February, 2017 | Posted By Rick Hill

Michael Lewis’ latest book, “The Undoing Project,” weaves together the biographies of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, two Israeli psychologists whose work in the 1970s–1990s launched a new way of combining behavioral academics with practical applications. Their specialty was exploring the ways the human mind makes systematic errors when forced to judge uncertain situations.

At first, you may not think that sounds like gripping entertainment. But in typical Michael Lewis fashion, these pair of academics become a fascinating read.

I and my Hill Investment Group colleagues had the privilege of meeting Lewis and hearing him speak shortly after he published his 2003 book, “Moneyball.” In it, he showed how Major League Baseball teams were making poor decisions on valuing players based on human judgment. Defying convention, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane evaluated players using data rather than “expert” judgments to successfully compete against teams boasting much higher payrolls.

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The HIG team meets Michael Lewis (center).

When Lewis wrote “Moneyball,” he wasn’t aware how powerful his book would become. He was simply intrigued by a real-life illustration of objective evidence beating the pants off of conventional so-called wisdom.

In some respects, “The Undoing Project,” is a prequel to “Moneyball.” Lewis admits, he didn’t realize it at the time how much of what he explored in “Moneyball” came directly from professors Tversky and Kahneman and their earlier work. Once he connected the dots, he decided to write a book about them too. Their story is about how they used their understanding of systematic errors in people’s judgment to improve that judgment, and thus improve their decision-making.

I believe one of their most important findings is this: Knowing you or others have biases (such as relying on overly small samples, anchoring on past assumptions, and mistaking hindsight as being predictive) isn’t sufficient to overcome them. Even when we know we’re being influenced, we often let it happen anyway!

Here’s one example from Lewis’ book:  In 2016, basketball player Jeremy Lin signed a $38 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets – clearly a coveted hire. But back in 2010, no NBA team would draft him. “He lit up our models,” one team manager said … but as a Chinese-American Harvard grad, Lin didn’t fit the stereotype. Even though they had the evidence (the models) in hand, they were unable to overcome their biases and recruit him when he could have been had for far less money.

Back to professors Kahneman and Tversky. In 2002, Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for the work that continues to shape our lives today. Amos Tversky likely would have received the award as well but, sadly, he passed away in 1996, and Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously. In any case, their work has contributed to untold advances in medical diagnosis, military decisions, professional sports and – last but hardly least – financial economics.

Across all of these disciplines and more, the takeaway is that human bias is ever-present, which is why we must remain ever on guard against it. Hint: One of the best ways I know to combat your own biases is to recruit someone who is aware of how prevalent they are, to let you know when it’s happening to you.

 

February, 2017 | Posted By Matt Hall

Survivor-Outperformance-2Sometimes, it’s admirable to persevere against slim odds and sometimes not – such as if you’re trying to pick the next winners among actively managed funds. Think you can identify which ones will not only survive the next few years but also outperform their peers? Dimensional took a look at this question and found the likelihood is somewhere in the range of slim odds to fat chance.

Want to know more about how to interpret this chart – and invest accordingly? Give us a call.

February, 2017 | Posted By Henry Bragg

Part of our job here at Hill Investment Group is to keep a relatively close eye on financial industry news, so our clients don’t have to (unless they find it interesting). One technical tidbit caught our eye recently when Vanguard’s advisor news channel reported on how its index funds will be impacted by a change to the way the Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP) will be reconstituting its indexes.

Wow, that’s a lot of jargon. Let’s translate.

Most investors are familiar with the broad strokes of index investing. An index fund identifies a slice of the market to invest in – such as U.S. small-company value stocks. The fund manager then picks an index that tracks that same swath, and buys up essentially everything that index is holding. For the past several years, Vanguard has been using CRSP indexes to fulfill that role.

Mostly, that’s a relatively sensible way to go about investing. CRSP indexes are at least as robust as any others for tracking particular markets. And index funds are certainly better than active managers, who spend their time and your money trying to dodge in and out of markets, without adding expected extra worth.

If there weren’t an even better – let’s say best – way to go about it, we’d probably be all in on index funds ourselves (and there are times we use them, when we feel they are the ideal tool for the job at hand). But, instead of investing in funds that follow indexes that follow a swath of the market … we typically prefer funds that skip the index “middle man,” and buy into the vast majority of a market swath directly. Dimensional Fund Advisors is one such fund manager, and the longest-tenured among them, having been around since 1981.

