Have You Met Mr. Market?

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Do you know the allegory of Mr. Market? This useful parable—created by Warren Buffett’s mentor—might change everything you think about the stock market, its daily prices, and the endless news cycle (and blogs?!) built upon it.

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The Original Mr. Market

The imaginary investor named “Mr. Market” was created by Benjamin Graham in his 1949 book The Intelligent Investor. Graham, if you’re not familiar, was the guy who taught Warren Buffett about securities analysis and value investing. Not a bad track record.

Graham asks the readers of his book to imagine that they have a business partner: a man named Mr. Market. On some days, Mr. Market arrives at work full of enthusiasm. Business is good and Mr. Market is wildly happy. So happy, in fact, that he wants to buy the reader’s share of the business.

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But on other days, Mr. Market is incredibly depressed. The business has hit a bump in the road. Mr. Market will do anything to sell his own shares of the business to the reader.

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Of course, the reader is always free to decline Mr. Market’s offers. And the reader certainly should feel wary of Mr. Market. After all, he is irrational, emotional, and moody. It seems he does not have good business judgement. Graham describes him as having, “incurable emotional problems.”

How can Mr. Market’s feelings fluctuate so quickly? Rather than taking an even emotional approach to business highs and lows, Mr. Market reacts strongly to the slightest bit of news.

If anything, the reader could probably find a way to take advantage of Mr. Market’s over-reactions. The reader could buy from Mr. Market when he’s feeling overly pessimistic and sell to Mr. Market when he’s feeling unjustifiably euphoric. This is one of the basic principles behind value investing.

But Mr. Market is a metaphor

Of course, Mr. Market is an imaginary investor. Yet countless readers have felt that Mr. Market acts as a perfect metaphor for the market fluctuations in the real stock market.

The stock market will come to you with a different price every day. The market will hear good news from a business and countless investors will look to buy that business’s stock. Will you sell to them? But a negative headline will send the market tumbling. Investors will sell. Please, they plead, will you buy my shares?!

Don’t like today’s price? You’ll get a new one tomorrow.

Is this any way to make rational money decisions? By buying while manic and selling while depressive? Do these daily market fluctuations relate to the true intrinsic value of the businesses they represent?

“Never buy something from someone who is out of breath”

Burton Malkiel

There’s a reason why Benjamin Graham built Mr. Market to resemble an actual manic-depressive. It’s an unfortunate affliction. And sadly, those afflicted are often untethered from reality.

The stock market is nothing more than a collection of individuals. These individuals can fall prey to the same emotional overreactions as any other human. Mr. Market acts as a representation of those people.

“In the short run, the stock market is a voting machine. Yet, in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”

Benjamin Graham

Votes are opinions, and opinions can be wrong. That’s why the market’s daily price fluctuations should not affect your long-term investing decisions. But weight is based on fact, and facts don’t lie. Over the long run, the true weight (or value) of a company will make itself apparent.

Warren Buffett’s Thoughts

Warren Buffett is on the record speaking to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders saying that Mr. Market is his favorite part of Benjamin Graham’s book.

Why? Because:

If you cannot control your emotions, you cannot control your money.

Warren Buffett

Of course, Buffett is famous for skills beyond his emotional control. I mean, the guy is 90 years old and continues his daily habits of eating McDonalds and reading six hours of business briefings. That’s fame-worthy.

Warren Buffett

But Buffett’s point is that ignoring Mr. Market is 1) difficult but 2) vitally important. Your mental behavior is just as important as your investing choices.

For example: perhaps your business instincts suggested that Amazon was a great purchase in 1999—at about $100 per share. It was assuredly overvalued at that point based on intrinsic value, but your crystal ball saw a beautiful future.

But Buffett’s real question for you would be: did you sell Amazon when the Dot Com bubble burst (and the stock fell to less than $10 per share)? Did Mr. Market’s depression affect you? Or did your belief in the company’s long-term future allow to hold on until today—when the stock sits at over $3000 per share.

The Woefully Ignorant Sports Fan

I know about 25 different versions of this guy, so I bet you know at least one of them. I’m talking about the Woefully Ignorant Sports Fan, or WISF for short.

The WISF is a spitting image of Mr. Market.

When Lebron James has a couple bad games, the WISF confidently exclaims,

“The dude is a trash basketball player. He’s been overhyped since Day 1. I’m surprised he’s still in the starting lineup.”

Skip Bayless: ESPN's different rules for me and Stephen Smith
Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless: Two Gods of the WISF world

Wow! That’s a pretty outrageous claim. But when Lebron wins the NBA finals and takes home another First-Team All-NBA award, the WISF changes his tune.

