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MC Stories – An Advisor’s Annotated Book Stack

 

I like to read historical literary texts as well as their inventive modern reinterpretations.  Both sets pose questions that don’t go out of style:  Who are we as a society?  What do we value?  What should we teach our children?  How do we know what we know?  My book stack offers a few examples…

With Infinity in the Palm of Her Handauthor Gioconda Belli takes a line from a William Blake poem and reimagines the conversations of Eve and Adam and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.  Eve, and Adam to a lesser degree, ask the questions that we moderns might also wish to pose.

 

            Eve:  “What is there beyond this garden; why are we here?”

            Serpent:  “Why do you want to know?  You have everything you need.”

            Eve:  “Why would I not want to know?  What does it matter if I know?”

 

            Eve:  “It seems that you want me to eat this fruit.”

            Serpent:  “No.  I merely envy the fact that you have the option of choosing.  If you eat the fruit, you and Adam will be free, like Elokim.”

            Eve:  “Which would you choose?  Knowledge or eternity?”

            Serpent:  “I am a serpent.  The Serpent.  I told you that I do not have the option to choose.”

 

Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are among the first origin stories of Western Civilization.  In The OdysseyOdysseus (like Eve, above) gets a shot at Eternity — but only if he marries the goddess Calypso.  Instead, Odysseus chooses finite life on his own terms, reuniting with his wife Penelope.  My copy of The Iliad is a signed first edition of the Robert Fitzgerald translation, a college gift that set me on a lifetime course of inquiry. Together the two books pose grand (and small) questions about how we should live.  The texts’ richness in language and allegory has been the source of new literature for almost three thousand years.  Each generation reinterprets the original.  Four hundred years or so after Homer, Aeschylus wrote The Oresteia, performed in Athenian amphitheaters.  A hundred years ago, an Egyptian-Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy, penned a short piece called Ithaca.

More recently, a classics professor at Bard College, Daniel Mendelsohn, wrote An Odyssey.  His aging father audited Mendelsohn’s class on The Odyssey, and this book becomes a meditation on what these historic texts mean to college students with brief life experience, juxtaposed with the meaning for someone who has lived a very long life.  The elder Mendelsohn audited the class in anticipation of joining his son on a Mediterranean cruise that would track the voyage of Odysseus.  An important part of Homer’s Odyssey is a son taking a journey to search for a father he doesn’t know; in Mendelsohn’s Odysseyit, too, is the search by a son for a father, this time a psychological and emotional expedition.

When my older daughter was a sophomore in college, she invited me to audit a class with her; the course combined architecture with gender studies.  Following a conversation with the professor, and germane to the syllabus, I wound up giving a lecture on “advice texts through history”.  In addition to the first four chapters of Homer’s Odyssey, other assigned reading included Discourse to Lady Lavinia His Daughter.  Here, a nobleman during the Italian Renaissance, Annibal Guasco, prepared his 11-year-old daughter to be a Lady-in-Waiting in the Court of Savoy, and as a gift, wrote the Discourse for her.  At such a young age, she required a crash course on decorum.  These are two examples offered by Guasco to Lavinia:

  • On the subject of talking badly about others behind their backs,“…Guard against this, for not only would it be unworthy of your noble rank, but the very earth would repeat it [even] if men remained silent.”
  • On the general topic of being thoughtful in one’s speech,“…Learn well how to control your tongue, considering that Nature enclosed it mysteriously within the lips and the teeth, as if behind two doors, to [hold back certain thoughts] with our teeth, even if they had got as far as the tip of our tongue, and then restrain them with our lips, if they had escaped the confines of our teeth.”

Guasco gave Lavinia advice in many areas of daily life, and among them, this:  “…it is very true that no greater happiness is attainable in this world than through intellectual achievement.”  In the year 1585, this was quite a bright light from a father to a daughter.

