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Investors are bombarded with financial advice. Personal finance publications and websites, news outlets, podcasts, broadcast personalities and even well-meaning friends are prolific sources of financial wisdom. Advice runs the gamut from intelligent and actionable to downright dangerous, but there are certain old saws we hear time and again. Even experienced investors sometimes rely on maxims that are no longer relevant in today’s investment climate.
Let’s re-examine some common principles that it’s time to retire.
Cash Is King
While it’s always prudent to keep cash on hand to meet current spending needs, uninvested assets don’t generate a return.
“It pays to be fully invested, as in the long run, equities outperform bonds and cash,” says Ilka Gregory, head of client relationships at Truvvo Partners, a wealth advisory firm in New York City catering to ultra-high-net-wealth individuals (UHNWI).
Of primary importance is determining the appropriate asset allocation based on investment objectives, risk tolerance and liquidity requirements. She notes that “while some investors may have an appetite for opportunistic investing, deploying cash reserves for such investments requires market timing, which is difficult and hard to do well consistently. The best way to maximize investment returns is to be fully invested in a global portfolio diversified across multiple asset classes.”
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Debt Is Bad and Should Be Avoided
Many investors have a distorted view of debt and fail to realize that it’s a tool that can be wielded effectively. Of course, an excessive level of debt is risky and it’s never wise to carry more debt than you can comfortably repay. However, judicious use of debt can be advantageous, particularly when interest rates are low.
With mortgage rates around 3% in the current environment, taking on a modest amount of debt can be a good idea even if you’re able to purchase a home in cash. This is a great way to free up funds for other projects—like renovations, for example—and avoid tying up cash in one asset. Mortgage interest also remains tax deductible in most cases, making it possible to reduce tax liability while enjoying greater financial flexibility. Cash freed up by taking a mortgage can also be invested in other assets that generate a return.
Alternative Assets Are Unacceptably Risky
Hedge funds, private equity and real estate are all considered alternative assets, with investment typically limited to accredited investors who must meet certain income and net worth requirements. While these investments are often complicated and may be less liquid, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are higher risk.
A private equity investment, for example, may be subject to a lockup period. This makes it possible for a private equity fund to take a longer term, more strategic approach and potentially create incremental value.
Private equity investors take an active approach to portfolio investments, creating value by participating in management and governance while lending financial and operational expertise. Investors who can afford the loss of liquidity often benefit, as private equity has outperformed the stock markets with a similar level of risk. Moreover, adding alternatives to an investment portfolio may add diversification, thus reducing risk, while augmenting return.
Investing for Income Alone
Many investors are focused on generating income from interest and dividends. This becomes particularly difficult in a low-interest-rate environment. Moreover, investors may be limiting themselves by favoring stocks that offer higher dividends over those with greater potential for growth.
Total return, including both income and appreciation, is a more robust metric. By focusing on total return, investors can smooth and increase their income stream while increasing overall performance even in the face of market fluctuations.
“The entire portfolio is the engine to generate returns, taking into consideration interest, dividends, distributions and capital gains, while allowing you to optimize the portfolio regardless of yield,” says Truvvo’s Gregory,
ESG Investing Involves Higher Risk and Lower Returns
The notions that socially responsible investing can compromise portfolio performance or involve a higher level of risk are misguided. Companies that implement environmental, social and governance investing (ESG) frequently outperform less-forward thinking firms and enjoy greater profitability. As with any investment, investors should consider each ESG opportunity on its individual merits and conduct appropriate due diligence.
Use Multiple Financial Advisors to Enhance Diversification
While allocating assets to a broad range of funds enhances diversification, working with multiple advisors can create significant issues, particularly when the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. Every client, particularly UHNWIs, need unified oversight to ensure that all investment activities achieve the desired objectives. Without such oversight, the failure of advisors to coordinate can lead to tax problems, conflicting strategies and a failure to manage capital gains. The investor can also end up paying significantly more in fees for little to no gain.
The Prevailing Wisdom Isn’t Written in Stones
There are many principles of investing that are immutable, like the relationship between risk and return or the fact that diversification is proven to reduce risk. But there are many commonly held maxims that are not. It pays to examine prevailing philosophies on investing and reconsider how entrenched ideas may no longer be serving to maximize returns and meet investment objectives.
With this in mind, it might be the right time to initiate a conversation with your financial advisor and think about ways to enhance your investment outcomes.