Understanding Tail Risk and how to protect your investments

Understanding tail risk

What is Tail Risk?

Tail Risk is the possibility of suffering large investment losses due to sudden and unforeseen events. The name tail risk comes from the shape of the bell curve. Under normal circumstances, your most likely investment returns will gravitate in the middle of the curve. For long term investors, this will represent your average expected return. The more extreme returns have a lower probability of occurring and will taper away toward the end of the curve.

Understanding tail risk
Source: Pimco

The tail on the far-left side represents the probability of unexpected losses. The far-right represents the most extreme outcomes of substantial investment gains. For long-term investors, the ideal portfolio strategy will seek to minimize left tail risk without restricting the right tail growth potential.

Why is tail risk important?

Intuitively, we all want to be on the ride side of the bell curve. We want to achieve above-average returns and occasionally “hit the jackpot” with sizeable gains.

In real life, abrupt economic, social, and geopolitical events appear a lot more frequently than a rational human mind would predict. Furthermore, significant market shocks have been occurring about every three to five years resulting in “fatter” tails.

Also known as “Black Swans, they are rare and unique. These “one-off” events impose adverse pressure on your investment portfolio and create risk for outsized losses. Tail risk events bring a massive amount of financial and economic uncertainty and often lead to extreme turbulence on the stock market.

The Covid outbreak, Brexit, the European credit crisis, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Enron scandal, the US housing market downfall, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks are examples of idiosyncratic stock market shocks. Very few experts could have predicted them. More notably, they caused dramatic changes to our society and our economy, our consumer habits, and the way we conduct business.

Assessing your tail risk exposure

Retirees and those close to retirement, people who need immediate liquidity, executives, and employees holding a large amount of corporate stock are more susceptible to tail risk events. If you fall into one of these categories, you need to review your level of risk tolerance.

Investing is risky. There are no truly risk-free investments. There are only investments with different levels of risk. It is impossible to avoid risk altogether. The challenge for you is to have a reasonably balanced approach to all the risks you face. Ignoring one risk to help you prevent another risk does not mean you are in the clear.

Winners and losers

It is important to remember that every shock to the system leads to winners and losers. For example, the covid outbreak disproportionately hurt leisure, travel, retail, energy, and entertainment businesses. But it also benefited many tech companies as it accelerated the digital transformation. As bad as it was, the global financial crisis damaged many big and small regional banks. But it also opened the door for many successful fintech companies such as Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and Square and exchange-traded fund managers like BlackRock and Vanguard. The aftermath of 9/11 drove the stock market down, but it led to a boost in defense and cybersecurity stocks.

Know your investments

The first step in managing your tail risk is knowing your investments. That is especially important if you have concentrated positions in a specific industry, a cluster of companies, or a single stock. Black Swan events could impact different stocks, sectors, and countries differently. For instance, the Brexit decision mostly hurt the performance of the UK and European companies and had no long-term effect on the US economy.

Know your investment horizon

Investors with a long-term investment horizon are more likely to withstand sudden losses. The stock market is forward-looking. It will absorb the new information, take a hit, and move on.

I always give this as an example. If you invested $1,000 in the S&P 500 index on January 1, 2008, just before the financial crisis, you would have doubled your money in 10 years. Unfortunately, if you needed your investment in one or two years, you would have been in big trouble. It took more than three years to recover your losses entirely.

Diversify

Never put all your eggs in one basket. The most effective way to protect yourself from unexpected losses is diversification. Diversification is the only free lunch you will ever get in investing. It allows you to spread your risk between different companies, sectors, asset classes, and even countries will allow your investment portfolio to avoid choppy swings in various market conditions. One prominent downside of diversification is that while you protect yourself from the left tail risk, you also limit the right tail potential for outsized returns.

Hold cash

Keeping cash reserves is another way to protect yourself from tail risk. You need to have enough liquidity to meet your immediate and near-term spending needs. I regularly advise my clients to maintain an emergency fund equal to six to twelve months of your budget. Put it in a safe place, but make sure that you still earn some interest.

Remember what we said earlier. There is no risk-free investment – even cash. Cash is sensitive to inflation. For instance, $100,000 in 2000 is worth only $66,800 in 2020. So, having a boatload of cash will not guarantee your long-term financial security. You must make it earn a higher return than inflation.

Furthermore, cash has a huge opportunity cost tag. In other words, by holding a large amount of money, you face the risk of missing out on potential gain from choosing other alternatives.

US Treasuries

US Government bonds have historically been a safe haven for investors during turbulent times. We have seen the demand for treasuries spiking during periods of extreme uncertainty and volatility. And inversely, investors tend to drop them when they feel confident about the stock market. Depending on their maturity, US treasuries may give you a slightly higher interest than holding cash in a savings account.

While offering some return potential, treasuries are still exposed to high inflation and opportunity cost risk. Also, government bonds are very sensitive to changes in interest rates. If interest rates go up, the value of your bonds will go down. On the other hand, when interest rates go down, the value of your bonds will decrease.

Gold

Gold is another popular option for conservative investors. Similar to treasuries, the demand for gold tends to go up during uncertain times. The faith for gold stems from its historical role as a currency and store of value. It has been a part of our economic and social life in many cultures for thousands of years.

As we moved away from the Gold standard, the Gold’s role in the economy has diminished over time. Nowadays, the price of gold is purely based on price and demand. One notable fact is that gold tends to perform well during periods of high inflation and political uncertainty.

In his 2011 letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet described gold as an “asset that will never produce anything, but that is purchased in the buyer’s hope that someone else … will pay more for them in the future…..If you own one ounce of gold for an eternity, you will still own one ounce at its end.”

Buying Put Options to hedge tail risk

Buying put options om major stock indices is an advanced strategy for tail risk hedging. In essence, an investor will enter into an option agreement for the right to sell a financial instrument at a specified price on a specific day in the future. Typically, this fixed price known as a strike price is lower than the current levels where the instrument is trading. For instance, the stock of XYZ is currently trading at $100. I can buy a put option to sell that stock at $80 three months from now. The option agreement will cost me $2. If the stock price of XYZ goes to $70, I can buy it at $70 and exercise my option to sell it at $80. By doing that, I will have an immediate gain of $10. This is just an illustration. In real life, things can get more complicated.

The real value of buying put options comes during times of extreme overvaluation in the stock market. For the average investor, purchasing put options to tail risk hedging can be expensive, time-consuming, and quite complicated. Most long-term investors will just weather the storm and reap benefits from being patient.

Final words

Managing your tail risk is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Black Swam events are distinctive in nature, lengh, and magnitude. Because every investor has specific personal and financial circumstances, the left tail risk can affect them differently depending on a variety of factors. For most long-term investors, the left tail and right tail events will offset each other in the long run. However, specific groups of investors need to pay close attention to their unique risk exposure and try to mitigate it when possible.

IRA Contribution Limits 2020

IRA contribution limits 2020

The IRA contribution limits for 2020 are $6,000 per person with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for people who are 50 or older.

Retirement Calculator

What is an IRA?

IRA or Traditional IRA is a tax-deferred retirement savings account that allows you to make tax-deductible contributions to save towards retirement. Your savings grow tax-free. You do not owe taxes on dividends and capital gains. Once you reach retirement age, you can start taking money out of the account. All distributions from the IRA are taxable as ordinary income in the year of withdrawal.

IRA income limits for 2020

The tax-deductible IRA contribution limits for 2020 are based on your annual income. If you are single and earn $124,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $124,000 and $139,000 you can still make contributions but with a lower value.

Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $6,000 each if your combined income is less than $196,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $196,000 and $206,000 you can still make reduced contributions.

