Thursday, January 29, 2009

Where the Financial Gurus Are Putting Their Own Money

In times of market strife, financial gurus often tell investors to think long-term and stay the course. Some of them even put their own money where their mouth is.

[Rob Arnott]

Rob Arnott

A sampling of high-profile industry veterans, academics and brokerage-firm chiefs reveals that many are hanging on to holdings battered by last year's market slide and busily hunting down new opportunities, particularly among bonds and beaten-down value stocks. Some are snapping up municipal bonds, inflation-indexed securities and steady-Eddie dividend-paying stocks.

And they're generally upbeat about the prospects for long-term retirement savers.

"I think this is a marvelous time to be investing," says Rob Arnott, the 54-year-old chairman of Research Affiliates LLC, an investment-management firm in Newport Beach, Calif. "There are more interesting opportunities out there now than any of today's investors have ever seen."

Financial stars are facing some of the same retirement-planning headaches as ordinary investors. Many suffered substantial losses last year in a market that crushed nearly everything. But unlike many small investors, they're patiently waiting and watching for bargains rather than making a mad dash for havens like cash or Treasury bonds or drastically revising their asset-allocation plans. And where possible, they're even stepping up their savings to put more cash to work in the market.

Certain parts of the bond market are priced for a scenario that's worse than the Great Depression. Rob Arnott, Research Affiliates

Great investing minds don't always think alike, of course. John Bogle, the 79-year-old founder of mutual-fund giant Vanguard Group, says he has only about 25% of his portfolio in stocks, for example, while David Dreman, the 72-year-old chairman and chief investment officer of Dreman Value Management LLC, says he has a roughly 70% stock allocation.

They do appear to have one thing in common, though: patience -- a trait many small investors lack. Last year, 401(k) participants shifted around 5.7% of their balances, compared with just over 3% in a typical year, according to consulting firm Hewitt Associates. Money flowed out of stock funds and into bond investments, money-market funds and stable-value products. And many fed-up and tapped-out investors have stopped contributing to retirement accounts altogether.

[Bogle, John]

John Bogle

But this is hardly the time to hunker down and take bets off the table, financial pros say. Don Phillips, managing director at investment research firm Morningstar Inc., says he invests his entire individual retirement account in the Clipper Fund, a large-cap stock fund that lost about 50% last year. Early this year, he made the maximum IRA contribution to that fund, just as he has for the last 20 years. "It's long-term money, and you have to look at it that way," he says.

Here's how some top investing experts are now allocating their own retirement savings and handling the heavy blows being dealt by a volatile market.


While many financial gurus say they're starting to spot some great opportunities in stocks, they believe the bargains in select corners of the bond market are even better. "Certain parts of the bond market are priced for a scenario that's worse than the Great Depression," Mr. Arnott says.

I earn my money and spend my money in dollars, and I don't need to take currency risk. John Bogle, Vanguard Group

One favored area is Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, or TIPS, a type of Treasury bond whose principal is adjusted based on changes in the inflation rate. Ten-year Treasurys currently yield only about 0.9 percentage point more than 10-year TIPS, indicating that investors believe inflation will remain quite low in the coming years. Mr. Arnott says he boosted his TIPS allocation "in a very big way" in his personal taxable account toward the end of last year because he expects a substantial increase in inflation in the next three to five years.

Municipal bonds also look attractive to many longtime investors. Munis are typically exempt from federal and, in many cases, state and local income taxes. Many are now yielding substantially more than comparable Treasury bonds. In his taxable account, Mr. Bogle holds two muni-bond funds: Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt and Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt.

[Siegel, Jeremy]

Jeremy Siegel

Burton Malkiel, a 76-year-old economics professor at Princeton University and author of "A Random Walk Down Wall Street," says he boosted his allocation to highly rated tax-exempt bonds in his taxable account late last year, since yields available on some of these bonds were "unheard of."