The Swerve – How the World Became Modern is a story that begins in the early Italian Renaissance, in 1417, with the discovery of an ancient text written by the Roman poet Lucretius, a follower of the Greek philosopher Epicurus.  (First, though, to set the record straight:  to be an “Epicure” is not to be a pleasure seeker in a hedonistic way; Epicurus placed greater emphasis on the avoidance of pain rather than the pursuit of pleasure, with more focus on intellectual pleasure, as it is the longer lasting one.)  In 1417, scholars knew of Lucretius, but his work had been lost to history for over 1,000 years – until an Italian manuscript hunter (yes, a real job) found a copy of “De Rerum Natura” (“On The Nature of Things”) tucked away in a German monastery.  The ideas contained within “On the Nature of Things” were shocking.  Though written before the birth of Christ, the text was heretical to the Catholic Church.  Contained in the most beautiful Latin verse were the ideas that all physical matter is made up of an infinite number of very small particles called “atoms”; there are different types of atoms, though the types are limited in number.  These atoms move in eternal motion, randomly colliding and swerving in new directions.  In this world of Lucretius, there are particles and voids – and nothing else.  Once brought back to Florence, the manuscript was treated as a secret document, and very few people were allowed to see it.  Scholars and artists learned about the ideas within “On the Nature of Things”, but to write about it would risk a Church accusation of heresy.  Painters, though, caught a break; they could paint the ideas of Lucretius onto the canvas, but they had, to use a modern term, “plausible deniability” when confronted by the Church. (“No, Monsignor, that creature is not from an early species that evolved into humans.  It is a chthonic beast from Greek mythology.”)

The Order of Time by the Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli shakes up what we know about the nature of time.  Rovelli is a lyrical writer, so the book is both a joy to read and a challenge, as our perceptions of time are challenged by him.  He tears down our assumptions about time, revealing a universe, where at the most fundamental level, time disappears.  Flipping through the pages just now, I see that I am going to have to re-read it.

Last, but not least, is the classic and definitive book on investment bubbles.  Written in 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds covers Tulip-mania, the South Sea Bubble, and John Law’s Mississippi Scheme.  There are, unquestionably, lessons to be learned from this book about today’s financial world — particularly regarding the Fed’s current money-printing regime, as well as the understanding that people will, and do, pay crazy amounts of money for items of fleeting worth.  Popular Delusions shows how the bubbles build.  From a distance of two centuries and more, foolishness seems obvious.  When we are living in it, though, it takes focus to keep questioning commonly-held beliefs, asking ourselves over and over, “How do we know what we know, and from there, which actions should we take?”

Next time:  “What’s the deal with all those record albums in the picture?!”

Bruce Tyson

 

MC Stories – Poker Play – Optimizing your investment approach

I am fascinated by the markets and all things related to investing. I have always enjoyed solving puzzles and various brainteasers. I enjoy deep-thinking games and activities that involve a constant change of information. One of my favorite games to play is poker. I love the game for the challenge it presents—playing the cards, playing the people, playing the odds—all while not letting emotions get the best of you.

With each round of betting, new information is learned and a new decision tree is spawned. Each hand delivers a range of potential outcomes and, depending on how you play the hand, you can either end up adding chips to your stack or biding your time for a better opportunity. Poker is a game of skill; however, even the best, most disciplined players will not win every time because there is a level of uncertainty with each hand played. Despite that uncertainty in the short term, over the long term the right strategy combined with a disciplined approach often becomes a winning strategy.

In this way, poker is very similar to investing. Having the right investment strategy and staying disciplined often leads to long-term success. In poker, you combine various cards of different suits and numbers to create the best hand. With investing, your “hand” is a diversified portfolio and it contains a combination of various asset classes (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.). When investing (just like in poker), some combinations are better than others, based on the specific goal. Depending on what type of poker you are playing, sometimes the best hand wins and other times, technically speaking, the worst hand wins (Razz and 2-7 Triple Draw, for instance). Similarly, when it comes to investing, if you do not know the objective or the goal, then it is often difficult to know which “hand” of assets will give you the best chance to achieve the outcome you are seeking.

To have long-term success in poker or investing you must have a disciplined approach. Oftentimes people believe poker to be a game of excitement and thrills; however, those who play poker professionally are affectionately referred to as “grinders” for spending long hours playing through the monotony of poker, hand after hand, in order to make a living. When people think of investing, they conjure images of day traders or getting rich overnight, but, when done correctly, investing is boring. As the renowned investor George Soros once quipped, “If investing is entertaining, if you’re having fun, you’re probably not making any money. Good investing is boring.” Whether playing poker or investing, making educated decisions based on the information available as well as the probabilities related to historical outcomes is necessary to consistently make decisions with confidence.