Spousal IRA

If you are married and not earning income, you can still make contributions. As long as your spouse earns income and you file a joint return, you may be able to contribute to an IRA even if you did not have taxable compensation. Keep in mind that, your combined contributions can’t be more than the taxable compensation reported on your joint return.

IRA vs 401k

IRA is an individual retirement account.  401k plan is a workplace retirement plan, which is established by your employer. You can contribute to a 401k plan if it’s offered by your company.  In comparison, starting in 2020, anyone who is earning income can open and contribute to a traditional IRA regardless of your age.

IRA vs Roth IRA 

Traditional and Roth IRA have the same annual contributions limits.  The Traditional IRA contributions can be tax-deductible or after-tax depending on your income. In comparison. Roth IRA allows you to make after-tax contributions towards retirement. Another difference, your Traditional IRA retirement savings grow tax-deferred, while Roth IRA earnings are tax-free.

 

Roth IRA Contribution Limits 2020

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020

The Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020 are $6,000 per person with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for people who are 50 or older.

Retirement Calculator

Roth IRA income limits for 2020

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020 are based on your annual earnings. If you are single and earn $124,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $124,000 and $139,000 you can still make contributions but with a lower value.

Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $6,000 each if your combined income is less than $196,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $196,000 and $206,000 you can still make reduced contributions.

What is a Roth IRA?

Roth IRA is a tax-free retirement savings account that allows you to make after-tax contributions to save towards retirement. Your Roth investments grow tax-free. You will not owe taxes on dividends and capital gains. Once you reach retirement your withdrawals will be tax-free as well.

Roth vs Traditional IRA

Roth IRA allows you to make after-tax contributions towards retirement. In comparisons. Traditional IRA has the same annual contributions limits. The Traditional IRA contributions can be tax-deductible or after-tax depending on your income. Additionally, your Traditional IRA savings grow tax-deferred. Unlike Roth Roth, you will owe income taxes on your withdrawals.

Roth IRA Rules

The Roth IRA offers a lot of flexibility and few constraints.  There are Roth IRA rules that can help you maximize the benefits of your tax-free savings account.

Easy and convenient

Opening a Roth IRA account is a great way to start planning for your financial future. The plan is an excellent saving opportunity for many young professionals with limited access to workplace retirement plans. Even those who have 401k plans with their employer can open a Roth IRA.

Flexibility

There is no age limit for contributions. Minors and retired investors can invest in Roth IRA as well as long as they earn income.

No investment restrictions

There is no restriction on the type of investments in the account. Investors can invest in any asset class that suits their risk tolerance and financial goals.

No taxes

There are no taxes on the distributions from this account once you reach 59 ½. Your investments will grow tax-free. You will never pay taxes on your capital gains and dividends either.

No penalties if you withdraw your original investment

While not always recommended, Roth IRA allows you to withdraw your original dollar contributions (but not the return from them) before reaching retirement, penalty and tax-free. Say, you invested $5,000 several years ago. And now the account has grown to $15,000. You can withdraw your initial contribution of $5,000 without penalties.

Diversify your future tax exposure

Roth IRA is ideal for investors who are in a lower tax bracket but expect higher taxes in retirement. Since most retirement savings sit in 401k and investment accounts, Roth IRA adds a very flexible tax-advantaged component to your investments. Nobody knows how the tax laws will change by the time you need to take out money from your retirement accounts. That is why I highly recommend diversifying your mix of investment accounts and take full advantage of your Roth IRA.

No minimum distributions

Unlike 401k and IRA, Roth IRA doesn’t have any minimum distributions requirements. Investors have the freedom to withdraw their savings at their wish or keep them intact indefinitely.

Earnings cap

You can’t contribute more than what you earned for the year. If you made $4,000, you could only invest $4,000.

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak

Here is how to navigate the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak, the stock market crash, and bottom low bond yields.

The longest bull market in history is officially over. Today the Dow Jones recorded its biggest daily loss since the October crash in 1987.  Today will remain in the history books. After the Dow Jones index dropped more than 20% from its February 2020 high, we are formally in a bear market.

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak
S&P 500 12 year performance

Investors’ flight to safety has pushed 10-year Treasury rate to 0.8% and 30-year treasury to 1.4%, all-time lows.

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak

Where are we standing

The coronavirus outbreak is spreading globally. The virus fears are halting public events and forcing companies to change the way they conduct business. The US has imposed travel restrictions on China and the European Union. Many countries in the US are imposing border control restrictions on their neighbors. While the virus outbreak in Wuhan is officially contained according to the Chinese government, large parts of the country remain in lockdown.
The inability of governments around the world to contain COVID-19 spooked investors. We are now observing the worst stock market selloff since the financial crisis of 2008. In certain ways, the daily market conditions are more brutal and unpredictable than a decade ago. Currently, close to 80% of the stock trading is generated by computer algorithms who can send thousands of trades in milliseconds.

DateDow Jones IndexChange% Change
12-Mar-2021,200.95-2,352.27-9.99%
11-Mar-2023,553.22-1,464.94-5.86%
10-Mar-2025,018.161,167.144.89%
9-Mar-2023,851.02-2,013.76-7.79%
6-Mar-2025,864.78-256.50-0.98%
5-Mar-2026,121.28-969.58-3.58%
4-Mar-2027,090.861,173.454.53%
3-Mar-2025,917.41-785.91-2.94%
2-Mar-2026,703.321,293.965.09%
28-Feb-2025,409.36-357.28-1.39%
27-Feb-2025,766.64-1,190.95-4.42%
26-Feb-2026,957.59-123.77-0.46%
25-Feb-2027,081.36-879.44-3.15%
24-Feb-2027,960.80-1,031.61-3.56%

The virus fears initially caused by a meltdown in travel-related stocks. Many airline and cruise ship stocks are now trading at a multi-year low. The heightened concerns for the global recession and the lowered commodity demand from China pushed the price of the oil down significantly. After failed negotiations between OPEC and Russia, Saudi Arabia decided to lower the sale prices of oil by 20% and increase its daily output. In turn, the prices of US oil companies collapsed due to fears that US oil producers can not maintain profitable operations at these low levels. During the previous in 2016, many small oil producers shut down or filed for bankruptcy. The expectation is that many more will follow the same faith soon.
Since the oil and gas and travel-related industry make up for more than 10% of the US GDP, it’s easy to understand that lower revenues and potential job cuts can trickle down to the rest of the US economy.

Are we in a recession?
We wouldn’t know the exact figures until April. The likelihood that the US economy will be in recession in Q1 and Q2 of 2020 is very high. The best-case scenario is for a sluggish economy. We started the year on a strong footing with low employment and strong job growth and housing sales, low price of oil and low-interest rates. However, the crisis in US travel, entertainment, and the energy sector can push the economy down.

What can you do now?

Focus on what you can control.

Have a plan
Having a robust financial plan will help you ensure that you are following of your long-term financial goals and staying on track. The investment performance of your portfolio is a key component of your future financial success but it’s not the most important factor. Be disciplined, patient and consistent in following your long-term goals while putting emotions aside
If you don’t have a financial plan, this a perfect time to initiate it. A holistic financial will help you create a comprehensive view of your personal and financial life and have a clear understanding of core risks and abilities to achieve financial independence and confidence.

Do not read the headlines

Wall Street resides in its own bubble and often overreacts to news whether that is good or bad. Right now, all news is bad news. The only thing that will provide confidence in the market is finding a treatment against the COVID-19, which is probably months or weeks away or drop in virus cases in both the US and Europe. A coordinated effort between the Fed, the Congress and the current administration can provide some stability. Let’s hope that all interested parties can come together and create a working plan.

