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Friday, February 23, 2018


I must confess at the outset to a bone-deep weariness of this pervasive myth.  It is dangerous.  It is ignorant.  It is inaccurate.  And, more importantly, it is self-destructive to the average investor. 
This myth compares quite aptly to racism and sexism, which are uneducated snap judgements of others based on sheer irrelevancies such as skin color and gender.  In the deep South a woman about to give birth may refuse the services of a black OB/GYN even though he is the best in town and even though his skin color is less relevant than the color of his shoes (it's easier to tell if white shoes are clean or dirty).  A brilliant marketing director may be passed over for a promotion simply because she is a woman in a good ole boy corporate network, to the detriment of the company.
I frequently am asked, "Do you sell [financial] products?" as if this is some magic passphrase to, in one fell swoop, assess my skill & virtue.  My answer is, "Of course I do.  All of them.  It is the only way to keep up on current innovations and features.  A great deal in the financial universe is not shared with the public nor is it shared in a timely manner.  I am beholden to no specific company or product or even type of product."  But somewhere the questioner read or heard that anyone who sells financial products is biased.  And it is true.  However, we are biased in favor of holistic plan construction and implementation.  What would you think if you invited a plumber to your house to put in a water heater and he brought no tools? Or water heater?
So I'm going to look at the various "adviser" types and show you that none are free of bias and conflict of interest.  None.  Keep in mind that most are genuinely honest, hardworking, highly educated and primarily concerned about improving your situation.
Fee-Only Advisers-  Well, "fee-only" can include % fees for assets under management (AUM) which, in my opinion, are really commissions.  The theory has been that as you do better your adviser does better.  But the converse is not true:  If you lose money, your adviser still does well.  Plus, the evidence is in that very few "managers" beat their unmanaged benchmarks.  None do it year after year.
Flat/Hourly Fee-Only Advisers-  The conflicts here should be obvious.  If you are paying a flat fee for a comprehensive plan and it turns out to be more work than the adviser expected then he may rush to finish.  Or not finish at all.  Conversely, there is great incentive for an hourly adviser to drag his feet and stretch out the engagement far longer than necessary.  I'm not saying this is common practice.  Not at all.  But it is a conflict of interest where the adviser's self-interest could subvert your best interests.
Commission Only Advisers- These could be life insurance agents, annuity agents, stock & mutual fund commissioned brokers and AUM brokers.  First the positive:  These folks are action oriented.  They will not allow you to take their plan and let it accumulate dust on a shelf somewhere.  Conflicts come in if they only work for one firm, specialize in only one product and/or don't have access to all financial products.  There may also be bias toward the highest commission products.  These conflicts and biases can be be minimized by the adviser providing evidence that the recommendations are the best he can find, thru side-by-side comparison.  You should also insist on evidence they are licensed fiduciaries.
"Free", Celebrity Advisers-  In their books, videos, radio & TV shows these "advisers" use a shotgun approach, scattering titillating financial tidbits that may or may not improve your situation.  Oddly, these are also the people who propagate irrelevant tests and evidence-free secret passcodes to sabotage their competition, the true professionals like myself.  They prey on our human tendency to wish hard choices were easy, as is the case when using skin color or gender to assess someone's virtue.  And, as entertainers, authors and "journalists" they are neither licensed nor regulated.  You can't look up their compliance history.

Having been in this business since 1978, I've experienced every type of compensation, all the way from being a salaried employee, through 100% commission to 100% hourly fee-only, to my current hybrid model described below  Here's the ideal structure I've settled on as being fair to me and, at the same time, in the best interest of my clients:
Fee Minus Only-  Never heard of it?  As far as I know, I'm the only one in Oregon with such a contract.  In a nutshell it says that I charge $250/hr. for a comprehensive planning process.  But if, as a result of implementing that plan, I receive 3rd party compensation then I reduce or refund the hourly fee, dollar-for-dollar.  What is the effect on you?
  1. You get the unbiased services of a holistic, fiduciary adviser who puts a great deal of work into learning about you and your situation, and, collaborating with you to improve it.
  2. I normally eliminate your risk of accumulating an unknown total fee by capping the number of hours for which I will charge.  This cap can't be changed without your written consent.
  3. If the best products and services for implementing your plan (and you're the one who chooses) pay compensation to me, then in effect a 3rd party ends up paying some or even all of your fee.  If the best products and/or services pay no 3rd party compensation, then I'm happy because I get paid well either way.  You're happy because your current and future costs are lower than with any other arrangement.
  4. Any and all conflicts are fully disclosed.
So yes, there are some key tests of whether an adviser will work for your best interests.  But they're not secret, they're not magic and they're not simple.  Here are the key questions to ask any adviser:
  1. Are you a legal fiduciary in this state?  How can I confirm that?
  2. What are your conflicts of interest?  "I don't have any" is the wrong answer.  Could you spell them out in writing?"
  3. Are you holistic?  If they are,they will use tools such as to learn about you as a whole person rather than an account balance.  Simply using a Risk Tolerance Questionnaire is woefully inadequate.
Hence, if you're not racist or sexist then work toward the same enlightenment when it comes to your finances.
Best Wishes Always,
Your Constructive Comments are Welcome!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Dow's Largest Percentage Drop in History is Significant

