July 2018 | Posted By Rick Hill

As we described in this related article, we’re fans of taking a rules-based approach to investing instead of trying to actively forecast a market’s next move or a stock price’s next swing. Attempts to outsmart the market are more likely to waste your energy than deliver higher long-term returns.

So, this begs the question: Why don’t we recommend index funds exclusively for our clients?

We really like aspects of the indexing philosophy. Passively managed index funds typically employ a rules-based strategy to capture returns by tracking a popular index at a low cost. So far, so good. But, as we focus in, like we did in this piece, we start to find some inefficiencies that point to why index funds may not be the optimal vehicle for clients looking to maximize market returns. Curious to learn more? Give us a call.

July 2018 | Posted By Matt Hall

“Recency” is one of the most insidious behavioral biases that can impact an investor’s ability to Take the Long View® with their investments. The name alone suggests it’s the opposite of what we’re about here at Hill Investment Group.

Those ruled by recency will disregard decades of data, and instead allow only the latest, relatively random data points to skew their view. A prime example occurs whenever purveyors of traditional active investing revisit a perennially misleading script that goes something like this: “If too many investors invest in index funds (i.e., if the market is left to run on auto-pilot), there will be nobody left to set proper pricing. Investors should revert to an active investment strategy, before it’s too late.”

Again, the argument is nothing new; if index funds were the only investment available, markets would indeed stop functioning. But with every new season, the traditional active camp seems to come up with a fresh batch of stats that supposedly signal that the end of index investing is nigh.

Recently, the focus has been on index investing inflows – or, more accurately, their reduced volume. So far this year, the deluge of dollars mostly heading out of active investing and into index/passive funds has decreased to a more orderly flow compared to 2017.

Is index investing on the wane? In this related piece, we share a quibble we do have with index investing, and why we typically favor a similar, but more direct approach for capturing scientific sources of expected return. But before anyone concludes it’s time to get more active at timing and selecting specific stock picks, here are three, recency-dispelling reads we suggest:

Index Funds Are Going to Be Just Fine,” Barry Ritholtz, ThinkAdvisor

Our favorite excerpt: “Why must we complicate what is otherwise a simple explanation? Investors have become a little more financially literate; indexing is maturing as an investment style. Those who are hoping for a major reversal of a trend that has been 40 years in the making are very likely to be disappointed.”

Indexing Fuss Unwarranted,” Larry Swedroe, ETF.com

Our favorite excerpt: “While it’s certainly possible that, at some point, passive investing could reach such a dominant share that price discovery would be limited, clearly, we are nowhere near that level, and almost certainly won’t be there for a very long time.”

The growth of index investing has not made the markets less efficient,” The Economist

Our favorite excerpt: “Perhaps the growth of indexing has robbed the world of outstanding stockpickers. But it seems more likely that it has put a lot of bad managers out of business … And it is not as if the buying and selling of stocks by informed investors with opinions has ceased. The turnover of stocks has actually increased over time. Active investors are more active than ever.”

July 2018 | Posted By John Reagan

Jared, with a few of his favorite CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ exam study books.

What does it take to become a CFP® practitioner, and what’s it to you whether your advisor has one or more of them on board?

As an acronym – the CFP® credential stands for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. Its use is strictly regulated by the CFP Board, which was established in 1985, with roots dating back to the 1960s.

As a credential – It ranks right up there with a CPA or MBA in terms of sweat equity. To even apply for certification, an individual must:

  1. Have a bachelor’s degree or better from a U.S.-accredited institution
  2. Pass a full-day exam
  3. Complete 4,000–6,000 hours of boots-on-the-ground financial planning experience
  4. Pass a background check and sign an Ethics Declaration

As an ongoing designation – a CFP® certificant can’t just coast once they’ve earned the credential. They must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education every two years, and remain compliant with their ethics declaration.

We’re proud to announce that our own Jared Machen has completed all the steps necessary to become a CFP® professional, which means we’ll soon have four CFP® certificants on the team, including me, Jared, Rick Hill and Henry Bragg.

Jared estimates he spent approximately 265 hours studying for the exam, which he passed on his first try. (That’s no cakewalk; the average pass rate is only about 60%.) While passing the CFP® Certification Examination was as challenging as ever, we did notice one way in which technology has helped those studying for it: When Rick passed his exam in 2001, he had to wait weeks for a letter to arrive in the mail. Jared completed his online, and accessed the results with two button clicks, three minutes after he’d finished.

Upon learning the news, Jared shared: “I’m excited to have the test behind me. But I’m even more excited to leverage what I’ve learned throughout the process to deepen my contributions to Hill Investment Group and our clients.”

