Brave Old World: Market Cycle Investment Management

The Market Cycle Investment Management (MCIM) methodology is the sum of all the strategies, procedures, controls, and guidelines explained and illustrated in the “The Brainwashing of the American Investor” — the Greatest Investment Story Never Told.

Most investors, and many investment professionals, choose their securities, run their portfolios, and base their decisions on the emotional energy they pick up on the Internet, in media sound bytes, and through the product offerings of Wall Street institutions. They move cyclically from fear to greed and back again, most often gyrating in precisely the wrong direction, at or near precisely the wrong time.

MCIM combines risk minimization, asset allocation, equity trading, investment grade value stock investing, and “base income” generation in an environment which recognizes and embraces the reality of cycles. It attempts to take advantage of both “fear and greed” decision-making by others, using a disciplined, patient, and common sense process.

This methodology thrives on the cyclical nature of markets, interest rates, and economies — and the political, social, and natural events that trigger changes in cyclical direction. Little weight is given to the short-term movement of market indices and averages, or to the idea that the calendar year is the playing field for the investment “game”.

Interestingly, the cycles themselves prove the irrelevance of calendar year analysis, and a little extra volatility throws Modern Portfolio Theory into a tailspin. No market index or average can reflect the content of YOUR unique portfolio of securities.

The MCIM methodology is not a market timing device, but its disciplines will force managers to add equities during corrections and to take profits enthusiastically during rallies. As a natural (and planned) affect, equity bucket “smart cash” levels will increase during upward cycles, and decrease as buying opportunities increase during downward cycles.

MCIM managers make no attempt to pick market bottoms or tops, and strict rules apply to both buying and selling disciplines.

NOTE: All of these rules are covered in detail in “The Brainwashing of the American Investor” .

Managing an MCIM portfolio requires disciplined attention to rules that minimize the risks of investing. Stocks are selected from a universe of Investment Grade Value Stocks… under 400 that are mostly large cap, multi-national, profitable, dividend paying, NYSE companies.

LIVE INTERVIEW – Investment Management expert Steve Selengut Discusses MCIM Strategies – LIVE INTERVIEW

Income securities (at least 30% of portfolios), include actively managed, closed-end funds (CEFs), investing in corporate, federal, and municipal fixed income securities, income paying real estate, energy royalties, tax exempt securities, etc. Multi level, and speculation heavy funds are avoided, and most have long term distribution histories.

No open end Mutual Funds, index derivatives, hedge funds, or futures betting mechanisms are allowed inside any MCIM portfolio.

All securities must generate regular income to qualify, and no security is ever permitted to become too large of a holding. Diversification is a major concern on an industry, or sector, level, but global diversification is a given with IGVSI companies.

Risk Minimization, The Essence of Market Cycle Investment Management

Risk is compounded by ignorance, multiplied by gimmickry, and exacerbated by emotion. It is halved with education, ameliorated with cost-based asset allocation, and managed with disciplined: selection quality, diversification, and income rules— The QDI. (Read that again… often.)

Risk minimization requires the identification of what’s inside a portfolio. Risk control requires daily decision-making. Risk management requires security selection from a universe of securities that meet a known set of qualitative standards.

The Market Cycle Investment Management methodology helps to minimize financial risk:

  • It creates an intellectual “fire wall” that precludes you from investing in excessively speculative products and processes.
  • It focuses your decision making with clear rules for security selection, purchase price criteria, and profit-taking guidelines.
  • Cost based asset allocation keeps you goal focused while constantly increasing your base income.
  • It keeps poor diversification from creeping into your portfolio and eliminates unproductive assets in a rational manner.

Strategic Investment Mixology – Creating The Holy Grail Cocktail

So what do your Investment Manager and your neighborhood bartender have in common, other than the probability that you spend more time with the latter during market corrections?

Antoine Tedesco, in his “The History of Cocktails“, lists three things that mixologists consider important to understand when making a cocktail: 1) the base spirit, which gives the drink its main flavor; 2) the mixer or modifier, which blends well with the main spirit but does not overpower it; and 3) the flavoring, which brings it all together.

