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Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays to all December 16, 2016

Posted by shaferfinancial in Finance.
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Well, 2016 is almost over and thought I would post 1 more time for the year.

The stock market is still moving up at this time, but I can’t help the sinking feeling that we will have a market swoon soon. Meanwhile the Fed’s have increased the interest rate and plan on 3 more for 2017. I think that is good news and we really need a more normal interest rate environment. Cap rates for EIULs will start to trend up if these interest rate hikes happen.

The oil market has begun to turn on the back of a 6 month OPEC et al. reduction. But I just can’t shake the feeling that we are going to be on a real hard ride up for oil prices all to soon. We still have significant reserves built up from the last 2 years of oversupply, but there are few places that can ramp up speedily to account for depletion and an additional 1-1.5M BPD increase in demand that will happen in 2017. Oil is like this, never a dull moment.

Real Estate is still hanging in there, and is still a great place to put your investment dollars in my opinion [once you get your EIUL established of course :-)].

Well, snow is falling and I just heard that the local downhills and cross-country trails are opening this weekend, so should be a great holiday time for the Shafer Family!!!

Are people waking up to the issues of mutual funds as retirement vehicles? October 17, 2016

Posted by shaferfinancial in Finance, mutual funds, Retirement Income, Uncategorized.
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An interesting trend is occurring with the people who are contacting me about EIULs. I am getting a lot of calls from folks in their early to mid thirties who start the conversation off with something like this: My 401K is going nowhere, I know there must be a better way to save for retirement. Now I find this very interesting because most of these folks weren’t in the market in 2008, the last time we saw a significant negative year.

I had this conversation recently with a 35 year old.

DS: What are you trying to accomplish?
Client: Well, my 401K is going nowhere, so I am looking for something that will do better and work for me.
DS: When did you start your 401K?
Client: Well, I don’t really remember, but it was somewhere around 2008 or 2009. Before that, I really didn’t have a great job and I wasn’t married so I was spending everything I made.
DS: Do you own a home?
Client: Yes, after getting married, my wife and I were able to buy a home with assistance from our families.
DS: How much are you able to save now?
Client: Well, between my wife and myself we are saving around $1200 month including what we put into our 401Ks. Before our 1st child was born, it was a little more.
DS: Do you remember the stock market dropping significantly?
Client: Well, I do remember it, but it did’t really affect me, so my memory of it is vague. Around 2007 or so right? But we do remember the housing prices dropping, because we were able to pick up a nice house for a decent price in 2010.
DS: Yes, 2008 was the last time we saw a big drop in the stock market.

What is surprising to me, is that this 35 year old recognizes the issues with mutual funds even though he hasn’t had a truly big negative year. People tend to forget the fear of big drops in ones finances, but the scars remain long after the memory fades. But, this person was able to recognize the issue without the scars or the memory. And he isn’t alone. I have been getting increasing amounts of calls from folks in this same situation and similar age group.

That is progress.

What I would like to ask the mutual fund shrill’s? April 26, 2016

Posted by shaferfinancial in Finance, mutual funds.
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Sometimes I imagine the ability to actually press the facts on the mutual fund industry.
Alas, this isn’t likely to ever happen. But what if it did? Here a made up scene of a mutual fund executive getting grilled on the witness stand by an attorney. Again, this is a product of my imagination!

MF= Mutual Fund Executive
TA= Trial Attorney

TA Your company has 10,000 sales people giving advice to people on retirement savings, right?
MF We don’t call them salespeople, they are Registered Investment Advisors or Certified Financial Advisors, but yes that is about the number.

TA The majority of the time they suggest clients invest in mutual funds, correct?
MF Not sure about that
TA How many of your mid income clients are suggested to be in stocks or bonds and not mutual funds?
MF In that group I would agree with you that most are in mutual funds.
TA In fact, your company in involved with over 100 of the fortune 500 employees, correct?
MF Sound about right
TA So you have a fiduciary duty to put 100’s of thousands of employees into the correct retirement savings vehicle.
MF Yes

TA Have you seen the Dalbar reports on individual returns for those investing in mutual funds?
MF I believe we give that out to our representatives
TA Does you company have any internal analysis of individuals’ returns that invest in mutual funds with your company?
MF Yes.
TA What is the average returns that you are finding for individuals?
MF I’m not sure
TA Can you read the report generated by your company that I just handed you [Exhibit 34]?
MF Yes, give me a second
TA Just read the last paragraph out loud to the jury
MF Overall returns average around 3.3% over the last 25 years for individual investors……..

