ETF's as a hedging tool?

A while a go I wrote a post that discussed the difference between ETF’s and and Index Funds for diversification purposes … and, you know what I think about diversification.

But, for those who are just passing by the blog and thought you’d like to drop in [AJC: my regular readers will skip over this post because they wouldn’t be interested in diversification either ūüėČ ] here is an interesting article from the Tycoon Report:

If you haven‚Äôt already, you should start moving your money out of mutual funds and into ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds).¬† In my opinion, they are tailor made for the ‚ÄúAverage Joe‚ÄĚ investor to get the benefits of a mutual fund without their crazy fees.

For a detailed listing of all of the fees, etc. that come with mutual funds, you can visit http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/inwsmf.htm#how.

In my opinion, the only downside (for some people) with respect to ETFs may be that you can buy and sell them as easily as you can.  The reason that I say that this may be a downside for some people is because, if you are impatient or have an addictive personality,etc., then you may know yourself well enough to stay away from investments that you can easily get in and out of.

In other words, if your personality is such that you are tempted to trade without a logical reason to do so, then perhaps the difficulties (such as fees) that come with a mutual fund will prevent you from trading needlessly.  An ETF, on the other hand, may (because of their ease) encourage certain types of people to trade.  If you do not have this type of issue, then you should certainly choose ETFs over mutual funds.

I like ETFs personally because they are less risky than individual stocks.¬† As you may know, you can never totally eliminate risk, but you can reduce it.¬† You can reduce risk by hedging, diversification, and insurance.¬† ETFs reduce risk through diversification, as you’re not assuming the risk that your investment will go to zero based on the demise of one single company.

Nice summary. Here’s where I sit …¬†if you’re using the ETF for:

1. Speculation– Using an ETF (or any other ‘broad-based’ investment) as a hedge against short-term risk is fraught with danger … you are speculating. Yes, you are ‘hedging’ against the risk of any particular stock tanking (conversely, spiking) but you are really just betting with/against the whole market – if people knew where the market was going, they would be richer than Buffett. On the rare occasions that I do speculate (anything less than a 5 – 10 year outlook going in is speculating to me), I prefer to speculate¬†with options and/or¬†just a select handfull of the¬†underlying stocks.

2. Investment– Now, if I am going to invest with a 5 – 10+ year outlook going in, then I am¬†less likely to be speculating and more likely to be¬†‘saving’ or¬†‘investing’. It’s important to realize that I may not actually hold the investment for that long ( who knows what the future will bring?), but I certainly have the expectation of holding, going in. I don’t like to ‘invest’ in a broad-based ETF/Index because then I am¬†truly ‘investing’ in paper, and market sentiment/emotions. I would not be investing with the understanding of the fundamentals of the underlying business, which is the only way that I expect to ‘beat the market’ in the long-term: buy under-valued businesses that I would be prepared to hold forever, and wait for the market to ‘catch up’ to my way of thinking … this is pretty much what Buffett does (actually, did … when he was a little smaller and could make smaller investments) with the stock investment part of his portfolio. If I get it wrong, but I llike the business and it makes good profits (else, I wouldn’t have bought it … then, I don’t mind holding. If I get it right, and the price spikes up to ‘fair market value’, I may end up selling early.

3. Saving– I don’t have ‘saving’ strategies – my speculation (20%) and investment (80%) strategies seem to cover me pretty well. But, if you just want to plonk your money away¬†… either as a one-off (Uncle Harry left you some money) or on a more regular basis¬†(you have a 401k or just want to regularly save) … AND you have a 20+ year outlook, then this is where ETF’s or Index Funds finally come into play! Plonking your money into a Spider ETF or broad-based Index Fund can be better options than CD’s or Bonds. Just don’t get fancy here … the good news is that Warren Buffett also recommends this strategy for the “know nothing investor” as he calls them … he also calls it “dumb money“, but he means that in a nice way ūüôā

Now, as to selecting an ETF v a broad-based Index Fund, it’s a close call.

Finally, I was a little amused this little ‘teaser’ on the very same page as this very nice Tycoon Report article exhorting you to ‘invest’ in ETF’s; it said:

Most ETF Traders Will Lose … And Lose BIG

ETFs are the hottest new investment around, and for good reason. But many everyday investors who jump into ETFs without a proven system to guide them will lose their shirts.

Then [of course] it went on to the ‘solution’: On Thursday, June 12th, Teeka Tiwari will reveal the secrets of using ETFs to generate enormous wealth. But, there’s nothing wrong with a little good marketing …

My advice? Keep your shirt buttoned!

… 7million7years doesn't even know how much is in his Retirement Accounts!

[continued from yesterday]

Now, I’m not particularly proud of this … but, it is true … I have no idea how much is in my retirement accounts; and, I didn’t even bother opening my own 401k account as CEO of my last company!

Why?

Yesterday, I wrote about the costs that can build up in the ‘food chain’ of the investing world, showing that merely accounting for the cost-differential between a typical mutual fund and a typical low-cost index fund can account for 20% of the performance of your entire investment portfolio after just 10 years.

I also, mentioned that I don’t like any of these products (even low-cost index funds, even though I will recommend them to lay-investors), primarily¬†because of lack of control and too much diversification (who ever got rich from diversifying?!) …

So, the second part of this post will, hopefully, tell you why I don’t worry about 401k’s and Roth IRA’s as well as address a question that I recently received from a reader who asked:

Any suggestions on a strategy to use for retirement accounts if you earn beyond the limit for a 401k and Roth Ira? I have no company match for a 401k … get hit hard in taxes and have discovered that there is an income limit to a 401k and Roth IRA. Any suggestions?