Assess your risk tolerance
Risk tolerance is how we measure our emotional ability to accept market volatility. It’s not always easy to quantify emotions with numbers. As humans, we are always more likely to be risk-averse during market turbulence and more risk-tolerant when the stock market is going higher. If you want to know how you would feel when the stock market drops 20%, open your investment account today. When you are willing to accept short losses, then your risk tolerance is high. If losses are unacceptable then your risk tolerance is very low.

Review your investment portfolio

Perhaps not today, but soon, you should review your investment portfolio in connection with your long-term financial plan and risk tolerance. Make sure that your investments are aligned with your financial goals and needs.

Do not drop your 401k

One of the biggest mistakes you could possibly make now is to drop and stop contributing to your 401k plan. Many people gave up on their retirement savings during the financial crisis and never restarted them. As a result, we have a generation of people with no retirement savings. As a 401k participant, you make regular monthly or semi-monthly payments to your plan. Despite current losses, you benefit from dollar-cost averaging and buying stocks at lower prices.

Invest now

It may sound crazy but if you are a new investor there is no better time to start investing than now. Stocks rarely go on sale. This is one of those opportunities that come only once in a decade. Remember Warren Buffet’s famous quote:

Be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful”

Check my blog for guidance and ideas

  • In late January I posted “How to Survive the Next Market Downturn”. I didn’t think that we will need my guide so soon but here we are. I offer nine steps on how to navigate any stock market crash.

 

  • If you are a conservative investor, who mostly invests in bonds, you were probably somewhat sheltered from the March Market Madness. However, the future for income-seeking investors is cloudy. Current bond yields cannot support future bond investors and will likely deteriorate the economy. For more information on how to traverse from here, read my article on “Why negative interest rates are bad for your portfolio

 

  • Amid market volatility and uncertainty, dividend growth ETFs can provide some shelter. In my latest article “Top 5 Dividend Growth ETFs” I discuss five ETF strategies that offer lower volatility and extra income.

Final words
If you have any questions about your investments and how to update your financial plan, feel free to reach out. if you are worried about finances I am here to listen and help.

Top 5 Dividend Growth ETFs

Dividend Growth ETFs

Dividend growth ETFs offer a convenient and diversified way to invest in companies that consistently grow their dividends. Certainly, dividend-paying stocks provide a predictable stream of cash flows to investors looking for extra income. Companies that steadily grow their dividends year over year are known as dividend aristocrats. Investors often view high dividend blue-chip companies as financially stable and less volatile than growth companies. Above all, the extra cash from dividends provides a buffer from market volatility. Many retirees use dividends to supplement their income during retirement. In the current low-interest environment, dividend growth ETFs are a compelling low-cost option for investors looking for extra yield. With a 10-year US treasury paying below 1%, income investors will need to look elsewhere for income. Furthermore, compared to mutual funds, exchange-traded funds offer an inexpensive and tax-efficient way to invest without worrying about annual capital gains distributions.

Our top Dividend Growth ETF picks

I have prepared a list of my favorite five dividend growth ETFs. Besides their shared focus, these dividend ETFs have a different approach in constructing their underlying portfolio. Depending on your goals, each ETFs will give you a different exposure and dividend payout.

Dividend Growth ETF Performance 2010-2019

TickerCAGRSt DevBest YearWorst YearMax. DrawdownSharpe RatioUS Mkt Correlation
VYM12.86%11.16%30.08%-5.91%-11.84%1.090.95
SDY13.07%11.15%30.07%-2.74%-11.00%1.110.92
VIG12.63%11.30%29.62%-2.08%-14.18%1.060.96
DVY12.96%10.60%28.85%-6.32%-10.08%1.150.88
FVD13.18%10.21%26.77%-3.48%-11.11%1.210.91
SPY13.44%12.44%32.31%-4.56%-16.23%1.041.00

Source: portfoliovisualizer.com

Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF – VYM

Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF, VYM, tracks the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index. The index selects high-dividend-paying US companies and weights them by market cap. The underlying index excludes real estate investment trusts (REITs).

VYM ETF offers a low-cost, diversified, conservative exposure to high dividend yield large-cap stocks. Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF charges 0.06% fee and currently pays a 3.2% dividend yield.

The ETF selects its holdings by ranking companies by their forecast dividends over the next 12 months. Only the stocks in the top half are selected. The remaining stocks are weighted by market capitalization. Due to its methodology, VYM tends to hold a large basket of large-cap value stocks.

SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF – SDY

SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF, SDY, tracks a yield-weighted index of dividend-paying companies from the S&P 1500 Composite Index. SDY uses dividend sustainability screens and only holds companies that have increased dividends for the past 20 years. The highest yielding firms are then weighted by dividend yield.

Many tech companies do not meet the strict requirements of paying dividends in the past 20 years. Therefore, SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF has minimal exposure to technology stocks.  Nevertheless, SDY is one of the few dividend growth ETFs that provides exposure to REITs.

SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF charges 0.35% fee and pays a 2.6% dividend yield. Unlike VYM, which ranks its holdings by market capitalization. SDY has a slight tilt towards mid-cap stocks. Investors looking for a broader exposure to the US dividend-paying stocks may find this ETF compelling despite its higher fee.

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF – VIG

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF, VIG, is the most growth-oriented ETF on our list of Dividend growth ETFs. VYM is the largest fund by assets under management (AUM). It tracks a market-cap-weighted index of US companies that have increased their annual dividends for ten or more consecutive years. VIG charges a 0.06% fee and pays a 1.8% dividend. Notably, this ETFs dividend yield is a tad smaller than the yield on the S&P 500.

VIG focuses on dividend growth rather than dividend yield. The fund selects firms that have increased their dividend payments for the past ten years and market-cap-weights its holdings. VIG has the biggest exposure to large-cap and mid-cap growth stocks. In conclusion, investors looking for exposure to high-quality dividend-paying large-cap stock may wish to consider VIG for their portfolios.

iShares Select Dividend ETF – DVY

iShares Select Dividend ETF offers the highest dividend yield on our list of Dividend growth ETF.  DVY pays 3.7% in dividends and charges 0.39% in fees. DVY tracks a dividend-weighted index of 100 US companies. The index selects dividend stocks from the Dow Jones broad market-cap index, excluding REITs.

DVY offers exposure to the US high-dividend stocks that skews towards large, mid, and small-cap value firms paying consistent dividends. DVY’s methodology has a strict sustainability screen, designed to select companies that pay steady and rising dividends. The screening process includes companies with at least $3 billion of market capitalization. Further on, the ETF selects stocks with five-year dividend growth, a coverage ratio of 167 or higher, positive trailing 12-months earnings per share, and high trading volume. The DVY portfolio has significant sector bets towards utilities and financial services.

First Trust Value Line® Dividend ETF – FVD

First Trust Value Line® Dividend ETF, FVD, aims to track an equal-weighted index of dividend-paying companies. The ETF uses a proprietary screening process that only includes companies with more than $1 billion in market cap. FVD has the highest fee on our list. It charges 0.7%, and it pays a 2.1% dividend.  FVD has the best 10-year performance and has reported a slightly lower risk of all five ETFs. Despite its higher than average performance, it produces one of the lowest yields in the group.

FVD creates its portfolio in two steps. First, it uses Value Line’s proprietary ‘safety rating’ system to select low-beta stocks from companies with strong balance sheets. Then it chooses the stocks with above-average yields and weights them equally. The methodology includes REITs and foreign ADRs. As a result, FVD has the highest exposure to international stocks in our list of Dividend growth ETFs. FVD makes big sector bets towards utilities and financial services.

