Managing Your Family’s Financial Affairs When You Are Not Able

Someone recently asked a question who will be able to help my family manage our financial affairs when I am no longer able?  This was a person who took the sole responsibility for managing his family’s financial affairs and was able to build not only a sizeable investment portfolio but also a retirement plan that allowed both he and his wife to potentially thrive during their retirement years.

When I first sit down to speak with prospective or current clients, they generally hear me talk about risk management and not investment management for a good portion of the initial conversation.  Usually risk management is what people don’t understand and if they do understand it, it is not a topic that they feel very comfortable talking about.

Even though it’s known that we will eventually pass on, death is not a topic that people like to talk about and who could blame anyone for that.  However, when it comes to being able to see your final wishes through to completion, protecting your family from a catastrophic financial event, or ensuring that your children are properly taken care for in your absent, wouldn’t you want to have a plan and somewhere there directing that plan on your behalf?

In this age of social media where it’s easier than ever to care or be outraged about something new every couple of days, people ought to give credence to what matters most to them and thus what they should care or focus their attention on.  This notion that I am referring to is what Josh Kaufman, author of the book The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business calls strategic apathy, “making a conscious, deliberate choice to not care about the forms of status that don’t lead us toward the fulfillment of our current priorities or long-term goals.”

So how do you make strategic apathy apart of your financial life?  This directly relates back to having a plan whether it is for your estate, insurance, or emergency planning needs.  All of these pieces are what I consider to be a part of the risk management phase of having a complete wealth management plan.  You spend the time in the area that you care the most about.  So you make a conscious decision to sit down with someone to:

  • Help draft the necessary estate documents that help dictate who would take care of your family should something happen to you;
  • Understanding how much protection you need from a financial standpoint to take care of liabilities and goals again if something should happen to you;
  • Or knowing how much you need in a liquid account to cover 3 to 6 months of living expenses.

The person that I reference earlier who asked who will help me if I am no longer able was strictly focused on only one aspect of his wealth management plan, the asset management piece and not the risk element.  He made sure that he was saving enough, controlling his family’s expenses, and working with someone who could help with individual investments and asset allocation decisions.  However, this gentleman left out one crucial piece, who would carry on after he was gone.

Don’t overlook the critical pieces of life that you need or should care about most, only to become distracted by the current social media events of the day. 

What does the movie Revenant have to do with the Stock Market?

What does the Revenant have to do with the Stock Market?

Who here doesn't like the upside of risky assets? Probably no one. It's likely that a fair amount of people during bull markets probably forget to consider that equities are risky investments. But then the horrible bear like the one straight out of the movie Revenant chews through a portfolio like it chewed through poor Leonardo DeCaprio (it was a very intense movie by the way).

How many of you can recall that some of the major U.S. stock market indices were down over 10% at some point this year and we are only in March?  Now how many of you know that most of those loses have now been made back up and again we are only in March?  It wasn't’t but a few weeks ago that recession talk was in full swing.  But guess what a 10% rally does to those thoughts, they tend to quietly go by the side until the next downswing occurs.

And while we think that the markets trade on company fundamentals, they are only one piece of the big picture.  Market sentiment has just as much to do with the performance of a market or individual stock than its fundamentals do.

If you didn’t react fast enough to this sudden snapback rally, you may be thinking that stocks are beginning to look expensive again.  At least that’s the view that we are taking.  I’ve looked at numerous company stocks that are now up 20% to 30% within the past 45 days.  Their fundamentals haven’t changed although their prices sure have.

This is one reason why it helps to remain calm during market turmoil which is hard because investing can be such an emotional battle.  Whenever my wife tells me to calm down guess what happens? The exact opposite. This is precisely why we never tell a client to remain calm while the value of their portfolio drops during a market correction. Research has proven that telling people to remain calm in a stressful situation has the opposite effect.

We have learned that one of the best way to combat these emotional forces is to have a handy list ready to go of companies that we would like to own at a specified price.  Simple as it sounds if the stock price hits our target we buy and if not we sit and wait until the next downturn.