Similarly, your Investment Manager needs to: 1) put together a portfolio that is based on your financial situation, goals, and plans, providing both a sense of direction and a framework for decision making; 2) use a well defined and consistent investment methodology that fits well with the plan without leading it in tangential directions; and 3) exercise experienced judgment in the day-to-day decision making that brings the whole thing together and makes it grow.

Tedesco explains that: new cocktails are the result of experimentation and curiosity; they reflect the moods of society; and they change rapidly as both bartenders and their customers seek out new and different concoctions to popularize. The popularity of most newbies is fleeting; the reign of the old stalwarts is history — with the exception, perhaps, of “Goat’s Delight” and “Hoptoad”. But, rest assured, the “Old Tom Martini” is here to stay!

It’s likely that many of the products, derivatives, funds, and fairy tales that emanate from Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) were thrown together over “ti many martunies” at Bobby Van’s or Cipriani’s, and just like alcohol, the addictive products created in lower Manhattan have led many a Hummer load of speculators down the Holland tubes.

The financial products of the day are themselves, created by the mood of society. The “Wizards” experiment tirelessly; the customers’ search for the Holy Grail cocktail is never ending. Curiosity kills too many retirement “cats”.

Investment portfolio mixology doesn’t take place in the smiley faced environment that brought us the Cosmo and the Kamikaze, but putting an investment cocktail together without the risk of addictive speculations, or bad after- tastes, is a valuable talent worth finding or developing for yourself. The starting point should be a trip to portfolio-tending school, where the following courses of study are included in the Investment Mixology Program:

Understanding Investment Securities: Investment securities can be divided into two major classes that make the planning exercise called asset allocation relatively straightforward. The purpose of the equity class is to generate profits in the form of capital gains. Income securities are expected to produce a predictable and stable cash flow in the form of dividends, interest, royalties, rents, etc.

All investment securities involve both financial and market risk, but risk can be minimized with appropriate diversification disciplines and sensible selection criteria. Still, regardless of your skills in selection and diversification, all securities will fluctuate in market price and should be expected to do so with semi-predictable, cyclical regularity.

Planning Securities Decisions: There are three basic decision processes that require guideline development and procedural disciplines: what to buy and when; when to sell and what; and what to hold on to and why.

Market Cycle Investment Management: Most portfolio market values are influenced by the semi-predictable movements of several inter-related cycles: interest rates, the IGVSI, the US economy, and the world economy. The cycles themselves will be influenced by Mother Nature, politics, and other short-term concerns and disruptions.

Performance Evaluation: Historically, Peak-to-Peak analysis was most popular for judging the performance of individual and mutual fund growth in market value because it could be separately applied to the long-term cyclical movement of both classes of investment security. More recently, short-term fluctuations in the DJIA and S & P 500 are being used as performance benchmarks to fan the emotional fear and greed of most market participants.

Information Filtering: It’s important to limit information inputs, and to develop filters and synthesizers that simplify decision-making. What to listen to, and what to allow into the decision making process is part of the experienced manager’s skill set. There is too much information out there, mostly self-motivated, to deal with in the time allowed.

Wall Street investment mixologists promote a cocktail that has broad popular appeal but which typically creates an unpleasant aftertaste in the form of bursting bubbles, market crashes, and shareholder lawsuits. Many of the most creative financial nightclubs have been fined by regulators and beaten up by angry mobs with terminal pocketbook cramps.

The problem is that mass produced concoctions include mixers that overwhelm and obscure the base spirits of the investment portfolio: quality, diversification, and income.

There are four conceptual ingredients that you need to siphon out of your investment cocktail, and one that must be replaced with something less “modern-portfolio-theoryesque”:

1) Considering market value alone when analyzing performance ignores the cyclical nature of the securities markets and the world economy.

2) Using indices and averages as benchmarks for evaluating your performance ignores both the asset allocation of your portfolio and the purpose of the securities you’ve selected.

3) Using the calendar year as a measuring device reduces the investment process to short-term speculation, ignores financial cycles, increases emotional volatility in markets, and guarantees that you will be unhappy with whatever strategy or methodology you employ —most of the time.