Additionally, it has a slight tilt towards mid-cap stocks. Despite its higher than average performance, FVD produces one of the lowest yields in the group.  In conclusion, investors willing to accept the high cost of FVD may like to use it as an alternative to the more popular dividend growth ETFs.

Dividend Growth ETF Summary

As a group, dividend growth ETFs offer a steady income for yield-hungry investors. Even though none of them have outperformed the S&P 500 in absolute terms, most of these ETFs reported better risk-adjusted returns. In times market turmoil and uncertainty, dividend growth ETFs offer extra income and lower volatilty.

Disclaimer
Past performance does not guarantee future returns. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is the sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. Before investing, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation, and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

The Coronavirus and your money

Coronavirus and your money

The Coronavirus and your money.  After an unprecedented 10% rally, which started in October of 2019, the stock market is finally hitting a rough patch. The quick spread of the coronavirus in China and around the world made investors nervous about the future of the global economy. The 2% pullback on January 31 wiped out most of January gains. Despite the quick recovery in early February, the outbreak of the virus in South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Italy triggered a massive sell-off on Monday, February 24. The major US indices dropped 3.5% in one day, with DOW falling over 1,000 points.
Investors seeking safety pushed the price of Gold to $1,650. The 10-year treasury rate fell to 1.34, and the 30-year treasury bonds now pay 1.85%. The price of crude oil fell to $51 per share.

About the virus

The coronavirus, called COVID-19, started in the city of Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei. Until now, there were over 80,000 reported cases in China and around the world and nearly 2,700 fatalities. The virus spread came on the heels of Chinese Lunar Year celebrations, which is a primary holiday and travel period. It is estimated that Chinese travelers make 3 billion trips in the 40 days surrounding this major Chinese holiday. Currently, more than 60 million people have been locked down in China alone.
The governments around the world have limited or directly banned travelers coming from China. Many foreign businesses like Apple, IKEA, Disney, and Starbucks have shut down stores and theme parks.

The impact on Wuhan

Wuhan is a major transportation and industrial hub in China. More than 300 of the world’s top companies have a presence in Wuhan, including Microsoft, German-based software company SAP, and carmakers General Motors, Honda, and Groupe PSA.
The total value of trade imports and exports in Wuhan reached $35.3 billion in 2019, a record high that was 13.7% above the previous year.

The Bear case

A continued outbreak of the coronavirus can shave off between 0.5% to 1% of the already slowing Chinese GDP. As the second-biggest economy, China is one of the largest importers of commodities and materials.
An extended lockdown will hurt sales of all foreign companies doing business in China. It can trickle down to the already fragile economies of the EU,  Japan, and other export-oriented countries.
The lockdown in China will hurt the global supply chain and the limit the manufacturing abilities of companies making their products in China.
The virus outbreak in Italy, South Korea, and Iran creates a lot of uncertainty and puts pressure on local authorities to control the further spread out.
The previous virus threats (Ebola, SARS, Zika) hurt travel-related businesses and took several months before the markets fully recovered.

The Bull case

The US economy remains strong. The unemployment rate is at record low levels of 3.5%. Low-interest rates and low gasoline prices will support further growth in consumer spending and housing sales.
While not completely sheltered, the US economy is less dependent on exports to China.
The Fed has more room to cut rates if the US economy experiences a slowdown as a result of the virus.
The Chinese government is introducing a new monetary and fiscal stimulus package to support the economy.
Slowing GDP will make the Chinese government more willing to sign the Phase 2 trade deal with the US.
Pharma companies (reportedly Gilead and Moderna) are pursuing a virus vaccine.
Spring is coming. The warm weather could limit the impact of the virus around the world.

Your investments

  • Keep the course. Have a long-term view and focus on achieving your financial goals.
  • Market volatility is a normal part of the investment cycle.
  • S&P 500 index pays a 1.8% dividend versus a 1.3% yield for the 10-year treasury. A long-term income investors may find it compelling to invest in dividend-paying stocks over bonds.
  • A significant stock pullback will be an opportunity to buy high-quality US companies.
  • If you are looking for a specific action, check out my recent article on how to cope with market downturns:  https://www.babylonwealth.com/survive-market-downturn/

How to Survive the next Market Downturn

How to survive a market downturn

Everything you need to know about surviving the next market downturn: we are in the longest bull market in US history. After more than a decade of record-high stock returns, many investors are wondering if there is another market downturn on the horizon. With so many people saving for retirement in 401k plans and various retirement accounts, it’s normal if you are nervous. But if you are a long-term investor, you know these market downturns are inevitable. Market downturns are stressful but a regular feature of the economic cycle.

What is the market downturn?

A market downturn is also known as a bear market or a market correction. During a market downturn, the stock market will experience a sharp decline in value. Often, market downturns are caused by fears of recession, political uncertainty, or bad macroeconomic data.

How low can the market go down?

The largest-ever percentage drop by the S&P 500 index occurred on October 19, 1987 (known as The Black Monday), when the S&P 500 dropped by -20.47%. The next biggest selloff happened on October 15, 2008, when the S&P 500 lost –9.03%. In both cases, the stock market continued to be volatile for several months before reaching a bottom. Every time, the end of the market downturn was the start of a new bull market. Both times, the stock market recovered and reached historic highs in a few years.

What can you do when the next market downturn happens?

The first instinct you may have when the market drops is to sell your investments. In reality, this may not always be the right move. Selling your stocks during market selloff may limit your losses, may lock in your gains but also may lead to missed long-term opportunities. Emotional decisions do not bring a rational outcome.

Dealing with declining stock values and market volatility can be tough. The truth is nobody likes to lose money. The volatile markets can be treacherous for seasoned and inexperienced investors alike. To be a successful investor, you must remain focused on the strength of their portfolio, your goals, and the potential for future growth. I want to share nine strategies that can help you through the next market downturn and boost the long-term growth of your portfolio.

1. Keep calm during the market downturn

Stock investors are cheerful when the stock prices are rising but get anxious during market corrections. Significant drops in stock value can trigger panic. However, fear-based selling to limit losses is the wrong move. Here’s why. Frequently the market selloffs are followed by broad market rallies. A V-shape recovery often follows a market correction.

The hypothetical table below looks at the performance of $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 between January 4, 1988, and December 31, 2018. It’s important to note this hypothetical investment occurred during two of the biggest bear markets in history, the 2000 tech bubble crash and the 2008 global financial crisis. If you had missed the ten best market days, you would lose 2.4% of your average annual return and nearly half of your dollar return.

As long as you are making sound investment choices, your patience, and the ability to tolerate paper losses will earn you more in the long run.

2. Be realistic: Don’t try to time the market

Many investors believe that they can time the market to buy low and sell high. In reality, very few investors succeed in these efforts.

According to a study by the CFA Institute Financial Analyst Journal, a buy-and-hold large-cap strategy would have outperformed, on average, about 80.7% of annual active timing strategies when the choice was between large-cap stocks, short-term T-bills and Treasury bonds.

3. Stay diversified

Diversification is essential for your portfolio preservation and growth. Diversification, or spreading your investments among different asset classes (domestic versus foreign stocks, large-cap versus small-cap equity, treasury and corporate bonds, real estate, commodities, precious metals, etc.), will lower the risk of your portfolio in the long-run. Many experts believe that diversification is the only free lunch you can get in investing.

Uncorrelated asset classes react uniquely during market downturns and changing economic cycles.

For example, fixed income securities and gold tend to rise during bear markets when stocks fall. Conversely, equities rise during economic expansion.