In the short term, it is difficult, if not impossible, to consistently predict the outcome. For instance, during a single day, the markets will either be positive or negative, and in poker you can do everything right, with the odds in your favor, and still end up losing a hand. If this continually happens, without a plan or a strategy, it can be frustrating and can sometimes lead to poor decisions driven by emotions. In poker, a player making emotional decisions no longer based on strategy is considered to be playing “on tilt,” whereas an investor making emotional decisions is often acting out of fear—fear of losing in a market downturn or fear of missing out (FOMO) during a market rally. Regardless of the activity, poker or investing, emotional decisions typically lead to poor decisions with unpredictable outcomes.

The goal then is to be aware of these emotions so when they appear you can objectively evaluate your decisions to determine whether the correct action is being taken. How do you do this? In poker, you can work with a coach to evaluate your play and review how you played during specific situations to ensure you are always playing with the optimal strategy. In investing, you can work with an advisor to create a financial plan based on your specific goals to determine your appropriate long-term strategy. Either way, having an independent third party can be a valuable resource to keep you on track.

Uncertainty can be challenging, but it can also create opportunities. Remember this the next time you get together for your monthly poker game or are analyzing your investments. In order to capitalize on an opportunity, you must first identify the goal. Then, with the goal in mind, you can create and implement the correct strategy. That will allow you to stay disciplined and consistently take the appropriate actions. And then, when emotions come into play (and they always will), to improve your chances for long-term success, have a system or person in place to help with decisions to counteract those emotions. Do this consistently and over time you will find success at the tables and in your portfolio.

 

MC Stories – The Technology Age — The Good, the Bad, and a Little Gen Z

Do you remember the time before cell phones, computers, or even televisions?

The generation who might answer “no” to this question, Generation Z, categorized as those born between the years of 1997 and 2015, is also known as the “Smartphone Generation.” According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone, and a similar share (97%) use at least one of seven major online platforms.1 Teens surveyed have different opinions on whether social media has had a positive or negative effect on their generation. On a macroscale we are learning quickly to deal with the good and bad that is coming from this new Technology Age.

The Good

Staying connected to family and friends is easier than ever. One major cause for the positive impact is that the technologies traditionally used for business purposes, like videoconferencing and screen sharing, are now being brought into the home for personal use. For example, family meetings over Zoom are the new Sunday dinner meetup and grandparents or parents of Generation Z now celebrate birthday parties, baby showers, and graduations virtually. While in-person is preferred, most are happy they can enjoy each other and still maintain safety guidelines during the current pandemic.

Generation Z can also weigh in on the political conversations happening in this crucial election year on platforms such as Twitter and TikTok, even if they are not old enough to vote. Empowering youth to take an active role in their future is the result of independence and resources not afforded to previous generations. Activism is not unique to Gen Z, but this younger generation is sharing opinions of each other at a rapid pace that is affecting their self-worth.

The Bad

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.2 The current circumstances of 2020 may lead you to believe that there is nothing occurring to feel left out of—but not so fast: FOMO, or fear of missing out, still runs rampant due to platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which show us a skewed view of the world and other people’s lives. Young adults who are looking for ways to monetize themselves and make cash fast are using technology to invest more easily which could have a good return or very bad returns depending on the market environment.

New online trading platforms such as Robinhood reported an increase in new accounts, spurred mostly by new investors who saw the market downturn in March of 2020 as an opportunity to start investing. Traditionally, financial professionals who trade stocks are required to pass an exam to obtain their securities license and are regularly monitored according to industry regulations. Millennials and Generation Z, while not as experienced in the investing space, still felt confident buying familiar big name tech stocks.3 If investors employ a buy-and-hold strategy, they may come out successful; but if individuals are allocating mortgage payments or student loan debt to a risky portfolio, they are in for a roller-coaster ride—emotionally and financially.

