Tag Archives: business

Meeting A Different Donald: Real Estate and Ways to Invest

Most people, if not almost everyone, has heard of Donald Trump. As the 45th president of the United States, he has been a real estate developer and the previous host of the Apprentice show.

But have you heard of Donald Bren? He grew up as the son of two relatively successful parents. His father was a movie producer and real estate developer like him. His mother was a civic leader. After majoring in Economics and Business a the University of Washington, Bren attempted at Skiing in the Olympics but had to quit due to an injury. In addition, Bren became an Officer in the U.S. marine Corps.

After that he took a $10,000 loan out in 1958, he began developing and flipping homes until he had built up a business which he sold. He started another one, sold it, and then took the proceeds to buy a third stake in the Irvine Company. He eventually bought the outstanding ownership and now has a net worth of over $16 Billion.

Donald Bren took one path to real estate. But there are others. I want to briefly cover the three main ways you can approach real estate investing.

1. Direct Investment

A direct investment in real estate, like what Donald Bren did, involves purchasing property either directly or through a business entity. Either you focus on property appreciation, resale, or cashflow. With these metrics in mind, you seek to partner with others to produce above-average returns over the long-term. This is what Bren did.

2. Indirect Investment

The second, more modern way to invest in real estate is less direct. With an indirect investment you buy a company that invests in real estate. Usually this is either a REIT (real estate investment trust) or some sort of real estate syndication.

3. Hybrid

The last option is some sort of mix. It involves partnering with others so that you own the real estate but you don’t necessarily control management of it directly. An example might be a partnership between a handful of people in which you own, say, 20% of the upfront investment. You put a shared investment with say, 2 other people. One person is in charge of management, and the other two people sit passively by but provide the capital.

A hybrid between direct and indirect is usually less risky but also less financially rewarding if your investment becomes a success.

Conclusion:

Part of investing in real estate is understanding yourself. How much involvement do you want? Often the answer is not much, but for those adventurous few, you never know, you might become the next Donald Bren.

Dollar-Cost Average or Lump Sum into the Market?

Dollar-Cost Averaging is the process of purchasing securities over an extended period of time with the same dollar amount each time. Lump Sum investing on the other hand, involves just putting all your money into the market at once.

For example if you’re wanting to invest $100,000 should you put it all in the market all at once or over a few months? Many people might suggest putting it in over a period of time. However my suggestion is that for most cases, the opposite is actually the wisest move. Let me explain.

If you were to run with the $100,000 example, a simple dollar cost average might look like putting $5,000 in the market for 20 months. The other scenario is just putting the $100,000 in right now.

In most cases putting everything in is a better move because on average, the market goes up most of the time. So if you dollar cost average, you’d, on average, be missing out on the growth by keeping your money out of the market.

In the smaller percentage of times that the market goes down directly following investment, then dollar-cost averaging can make sense. For example if the market has been Bullish for many years with PE ratios climbing, looking at dollar-cost averaging can make sense.

Before I finish, please click here to take a look at a blog page that covers many investment topics. He has a post from early this year that covers this topic concisely: Exploring Dollar Cost Averaging Verses Other Strategies

Thanks, hope you have a great day.

The Stock Market is Falling: What Should I Do?

The last few weeks started as a few percent decline in the market. As gurus and commentators covered it, they viewed the decline as a temporary, week-long or even a few day-long event. However a few weeks later here we are, still waiting and wondering when the market will rebound.

As a long-term investor this is exciting for me. Not only have stock declined roughly –% from their high, they continue to fall to increasingly discounted prices. Everything might not be a bargain at this point, but after falling about 9% the market is a lot closer to reasonable pricing than it was a month or two ago.

So when prices drop like this, what should an investor do?  They should do what the best investors do – find good companies and buy them at favorable prices. This might mean waiting and watching for a good company to drop below your perceived value it.

But for index and active mutual fund investors slowing dollar-cost-averaging into the market may make the most sense. Understand that the market will come back. It’s just a matter of how quickly it does.

Are Commodities A Good Investment?

When it comes to discussing investment options, commodities often pop up as something that is seen as a gamble. But are commodities actually a viable investment?

Commodities

There are a few basic kinds of commodities. There are metals like gold and silver. There are gas-type resources like oil and gasoline. There are animals like cattle and pigs. And then there’s also grown commodities like wheat and corn.