“I’m telling you, that’s why he’s the Greatest of All Time. The GOAT. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny he’s the King.”

To the outside observer, this kind of flip-flop removes any shred of the WISF’s credibility. And yet the WISF flip-flops constantly, consistently, and without a hint of irony. It’s simply his nature.

Now think about the WISF alongside Mr. Market. What does the WISF actually tell us about Lebron? Very little! And what does Mr. Market tell us about the true value of the companies on the stock market? Again, very little!

We should not seek truth in the loud pronouncements of an emotional judge. This is another aphorism from The Intelligent Investor book.

But I Want More Money!

Just out of curiosity, I logged into my Fidelity account in late March 2020. The COVID market was at the bottom of its tumble, and my 401(k) and Roth IRA both showed scarring.

Ouch. Tens of thousands of dollars disappeared. Years of saving and investing…poof. This is how investors lose heart. Should I sell now and save myself further losses?

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No! Absolutely not! Selling at the bottom is what Mr. Market does. It’s emotional behavior. It’s not based on rationality, not on the intrinsic values of the underlying businesses.

My pessimism quickly subsided. In fact, I began to feel silver linings. Why?

I’m still in the buying phase of my investing career. I buy via my 401(k) account every two weeks. And I buy via my Roth IRA account every month. I’ve never sold a stock. The red ticks in the image below show my two-week purchasing schedule so far in 2020.

If you’re investing for later in life, then your emotions should typically be the opposite of the market’s emotions. If the market is sad and prices are low and they want to sell…well, great! A low price for you increases your ability to profit later.

And Benjamin Graham agrees. He doesn’t think you should ignore Mr. Market altogether, but instead should do business with him only when it’s in your best interest (ooh yeah!).

“The intelligent investor shouldn’t ignore Mr. Market entirely. Instead, you should do business with him, but only to the extent that it serves your interest.”

Benjamin Graham

If you log into your investment accounts and see that your portfolio value is down, take a step back and consider what it really means. You haven’t lost any money. You don’t lock in any losses unless you sell.

The only two prices that ever matter are the price when you buy and the price when you sell.

Mr. Market in the News

If you pay close attention to the financial news, you’ll realize that it’s a mouthpiece for the emotional whims of Mr. Market. Does that include blogs, too? In some cases, absolutely. But I try to keep the Best Interest out of that fray.

For example, here are two headlines from September 29, 2020:

Just imagine if these two headlines existed in another space. “Bananas—A Healthy Snack That Prevents You From Ever Dying” vs. “Bananas—A Toxic Demon Food That Will Kill Your Family.”

The juxtaposition of these two headlines reminds me of Jason Zweig’s quote:

“The market is a pendulum that forever swings between unsustainable optimism (which makes stocks too expensive) and unjustified pessimism (which makes them too cheap).”

Jason Zweig

More often than not, reality sits somewhere between unsustainable optimism and unjustified pessimism. As an investor, your most important job is to not be duped by this emotional rollercoaster.

Investing Based on Recent Performance

Out of all the questions you send me (and please keep sending them!), one of the most common is:

“Jesse – I’m deciding between investment A, investment B, and investment C. I did some research, and B has the best returns over the past three years. So I should pick B, right?”

Wonderful Readers

Great question! I’ve got a few different answers.

What is Mr. Market saying?

Let’s look at the FANG+ index. The index contains Twitter, Tesla, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, NVIDIA, and the Chinese companies Baidu and Alibaba. Wow! What an assortment of popular and well-known companies!

The recent price trend of FANG+ certainly represents that these companies are strong. The index has doubled over the past year.

Mr. Market is euphoric!

And what do we think when Mr. Market is euphoric?

How do you make money?

Another one of my favorite quotes from The Intelligent Investor is this:

“Obvious prospects for physical growth in a business do not translate into obvious profits for investors”

Benjamin Graham

You make money when a company’s stock price is undervalued compared to its prospects for physical growth. You buy low (because it’s undervalued), the company grows, the stock price increases, you sell, and boom—you’ve made a profit.

I think most people would agree that the FANG+ companies all share prospects for physical growth. But, are those companies undervalued? Alternatively, have their potentials for future growth already been accounted for in their prices?

It’s just like someone saying, “I want a Ferrari! It’s such a famous car. How could it not be a great purchase?”

