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21
Nov

Interest Rates: High or Low? Which is better? This Remains The Key Question.

Posted by on in Current Events

We have been hearing about the coming change in policy by the Federal Reserve. It is commonly referred to as The Fed but its official name is The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Most people think that interest rates will rise as a result of the Fed’s meetings sometime early in 2014. We've seen some rates shoot up 1% very quickly since the chatter escalated last May but subsequently things settled down for a while. The Federal Reserve has been artificially keeps rates down by buying bonds on the open market. The more bonds that are purchased drives up the price of bonds and their respective yields lower. You may have heard the term quantitative easing, or QE, which refers to the Fed’s bond buying program. The question becomes why is the Federal Reserve so intent on keeping rates low?

b2ap3_thumbnail_interest-rate-dice.jpgThe theory is that if interest rates are low people will be encouraged to borrow money and spend it. The banks will be encouraged to lend money to people who will spend it. The more people spend, the more the economy grows. The more the economy grows, the higher rates will go because otherwise inflation will spiral out of control. If inflation becomes too rampant, the value of currency will fall. If the value of your currency falls, foreigners won’t want it because it is losing value. Therefore we can see that there is a delicate balance between interest rates, inflation and currency values.

Some people just dismiss the relationship between these factors as the normal result of a cause and effect situation. Let's use an example of inflation rising. Just because the rate of inflation rises doesn't automatically mean that rates should suddenly increase. What if the rate of inflation increased due to temporary shortages of certain durable goods or raw materials? This might be a short-term spike which will correct itself over time and the effects should only be limited to the respective industry. If rates were to move up quickly, the entire economy would now be affected instead of limiting it to the particular industry. Sometimes having a lower valued currency encourages outside investment which is a good thing for the economy. Again, just because the currency value goes down doesn't automatically mean that inflation is out of control.

If all these factors are interrelated, it must mean that there is an ideal and delicate balance between interest rates, inflation and currency values. If you earn more on your savings, you’ll pay more to borrow. If you earn less on your savings, you’ll pay less to borrow. Lower rates generally mean lower inflation. Higher rates generally mean higher inflation. It would seem they cancel each other out; if you earn more and pay more and earn less but pay less, they balance each other out. Not so fast! When you borrow don’t you lock in rates for a period of time? If you obtain a 30-year mortgage and choose a fixed rate, your rate will stay the same for the 30-years. This means that the timing of spending or purchases is critical to the “effect” of interest rate changes. Wouldn't there be a huge difference between locking in a mortgage at 8% versus 4%? Wouldn't a 4% mortgage buy more house than an 8% mortgage?

People always have an answer or a counter-claim. You were probably just thinking that it would be easy just to refinance when rates went back down. What if rates didn't go back down for a long period of time? You would think that it would be better to lock in rates for the long term when rates are really low. Rates have been very low for years now yet people are encouraged to lock in rates for 10 or 15 years instead of 30 years. Wouldn't it make more sense to lock in low rates for a longer period of time than a shorter one? Wouldn't it make more sense to lock in high rates for a shorter period of time than a longer one? Don’t many people end up buying high and selling low? Why do so many people do the exact opposite of what makes the most common sense?

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14
Nov

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats…(But It Doesn't Mean They Are All Seaworthy!)

Posted by on in Investments

We have all heard the saying. There is some truth to the idea that when the economy is doing very well most of the people benefit in some way to some degree. This doesn't mean that all people benefit equally or even proportionately. Even when things are going very well there are bumps in the road or waves on the ocean. We need to remember that if the economy is doing well it indicates that the country as a whole is doing well based on averages. Anytime you average any numbers, you’ll come up with an average for the set but it will also have a median. Averages can be misleading; the median tells you that half the numbers are lower and the other half of the numbers are higher. The median acts as your center point or your balancing point. Why is this important?

b2ap3_thumbnail_boats-port.jpgIt is important because if you only look at averages you will be missing a great deal of the statistical information that is available to you no matter what the subject matter is. You could be researching investments or you could be researching Fantasy Football or Fantasy Baseball players. Let’s say a baseball player had a batting average of .302 the previous season. Most people would say he hit 302 but it is actually .302 which represents the average of all his visits to the plate. If he steps in the batter’s box 1,000 times he’ll get 302 hits. Let’s make this simpler and say for every 10 at-bats he’ll get about 3 hits. Here’s a very important question: Can you deduce from this batting average that this ballplayer will get a hit for each of his next 3-at-bats if he has not had a hit his last 7 trips to the plate? No!