Some market watchers believe that it's time to take on more risk in their bond portfolios. Even investment-grade corporate bonds offer high yields, and below-investment-grade junk bonds yield far more than that. Mr. Arnott boosted his allocation to investment-grade corporate bonds in his personal taxable account late last year because the market had reached "irrationally high yields," he says. And Jeremy Siegel, a professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and senior adviser to exchange-traded-fund management firm WisdomTree Investments, has recently raised his allocation for junk bonds.

"Stocks and high-yield bonds will move together as the crisis passes," rebounding from their depressed levels, the 63-year-old Mr. Siegel says.


Financial gurus are picking through the wreckage of last year's stock-market meltdown to find the best bargains.

Emerging-markets stocks have 'gotten cheap enough to really give value now.' Jeremy Siegel, the Wharton School

Some are looking for companies with strong market positions and juicy dividends. Muriel Siebert, founder and chairwoman of brokerage firm Muriel Siebert & Co., has recently been buying shares of companies like Pfizer Inc., Altria Group Inc., and General Electric Co. "I don't mind buying a stock on the bottom and waiting," says the 76-year-old Ms. Siebert. "But I do think when you get a market like this, you should be paid while you wait." Pfizer and Altria yield roughly 8%, while GE yields over 9%.

Some battered stocks in the energy sector also look like bargains, Mr. Dreman says. He likes oil and gas exploration and production companies like Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Apache Corp., and Devon Energy Corp. If we don't have a long world-wide recession -- a scenario that Mr. Dreman thinks oil prices currently reflect -- "we'll see much higher prices for oil again," he says.

Though foreign stocks were generally hit harder than U.S. shares last year, some gurus aren't rushing to invest overseas. Mr. Bogle, who says he has a very small allocation for international stocks, notes that investors poured money into foreign funds in recent years, chasing their strong returns, while yanking money out of lagging U.S. stock funds. "To me that's a red warning flag on a very tall flagpole on a very windy day," he says. "I also earn my money and spend my money in dollars, and I don't need to take currency risk."

[Muriel Siebert]

Muriel Siebert

Other experts say that emerging-markets stocks, which were hit especially hard last year, are starting to look tempting. If these shares take another dip, they could become "extremely interesting," Mr. Arnott says. Mr. Siegel keeps one-quarter to one-third of his foreign-stock allocation in emerging markets, and "they've gotten cheap enough to really give value now," he says. He has bought some more of these shares as they've declined in recent months.

Jim Rogers, a 66-year-old veteran commodities investor based in Singapore, is putting new money into Chinese shares. He's focusing on sectors of the economy that the Chinese are pushing to develop, such as agriculture, water, infrastructure and tourism.

Market gurus are also finding some bargains among alternative investments. Mr. Rogers is putting some new money into commodities, particularly agricultural commodities. "We're burning a lot of our food in fuel tanks right now," he says. And Mr. Siegel recently added some U.S. real estate investment trusts to his portfolio, which got "very cheap" after declining sharply last year, he says.

Staying the Course

Sticking to principles they've developed over decades in the market allows people who live and breathe investments to be relatively relaxed about their retirement portfolios.

I don't mind buying a stock on the bottom and waiting. But I do think when you get a market like this, you should be paid while you wait. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.

Morningstar's Mr. Phillips, 46, has made it easier to stay the course. He has relinquished responsibility for allocating his 401(k) account, leaving those decisions in the hands of a managed-account program run by a unit of Morningstar. The program, which he started using in 2007, has "actually been very good for me," Mr. Phillips says. "They started putting me into things like TIPS and high-quality bond funds that I'd never had in the portfolio before."

And when they do suffer substantial losses, they tend not to panic. Mr. Phillips remains committed to his battered Clipper Fund, though it lagged the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index by about 13 percentage points last year. Ms. Siebert says she took a "very substantial loss" in Wachovia Corp. stock, which plummeted last year before the company was sold to Wells Fargo & Co., but she's hanging on to the Wells Fargo stock she received "until I see a reason not to."

She is, however, a bit sensitive when asked about her portfolio's overall performance last year. "Do you want to see a grown woman cry?" she asks.

No comments:

Lunch is for wimps

Lunch is for wimps
It's not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another.