Investment Tips & Investment Advice

By: Joe Ficalora

Different Types of Investments:

As we said last time, owning a stock is like owning part of a company. As the company rises or falls in value, so does the price of it’s stock. A key distinction is that the value of the stock is not only driven by the fundamental value of the company, but by other factors as well. These factors may include overall stock market trends, domestic versus foreign trade issues, business sector climate, etc. Owning a bond, is like owning part of a loan to a company or institution, like the State of Texas. Bonds typically pay a fixed amount of dividend as the loan is repaid. The bond’s value is determined by the interest rate on the underlying loan, and the current interest rates and trends in the marketplace. For example, who would not want own a 10% bond right now, when the money markets or bank passbook savings accounts are paying 3%? Should the institution or company fail or default on the loan, you could lose all or most of your bond’s value. Large companies or institutions usually issue bonds; so the risk is greatly reduced over owning a company’s stock share.

A stock mutual fund, is a group of stocks owned by a fund company to achieve certain investment objectives. Likewise a bond mutual fund is a group of bonds held to achieve a certain investment objective. Mutual funds, in both stock and bond types exist in many styles and forms. Fundamentally they are a savvy collection of stocks or bonds assembled and professionally managed for a specific or combination of investment aims. These typically diversify your investments so that no one particular company can sink your entire investment. The converse is that no one single stock can shoot your mutual fund up to a huge return.

Typically each mutual fund focuses upon growth, income, value, large, small or mid-capitalization companies, or a combination of these objectives. There are thousands of different funds and dozens of fund families to choose from. There are also companies that rate mutual funds, like Morningstar ( ). Some mutual funds use a management team to select and prune stocks in the portfolio, some use certain methods, and some follow the leadership of a single fund manager. You should check these out before investing in a particular fund.

An oft-overlooked mutual fund consideration is the management fee or what are referred to as 12b-1 fees. Most fees are in the range of 1 to 2%. Be wary of any fund outside that range. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission can help unravel some of these issues for you. A good starting point is their investor section on mutual fund performance, specifically . They also have a fund cost calculator to help take into account the fund management fees. Some funds are no-load mutual funds because they do not pay a sales person any commissions for selling fund shares. These are typically lower in cost, and if you own them for a long time, they can make a difference in the net return on your mutual fund investment. Conversely, there are loaded funds, which charge a commission when you invest in their fund. These vary widely in amounts, so ask for exact details before investing. Some require you to pay the sales commissions; others add that to the fund expenses. Either way it’s a cost to you. The Vanguard Funds ( ) are often mentioned as a leader in creating no-load, low cost mutual funds. You will find compelling arguments at their website for owning no-load funds. You should check carefully on overall fund performance including fees when evaluating fund choices.

Measuring Risk:

Most mutual fund and stock tables and resources will list something called the beta or volatility of the items listed. Beta is a measure of the risk of the security listed associated with variation of the security when compared to the overall stock market. If beta is 1, then the stock or mutual fund varies about the same as the general market index. If less than 1, then the security is less volatile than the general index of comparison, with higher than 1 meaning more risk.

Measuring Risk-adjusted Returns:

There is also parameter called alpha, which is the market-adjusted return of the security. If alpha is positive, then the security earned a higher return than the relative market index of comparison. If alpha is negative, then the security earned less than the market did.

Minimizing Overall Risk:

Risks in the future may be reduced in the present only through preparation, planning and actions!

We discussed preparation and planning for the future in the last Investment Corner, which is a key risk-reduction strategy.

Risk reduction for investing is typically achieved through:

• Diversification,

• Portfolio Allocation,

• Pre-determined buying and selling prices, and

• Adherence to personal investing rules.

Now let’s look at the first part of risk reduction strategy for investing.


