As the owner of a registered investment advisory firm, I spend a lot of time examining decisions made and advice promulgated in the past to see how it worked out, looking for clues to try to improve our methods in the future. No one is perfect, and as I always say, nothing can replace a disciplined rules-based system of portfolio management.
In writing articles for the Sun, I try to share the principles used in real life management of money for clients in a general sense that a reader can consider for their own financial and investment decisions. For that reason, I like to look back to see how we did in offering this basic, general advice over the last year. I must say I'm pleased with the fact there aren't any big mistakes requiring me to develop a taste for "crow." Generally, our middle of the road approach to decision making appears to have been reasonably good, but you can be the final judge.
Following the now infamous "flash crash" in May of 2010, when program trading caused major stock indexes to plummet about 10 percent instantly and then mostly recover the losses within about 20 minutes, I wrote an article advising investors to "expect uncertainty" as it is really the only constant in life and investing. While we didn't really need that advice for a while, when the Japanese earthquake and tsunami occurred earlier this year, the reminder that the future is uncertain was a good one to help to avoid an overreaction and bad decision making.
By June 2010, the nervousness of the flash crash and a market overdue for a pause led to the first decline of over 10 percent for stock prices since the new bull market had begun in March of 2009. Our advice – the correction was normal and investors should use the opportunity to buy for potential gains despite the fact the market could go lower before making higher ground. In hindsight, I hope you took that advice to stay in an appropriate asset allocation despite all the media hype of doom and gloom at the time – you are wealthier today if you did.
In late September 2010, I advised that there were "cracks in the municipal bond market," and that diversification would be very important for investors in these tax-free income vehicles. I got really lucky with that one! I had no idea, nor was I predicting the dramatic decline which would hit the municipal bond market in November and December. Prices dropped about 10 percent or more for many bonds, which is a large drop for these usually conservative securities.
This is a great illustration of the luck which goes along with predictions. I find the subjective prediction process bogus at best. Anyone remembering that article would think I had some sort of ability to predict the future, but to be honest I'm lucky to win my half of 50 – 50 bets when expressing subjective opinions.
That's why I spend so much time writing about concepts and rules for making decisions which remove the need for you to be right more than half the time on what amounts to a guess. Guessing is not the way to manage your hard-earned money, and people who thrive on making predictions tend to have short careers, or run out of money if it is their own.
So far in 2011, I'd say my best advice (viewed with a couple months of hindsight) was to advise that no changes to an investment portfolio needed to be made as a result of the very unfortunate (random, uncertain, unexpected) events in Japan in March of this year.
I'll continue to share thoughts with you on various financial and investment topics with the promise of doing my best to keep subjective opinions out of the process, and using analytical, risk – based decision making in its place.
Good luck and good investing.
Tom Breiter is president of Breiter Capital Management, Inc., an Anna Maria based investment advisor. He can be reached at 778-1900. Some of the investment concepts highlighted in this column may carry the risk of loss of principal, and investors should determine appropriateness for their personal situation before investing. Visit www.breitercapital.com.