Please Mr. Obama, Lend Us Your Crystal Ball

The President wants the DOL to fine professionals who make money allowing 401k participants to make “bad” investments.
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So what’s the difference between a “bad” and “good” investment? Right, well in the Will Rogersian world of politicians and regulators, “the good ones only go up in price; the bad ones go down”.

“Don’t gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stocks and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don’t go up, don’t buy it.” WR

Plan sponsors and other financial professionals are supposed to know which ones will go in what direction… and NEVER (as Will would admonish) buy a security that is going to go down.

“Where have all the crystal balls gone? Gone to hindsightful regulators, all of them.” PP&M, sort of.

POTUS wants investment advisors to only select the “good ones”, and they are expected to know in advance where the market may be going, in both the short run and the long. And getting paid for their efforts, well that can’t be “good”, especially when the market value goes down.

Remember, “advisors” are mostly salespeople; regulators are mostly cops.

Do any of these guys have a clue about the workings of the stock market? Which is worse: having the foxes (advisors) in charge of the hen house (401k investment (not pension) plans), or having the lunatics (politicians & regulators) running the asylum (stock market expectations)?

Both are bad, unrealistic, and counterproductive. Markets rise and fall in price… the advisory deal is to limit the amount of risk in a portfolio. Risk of loss is always involved, but it can be minimized… regulators just don’t really get it.

Participants need to be educated not coddled; costs are not the most important aspect of retirement investing, net spendable income at retirement is; stock market values will always go up and down… and that’s a good thing.

If 401k participants are expected to be retirement ready, they need to know the importance of growing income and to have investment options that can get the job done.

I’m not sure that can be accomplished in the current 401k space, but the education has been available for a long time… and it can be applied fairly easily in a “self directed” 401k environment.

And that, Mr. President, is all you should be lecturing the investment advisory community about. If a plan participant is too lazy, busy, greedy, or preoccupied to determine “what’s inside” an investment option, it is not the fault of his or her employer.

The education is out there: just read The Brainwashing of the American Investor

… and here are two Self Directed IRA or 401k income investment presentations for you to think about. 

Next Webinar April 8th

To Rollover 401k Plan Assets or Not To… That Is The Question

The major purveyors of 401k products, and those who benefit from using them remind me of politicians… they press the party line, and use their power to demonize the competition.

Their position and deep pockets allow them to get their message out while we who have neither can only shake our heads and whimper about the sacred purpose of retirement income programs.

But, in the simplest of terms, since when has 2% been better than 6% (both after expenses)? The DOL, fiduciaries, and plan sponsors are staring back at me, eyes wide shut.

LinkedIn discussion groups have been talking about the pros and cons of 401k rollovers to private IRA portfolios. Most of the articles, and not by a slim margin, are institutionally biased advertisements for low cost Mutual Funds and ETFs, despite the fact that have absolutely no “preparation for retirement income bones” in their mass marketed bodies.

When the market corrects, the results will be what they have always been for market-value-growth-only programs. This time though, the DOL will fine the Plan Sponsors (i.e., the corporations so bitterly hated by our government), for allowing plan participants to make investment judgment errors with their own money plus the matching contributions…. let hindsight reign in the 401k space!

The 401k “space” as they call it, has become a lucrative product shopping mall, totally out of touch with what should be the long run purpose of these “quasi” retirement programs: it’s the monthly retirement income that pays the bills, Charlie Brown, not the market value.

If a person were a conspiracy theorist, he or she could make a case for institutional/congressional manipulation of interest rates… keeping them near zero so that gurus will continue to predict that stock market “returns” will outpace those of income purpose securities. Hmmm.

None, absolutely none, of the products provided by the top institutional peddlers produce nearly as much after “expense-ratio” income as Closed End Income Funds. These outstanding (and income paying far longer than any income ETF) managed portfolios are never, ever, found in 401k Plans… except the Self Directed, “safe harbor” variety.

Interestingly, all the major 401k product providers, also manage Closed End Fund product lines that generate generous income, even after higher fees. These fees, so important to regulators and politicians, are never paid by the recipients of the much higher income.

CEFS paying 6% to 9% after expenses are commonplace, but not available in 401k plans. Similarly, there are no restrictions on speculation in the equity markets, where similar high quality managed equity portfolios have been available for decades.

The retirement plan (401k) community has gotten so paranoid over goose-stepping DOL auditors and other regulators armed with crystal clear hindsight, that they have completely lost site of “spending money” as the be all and end all purpose of retirement portfolios. They must “outperform” half their brethren, and be dirt cheap to boot.

Yeah, I know that 401k Plans are not retirement portfolios, but neither the regulators, plan sponsors, congressional leaders, POTUSs, fiduciaries, or plan participants seem able or willing to accept that reality… why should they?

Looking inside the multi-billion dollar Vanguard 2020 TDF, we find 60% invested in equities (no less than 7000 individual positions) and income of about 1.5%. Wake up regulators… the “unfairness” is in the “emperor’s new clothes” products provided to the plan sponsors for inclusion in employee product menus.

You the fiduciaries, you the regulators, you the witch hunters, and you the do-gooders need to look at the product providers instead of their victims.

If you insist upon looking at investment plans as retirement programs (ERISA = Employee Retirement Income Act), perhaps you need to mandate that an outside-the-mainstream, “Self Directed”, income program be a major part programs you supervise. Until the focus changes from market value and expense control to after expenses income, these plans cannot provide what is expected of them… retirement readiness.

So in answering the “To rollover the 401k or not to rollover the 401k” question, I would say: “Run like _ _ _ _, just as fast as you can, to get out of that 401k and never ever buy a low income or no income security in the Rollover IRA you move to.