TA Where in your printed advertisements does that number appear?
MF Don’t know, you would have to talk to advertising
TA Does it ever appear in your companies advertisement?
MF Not sure
TA Again, are you aware if that result ever appearing?
MF No, not aware of it.

TA Does being a fiduciary mean you should disclose items like that?
MF No, the SEC has never made a rule like that.
TA So because it is not required by the SEC you don’t feel the need to be honest with your clients?
MF That is not how we think of it. If our clients do what we tell them too, they will get much higher returns than that.
TA But they don’t do they?
MF I’m not sure.
TA Did you not just read your internal research indicating that they don’t?
MF I’m not sure we are talking about the same thing

TA What is the object for these employees in their 401Ks that you are suggesting they fund with mutual funds?
MF To save for retirement
TA Would you say that the objective is to ultimately have a stream of income when your clients no longer work?
MF Yes, that would be correct
TA Would you also say that you want to have them get the largest stream of income they can?
MF Yes
TA Would you say that part of your fiduciary duty is to make sure you suggest financial instruments that would accomplish the largest stream of income they can achieve?
MF I would agree with that

TA Have you heard of sequence of return risk?
MF Yes, but what does that have to do with mutual funds?
TA Explain what your understanding of sequence of return risk is
MF The order of returns. In other words, is the order of returns such that it increases the risk to the overall return given a certain time period.
TA When people save for retirement are they looking for a return in a certain time period?
MF Well, yes I guess, they are going to retire at a point
TA So wouldn’t they have to deal with sequence of return risk?
MF Yes, but we have products that deal with that
TA What are those products?
MF Annuities and certain mutual funds that move the percentages of equities down as one ages.
TA What does that do to the overall return?
MF Well it would decrease it.
TA Your products that your company suggests to deal with market variation reduce the returns below the 3.3% return you previously read?
MF Well….if you put it that way….but anytime you reduce risk you reduce returns
TA What percentage of your clients are in these risk reducing products?
MF It would be a small percentage of folks approaching retirement.
TA So, for most of your clients sequence of return risk is a real concern?
MF We aren’t concerned with it for most of our clients
TA Why?
MF Most of our middle income clients are more concerned with overall returns
TA Do you think if they understood SOR risk they might be concerned with it?
MF We don’t speculate on that, we give the clients what they want
TA But aren’t you a fiduciary?
MF Again, the SEC doesn’t require us to talk about SOR risk

TA As a fiduciary you are not discussing the overall returns experienced by consumers and the ways to decrease SOR risk?
MF We discuss what the most appropriate vehicle is as required, and for most of our middle income clients mutual funds are the most appropriate vehicle. We have worked hard to get the overall expenses down in mutual funds and are very proud of our products that lead the industry in low fees!
TA So you are very proud of the fact that your clients are receiving 3.3% returns over the long run when the market has returned over 8%?
MF Well that is a function of investor behavior that we have no control over. The product itself does great when matched up to our competition.

Musings on the oil market and my oily stocks March 3, 2016

Posted by shaferfinancial in Finance.

Two years ago no one could predict what the last 20 months would look like in the oil market. But, the one thing that people could know if they looked is that the oil market is known for having mind numbing large movements that don’t conform to the fundamentals of oil production.

Given all that, and the impossibility of predicting oil prices going forward, it is apparent we have hit an inflection point. Brent price closed up to over $37 today. Interday movement was over 3% from its high to its low [all before noon]. That in itself tells us that emotions are ruling the movements.

Shale oil is now down over 500,000 BPD from its peak. Quarterly and year end financials indicate huge losses in the industry totaling billions of dollars for 2015. Bankruptcies are increasing. The majors are lowering capex significantly. The tight oil companies have reduced capex 80% or more in some cases. Some companies are even stopping their drilling programs. OPEC producers are talking freezing production in concert with Russia and other countries.

