How To Build a Noise-Cancelling Portfolio

Advanced, Tools

I’ve flown a lot over the years, and I understand first-hand how all of the little details like packing, efficiently getting through security, and getting settled on the plane become so routine for frequent travelers that they can do them without even thinking. But occasionally life throws you a curveball, just as it did on a recent flight where I was without my normal headphones. Stuck for several hours with nothing but the drone of the engines to keep me company, I can’t say I was thrilled but it turns out it was just the inspiration I needed to explain a complicated concept:

How do consistent portfolios full of volatile assets actually work?

Sure, I could go into a detailed discussion of covariance, standard deviations, and the complicated math behind efficient portfolio construction, but frankly I know I would quickly lose most people and even bore myself in the process. So inspired by the the desire for silence I normally take for granted, let’s step back and think of the problem a little differently in terms we can all relate to — noise.

Every Portfolio Has a Tradeoff, but It’s Not as Clear-Cut as You Think

Tools

Back in college my favorite engineering professor liked to repeat an adage that I bet everyone has heard at some point:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

I believe the first time I heard that phrase it was in reference to a literal gathering where they were enticing students with free pizza, and my professor astutely noted that, make no mistake, you were going to pay for it in some way. Nothing is ever truly free, and there was bound to be a call for your time or money as part of the deal. Of course he was right, as the string attached to that pizza was an eye-rolling sales pitch I really could have done without.

When Aiming for a Target Consider the Accuracy of the Weapon

Featured, Goals, Tools

When discussing investing options, the single most common referenced metric has got to be the average return. Reams of books and blogs have been written on individual asset classes and composite portfolios with the highest average returns looking both backward and forward, and amateur and professional investors alike spend more time than they probably want to admit thinking about how to maximize their own average return. Long-term averages are both set on a pedestal and also taken for granted, as many people idolize the average to the point where they’re willing to ignore very real risks under the belief that superior performance is inevitable if they only wait long enough.

But what happens when the long-term average return never manifests in your own portfolio even over extended timeframes? Was the data wrong? Did the markets change?

In reality, it’s most likely none of the above.

Study the Portfolio Rankings to Find an Investing Winner

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Traditionally the week before the New Year is the time when most blogs reflect on the past or ponder the future, but like the excited kid who just can’t wait to blurt out what he got you for Christmas I’ve got something special I really want to share. Between the turbulent financial markets that seem to have many investors questioning their portfolios, some fun tools that I’ve been tinkering with to help, and the college football bowl season that has me in the competitive spirit, there’s no time like the present to share one last holiday gift. So let’s save the melancholy contemplation and snarky lists for another day and have a little fun with some really interesting financial data.

Who is up for a good old-fashioned portfolio competition?

Unpack Financial Haystacks With The Updated Portfolio Finder

Advanced, Tools, Updates

Asset allocation is a obviously passion of mine, and I’m always excited when I find a new metric to tinker with.  These new ideas are not only interesting in their own right, but they also allow me to go back and refine some older tools to make them even better.  And it’s hard to think of a more appropriate place to start than one of my personal favorites — the Portfolio Finder.

How To Predict Withdrawal Rates Without A Crystal Ball

Advanced, Retirement, Tools

I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve the tools on Portfolio Charts, and Siamond really came through with his latest update to the Simba spreadsheet.  Buried in the heaps of interesting returns data is something really cool — direct calculations for safe and perpetual spending rates for a given investing period.  Based on an equation from a Morningstar white paper, they are particularly elegant compared to my old method and allow me to significantly improve the speed and stability of the Withdrawal Rates calculator.  And by doing so they open up a great deal of additional data that was previously too laborious to manage.

Well I’m a sucker for new data, and in the process of updating the calculator mechanics behind the scenes I took the opportunity to revisit an old question I’ve been wrestling with for a while.

 

How do you calculate a 40-year withdrawal rate when the worst start date for a particular portfolio was less than 40 years ago?

 

Discover Something New With The Updated Portfolio Finder

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When I was younger, I really enjoyed visiting my local used record store.  There was always something cool about walking into a sea of thousands of amazing albums I had never heard before and looking for something new and enjoyable.  Sometimes you’d hit it big and sometimes you’d run across something really weird, bit it was always a fun experience.

But strangely enough, I very rarely walked out with a purchased album.  Sure there was more great music there than I would ever be able to listen to in my lifetime, but in a way it ended up causing more problems than it solved.  You see, I’d have to take the time to listen to all of those albums in the store to know which ones were truly my taste, and frankly that was a lot of effort.  So I’d usually ultimately go on a friend’s recommendation rather than truly explore for myself.

People used to wonder back then how a relatively expensive music download service would ever take off when there were cheaper local options like my used record store.  But to me the most revolutionary new feature was not the “purchase” button, but the “search” box coupled with previews.  With an entire catalog available at the click of a button, good music was easier than ever to discover.  In my opinion breaking that barrier between the massive sea of music options and the ease of finding the right music for you was the key in driving the entire industry forward.  It’s about connecting people to artists.

I’ve applied a lot of that experience to Portfolio Charts, and it’s probably why the single tool I’ve spent the most time on is the Portfolio Finder.  If the Portfolios section is about showcasing the most popular albums, the Portfolio Finder is the app that lets you dig through the ocean of undiscovered talent for something truly original.  It’s been an ongoing project, and today I’m happy to announce the next iteration that should make it easier than ever to discover a portfolio idea to meet your personal investing goals.

An Illustrated Guide To Retirement Spending Strategies

Retirement, Tools

In all my years of working, I have yet to run across someone who didn’t appreciate getting a raise or become really agitated with the prospect of taking a salary cut.  Justified or not, the way that income level sets personal expectations seems to be ingrained in each of us from a young working age.  And after thinking that way for perhaps decades, it should come as no surprise that such a mindset doesn’t necessarily immediately evaporate the day we retire.  If you have a choice, do you really like the idea of leaving retirement income on the table?

So when studying the ins and outs of retirement finance, one little detail tends to really nag at the minds of certain optimization-oriented people — the assumption about the retirement spending method.  

How to Reconstruct a Stock Index from Scratch

Advanced, Tools

Regular readers will know that I often mention a desire to accumulate good data to add to the collection here.  Reliable old stock market history is notoriously difficult to come by, and the sources that do exist are either very limited in the indexes they track, heavily copyrighted, or insanely expensive and targeted to financial institutions.  So everyday investors like you and me have very few resources available and we do the best with what we can find.

After looking far and wide, I eventually came to the realization that finding good long-term returns data for individual indices that predates modern index fund equivalents with no strings attached just isn’t going to happen.  But being a naturally resourceful person, I wondered if that wasn’t a roadblock but an opportunity.  What can I personally do to fill the glaring hole in historical market data?