Category Archives: Commodities

Harvard’s Michael Porter Shares His Economic Outlook

Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter is a familiar name to almost anyone who has graduated from business school in the last twenty years or so.  He recently gave an interview on CNBC in which he shares his analysis of the U.S. economy.  Porter is best known for his work in competitive strategy, a field in which he is considered the preeminent expert, so his views of what ails the U.S. economy and how we can get back on track are of considerable interest.  He has analyzed the forces that provide one country or region with relative competitive advantages vs. others and he applies this perspective in his commentary. Continue reading

What Are the Core Asset Classes for Total Return Portfolios?

One of the most important questions for investors and advisors is identifying a set of asset classes that will be considered for inclusion in a portfolio.  Some people will decide that all they need or want is one broad stock market index fund and one bond fund.  Others will choose to include Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and commodities.  There are well-thought-out arguments that inflation-protected government bonds (TIPS) are a major core asset class.  It is also quite common for investors or advisors to break stocks out into value vs. growth and small cap vs. large cap.  Continue reading

An Alternative Approach for Drawing Income from Your Portfolio

The question of how to safely generate income from a retirement portfolio is one of the most challenging in financial planning.  In the days when people had traditional pensions, their employers simply promised them a constant inflation-adjusted income for the duration of their retirements.  As we have moved away from traditional pensions and into self-directed savings plans such as 401(k)’s and IRA’s, investors and advisors must create their own customized income plans.  New research from Morningstar highlights what appears to be a better approach to creating a stable income stream from an investment portfolio. Continue reading

Sector Watch: Wine, Beer, and Spirits

The stocks of companies that produce and distribute alcoholic beverages have dramatically out-performed the broader market both in recent years.  There are many factors that can lead to the relative out-performance of one sector.  Surprisingly, however, so-called ‘sin stocks,’ including those of companies that produce and distribute alcohol, have a long history of delivering high returns to investors.  Sin stocks tend to fall into the ‘value’ category, but even after accounting for the well-known value premium, a 2005 study, titled The Price of Sin: Effects of Social Norms on Markets, found that ‘sin stocks’ provide additional returns that cannot be explained by the value premium alone.  The study finds that this out-performance is both substantial and statistically significant.  The Folio Investing Wine, Beer, and Spirits Folio demonstrates that this out-performance has persisted in recent years, too. Continue reading

The Challenge of Long-Term Income: Part II

In Part I of this article, I explained why I have issues with the traditional idea that individuals should provide for their required level of retirement income (beyond what is provided by Social Security and any pensions) entirely with assets with zero risk of loss of principal (e.g. Treasury bonds).  In Part II, I discuss the alternative approaches.

There are two investments that have zero loss of principal: traditional Treasury bonds and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), which are Treasury bonds with embedded protection against inflation.

I agree with the notion that people need to save and invest so as to be able to provide a very reliable and consistent income stream in retirement.  Zvi Bodie has presented a compelling argument that investments in stocks do not become less risky as you hold them for longer periods, so that investors cannot rely on stocks as part of their required income stream.  I have performed detailed analysis of Bodie’s argument and I agree with his argument: the magnitude of loss that you can face with an equity-heavy portfolio increases the longer you hold the portfolio.  As I noted in Part I, William Bernstein has recently advocated for a portfolio in which all of your required income is provided by Treasuries and annuities, largely consistent with Bodie. Continue reading

Financial Products are Sold, Not Bought

Guest post by Contributing Editor, Robert P. Seawright, Chief Investment and Information Officer for Madison Avenue Securities.

Critics of the financial services industry (often with good reason) frequently remind consumers that financial products are typically “sold” rather than “bought” and implore them not to fall into that trap.  The concept here is that financial products are “sold” — pushed upon a consuming public that doesn’t understand them or perhaps even want or need them.  Instead, the alleged basis for their continued vibrancy and ongoing sales is that advisors get paid big bucks to sell them. Continue reading

Emerging Market Indexing

Guest post by Matthew Amster-Burton, Mint.com. We thought this was an interesting article and thought our readers would too. Enjoy.

Let’s say you want to build your own stock market index fund based on the S&P 500. Easy: download a list of all the companies in the index–from 3M (MMM) to Zions Bancorp (ZION) and their market cap, and start investing. Every stock in the index will be easy to buy in whatever quantity you want.

Now, after the success of your first index fund, you decide to create an emerging market fund, concentrating on the world’s up-and-coming economies. Again, no problem. We have the internet, after all, and we can just print off a list of all the stocks in China, India, Chile, Hungary, and so on, pull out a pile of Benjamins, and go to town.

That won’t work, says Raman Subramanian, Executive Director of Index Research at MSCI. Continue reading

The High Cost of the July 4th Cookout

Many Americans will be feeling the effects of higher commodity prices this 4th of July.

If you have been to the grocery store lately, you’ve probably done a double-take at the register as your outdoor grilling essentials are being scanned. Steak and ground beef prices are up almost 6% over the last 12 months and a persistent drought in the mid-West is driving corn prices up dramatically. USDA recently reported that the average price that Americans pay for food will be up between 2.5% and 3.5% vs. what we paid in 2011.

However, before you ration the hot dogs and burgers and put a hold on serving steaks at your BBQ this year, lets take a look at the long-term history of food prices in the U.S.

Don’t Blame Inflation This Time

The good news is that Continue reading

What’s Driving the Price of Oil?

Gas prices are not keeping Americans at home this Memorial Day weekend. AAA projects that 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this holiday weekend.

Here at the Portfolioist, we thought the start of Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to re-examine what drives the price of oil. This article was first published by Geoff Considine on May 4th.

From all of us at the Portfolioist, have a happy and safe Memorial Day.

There’s lot’s of talk right now about the price of oil and, particularly, gasoline, and it looks as though the price of a gallon of gas will be a significant political topic for the election this year.  President Obama recently proposed new rules for limiting the influence of speculators on the oil market.  Politifact, a media group that fact checks the truthfulness of political statements recently ran a piece on public statements about oil prices.  Their conclusion is that much of what is being claimed with regard to the causes of high oil and gas prices is, at best, based on half truths. Continue reading

What’s Driving the Price of Oil?

There’s lot’s of talk right now about the price of oil and, particularly, gasoline.  Oil is trading at more than $104 per barrel and the national average price of gasoline at the pump is $3.80.  It looks as though the price of a gallon of gas will be a significant political topic for the election this year.  Newt Gingrich, in his efforts to secure the Republican nomination for president, promised to bring the price of a gallon of gas down to $2.50.  President Obama recently proposed new rules for limiting the influence of speculators on the oil market.  Politifact, a media group that fact checks the truthfulness of political statements recently ran a piece on public statements about oil prices.  Their conclusion is that Continue reading