Praise for Are You a Stock or a Bond
Praise for Are You a Stock or a Bond?
"Milevsky guides us through the perilous financial wilderness in pursuit of the promised land of a secure retirement. Milevsky has the rare gift to illuminate abstract financial and mathematical concepts in everyday language and experiences. A must-read in this age of the growing burden on individuals to shoulder greater responsibility for their financial security in retirement."
Steven Siegel, Research Actuary, Society of Actuaries
"The author provides a holistic approach to lifetime financial planning and discusses cutting-edge ideas about how you should manage your asset allocation, demand for insurance, and many other financial decisions. In this book, Milevsky demonstrates his unique ability to explain key financial concepts using down-to-earth language."
Dr. William Reichenstein, CFA, Baylor University
"Milevsky brings much recent research to bear in trying to help people use concepts of modern financial economics in integrated personal financial planning. A key element he brings to the forefront here is understanding the role individual labor income, lifestyle, and longevity play in modern dynamic portfolio theory."
Sid Browne, Ph.D., Brevan Howard Asset Management and Columbia Business School
"This book is a must-read for anyone who desires life-long financial security. Those who read it will have a much deeper understanding of how concepts such as 'human capital' and 'risk management' are not arcane academic terms, but rather concepts that provide an extraordinarily useful road map for creating lasting financial security."
Jeffrey R. Brown, Professor of Finance, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
How Much Risk Are You Really Handling?
I normally don't speak to anybody on airplanes unless it is absolutely necessary, preferring instead to mind my own business, catch up on emails, or fill in paperwork. However, when the attractive, middle-aged lady sitting next to me on the flight from Dallas to Boston asked me whether the article I was reading was interesting, I decided to break my long-standing aviation rule and take up the conversation.
Apparently, Kimberlyor Kim as she preferred to be calledwas flying to a job interview at a large and well-known financial services company headquartered on the east coast. She was rather apprehensive about the interview because the advertised area was completely new to her, and she didn't have much experience or knowledge of the financial industry. Being a professor of finance myself, it was fun and easy for me to offer some tips and trends.
As we chatted, it became apparent that she had recently lost her job at a medium-sized manufacturing company around the Dallas areaa casualty of cheaper labor and products from overseasand was instead trying her luck in a completely different field. Her extensive expertise and knowledge of a particular software program used by her previous employer was of little use outside of the narrow manufacturing sector in which she had spent the last decade of her life. So, she was basically starting from scratch.
To make matters worse for Kim, although she was employed at the Dallas-based company for more than eight years, she didn't have much savings accumulated in her employer-sponsored, tax-sheltered savings plan. The company didn't offer a traditional pension plan, which actually had been frozen years ago. Indeed, the bulk of her tax-sheltered (aka 401k) savings plan had been allocated to one mutual fund and the common stock of the company she actually worked for. Neither of these investments had done very well in the last few years, and her account value was well under the cost basis of the funds. Basically, it was worth much less than the sum of all the money she had ever invested in the plan. The reason she had allocated so much to this one stock is because the company offered a matching deal. Every $100 of salary she deferred and contributed to the 401(k) plan would be matched by the company with $50 of company stock. Effectively, she was getting a 50% investment return on her money, from day oneand it was tax deferred. At first glance, this is a great deal, and many companies offer the same plan. Unfortunately, though, her company's stock price had fallen by more than 60% in the last 18 months, which basically wiped out the gains. In fact, the day she and more than 1,000 other employees were let go, the stock price fell a further 15%, likely because the company announced a major restructuring at the same time.
I obviously felt bad for her, although she seemed to be dealing with her financial misfortune with great poise. She was actually looking forward to starting a new job and perhaps new life working in the financial services industry in Boston. She said it reminded her of graduating from college almost 15 years ago with no savings, no relevant work experience, and a bunch of credit card debt. What a great, positive attitude.
As the flight continued and the conversation evolved, it turns out that she was recently separated from her husband, who coincidently had also been laid off from the same employer on the exact same day. Kim had originally met him at a company picnic a number of years ago, and they had much in common, including a shared employer and career prospects. But, the stress of the dual job loss and the ensuing financial strain had taken a toll on their marriage, and the two of them were in the process of selling their house, which was located a short commute from their old employer, while working out the divorce proceedings.
As if the stress of a job loss wasn't enough, unfortunately, the real estate market wasn't being kind to them either. The house was apparently now worth 20% less than what they had paid a few years ago, and they were having a very tough time getting any offers on the house. I suspected that this difficulty is likely because a number of other residents in the neighborhood, who had also been laid off recently, were also trying to sell their homes at the same time.
Kim was hoping that they would eventually be able to sell the house for at least the value of the mortgage, which, of course, is the amount they actually owed the bank. Otherwise, they might be faced with the terrible possibility of having to file for bankruptcy, or perhaps even face foreclosure. Apparently, Kim and her husband had financed the purchase of their house with an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) whose underlying interest rate had just been reset to a higher level. The monthly payments were now double what they were two years ago.
As you might suspect by this point in the narrative, I never actually met a Kimberly on an airplane to Boston. I'm sure there are many Kimberlys out there; I just haven't met them yet. I made up her and her very gloomy life just to make a point. Many nice people who have successful jobs, lovely houses, and hefty 401(k) accounts are destined to be Kimberly. They just don't know it yet.
These individuals have placed too many of their life eggs in one basket. They have, unfortunately, allocated their careers, houses, investment portfolios, and even marriages into one economic sector. They have thus violated the most important rule of modern financial theory, and that is to diversify your risk factors. Many people incorrectly believe that diversification only applies and is relevant to the stocks and bonds in your investment accounts. The truth is that it should be applied to anything that has the potential to generate an income or cash flow. Diversification should be applied to all the stocks and bonds in your daily life, not just to your financial portfolio.
In today's volatile economic environment and financial markets, investors are constantly reevaluating their attitude to financial risk on virtually a daily basis. During the times and periods stock markets are in positive territory and increasing in value, the masses believe they are risk tolerant. Then, in the next week, month, or year when markets decline sharply, they decide they are risk averse and can't handle the volatility. They sell out, liquidate, and miss-time the market. Their attitude to financial risk is more fickle than the markets themselves, and risk-aversion becomes an elusive temperament without a solid foundation. It is, therefore, almost meaningless to ask people what their risk attitude is. It changes based on yesterday's market, today's mood, and even tomorrow's weather. How can one make investment decisions regarding hundreds of thousands of dollars based on the answer to a question that changes daily?
This book argues that your approach to financial risk should not be based on a psychological mindset based on your temper du jour, but instead on the composition of your entire personal balance sheet. My main message is that YOU must start approaching your financial situation in a more holistic manner. Your house, your city, your job, your marriage, and even your health is a financial asset that must coexist and be diversified with the rest of the financial assets and liabilities on your personal balance sheet. In this book, I explain why this holistic diversification is so important and how you can do it.
In the past, a financial portfolio of stocks and bonds was more of a perk than a necessity. The investment account was a retirement income supplement or perhaps a part-time hobby. Today, your stocks and bondsvery broadly definedwill become the means by which you will be able to finance and support the last 20 or 30 years of your life. You owe it to yourself to base these decisions on more than "do you feel lucky today?"
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