Many people I meet believe it is too late investing. Men and women, young and old. Bull market or bear market. They feel they have missed the boat or believe they are too old or that stocks are too expensive or, worse, are convinced they don’t have enough money. Add to that most people don’t feel proficient in investing or believe they simply don’t have the time.
Here is what I tell them: If Stephanie Mucha and Ronald Read could amass a fortune, so can you.
Stephanie Mucha died in December of 2018 at age 101. Her first investment was made with her husband: 50 shares of Medtronic at $5.11 a share. They held the stock for 26 years, along the way accumulating shares, reinvesting dividends and enjoying the occasional stock split until the value of their $255 investment totaled $459,000.
Still, it wasn’t until five years after her husband’s death in 1985 and Stephanie was 57 that she began managing the portfolio. She weathered bear markets and bull markets, and because she retired from nursing in 1993, she added to her investment portfolio on a fixed income. Before she died, Stephanie gave away $5 million.
Ronald Read worked as a janitor at JC Penney and as a gas station attendant for most of his adult life. When he died in 2014 at age 92, he had amassed an $8 million fortune. How? He bought blue-chip companies that pay a dividend, and, importantly, grow the dividend – what I refer to as “stocks to own for a lifetime.” And Read had the discipline to hold those stocks and add to them during the multiple corrections and bear markets he endured over his lifetime.
Neither Stephanie Mucha nor Ronald Read ever made a lot of money or had formal training as an investor or cut bait when the market declined. They knew what all long-term investors know: Over the long term, stocks can produce significant wealth.
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Consider the following:
• According to Professor Jeremy Siegel, author of “Stocks for the Long Run,” stocks have “never given investors a negative real (after inflation) return over a 20-year horizon.” His work also shows that since 1871, the median return for stocks over every rolling 30-year period is over 9%.
• The great investor Peter Lynch once said: “Everyone has the brain power to follow the stock market. If you made it through fifth-grade math, you can do it.” Lack of training shouldn’t keep you on the sidelines. Buy great companies; buy what you know.
• Retirement is 20 years of unemployment. Stocks provide a hedge against inflation even when the inevitable bear market arrives. With the real 10-year Treasury yield at 0.20%, bonds could be riskier than stocks over the next 20 years.
Investors are a little jittery with global interest rates dropping like a stone and trade tensions filling the headlines. But Stephanie Mucha and Ronald Read understood that buying stocks to own for a lifetime is a strategy to employ during up markets and down markets. And they accumulated the millions to prove it.
Parents can use ETFs to help their kids by Investing in RESPs
Parents, here’s a task to add to your back to school to-do list: Check the registered education savings plan you set up for your children’s college or university costs to see whether you have the right mix of investments.
As the father of two twentysomething university grads, I’m an RESP veteran. One of the lessons I learned is that running an RESP portfolio is like managing a registered retirement savings plan, but sped up. You might have a span of 30 to 40 years over which you have to adjust the mix of investments in an RRSP. You have roughly half that much time with an RESP, if we assume a child starts a postsecondary education at age 18.
What investments to use? I had a mix of ETFs and GICs for the most part. A query from a reader with a six-year-old daughter reminded me how there’s an even simpler solution available today. “I wonder what stocks, mutual funds, guaranteed investment certificates or a basket of these to buy and hold for the next 11 years for her,” this reader asked. My suggestion: Use a balanced exchange-traded fund, a deservedly hot new product that gives you a fully diversified portfolio in a single package you buy through an online broker.
The big names in balanced ETFs are Bank of Montreal, BlackRock’s iShares lineup, Horizons and Vanguard. Each offers a range of funds with different mixes of stocks and bonds. For RESPs, you could go with a balanced ETF that is all or mostly stocks at the beginning, shift into a more balanced fund at the start of high school and then lock down the money into a GIC ladder or an investment savings account in the final year of high school (or earlier if you’re so inclined).