Generation Z

The Smartphone Generation may be young but they are mighty. They are coming of age during a volatile economy and an unprecedented technology age. The percentage of teens that reported they are online “almost constantly” virtually doubled in 2018 from a couple of years prior. This data makes them prime targets for online advertising and social media campaigns. With the access and speed currently available to this generation, the need to be a prudent investor is even more important. For the parents and other adults affected by this plugged-in generation (i.e., All of Us), it would be advantageous to learn the habits of this new generation and listen to their viewpoints, which are just as bold as past generations but reach much further. Making a wave is much easier with a touch of your smartphone and we are all now finding ourselves in the splash zone.

 

 

1 https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

2 https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far/

3 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/12/young-investors-pile-into-stocks-seeing-generational-buying-moment-instead-of-risk.html

MC Stories – Banking 101 – College Edition

Do you remember your first day of college? That feeling of excitement combined with trepidation at the idea of embarking on this new adventure that will eventually lead to a new career as well as financial independence? Now, do you also remember the day you had to open your first checking account – one that did not have your parents as joint co-owners? Well, that day might have been less exciting, but it probably held equal amounts of apprehension. In my first assignment as a branch manager in a small college beach town, they allowed me to work closely with students and I soon realized how ill-prepared they were to be on their own – financially speaking. I too was a college student once and so I wanted to share the top four things a young adult should consider before they open their first bank account.

  • Know what makes each financial institution different. When I started looking for a job in the banking world, I assumed all banks were the same. Most people have the same approach when it comes to doing their banking. Know that you have options! Online tools make shopping for a bank easy. Things you’ll want to research and compare include fees, interest rates, online and mobile monitoring options, branch proximity and ATM locations.
  • Know what fees you can anticipate. Banks charge fees – and lots of them. Using another bank’s ATM? Picked the wrong checking account and now you are paying monthly fees? How about that savings account? There is a limitation to how many withdrawals or transfers you can do a month – the number is six – before fees get assessed. And my favorite… “ I can’t be out of money – I still have checks!” Make sure that when using your debit card or paying your bills online, you do not exceed your ability to pay for them. In the event you forget, the bank won’t and you’ll be charged non-sufficient funds or overdraft fees.
  • Know what you need. Remember that talk your parents had with you about “wants” versus “needs”? Well, that conversation definitely comes into play here. You should only borrow what you absolutely need. The banker will eagerly want to sell you on a credit card, but from my personal experience, stick to a secured credit card as that will not only help build up your credit score but it will also help not overspend due to its small credit line. Most students are not great at budgeting and recovering from bad credit or handling repayment due to high-interest rates is no fun.
  • Know how to pay yourself first. By paying yourself before others, you are building the habits and discipline it takes to gain peace of mind with an emergency fund, saving for large purchases, and invest for long-term wealth building. First, start with a savings account – preferably not at the same bank as the one you have your checking. Next, set up an auto-transfer between your accounts on a monthly basis. This will kickstart your emergency savings account.

Regardless of where you are in this process, I leave you with this: research, read the fine print, and track your spending. Happy Banking!

MC Stories – Eliminating Capital Gain Tax on the Sale of an Appreciated Asset Through the Use of a Charitable Tax-Exempt Trust

For many investors, a barrier to diversifying their portfolio is the impact of losing 25% of their profits if they sell a highly appreciated asset. If you are charitably inclined, that barrier can be eliminated by using a tax-exempt trust, as outlined by the following example:

Let’s assume you have a highly appreciated asset (perhaps stock or real estate) that you paid $200,000 for, and that has a market value of $1,200,000. Your capital gain would be $1,000,000. If you sold that asset, you’d only have about $950,000 to reinvest after paying 25% of your gain in taxes (approximately $250,000). By using a tax-exempt trust you would have the full $1,200,000 to reinvest.