Where are we going with this? If the S&P 500 Index has gone up an average of 14% in the previous 20 years does this mean it will go up about 14% this year or next year? No! We put too much emphasis on the average and we don’t look deeper. There are 500 stocks in the S&P 500 Index. If the Index climbs 14% in one year does this mean that every individual stock in the index climbed exactly 14%? No! One stock might have risen 80%, another 40%, another 10%, and another 1% while several others could have had negative returns yet the index climbed an “average” of 14%. Would you rather invest in the index and take the average of 14% or would you rather invest in the individual stocks that returned 80% and 40%? What about when the index is negative? Does this mean every individual stock had a negative return in that year? No! Would you want to invest in the index knowing it would return a negative average for the year?

The best investments are those which can stand on their own no matter what the overall economy is doing, and no matter if the tide is going in or out. Over time I have slowly shifted my thinking away from indexes and geographical investments. I learned the hard way that just because there were compelling reasons why the Brazilian economy should perform strongly the last few years leading up to the Olympics and World Cup, it doesn't mean that a Brazilian ETF will realize a great return. China may have a bright future but it doesn't mean you should invest in an ETF that invests solely in China. It would be wiser to invest in individual solid companies which would benefit from a more successful Chinese economy.

You might believe that a collection might be a wise long-term investment; there are many physical items that you could choose to collect such as cars, coins, stamps, paintings, sculptures, etc. Would a Yugo command the same return over time as a Ferrari? No chance! So you would invest in a “collection” or “index” of cars if you knew they could own Yugos, AMC Pacers and Pontiac Azteks? Research is key to making sound decisions no matter the subject matter. Asking the right questions and seeking the necessary information is critical to success. The next time you hear or read that this is the perfect time to make some investment ask yourself all the prerequisite questions. If investing were so easy we would all own some index funds and there would be no advisers, wealth managers or hedge fund managers.

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08
Nov

Have You Started Your Year-End Tax Planning Yet?

Posted by on in Tax Planning

One of my favorite holidays is the 4th of July, especially when it comes on a Thursday to create a 4-day weekend. I love the summer and July 4th means that summer is in full-swing. I also dislike when it quickly goes by because before you know it we are into mid-September and we just blew through Labor Day weekend. Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us and Christmas is not far away. This means that the end of the year will come very soon. I’m sure you are thinking about presents right now but you should be thinking about taxes!

Most people only think about taxes when it is absolutely necessary like on April 15th, completing paperwork for a new employer or choosing options for a 401-K plan. You should be thinking about taxes at some point every year as a way to plan to pay the least possible amount going forward. One of the easiest forms of tax planning is tax-loss harvesting. Tax-loss harvesting involves selling your losers before the end of the year to book a capital tax-loss. Some advisors recommend that you sell the security in which you have an unrealized capital loss and buy a similar security or wait 30 days and buy back the same security. I manage my client’s portfolios with taxes in mind all year round, not just at the end of the year.b2ap3_thumbnail_irs-black-white.jpg

If you haven't had a discussion about tax planning for this year with your investment adviser by now it can only mean two things. Your adviser is an RIA (Registered Investment Adviser), has discretionary trading authority and has done planning for you and your family in a comprehensive way. This would mean the adviser knows what needs to be done to minimize taxes based on your planning sessions. This is a good thing. Your adviser is not a RIA and/or a CFP (Certified Financial Planner), your adviser does not have discretionary authority and you have not had any comprehensive planning done. This is a bad thing. It means you probably aren't going to be taking advantage of tax losses which might be in your portfolio. Not every investment goes up all the time. There are winners and losers.