Commodities as an Investment

Not only are there many forms of commodities, there are also different ways of investing in them, take gold for example. If you were interested in investing in gold, you would have a few options to consider. The simplest route would to buy a gold bullion ETF, but you could also purchase gold bars and physically store them, or you could even buy gold jewelry and other gold-based products.

Generally as a whole, commodities are simply a resource used in the means of production, that is valued based on simple supply and demand. By very nature, the price of various commodities aren’t specifically predicable because of the way in which commodities are traded. Just like stock prices can’t be determined on a short-term basis, commodities are very volatile even in long periods of time.

However, this brings us back to our original question, should one invest in commodities? First off, I wouldn’t consider commodities a real investment because resources, just by themselves, aren’t growing enterprises that produce cashflow or even profit. So if one is going to discuss “investing” in these, let’s call it what it is: speculating.

My option speculation is that speculation as a whole is generally a bad idea for long-term investing. However if one considers the prices of certain commodities there are predicable supply-demand patterns that arise. Gold for example, has done considerably well in times of economic panic.

Overall, commodities aren’t a wise “investment” choice for the majority of investors. However as part of a broad portfolio, it might not be bad to put a 5% or 10% stake in gold as a hedge against economic disaster. Ultimately the choice depends on the individual.

Inflation Force: Is the U.S. Economy Turning to the “Dark Side”?

Often the anticipation of rising levels of inflation is met with a negative connotation. “How can the general rise of prices ever be good?” people ask.  We tend to view inflation as a negative force, or even as a predictor for economic disaster. This is especially easy to understand because the last decade has had relatively low inflation. It’s been years since inflation has gone over 3% for sustained periods and concerns are starting to rise; what does this mean for our lives?

Inflation

What is inflation? Inflation, as Google defines it, is “a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money.” As the Federal Reserve takes actions like quantitative easing (essentially making more money) and raising rates, this produces an overall increase in the rate of inflation.

As a result the cost of rent, food, gas and common household goods generally rises. Isn’t this all bad? Yes from one perspective it is. It’s easy to see how an increase in broccoli or fuel prices hurts the single mom who is struggling or the family trying to save up for that family vacation.

Almost everywhere in the economy, costs rise as a result of inflation. But there is another side to this. When prices of goods rise, what does this mean for businesses? Well, business are usually the entities who sell the goods and therefore they usually “profit” from rising prices. However this increase in dollar profit doesn’t necessarily translate to a net increase after adjusting for inflation.

What this means though, is that businesses profits generally, at the very least, increase with inflation. What this does do is cause stock prices to naturally rise as earning and assets raise in price to match the inflation. So stocks, naturally are a built in inflation hedge because over long periods of time they usually increase, at a bare minimum, with the rate of inflation.

This truth of rising inflation is partially an inevitable inconvenience or problem for consumers but it is a completely normal and in some ways beneficial aspect of business development. To take advantage of it one must own a business though.

There are many more ways that inflation is impacted and has impact. But what I want you to get out of this is that inflation is actually a good thing for equity investors. Investing in stocks is not only a great move before adjusting for inflation, but after inflation it becomes a beautiful hedge against the “evils” of this powerful economic force.

Different Stock Investing Strategies

I am going to briefly cover the top most widely used “investment” strategies for stocks. Technically not all of these methods are investing because a few of them involve short term trading.

1. Stock Index Mutual Funds

There are many types of indexes. Indexes are essentially a predetermined basket of stocks that are formulated using a set of rules. For example the most widely used index, the S&P 500, is an index that incorporates the 500 largest companies in the US and weighs them in the index accordingly. There are other indexes such as small-cap indexes or tech stock indexes. The bottom line is that with an index you are purchasing a tiny portion of a large basket of US stocks that is going to reflect your sector of choice.

2. Actively Managed Mutual Funds

Actively managed indexed funds are very similar to indexes except for 1 key difference: They aren’t bound by a predetermined set of guidelines. For example an active mutual fund might have a focus on large-cap stocks or international stocks, yet there aren’t any rules on how much of each of these have to be purchased. This is different from an index where the predetermined weight of each stock is set in stone. Out of this difference comes an increase in management fees because of the funds active, and therefore more costly management structure.

3. Value Investing

This is the method used by the smartest and most successful investors (in my opinion). Warren Buffet is the most famous example of this. Value investing involves determining a company’s value (regardless of current perceived value) by looking at a balance sheet and income statements using fundamental analysis. As the investor sees a price drop well below it’s determined real value the value investor can seize up good deals and hold on for the long-term.