Our main objective as asset managers to is help protect our clients’ asset first.  This is commonly referred to as capital preservation.  And while we try to beat our benchmark every year, we along with our clients know that some years we do beat it and some years we do not.  But we all have a game plan for what it is that we are trying to achieve.  Remember that achieving your long-term goals whether they be financial or some lifestyle goal, is driven more by how much you save and spend rather than by how much your investment returns are.

The market in many aspects is like the movie Revenant, there are rallies and then counter rallies with unexpected events occurring quite frequently.  But at the end of the day Leo had one goal in mind and nothing was going to keep him from it.  Be sure you know what your goals are and have an adaptable plan to achieve it.

What I Am Reading This Week

The Three Worst Words of Stock-Market Advice: Trust Your Gut (WSJ)

Angry Americans: How the 2008 Crash Fueled a Political Rebellion (Bloomberg)

'Costcoholics': Costco's $113.7 Billion Addicts (Forbes)

One Big Reason Your Life Is Harder (And Busier) Than It Has To Be (Mark & Angel Hack Life)

Workforce May Be Holding Back Growth (WSJ)

“It is always morning in America”; Highlights from Warren Buffet’s Annual Shareholder Letter

Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder letter is always a great read for both investors and non-investors.  The manner in which he writes his letters in plain English so that people can better understand them is a true skill.

One of my favorite Buffet quotes is "it is always morning in America."  So what does this mean?  Those familiar with the musical Anne might be able to relate to "the sun will come out tomorrow."  The point of both quotes is that despite the gloom and doom and no matter how bad things may appear to be, America has had a strong track record of recovering from her lows and pushing into new highs.

 “American GDP per capita is now about $56,000. As I mentioned last year that – in real terms – is a staggering six times the amount in 1930, the year I was born, a leap far beyond the wildest dreams of my parents or their contemporaries. U.S. citizens are not intrinsically more intelligent today, nor do they work harder than did Americans in 1930. Rather, they work far more efficiently and thereby produce far more. This all-powerful trend is certain to continue: America’s economic magic remains alive and well.”

“Though the pie to be shared by the next generation will be far larger than today’s, how it will be divided will remain fiercely contentious…. Congress will be the battlefield; money and votes will be the weapons. Lobbying will remain a growth industry.”

“For 240 years it’s been a terrible mistake to bet against America, and now is no time to start. America’s golden goose of commerce and innovation will continue to lay more and larger eggs. America’s social security promises will be honored and perhaps made more generous. And, yes, America’s kids will live far better than their parents did.”

“I told you how our partners at Kraft Heinz root out inefficiencies, thereby increasing output per hour of employment. That kind of improvement has been the secret sauce of America’s remarkable gains in living standards since the nation’s founding in 1776. Unfortunately, the label of “secret” is appropriate: Too few Americans fully grasp the linkage between productivity and prosperity.”

“The productivity gains…that have been achieved in America – have delivered awesome benefits to society. That’s the reason our citizens, as a whole, have enjoyed – and will continue to enjoy – major gains in the goods and services they receive.  To this thought there are offsets. First, the productivity gains achieved in recent years have largely benefitted the wealthy. Second, productivity gains frequently cause upheaval: Both capital and labor can pay a terrible price when innovation or new efficiencies upend their worlds.”

“A long-employed worker faces a different equation. When innovation and the market system interact to produce efficiencies, many workers may be rendered unnecessary, their talents obsolete. Some can find decent employment elsewhere; for others, that is not an option.”

“When low-cost competition drove shoe production to Asia, our once-prosperous Dexter operation folded, putting 1,600 employees in a small Maine town out of work. Many were past the point in life at which they could learn another trade. We lost our entire investment, which we could afford, but many workers lost a livelihood they could not replace. The same scenario unfolded in slow-motion at our original New England textile operation, which struggled for 20 years before expiring. Many older workers at our New Bedford plant, as a poignant example, spoke Portuguese and knew little, if any, English. They had no Plan B.”