Demand is up. India over 10%, China right at 10% and the good old USA, gasoline usage is up 2% over last year.

Now all the analyst point out that storage is filling up here in the US. But that is a little confusing as this is about imports coming in bought by the refiners. Why would they go to all the expense of storing oil if they didn’t foresee the price going up in the near future?

Compare this to 6 months ago when tight oil was still being produced at peak rates, Saudi A. and Russia was trying to increase production, and everyone was predicting that demand would level off.

Now there is considerable damage that has been done to the oil industry. Billions lost. 100s of thousands of people laid off. Projects postponed and canceled. Reserves not being replaced. Countries budgets being diminished. Production in the North Sea, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil are in real trouble. The first three have mature fields that are depleting and not being replaced. Brazil self imploded.

But there is a time when things change, and I believe we are there. Maybe the price of oil will continue to be lower than what it costs to produce it for a while longer???? But, we are IMO, looking an a inflection point.

State of the state; 2016 January 7, 2016

Posted by shaferfinancial in Finance.
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I have so much to be grateful for. Sometimes I get caught in the web of day-to-day activities that I miss out on what is truly great. So here is the state of the state of my life for Jan 2016.

I have a great wife and a great kid. They continually give me joy in my life;
My business relationships continue to flourish. Doing seminars with Jeff Brown and crew has been a great way for me to get my message to a wider audience. Thanks Jeff for including me!
My stock portfolio took it on the chin in 2015, but thankfully I have learned to be patient and not reactive. Oil is now priced at less than half of what it takes to get the marginal barrel out of the ground. Makes little sense, but the market does that some times. My EIUL took no losses this year, unlike the market. Makes for a good nights sleep.
I moved this summer to a new town in NH. It has been great for the whole family. Definitely a good decision that will make our family stronger and open up opportunities for us all! Do miss all our friends in the old town though.

Change comes hard. Really glad I was able to make the changes I did over the last couple years.
Here’s to a great 2016.

Thanks to all who favored me to be in their lives. I continue to try to help as many people as I can!

Patience; The Ultimate Virtue November 19, 2015

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We live in a society that keeps moving faster and faster. We want instant success and make instant judgements, labeling people/strategies a failure in short time. I read a Florida State University football blog on a regular basis, and posters are constantly writing off these athletes as a bust if they don’t play like All-Americans in their first couple years on the team.

I see the same in youth sports. If the kids aren’t instant stars, dominating at an early age, then the adults in their lives push them to move on to other sports/activities or consider it just recreation and lower their expectations to “its a lifetime sport.” In school, if they aren’t immediately making great grades, reading at college level at age 10, or doing Algebra in 5th grade, then we need to get them tutoring.

But read the biography of successful people and you see a different line to their success. Failure after failure until finally success. I am reading a biography of the Wright Brothers that is demonstrating this.

And of course the opposite happens. Early success is assumed to mean that elite status will follow. In youth sports, we see that all the time. The kid that is 6 ft. at 13, is assumed to be on his way to being an elite athlete because he can dominate his smaller competition. The person who gets great returns on a stock pick is assumed to have some better technique for picking stocks that will last forever.

But reality is something different. US swimming has been looking at how many top youth swimmers become elite senior swimmers. It is pretty easy to document in swimming because the competition is about the stop watch [or electronic timing now a days]. So US Swimming looks at the top 10 times of 12-13-14 year olds and compares that to participants in senior nationals, junior nationals, NCAA, world competitions, etc. over the following years. So how many of those top youth swimmers end up as top senior swimmers? 10% for men and 19% for women.

What does that tell us? 1. We can’t determine who will go on to become elite athletes until after puberty. 2. You can’t tell who will become great by just looking at them. There is something there that can’t be predicted. Same with good investors. Can you name great investors over the long term? There is probably a couple of handful of folks you could name.

So what is the most important personality trait in all this? Patience. That’s right, those 90% of boys that were not considered elite swimmers during their formative years kept on going to swim practice. They kept on working. They didn’t allow someone else to tell them they weren’t good enough. And they had coaches that did the same thing. They didn’t rush their development, didn’t move these athletes to the bench, didn’t spend all their resources on the few who were looking great at age 12.

