Tag Archives: long-term thinking

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.

Fundamental Vs Technical Analysis

When it comes to picking specific stocks for investment, there are two ways to analyze them. The first is Fundamental Analysis.

Fundamental analysis the process of examining a company’s “fundamentals”. This means you look into their balance sheet, their income statement and the statement of cashflows. You look at the concrete facts about the company.

Ask questions like, is this business profitable? Do the facts suggest it will increase profitability in the next few years?

What kinds of debts (short-term and long-term) does this business have? Will it be able to pay them?

What weaknesses are there to this business and its market that could challenge its position? What are its strengths?

The second type of analysis is Technical Analysis. This involves projecting the stock price based on the trends. You look at the 50 day moving average, and even the 200-moving average. This is more of a charts and trends-based analytical process.

Overall, for long-term investors, fundamental analysis is the way to go. Not only does Fundamental analysis involve more logical and foundational decision-making, it is also the strategy used by some of the best investors in the world like Warren Buffet. Overall, if you’ll wondering which strategy is best, consider your purpose for investing.

Active Mutual Funds Vs Index Funds: Which is Better?

Mutual Funds

A mutual fund is basically an amount of money that is “mutually funded” by a large amount of people. This money is managed by fund managers who require a percentage fee for their labor. The managers invest in securities and as the value of the investments rise or fall, so the equity of the shareholders in the fund rise and fall.

So if you purchased one $1 share of a $100 fund then you own 1% of the overall value of the fund. If the management’s investments of the fund raise the value to $110 then you just made 10% and your share is now worth $1.10.

This is a very simple overview. Clearly the details are much more complex. For example the management fees, taxes and dividends change the return dynamic. But in terms of understanding the basics of mutuals funds, this does the job.

1. Active Mutual Funds

An active mutual fund is one in which the manger(s) work to select the best security investments they think will produce the best returns. They usually charge a higher management fee because of the perceived value and expertise they provide.

2. Index Funds

The alternative is to have a fund set up in a way that involves very little research and work on the part of the management. “But why wouldn’t you want to take of advantage of the manager’s expertise?” you might ask. The answer comes down to two variables: Cost and performance.

Not only do active mangers usually charge higher fees (cost) but they often don’t actually invest in a way that outperforms the market(performance). So the alternative that involves lower cost is called “index investing”.

An index is essentially a set of stocks that meet certain requirements or have certain common characteristics to one another. For example the most popular index, the Standard and Poor’s 500. It’s an index that takes the 500 largest US stocks on the market.

What this means for index investing is that an S&P 500 Index Fund would be managed in a way to match the S&P 500 index. In other words, the mangers would simply try to buy and sell stocks to keep their investments in line with the 500 largest companies on the market. That’s how they can keep their management fees so low – they don’t have a ton of research to do.

Index Options

But there are other indices. S&P 500 is the most popular but there are others like the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), which is 30 massive companies weighted according to price. The DJIA is the oldest index.

The following are some others that you might like to consider:

The Nasdaq Composite Index

The Nasdaq is actually a stock exchange that predominantly trades technology companies. The index seeks to perform according to the stocks on the exchange.

The Russell 2000

Of the 3000 largest companies in the Russell 3000 (another index), the Russell trades the bottom 2000. Thus, this fund trades mostly smaller to middle size companies.

There are many, many more you can look up on your own. The bottom line is that for most cases index funds provide the better choice.

Stock Market Sectors: Is This a Wise Investment Move?

There are some investment advisors who scare away from the idea of sector investing. However, with adequate research, one might find that certain areas of the overall market tend to outperform others in various economic seasons. But is the risk of overexposing ones’ self to sectors worth it?

Before I answer this question I’d like to list the 11 major stock sectors:

1. Industrials

2. Real Estate

3. Consumer Discretionary

4. Consumer Staples

5. Healthcare

6. Financials

7. Tech/IT

8. Telecommunication

9. Utilities

10. Materials

11. Energy

Before someone considers investing in specific sectors, they must recognize that over time there are periods and seasons in which one sector performs better than others. Some of the worst sectors to own in bear markets is Technology stocks like Google, FaceBook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. However as times get better, this sector usually outperforms the rest of the market.