    Here’s how it works:

  1. You establish this trust prior to selling the asset. The terms and provisions of the trust are established at its inception. Prior to selling the asset, you transfer the asset to the trust. You and your spouse (if married) become income beneficiaries for your lifetimes to the trust. The IRS sets a range of “approved interest rates”; let’s say 5% per year.  So, in year 1, the trust will distribute an income to you of $60,000 ( 5% of $1,200K). If the trust earns a return of greater than 5%, your income the next year will go up. But the big advantage is that you have $1,200,000  to invest, rather than the $950,000. Additionally, you can be your own trustee, so that the investment decisions and control of the assets are retained.
  2. Why does this trust qualify to be tax-exempt? Primarily there are 2 reasons:
    1. The trust is irrevocable, so once established, it cannot be modified.
    2. A t the death of the last income beneficiary, the remaining balance of the trust is paid to a 501c3 charitable organization (the legal name of this trust is a Charitable Remainder Trust). An additional benefit is that upon transferring the asset(s) to the trust, you receive an immediate charitable income tax deduction for the “present value of the future interest” of the “gift”. Depending on the age(s) of the income beneficiary and the established interest rate, the deduction can be in the range of 25% of the gift. So, in this example, instead of paying $250K in capital gain taxes immediately, you’ll SAVE $100K in income taxes as a result of the charitable deduction.

   The main disadvantages of this arrangement are:

  1. Lack of liquidity. You do not have access to principal; only the income that the trust distributes. If you are dependent on the principal from the sale proceeds for your lifetime/retirement, this may not be the best strategy for your cash needs.
  2. At the death of the last income beneficiary, the money is not retained by your heirs. That “negative” can perhaps be eliminated through the use of a life insurance policy (the premium will be substantially less than the capital gains taxes you, otherwise would have paid). However, for those investors where this trust makes sense, this technique allows them to fulfill their charitable wishes, and normally, this is only a “piece of their estate” so the balance of their net worth will be distributed to their chosen heirs.
  3. While the earnings and gains in the trust are tax-exempt, the income that is distributed from the trust to the income beneficiaries is generally taxed.

The above is only meant to be a concise summary of this strategy. You should consult your financial advisor, tax professional or attorney to obtain more information. Tax rates used in this article are for illustrative purposes only and may not apply to your unique situation.

 


Disclosures:

This information is presented for educational purposes only, is hypothetical in nature and does not represent actual clients. The information presented is not written or intended as financial, tax or legal advice, and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any federal tax penalties under the Internal Revenue Code. Use of this information is not a substitute for legal counsel, and Morton Capital makes no warranties with regard to information contained herein. You are encouraged to seek financial, tax and legal advice from your professional advisors before implementing any transactions and/or strategies concerning your taxes or estate plan.

MC Stories – Wearing Multiple Hats

If I were to ask you how many hats do you wear, what would your answer be? For me, I wear the hats of wife, mom, Associate Advisor, and student. Unfortunately, time does not expand the more hats you wear. So how can we juggle the different roles that we are in? It is important to have separate environments for each of the roles that you have. One of the hardest things to do is to keep work at work. Not all our jobs allow us to take our work hat off completely. However, it is important that when we work from home, we have a dedicated space for doing so. Even though it is easy to take a laptop from room to room, it blurs the lines between roles.

I have found the following tips useful in helping me be fully present in each role:

  • Have separate spaces: It is important to have separate environments for each of the roles that you have. One of the hardest things to do is to keep work at work. Not all our jobs allow us to take our work hat off completely. However, it is important that when we work from home, we have a dedicated space for doing so. Even though it is easy to take a laptop from room to room, it blurs the lines between roles.
  • Dedicate your time specifically: This advice has been the most helpful for me. If you look through the pictures of this post, I shared my schedule. On weekdays, I dedicate my mornings to my family, 9am-5pm to work, 5pm-7pm to my kids before they go to bed, then I have time for school. This way, I can focus on each role individually rather than being overwhelmed with everything that needs to get accomplished in each role all at once. 
  • Communicate your schedule and ask others to hold you accountable: Unless I have a meeting or school assignment that takes me out of my normal scheduled time, my family knows that when it’s 5 o’clock, they can come into my office and help me transition to family time. I think this is important because it makes them feel just as important as the work I was doing during the day. I also set these guidelines with my peers at work so they are confident that I will be responsive and reliable during my work hours. 
  • Schedule things to look forward to in each role: Sometimes our schedules can become monotonous. It is important to schedule things to look forward to in each role. My oldest daughter and I have hot chocolate every Saturday morning. When I am bogged down by a busy work week or demanding school assignment, the thought of Saturday morning helps me push through it.