The statement is incomplete. How much are you paying for the Ferrari? Is it undervalued, only selling for $10,000? Or is it overvalued, selling at $10 million? The product itself—whether a car or a company—must be judged against the price it is selling for.

Past Results Do Not Guarantee Future Performance

If investing were as simple as, “History always repeats itself,” then writing articles like this wouldn’t be worthwhile. Every investment company in the world includes a disclaimer: “Past results do not guarantee future performance.”

Before making a specific choice like “Investment B,” one should understanding the ideas of results-oriented thinking and random walks.

Farewell, Mr. Market

Mr. Market, like the real stock market, is an emotional reactionary. His daily pronouncements are often untethered from reality. Don’t let him affect you.

Instead, realize that only two of Mr. Market’s thoughts ever matter—when you buy from him and when you sell to him. Do business with him, but make sure it’s in your best interest (oh yeah!). Everything else is just noise.

If the thoughts of Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, and the Best Interest haven’t convinced you, just look at the financial news or consider the Woefully Ignorant Sports Fan. Rapidly changing opinions rarely reflect true reality.

Stay rational and happy investing!

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

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What Is a SEP IRA and How Does It Work?

SEP IRA stands for Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account. (Many people mistakenly think “SEP” stands for “Self-Employed”.) It’s a retirement plan that an employer or self-employed individuals can establish.

SEP

This account is primarily for self-employed individuals, small-business owners, entrepreneurs, and those who work as freelancers or on a contract basis.

Essentially, most entrepreneurs and business owners don’t have access to a traditional 401(k) with an employer match because they employ themselves. So, a SEP plan is an alternative to a 401(k) retirement plan. Additionally, if small-business owners have employees of their own, they can set up a SEP for their employees.

SEP IRAs have many benefits for entrepreneurs, which I’ll explain below.

How does it work?

It works similarly to a traditional IRAs. Business owners can set aside money for themselves in a SEP plan for retirement. According to the IRS, if a business owner has employees, they also must set aside an equal percentage of their employees’ pay into a SEP plan for their employees.

An important distinction is that the business owner pays for this contribution; it is not money that comes directly from the employees’ salaries.

To put it another way, money is not withheld from employees’ salaries. The employer provides the SEP contribution in addition to their employee’s regular pay. The employee’s income is only used as a metric to determine how much to put into the SEP account.

So, if an employer wants to set aside 15% of their own salary for themselves, they must put 15% of their employees’ salaries into a SEP plan for them too. However, they do not withhold 15% of their employees’ salary; the SEP contribution is in addition to their income.

That’s why a SEP IRA is likely more beneficial to a solopreneur or someone with very few employees. Otherwise, it could be far too expensive for an employer to maintain.

SEP IRA Rules for 2021

One of the major benefits of a SEP IRA plan is that you can contribute up to 25% of your compensation into the account or up to $58,000 for 2021 – whichever is less. The same goes for your employees if you set up a SEP IRA for them too. You can only contribute up to 25% of their income or $58,000, whichever is less.

This is why so many people who are self-employed like using a SEP IRA. Plus, they have low operating costs and are not expensive to open. They are available to any size business whether you are a one-person operation or have dozens of employees.

Who can have a SEP IRA?

There are two types of people who can participate according to the IRS: Employers and employees who meet specific criteria.

Employers can be:

  • Small-business owners.
  • Solo-entrepreneurs.
  • Contractors with independent businesses.

Employees eligible are individuals who are:

  • Age 21.
  • Worked for their employer 3 out of the last 5 years.
  • Received a minimum of $600 in compensation for the year.
  • Have employers who have willing to open and contribute to a SEP IRA.

SEP IRA vs Roth IRA

With a Roth IRA:

  • You can’t deduct your contributions like you can with a SEP or traditional IRA.
  • You deposit funds into a Roth IRA after you pay taxes upfront.
  • Because you pay taxes upfront on the money you deposit, your investments grow tax-free.
  • You can only use a Roth IRA if your gross income is $206,000 or below for a married couple and $139,000 or less for someone who is single. These are new limits for 2021.
  • You can only deposit up to $6,000 per year in a Roth IRA or $7,000 if you’re age 50 and older.

With a SEP IRA:

  • According to the IRS, “The most you can deduct on your business’s tax return for contributions to your employees’ SEP-IRAs is the lesser of your contributions or 25% of compensation.” This is subject to a $285,000 compensation cap.
  • You deposit funds into a SEP IRA before you pay taxes on it, so the tax is deferred until you make withdrawals in retirement.
  • You can use a SEP IRA if you are self-employed, own a small business, or are an independent contractor who earns above $600 per year.
  • You can deposit up to 25% of your compensation or $58,000, whichever is less, for 2021.

