14 April 2012

Advisor Rankings - treat with caution

Barron's Magazine regularly publishes a list of  'Top Financial Advisors'. While this list covers only US-based advisors it creates more questions than it answers. First of all it should be no surprise that there is more than a hint of self-promotion as advisors apply to have their performance reviewed by the magazine. While we value Barron's highly and enjoy reading it for more than 45 years (We hope our age is not frightening readers away) the editors are faced with a major problem when tackling the question of actual investment performance - not performance as measured by assets under management (or advice). The latter measure is used by Barron's as a proxy for good performance - more assets should normally be a sign that the advisor is doing a good job. But there are limitations to this imputed correlation and investors would be well advised to have a look behind the glitz and glamour of a good marketing presentation and have a close - and impartial - look at the performance, risk and fee levels associated with any investment advisor they entrust some part of their investment funds to. On a closing note we can but admire the superhuman skills of some of the advisors listed as they seem to be able to handle 1,000 and more accounts. In that respect they really deserve a 'top' rating (Honi soit qui mal y pense, as the Queen would say)

7 April 2012

Model portfolios - not perfect but better than alternatives

While the use of model portfolios by financial advisers may not be the best solution for all investors they often are a better choice than alternative solutions that are tailored to fit the particular needs of an investor. Asking about the past performance of the model portfolio allows to compare the achievements of each investment firm. After an investment has been made the investor can easily compare the performance of the portfolio and benchmark it against alternatives. If investors demand that their financial advisor contructs a portfolio that is subject to many constraints (risk tolerance for example) they will not be able to hold their advisor to account and properly measure his investment performance.

5 April 2012

How safe is your money?

Bankruptcies of major financial firms Lehman and MF Global have left a sour taste in the mouth as supposedly segregated customer/client money was exposed to grave risks or even lost. Banks may have difficulty keeping track of a myriad of transactions that routinely cross their busy desks but investors should be aware that securities they think they own are nothing else but electronic digits in some distant computer.

What returns can you expect from stock investments?

The experts argue about the return that investors can expect to earn from investments in common stock. Research studies cover a period of nearly 200 years but even in the markets that have been subjected to the most careful analysis - the USA and the UK - the results are hotly disputed. But whatever the numbers may be - anything between 5 and 10 percent before inflation may be plausible - investing in shares is fraught with high risks for the ordinary mortals. The stock market is to a large extent a machine to enrich the selling insiders - current IPO plans are a good example. The German Banker Fuerstenberg said nearly 100 years ago - shareholders are stupid and insolent, stupid because they buy the shares in the first place and insolent because they even expect a dividend. That said, there are always great opportunities to profit from mistakes that 'Mr Market' makes, but to profit from them you have to be 100pct dedicated to the stock market game in order not to be fleeced.

Who protects the investors?

When reading that the justice authorities in the Swiss canton of Ticino have completed their investigation into the bankruptcy of Sogevalor, a financial advisory firm that went out of business in 2004 (!) one has to ask who - if anyone - is really protecting investors from fraud and malpractice. Those responsible for Sogevalor's demise - and the alleged fraud that cost investors up to Sfr 130 million - have not even been charged and may well escape any formal prosecution. Even under most optimistic assumptions a court case could be a protracted procedure - especially when a lengthy appeal process is adopted. By that time quite a few of the investors - and maybe even those eventually found responsible - may no longer be in this world. The lesson from this and similar cases should be: BUYER BEWARE! Investors should only part with their money after careful investigation. A clear separation of the safekeepking (custodial) function and the investment advisory role would be the optimal solution we recommend.

Target-date funds no panacea for retirement saving

Are they just a marketing gimmick? (Reuters)

Do not put too much faith into investment gurus!

The only information you should rely on is your common sense, your own investment research or investment advisers with a strong track record that pass a thorough due diligence process. Beware of investment gurus in the media or the finance profession.