4) Buying any type or class of security, commodity, index, or contract at historically high prices and selling high quality companies or debt obligations for losses during cyclical corrections eventually causes hair loss and shortness of breath.

And the one ingredient to replace: Modern Portfolio Theory (the heartbeat of ETF cocktails) with the much more realistic Working Capital Model (operating system of Market Cycle Investment Management).

Cheers!

Insurance Poor??

Somebody is always insurance poor.

It could be your future self or estate who is insurance poor because the claim received for your death or disability is too small.   Alternatively, it could be your present self who has to come up with the premium each month.

People tend to get his wrong because they don’t analyze the problem very well.  The present self uses hyperbolic discounting to estimate the value of the future benefit.  The current premium seems to be worth more, so the present self feels hard done by if they pay.

There are many excuses that help justify the behaviour.

My favourite, “Every morning I get up and say, ‘Good thing I didn’t buy insurance yesterday, because I didn’t need it,’  I have been right way more often than I have been wrong”  The future self is going to lose big while the present self wins small.

I would be willing to wager that the Harvard Business School does not teach their MBA students that win small / lose big is a good strategy.

Some people don’t like life insurance because, “It is like betting against the home team.”

True in a way, but again the present self is putting their feelings in opposition to the needs of the future self.  The reality is that the present self could afford the loss of the premiums and the future self cannot afford the absence of the claim.  Clearly one or the other is going to lose.  Support the one with the bigger loss.

You can be insurance poor but only if you have covered risks that don’t exist, have failed to cover risks that do exist, have mismatched the product and the problem, or if you have covered things that are certain to happen.

In the last case, you are paying the claim plus the insurer’s overhead.  Think $0 deductible dental plans.  The claim is certain, the premium will be more than the claim because the insurer has overhead to recover and a profit to make.  For a single person, a deductible results in a premium reduction that is greater than the amount of a small deductible.

Talk to a professional, they can help you sort out the real issues.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. don.s@protectorsgroup.com

Who’s Handling the Family Finances?

I met with Amy (not her real name) the other day who told me she managed her finances perfectly well while she was single. Once she married, she agreed to let her husband handle the family finances. Now facing divorce, she found herself in financial difficulty because of her husband’s spending habits. She regretted not paying attention to the family finances  during their marriage and had to deal with  the added  guilt of not being aware of key financial information when the marriage finally ended.

When we marry, most coupled agree to a practical division of labour and responsibilities.  Each partner takes on specific “jobs” throughout the marriage. One may take out the garbage and handles the carpooling duties while the other spouse agrees to prepare meals and pays the bills. As we’re creatures of habit, we tend to keep those same “jobs” for our entire married life.  If it hasn’t been your “job” to deal with the finances, it is imperative that you stay in touch with the family finances regardless.

How do you do that?

You should attend meetings with accountants, financial planners, insurance agents to develop their own relationships with these key advisors. Too often I hear women say  “I ‘ve never even met the insurance agent” or “I’m finding it difficult to get information from the accountant since he and my spouse are old friends and golf together every weekend.”

You should look over monthly bank statements and credit card bills even if you are not the partner actually making the payments.

Pam (not her real name) found a lack of her own active credit history worked against her as she was offered high rate cards with small lines of credit when she applied for a card on her own after her husband left. You should be sure that the credit card you are using has been set up in your own name and not an account in your husband’s name with you being simply an authorized user. 

Couples should keep three bank accounts (his, hers and ours) and maintain separate credit cards.

Couples are divorcing at later ages.  Many married women don’t make retirement savings a priority. If your husband is the main wage earner, you  trust him to save for  your retirement.  Clare (not her real name) assumed the Spousal RRSP her husband set up belonged to him and not her and wasn’t clear that he hadn’t been adding to her Spousal RRSP for awhile.  You need to understand that once you’re on your own, you need to make saving for retirement a priority.

Looking over a spouse’s shoulder from time to time is important even if you trust they’re doing a good job.

My divorce will cost what?