So, as you can see, a Roth and SEP IRAs are both retirement accounts but with very different rules. The biggest benefit of a Roth is that it’s a tax-advantaged account because you pay your taxes upfront.

However, business owners benefit from SEP IRAs because you can deduct your contributions (where permitted) on your taxes, which is helpful when running a business with considerable expenses.

How to Open a SEP IRA

Saving for retirement is a wise idea, and it pays to take the time to research which investments you put inside the account will work best for your retirement goals.

There are many options when it comes to choosing where to open your SEP IRA as well. Several of the low-cost brokerage firms like Charles Schwab, Vanguard, and Fidelity offer SEP accounts as well as advisors to help you along the way.

Can I contribute to a SEP IRA and a 401k?

If you work a 9-5 job that offers a 401(k) plan and you own your own business that’s completely separate from your 9-5 job, yes. As long as the two entities have no overlap, you can open a SEP IRA for your side business while still contributing to your 401(k) for your primary job.

Additionally, your employer may offer both a 401(k) and a SEP plan. If they do, just know that there are limits to the total contributions you can make, including your employer match. And, if you’re self-employed, you can have a solo 401(k) and a SEP IRA, but again, you’ll have to pay close attention to the total contributions to make sure they don’t exceed the limits.

Bottom Line

A SEP IRA is a retirement account predominately for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and small-business owners. They can be a great vehicle for saving for retirement. However, if you own multiple businesses or work a 9-5 in addition to having a side business, spend time doing your research to make sure you don’t exceed your contribution limits to ensure you don’t get penalized.

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What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics

If you’re one of those investors with very little time to research and invest in individual stocks, it might be a good idea to look into investing in mutual funds.

Whether your goal is to save money for retirement, or for a down payment to buy a house, mutual funds are low-cost and effective way to invest your money.

What is a mutual fund?

A mutual fund is an investment vehicle in which investors, like you ad me, pool their money together. They use the money to invest in securities such as stocks and bonds. A professional manages the funds.

In addition, mutual funds are cost efficient. They offer diversification to your portfolio. They have low minimum investment requirements.

These factors make mutual funds among the best investment vehicles to use. If you’re a beginner investor, you should consider investing in mutual funds or index funds.

Investing in the stock market in general, can be intimidating. If you are just starting out and don’t feel confident in your investing knowledge, you may value the advice of a financial advisor.

Types of mutual funds

There are different types of mutual funds. They are stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds.

Which funds you choose depends on your risk tolerance. While mutual funds in general are less risky than investing in individual stocks, some funds are riskier than others.

However, you can choose a combination of these three types of funds to diversify your portfolio.

  • Stock funds: a stock fund is a fund that invests heavily in stocks. However, that does not mean stock funds do not have other securities, i.e., bonds. It’s just that the majority of the money invested is in stocks.
  • Bond funds: if you don’t want your portfolio to fluctuate in value as stocks do, then you should consider bond funds.
  • Money market funds: money market funds are funds that you invest in if you tend to tap into your investment in the short term.
  • Sector funds. As the name suggests, sector funds are funds that invests in one particular sector or industry. For example, a fund that invests only in the health care industry is a sector fund. These mutual funds lack diversification. Therefore, you should avoid them or use them in conjunction to another mutual fund.

Additional funds

  • Index funds. Index funds seek to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index. When you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund, you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies. Index funds don’t jump around. They stay invested in the market. 
  • Income funds: These funds focus invest primarily in corporate bonds. They also invest in some high-dividend stocks.
  • Balance funds: The portfolio of these funds have a mixed of stocks and bonds. Those funds enjoy capital growth and income dividend.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Protect Your Portfolio from the Volatile Stock Market

The advantages of mutual funds

Diversification. You’ve probably heard the popular saying “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Well, it applies to mutual funds. Mutual funds invest in stocks or bonds from dozens of companies in several industries.

Thus, your risk is spread. If a stock of a company is not doing well, a stock from another company can balance it out. While most funds are diversified, some are not.

For example, sector funds which invest in a specific industry such as real estate can be risky if that industry is not doing well.

Professional Management.

Mutual funds are professionally managed. These fund managers are well educated and experienced. Their job is to analyze data, research companies and find the best investments for the fund.

Thus, investing in mutual funds can be a huge time saver for those who have very little time and those who lack expertise in the matter.