Many of us may not realize how many hats we truly wear. However, the current environment is challenging the “norm” and highlighting the different roles we all play.  What hats do you wear? Which of these tips do you think would be useful for you? The next time you start feeling overwhelmed by how much is on your plate, take a moment, breathe, and make sure you aren’t wearing too many hats at once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MC Stories – Timing is not critical to long term success… however, time is!

 

Time or timing…which is more critical to investment success? We would say time in the market is more important. Investors would all like to buy near the bottom of the market declines and sell near the high, but no one can accurately predict when those opportunities will present themselves. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that these highs and lows become evident, so staying invested in the market is critical to capture the benefits. We often hear investors say that their market anxiety keeps them on the sidelines to save them pain, but it may also ensure they will miss the gain. Historically, downturns have been followed by eventual upswings, but knowing when that is going to occur is impossible to predict. This is why it is imperative to understand how much stock market exposure is appropriate for you, diversify your portfolio so that your lifestyle isn’t impacted by market swings, and avoid trying to outsmart the market.

Here is an example of what could have happened if an investor tried to outsmart the market vs. giving their investments time to perform. If you had invested $1000 in the S&P 500 (excluding dividends) on January 1, 2009 and left it there 10 years, until 12/31/18 it would have grown to $2775 or more than 10% a year. Had you tried to time the market and missed the 20 best days during that ten-year period, your investment would be worth $1228 or a little over 2%. Had you missed the 40 best days your $1000 would only be worth $712. The conclusion: time in the market is much more important to your investment success than timing the market.

(Sources: Thomson Reuters and S&P 500 index)

MC Stories – Why You Should Give Your Children the Desire to Learn About Finances

Studies suggest that parents may dread financial conversations with children almost as much as the conversation about “the birds and the bees.” A 2018 study conducted by T. Rowe Price reveals that two-thirds of parents show reluctance in discussing money with children. Parents may find that it is only important to begin discussing finances when there is an immediate concern, such as a health crisis or an economic downturn. However, that is not the case. A keystone to growing up is independence and part of that is financial independence. A recent study shows that 64% of adults believe that by 22 years old one should be financially independent of their parents; but, only 24% of 22-year-olds are actually financially independent.

So, how do we create financially mature and independent adults? Teach them young. In today’s world, money has moved to the ether of numbers on a screen and plastic cards. We rarely use cash for daily transactions and checkbooks (or balancing them, for that matter) are a thing of the past. In the eyes of a child, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tangibly understand the value of a dollar. Realistically, it is becoming difficult for all of us to understand the value of a dollar. We must re-wire the way we think about money and then translate that to the next generation.

Parents have a unique responsibility of molding children’s development – particularly around their financial education. The T. Rowe Price study revealed that what children learn from parents (as opposed to financial literacy courses) strongly informs their financial decisions later in life. Parents revealed that the topics they wished their own parents had discussed with them were credit and financing, insurance, basic life budgeting skills, and investing. Using that as a baseline, it is suggested that these conversations begin early and become a central part of your relationship with your family.

Establish age-appropriate conversations and activities for your children. Here are some suggested age-appropriate methods. For young kids, you can make it fun, while also teaching them basic math skills. For children 6-10, help them understand the value of a dollar by creating ways for them to earn money. Once earned, they can decide how to spend and save money. Forgo the piggy bank and help them open a bank account. The earlier the better, because this is the new way of life and it is important for children to understand not only the value of a piece of paper, but the numbers on a screen. For pre-teens, help them learn budgeting for expenses such as activities with friends and extra-curricular. Give them allowances and see if it lasts. Introduce compounding interest and the importance of investing early. For late teens, teach about credit and the importance of maintaining good credit scores throughout life.

In addition to regular conversations and supporting strong habits, there are numerous online resources available for children and parents (provided below). It’s ok to not be an expert when it comes to finances. It is more important to instill an eagerness to learn within your children. That willingness to learn and grow will develop into great money habits and forge the way to a successful financial plan for your family. And as always, if you do not feel you have all the answers, please reach out to your financial advisor or a trusted source for more information. We are always here to help you and your families.