I might sell a security in March if I believe it is the right thing to do at that time, regardless of the tax consequences. First and foremost you own any investment because you believe it is a good investment to hold at that time. Buying and selling any investment or asset strictly based on tax considerations is not very sound investment strategy. When you do sell any security that you've held for more than one-year you'll have a long-term capital gain or loss. When you sell any security that you've held for less than one-year you'll have a short-term capital gain or loss.

The key is to effectively offset losses against gains whenever possible: long-term losses against long-term gains and short-term losses against short-term gains. Short-term gains are taxed are your regular income tax rate while long-term gains are taxed at the capital gains tax rate. We're used to the long-term capital gains rate being lower than your regular income tax rate but this is not necessarily true by definition. Congress has the ability to change both rates every year.

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31
Oct

The Twitter IPO Is Almost Here

Posted by on in Investments

Happy Halloween! It’s almost November and the Twitter initial public offering (IPO) is almost upon us.  Twitter will trade under the symbol TWTR on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Many investors have been looking forward to the Twitter IPO because they believe the stock may “pop” (go up significantly) on the opening day of trading. Some people will sell and take a quick profit if the stocks really moves.  Some people might want to sell but can’t because of regulatory restrictions on their stock. Most people will buy the stock at the inflated price on opening day and hold on to it. Of course this all assumes that TWTR is priced correctly and trades far higher than its initial offering price. We all know you can’t assume anything with IPOs or with stocks in general.

The New York Stock Exchange has been preparing and testing their systems to avoid another fiasco like the one with the Facebook (FB) IPO in May 2012. Maybe Twitter management chose the NYSE over the NASDAQ market because of the fear of having similar problems. We’ll soon know how smoothly the IPO process goes for Twitter as well as the NYSE and we’ll know how accurately the shares of TWTR were priced. Twitter seems to have good IPO buzz because it is a micro blogging site where users can posts short messages (140 characters) about any subject they like and share it instantly with the world. The world is abuzz about Twitter and its new shiny stock.b2ap3_thumbnail_tweetie-me.jpg

Should we really be this interested in a Twitter IPO? Can TWTR live up to the hype? Will TWTR continue to do well after the initial day of trading or will it fall to a normal trading level and just stay there? No one really knows. I’m not so sure Twitter should be a stand-alone company, never mind going public. Yes more than 200 million people use Twitter on a regular basis and I am one of them (@PJSacchetta). There is no charge to register for a Twitter account and there is no charge to use the service. As far as I know they are not planning to charge users any fees. They plan to make money from sponsored tweets; a tweet is what they call a 140-character message that users post on Twitter. Sponsored tweets are just another way of saying paid tweets or just plain ole advertising.

Most people have liked Twitter from the start because they could rely on real people tweeting real information in real time without any funnel or editing. Breaking news has been posted on Twitter before any other media source. All kinds of important information has been posted on Twitter and then re-tweeted or shared through many other media outlets and sites. You can tweet from a computer, tablet or mobile phone. It’s quick, easy and convenient for most people. This is why I think that monetizing Twitter may not work well enough to justify a stand-alone public company. Will many people get turned off by seeing more advertisements? Will Twitter become just another site with tons of ads?

Sometimes we need to assess the facts as they are and not as we would like them to be or become. I’m sure the founders, management and early investors (venture capital) want to become super rich with their publicly traded stock or cash out. This is the American way. They have every right to list their IPO and take their chances. The question remains “is this the best course of action for the company”? Based on the mass of users who pay nothing to use the service and expect unfiltered tweets to be posted instantly, is there really a business model that can sustain long-term independent success?

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25
Oct

Others Ask If This Is A Great Investment; I Ask Is This A Great Investment Now?

Posted by on in Investments

After hearing the current events of the past week in the financial field it made me wonder if most people understand the concept of when profits are made with any form of investment. We saw stocks like Google, Amazon and Microsoft do very well after announcing quarterly results. Google (GOOG) shot up 14% in one day (Oct 18th) to close over $1,000 for the first time. The market value increase in Google stock in one day was greater than the total market value of most publicly traded companies. What changed from one day to the next that investors quickly decided that Google should be worth 14% more that day? Was Google stock really worth that much less only two days prior?