4. Day Trading

This is a common strategy by short-term investors who use primarily technical analysis (looking at charts and trends) to make “investing” decisions about which stocks to buy and then sell quickly for a profit. The risky thing about this is that if you accidentally buy a stock or ETF that suddenly drops in price, you could get stuck with a plummeting investment that was truly overvalued.

5. Random Strategy

This strategy is specifically for people who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t even pretend to try to act like it. They randomly purchase stocks that “sound cool” and then hope that they rise in price. By far this is the stupidest strategy just behind day trading. You can lose your shirt much easier with mindless/random investing or day trading than you can with the other strategies I outlined above.

Conclusion:

Whatever you do, please don’t choose route 5, and preferably strategy 4 as well. Not only is day trading risky and the fees expensive, it has also be statistically been proven to outperform traditional investing methods over the long-term.

6 Types of Financial Institutions and Which are Important

The following is a list of institutions that are useful to understand when dealing with money on a regular basis.

1. Conventional Bank (Retail, Commercial and Online Banks)

These are financial institutions that take up the task of performing regular financial functions for both businesses and individuals. The provide services like setting up savings and credit accounts, issuing credit cards, certificates of deposit, mortgages and taking deposits.

2. Credit Unions

These do practically the same thing as conventional banks yet are geared towards a specific group of people. For example a military credit union would be geared towards veterans or active members of the armed services.

3. Insurance Institutions

These companies provide wide rages of insurance intended to decrease the chance of loss. When you go to get car insurance this is where you go.

4. Brokerage Firms

These companies administrate the investing process. Whether someone is investing in bonds, stocks, mutual funds or ETF’s this subset of financial groups likes to help the individual or business execute their purchase of securities.

5. Investment Firms

These Banks or Companies are funded by issuing shares. These funds are mutually owned (thus the name mutual fund) and are usually invested in stocks, bonds and other securities.

6. Mortgage Firms

Generally these companies are geared towards individual mortgage seekers but there are some that specialize in commercial properties. These companies either fund or originate loans and mortgages.

Each of these institutions has their place in the financial world. See where you can recognize them in your daily or monthly financial activities.

Lending Investments: Are They Worth It?

When it comes to investing money for retirement two of the most common investments are stocks and bonds. Today I want to focus on the latter.

When it comes to investing in debt investing there are a few main types which I will briefly mention:

1. Corporate Bonds

These are a form of debt security that is issued by a corporation. Because they aren’t backed by the government, there is a higher risk and therefore higher yield associated with this kind of loan. There are many forms of this kind of bond.

2. Government Bonds

These can refer to Treasury Bills (T-Bills) which are debt securities lasting less than a year, Treasury Notes (T-Notes) which are debt securities lasting between 1 and 10 years or Treasury Bonds which are debt securities lasting more than 10 years. In addition there are also something called Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) which involve lending money to the government in return for small payments and ultimately principal that is indexed to inflation.

Under this category I will also place Government agency bonds. These are bonds that are issued by Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE’s) and/or Federal Government Agencies.

Bonds issued by GSE’s usually have the following characteristics: 1) A small return that is slightly higher than treasuries because 2) they have credit/default risk. Examples of Government Sponsored Enterprises: Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mae).

The second kind of agency bonds, which are issued by Federal Agencies have the following characteristics: 1) less liquidity and therefore 2) slightly higher yields than treasuries but 3) are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. Examples of government agencies: Small Business Administration, Federal Housing Administration and Government National Mortgage Association.

3. Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by states, cities, counties and smaller government entities. There are two types, General Obligation Bonds (Bonds issued by small local governments that are backed by their full faith and credit), and Revenue Bonds (Bonds backed by specific revenue sources like tolls). These will always have yields higher than government bonds because of the slightly higher risk.

4. Bank Debt Assets (mortgage-backed, asset-backed and collateralized debt obligations)

This is a type of asset-backed security that is secured by a mortgage or collection of mortgages. It can get complicated to explain but for now you just need to know that banks and financial institutions usually own these.

5. Peer-to-Peer Lending

This is by far the most recent debt invention. Peer-to-Peer lending refers to a means by which individuals give and borrow money to each other usually over the internet to produced higher returns than can be given by other bonds or get a loan they otherwise couldn’t get.

Conclusion:

So should you invest in lending investments, and if show which ones? The answer really depends on your goals, risk profile, capacity for risk and the options available to you. Talk to your finical advisor about this or refer to one of my upcoming posts on the subject of asset allocation.