Diversification is spreading out your investments across several areas to reduce risk and capture growth in multiple places. Diversification is typically done at several levels. At the uppermost level, we typically diversify investments across different investment vehicles, such as cash, stocks, bonds and real estate. By doing this, we reduce several important risks. Inflation can reduce the value of cash on hand over time, which is why smart folks do not keep their life savings in cash hidden in a mattress! On the other hand, inflation can drive down the value of fixed dividend investments like bonds as well. Real estate may rise or decline with inflation, depending upon the health of both the local and the greater economies. Fixed hard assets like precious metals funds (gold) will usually rise on inflation or fears of inflation. Other risks include stock market declines, individual company bankruptcies, and so on…. By not “placing all the eggs in one basket” we lower our exposure to risks through diversification. During broad stock market declines, many folks move assets from stocks to cash or bonds. And of course the opposite during bull market runs.

Another diversification notion is that of slicing up your investment by specific growth sectors. Within a specific type of investment vehicle, say Mutual Funds, we diversify across the available growth and income sectors. Typically this is large, medium and small companies, as well as high dividend or high growth type stocks. You also could look into diversifying into domestic or international companies such as Asia-Pacific.

At the lower levels of investment diversification are multiple choices within a specific growth target. Most advisors strongly recommend diversification within a stock or bond market holding. If you feel for example that the Internet’s growth will continue or expand soon, buying stock in several companies who offer Internet products would help lower risk of any one company not doing too well. Diversification across several stocks is usually done in simple form through equal partitioning. If for example you had $10,000 to invest, how would you do it? You could place 20% of your total investment amount in each of 5 different Internet stocks as in Table I:

Table I –Stock Investment Diversification

Stock Name Current Price 90 Day High 90 Day Low Amount Invested ~ Shares

Company A $25 $28 $20 $2000 80

Company B $40 $40 $20 $2000 50

Company C $60 $60 $20 $2000 33

Company D $300 $300 $198 $2000 7

Company E $8 $9 $3 $2000 250

By looking at the trading ranges across the 90-day history, you can estimate the risks or volatility of each stock. Do the stocks have the same risks? Do they all have the same growth potential?

One approach would be to allocate risks equally, as opposed to allocating investment equally. You would be to use the information in the range of stock trading prices to assess risk and re-allocate your investments as this diversification calculator shows below in table II:

Table II – Risk Diversification Calculator

Risk Diversification Calculator

Investment Amount $10,000

Stocks 5

Stock_1 Stock_2 Stock_3 Stock_4 Stock_5

90-day Max $28 $40 $60 $300 $9

90-day Min $20 $20 $20 $198 $3

Cur. Price $25 $40 $60 $300 $8

Trade Rnge 32% 50% 67% 41% 100%

Eq. Amt $2,000 $2,000 $2,000 $2,000 $2,000

$$ at Risk $640 $1,000 $1,333 $819 $2,000

Risk Ratio 1 1.5625 2.083 1.28 3.125

Risk-Red. $2,000 $1,280 $960 $1,562 $640

Adj. Inv.$3,104 $1,987 $1,490 $2,425 $993

If you do not want to do the research and monitoring required for several individual stocks or bonds, choosing a mutual fund may be the wisest choice, with a smaller but usually acceptable return on your investment. The key question you need to answer is not “Should I diversify?”, but rather “How will I diversify my investments?”

About YOU

The primary things you should know about yourself before selecting among the different types of investments are:

I. How much of my time is available to monitor/manage my investments?

II. How often do I want to change my investment choices?

III. Do I want help and advice from investment professionals?

These are important questions you need to answer for yourself. All investment requires some time commitments to monitor and manage. When stock markets or life situations begin to change, you may need to change your investment choices. If your experience level does not warrant it, getting professional help may increase both your results and comfort level.

I. Time to manage your investments: Your time is worth money! At least if you can put it to good use in managing your investments… but do not become obsessive with it. Investments take time to grow. Every investment portfolio must be watched and pruned from time to time. You wouldn’t want to look back after 5 years and find that right after your investment choices were made, that the business climate changed and those choices had become poor performers.