Cost Efficiency. The operating expenses and the cost that you pay to sell or buy a fund are cheaper than trading in individual securities on your own. For example, the best Vanguard mutual funds have operating expenses as low as 0.04%. So by keeping expenses low, these funds can help boost your returns.

Low or Reasonable Minimum Investment. The majority of mutual funds, Vanguard mutual funds, for example, have a reasonable minimum requirement. Some funds even have a minimum of $1,000 and provide a monthly investment plan where you can start with as little as $50 a month.

Related Article: 7 Secrets Smart Professionals Use to Choose Financial Advisors

The disadvantage of mutual funds.

While there are several benefits to investing in mutual funds, there are some disadvantages as well. 

Active Fund Management. Mutual funds are actively managed. That means fund mangers are always on the look out for the best securities to purchase. That also means they can easily make mistakes.

Cost/expenses. While cost and expenses of investing in individual stocks are significantly higher than mutual funds, cost of a mutual fund can nonetheless be significant.

High cost can have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your mutual fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low cost. 

How you make money with mutual funds.

You make money with mutual funds the same way you would with individual stocks: dividend, capital gain and appreciation.

Dividend: Dividends are cash distributions from a company to its shareholders. Some companies offer dividends; others do not. And those who do pay out dividends are not obligated to do so. And the amount of dividends can vary from year to year.

As a mutual fund investor, you may receive dividend income on a regular basis.

Mutual funds offer dividend reinvestment plans. This means that instead of receiving a cash payment, you can reinvest your dividend income into buying more shares in the fund.

Capital gain distribution: in addition to receiving dividend income from the fund, you make money with mutual funds when you make a profit by selling a stock. This is called “capital gain.”

Capital gain occurs when the fund manager sells stocks for more he bought them for. The resulting profits can be paid out to the fund’s shareholders. Just as dividend income, you have the choice to reinvest your gains in the fund.

Appreciation: If stocks in your fund have appreciated in value, the price per share of the fund will increase as well. So whether you hold your shares for a short term or long term, you stand to make a profit when the shares rise. 

Best mutual funds.

Now that you know mutual funds make excellent investments, finding the best mutual funds can be overwhelming. 

Vanguard mutual funds.

Vanguard mutual funds are the best out there, because they are relatively cheaper; they are of high quality; a professional manage them; and their operating expenses are relative low. 

Here is a list of the best Vanguard mutual funds that you should invest in:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Funds
  • Vanguard 500 Index (VFIAX)
  • Total International Stock index Fund
  • Vanguard Health Care Investor

Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund 

If you’re looking for a diversified mutual fund, this Vanguard mutual fund is for you. The Vanguard’s VTSAX provides exposure to the entire U.S. stock market which includes stocks from large, medium and small U.S companies.

The top companies include Microsoft, Apple, Amazon. In addition, the expenses are relatively (0.04%). It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000, making it one of the best vanguard stock funds out there.

Vanguard S&P 500 (VFIAX)

The Vanguard 500 Index fund may be appropriate for you if you prefer a mutual fund that focuses on U.S. equities. This fund tracks the performance of the S&P 500, which means it holds about 500 of the largest U.S. stocks.

The largest U.S. companies included in this fund are Facebook, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and Amazon. This index fund has an expense ration of 0.04% and a reasonable minimum initial investment of $3,000.

You should consider the Vanguard International Stock Market fund of you prefer a mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks.

This international stock fund exposes its shareholders to over 6,000 non-U.S. stocks from several countries in both developed markets and emerging markets. The minimum investment is also $3,000 with an expense ratio of 0.11%.

Vanguard Health Care Investor

Sector funds are not usually a good idea, because the lack diversification. Sector funds are funds that invest in a specific industry like real estate or health care. However, if you want a fund to complement your portfolio, the Vanguard Health Care Investor is a good choice.

This Vanguard mutual fund offers investors exposure to U.S. and foreign equities focusing in the health care industry. The expense ration is a little bit higher, 0.34%. However, the minimum initial investment is $3,000, making it one of the cheapest Vanguard mutual funds.

Bottom Line

Mutual funds are great options for beginner investors or investors who have little time to research and invest in individual stocks. When you buy into these low cost investments, you’re essentially buying shares from companies.

Your money are pooled together with those of other investors. If you intend to invest in low cost investment funds, you must know which ones are the best. When it comes to saving money on fees and getting a good return on your investment, Vanguard mutual funds are among the best funds out there.

They provide professional management, diversity, low cost, income and price appreciation.

What’s Next: 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard mutual funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

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