If you come to our retirement income seminar, you will hear the same thing. We have folks from different parts of life, some with incredible success already, some just starting out. But, the one thing we preach is put a plan in place and show patience.

And we try to eliminate the noise that might cause a lack of patience or a panic for our clients.
Like a good coach, we nurture folks through the process, giving them all our time no matter how successful they are when they come to us, because we know some of the most meager beginnings become our greatest successes; like the Wright Brothers.

Musings on Oil September 23, 2015

Posted by shaferfinancial in Finance.
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Latest IEA report looks to 3rd quarter 2016 for the supply/demand lines to cross back over. Currently they estimate a almost 2 M BPD oversupply. For the last 6-9 months they have been overestimating US shale supply and understating actual demand. Take these figures with a grain of salt as no one knows how much Iranian oil is currently in the market and how quickly they can ramp that number up. They also totally missed the current over supply situation that started early in 2014.

However, I have learned that no one is very good at estimating oil supply/demand or predicting future price.
One thing we do know is that this is the tipping point for NA tight oil. Bankruptcies of smaller firms have begun, Wall Street has finally turned off the spigot of capital, and people are starting to actually look at companies financials to see the inability of 98% of these companies to make profit. Is this what Saudi Arabia has been waiting for?

Almost daily some oil company representative or analyst has been saying we will never get back to $100 oil. My experience suggests that such pronouncements are rarely correct, especially when you hear it from a lot of sources. My prediction; no one knows what the price of oil will be 2 months from now, let alone 2 years from now.

Finally, there is much hand wringing on economic activity changes in Asia. Yet, boots on the ground notice no difference throughout the region. One thing we do know is that people have short memories. For example, in the USA cars and truck sales have been brisk and dominated by SUVs, trucks and large sedans that get poorer gas mileage.

529 Education Plans September 17, 2015

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A client has asked me to review my thinking on 529 Education plans. Specifically, he asked that I compare them to using an EIUL for college funding. As many on this blog know, the issues of 401Ks funded with mutual funds used for retirement income are rarely talked about in the popular press. Those issues don’t go away if you change the wrapper to a 529. So most of the issues are the same plus one more big issue.

Sequence of return risk is the same as in a 401K. What happens if the market takes a dive right before your child needs to use the money for college? Well, you end up having much less than you thought you would have for college. What are the odds of this happening? If history is a guide well over 70% as the average bear market occurs every 4-5 years. To account for this most companies use “target funds” which increase the bond percentage in the fund as you get closer to the target date [estimated first year of college]. The problem with target funds is that by decreasing the equity coverage you decrease the average returns. The other issue is that bond funds can also decrease in value at the same time [as we found out in 2008-09]. The end result is that you have to be lucky [real lucky] to not have an issue with these 529 funds.

Many think they can be proactive with the funds and get the money out of funds if the market starts going bad. Studies have proven that individuals are really bad at this strategy universally. And many find that they can’t just sell their funds inside a 529 like in a 401K. Bottom line is that you have a really good chance of getting “stuck” in a fund that has huge downward variability when you have a drop dead date for using the money. Never a good strategy.

Next is that the funds must be used for educational purposes. Now I know every parent thinks their kid is an academic superstar and will end up at Harvard [tongue in cheek], the reality is that over half [65%] of them will not graduate from a accredited program. And if you don’t use the funds for education you need to pay taxes on the principal and the gains. I know this is tough to imagine for many, but there are a whole lot of folks that would be much better off not wasting their talents at college. There are many really lucrative occupations that kids would find meaningful that don’t require college. Having that money sitting there could encourage those kids to waste the funds sitting bored in a college classroom instead of finding their way in life.

Finally, putting money in a EIUL instead does 3 things. It eliminates sequence of return risk increasing the likely average return for that day they leave for college. It eliminates the possibility of taxes if the choice is not college. It creates a fund that can be used for a variety of things, from a car, to a down payment of a house, to college that can be turned off if they want to defer after a year of classroom boredom or even a trip to see the world. And it also creates a “bank” that the offspring can use “for the rest of their life.”