With a six-year-old, this reader still has time to go with an aggressive balanced ETF. Examples include the Vanguard Growth ETF Portfolio (VGRO), the BMO Growth ETF (ZGRO) and the iShares Core Growth ETF Portfolio (XGRO), all with a rough weighting of 80 per cent in stocks and 20 per cent in bonds. Expect fees in the range of between 0.2 per cent and 0.25 per cent, which is quite low.
Each of these ETF companies offers more conservative options this dad could look at when his daughter attends high school. For example, the Vanguard Balanced ETF (VBAL) has a 60-40 mix of stocks and bonds, while the conservative version of this lineup – the Vanguard Conservative ETF Portfolio (VCNS) – reverses that with a 40-60 mix of stocks and bonds.
Check your child’s RESP and see how it stacks up against the simplicity and cheap fees of a balanced ETF. I wish I had them when I was managing an RESP.
How to Invest if recession is coming
Business investment and consumer confidence are taking a hit due to the growing economic jitters and uncertainty over the ongoing trade war with China. An important bond market recession warning – known as an inverted yield curve – is spooking investors. And policymakers are actively taking steps to bolster the economy, such as the Federal Reserve’s recent decision to lower short-term borrowing costs. The Trump administration is even mulling a payroll tax cut to avert a downturn.
A question I’m often asked as a finance professor and a CFA charterholder is what should people do with their money when the economy is slowing or in a recession, which typically causes riskier assets like stocks to decline. Fear causes many people to run for the hills.
But the short answer, for most investors, is the exact opposite: Stick to your long-term plan and ignore day-to-day market fluctuations, however frightening they may be. Don’t take my word for it. The tried and true approach of passive investing is backed up by a lot of evidence.
Most of us have money at risk
While we usually associate investing with hotshot Wall Street investors and hedge funds, the truth is most of us have a stake in financial markets and their ups and downs. About half of American families own stocks either directly or through institutional investment vehicles like mutual funds.
Most of the invested wealth average Americans hold is managed by professional investors who look after it for us. But the continued growth of defined contribution plans like 401(k)s – which require people to make choices about where to put their money – means their financial security increasingly depends on their own investment decisions.
Unfortunately, most people are not good investors. Individual investors who trade stocks underperform the market – and passive investors – by a wide margin. The more they trade, the worse they do.
One reason is because the pain of losses is about twice as strong as the pleasure of gains, which leads people to act in counterproductive ways. When faced with a threatening situation, our instinctive response is often to run or fight. But, like trying to outrun a bear, exiting the market after suffering losses is not a good idea. It often results in selling at low prices and buying higher later, once the market stress eases.
The good news is you don’t need a Ph.D. in finance to achieve your investment goals. All you need to do is follow some simple guidelines, backed by evidence and hard-earned market wisdom.
First of all, don’t make any rash moves because of the growing chatter about recession or any wild gyrations on Wall Street.
If you have a solid investment plan in place, stick to it and ignore the noise. For everyone else, it’s worth going through the following checklist to help ensure you’re ready for any storm on the horizon.
- Define clear, measurable and achievable investment goals. For example, your goal might be to retire in 20 years at your current standard of living for the rest of your life. Without clear goals, people often approach the path to getting there piecemeal and end up with a motley collection of investments that don’t serve their actual needs. As baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
- Assess how much risk you can take on. This will depend on your investment horizon, job security and attitude toward risk. A good rule of thumb is if you’re nearing retirement, you should have a smaller share of risky assets in your portfolio. If you just entered the job market as a 20-something, you can take on more risk because you have time to recover from market downturns.
- Diversify your portfolio. In general, riskier assets like stocks compensate for that risk by offering higher expected returns. At the same time, safer assets such as bonds tend to go up when things are bad, but offer much lower gains. If you invest a big part of your savings in a single stock, however, you are not being compensated for the risk that the company will go bust. To eliminate these uncompensated risks, diversify your portfolio to include a wide range of asset classes, such as foreign stocks and bonds, and you’ll be in a better position to endure a downturn.
