Advice to a Young Graduate

Today is a day to remember those who have fallen in the line of duty.

For most of us though, it’s an excuse for the office to be closed and kick off the summer by lounging around the pool, or grilling up some burgers with friends and family.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. I like to think that fallen warriors look down in approval knowing that our way of life is made possible by their sacrifice. But we shouldn’t take it for granted.

If you have children, take a minute to explain why today is significant. They need to hear it.

And if you run into any veterans, give them a hardy pat on the back and thank them. If they look thirsty, offer them a cold beer. It would be uncivilized not to.

With the markets closed today, there’s not much to report. But I thought I would share parts of a letter I wrote to my younger cousin who just graduated from college with a degree in engineering.

I’ll refer to him as “W” to keep him anonymous. He starts his new job at Lockheed Martin next month, and we’re all really excited for him.

W,

Congratulations on finishing your degree and on getting the Lockheed job. That first job and getting your career started on the right foot is really important. And you’re getting yours starting right!

At any rate, let me give you a few parting words of advice.

  1. With your first paycheck, have fun. Treat yourself to something frivolous. Blow it. Enjoy it. And then, after that, it’s time to get serious and be an adult. But blowing the first paycheck on something stupid is a nice way to reward yourself for finishing your degree.
  2. I don’t know what your living plans are, but living with your parents for six more months will allow you to pad your savings. You should move out pretty quickly, as that’s important to being a real adult. But another 6-12 months at home won’t kill you, and it will allow you to save up enough cash to buy a car or even make a down payment on a modest house. Just make sure you actually save it and don’t just blow it all.
  3. Open two checking accounts. One will be the account your paycheck goes to and the account you use for your regular expenses. The other should be for saving. You can tell Lockheed to split your check across two accounts. They’ll do that. You can put 90% in the main account and 10% in the secondary account, or whatever makes sense. But keeping that cash separate makes it harder to spend.
  4. Put AT LEAST enough of your paycheck into your 401(k) in order to get the free employer matching. It’s literally FREE money. Ideally, you should put a lot more. You can put up to $19,000 into a 401(k) annually at your age. But at a bare minimum, put whatever you need to put to get the employer matching. It’s just stupid not to.
  5. Don’t get a credit card. Use a debit card or pay cash.
  6. Avoid debt on anything other than a house or car, and even on the car try to keep it minimal. Debt has ruined far more lives than drugs or alcohol ever have.
  7. Learn how to cook. Or, if that is a lost cause, find a girlfriend who likes to cook and treat her right and never let her go. Going out to eat all the time will bankrupt you, and it’s terrible for your health. This is a lesson best learned while you’re still young.
  8. Try to exercise at least a couple days per week. You’ll regret it when you’re 30 (and more when you’re 40) if you don’t.
  9. If your boss yells at you, don’t be a typical thin-skinned Millennial and get offended. Keep the stiff upper lip and use it as an opportunity to learn something and improve your marketability as an employee. I learned FAR more from the mean bosses than the easy-going ones. The boss who is your buddy isn’t going to get you anywhere. It’s the mean bosses that toughen you up who help you advance.
  10. Try to attach yourself to a manager that is really going somewhere in the company. If you do good work for them, they’ll take you with them. If you attach yourself to a manager who’s not really going anywhere, neither will you.

And that’s it. This is the only real wisdom I’ve managed to acquire in the 20 years since I graduated.  

Good luck in the new job, and let’s get the families together for some grilling this summer!

Take care,

Charles

Happy Memorial Day, folks.

Do yourself a favor and turn off your smartphone. The office is closed, and whatever it is you were going to check can wait until tomorrow. Our fallen soldiers didn’t fight tyranny only to have you enslaved by your iPhone.

So, put the phone away and be present with the people you love.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Advice to a Young Graduate

Why You Shouldn’t Put ALL Your Money into an Index Fund

Cliff Asness doesn’t have the name recognition of a Warren Buffett or a Carl Icahn. But among “quant” investors, his words carry a lot more weight.

Asness is the billionaire co-founder of AQR Capital Management and a pioneer in liquid alternatives. For all of us looking to build that proverbial better mouse trap, Asness is our guru. My own Peak Profits strategy, which combines value and momentum investing, was inspired by some of Asness’ early work.

Unfortunately, he’s been getting his butt kicked lately. His hedge funds have had a rough 2018, which prompted him to write a really insightful and introspective client letter earlier this month titled “Liquid Alt Ragnarok.”

“This is one of those notes,” Asness starts with his characteristic bluntness. “You know, from an investment manager who has recently been doing crappy.”

Rather make excuses for a lousy quarter (Asness is above that), he uses his bad streak to get back to the basics of why he invests the way he does.

As I mentioned, Asness specializes in liquid alternatives. In plain English, he builds portfolios that aren’t tightly correlated to the S&P 500. They’re designed to generate respectable returns whether the market goes up, down or sideways.

You don’t have to be bearish on stocks to see the value of alts. As Asness explains,

You do not want a liquid alt because you’re bearish on stocks or, more generally, traditional assets. That kind of timing is difficult to do well. Plus, if you’re convinced traditional assets are going to plummet, you want to be short, not “alternative.” In other words, liquid alts are a “diversifier” not a “hedge.”

You should invest [in a liquid alt] because you believe that it has a positive expected return and provides diversification versus everything else you’re doing. It’s the same reason an all-stock investor can build a better portfolio by adding some bonds, and an all-bond investor can build a better portfolio by adding some stocks.

I love this, so you’re going to have to forgive me if I “geek out” a little bit here. My professors pretty well beat this stuff into my head when I was working on my master’s degree at the London School of Economics.

When you invest in multiple strategies that aren’t tightly correlated with each other, your risk and returns are not the average risk and return of the individual strategies. The sum is actually greater than the parts. You get more return for a given level of risk or less risk for a given level of return.

Take a look at the graph. This is a hypothetical scenario, so don’t get fixated on the precise numbers. But know that it really does work like this in the real world.

Strategy A is a relative low risk, low return strategy. Strategy B is higher return, higher risk.

In a world where Strategies A and B are perfectly correlated (they move up and down together), any combination of the two strategies would be a simple average. If A returned 2% with 8% volatility and B returned 16% with 11% volatility, a portfolio invested 50/50 between the two would have returns of 9% with 9.5% volatility. That is what you see with the straight line connecting A and B. Any combination of the two portfolios would fall along that line (assuming perfect correlation).

But if they are not perfectly correlated (they move at least somewhat independently), you get a curve. And the less correlation, the further the curve gets pushed out.

Look at the dot on the curve that shows an expected return of about 8% and risk (or volatility) of 10%. On the straight line, that 8% curve would have volatility of about 14%, not 10%. And accepting 10% volatility would only get you a return of about 4% on the straight line.

This is why you diversify among strategies. Running multiple good strategies at the same time lowers your overall risk and boosts your returns. The key is finding good strategies that are independent. Running the basic strategy five slightly different ways isn’t real diversification, and neither is owning five different index funds in your 401k plan. Diversification is useless if all of your assets end up rising and falling together.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Why You Shouldn’t Put ALL Your Money into an Index Fund