My recommendation is to not invest in specific sectors and sector funds unless you are comfortable risking a significant portion of your portfolio. If you do decide to invest in sectors, pick one that is both posed to do well over the next few months as well as the next decade. You want both the fundamental and technical analysis working in your favor. Overall, stock sectors can be a very lucrative strategy for investing.

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.

Inflation: What it is and How to Use It

Inflation has essentially been around since currency was created. But what is it? The Marriam Webster dictionary defines inflation as:

“a continuing rise in the general price level usually attributed to an increase in the volume of money and credit relative to available goods and services”. That’s nice to know but how does this effect us in our daily lives?

Well the “rise in the general price level” can mean things like groceries, fast-food, restaurants, as well as other things like insurance, utilities and housing (both for buyers and renters).

With this cost increase usually happening year over year, what are some things we can do to minimize this?

Well the first big thing is planning. If you are considering retirement in a decade, realize that the cost to live then will be higher than the cost to live now. Do a rough calculation on the average rate of inflation (roughly 3.5%). Over ten years the cost of everything will most likely rise 41%!

After understanding the impact of inflation and incorporating it into your estimated retirement costs, it’s time to talk about investing. The best types of investments for inflationary periods are stocks and real estate. The reason for this is because stocks’ value (in the long-term)is based on the earnings of the company and earnings generally go up with inflation. So off the bat you have a built in inflation protector.

The second ideal investment, real estate, is a little more complicated to invest in. A common “investment” people choose to make is in their home. While it is certainly the case that homes usually go up in value, the decision isn’t a clearcut one. (Check out my blog on the rent vs buy debate)

Another way to invest in real estate is to buy rentals. This is more hands on and therefore takes more time and energy. If you are comfortable with this then by all means go forth and invest! However a lot of people find the intensive commitment inherent in this type of real estate investing too much to handle.

If this is the case with you you can consider another options, REIT’s. Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REIT’s as they are called, involve the investment of large groups who buy large quantities of real estate. The earnings and appreciation from this real estate is owned through a large quantity of shareholders who buy part of the ownership, like a stock.

While this is certainly an option, I find REIT’s to be remarkably unimpressive long-term compared to stocks or direct real estate investments.

Whichever path you choose to take, be wary of the inflation hurdles and the best ways to overcome them.

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!

Money: Where it Comes From

Most people like money. They either collect it, or simply view it as a means to buy their next meal. The fact remains: money is useful. But why do we used money and where did it come from?

It is commonly thought that money arose as a result of the need to barter. This isn’t necessarily the case. There isn’t any society that we know of run completely on barter, even in ancient times. However people did barter a little, and the rest they either gifted or gave away as a form of debt.

At some point the use of debt was coupled with the use of commodity currency. Depending on the people group or the time period in which it was traded, money could be shells, wheat, precious metals, and eventually physical coins. It was after this first occurrence of coins around 600 B.C. by the Lydians that coins started to become more commonly used.

As time progressed, and more and more groups of people used coins, a representative form of money emerged. This was basically paper or some other useless thing, that was available to trade for something of value, like gold. These “certificates” became more and more widespread.

Other societies have since gone back and forth between representative money and actual commodity currencies. The U.S. started out with gold and silver coins as its money. At some point it started a gold certificate or what’s known as “the gold standard”. These could be traded in for a physical amount of gold. Then, with the actions of President Nixon, the gold standard was abolished and we have since been using what’s called fiat currency.

Fiat Currency is just paper, or electronic money, that can’t be turned in for any amount of gold or silver. The only way it has value is because the government says it does. The very nature of fiat currency, as with most currencies, is one of inflation. Since we have gone off the gold standard, prices have “gradually” gone up. What used to cost $1 now costs $10.

The beauty of our current system is that instead of bartering or becoming indebted every time we want something, we are able to trade currency for things of value. In giving someone a dollar, we are giving them something that is widely able to be “traded” for something else of value.

While our system of money in the U.S. certainly isn’t perfect, it has done a great job in facilitating the transfer of assets, resources and services from one side of the economy to the other.