This question is at the heart of understanding what makes Wall Street tick. One would imagine that folks who invest money professionally do so in an unemotional way and only focus on facts and figures. If this were true, how do you explain a stock moving 14% in one day? Many stocks don’t move that much in months or a year. Is it possible that these professionals had no idea that Google would announce the numbers they did? Emotion made people take profits and other people jump on the bandwagon. Gordon Gecko would call it greed. There is only one way for you to have made a 14% profit on Google stock on that day…you would have had to purchase the stock at least the day before. Simple right?

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What’s my point here? The profit on Google stock was not made on Oct 18th, the day it shot up so much.  It was made on the day whoever bought the stock before October 18th. Profit in stocks is determined at the time of purchase rather than at the time of sale when the actual gain is realized. The calculation of your profit in any stock trade is dependent on the price you paid versus the price at which you sold. This is very similar to the market value of homes. Let’s assume the average house on your block is valued at $400,000 today. Who would you imagine would be a happier homeowner, the person who purchased the house at a cost of $300,000 many years ago or the person who purchased a house several years ago at a cost of $475,000? Both are worth approximately $400,000 today. The homeowner who paid $300,000 and sells for $400,000 realizes a $100,000 profit. The purchase price was key to this profit.

The next time you read or hear about a great real estate deal, a great stock, or any other great investment, just remember that every investor’s personal profit is determined based on the date of purchase. This is true of the market returns you hear about every night on the news or see on your smartphone. If you read Yahoo Finance after the market close today (10/25) you’ll see that the S&P 500 Index is up 19.81% for 2013 year-to-date. Does this mean that everyone who was invested in a S&P 500 Index fund or ETF is up almost twenty percent? Sure, if you purchased the fund or ETF at the closing price of the last trading day in December of 2012. It is more realistic to assume that people buy investments at different times and sell at different times than the first day of the year.

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17
Oct

Macro vs Micro: A Study in Economics (and Investments)

Posted by on in Investments

If you think back to your college economics class, you'll remember the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics. Microeconomics is the study of people and businesses with respect to the decisions they make regarding the allocation of resources and pricing of goods. Macroeconomics is the study of the economy as a whole including entire industries and economies.1 In simpler terms, micro is looking at individuals or specific companies where macro is looking at the big picture. When you research an investment, whether it be a stock, bond, ETF, mutual fund or any other security, you must look at the specific investment as well as the entire market as a whole. Macro and micro forces affect the price of securities on a daily basis.

Let's look at an example. Suppose you wanted to invest in a company that supplied parts or machinery to the oil industry. The individual management of the company would be important to you to ensure effective leadership going forward. The financials of the company would be important to make sure the company will grow, be profitable and which will increase the stock price over time. The product line and the pricing would be important to you so that you would be confident that this company could compete well for new business. The reputation of the company would be important in helping it grow. These are all factors that the individual company can control in some way. Can the company control the price of oil? No! Would the price of oil affect the sales of this company? Yes!b2ap3_thumbnail_economics.jpg

This company you are researching may be the best managed supplier to the oil industry and it might be the most competitive company in its field. But if the price of oil were to suddenly drop precipitously, this company's sales might also drop substantially because oil companies would drill and pump less oil at lower prices. Actually, at this time oil companies are producing and refining more oil than ever before because of the continued high market prices. Market forces drive prices up as well as down. What we are saying is that the stock price for the company you are researching may rise or fall based on macroeconomic conditions that have nothing to do with its own management and financials. This means you are investing in not only the individual company stock but the oil industry and the U.S. economy (and world economy) as well.

Timing is critical to making a sound investment. It is our belief that money is made when a security is purchased not when it's sold. The price at the time you sell a stock represents the proceeds you will receive upon the sale. The profit you make depends on the price you paid when you bought the stock. The key to any successful investment strategy is the discipline behind it.  Warren Buffett invests in companies that he can understand, that are superbly managed and which are highly competitive in their respective industries. Once he invests he is committed for long term. He knows that the decision to invest was made based on a sound discipline and that over time his investments will perform. His track record is pretty remarkable.

