I was going to split $85,000 into your Six Ways Building Block portfolio until I discovered that the Vanguard Energy fund requires a $25,000 minimum. Since Vanguard will have $70,000 of the $85,000, do you know if it will let me invest less than the required $25,000 in the energy fund? If not, any other suggestions as to a replacement for the energy fund? ---V. R., by email
A. No, it won't let you invest less than the required $25,000 minimum. But you have an alternative.
Vanguard also offers an exchanged-traded index fund (ETF) that invests in energy stocks. Its ticker symbol is VDE. You can learn more about it by going to www.morningstar.com, and entering the ticker symbol in the quote box in the upper left hand corner of the page. You'll have to pay a commission to buy or sell this fund, but there is no limit on the size of your investment.
The expense ratio for the ETF is 0.25 percent. It was recently selling for about $80 a share. That means 100 shares would cost about $8,000. If you paid a commission of $12 to buy it, it would add 0.15 percent to the cost--- not a terrible burden.
You might also consider another ETF, the SPDR Energy index fund (ticker: XLE). It has been around longer and has the same expense ratio. The difference between them is that VDE tracks the MSCI Investable Market Energy Index, while XLE tracks the energy stocks in the S&P 500. Both are market capitalization-weighted, so the largest domestic energy companies dominate both indexes. ExxonMobil, for instance, is the largest holding in both and accounts for 22.26 percent of VDE and 22.82 percent of XLE.
I know lots of readers are comfortable and familiar with mutual funds, but uneasy about ETFs--- particularly since you have to pay a commission to buy them. But commission costs with online brokers won't be much of a factor for investors with accounts of $50,000 or so. If you'd like to explore the impact of commissions, visit my online ETF Portfolio Cost Calculator at www.scottburns.com.
My friend Paul Farrell, who writes for Marketwatch, has been critical of ETFs, seeing them as new vehicles to generate brokerage commissions. I share his fear they will be misused that way, particularly as the number and variety continue to climb. A fairly lazy Couch Potato investor, however, won't have much turnover.
Using my online calculator with your $85,000 split between six ETFs and assuming a $12 brokerage commission and annual rebalancing, your annual commission cost would be $72. That's 0.08 percent of your portfolio value. If you could substitute Vanguard index mutual funds for some of the choices, your cost would be still lower.
Q. I am 66, have made some money, and am a saver/investor. I have experienced all kinds of things contrary to my future. My big brokerage firm person put me in a government fund that I now find out is poorly rated. My other big broker churned my daughter's accounts, causing them a tax problem for no reason. My discount broker gave me a bad recommendation on a REIT without doing any research. The bank charges 1.5 percent to manage money.
If I am going to be conservative, expecting 5 percent returns, well, a 1.5 percent fee is 30 percent of my income. In my 66 years I have learned to buy mutual funds from Vanguard or Fidelity, Treasury bills and notes from Treasury Direct.gov, bonds from a discount broker, and CDs from credit unions.
I feel like guiding a younger person to these sources would be a good thing, but then I am not a financial adviser. So, where do you find a financial adviser that charges by the hour? How do you find an adviser that is motivated entirely by an hourly charge, not commissions? I would like to find sources to pass on to my wife, children, employees and other interested parties. ---D.C., by email from San Antonio, TX
A. When the major brokerage houses look for new talent, their first priority is not to find people with experience in accounting, engineering, or some field that might give them a knowledge base for financial advice. They look for people with prior sales experience because that's what the conventional brokerage business is all about. Worse, the only way that salesperson can make a living is by moving your money from one product to another, generating commissions.
A typical wirehouse broker generates about $500,000 in revenue each year and takes home a bit under $200,000. Needless to say, generating that amount of revenue requires moving a lot of money.
The alternative you seek is an organization called the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. They work on a fee-only basis, charging by the hour to give advice. They may also charge as a percentage of assets managed for portfolio management services. Go to its website, www.napfa.org, click on "Find a Planner" toward the bottom of the home page, and you can fill out a form that will generate a list of NAPFA members in your area.
I've gone to a few of this group's conferences and know some members. They're serious students of personal finance who take the word "fiduciary" very seriously. Brokers and other sales representatives, by definition, aren't fiduciaries because they work for their firm. They don't work for you.
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