The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 14 No. 11 - January 8, 2014


Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Returns not always as perceived

Investment Corner

2014 is here, and for the most part, we don’t need to be wishing the one just ending ‘good riddance’. 2013 dawned without much optimism shortly after a very contentious election period in late 2012, and it’s fair to say there was a fair amount of skepticism about the economy.

But, as usual, the financial markets did what it took to surprise us. U.S. stock prices lead the way with large gains of about 30 percent for the year. Government bond prices fell as interest rates on 10-year U.S. treasury bonds rose from about 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent, resulting in the first year of negative returns for this asset class since the year 2000. Commodities, particularly gold and silver, took it on the chin along with emerging markets stocks.

Unpredictibility is pretty much the only thing that we can accurately predict when it comes to the world of investments whose prices are influenced by the state of human fear or optimism. But, as I’ve written about before, you can use these random and frustrating characteristics to your advantage.

The first step is to separate yourself from the idea that you can predict the future in terms of when prices will go up or down and by how much. There are quite a few prognosticators who make a lot of money telling us what the future holds for our investment, but most are wrong as often as they’re right. But the desire by investors to be assured of what will happen to our money keeps us listening and choosing the story we like the best to be our guide.

So, the first resolution we should all make (or reinforce if you are already doing it) is to have a plan for your investments that defines how and when decisions will be made. Hopefully, it’s not after turning off the TV and implementing the latest idea from Jim Cramer on CNBC.

Our second resolution should be to adopt, or keep adopting, a structured plan for how much of your portfolio will be invested in different types of investments. We call this an allocation model, and following one will help you avoid ending up with too much of your portfolio in the asset type that was doing the best and susceptible to the inevitable decline that will eventually come.

Portfolios become overweight with assets through two primary means. The first is that the asset class which is doing the best, like real estate investment trusts from 2000 to 2006 can make a reasonable allocation, say 10 percent, grow to 20 percent of your portfolio because the gains in that class are outpacing the other portfolio components.

The other thing that tends to happen is that because the one investment type is doing so well, we tend to buy more of that one even if it is already overweight in our plan. It feels good for a while, but eventually ends badly for most. Rebalancing back to your target allocation at least once a year prevents this condition.

The third and last resolution I recommend is to not obsess about your portfolio’s performance relative to the best asset class of the year. A truly diversified portfolio, which is appropriate for most investors who care about controlling risk, will never beat the stock market when the stock prices have a great year. But, it will never do as bad as the worst performing asset class either, which may be stocks the next year. Your success as an investor has little to do with beating the market and everything to do with generating consistent results and avoiding large losses that require years to recover from. Boring yes, but sometimes boring is good!

I wish you all the best in 2014.

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


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