Monday, June 29, 2009

Leaving your financial planner

If you're thinking of replacing your financial planner with a new one because of terrible performance in this market, you're not alone. (Or maybe you'll consider doing it yourself.)

A recent survey by consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that the number of affluent investors looking to switch advisers has tripled in one year. According to Spectrem Group, a scant 36% of millionaires think their advisers performed well during the market turmoil of the past year or so.
Not so fast. This is a terrible market for just about everyone. Will you do better with a different planner?
"If you fire Fred and hire George, who's to say that George isn't even worse than Fred?" asks Jack Waymire, co-founder of the Paladin Registry, which matches investors with advisers in their communities. "They might just be trying to win your business, so there's a natural bias there. And if you ask for a sample portfolio, they're never going to show you a bad one. So you'll never really know what they've produced for an average client."
The story recommends getting an agreement from the new advisor that you're considering will evaluate your situation for a fixed fee with no commitment that you will hire him or her.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The casino business

Have you ever wondered what the largest gaming companies and gaming geographic markets are? Probably not, but now you know. I was surprised to see Detroit that high in the rankings. I didn't think casino gambling was that big there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Corner the frozen concentrated orange juice market

Commodities trading is so 1983. The game these days is farmland. If you believe this, you're in good company along with George Soros, a Rothschild and Jim Rogers.

The fundamentals remain in place for a long-term boom in the prices of everything ag-related. The simplest metric to consider is the amount of farmland per person worldwide: In 1960 there were 1.1 acres of arable farmland per capita globally, according to data from the United Nations. By 2000 that had fallen to 0.6 acre (see chart above, "Precious Acres"). And over the next 40 years the population of the world is projected to grow from 6 billion to 9 billion.
Other forces conspiring to push up the cost of farmland is water scarcity, improving diets in developing countries and climate change, which will raise sea levels and cause more droughts.

Direct farmland investment seems quite difficult. Who among us has the time or skills to understand agriculture and negotiate deals? It's mostly large funds buying up the farmland, and these funds have too high minimum investments for the mass affluent. Fortunately, there is a company called Chess Ag Full Harvest Partners that is trying to become the first farmland-only REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) in the United States. It's run by a former Nebraskan who was managing a grain elevator at 14 and did stints as a commodities trader and a hedge fund executive. It also seeks to avoid country risk.
her strategy is strictly focused on the U.S. "Yeah, land might be cheap and plentiful in Russia, but if the price of wheat goes up, is your deed going to be honored?" she says by way of explanation. Rather than buy farms in what she calls the "Prada handbag" states of Illinois and Iowa, where land comes at premium prices, she concentrates on less-well-known farming areas. In addition to her home base in Clarksdale, she has an office in South Dakota, and so far the fund has bought land in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas as well as Mississippi.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More simple estate planning

A Fortune article reinforces the basics of estate planning; gifts, life insurance and trusts.


Gifts of $13,000 or less a year to an individual aren't taxable.

Life Insurance

Look into using a life-insurance trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy. Another (maybe somewhat depressing) suggestion is to gift money to your children to use to take a life insurance policy out on you.


Grantor-retained annuity trusts (GRATs) are seeing a surge in popularity due to depressed asset prices.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hedge fund fees take a haircut

The sacrosanct "2 and 20" fee system at hedge funds may be coming to an end. Hedge fund investors are tired of paying big fees for poor performance.

In recent months some of the biggest institutional investors, including the $175 billion California Public Employees' Retirement System, have gathered at closed-door meetings in New York and Toronto to talk about ways they might flex their newfound muscle. A number of public pensions, such as the $16 billion Utah Retirement System, have pushed firms publicly to ease terms. "This is top of mind for investors," says John-Austin Saviano at Cambridge Associates, a consultant to major investors.
In this market, other investment options are available to the hedge fund investors that haven't been there before.
Private equity and hedge fund managers would prefer the status quo but fear losing big investors, who finally have other options. Instead of plowing money into new funds, for example, investors can buy into an existing portfolio cheaply on the secondary market: Some private equity funds are trading at a 50% discount. There's also the worry that the biggest pension funds will open their own hedge fund and private equity operations. That's making it difficult for money managers to get more assets without giving in to investors. Says one private equity manager: The fund-raising environment is "brutal, just brutal."
While this news affects few individual investors directly, it affects many individuals indirectly whose pension funds might be investing in hedge funds. No longer will their pension funds be paying fees for bad performance and having one fifth of the gains kept by the hedge fund manager.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Taxes originally designed for the wealthy now hit the mass affluent

Money Magazine has a short article on taxes that used to exclusively hit the wealthy, but, because of their not being adjusted for inflation, now hit lower income earners.

I won't do any editorializing.