Borrowing out of a EIUL policy can be done two ways. The first is cost free and the second variable type loan allows for arbitrage against the interest credit. So you can actually make money on the distributions you have already used [historic numbers point to a 2-3% advantage over the long run]. The compounding continues as long as you have the policy using a variable loan in your life insurance policy.

So here are the five takeaways:
1. An EIUL offers greater flexibility
2. Sequence of return risk is eliminated
3. Positive arbitrage of funds is a real possibility
4. Life time bank that can be used, replaced or not, and used again
5. Likely greater return in an EIUL than the funds inside a 529 wrapper.

And here are two additional benefits:
1. Underwriting is done at an early age so diminished health is not an issue for obtaining life insurance at a later age
2. You control the policy and aren’t at the whims of the government telling you how you can use your own money

So what are the negatives????

1. EIULs are not made for short term thinking. If you surrender your policy in the first 10 years you are likely to not get all of your principal back.
2. To use the policy efficiently you need to keep it for life [or pretty near] and you need to plan ahead how much premium you are going to put in.
3. The total costs for the life of a policy are going to be between .25 and .4% on a child. There are many mutual funds that have lower total expenses.
4. You need to only purchase the policy from a financially stable insurer [top rated], because it is the insurer who is backing your policy.

I let the reader decide which makes more sense.

My Opinion on Markets September 8, 2015

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Since everyone seems to be asking me, I will give a brief opinion on the state of the oil and stock markets. Note, my crystal ball has been broken for a long time, hence my actual positions are long term and not driven by short term variation [no matter how dramatic].

The stock market has fallen back a little in August and in my opinion will see little real progress for a while. I would expect some up and down going forward but at some time a good 25% drop or so would be positive. This type of variation is relatively good for folks in EIULs as any downward movement is capped at 0% and the upward movements are captured. A 25% drop would clear out a lot of downward pressure and give the market some room to progress. We are still overdue for a significant drop.

The oil markets are still very bearish. However, we are seeing green shoots. Oil usage is up around the world including China [where much of the worry of economic malaise rests]. China is filling its strategic reservoir with this cheap oil, buying 10% more oil than last year. In the US it is up 9% year on year. India’s economy is chugging along, increasing at 7%, which should mean increasing oil usage at around the same point.

As to production, many believe that Saudi Arabia is producing all out at this point. If it isn’t it is close. The much talked about tight oil production in the US/Canada has stopped its crazy up slope in production in December. A peak in December, followed by a leveling off until another peak in April followed by decreases since then has reversed the production slope of NA oil production. Lost in the noise is that until December production had been increasing at a huge rate for 2 years. Since then, that dramatic increase first stopped and is now decreasing at an increasing rate.

All the major tight oil producing companies lost money in the first half of 2015 even after reducing CAPEX. In fact, with the exception of Continental, CAPEX was reduced so much as to not able to sustain reserves at current production level.

What all this points out is the likelihood of the supply/demand mismatch disappearing soon. When? Your guess is as good as mine, but would bet that next year will surprise a lot of bearish analyst.

I think that much of the teeth knashing over China is just that “worry” that will not bear out in the long run. Does China continue double digit increases in GNP? No way. But 7% is probably likely. Add in India [the second most populous country] at 7% and you see continuing world wide growth. US is still expanding at more subdued rates and Europe seems to be stagnated currently.

Bottom line is that I am still in the “patience” mode for my stock portfolio, and am pleased with my EIUL performance.

Record amount pulled from stock funds last week! August 28, 2015

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I want to apologize to my readers for not having posted for a while, but I have been moving. I am now settled in.

I just wanted to drop folks a note that last week there was a record amount of $$$$ pulled out of stock funds at $29.5B in the week ending Wednesday. This is typical of what happens to folks who are invested in mutual funds as they sell into the panic. Classic sell low, buy high phenomenon that Dalbar, Inc. studies document and the main cause of the 3.8% return the average investor has gotten out of their stock funds over the last 30 years.

I’m sure the mutual fund sales people/Wall Street will simply blame their clients for the failure as they always have, ignoring the real life demonstration of behavior based on how all our brains function.

My clients in EIULs had no such damaging behavior because their was no losses to deal with.