2018 was a year many investors would just as soon forget.
While there were many standout opportunities along the way, most stocks, bonds, commodities and real estate investment trusts did a whole lot of nothing.
Let’s hope 2019 is better.
However, there are three steps you can take now – today – to earn higher returns this year no matter what the markets do.
1. Save More
The 2018 Retirement Confidence Survey revealed that millions of Americans are woefully unprepared for retirement. The single biggest reason is they haven’t saved enough.
More than a quarter of Americans (26%) have put aside less than $1,000 for retirement. Forty-five percent have saved less than $10,000. And the majority (56%) have accumulated less than $25,000.
I’ve been an avid saver since I was an indigent young man in my 20s. I drove a beater car. (The stereo was worth more than the vehicle.) I shared an apartment with friends. I had no health insurance. I had no employer-sponsored retirement plan.
But I saved. Frankly, I was terrified of what might happen if I didn’t.
Yet millions of Americans today believe that the government will deliver the material happiness they deserve, sparing them the trouble and discomfort of striving.
This is no path to financial security. The average retired worker received just $1,422 a month from Social Security last year.
To ensure a comfortable retirement, save as much as you can, for as long as you can, starting as soon as you can.
Unlike the performance of the stock and bond markets, saving is under your control.
2. Cut Your Investment Costs
In most walks of life, you get what you pay for. This is emphatically not the case when it comes to investment managers.
(There are a few exceptions, and we recommend some of the best in The Oxford Club’s Pillar One Advisors program.)
Every year, 3 out of 4 active fund managers fail to outperform an unmanaged benchmark. Over periods of a decade or more, more than 95% of them fail.
Do you really want to pay hefty fees to someone with less than a 1 in 20 chance of delivering the goods?
Investment fees and returns are inversely correlated. The more your advisor makes, the less you do.
This is particularly true in the fixed income area. Ten-year Treasurys currently yield 2.7%, for example. If you plunk for a bond fund with a 1% expense ratio, the fund is taking more than a third of your return.
That makes no sense. The goal is for you to get rich, not your broker or advisor.
3. Rebalance Your Portfolio
Despite the recent correction, the U.S. stock market has made a remarkable run since it bottomed nearly nine years ago. That means you may now have more in stocks than you’d be comfortable with in a prolonged downturn.
So rebalance your portfolio.
Rebalancing means you sell back those asset classes that have appreciated the most and put the proceeds to work in asset classes that have lagged the most.
This is a contrarian exercise. And it has one major salutary effect: It forces you to sell high and buy low. This adds to your long-term returns while reducing your risk.
Rebalancing doesn’t just mean moving out of high-performing stocks into low-performing bonds. Over the last several years, international markets – and particularly emerging markets – have delivered much lower returns than domestic equities.
Yet history tells us that will not always be the case.
Foreign markets often generate much higher returns than our own market. And if the greenback gives up some of the dramatic gains of the last few years, your dollar-based returns will be higher still.
So fight the urge to keep riding U.S. stocks higher and spread your risk.
Yes, I often tell traders to hang on to their winners and cut their losers short. But there’s a big difference between trading individual securities and rebalancing your portfolio.
When it comes to asset allocation, you flip the script and sell the assets that have surged and buy the laggards.
When the cycle turns – as it always does eventually – you’ll be glad you did.