negatives and are cautiously optimistic for full year 2018 returns in the black, but nothing can be guaranteed. The only couple things one can really count on are:

1.Continued volatility. After an abnormally stable 2017 that saw little whipsaw, 2018’s volatility is more reminiscent to the historical average of the last few decades. Back to “normal”.

2.DWM keeping its clients informed and embracing events as they unfold, keeping portfolios positioned and financial plans updated to weather what’s next.
Here’s looking to what 2Q18 brings us!

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

*represented by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index

**represented by the WSJ Dollar Index

***represented by the Credit Suisse Managed Futures Strategy Fund

****represented by the iShares Gold Trust

†represented by the Pioneer ILS Interval Fund

LOOKING THROUGH THE GENDER LENS

Woman_with_wealth.jpgLast week, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Adopted by the UN in 1975, we recognize this global day of advocacy to celebrate women’s work and to promote women’s rights. It has been a troubling year hearing women’s stories of facing sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, but yet a momentous year of watching women gain a collective voice against this treatment. The #Me Too movement has catapulted women’s rights to one of the top national conversations and focused attention on the goal to removing gender bias in many aspects of our culture. You’ve come a long way, baby, indeed!!

This conversation has also put the spotlight on the gender gap for pay and hiring practices. According to an article in Businessweek, working women still earn between 57% – 80% of the salary of a working man, depending on whether they are white, black or Hispanic. Women’s pay is catching up, but is predicted not to achieve equal status until 2058. This affects all of us, as women have less opportunity to save, contribute to Social Security and participate in the economy. Saving adequate retirement savings is harder for women. Women are able to save less for several reasons, the gap in pay being one of them. There may be career interruptions for children, a need to pay for child care while in the workplace, higher healthcare costs and, of course, women live longer, which all puts a strain on women’s ability to save for retirement and have adequate means when older.

Adding to the difficulty in obtaining adequate saving levels, research has shown that women are, on average, less risk tolerant in their financial decisions than men. According to Associate Professor from the University of Missouri Rui Yao, women and men do not think of investment risk differently, but income uncertainty affects women differently from men. That uncertainty may result in women keeping funds in asset allocations with lower expected returns to “buffer the risk of negative income shocks”. This can be a concern for any investor with low levels of risk tolerance, as they might have greater difficulty reaching their financial goals and building adequate retirement wealth because they are less likely to invest in more growth-oriented asset classes with bigger returns, like equities. “Risk tolerance is one of the most important factors that contributes to wealth accumulation and retirement,” said Rui Yao. At DWM, we review the risk tolerance of all of our clients very carefully. We make sure that their investment strategy matches well with their capacity for risk, as well as their tolerance for it, while making sure that they can achieve their goals for financial independence.

Despite fighting issues of sexual harassment and glass ceilings in the workplace, women have made some remarkable gains in their financial status. In 40% of American families, the primary breadwinner is a woman and, for the first time in history, women control the majority of personal wealth in the U.S. In fact 48% of all millionaires are women. Also, women will benefit immensely in the future transfer of wealth – from husbands who are older and die sooner or parents who now bestow equal inheritances to sons and daughters. Breadwinner women may control more wealth, but there is still a shortfall in other areas.

There are many arguments for equalizing our gender dynamics at home and at work – there is no doubt that enabling women to achieve their full potential is certainly better for women and their families. There is also a universal financial argument to be made. By some estimates, according to Sallie Krawchek of Ellevate Network, if women were fully engaged in the economy, GDP would increase by 9%! Ms. Krawchek’s article also cites multiple studies that conclude “companies with diverse leadership teams” outperform other companies on metrics including higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation. This translates into healthier corporate environments that are rewarded on the bottom line. That is good for men, women and families! All of the reasons for closing the gender gap are important, but the financial benefits for everyone are significant and certainly can’t be considered controversial. As someone once said, “It’s the economy, stupid”!

While there remain roadblocks to women achieving equality in their financial status with men, we do think having these national conversations and educating both women and men on the benefits of empowering women will begin to make progress. We agree that deficiencies in retirement savings and the economic engagement of women are highly related and we hope changes are coming. At DWM, we look at the total wealth management for all of our clients equally and with consideration for every one of their life situations. We know that anything that has a positive effect on the financial success of women is good for us all.

DOW 26,000-WHEN’S THE LAST TIME YOU THOUGHT ABOUT YOUR RISK?