4. Rebalance your portfolio regularly

Rebalancing your portfolio is a technique that allows your investment portfolio to stay aligned with your long terms goals while maintaining a desired level of risk. Typically, portfolio managers will sell out an asset class that has overperformed over the years and is now overweight. With the proceeds of the sale, they will buy an underweighted asset class.

Hypothetically, if you started investing in 2010 with a portfolio consisting of 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income securities, without rebalancing by the end of 2019, you will hold 79% equities and 21% fixed income. Due to the last decade’s substantial rise in the stock market, many conservative and moderate investors are now holding significant equity positions in their portfolio. Rebalancing before a market downturn will help you bring your investments to your original target risk levels. If you reduce the size of your equity holdings, you will lower your exposure to stock market volatility.

5. Focus on your long-term goals

A market downturn can be tense for all investors. Regardless of how volatile the next stock market correction is, remember that “this too shall pass.”

Market crises come and go, but your goals will most likely remain the same. In fact, most goals have nothing to do with the market. Your investment portfolio is just one of the ways to achieve your goals.

Your personal financial goals can stretch over several years and decades. For investors in their 20s and 30s financial goals can go beyond 30 – 40 years. Even retirees in their 60s must ensure that their money and investments last through several decades.

Remain focused on your long-term goals. Pay of your debt. Stick to a budget. Maintain a high credit score. Live within your means and don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

6. Use tax-loss harvesting during the market downturn

If you invest in taxable accounts, you can take advantage of tax-loss harvesting opportunities. You can sell securities at depressed prices to offset other capital gains made in the same year. Also, you can carry up to $3,000 of capital losses to offset other income from salary and dividends. The remaining unused amount of capital loss can also be carried over for future years for up to the allowed annual limit.

To take advantage of this option, you have to follow the wash sale rule. You cannot purchase the same security in the next 30 days. To stay invested in the market, you can substitute the depressed stock with another stock that has a similar profile or buy an ETF.

7. Roth Conversion

A falling stock market creates an excellent opportunity to do Roth Conversion. Roth conversion is the process of transferring Tax-Deferred Retirement Funds from a Traditional IRA or 401k plan to a tax-exempt Roth IRA. The Roth conversion requires paying upfront taxes with a goal to lower your future tax burden. The depressed stock prices during a market downturn will allow you to transfer your investments while paying lower taxes. For more about the benefits of Roth IRA, you can read here.

8. Keep a cash buffer

I always recommend to my clients and blog readers to keep at least six months of essential living expenses in a checking or a savings account. We call it an emergency fund. It’s a rainy day, which you need to keep aside for emergencies and unexpected life events. Sometimes market downturns are accompanied by recessions and layoffs. If you lose your job, you will have enough reserves to cover your essential expenses. You will avoid dipping in your retirement savings.

9. Be opportunistic and invest

Market downturns create opportunities for buying stocks at discounted prices. One of the most famous quotes by Warren Buffet’s famous words is “When it’s raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble.” Market selloffs rarely reflect the real long-term value of a company as they are triggered by panic, negative news, or geopolitical events. For long-term investors, market downturns present an excellent opportunity to buy their favorite stocks at a low price. If you want to get in the market after a selloff, look for established companies with strong secular revenue growth, experienced management, solid balance sheet and proven track record of paying dividends or returning money to shareholders.

Final words

Market downturns can put a huge toll on your investments and retirement savings. The lack of reliable information and the instant spread of negative news can influence your judgment and force you to make rash decisions. Market selloffs can challenge even the most experienced investors. That said, don’t allow yourself to panic even if it seems like the world is falling apart. Prepare for the next market downturn by following my list of nine recommendations. This checklist will help you “survive” the next bear market while you still follow your long-term financial goals.

Market Outlook October 2019

market Outlook October 2019

Highlights:

  • S&P 500 recorded a modest gain of 0.9% in the third quarter of 2019
  • Ten-year treasury rate dropped to 1.5% before bouncing back to 1.75%
  • S&P 500 dividend yield is now higher than the 20-year treasury rate
  • Manufacturing index hits contraction territory

Economic Overview

  • The US economy continues to show resiliency despite increased political uncertainty and lower business confidence
  • The consumer sentiment – The US consumer is going strong. Consumer sentiment reached 93 in September 2019. While below record levels, sentiment remains above historical levels. Consumer spending, which makes up 68% of the US GDP, continues to be the primary driver of the economy.
Market Outlook October 2019 Consumer Sentiment
Consumer Sentiment
  • Unemployment hits 3.5%, the lowest level since 1969
  • Wage growth of 2.9% remains above-target inflation levels
  • Household debt to GDP continues to trend down and is now at 76%.
Market Outlook October 2019
Household debt to GDP
  • Fed rate cuts – Fed announced two rate cuts and is expected to cut twice until the end of the year.
  • The 10-year treasury rate is near 1.75%
  • The 30-year mortgage rate is near 3.75%
  • While low-interest rates and low unemployment continue to lift consumer confidence, the question now is, “Can the US consumer save the economy from recession’?
  • The probability of recession is getting higher. Some economists assign a 25% chance of recession by the end of 2020 or 2021.
  • The ISM Manufacturing index dropped to 47 in September, falling under for a second consecutive month. Typically readings under 50 show a sign of contraction and reading over 50 points to expansion. The ISM index is a gauge for business confidence and shows the willingness of corporate managers to higher more employees, buy new equipment and reinvest in their business.
  • Trade war – What started as tariff threats in 2018 have turned into a full-blown trade war with China and the European Union. The Trump administration announced a series of new import tariffs for goods coming from China and the EU. China responded with yuan devaluation and more tariffs. France introduced a new digital tax that is expected to impact primary US tech giants operating in the EU.
  • A study by IHS Markit’s Macroeconomic Advisers calculated that gross domestic product could be boosted by roughly 0.5% if uncertainty over trade policy ultimately dissipates.
  • Chinese FX and Gold reserves – China’s reserve assets dropped by $17.0b in September, comprising of $14.7bn drop in FX reserves and a $2.4bn decline in the gold reserves. China has been adding to its gold reserves for ten straight months since December 2018.
  • Political uncertainty – Impeachment inquiry and upcoming elections have dominated the news lately. Fears of political gridlock and uncertainty are elevating the risk for US businesses.
  • Slowing global growth – The last few recessions were all domestically driven due to asset bubbles and high-interest rates. This time could be different, and I do not say that very often. Just two years ago, we saw a consolidated global growth with countries around the world reporting high GDP numbers. This year we witness a sharp turn and a consolidated global slowdown. EU economies are on the verge of recession. The only thing that supports the Eurozone is the negative interest rates instituted by the ECB. China reported the slowest GDP growth in decades and announced a package of fiscal spending combined with tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks, and targeted monetary easing geared to offset the effect of the trade war and lower consumer spending. So even though the US economy is stable, a prolonged slowdown of global economies could drag the US down as well.

Equities

US Equities had a volatile summer. Most indices are trading close to or below early July levels and only helped by dividends to reach a positive quarterly return. On July 27, 2019, S&P 500 closed at an all-time high of 3,025, followed by an August selloff. A mid-September rally helped S&P 500 pass 3,000 level again, followed by another selloff. S&P 500 keeps hovering near all-time highs despite increased volatility, with 3,000 remaining a distinct level of resistance.

In a small boost for equities, the dividend yield on the S&P 500 is now higher than the 10- and 20- year US Treasury rate and barely below the 30-year rate of 2%.