When Should You Sell Stocks?

The old saying, “buy low and sell high” is a very noble goal to have as an equity investor. And during times of extreme prosperity, when the stock market is regularly reaching all time highs, it can seem easy to turn a little into a lot. However, most of the time, history has shown, investors get the timing wrong.

I made this mistake as well in my own life. When I was 16 or 17 I got $100 for Christmas along with a brokerage account, in my parents name, that I was allowed to trade with. After adding $10 of my own I opened it with $110 of fresh money to invest. I was excited!

My first trade, which wasn’t really researched, was the Walt Disney Company. The first month or so it went up. I became so elated as it continued to climb that after I took a “brief” fall I panicked. I told myself, “You’ve got to think long-term.”

So I didn’t sell. As the stock continued to fall gradually I continued to tell myself it would rebound eventually. At some point I caved and sold the stock, regrettably at a $5 loss. After this I purchased a Vanguard real estate ETF along with two shares of GE, which had recently been plummeting.

I have held onto these stocks for a while now and they have finally rebounded back to around $110 in value where I started. The real bummer though, is what the Disney stock has been doing. After I sold, it dropped a little more and then has continued to rise to around $117 per share.

If I had just held on I’d be $7 richer!

This silly little example shows that investing isn’t a day-by-day or even a month-by-month game. It’s a long-term play. When you buy a stock you’ve got to be willing for it to go down temporarily and eventually rebound. The important thing is making sure the fundamentals of the business are strong and then buying at a discounted price.

So, when exactly should you sell a stock?

You should sell when the stock is overpriced. And when is that? When the value you place on the overall business is significantly lower than the value the market is placing on it. That’s when you should run.

 

Investing in Gold: Should You do It?

There are usually two camps to the gold issue. One group says that gold has always been a medium of exchange and that, as a physical resource, the demand for gold will never go away. The second group argues that gold isn’t really worth much except what people are going to pay for it. It just sits there, collecting dust, not producing income or ROI.

So which is it? Is gold a legitimate investment or should we consider it a gamble? Well first let’s look at a brief (very brief) history of gold and how it has been used.

For thousands of years gold has been seen as a valuable resource. The ancient greeks at around 700 B.C. valued it enough to issue the first gold coins. This was under the reign of King Croesus of Mermnadae, who was a ruler of Lydia. They formed coins using a mixture of gold and silver that is called electrum.

As time progressed, more and more civilizations recognized the value of gold as a medium of exchange. For example the use of gold spread to Asia Minor as well as Egypt. The next big champion of gold were the Romans. They developed more technology that helped mine it in their vast empire.

As China and Indian economies developed, they began trading their valuables like silk and spices to the western countries for gold and silver. Gold continued to be used by civilizations for trade. It was always seen as a “precious metal.”

Fast forward a bit and we come to the early U.S.. The largest advancement in the case for gold occurred in 1792 when the U.S. adapted gold and silver as our currency standard. For decades after the U.S. used these two forms as money until paper currency was adapted in the United States. However even when we adapted paper, the backing behind it continued to be gold.

Eventually in the late 20th century, the gold standard was ended and fiat money took over as the form of currency for our country. Ever since gold’s price has moved up and down with demand and supply.

So, has it been a good investment?

The answer depends on what time frame you look at. For example after the crash of 08 and 09 gold skyrocketed in price. However recently the price has been dwindling. Overall, since we went off the gold standard, gold has gone up around 3% per year. How does that compare to stocks? Pretty poorly. Stocks have produced around a 6% return above inflation during that period.

So, does gold have any place in a portfolio? The answer is maybe. Looking at how modern successful investors view this resource, we can see that gold is best used as a small percentage of any portfolio. It can balance out times of panic when the stock markets plummet. Ray Dalio, a successful hedge fund manager and billionaire, has invested in gold only as a small portion of his overall investments.

Finally, the choice is really up to you. Talk to your investment advisor and do some research on your own. You may find that a 10% allocation of gold can significantly reduce the risk for your retirement account. Or maybe you decide not to because you realize you can produce better returns without it. Either way, don’t consider gold a true investment for any meaningful percentage of your investments.