- Don’t try to pick individual stocks, identify the best-performing actively managed funds or time the market. Instead, stick to a diversified portfolio of passively managed stock and bond funds. Funds that have done well in the recent past may not continue to do so in the future.
- Look for low fees. Future returns are uncertain, but investment costs will certainly take a bite out of your portfolio. To keep costs down, invest in index funds whenever possible. These funds track broad market indices like the Standard & Poor’s 500 and tend to have very low fees yet produce higher returns than the majority of actively managed funds.
- Continue to make regular contributions to your investments, even during a recession. Try to set aside as much as you can afford. Many employers even match all or some of your personal retirement contributions. Unfortunately, most Americans are not saving enough for retirement. One in 4 Americans enrolled in employer-sponsored defined contribution plans does not save enough to get the employer’s full match. That’s like letting your employer keep part of your salary.
- There’s one exception to my advice about standing pat. Let’s suppose your long-term plan calls for a portfolio with 50% in U.S. stocks, 25% in international stocks and 25% in bonds. After U.S. stocks have a good run, their weight in the portfolio may increase a lot. This changes the risk of your portfolio. So about once a year, rebalance your portfolio to match your long-term allocation targets. Doing so can make a big difference in performance.
Always keep in mind your overall investment plan and focus on the long-term goals of your portfolio. Many market declines that were scary in real time look like small blips on a long-term chart.
In the long run, this approach is likely to produce better results than trying to beat the market – which even pros tend to have a hard time doing.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett demonstrated this by easily winning a bet that a simple S&P 500 index fund could beat a portfolio of hedge funds – supposedly the savviest investors out there, at least judging by the high fees they charge.
In the words of legendary investor Benjamin Graham: “The investor’s chief problem and even his worst enemy is likely to be himself.” Graham, who mentored Buffett, meant that instead of making rational decisions, many investors let their emotions run wild. They buy and sell when their gut – rather than their head – tells them to.
Trying to outsmart the market is akin to gambling and it doesn’t work any better than playing a lottery. Passive investing is admittedly boring but is a much better bet long-term.
But if you follow these guidelines and fasten your seatbelt, you’ll be able to ride out the current turbulence.
Investors pull $2.9bn from Invest in China
Investors pulled $2.9bn from funds that invest in China stock market in the month ending last Wednesday, as concerns over economic growth and tariffs weighed on Chinese shares.
The outflows from mutual funds and exchange traded funds that invest in China’s A-shares market were the sharpest since the start of 2017. Investors have now pulled $5.9bn from the funds since the start of the year, according to EPFR Global data.
The spectre of fresh tariffs on Chinese goods, underwhelming economic data and a weaker renminbi have pressured Chinese stocks and compounded concerns about a global slowdown, triggering a rush to safe assets like US government bonds.
“Markets have had a panic attack in August,” said Michael Kelly, global head of multi-asset for PineBridge Investments. “There is a confluence of uncertainty and it’s rattling all markets and you can see it’s impacting the China A-shares market, which has led to outflows.”
Growth in Chinese industrial output slowed to the lowest pace in 17 years according to July data released last week from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. The renminbi also weakened, falling through a key threshold of Rmb7 to the US dollar.
Meanwhile, trade tensions between the US and China intensified. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced that a new 10 per cent levy on $300bn of Chinese goods would take effect in September before delaying the tariff.
The outflows from China stock funds do not capture recent selling from emerging markets funds, many of which have a heavy weighting to China. In March, MSCI, the index provider, included Chinese stocks in its popular emerging markets benchmark, which is followed by about $1.9tn in assets.
BlackRock’s iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF, which is the largest fund of its type that tracks the popular index and represents $52.4bn in assets, has shed $2.6bn in assets over the past four weeks, according to Bloomberg data.
“Outflows from Chinese stocks are definitely on our radar,” said Dave Chapman, head of multi-asset portfolio management for Legal & General Investment Management America. “The depreciating currency, capital controls, the effects on profitability of Chinese companies — these issues are interrelated and can be a true tail risk.”
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