This past week featured the 2011 FPA NorCal regional conference. Pulling over 600 attendees, don’t let the “regional” label fool you – the event is on par with any national financial planning conference! The opening general session event featured Neel Kashkari, currently a managing director with PIMCO, and former chief of the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) for the Federal government. Here are the highlights… as captured on the #FPANorCal twitter hashtag!Read More…
This past week was the NAPFA 2011 National Conference in Salt Lake City. Pulling almost 500 attendees from across the country, it’s one of the top financial planning events of the year. Unfortunately, though, many did not have the time or opportunity to attend the conference. The good news, however, is that a growing cadre of Twitter users “live-Tweeted” the conference for all to enjoy, using the #NAPFA11 hash tag. So for those of you who missed the conference, here’s a quick synopsis of the entire 3-day conference from start to finish… from those who Tweeted it!
In the standard framework of portfolio management, changing a client’s exposure to risk is essentially analogous to changing their overall exposure to risk assets. Want conservative growth? Invest in a portfolio with 40% equities and 60% fixed. Want a more moderate growth portfolio? Increase to 60% equities. More aggressive growth? Allocate your portfolio further towards an equity tilt. At its core, the proposition is pretty straightforward: increase your overall portfolio allocation increasingly towards risk assets to increase the overall risk (and hopefully, return) profile of the portfolio. But what if there was another way to increase overall risk? What if, rather than increasing overall risk by adding a little risk to the whole portfolio, the risk was increased by adding a lot of volatility to a very small portion of the money?
As the terms "being tactical" or "tactical asset allocation" become increasingly popular, more and more advisors now must decide whether they, too, are "tactical" or not when describing their investment process and philosophy to current and prospective clients. Traditionally, the dividing line was simply whether one was active or passive, a determination that could be made pretty clearly by looking at the portfolio: were there a bunch of actively traded stocks and bonds, or a series of actively managed mutual funds that did the same thing? With tactical, though, it’s no longer sufficient to simply look at whether there are stocks and bonds in the portfolio, or actively managed mutual funds; instead, some tactical investors implement their strategies by selecting only passive index funds, but still utilize them in an active, tactical process. Which begs the question: where exactly do you draw the line on being tactical?Read More…
Rebalancing is a investing staple of the financial planning world. The execution of a rebalancing strategy helps to ensure that the client’s asset allocation does not drift too far out of whack, as without such a process a portfolio holding multiple investments with different returns would eventually lead to a portfolio that increasingly favors the highest return investments due to compounding. Yet in practice, most financial planners often discuss rebalancing not only as a risk-reduction strategy (by ensuring that higher-return higher-volatility assets do not drift to excessive allocations), but also as a return-enhancing strategy. However, in reality, there is nothing inherent about rebalancing that would be anticipated to generate higher returns… unless you get the market timing right.
For many planners, passive and strategic investment management is the way to go. As such planners often point out, the evidence is mixed at best that any money manager can ever consistently generate alpha by outperforming their appropriate benchmark. Accordingly, as those planners advocate, the best path is to minimize investment costs as much as possible (since we know expenses we don’t pay is more money we keep in our pockets), and investment allocation changes should only occur via a regular rebalancing process. Yet rebalancing does not always improve your returns; sometimes, it actually reduces future wealth. So if you try to come up with a “passive” rebalancing strategy that only enhances returns and doesn’t ever reduce them… does that mean you’re actually being active after all?
The debate about which is better – passive versus active investing – has been around for a long time. But in a world of pooled investment vehicles, especially with such a breadth of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), there are technically two levels on which decisions must be made: within the funds, and amongst the funds. Consequently, to describe the approach of an investment advisor, we should ultimately describe the process at both levels, to make clearer distinctions. For instance, are you strategically passive, or would strategically active be a better description. Wait, strategically active? What does THAT mean!?
With the financial crisis of 2008-2009, some planners appear to be considering – if not adopting – a somewhat more active approach. Unfortunately, though, for many planners any investment strategy that is not purely passive and strategic must be equated to “market timing” – a pejorative term. Yet the planners who have implemented some form of tactical asset allocation generally do not call themselves market timers; they recoil at the term as much as passive, strategic investors do. So where do you draw the line… what IS the difference between being “tactical” and being a “market timer”? In truth, it seems that once you dig under the hood, the differences are nuanced, but they are many, and significant.
Once again the charge of being a “market timer” is being hurled at active portfolio managers in a recent discussion thread initiated by Bob Veres on Financial-Planning.com. The term itself seems to get planners into such a tizzy, though, while the actual definition of what constitutes “market timing” is unclear at best; perhaps a new definition of market timing is in order. To say the least, the most common definition of market timing, the one that implies that market timers are similar to “retail” day-traders willing to take their portfolios to extreme asset allocations based on their very short-term predictions of future market behavior, is badly in need of an upgrade.
In a world where retirement planning is increasingly about not only the accumulation phase towards retirement, but the distribution phase in retirement, financial planners must deal with the practical realities of generating retirement cash flows for clients. And although most of us may have some policies in our practices about how we generate cash flows for clients, do any of us actually have a written withdrawal policy statement in place to determine the appropriate tactics and strategies for each particular client?