Way to go, Jared!

June 2018 | Posted By Katie Ackerman

When we add a new team member, we look for special qualities and experiences to add to the depth of our group. There is no question PJ McDaniel and Jared Machen fit the bill.

As with the rest of our team, we like to provide a little more than “just the facts” in our website bios. For example:

  • What special day does our Client Service Associate Jared Machen and his wife Erin share in common (besides their wedding anniversary)?
  • What is Hillfolio Director PJ McDaniel’s favorite movie, and why?

You’ll find their bios and the answers here, along with the rest of our bios.

June 2018 | Posted By Matt Hall

I’m obsessed with tennis. It’s mostly a healthy obsession, but this time of year, I start to slip. Why? Wimbledon, the finest tennis tournament in the world, is about to begin. It’s steeped in tradition, and yet its host, the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, isn’t afraid of innovation and science.

Whenever there’s a way to combine statistical analysis, tennis, and investing, I’m all over it. That’s why my life was transformed nearly 20 years ago, when Larry Swedroe did exactly that in the brilliant introduction to his first book (emphasis mine):

“After making what I thought was a great shot, a forehand that landed right in the backhand corner of my opponent, my teaching pro said, ‘That shot will be your worst enemy.’ While it was an exceptional shot, he explained, it was not a high percentage shot for a good ‘weekend player.’ Remembering how good that shot felt, I would try to repeat it. Unfortunately, I would be successful on a very infrequent basis. The pro asked me if I wanted to make great shots or would I rather win matches? (I thought that one was the cause of the other.)”

Playing the winner’s game is what the pro was getting at as he cautioned Larry about falling in love with his special and rare shot. Winning calls for consistent and disciplined play. When players go for shots beyond their skills, they’re playing a loser’s game. This decades-old analogy goes back to a book by Dr. Simon Ramo, Extraordinary Tennis for the Ordinary Player.

With this background, you’ll know why the following ad is so meaningful to our firm. As a minor sponsor for the April 2018 Men’s Clay Court Championship, Hill Investment Group was proud to support an event that has been in play for more than a century – and held near our Houston office since 2001. As our sponsorship ad expressed, we enjoy helping investors play a winning game, by embracing a “long view” game plan.


Click on image to enlarge it


June 2018 | Posted By Hill Investment Group

Marilyn Wechter, MSW

In one of our recent posts, “You Need a Therapist,” Matt Hall described how we first connected with financial therapist Marilyn Wechter, MSW, and how much we’ve enjoyed collaborating with her ever since. This month, we thought it would be fun to share some of the ways we’ve been personally inspired by Marilyn. How have we used what we’ve learned from her – here in the office and at home? Read on to find out.

Rick Hill – One key takeaway from Marilyn has been how to share your financial values with your family, especially your children. How you spend your money communicates your values. Also, you can start talking to your children about money when they are very young; just tailor the conversation accordingly. Family meetings are important as well, although any communication is usually better than none. Marilyn once told me she’d conducted more than 1,000 family meetings and not one of them was a failure.

John Reagan – Marilyn has a way of putting things in perspective. For example, she’s helped me better balance my time and energy among the people and projects that are most important to me at work and home. “Live a little” are often good words to live by.

Nell Schiffer – Marilyn taught me that anxiety is contagious, which has been a simple but inspiring idea for me. We know that anxiety feels bad, but knowing that doesn’t always motivate us to let go of it. Realizing that our own anxiety can infect others is a powerful force for change, plus it reduces your own stress.

Henry Bragg – When the unexpected occurs – whether it’s death, divorce or Hurricane Harvey – being human is the most important thing you can do for others. Be sincere. Let people know you care, that you empathize with their concerns, and that you’re there to help, to the extent you’re able. Then just be yourself. Words of wisdom from Marilyn.

Buddy Reisinger – The most important thing I’ve learned from Marilyn is how to listen to others at a level I didn’t know I could. It’s still a work in progress, especially at home! But deeper listening has helped me better appreciate where others are coming from, why they feel the way they do, how they got where they are today, and where they’d like to go next. I’ve gotten better at stopping myself from interjecting before the other person has finished their thoughts.

Matt Hall – We all hold a mirror up to others. Am I intentional about what I am reflecting back? That’s my favorite lesson from Marilyn. She uses the example of a child learning to walk. If I hold out encouraging arms, a toddler will often smile and keep walking. If I project fear or doubt, most will sit down. The analogy holds true in our adult relationships too. I always try to remember that as I spend time with the important people in my life.