Vanguard’s recent announcement speaks to one reason we prefer the more direct approach. One bugaboo index funds face is what to do whenever its underlying index “reconstitutes,” or changes the securities it’s tracking. Every index does this from time to time. For example, say a small company becomes a big company. A small-cap index must then stop tracking its stock and, usually, pick a different one to track instead.

That means any index fund tracking that index must actually sell and buy those same swapped-out securities – and relatively quickly if it wants to keep accurately reflecting its target index. You may already be a step ahead of me if you recognize that this creates some pricing challenges. If several index fund managers are all trying to sell and buy the same securities at around the same time, the trades can end up costing more than if there weren’t an essentially artificial supply-and-demand issue at play.

To help alleviate (although probably not eliminate) that challenge, CRSP has announced it will spread its reconstitution activities across five days instead of just one.

Again, that’s a sensible idea, and it may help some. But remember, fund managers like Dimensional allow us to avoid the reconstitution challenge entirely by more directly tracking the small-cap value market (and many others). This is a topic for another post, but direct tracking also offers other advantages over being tied to an index. Suffice it to say here that not all small-cap value funds are equally as effective at capturing the expected premiums available from this relatively narrow market.

So, with respect to Vanguard’s recent announcement, “better” is nice. But when the choice is, “better or best?” … we still prefer best.

February, 2017 | Posted By John Reagan

Even though it’s no longer the new year, when “fresh start” resolutions are top of mind, there’s never a bad time to do some good organizing. For that, we are pleased to share this post about Hill Investment Group’s fully mobile client portal.

What’s a portal? I’m glad you asked. Think of it as a cross between a filing cabinet, safety deposit box and personal assistant, rolled together to ensure that everything contributing to your financial life is securely stashed, and readily accessible – whenever you may need it from wherever you may go.

Here’s a short preview to see what we mean.

I know. There are a lot of gadgets out there. It can be hard to imagine how liberating a well-built financial portal can be if you’ve never used one.

Fortunately, we’ve done the due diligence for you, and have selected an innovative tool that combines user-friendly form with powerful function. We’re not just talking about accessing your investment accounts. Think, too: bank accounts and retirement plans, credit cards and collectibles, home interests and insurance policies, payments due and dollars received, financial goals assigned and achieved, emergency paperwork and more … together at last.

The more complicated your financial life becomes, the more critical it is to have a solid portal – your secure, dependable doorway to your financial interests.

PS: It doesn’t hurt to have a wealth manager on board as well, to help you act on the many possibilities that more organized living can reveal. That’s what we’re here for!  Email service@hillinvestmentgroup.com with questions or to get set up.

February, 2017 | Posted By Buddy Reisinger

At Hill Investment Group, we’re big on bringing simplicity to our clients’ financial lives, transitioning their investment world from messy to meaningful.

One way we turn our talk into action is by closely coordinating our efforts with our clients’ other specialized providers. This time of year, that’s often their CPA, as tax season goes into full swing. We pitch in by gathering all the tax documents released for all of the accounts we manage for each client – all those Form 1099s, for example – and sending them in a handy bundle to our clients’ CPA or similar tax professional.

This allows our clients to focus on what is important to them, instead of having to scramble around, hunting down the latest tax documents on their own.

Simply put, we love being a team player by pitching in on behalf of our clients.

January, 2017 | Posted By Matt Hall

We kick off our 2017 communications with you by celebrating a new addition! We are thrilled to join Katie and her husband Doug in welcoming their newborn Sally Marie Ackerman to the world. Sally arrived at 5:52 pm on January 10 (just in time for supper), weighing in with all of her 8 pounds, 3 ounces. All reports suggest that Sally is healthy, a fantastic eater, and a perfect sleeper during the day. Nighttime sleeping is something she’s working on in the first quarter of 2017.

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January, 2017 | Posted By Rick Hill

Even though we at Hill Investment Group do our best to always Take the Long View, I have a confession to make: When it comes to investment performance, I still have days and even years that I like more than others. 2016 is one of them.

It’s not just because the annual performance numbers across many of our global markets were remarkably strong. That’s nice, but I’m more interested in the tale these numbers tell us – or, actually, re-tell us – about investing in good times and bad.

Asset allocation (still) makes sense.

