Q. I am well diversified with an IRA and investment portfolio worth about $300,000. Home and cars are paid for. No debt. Earlier this year I found $9,000 cash sitting in my investment account. So in conversation with my financial "adviser" I felt it would be a good time to invest in something speculative.
I'm 76 years old. At the time, gasoline was selling at close to $2 a gallon at the pump, down from over $4. I've seen this happen before and gas always returns higher. So I suggested we invest in something "gasoline." He agreed. When I got my next quarterly report I found he'd invested in BlackRock Natural Resources, Inv C shares— not anything relating directly to gasoline. Since then, gas has risen. The fund has declined.
Did he, "done me wrong?" He has since "left" the firm and wants me to stick with him. What do you think? —A.W., Salem, OR
A. If you are going to make investments based on vague hunches you should be prepared for vague and unhappy results. You can’t pin this loss on your adviser. You need some kind of benchmark for measuring results before you start thinking someone has done you wrong. You also need to realize that while gasoline prices rose over the time period mentioned, energy stocks declined in price.
In the second quarter, for instance, the Energy Select SPDR ETF (ticker: XLE) declined by 2.47 percent. The Vanguard Energy ETF (ticker: VDE) declined by 2.13 percent. Your investment lost 1.44 percent. It could be argued that it was a brilliant choice in a tough market.
Longer-term history suggests this is a fluke. Over the last 10 years VDE returned an annualized 6.86 percent. XLE returned 7.17 percent. The BlackRock fund returned 3.87 percent. That’s a lot less, over a more meaningful time period.
Odds are, your adviser is interested in transactions, not money management. But this may be unfair. You wanted to speculate. He found an energy investment that was less volatile than a single energy stock.
Q. I want to set up a couch potato portfolio with either Fidelity or Vanguard. I know you suggest picking two funds with a 50/50 split and letting them do their magic. My question is, with all the choices, how do I know which two to pick? —K.M., by email
A. The two most basic asset classes for Couch Potato investing are the U.S. Total Stock Market and the U.S.Total Bond market. Over the years I have used both the U.S. Total Bond market and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. In 5 of the last 10 years TIPS have done better than the broader bond market, in the other 5 years the broader bond market did better. Which fund you choose depends more on where you are investing than the differences in the funds.
At Vanguard you can have a quick 50/50 portfolio by investing in the Vanguard Total Stock Market fund (ticker: VITSX, expense ratio 0.04 percent) and the Vanguard Inflation Protected Securities fund (ticker: VIPSX, expense ratio 0.20 percent). The average portfolio expense is 0.12 percent. You can reduce expenses further by investing in the Vanguard Total bond Market Index I fund (Ticker: VBTIX, expense ratio 0.06 percent). The average portfolio expense would be 0.05 percent.
At Fidelity you can do the same thing by investing in two of their no-load index funds, or two ETFs that can be purchased without commission. The two funds are: Fidelity Spartan Total Market Index (ticker: FSTMX, expense ratio 0.10 percent) and Fidelity Spartan US Bond Index (ticker: FBIDX, expense ratio 0.22 percent).
An alternative for fixed income is Fidelity Spartan Inflation Protected Bond Index fund (ticker FSIYX, expense ratio 0.20 percent). With the first bond fund your average portfolio expense would be 0.16 percent, with the second, 0.15 percent.
You can do the same thing for less by using their commission-free ETF program. There you would invest in iShares Core S&P Total US Stock Market (ticker: ITOT, expense ratio 0.07 percent) and iShares Core US aggregate bond ETF (ticker: AGG, expense ratio 0.08 percent) or iShares TIPS Bond ETF (ticker: TIP, expense ratio 0.20 percent). Average expense ratios for these portfolios would be 0.075 percent and 0.12 percent, respectively.
To read more on how to do this, or to build a portfolio with more parts, my Couch Potato Cookbook is available, free, on my website, assetbuilder.com, under the heading “Lazy Portfolios.”