June 2018 | Posted By Nell Schiffer

Phishing. It can happen to almost anyone. Phishing emails try to trick you into clicking on their fraudulent links or attachments, which can inject your computer with malware or otherwise con you into giving away credit card numbers, login credentials and similar personal information.

For example, there’s been a fake email making the rounds lately, posing as an urgent notice from Schwab, and promising the recipient a “Security Benefits Award.” All you have to do (so they say), is click on the link provided and your account will be credited.

Unfortunately, those who fall for phishing schemes are far more likely to lose money than be credited any. Sheriff Schiffer here, with three solid suggestions on how to avoid getting hooked by a phisher.

  1. Don’t Click. Your first and strongest line of defense is to never click on any links or open any attachments in a phishing email. If you don’t take their bait, they won’t be able to reel you in.
  2. Don’t Trust. While it’s too bad we must always be on guard, today’s online environment essentially requires it. Rest assured, if Schwab or any other reputable service provider requires follow up from you, this is NOT how they’ll go about requesting it. Be especially wary of:
    • Unsolicited emails arriving out of the blue, even if they’re supposedly from a familiar source
    • Enticing offers or scary alerts with a sense of urgency; phishers know people tend to throw caution to the wind when greed or fear takes over; they literally bank on it
    • Typos, bad grammar or generic salutations; not all phishing emails contain these, but many do
  3. Do Verify. Believe me, your family, friends and professional alliances would much rather hear from you directly if anything they have supposedly sent to you seems suspicious. It’s always a good idea to be in touch by calling or sending a separate email (don’t hit “reply”), and asking the alleged sender if they really did send it.

A bonus tip: If an email smells “phishy” to you but you’re not sure either way, you should also be able to reach out to your financial advisor or a similar reputable source, asking for extra input. Here at Hill Investment Group, we’re happy to assist our clients with these sorts of questions. It’s in everyone’s best interest if we all join forces against phishers.

June 2018 | Posted By Henry Bragg

In our ongoing effort to clarify and simplify, we keep the financial jargon to a minimum. But even where we may succeed, you’re likely to encounter references elsewhere that can turn valuable information into mumbo-jumbo. Consider us your interpreter. Today, we’ll explore correlation, and why it matters to investing.

A Quick Take: Correlation Helps People Invest More Efficiently

Expressed as a number between –1.0 and +1.0, correlation quantifies whether, and by how much two holdings have behaved differently or alike in various markets. If we can identify holdings with weak or no expected correlation among one another, we can combine these diverse “pieces” (individual investments) into a greater “whole” (an investment portfolio), to help investors better weather the market’s many moods.

Correlation, Defined

As suggested above, correlation is more than just a quality; it’s also a quantity – a measurement – offering two important insights along a spectrum of possibilities between –1.0 and +1.0:

  1. Correlation can be positive or negative, which tells us whether two correlated subjects are behaving similar to or opposite of one another.
  2. Correlation can be strong or weak (or high/low), which tells us how powerful the similar or opposite behavior has been.

Correlation, Applied

Most investors are aware of the benefits of diversification, or owning many, as well as many different kinds of holdings. A well-diversified portfolio helps you invest more efficiently and effectively over time. Diversification also offers a smoother ride, which helps you better stay on course toward your personal financial goals.

But in a world of nearly infinite possibilities, how do we:

  • Compare existing funds – If one fund is expected to perform a certain way according to its averages, and another fund is supposed to perform differently according to its own averages, how do you know if they’re really performing differently as expected?
  • Compare new factors – What about when a researcher claims they’ve found a new factor, or source of expected returns? As this University of Chicago paper explains, “factors are being discovered almost as quickly as they can be packaged and sold to the waiting public.” How do we determine which are actually worth considering out of the hundreds proposed?
  • Compare one portfolio to another – Even perfectly good factors don’t always fit well together. You want factors that are not only strong on their own, but that are expected to create the strongest possible total portfolio once they’re combined.

Correlation is the answer to these and other portfolio analysis challenges. By quantifying and comparing the behaviors and relationships found among various funds, factors and portfolios, we can better determine which combinations are expected to produce optimal outcomes over time.

Correlation, Concluded  

Heeding correlation data is a lot like having a full line-up on your favorite sports team. If each player on the roster adds a distinct, useful and well-played talent to the mix, odds are, your team will go far. Similarly, your investment portfolio is best built from a global “team” of distinct factors, or sources of returns. A winning approach combines quality components that exhibit weak or no correlation among or between them across varied, long-term market conditions.

Let us know if we can use our experience and expertise to help you build a more diversified and less correlated portfolio.