After a few years of underdog performance that tested many investors’ discipline, small-cap and value stocks proved their mettle this year, globally and especially in the U.S. As Dimensional Fund Advisors observed in its recently released 2016 Market Review (emphasis ours): “Over 2016, the US small cap premium marked the seventh highest annual return difference since 1979 when measured by the Russell 2000 Index minus Russell 1000 Index.”

 

56389 Exhibit 5

 

Market-timing (still) does NOT make sense.

2016 also was a text-book example of how investors who may have been tempted to try to capture the market’s crests and avoid its chasms would likely have missed out on the year’s ultimately rewarding returns. To share Wes Wellington’s comments from his “Look Back at 2016“:

“Every year brings its share of surprises. But how many of us could have imagined that 2016 would see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, Bob Dylan receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Donald Trump elected president, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average close out the year a whisker away from 20,000? The answer is very few—a lesson that investors would be wise to remember.”

Dimensional’s report further notes (emphasis ours): “Most of the performance for small caps came in the last two months of the year, after the US election on November 8.” This represents another outcome that would have been difficult if not impossible to predict without a great deal of luck on your side.

Diversification remains your best bet.

Almost two years ago to the day, following a year in which U.S. large-cap stocks had continued to outperform most other asset classes, I posted this reminder about the importance of remaining diversified: “Clearly, the tables can turn abruptly and destructively for the nondiversified investor.”

With small-cap and value stocks’ strong resurgence, 2016 reemphasized this same lesson in a fresh way. It tells us that diversification remains as important as ever in a world in which near-term prognostications remain a matter of luck, not skill.

As Oaktree Capital’s Howard Marks expressed in his “opinion of opinions” in a recent post:

“There are no facts about the future, just opinions. Anyone who asserts with conviction what he thinks will happen in the macro future is overstating his foresight, whether out of ignorance, hubris or dishonesty.”

What does 2017 have in store for us as investors? In all honesty, I don’t have the hubris to guess.

January, 2017 | Posted By Henry Bragg

Here’s another idea to consider as you embark on a fresh start in 2017: In financial jargon, what you own is sometimes referred to as asset allocation. But what about where you own what you own? That’s called asset location. It’s about deciding whether to locate your stocks, bonds and other holdings in your taxable or tax-sheltered accounts, so we can maximize your portfolio’s overall tax efficiency.

Unfortunately, compared to asset allocation, asset location is less familiar to most investors. That’s too bad, because a little bit can go a long way toward minimizing some of the sticker shock you experience when your Form 1099s start rolling in, revealing your annual taxable capital gains and interest earnings.

How far can it take you? In this related Illustration of the Month, Nerd’s Eye View’s Michael Kitces estimates it can bring you up to 0.75% of economic impact to your bottom line.

How Does Asset Location Work?

The general rule of thumb is to:

  • Place your least tax-efficient holdings in your tax-sheltered accounts, where you aren’t taxed annually on the capital gains or interest earned. Think bonds, real estate and tax-inefficient equities such as emerging markets.
  • Place your most tax-efficient holdings in your taxable accounts – such as the rest of your stock holdings.
  • In your taxable accounts, invest in low-cost evidence-based funds that are deliberately managed for additional tax efficiencies. (Start by looking for “tax managed” in their fund names and prospectuses.)

Advisor to Assist

It makes intuitive sense that, by locating your most heavily taxed investments within your tax-sheltered accounts, you can minimize or even eliminate their tax inefficiencies as described. But it’s not as easily implemented as you might think.

First, there is only so much room within your tax-sheltered accounts. After all, if there were unlimited opportunity to tax-shelter your money, we’d simply move everything there and be done with it. In reality, challenging trade-offs must be made to ensure you’re making best use of your tax-sheltered “space.”

Second, it’s not just about tax-sheltering your assets; it’s about doing so within the larger context of how and when you need those assets available for achieving your personal goals. Arriving at – and maintaining – the best formula for you and your unique circumstances involves many moving parts with judgment calls and tradeoffs to consider, and evolving tax codes to remain abreast of.

Ready To Get Located?

It’s common for your assets to wander far and wide over the years, as you accumulate regular accounts, retirement plan accounts and financial service providers galore. Proper asset location often gets lost in the shuffle, and can result in your paying more than you need to on your income taxes. If you’ve not yet built asset location into your investing, consider this tax season to be a great time to take a closer look at how to put asset location to work for you and your wealth.