Building a solid portfolio that outperforms the market is not easy. If it was every investment manager would outperform his/her respective benchmarks. Comparing your investment returns to some outside benchmark is not as relevant as it used to be. Would you happy losing only 10 percent of your portfolio value in a year where the overall market went down 20 percent? No! Simply outperforming some index is not enough. Buying the right stock at the right time and holding on to it will yield great value over time. Sometimes stocks move quickly and sometimes they take a long time to move. By investing in well managed competitive companies that have solid financials you give yourself the ability to outperform the average companies. We strive to do this for our clients every day. We focus on solid investments that we believe will perform well in the long-term no matter what the macro market forces do in the short-term.

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10
Oct

What is Washington Thinking? A Special Current Events Blogpost...

Posted by on in Current Events

It has been more than one week since the partial government shutdown began. We have not seen much movement from either side on getting the situation resolved, either for the short-term or the long-term. Several band-aids were used in order to limit the public outcry such as making sure all our military personnel get paid, the all furloughed government works would receive retroactive pay and that the families of fallen service men and women would receive immediate death benefits. Congress was able to pass these very limited bills because of the overwhelming public support but that's about as far as they have been able to go in more than 10 days.b2ap3_thumbnail_capital-dc.jpg

You might be wondering why this is able to happen so often. The answer is rather simple. We allow it to happen. That's it; plain and simple. Our country has come to a point in time where everyone is concerned mostly about the issues that concern them in the most direct way. We built this country by putting the country first. During World War II all Americans sacrificed for the good of the country and to help win the war. What exactly has any American sacrificed during the last 3 Wars except for the service men and women (and their immediate families)? Have we driven less? Have we consumed less?  Have we entertained less? Have we traveled less? Have we purchased less? Have we given more? I would say that most Americans have gone about their normal business throughout the first Gulf War, the Afghanistan War and the Iraq invasion. So Congress has responded much in the same way. Why should your Congressman worry about something that does not directly affect his/her district?

Until we, as Americans, begin to act differently our representatives will not change the way they act. They see this as the only way to survive the next election. The U.S. Senate is a more deliberate body and the Senators are more protected from everyday politics because they only face reelection every 6 years. This is only one body. The other body, the House of Representatives, is much more affected by local politics. Each member of the House is up for reelection every 2 years. By the time they get to Washington after one election it's almost time to start campaigning and raising money for the next election cycle. Senators may work together in a more bipartisan fashion but they can't pass any legislation unless the House agrees to go along. This is where you and I come into the picture. We need to convince our representatives that we send them to Washington to protect our interests as well as the interests of the American republic. We need to stop this one-issue style of governing. Yes every issue is important. We all have one issue that is incredibly important to ourselves. This shouldn't mean that we focus on that one issue and nothing else. Sometimes we need to help the other guy and put someone else first. Isn't this what we teach our children?b2ap3_thumbnail_whitehouse.jpg

This governing by the abyss is destroying the full faith and credit of the United States. We are beginning to be perceived more like a banana republic than the most successful republic in history. This needs to stop. The markets have reacted negatively to this governance because no one particularly likes uncertainty. Our elected officials can fight the good fight without threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States of America. Holding the country hostage over raising the debt ceiling is beyond comprehension. Raising the debt ceiling does not involve any new spending by Congress. It allows the U.S. Treasury to borrow money to pay for the expenditures that the Congress has already passed in previous legislation should it not have enough money on hand. This is not something that should ever be debated. The debate should be happening when Congress authorizes the spending in the first place. Again, every House member and Senator has a voice during the legislative process.  Why don't they speak up? Not very many politicians want to go against their own party on major spending issues because it could cost them in their local districts. Yes, once again it all comes down to protecting our own self-interests above everyone else's. Are you surprised? You shouldn't be. We quietly rubber stamp this nonsense every day that we say nothing. Nothing will change until we change it.

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03
Oct

Loss Leaders Are Not Only Found in Your Supermarket or Big Box Store

Posted by on in Investments

I'm sure you have seen all the discount brokerage ads on television, in magazines and journals...heard the radio ads...and read them on the internet, on your tablet and on your mobile device.