With U.S. stocks at all-time highs, now is the perfect time to review your risk profile and then make sure the asset allocation within your investment portfolio matches it.  Equity markets have been on a tear.  In 2017, the average diversified US stock fund returned 18%, while the average international stock fund returned 27%.  In the first three weeks of 2018, the MSCI World Index of stocks has increased 5.6%. With low interest rates and inflation, accelerating growth and the recent passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it looks like this streak could continue in 2018.

During the current nine year bull market, investor emotions about stocks have gone from optimism to elation and many investors now are not only complacent, but overconfident. Yet, with valuations soaring, we are approaching the point of maximum financial risk.  Certainly, at some point, we will have a pullback, correction or crash.

It always happens.  It could be a conflict in N. Korea or Iran or somewhere else.  It could be a worldwide health scare.  It could be higher interest rates negatively impacting our rising national and personal debt.  It could be something none of us even consider today.  History shows it will happen.  We need to be ready for it by having an asset allocation in our portfolios that matches our risk profile.

What exactly is a risk profile?  There are three components of your risk profile.  First, your risk capacity, or ability to withstand risk.  Second, your risk tolerance, or willingness to accept large swings in investment returns.  It’s the way we are hard-wired to respond to volatility.  Third, your risk perception, or short-term subjective judgment about the characteristics and severity of risk.

We classify your risk profile into one of five categories of risk: defensive (very low), conservative (low), balanced (moderate), growth (high) and aggressive (very high).  As a general rule, younger investors are more willing to take on a higher level of risk.  However, that’s not always true.  Investors in their 80s and 90s who know that they have ample funds for their lifetimes and beyond, and who can emotionally handle high risk, may have an aggressive risk profile, particularly when they plan to leave most of their money to the beneficiaries.  Everyone’s circumstances and emotions are different.  Profiles can change over time, particularly when there are life changing events, such as marriage, birth of a child, loss of job, retirement, changes in health or other matters.  Therefore, it’s important to regularly assess your risk profile.

Here’s the process:

 

Step 1. Quantify your lifetime monetary goals and compare those with your expected lifetime assets. During your accumulation years, how much will you add to your retirement funds per year?  How many years until retirement?  How much money will you need to withdraw annually during retirement for your needs, wants and wishes?  What are your sources of retirement income?  What’s your realistic life expectancy?  What market return is required to provide the likely outcome of success- not running out of money?  Do the goals require a high rate of return just to have a chance of success or is the goal so low risk that even a bad market outcome won’t cause it to fail?

Risk capacity isn’t simply the amount of assets you have; rather it is the comparison of those assets to your expected withdrawal rate from your portfolio.  A low withdrawal rate from your portfolio, e.g. 1% or 2% a year, means you have high risk capacity. A high withdrawal rate, such as 6% or more, means you have low risk capacity.

Step 2.  Evaluate your tolerance for risk.  What’s your comfort level with volatility?  Are you aggressive? Moderate?  Defensive? How does that compare to the risk needed in your portfolio to meet your goals?  If the risk needed to meet your goals exceeds your risk tolerance, you need to go back and modify your goals.  On the other hand, if your risk tolerance exceeds the risk level to meet your goals, does that mean you need to take on more risk just because you can or because you can afford it? You need to go through the numbers and make important decisions.

Step 3. Compare the risk in your portfolio to your risk tolerance.  Separate your assets into all three classes: equities, fixed income (including cash) and alternatives and determine your asset allocation.  A balanced portfolio might have roughly 50% equities, 25% fixed income and 25% alternatives.  An aggressive (very high risk) portfolio could have 80% equities and a defensive (very low risk) portfolio might have only 10-35% equities.  If your portfolio is riskier than your risk tolerance, changes need to be made immediately.  If your portfolio risk is lower than your risk tolerance, you still need to make sure it is of sufficient risk for you to meet your goals, considering inflation and taxes.

Step 4.  Rebalance your portfolio to a risk level equal to or less than your risk tolerance and sufficient to meet your goals.  Make sure you diversify your portfolio within asset class and asset style. Diversification reduces risk.  Reducing portfolio expenses and taxes increases returns. Alternatives are designed to reduce risk and increase returns. Trying to time the market increases your risk. Set your asset allocation for the long-term and don’t change it based on feelings of emotion. Stay invested.

Step 5.  Most importantly, regularly review and monitor your goals, risk profile and the asset allocation within your portfolio.  The results: Improved lifetime probability of financial success and peace of mind.

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!