“The solution, rather, is a variety of safety nets aimed at providing a decent life for those who are willing to work but find their specific talents judged of small value because of market forces. (I personally favor a reformed and expanded Earned Income Tax Credit that would try to make sure America works for those willing to work.) The price of achieving ever-increasing prosperity for the great majority of Americans should not be penury for the unfortunate.”

Last week I wrote about why people may believe that things are not better within the U.S.  I hope that readers will be able to tie the message from that article to these highlighted pieces from Buffet’s annual letter.  Despite America's trials and tribulations, I too like Warren Buffet would never bet against the U.S. or its people.

A new feature below (from which I have copied from some very successful financial writers i.e. Barry Ritholtz and Ben Carlson) is to list several articles that I believe readers would have an interest in.  While I would love to opine on many of the subjects covered in these great pieces, there is simply not the time.

Enjoy the reading and if you or someone that you know of would be interested in learning more, or is concerned with their current portfolio and what to expect in 2016, I would welcome the opportunity to arrange a meeting or a phone call.

What I Am Reading this Week

Keeping Anxious Thoughts at Bay (Harvard Business Review)

The US economy is getting better, but US workers are getting worse (Business Insider)

Ted Williams, Baseball’s First Quant (The Big Picture)

Harvard Studied People For 75 Years & Found That Happiness Comes From One Thing… (TED)

Why Some People Do Not Believe that the Economy is Better

While the economy may have improved since the Great Recession, there appears to be an increase in uncertainty.  A sea change of sorts has been overtaking the American Dream if you will.  Once upon a time it was merely a high school education that one needed to secure their spot within the middle class of America.  From there the road to a secure middle income life required a college degree but largely without the massive amounts of debt that today's generation is currently being saddled with.

But today there are still those that are stuck between these diverging roads to the middle class of America.  One of the reasons why so many people are caught in this economic transition is the rapid change within some industries. 

It was only a few decades ago where you could walk into any number of U.S. manufacturing locations and see people manually doing the work that robots are currently doing today.  What took the work of say 6 people to operate a manufacturing line now takes only a few.  However, the skill sets of the people remaining doing the work has changed drastically. 

Rather than doing the physical work that robots or other machines are performing today, the manufacturing worker of today needs to know how to repair the robot and how to make it run more efficiently.

This brings me back to the current political scene.  Opposite the message of “hope” that President Obama ran on in 2008, The current batch of Presidential candidates seem to be running on the message of “fear.”  The politicians try to stress upon the structural challenges that have occurred within America and the long-term economic uncertainty that it has brought to so many Americans caught within these transitory cycles.

The popularity of anti-establishment candidates such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can flame the political fires of Americans who feel left behind and disenfranchised by the rebound in the American economy that has helped to create a larger divide between those that have and those that have not. 

Professor Scott Galloway of the NYU Stern School of Business has stated that it has never been easier to become a billionaire in the U.S. while it has never been harder to become a millionaire.  How is this so? 

Think of the millennial software tycoons who have built companies such as Facebook, Pandora, Uber, or any other software that you likely use on a daily basis.  These innovative disrupters are also the same people who help to fuel the great divide.  Consider Facebook, they employee a fraction of the people that say Ford Motor employees but with having a market valuation of 6 times Ford.  Many of those people working at Ford could not work at Facebook.  Thus this is one of the factors that have driven the structural changes.

However, what we continue to need is more innovation and not less.  We need more disrupters who will create the companies that generate jobs that stay in America that will help to continue to support a middle class that most nations can only dream of.

The economy as a whole is much better today than it was 7 years ago.  However, that does not mean that all individuals are much better today than they were 7 years ago.  The structural changes that occur within every generation does not bring every American along no matter how hard it tries.

Although there will always be challenges, what America needs now is a message about solutions to those challenges and not a message of fear that most politicians seem to be giving out today.

Jessica Shortall: The US needs paid family leave — for the sake of its future