Well my simple suggestion is: don’t …

The only time that I invest in a retirement account is when my accountant says:

“AJC, you have too much income flowing in, we had better plonk some into your [401k; Roth IRA, Superannuation Plan, whatever]”.

Yet, using a tax shelter is¬†saving money, and as yesterday’s post showed, even a small difference in cost can add to a big difference in outcome … so, what do I really recommend and why?

If you still have plenty of working years left, I don‚Äôt¬†recommend that anybody¬†invests inside their company 401k except to get the ‚Äėcompany match‚Äô (who can argue with ‘free money’‚Ķ yee hah!)

I also don’t recommend that anybody – who still has 10+ years of working/investing ‘life’ left – invests¬†¬†inside any tax-vehicles (such as a¬†Roth IRA) etc. UNLESS¬†they can:

(a) Choose their investments, and

(b) leverage those investments.

By choosing, I mean the whole gamut of what we want to be investing in: e.g. businesses, stocks, real-estate, and ???.

Now, in practice, these 401k/IRA’s are limited, so if you don’t intend to invest in some/all of these classes of investment or you have so¬†little¬†money to invest that you can ‘fit’ the whole or part of your intended, say, stock purchase strategy into one of these vehicles then, absolutely … knock yourself out!

Therefore, for most people, it’s still possible that a 401k or Roth IRA can provide an important place in their investing strategy … simply because the amount that they have to invest is so small …

… even so, they should go ahead only if it doesn’t limit the scope of their overall investing strategy, hence returns!

And, we should all know by now that primary importance of your investing strategy should be set on maximizing growth unless:

i) You are within a few years of retirement, when you no longer have time to take risks and recover from mistakes), or

ii) Have such a long-term, low-value outlook that simply saving in a 401k will do the trick (in which case, invest to the max.).

Just remember, this blog and my advice isn’t for everyone … it’s only for those who need to become rich

…¬†which usually means getting into investments that:

1. You understand and love, and

2. You can grow over time, and

3. You can leverage through borrowings.

If it doesn’t meet all three of these criteria, I simply don’t invest!

Direct investments in businesses and real-estate are the investment choices of the rich because of these three criteria… stocks to a lesser degree (you can only ‘margin borrow’ up to 100% of these, so the amount of ‘leverage’ that you can apply is lower than for, say, real-estate)¬†… and, Managed Funds even less so (you can margin-borrow only on some of these, and only¬†from¬†limited sources).

For me, the limits that tax-effective vehicles place on me, and the maximums that I am allowed to invest in them,¬†automatically reduce these typical¬†‘tax shelters’¬†to a very minor position in my portfolio … so minor, that I allow my accountant to manage them for me, totally.

Remember, though, that they only became a minor portion of my portfolio because I followed the advice that I am giving you here when I was still early into my working/investing career!

Now, I hope that (eventually) you, too, will have so much money OUTSIDE your 401K that whatever is INSIDE will be insignificant for you … in the meantime, at least invest for the full company match.

Pretty controversial? Let me know what you think?

Why 7million7years doesn't buy 'packaged' products …

I left a somewhat tongue-in-cheek footnote to a recent post on the differences between Index Funds and ETFs (if you didn’t read it, I favor the former over the latter for neophyte investors, and neither for serious investors):

Important Note:¬†7million7dollars does NOT currently invest in any Index Funds, Mutual Funds, or other ‚ÄúPackaged Investment Products‚ÄĚ ‚Ķ apparently, he is just a (rich) product of the Stone Age ;)

It seems to me that the wave of packaged products has increased over the past 20 years.

No longer do you tend to hear those stories of people like the reclusive and grumpy Old Man Miller who fell off a ladder and died leaving no heirs and a box of dusty old stock-certificates that now just happens to be worth $900,000 (not to mention a pile of gold just sitting under some lumber in the old wood-yard)!

It’s not just stocks … it seems that you can’t buy L’il Jon a toy without taking out your industrial grade laser to burn through 15 layers of impossible-to-open plastic ‘bubble’ packaging.

Think about the cost-differential between a typical consumer product at manufacture (the price it cost the guy who made it in: raw materials, labor, tooling, bulk packaging, and bulk shipping) and the eventual end consumer who buys it at retail: the price can¬†inflate by¬†5 to 7 times … or even more.

The more hands, the more cost … simple.

Similarly, with ‘investment products’ …

… in my perhaps archaic way of looking at things, the further removed that I am from the investment, the less control I have, the more people who want to add cost (including their profit) into it, and less I like it.

That’s one of the reasons that businesses (my own) are my favorite form of investment … followed by direct investment in real-estate … followed by direct investments in company stock.

 Now, if you do decide to invest in a fund, why would you choose a Low Cost Index Fund over the typical well-diversified Mutual Fund?

Unless, you can guarantee to find me a Mutual Fund that will outperform the market over the next 10 years (considering that 85% of fund managers don’t beat the market, that’s an easy bet for me to take), I would choose the lower cost option, simply because of cost.

If the Index Fund charged you only 0.25% of your total investment amount to enter the fund and another 0.25% a year to manage it for you, but the mutual fund charged you 1.0% and 1.0% [BTW: in this example, the Index Fund fees are too¬†high and the Mutual Fund fees are too¬†low] …

… over just 10 years (assuming an¬†average 8% return¬†for each), you¬†would have paid the Index Fund just over $43,000 in fees … but, the Mutual Fund $157,000.

Why so much?

Because, you also need to factor in the foregone earnings on the amount that you could have had invested, if those fees weren’t there …

On the other hand, if you invested directly in some stocks and just managed to meet the market, with little to no fees (it costs just $7 to buy, say, $25,000 of stock using an on-line broker) …

… now you know why I don’t like packaged products!

I encourage you to run some numbers for yourself …

[To be Continued]