 

Resources:

-FDIC’s Money Smart for Young People (includes activities and resources for parents of all ages) https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/moneysmart/young.html
-Credit Card Insider https://www.creditcardinsider.com/learn/
-Stock Market Game https://www.howthemarketworks.com/
-Payback – Game to teach about student loan debt https://www.timeforpayback.com/
-Practical Money Skills (games/age-appropriate discussions for children) http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/learn/life_events/family_life/educating_your_children

MC Stories – Set it and Forget it

That sound you heard earlier in April, all across America, was the clattering of knives and letter-openers, dropped to the floor by retirement age investors staring at their quarter-end 401(k) statements. What had gone wrong with their “set it and forget it” investment plan?

The “set it and forget it” rhyming aphorism is one among of a bounty of rhymes that give our brains an easy path to perceived truth. These easy paths are known as heuristics, where one might take a shortcut to an answer — when time or interest or resources do not allow for a deeper dive. The first one we all learned was, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Later, on the golf course we were told, “Drive for show, putt for dough”.

This tendency to view rhyming statements as more truthful is known as the Keats Heuristic, a term coined by two psychologists in a 1999 academic paper.* The term is drawn from Keats’ poem Ode on a Grecian Urn ,** wherein Keats concludes, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” — where a prettier image or prettier language is perceived to be truer. Academic studies have shown that where two phrases possess similar meanings, a rhyming one will be perceived as
carrying more truth:

“Woes unite foes” is an easier path to the brain than “Woes unite enemies”.

“What society conceals, alcohol reveals” trumps “What society conceals, alcohol unmasks”.

Obviously, this cognitive bias has not gone unnoticed by politicians and corporate marketers. General Eisenhower’s Presidential campaign slogan was “I like Ike”. And before it went out of business in 2019, the Thomas Cook Travel Company’s catchphrase was “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it”….All of which leads us to the phrase the financial press has often used to describe Target Date mutual funds: “Set it and forget it.”

Target Date funds (TDF) are most often employed in retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans, where the investor aligns his or her TDF with an expected retirement date. For example, an investor who turned 45 in the year 2000 might have chosen a “2020 Target Date Fund” — 2020 being the anticipated year of age 65 retirement. A fund such as this would begin with a high allocation to the stock market in the early years, and then taper that equity allocation in favor of bonds as the expected retirement year approached. To quote Investopedia: “ The asset allocation of a target-date fund thus gradually grows more conservative as the target date nears and risk tolerance falls. Target-date funds offer investors the convenience of putting their investing activities on autopilot in one vehicle.”

A December 15, 2018 article on MarketWatch offered these comments on Target Date funds: “A good deal of the money in 401(k) accounts is ending up in target-date funds. In fact, more than half of 401(k) accounts hold 100% of their assets in target-date funds, according to third-quarter data from Fidelity Investments. Target-date fund are investments tailored to an individual account holder’s age and retirement year. It’s essentially a ‘set it and forget it’ strategy because the fund will automatically rebalance itself to align with the investor’s age.”

All that sounds good, but many “set it and forget it” investors retiring this year were shocked to see that their 2020 Target Date Fund was not really “conservative”. According to an April 9th Bloomberg News article, the three largest TDF providers — Vanguard, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price — each had half or more of their TDF 2020 allocation in stocks. T. Rowe Price, at 55% equities, had the highest allocation, and the fund’s return from February 20th to March 20th was a loss of 23%. The loss figures have diminished somewhat in the intervening market rally, but the risk is that when a retiree sees his or her portfolio drop by almost a quarter, there is a panic moment when some retirees will (and some certainly did) cash out and lock in their losses. Had these funds been on a truly more conservative glidepath, the less extreme losses would more likely have kept the otherwise panicked investors in the game.

Even if it does rhyme, there is a certain inadequacy to any “set it and forget it” mentality, particularly when considering how complex and fast-paced the world has become. We see governments and Central Banks attempting new, and radical, responses to economic problems. Just so, thoughtful re-evaluation in the face of changing circumstances should be a part of anyone’s financial plan.