Well, it isn't.  I would love to use scare tactics to convince all my fence-sitters to finally move their money.  But I refuse to exploit the worst two investor motivators:  fear and greed.  What I do seek for my clients is happiness, lack of stress & confidence in their future ability to meet their budgets.
Yes, the 1100 point drop was the largest in history.  But as you can see, it's an insignificant blip if you look at the long term.  However, this "blip" is equal to the entire value of the index in 1984.  See today's chart below.
How did we go from 1100 in 1984 to 26,000 in 2018?  Inflation only triples the 1984 value.  So in 1984 dollars the DOW is at 8112.  So the actual average annual return, less inflation, is 6%/yr.  Yet even in this frothy market we have billionaire asset "managers" projecting 11% returns into the future.
Be that as it may, how did this magic happen?  Are there prices we have yet to pay for this exponential curve?  I think so.  The market, far from being efficient and transparent is instead rather blind and mute . . . and developmentally disabled.  It doesn't see much farther than the end of the next quarter and it is unable to tell us about the things it can't see.  And it will never change because too many people profit [temporarily] from this pathology.
The markets & economic metrics (like the GDP) quantify goods and "bads" equally.  And it shorts us on the economic impact of both.  If an arborist is hired by a city to plant a row of trees downtown, the amount he is paid adds to the GDP.  The services the trees subsequently provide (cleaner air, surface water management, increased property values, habitat, happier people) are neither quantified nor counted.  If Exxon destroys an entire ocean gulf with an oil spill, and toxic chemicals to diffuse the oil to hide it, the cost of cleanup adds to the GDP.  Most of the real costs of Exxon's carelessness are deferred to the future.
So my point is that that steep curve has come with a hefty price tag, to our health, wellbeing, communities and the environment.  We just don't know what the price is yet.  As our data collection and analysis continues to skyrocket, I think we will begin tabulating and quantifying those costs and that should lead to better and more immediate pricing of both goods and bads.  And that should level out the DJIA for good.
How will you be affected personally by all this?  What should you do now?  Wouldn't it be important to get some ideas?  Request a meeting with me at

Your Constructive Comments are Welcome!

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will boost 2018 economy

I don't know if this is a myth or not.  But I do know that piling on the Federal debt is an economy killer if done capriciously rather than as a recovery tool.  This time it's utterly capricious.
  • In anticipation of the trillion dollar manna from the Treasury that this bill will create, financial companies commit to lavish bonuses and raises for their employees, Hartford, Travelers, Money Concepts, Kingstone to name a few.  Will they share that largess in the form of premium decreases, higher interest crediting rates or less costly riders?  Will they warn their employees about the future higher taxes that will be necessary to keep the Treasury funded?  Does anyone recognize the key role the federal government plays in stimulating and stabilizing the economy?  Does anyone realize that these raises and bonuses are less than a drop in the ocean?  What do you think?
  • An expanded estate tax exemption ($22.4 mil. for a couple) will decrease the need for estate tax planning for most Americans.  So they'll be canceling, cashing in, or even selling expensive life insurance policies that were designed to pay the tax. 
    I mean what the heck.  If you're an only child, how could you possibly survive with less than $22,400,000?  It's wonderful that an American, regardless of merit, can acquire that kind of power by winning the ovarian lottery.  Isn't that why our forebears left Europe, with all its feckless kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, lords and ladies?
  • In a calculated stab at Blue states, the allowed deduction for state, local & property taxes will be capped at $10,000.  This will increase the outflow of federal taxes from states that are already donor states (pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits).

Your Constructive Comments are Welcome!