For many income investors equities become an alternative to generate extra income over safer instruments such as bonds

Market Outlook October 2019
S&P 500 dividend versus 20-year treasury rate

Growth versus Value

Investing in stocks with lower valuations such as price to earnings and price to book ratios has been a losing strategy in the past decade. Investors have favored tech companies with strong revenue growth often at the expense of achieving profits. They gave many of those companies a pass in exchange for a promise to become profitable in the future.

However, while economic uncertainty is going up, the investors’ appetite for risk is going down. The value trade made a big comeback over the summer as investors flee to safe stocks with higher dividends. As a result, the utilities and consumer staple companies have outperformed the tech sector.

The IPO market

The IPO market is an indicator of the strength of the economy and the risk appetite of investors. In 2019, we had multiple flagship companies going public. Unfortunately, many of them became victims of this transition to safety. Amongst the companies with lower post IPO prices are Uber, Lyft, Smiles Direct Club, and Chewy.com. Their shares were down between -25% and -36% since their inception date. Investors walked away from many of these names looking for a clear path to profitability while moving to safety stocks.

Market Outlook October 2019, Uber and Lyft since IPO

Small-Cap

Small caps have trailed large caps due to increased fears of recession and higher market volatility. Small caps tend to outperform in a risk-on environment, where investors have a positive outlook on the economy.

Market Outlook October 2019, Small Cap versus Large Cap

International Stocks

International stocks continue to underperform. On a relative basis, these stocks are better valued and provide a higher dividend than US stocks. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, most foreign stocks have been hurt by sluggish domestic and international demand and a slowdown in manufacturing due to higher tariffs. Many international economies are much more dependent on exports than the US economy.

Fixed Income

The Fed continued its accommodative policy and lowered its fund rate twice over the summer. Simultaneously, other Central Banks around the world have been cutting their rates very aggressively.

The European Central Bank went as far as lowering its short-term funding rate to -0.50%. As a result, the 30-year German bund is now yielding -0.03%. The value of debt with negative yield reached $13 trillion worldwide including distressed issuers such as Greece, Italy, and Spain.

Investors who buy negative-yielding bonds are effectively lending the government free money.

In one of my posts earlier in 2019, I laid out the dangers of low and negative interest rates. You can read the full article here. In summary, ultra-low and negative interest rates change dramatically the landscape for investors looking to supplement their income by buying government bonds. Those investors need to take more risk in their search for income. Low rates could also encourage frivolous spending by politicians and often lead to asset bubbles.

The Yield Curve

The yield curve shows what interest rate an investor will earn at various maturities. Traditionally, longer maturities require a higher interest rate as there is more risk to the creditor for getting the principal back. The case when long-term rates are lower than short-term rates is called yield inversion. Some economists believe that a yield inversion precedes a recession. However, there is an active debate about whether the difference between 10y and 2y or 10y and 3m is a more accurate indicator.

Market Outlook October 2019, Yield Curve

As you can see from the chart, the yield curve gradually inverted throughout the year. Short-term bonds with 3-month to maturity are now paying higher interest than the 10-year treasury

Credit spreads

The spread between AAA investment-grade and lower-rated high yield bonds is another indicator of an imminent credit crunch and possible economic slowdown.

Market Outlook October 2019, Credit Spreads

Fortunately, corporate rates have been declining alongside treasury rates. Spreads between AAA and BBB-rated investment grade and B-rated high yield bonds have remained steady.

Repo market crisis

The repo market is where banks and money-market funds typically lend each other cash for periods as short as one night in exchange for safe collateral such as Treasuries. The repo rates surged as high as 10% in mid-September from about 2.25% amid an unexpected shortage of available cash in the financial system. For the first time in more than a decade, the Federal Reserve injected cash into the money market to pull down interest rates.

The Fed claimed that the cash shortage was due to technical factors. However, many economists link the shortages of funds as a result of the central bank’s decision to shrink the size of its securities holdings in recent years. The Fed reduced these holdings by not buying new ones when they matured, effectively taking money out of the financial system.

Gold

Gold has been a bright spot in our portfolio in 2019. After several years of dormant performance, investors are switching to Gold as protection from market volatility and low-interest rates. In early September, the precious metal was up nearly 21% YTD, but since then, retracted a bit.

Market Outlook October 2019, Gold

Gold traditionally has a very low correlation to both Equities and Bonds. Even though it doesn’t generate income, it serves as an effective addition to a well-diversified portfolio.

The Gold will move higher if we continue to experience high market volatility and uncertainty on the trade war.

Final words

The US economy remains resilient with low unemployment, steadily growing wages, and strong consumer confidence. However, few cracks are starting to appear on the surface. Many manufacturers are taking a more cautious position as the effects of the global slowdown and tariffs are starting to trickle back to the US. An inverted yield curve and crunch in the repo market have raised additional concerns about the strength of the economy.

Despite the media’s prolonged crisis call, we can avoid a recession. The recent trade agreement between the US and Japan could open the gate for other bilateral trade agreements. Given that the US elections are around the corner, I believe that this administration has a high incentive to seal trade agreements with China and the EU.

The market is expecting two more Fed cuts for a total of 0.5% by the end of the year. If this happens, the Fed fund rate will drop to 1.25% – 1.5%, possibly flattening or even steepening the yield curve, which will be a positive sign for the markets.

Those with mortgage loans paying over 4% in interest may wish to consider refinancing at a lower rate.

Market volatility is inevitable. Keep a long-term view and maintain a well-diversified portfolio.

The end of the year is an excellent time to review your retirement and investment portfolio, rebalance and take advantage of any tax-loss harvesting opportunities.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, founder of Babylon Wealth Management

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is the founder of Babylon Wealth Management and a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

 

If you have any questions about the markets and your investments, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +1-925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

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10 Behavioral biases that can ruin your investments

10 Behavioral biases that can ruin your investments

As a financial advisor, I often speak with my clients about behavioral biases. Our emotions can put a heavy load on our investment decisions. In this article, I would like to discuss ten behavioral biases that I encounter every day. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a good starting point to understand your behavioral biases and how to deal with them.

We have to make choices every day. Often our decisions are based on limited information or constrained by time. We want to make the right call every single time. But sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we can be our worst enemy. Stress, distraction, media, and market craziness could get the worst of us.

Behavioral finance

In 2018 Richard Thaler won the Nobel prize for his work in behavioral economics. In his 2009 book “Nudge” and later on in his 2015 book “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics,” Thaler reveals the architecture of the human decision-making process. He talks about behavioral biases, anomalies, and impulses that drive our daily choices.

In another study about the value of the financial advisor or the advisor alpha, Vanguard concluded that clients using a financial advisor have the potential to add 1.5% of additional annual returns as a result of behavioral coaching. Further on, Vanguard concludes that because investing evokes emotion, advisors need to help their clients maintain a long-term perspective and a disciplined approach.

 

Afraid to start investing 

Social Security is going into deficit by 2035. And most employers moving toward Defined Contribution Plans (401k, 403b, SEP-IRA). It will be up to you and me to secure our retirement by increasing our savings and investments. However, not everybody is in tune. For many people, investing is hard. It’s too complicated. Not all employers provide adequate training about retirement and investment options. And I don’t blame anyone. As much as I try to educate my blog readers, as well as many colleagues, we are outnumbered by the media and all kinds of financial gurus without proper training and credentials. If you are on the boat and want to start investing, talk to a fiduciary financial advisor, or ask your employer for educational and training literature. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions and educate yourself.

“This time is different.”