I was recently at a lunch meeting with other divorce professionals… and the topic of costs of divorce came up. We all face the “what do you charge and how much will it cost question” that all potential clients ask.  People facing divorce all have some preconceived ideas based on a friend’s experience, hearsay, media reports etc. Most people believe their own situation is not a complicated one and should fit in the “average cost range”.   As experienced professionals, we know that few divorcing clients fit the “average model” and the “cheapest price’ may not be that cheap in the long run. You only have one chance at a settlement which will affect you for the rest of your life. You want to be sure to get it right.

So how do divorce costs pile up?

The choice you make in how you will arrive at a settlement agreement directly affects the cost.

A do-it-yourself scenario where you work everything out between yourselves may be very effective and least costly but may best work in situations where there are no children, few assets and fewer complications.

Mediation allows couples to come up and come to agreement mainly on their own with a mediator who facilitates with the couple in reaching an agreement. Couples share the cost of the mediator. Each spouse in turn may have their own lawyer providing independent legal advice as required.

Collaborative Practice involves clients each with their own lawyer and the possible involvement of other professionals such as family specialists and financial specialists all working together to reach an enduring settlement.   A Collaborative divorce is a holistic approach where each professional charges at their own rate and divorcing couples have control over how much involvement from each professional there may be depending on their own  unique needs.

Traditional litigation can be costly if negotiations fail and end up in court.  Trial costs can be  enormous.

Legal fees represent only part of the costs. Other factors can impact the total cost of your divorce, such as:

  • The nature and complexity of the couples’ situation itself.
  • Your lack of financial knowledge or familiarity with your own finances
  • The need for involving other professionals to assist with valuations of such things as home, other properties, pensions, businesses,  stock options, tracing assets.
  • Your emotional state which may affect the duration and cost the time involved in reaching a settlement
  • Your decision to fire lawyers or lawyer’s decision to fire you.

The “what ifs” are the most painful and avoidable elements in divorce everyone should face head on. You should embrace the opportunity to pay for this knowledge to have peace of mind post-divorce. A divorce financial planner is the expert you want and need during divorce to make strategic recommendations in a cost-efficient manner no matter what method you choose to deal with your divorce.

The expertise of divorce financial planners is essential during divorce: To help budget for this process; source funds to pay for the divorce; educate clients and professionals about complex financial issues; analyze choices with greater expertise and less expensively than lawyers; produce precise analysis for desired outcomes; and provide financial counseling to clients post divorce. This is what you get when you pay for it!

Top of Form

 

Dis-Orientation: Back to School and Divorce

Traditionally, autumn is a boom season for divorce, particularly for couples, who wait out the summer at the cottage before returning home to cut their marital ties. Many couples considering splitting decide to wait until after the holidays to break the news to their children. How are these parents going to approach their separation or divorce – and how will it affect their children?  
Obviously school-year separations can be difficult for school-age children. Parents need to bend over backwards to minimize the changes and transitions in their child’s life so as to keep school-related schedules, after-school activities, playtime with friends and other routines as much the same as possible.  

Parents with university aged children face the additional burden of having kids who are moving away from home.  The added stress of dealing with ever increasing tuition costs and related school expenses makes divorce at this stage more complex.

As couples work through their separation agreement, they should be aware of the many financial issues that affect them and their children beyond the traditional items of child support.

They should be considering such things as:

  • Is there enough savings set aside for tuition and room& board expenses
  • How will any shortfall be funded by each parent?
  • Who manages any RESP plan set up for the student?
  • What additional expenses will students/parents incur as a result of parents living apart
  • Who will benefit from any tuition tax credit available to transfer to a parent

Sending kids off to university is an exciting and challenging time for both students and parents alike.  Dealing with divorce at this stage in your family’s life adds additional challenges.   If you need help sorting through the financial issues around these issues, we may be in the position to help.

 

Facing divorce. . .Should I sell the house now?

 If you believe that we are facing a “real estate bubble” ,  the decision of what to do with your home   is  challenging.. sell now and wait to buy if/when prices go down?

 What does that mean to you if you’re someone facing divorce today?  Should you consider selling quickly to take advantage of the market now?  Some people believe they should sell now and split the money and each buy something  on you own before prices climb even further.  

