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Your financial plan is solid, you’ve even set aside a rainy day fund. Now what? How do you invest well? Get a better understanding of investing with ETFs, asset allocation, rebalancing, and tax-optimization strategies.



The Illusion of Stock-Picking Skill

I first visited a Wall Street firm in 1984. I was there with my longtime collaborator Amos Tversky, who died in 1996, and our friend Richard Thaler, now a guru of behavioral economics. Our host, a senior investment manager, had invited us to discuss the role of judgment biases in investing. I knew so little about finance at the time that I had no idea what to ask him, but I remember one exchange. “When you sell a stock,” I asked him, “who buys it?” He answered with a wave in the vague direction of the window, indicating that he expected the buyer to be someone else very much like him. That was odd: because most buyers and sellers know […]

Even Warren Buffett Prefers Index Funds

In last year’s Berkshire Hathaway annual report and shareholder letter Warren Buffett caused quite a stir by suggesting that upon his demise the assets he was leaving his wife, in trust, should be invested in index funds (see “Warren Buffett: ‘Investing Advice For You–And My Wife,’” “Will Warren Buffett’s investment advice work for you?,” “Warren Buffett’s 90-10 Rule of Thumb for Retirement Investing,” or “The Warren Buffett Guide to Retirement Investing“). The primary reason for the hubbub was probably the contradiction it represented in coming from Mr. Buffett. An endorsement of index investing from the man who is thought of as one of the greatest stock pickers of all time seemed to fly in the face of all that Buffett […]

Attempting to Maximize Your Return Isn’t Always a Good Thing

I am often asked “why shouldn’t I always choose the highest risk portfolio if it’s expected to generate the highest return?” That seems like a very reasonable question. In fact if everyone were rational they should choose the highest risk portfolio for exactly this reason. Unfortunately, very few people are rational. Chasing Returns Will Hurt You As our chief investment officer Burt Malkiel pointed out in Investors’ Most Serious Mistake, individual investors tend to chase returns. In other words they invest after markets have risen and sell when they decline. The chart below illustrates this behavior.                 As you can see cash flows into mutual funds when markets are up and are withdrawn […]

What Long-Term Return Should I Expect?

One of the most common questions posed to our client services team is “What is the expected long-term rate of return I can assume if I invest in a diversified portfolio?” Based on return estimates derived from the market (not Wealthfront’s opinion), an optimally diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds is expected to generate an annual long-term pre-tax  return of 4% – 6%, depending on how much risk you are willing to tolerate. It should be noted that the returns achieved over the past two years were much higher, but as you know past returns are not indicative of future returns. Returns Are Almost Impossible to Predict Some of you might be disappointed with this expected long-term return. I wish it […]

Minimize Your Investment Taxes

Our Chief Investment Officer, Burt Malkiel, famed author of “A Random Walk Down Wall Street,” has spent the past 40 years explaining that investors can’t control the market, so they should focus their efforts on the three investment tactics within their control: Diversify and rebalance your portfolio Minimize fees Minimize taxes Previously, we published posts on the value of diversification and minimizing fees. However, too often the industry avoids talking about one of the most important aspects of maximizing your long-term investment results: minimizing taxes. The Seven Ways to Minimize Taxes There are seven ways Wealthfront can significantly reduce your investment taxes: Using Index Funds Rebalancing your portfolio with dividends Applying different asset allocations for taxable & retirement accounts Tax–loss […]

There’s No Need to Fear Stock Market Corrections

Individual investors react very poorly to stock market corrections. Many individual investors sell when the market declines out of fear it will never come back. The data, which we will present in this post, actually says the opposite. Not only will the market come back, but it will do so a lot sooner than you might think. As you can see from the chart below, over the past 50 years there have been 14 market corrections and 11 bear markets. The industry standard definition of a market correction is a peak-to-trough decline of at least 10% and the definition of a bear market is a peak-to-trough decline of at least 20%. For the purpose of this analysis we rounded up […]

Fees Can Destroy Your Return

In an environment where a diversified portfolio is only expected to return on the order of 6% annually, any fees will have a significant impact on your outcome. In the same way that investing for the long-term takes advantage of the power of compounding, the regular or recurring fees you pay reduces the overall potential of your portfolio. To illustrate the point, here’s an example from the SEC on its own fee fact sheet: If you invested $10,000 in a fund that produced a 10% annual return before expenses and had annual operating expenses of 1.5%, then after 20 years you would have roughly $49,725. But if the fund had expenses of only 0.5%, then you would end up with […]

You Can’t Get Access to the Best Alternative Assets

One of the services most frequently touted by private wealth managers is their ability to provide access to outstanding alternative assets like hedge funds. Unfortunately very few private wealth managers have access to the hedge funds that are worth the fees. Of course, that won’t stop them from promising you the best and delivering poor alternatives. That’s why David Swensen, Yale’s Chief Investment Officer and the man most identified with employing alternative assets, essentially says in the introduction to his groundbreaking book Pioneering Portfolio Management, that if you can access premier alternative assets like hedge funds, you should, but it’s highly unlikely that you can, so you shouldn’t. Understanding Risk and Reward As we have explained many times in this blog, […]

The Stock-Pickers’ Market Myth

Earlier this month, Barron’s ran a cover story that made the case that 2015 was likely to be a “stock pickers’ market.” Active portfolio managers were expected to “recapture their lost glory” as interest rates were predicted to rise. Unfortunately, we have heard similar claims at the start of every year. In early 2014 The Wall Street Journal ran an article predicting that 2014 would be a stock pickers’ market as the correlation between the S&P 500® index and its component stocks was declining. Indeed, in every year one can find similar predictions for the year ahead. Money managers have a number of clichés they use to promote their high-priced services, and “stock pickers’ market” is one of their favorites. […]