It really is incumbent upon investors to think about (or hire an advisor to help take that deeper dive as to) where we are in economic cycles. While there will always be a divergence of opinion about the future, it is a fact that the U.S. stock market coming into 2020 had had a 10-year bull market, the longest on record. And, as cycles actually do occur, one would have observed the above fact and might have reduced equity allocations — certainly on the eve of retirement and the phasing out of a full paycheck.

Bottom Line: When it comes to investing for retirement, the Keats Heuristic just isn’t realistic.

 

* https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304422X99000030
** https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44477/ode-on-a-grecian-urn

MC Stories – Gen Z’s American Dream

For most 20th century Americans, the goal was, have a house with a white picket fence, two kids and a dog named Spot. For their future, they imagined flying cars and holographic images, something you would see in a sci-fi film. For those born between the years of 1997-2015, known as Generation Z, the idea of the “American Dream” has completely evolved from what their parents and ancestors imagined as their measure of success. Today young adults experience a level of connectivity that influences their purchases, investment decisions, and overall interpretation of wealth. Holographic images are a reality, but video calls just seem to be more practical.

Technology Age

The way we communicate has come a long way from the ever famous, “You’ve Got Mail.” While email is still the most prominent form of communication in many professional settings, Millennials and, even more so, Generation Z use text messages and direct messaging as their primary form of communication. Platforms like Twitter have championed the distribution of information in bite-size formats like short passages, videos, and GIFs (brief collages of images and/or text). The rapid-fire of information impacts many decisions being made by young adults, whether they are aware of it or not. Furthermore, the demand for up-to-date information is even higher and affects businesses in all industries. There is now a generation that is not only concerned with their personal style and brand but also the cost to bring their vision to life.

Financial Literacy

Generation Z is regarded as more financially savvy than their big sibling Millennials. Since they were born to Generation X parents, comprised of the do-it-yourself “latch-key kids,” they were raised with the philosophy that nothing will be handed to them. Do your own research and make your own way is the mentality of Gen X. Sometimes the best-orchestrated plan does not work, and you need to have contingencies. That imprint from their parents is what birthed the determined and opinionated Generation Z. They view the world through their personal lens and that of their parents, who have experienced multiple market crashes and withering retirement savings. Gen X parents went to four-year colleges and got the well-paying job (then came the dotcom bubble) and moved out to the suburbs (just before the housing crisis) to start a family. They checked all the boxes in the American Dream checklist and still came up short on the scale of financial security. So, what does that mean for Generation Z?

Wealth Transformation

While previous generations caught on gradually, young adults today make swift moves to take control of their future. These adults have the option of being an “Influencer” as a full-time occupation, which essentially means being a celebrity of social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Generation Z has harnessed the demand for instant communication by sharing their opinions on everything over the internet. Coupled with the famous marketing and advertising revenue that businesses have generated for decades, you have yourself a cash cow. There is a level of investment that young adults are putting into themselves that was unheard of for earlier generations. If you can take out a personal loan for an iPhone, ring light, and the aesthetic backdrop of a performing artist’s dressing room, you may be better off now than someone who invested $200,000 in post-graduate education. Both roads are a path to potential success, but the value of success is dependent on the individual.

In Conclusion…

The metrics measure of success is different for every person. Generation Z is not immune to the feelings of financial insecurity, not measuring up to the success of their peers and having doubts about their future. Those feelings are a part of every generation’s coming- of- age story. The important part is to gain awareness along the way. Generation Z was set up for success in the sense that financial literacy is much more prevalent today. Tools to improve daily living or “life hacks” are readily available in a five-minute YouTube video, instead of an eight-week course. Education about how to protect your assets and ensure that you are growing your financial buckets with purpose are all tools that young adults already have in their knowledge bank. The final piece is living a healthy life with enjoyment and purpose. That means: Build bonds that deepen relationships with family and friends. Set goals with your circle and execute them so that the whole group improves their quality of life in this generation and the next. Please stay tuned for future articles about the impact that our culture has on the financial decisions of young adults and future investors.