Many couples  have to make  tough decisions  about their home sometimes before they have a final separation agreement in place.

Many people are carrying large debt loads and are shocked to see how much they in fact have left over  after paying off all their debts.  In calculating the cost of a new home, you must take into account such things as legal fees, moving costs, utility set up fees,  condo fees, etc

The big expense that buyers overlook, however,  is land transfer tax.  And if you  considering buying in the GTA, there is an additional land transfer tax assessed.  Most realtors and mortgage brokers websites have a land transfer tax calculator. If you can’t  locate one easily, let me know and I’ll do the  calculation for you.

For most couples, the marital home is your  largest asset. You may want to look at all your options and get  financial advice before moving on!

When You are the One Paying Support

According to a recent study done by Prudential Insurance in the U.S. of  the 1,140 women and 604 men surveyed,  it was reported that 22% of women ( married or with a partner)made more money than their husband or partner.

This economic statistic is certainly a factor why women increasingly are paying support. However, in our society, women seem surprised to have to pay support even if they earn more. As the financial gender gap continues to narrow, an increasing number of women involved in a divorce must confront the possibility of paying support to their spouse. (AKA, “Manimony”).

I have assisted many divorcing women who face the prospect of paying support. Women who have worked hard building careers, taking care of children, dealing with aging parents, feel that they have contributed more than their fair share while married.

This also means that women are increasingly responsible for their finances and investment decisions. This is an area where women have less confident in their knowledge of finances. This adds addition pressure and concerns for women who have to  deal with ongoing payments along with  managing their current lifestyle and worrying about retirement.

Are you someone who makes more money than your spouse? If you found yourself in this situation, how did you deal with this issue?

Get Real: Divorce is a business

Have you put aside the romantic notion that love conquers all…No matter how intense your emotions, it’s important to remember that ending a marriage is in fact a business deal. Those who ignore the business aspects of divorce do so at their own peril, as that divorce statistic shows. Many people seemed shocked by the advice that women and men should prepare themselves financially before ending a marriage.

Here are (3) important business affairs that required your attention:

1. Pull your credit report.Pull your credit report before the divorce so that anything in dispute can be resolved before the divorce is final.

2. Open individual bank, credit card and brokerage accounts.
You also need to do this before the breakup is official. It will be easier to get a credit card and bank account in your own name while you are still married. This is especially important for a woman who has never established credit in her own name.

3. Close all joint accounts.Closing shared accounts is a critical step and one that is too often overlooked. Cancel the accounts and be sure to request that they report each account as “closed by customer” to the credit bureaus. Divorce can take time; pay off share debt with joint assets if possible.

Since money is the number one cause of divorce, it’s safe to assume that splitting the financial sheets won’t be easy. Have you considered all of the financial ramifications in your situation?

DIVORCE TALKS – GREY DIVORCE

For many people, the thought of divorce is overwhelming. Not surprising when you consider that almost all married people centre their lives around their spouse, their children and their home. Divorce changes all of that. It depends on how you approach the situation, who you talk to, and how motivated you are to protect the dignity, integrity and long term interests of your family.

Divorce Talks is a series of live sessions for people who are thinking about, or in the process of, getting a divorce. Mutual Solutions, an association between Eva Sachs and Marion Korn, a family law lawyer, hosts every Divorce Talks session. These sessions help someone considering separation gain an understanding of the decisions they will need to make, and how to move to a positive outcome for everyone. Knowing what must happen, what can happen, and what your options are will make a huge difference in the outcome for you and your family.

Our next Divorce Talks session is Tues July 17th where we will be discussing the unique issues for couples separating later in life.  For the new generation of   ”empty – nesters”, divorce is increasingly common. Though overall divorce rates have declined since spiking in the 1980s, there has been a rise in “grey divorce”. The issues are significantly different  for someone in their 50’s or older than someone in their 30’s or 40’s.

If you or someone you know, is considering a divorce, join us for a conversation. Eva and Marion will talk about the things that matter the most when thinking about separation and divorce – finances, kids, and your future.

For details, go to http://mutualsolutions.ca/divorce-talk/