As long as plain vanilla portfolios of high quality equity (IGVSI companies) and Income CEFs yielding an experienced average, net/net 6% or more, are banned from participating in the 401k marketplace by (possibly) illegal monopolistic practices, rollovers to IRAs should be a requirement, not an option.

See how they run: https://www.dropbox.com/s/b4i8b5nnq3hafaq/2015-02-24%2011.30%20Income%20Investing_%20The%206_%20Solution.wmv?dl=0

As long as regulators are blaming generous employers for the investment mistakes of their employees, self-directed, income purpose, 401k plans are a much less scary, “almost a retirement plan”, option.

401k Plan Fiduciary and Performance Responsibility

Anyone who influences the investment product mix should likely be a fiduciary… but only if the selected investment managers are fiduciaries as well.

Yes, that eliminates all Mutual Funds and ETFs, since neither admit fiduciary responsibility. But Mutual Funds, ETFs, and Collective Trusts could be recommended by plan fiduciaries who are not paid for product placement.

Plan sponsors could be required to use: fee only plan advisors, non-product investment education providers, and 3(38) fiduciaries, TPAs and record keepers that help keep all the fiduciary bases covered.

Collective Investment Fund Trustees and Investment Managers are fiduciaries.

If Plan Sponsors do all the above, their responsibility is covered, and plan participants can be responsible for their own investment mistakes… subject to the product alignment rules outlined below.

What happens in the case of an individual brokerage account option within the plan? Are Plan Sponsors responsible for the performance of these portfolios? Perhaps, but just from a qualification standpoint… Rules that impose fiduciary liability on employers will eventually kill defined contribution plans dead!

So how should we deal with investment performance?

What constitutes poor performance, and how can performance be judged when all plan participants will have somewhat different investment objectives and risk tolerances?

If I want an income building, convertible-at-retirement CIF, that’s my choice… investments with income or “working capital” preservation objectives can’t be judged with a market value ruler.

If I get a 50% match from my employer, that’s an annual 50% gain on contributions… my good fortune, my business, my selections. Similarly with cost. If my program develops a convertible, 6% income, portfolio, why should it matter if the expense ratio is higher than with standard 401k income products?

Again, participant’s choice… leave the employer alone.

My solution would be an investment menu “warning system” based on product risk assessment and a system of controls on individual portfolio content.

The menu composition rules and participant selection controls would be based on risk recognition and income production instead of market value history… higher quality plus reasonable income should equal a more secure retirement.

All participants currently have access to  “performance”, “income production”, and “expense” information;  few convert the data into realistic performance expectations, or risk assessments.

A simple warning label could flag high risk products.  Plans must have less than 20% “high risk”  and at least 30% “low risk” opportunities in selection menus containing between 20 and 40 selections.

Participants must select at least 10 products… no more than two “high risk”, no less than three “low risk”. No high risk and all low risk is the “default” within three years of retirement.

No single portfolio position could exceed 25% of the portfolio… any excess would automatically be reallocated among four default positions. None of the “most risky’ products could be “default” choices, and at least one of the least risky must be.

Done. No DOL aggravation required.

For more information, contact a qualified 3(38) fiduciary at either QBOX Fiduciary Solutions or Expand Financial.

The Investment Gods Created Volatility… and it was good

Have you noticed how paranoid people are getting about market “volatility”.

OMG, cries the DOL, we’re going to fine employers if their 401k plan participants don’t grow their balances as fast as the average plan around the country… thus making the Federal Government a participant in roughly half the 401k plans in every audit time frame.

Employers use investment plans (401ks) as an employee retention benefit… but by what stretch of the imagination are employers responsible for the financial ignorance/naiveté/ laziness/poor judgment of their employees?

Isn’t this just another overreach by regulators who seem focused on making it as hard as possible for private businesses to remain viable? Why not require unbiased investment education instead and create some productive jobs for a change… most adults are willing to accept responsibility for their own mistakes.

Since the dawn of investment time, market value change has been the lifeblood of investing and speculating… a distinction that “Modern Portfolio Theory” (itself a long-con of great imagination) has hypothetically correlated out of existence.

Without market volatility , there would be no chance of profit and no risk of loss. The absurd “Major Prediction Theater” proposes that past correlations and relationships will be repeated in the future, and that risk can be minimized by gaming with the numbers….

The investor need only select the right mix of speculations. But even if the mumbo jumbo is solid, theoretically, market value volatility remains the reality, and some funds, products, methodologies, and hypotheses outperform others… it’s the performance parameters that require adjusting, not the employer’s fiduciary responsibility.

So instead of relying on Wall Street’s most self-serving hypothesis ever, why not embrace the investment god’s gift of market volatility… as many of us have done effectively since investment puberty?

Regulators only appear to be stupid… they know that neither employers nor employees have the inclination to become proficient investors. They know that businesses fear the pox of a compliance audit… making compliance job designations the fastest growing, non-productive, industry in the economy.

And here’s the kind of decision-making the regulatory Gestapo produce:

“Mr. Jones, we’re fining you a gazillion dollars because your retired participants’ 401ks grew only 2% over the last 3 years and the markets were up 15%; clearly you failed in your fiduciary responsibility”.

“But these people are retired, your lordship.”

Their portfolios are producing over 6% in spending money, less insane federal income taxes (light bulb moment: think how a no tax on retirement income rule would benefit everyone), while the best of the best Target Date Funds pay around 2% before taxes .”

“Not my problem sucker, since when did income become the objective of a retirement program”.