How many times have you heard “This time is different” from a family member or the next financial guru, who is trying to sell you something? Very likely, it’s not going to be any different. As a matter, it could be worse. As humans, we tend to repeat our mistake over and over. It’s not that we don’t learn from our mistakes. But sometimes it’s just more comforting staying on your turf, not trying something new, and hoping that things will change. So, when you hear “This time is different,” you should be on high alert. Try to read between the lines and assess all your options.

Falling for “guaranteed income” or “can’t lose money” sales pitch

As many people are falling behind their retirement savings, they get tempted to a wide range of “guaranteed income” and “can’t lose money” financial products. The long list includes but not limited to annuities, life insurance products, private real estate, cryptocurrency, and reverse mortgage. Many of these products come with sky-high commissions and less than transparent fees, costly riders, and complex restrictions and high breakup fees. The sales pitch is often at an expensive steakhouse or a golf club following a meeting in the salesperson’s office where the deals are closed. If someone is offering you a free steak dinner to buy a financial product that you do not fully understand, please trust me on it – you will be the one picking the tab in the end.

Selling after a market crash

One of the most prominent behavioral biases people make in investing is selling their investments after a market crash. As painful as it could be, it’s one of the worst decisions you could make. Yes, markets are volatile. Yes, markets crash sometimes. But nobody has made any money panicking. You need to control your impulses to sell at the bottom. I know it’s not easy because I have been there myself. What really helps is thinking long-term. You can ask yourself, do you need this money right away. If you are going to retire in another 10 or 20 years, you don’t need to touch your portfolio, period. Market swings are an essential part of the economic cycle. Recessions help clean up the bad companies with a poor business model and ineffective management and let the winners take over.

You may remember that the rise of Apple coincided with the biggest recession in our lifetime, 2008 – 2009. Does anyone still remember Blackberry, Nokia, or Motorola, who were the pioneers of mobile phones?

Keeping your investments in cash

Another common behavioral bias is keeping your investments in cash…..indefinitely. People who keep their 401k or IRA in cash almost always miss the market recovery. At that point, they either have to chase the rally or must wait for a market correction and try to get in again. As a financial advisor, I would like to tell you that it is impossible to time exactly any market rally. By the time you realize it. It’s already too late.

To understand why timing the markets and avoiding risk by keeping cash can be harmful, see what happens if an investor misses the biggest up days in the market. The hypothetical table below looks at the performance of $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 between January 4, 1988, and December 31, 2018. It’s important to note this hypothetical investment occurred during two of the biggest bear markets in history, the 2000 tech bubble crash and the 2008 global financial crisis.

10 Behavioral biases that can ruin your investments - Keeping Cash

As you can see, missing the ten best days over between 1998 and 2018 meant earning nearly 2.5% less on an annual basis and leaving half of the potential absolute gains on the table. Here’s the kicker: Six of the 10 “best days” in the market were within weeks of the worst days in the market. In other words, some of the best days often happen as “v-shaped” bounces off the worst days. Going to cash on a big negative day means increasing the risk of missing a big positive day which, as can be seen from the table above, can have a substantial impact on your returns over time.

Chasing hot investments

One of the most common behavioral biases is chasing hot investments. People generally like to be with the winners. It feels good. It pumps your ego. There is a whole theory of momentum investing based on findings that investors buy recent winners and continue to buy their stock for another 6 to 12 months. We have seen it time and time again – from the tech bubble in 2000, through the mortgage-backed securities in 2008, to cryptocurrency and cannabis stocks in 2018. People like highflyers. Some prior hot stocks like Apple, Google, and Amazon dominate the stock markets today. Others like Motorola, Nokia, and GE dwindle in obscureness. If an investment had a considerable run, sometimes it’s better to let it go. Don’t chase it.

Holding your losers too long

“The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.” – Warren Buffett. 

In a research conducted in the 1990s by professor Terrance Odean, he concluded that investors tend to hold to their losers a lot longer than their winners. A result of this approach, those investors continue to incur losses in the near future. Professor Odean offers a few explanations for his findings. One reason is that investors rationally or irrationally believe that their current losers will outperform. A second explanation comes from the Prospect Theory by Kahneman and Tversky (1979). According to them, investors become risk-averse about their winners and risk-seeking to their losers.

When it comes to losing bets, they are willing to take a higher gamble and seek to recover their original purchase price. A third theory that I support and observed is based on emotions. The pain from selling your losers is twice as high as the joy from selling your winners. We don’t like to be wrong. We want to hold on to the hope that we made the right decision. After all, it is a gamble, and the odds will be against you. At some point, we just need to make peace with your losses and move on. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

Holding your winners too long

There is a quote by the famous financier Bernard Baruch – “I made my money by selling too soon.” Many people, however, often hold on to their winners for very long. Psychologically, it’s comforting to see your winners and feel great about your investment choices. There is nothing wrong with being a winner. But at some point, you must ask yourself, is it worth it. How long this run can go for and should you cash in some of your profits. What if your winners are making up a large part of your investment portfolio? Wouldn’t this put your entire retirement savings at risk if something were to happen to that investment?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to selling your winners. Furthermore, there could be tax implications if you realize the gains in your brokerage account. However, it’s prudent to have an exit strategy. As much as it hurts (stops the joy) to sell the winners, it could lower the risk of your portfolio and allow you to diversify amongst other investments and asset classes.

Checking your portfolio every day

The stock market is volatile. Your investments will change every day. There will be large swings in both directions. So, checking your portfolio every single day can only drive crazy and will not move the needle. It could lead to irrational and emotional decisions that could have serious long-term repercussions. Be patient, disciplined, and follow your long-term plan.

Not seeking advice

Seeking advice from a complete stranger can be scary. You must reveal some of your biggest secrets to a person you never met before. It’s s big step. I wish the media spends more time talking about the thousands of fiduciary advisors out there who honestly and trustworthy look for your best interest.

My financial advisory service is based on trust between you as a client and me as the advisor . So, do not be afraid to seek advice, but you also need to do your homework. Find an advisor who will represent you and your family and will care about your personal goal and financial priorities. Don’t be afraid to interview several advisors before you find the best match for you.

Final words

“The most important quality for an investor is temperament, not intellect. You need a temperament that neither derives great pleasure from being with the crowd or against the crowd.” – Warren Buffet.

Investing is an emotional act. We put our chips on the table and wish for a great outcome. We win, or we lose. Understanding your emotions and behavioral biases will help you become a better investor. It doesn’t mean that we will always make the right decisions. It doesn’t mean that we will never make a mistake again. We are humans, not robots. Behavioral biases are part of our system. Knowing how we feel and why feel a certain way, can help us when the markets are volatile, when things get ugly or the “next big thing” is offered to us. Look at the big picture. Know your goals and financial priorities. Try to block the noise and keep a long-term view.

Reach out

If you have questions about your investments and retirement savings, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, founder of Babylon Wealth Management

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

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The biggest risks for your retirement savings

Biggest risks to your retirement savings

Whether you are just starting your career or about to retire, you need to understand the risks you are facing when you plan for your future retirement.

Most experts recommend that you should aim to replace about 80% of work income during your retirement. Part of your retirement income will come from Social Security. Other sources could be a public pension, IRAs, 401k, rental income, sale of real estate or business, royalties, or a part-time job. However, the 80% is not a definite number. The amount you need in retirement could vary substantially depending on your lifestyle, family size, number of dependents, health issues, and so on.

Social Security benefits

The maximum Social Security benefit in 2019:

  • $3,770 for someone who files at age 70.
  • $2,861 for someone at a full retirement age of 66
  • $2,209 for someone aged 62

For reference, very few people reach these upper limits. The average Social Security retirement benefit in 2019 is $1,461 a month. The average disability benefit is $1,234.

