The technology gods really threw me a curveball this week. Microsoft rolled out a stealth update of their online Excel tools with what I’ll politely call a bunch of new “quirks”, and many of the site calculators that worked fine for years suddenly were unable to do even the simplest tasks like display numbers correctly. I admittedly push spreadsheets to their graphical limits and have always navigated little bugs the best that I can. But this one was beyond simple formatting issues and quick fixes.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years, however, is not to get too hung up on things you can’t control. So instead of dwelling on what clearly doesn’t work right now, I decided to take this as an opportunity to focus on what I’m good at and step up my visualization game. The end result is a bunch of revamped charts that both work like a charm and should hopefully be even easier to use and understand.
When you browse the various charts like those found in the My Portfolio tool, you’ll now notice that they no longer include simple summary statistics below each image. Those numbers are what inexplicably broke, but brainstorming how to fix the problem made me wonder why I listed them below the charts in the first place. Wouldn’t it be better to not only show the number but also visually illustrate where it comes from? For example, here’s the new and improved version of the Equalizer chart.
Instead of showing the Intensity and Balance values simply as raw numbers that may not make sense on their own, you can now find them on the right of the chart. Intensity is the spread between the max and min values, and balance is related to the proportion of annual returns that are above or below zero. The new way of displaying them should hopefully make their meaning a bit more obvious.
For another example, here’s the new version of the Target Accuracy chart.
Occasionally not every piece of information will fit on a single image, but there are still opportunities to visualize them in an intuitive way. Here the terminal portfolio values for the specified timeframe are labeled on the horizontal line in a way that directly ties to the visual of the main chart. So even without a long explanation the relationship should be immediately clear.
I won’t bore you with a list of every change, but just know that:
- I’ve double-checked the calculations and everything should be working normally again.
- Even though things may look a little different, every data point is still represented.
- The charts are more descriptive and can hopefully offer new investing insights.
I wasn’t expecting to change so many calculators this week, but sometimes fresh adversity is just the creative inspiration we all need. I’m pretty happy with the results and I hope you are, too.
Better modeling the Merriman Ultimate portfolio
While we’re talking about fixes, I’d also like to point out one small change to a portfolio on the site. I recently came across some information about Paul Merriman’s specific ETF recommendations that made me realize I’ve been interpreting his Merriman Ultimate portfolio incorrectly. For reference, I’ve been including his TIPS allocation with intermediate bonds in the tools. But the TIPS fund he recommends is specifically of the short term variety, so I’ve moved that allocation to more appropriate short term bonds.
The final allocation actually makes a lot more sense, with an even split between intermediate and short term bonds. And while the numbers shouldn’t be drastically different, they should be a little more accurate. So if you’re a fan of Merriman’s ideas definitely check it out.
A special thanks to everyone who pitched in
I’d also like to take a moment to thank everyone who contacted me with problems they noticed as they first popped up. I really appreciate your help! If you spot anything I missed, notice any new bugs in the future, or think I may be misinterpreting a portfolio idea, please don’t hesitate to let me know. It’s a team effort, and your feedback helps me stay on top of issues I wouldn’t normally find on my own. In fact, the experience of having to redesign most of the site tools by necessity has been enlightening in more ways than one.
Long story short, sometimes problems require you to find personal workarounds. While that can actually be empowering to a certain degree, when it comes to Portfolio Charts it doesn’t have to be like that! I want the site to be as useful as possible and my inbox is always open. So please check out the fancy new charts and feel free to let me know if you have any questions, requests, or suggestions.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but teamwork is the family that gets stuff done.
Thank you for being part of the Portfolio Charts family!
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