Two typical uses of your time applied to investment managing:

• Weekly, monthly or quarterly checking for:

o Stock movements

o Business climate changes,

o Company news

• Annual or quarterly allocation changes

o Re-planning or shifting your plans

o Pruning and re-diversification

o Reallocation of investment amounts

Weekly or Monthly Check-ups

If you buy individual stocks and bonds, these will need monitoring more often than if you had purchased mutual funds. However, stock and bond funds need attention too, just less often.

Some questions you should answer for yourself are:

• Can I afford time each week to check investments (Friday night or Saturday morning)? This is important for individual stocks and bonds.

•Am I disciplined enough to check my investments periodically? This is critically important, as the business environments are constantly changing.

• Can I put this on a monthly calendar and stick with it? Monthly checkups are important no matter what your investments may be…

• If I get an automatic e-mail sent will I read it? Many investment houses will do this for all accounts above a certain size limit. You can pool your investments under one roof, usually with savings in cost plus perks for research, quotes, e-mails, etc. Both Fidelity and Schwab are good examples of these services once you reach certain size limits.

Quarterly or Annual Check-ups

If you are only into mutual funds as investment vehicles, then you need check them only quarterly or annually. After all you are giving up some small amount of income to pay for professionally managed investments, right? You may want to keep up with monthly or weekly news on the investment fund management team, however, as management team shakeups there could cost you. The key thing is disciplined reviews and setting a schedule that you can stick to. Ignorance in this case can be dangerous, so do it together with your spouse or a family member that you trust. As you get good at it, the time required to do these should drop from several hours to perhaps an hour to review all your investments. If you have been keeping tabs on things, it can be shorter still.

“Even if you’re on the right track you will get run over if you just sit there!” - Will Rogers.

II. Changing your investment choices:

The challenge when deciding to change investments is often the emotional content. “We had a return of say 7%, when the broader markets got only 5%”. How did the overall group for your investment vehicle do? Morningstar provides good index comparisons, as do other groups. If your choices did not perform above the class average for 1 or 2 quarters in a row, it’s probably a good idea to consider other alternatives. That may require all the same diligence of researching an investment as you did originally. If you are seriously concerned and need to act quickly, you can always sell and put the proceeds into cash or a money market for a short time while you do the research.

III. Getting help from professionals:

I have often found the larger funds and investment houses to be a plethora of information via the Internet. They have how-to guides, acronym explanations, and in general some great advice. If however, these seem to complex for you, or you would prefer to seek out a single person with whom to deal, then find a Certified Financial Planner. The best ones should be able to provide references, a track record, and a good deal of services all at your doorstep. These services do not come free and can be in the thousands of dollars to set up your initial plans. Be certain to check 3 to 5 references and interview several planners before deciding. Determine what you pay exactly and what you get exactly after your selection is made. Be certain that they are certified, a place to begin is: .


We’ve covered a lot of ground in this topic of stock and bonds versus mutual funds. Primarily remember that individual stocks require more monitoring, but can yield higher returns. The same applies somewhat to individual bonds. Newer investors to these may want to start with mutual funds, Money magazine has an annual issue every February that is very helpful and is usually available at public libraries. Finally remember to lower your risks by diversification, no matter what investments you make. Ask yourself the questions we reviewed about your time commitments and discipline for monitoring as part of the investing process. And of course, read-up on the Internet and some of the books listed below.

Next time – Portfolio Allocation, Pre-determined trigger points, and Personal investing rules …


Some great resources to continue your journey are located on the web.

Try visiting these sites:

Or read these well known authors and books:

• William J. O’Neil: How to Make Money in Stocks

• John Boik: Lessons from the Greatest Stock Traders of All Time

• John C. Bogle: Common Sense on Mutual Funds : New Imperatives for the Intelligent Investor

Additional info from this author may be found at


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