Unfortunately, the Social Security trust is already running a deficit. Currently, the Social Security is paying more benefits than all the proceed its receiving from the payroll taxes. Its reserve will be depleted by 2035. After that point, social security recipients will have to receive only a portion of their actual benefit. The current estimate is around 75%.

Pension Shortfall

Similarly to Social Security, most of the public and private pension plans nationwide have an enormous shortfall between assets and their future liabilities. According to a recent study by Pew Charitable Trust and Pension Tracker, US public pension shortfall is over $1 trillion. States like Alaska, California, Illinois, Ohio, Hawaii, and New Jersey have one of the highest pension burdens in the nation. Even after ten years of economic recovery and bull market, most state pension plans are not prepared to face another downturn. Policymakers must take urgent measures to close the pension funding gap, which remains at historically high levels as a share of GDP.

Low savings rate

With social security benefits expected to shrink, I advise my clients that they need to increase their savings in order to supplement their income in the future. Retirement savings in IRA, 401k and even a brokerage account will provide you with the necessary income during your retirement years.

Unfortunately, not everyone is forward-looking. The average 401k balance, according to Fidelity, is $106,000 in 2019, while the average IRA is $110,000. The sad reality is that most Americans do not save enough for retirement and we are facing a retirement crisis.

Not saving enough for retirement is the highest risk of enjoying your retirement years.

Relying on a single source

Many people make the mistake of relying on a single source of income for their retirement.  

Imagine that you were planning to retire in 2009 upon selling a piece of real estate. Or you had all your retirement savings in a 401k plan and the market just crashed 50%.  Many of these folks had to delay their retirement for several years to make up for the lost income. Similarly, selling your business can be risky too. With technology advancements, many businesses are becoming obsolete. You may not always be able to find buyers or get the highest price for your business.

We always recommend to our clients to have a diversified stream of retirement income. Diversifying your source will create a natural safety net and potentially could increase the predictability of your income in retirement.

Market risk

We all would like to retire when the market is up and our retirement account balance is high. However, the income from these retirement accounts like IRA, Roth IRA and 401k are not guaranteed. As more people relying on them for retirement, their savings become subject to market turbulence and the wellbeing of the economy.  Today, prospective retirees must confront with high equity valuations, volatile markets, and ultra-low and even negative yields.

In my practice, I use my clients’ risk tolerance as an indicator of their comfort level during market volatility. With market risk in mind, I craft well-diversified individual retirement strategies based on my clients’ risk tolerance and long-term and short-term financial goals.

Sequence of returns

The sequence of returns is the order of how your portfolio returns happen over time. If you are in your accumulation phase, the sequence of return doesn’t impact your final outcome. You will end up with the same amount regardless of the order of your annual returns.  

However, if you are in your withdrawal phase, the sequence of returns can have a dramatic impact on your retirement income. Most retires with a 401k or IRAs have to periodically sell a portion of their portfolios to supplement their income. Most financial planning software uses an average annual return rate to project future account balance. However, these average estimates become meaningless if you experience a large loss at the start of your retirement.

Our retirement strategies take the sequence of returns very seriously. Some of the tools we use involve maintaining cash buffers, building bond ladders and keeping a flexible budget.

Taxes

Your IRA balance might be comforting but not all of it is yours. You will owe income taxes on every dollar you take out of any tax-deferred account (IRA, 401k, 403b). You will pay capital gain taxes on all realized gains in your brokerage accounts. Even Social Security is taxable.

With skyrocketing deficits in the treasury budget, social security and public pensions will guarantee one thing – higher taxes. There is no doubt that someone will have to pick up the check. And that someone is the US taxpayer – me and you.

Managing your taxes is a core function of our wealth management practice. Obviously, we all must pay taxes. And we can not predict what politicians will decide in the future. However, managing your investments in a tax-efficient manner will ensure that you keep more money in your pocket.

Inflation risk

Most retirees have a significant portion of their portfolios in fixed income. Modern portfolio managers use fixed income instruments to reduce investment risk for their clients. At the time of this article, we are seeing negative and near-zero interest rates around the world. However, with inflation going at around 2% a year, the income from fixed-income investments will not cover the cost of living adjustments. Retirees will effectively lose purchasing power on their dollars.

Interest risk

Bonds lose value when interest rates go up and make gains when interest rates go down. For over a decade, we have seen rock bottom interest rates. We had a small blip in 2018 when the Fed raised rates 4 times and 1 year’s CDs reached 2.5%. At that point in time, many investors were worried that higher interest rates will hurt bond investors, consumers and even companies who use a lot of debt to finance their business. Even though these fears are subdued for now, interest rates remain a viable threat. Negative interest rates are as bad for fixed income investors as the high rates are. Unfortunately, traditional bond portfolios may not be sufficient to provide income and protect investors for market swings. Investors will need to seek alternatives or take higher risks to generate income.

Unexpected expenses

Most financial planning software will lay out a financial plan including your projected costs during retirement. While most financial planning software these days is quite sophisticated, the plan remains a plan. We can not predict the unexpected. In my practice, I regularly see clients withdrawing large sums from their retirement savings to finance a new home, renovation, a new car, college fees, legal fees, unexpectedly high taxes and so on. Reducing your retirement savings can be a bad idea on many levels. I typically recommend building an emergency fund worth at least 6 months of living expenses to cover any unexpected expenses that may occur. That way, you don’t have to touch your retirement savings.

Healthcare cost

The average health care cost of a retired couple is $260,000. This estimate could vary significantly depending on your health. Unless you have full health insurance from your previous employer, you will need to budget a portion of your retirement savings to cover health-related expenses. Keep in mind that Medicare part A covers only part of your health cost. The remaining, parts B, C, and D, will be paid out of pocket or through private insurance.

Furthermore, as CNBC reported, the cost of long-term care insurance has gone up by more than 60% between 2013 and 2018 and continues to go higher. The annual national median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $100,375 in 2018.

For future retirees, even those in good shape, healthcare costs will be one of the largest expenses during retirement. In my practice, I take this risk very seriously and work with my clients to cover all bases of their health care coverage during retirement.

Longevity

Longevity risk is the risk of running out of money during retirement. Running out of money depends on an array of factors including your health, lifestyle, family support and the size and sources of retirement income.  My goal as a financial advisor is to ensure that your money lasts you through the rest of your life.

Legacy risk

For many of my clients leaving a legacy is an important part of their personal goal. Whether funding college expenses, taking care of loved ones or donating to a charitable cause, legacy planning is a cornerstone of our financial plan. Having a robust estate plan will reduce the risks to your assets when you are gone or incapacitated to make decisions. 

Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk is the risk that you will not be able to find buyers for your investments and other assets that you are ready to sell. Often times, during an economic downturn, the liquidity shrinks. There will be more sellers than buyers. The banks are not willing to extend loans to finance riskier deals. In many cases, the sellers will have to sell their assets at a significant discount to facilitate the transaction.

Behavioral risk

Typically, investors are willing to take more risk when the economy is good and the equity markets are high. Investors become more conservative and risk-averse when markets drop significantly. As humans, we have behavioral biases, Sometimes, we let our emotions get the worst of us. We spend frivolously. We chase hot stocks. Or keep all investments in cash. Or sell after a market crash. Working with a fiduciary advisor will help you understand these biases. Together, we can find a way to make unbiased decisions looking after your top financial priorities.

Final Words

Preparing for retirement is a long process. It involves a wide range of obstacles. With proper long-term planning, you can avoid or minimize some of these risks. You can focus on reaching your financial goals and enjoying what matters most to you.

Reach out

If you need help growing your retirement savings, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

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