Combining Your Passion and Values With Income

Often when students or even middle-aged employees are considering which career path to choose they run into a dilemma. “Should I choose a greater income or sacrifice money to do the things I love?” many ask themselves. Even as a college student I have met and spoken with many older folks who find themselves still in a situation of questions.

Countless people go through their life without truly finding something that is both enjoyable and lucrative (or at least enough to pay the bills). Most people have heard of the classic situation of an artist or writer who lives in their parents basement. But what about the countless others out there who are in similar, yet less extreme situations?

Teachers a good example of this. Many of them make just enough to pay the bills, yet work long hours and stressful lives. Assuming they are doing something they enjoy (which I believe many of them are), how do teachers continue to do what they love while keeping the financial strain at a minimum?

There’s no easy answer to this question. I’m going to simplify a process I have used in my own life (before even exiting college) that has allowed me to understand myself better going into my “working years”. If your financial situation isn’t stable, you may have to work a J-O-B while you get these questions figured out.

1. What do you value?

Ask yourself, if you had only 24 hours to live, what people, places and activities would you care about? What would make your last 24 hours feel “full”? The answer to this can be revealing. As soon as you have grasped the things that matter most to you, begin looking at the things you want to pursue that match those values….

2. What do you love to do?

Everyone likes to do something. Maybe you love math. Or maybe writing or reading are your favorite. Or maybe science has always been a blast. There are numbers things you could find enjoyable. Find some of the top things and list them.

3. What are you good at?

This can be hard to know just looking at yourself. It may take honest questions with people who know you well to pinpoint what you’re good at. Maybe you are a eloquent or articulate writer. Or maybe you can organize things efficiently and effectively. Or maybe you are a natural leader. Or maybe you always have found analyzing numbers and facts easy. Whatever thing(s) you find stand out, those are some things you should double down on.

With these three questions answered you now have set the parameters. Your values dictate where you will never work. For example if you value family, your probably won’t work for a drug gang that breaks up families. Or if you value moral integrity, you probably won’t become a jail robber, even if your greatest skill is stealth and deception.

With values as your parameter, your passions are the arrow, pointing you towards a career field. Lastly your abilities and talents are the final part of the puzzle in determining what position best suites you.

For example what if you value family. You’re also highly interested in personal finance. As you become interested in the subject, you realize that you’re best at analyzing data and making good decisions. Upon looking at these three angles you will determine that becoming a personal financial planner suites you best!

I used the example of myself but you can use these questions for any situation or interest. Overall, these questions are simple, but they may take time to answer completely. And as if often the case, they may lead somewhere that doesn’t pay well. In that case you can either work somewhere on the side, take a pay cut or continue looking for that thing that is both fulfilling and pays the bills. Good luck in your journey!

3 Forces Standing Between You and Your Financial Goals

Time

Often all the things we want to accomplish aren’t feasibly achievable in a set period of time. When this is true, we have to make the often difficult decision of determining which path matches with our values. In other words, we probably can’t achieve every goal we have so we have to prioritize.

This is very true with short term goals like making it to your kid’s basketball game verses watching the football game live. But it can also be true with long term goals. For example I certainly would enjoy the process of being a masterful accountant who has both technical skills and people skills. However I have come to realize that I might never become the world’s greatest accountant if I have other goals more worthwhile (for example like becoming a great financial advisor).

Goals

You might think a strange thing to add to this list is goals. After all, aren’t goals things that empower us and keep us on track? Yes and no. In one sense goals are essential to producing the results we want in life. In another sense, goals by themselves, without effective plans to get there and way to streamline actions towards them, are meaningless.

As Warren Buffet and Bill Gates agreed in an interview: one of the greatest factors to success is focus. Putting all your energy on one task, both with your mind and body, is a powerful thing.

Having too many goals, I have found, can get in the way of this powerful focus. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the things that are worthwhile and the things that can wait.

Inflation

Lastly on this simple list of 3 is inflation. This is more of a technical obstacle than a mental one. However the force can be equally important. If you were to buy a house in a stable neighborhood today, do you think the same house would be worth more in 30 years? Yes, I would hope so. This fact that we can all bet on, the fact that prices will overall rise year after year, is called inflation.

Inflation is powerful because it covers both the consumption side (for example like purchasing gum) and the investment side like stocks or investment real estate. Inflation is such an important force that I will be covering a brief history and action steps around it tomorrow in my blog. Tune in!