Each one promising a lower cost per trade than the next. Think about it.  Can any brokerage company, whether it's exclusively online or if it has physical locations, survive with the revenue from trades that are priced at $3.95, $4.95 or $7.95?  Do you think it's possible for any brokerage company to survive and prosper from selling their trading services for a fee that is lower than what Starbucks and your local ice cream shops sells their products for?Your Local Big Box Store

Obviously discount brokerage firms need to supplement the very low trading fee with other revenue.  It's like a loss leader in a retail store.  A supermarket will advertise a popular item at a very low price to get you in the store.  It is their hope that you not only buy the sale item but that you buy many other items at full price, since you are there already.  We shop this way and we are used to it.  The supermarkets know this.  They aren't looking at the profit they make on the sale items but the profit they make on all the items being sold each day or week.

I'm sure you have read the fine print.  Don't you think the discount brokerage firm, or any trading firm, has a list of charges for anything else that you may need?  Don't you think they plan on making money on your cash while it's sitting there waiting to be invested?  Of course in this low interest rate environment making money on idle cash isn't as profitable as it used to be.  The low trading ticket charge usually applies to buying and selling stocks or ETFs.  What about mutual funds?  Is there a "preferred" list from which you can trade without any fees?  Why would there be a preferred list?  Because the brokerage firm must make money on that list of funds in some other way in order not to charge you any trading fees.  Otherwise they would not need a preferred list at all.  Compare the expenses for each share class...you'll be shocked when you read the numbers.

Cost is always important.  What is much more important is the bottom line.  In working with our clients, we strive to use the lowest cost share class available.  We don't only consider cost.  It doesn't matter how low the trading fee is if you lose money on the trade.  Then again, if you make money on the trade, you probably aren't as concerned about the trading fee.  The trading expenses should always be considered but they shouldn't overshadow the investment goal.  The main point here is that costs are important but the main overriding concern should be to invest in the lowest cost share class of whatever fund or security is appropriate for your situation.  When dealing with individual stocks, the purchase price and the selling price are much more critical to your overall portfolio success than the ticket charge.

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26
Sep

What Exactly Is Wealth Management?

Posted by on in Investments

We should begin by defining the mostly misused term of wealth management.  Most people assume that wealth management automatically means it must have something to do with the well off and the rich.  The word "wealth" seems to have that effect on people.  Wealth management is the comprehensive oversight of the entire assets of a person and/or a family.  The assets could consist of cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, businesses, royalties, inheritance, collections, art, automobiles, aircraft, boats/yachts and so much more.

 

Most people normally equate wealth management with the asset management (portfolio management) of more than $1,000,000 in bonds and equities.  Would it make sense to hire a wealth manager to oversee the investment of several million dollars when you might own your own company worth $25 or $50 million?  An Investment Advisor can manage investments for a client without managing the client's other interests.  This would be a dedicated investment based on a certain risk tolerance and style of management.  Comprehensive wealth management would incorporate the several million dollars as well the privately held company worth $25 or $50 million because they are both part of one person's total wealth.  The taxes that this entrepreneur would pay would be based on his investment income and business income.  Tax issues should be considered when making certain investment decisions.

 

I'm not suggesting that the Wealth Manager is going to run his client's company just because he was hired to provide comprehensive wealth management services.  The Wealth Management Advisor will review the client's entire holdings and formulate a plan to proceed with the client's goals in mind.  Whether or not a Wealth Manager has direct oversight of certain assets shouldn't prevent those assets from being part of the client's overall total picture.  A true Wealth Management Advisor will focus on bottom line of the entire client picture and not just focus on the portfolio of stocks and bonds he/she may personally manage.

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CFIG Wealth Management, LLC  •  PO Box 3305  •  Stamford, Connecticut 06905-0305 USA


Copyright 1991-2013 CFIG Wealth Management, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.  Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.  Insurance products and services are offered through Continental Five Insurance Group, Inc., a licensed insurance agency, 1700 Bedford Street, Suite 203, Stamford, CT 06905.  Investment advisory services are offered through Continental Five Investment Group, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor, 1700 Bedford Street, Suite 203, Stamford, CT 06905.

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