Non-Retirement: Inflation Protected Bond Mutual Fund

Wylie Pick: American Century Inflation Adjusted Bond inv ACITX

Selecting from mutual funds available through Etrade with no load or transaction fee and an initial $2500 investment or lower minimum and subsequent $100 or lower minimums, when looking for an inflation protected bond fund, I use the Mutual fund screener and find one.

Back in November of last year I started this project. This is the 20th fund and it is the last pick for this portfolio.

It looks pretty average all around. Expenses are a fairly low 0.49%. It gets three stars- average returns with average risk.

Actually if you look at it using Morningstar, it looks like it is slightly ahead of its category and its peers. Regardless, we are not talking about spectacular returns. Hopefully it will stay average. If this category performs really well, that will likely mean that inflation is out of control and that might be good for this fund, but the rest of the funds, not to mention the economy might be less amused.

So there is only one option, but it serves our need so ACITX is the pick!


Non-Retirement: Foreign Large Cap Blend Mutual Fund

Wylie Pick: BlackRock International Index A MDIIX

Selecting from mutual funds available through Etrade with no load or transaction fee and an initial $2500 investment or lower minimum and subsequent $100 or lower minimums, when looking for another Foreign fund, I include all International Foreign Category Funds and use the Mutual fund screener to a number of options.

I was planning to choose a Foreign Small/Mid Cap Value fund to balance against the Foreign Small/Mid Cap Growth fund already selected. Sadly, there is only one available through Etrade to new investors and I do not like the looks of it.

ICON International Equity I IIQIX is listed as a Small/Mid Cap fund, but then is also listed (yes, both links go to the same page!) as a Large Cap Blend fund that recently changed from being a Large Cap Growth fund. The average market value of companies held by the fund is $15 billion. A small company fund this ain't. And it may be focused on value companies or growth or both. Now we could dive deeper into this and try and figure it out, but why bother...

The expenses on this fund are 1.71% which is higher than any of the other Foreign funds across all categories. The turnover ratio was also higher than all other funds from this search and that is only acceptable if performance is stellar on a comparative basis and it is not.
It has slightly out-performed one of the benchmarks it claims to track, but has underperformed the average of its peers in this group:

So instead of a Small/Mid Cap company fund I'll chose a Foreign Large Cap Blend fund to compliment the Foreign Growth and Value funds already in the portfolio and I'll ignore the ICON fund because of high expenses and turnover.

Among Blend funds we have 6 choices and really 2 choices that stand out. And upon further investigation, one of these two funds- SSgA International Stock Selection SSAIX is listed as a Blend fund but is also listed as a Value fund and has been a operating as a Value fund for many years. I already have a value fund so I am going with the other choice.

I'm starting to wonder if all of these category designations are being manipulated to represent performance in a better light than is legit. Funds are often measured against their peers, but if a fund is compared against peers in a category other than the one in which it invests, then the comparison is not really valid and perhaps fraudulent.

Anyway, BlackRock International Index A MDIIX is a foreign blend index fund. It has lower than average expenses (0.81%) and turnover (23%) which one expects with an index fund and has performed better than all the other legit Blend funds available over the last year.


When to buy Mutual Funds Part III

In Part I we pondered the issues involved in deciding when to invest. In Part II we looked at a few tools and discussed some strategies to help gauge what shape the market is in. In part III we will work out a system to invest in the wylie hypothetical portfolio of 20 mutual funds.

To make the initial investment in the 20 funds I am picking, I would need $50,000. Many of these funds have $2500 initial investments, so I plan to make a hypothetical initial investment of $2500 across the board to keep things simple. Hey- it is only hypothetical money, after all.

If I was investing my hypothetical $50,000 and it was mid to late 2002, I would invest it all right away. Indeed, in 2002, I did invest the savings I had set aside to invest, as soon as I was sure I could leave it invested for a while. I wish I had $50,000 real dollars to invest in a portfolio like this at that time as many of these funds are way up over the last 5 years.

That said, I do not think today is a terrible time to invest but also it does not feel like the best time either. So to invest my $50,000 hypothetical dollars, I will invest $2500 in one fund at a time, once every month. This will spread my initial investments out over almost two years.

I also plan to invest all $50,000 in a separate portfolio, right away and I will see after the fact which approach was better.

Once I make the minimum initial purchase for each fund I will add $100 to each fund or $2000 per month into the entire portfolio. And I will keep an eye on the market and the first day each month that markets are down about 1%, I will make that subsequent purchase. Etrade actually lets me do this for now. The $100 minimum for additional investment into mutual funds is often listed as being contingent on setting up an Automatic Purchase Plan, but I have found that I can pick the day myself and make the purchase manually for mutual funds I own (which again is not all 20 of these!).

I will invest these funds in two hypothetical portfolios in Morningstar's portfolio tool, unless I find a better one by next week.

Now some of you are saying- "I do not have $50,000 or $2000 extra a month to invest so what do I care" I tried to pick funds in a specific order such that one could invest any amount between $10k and $50k and still employ a system like this one. For example one could put $10,000 in a wylie portfolio of 4 funds. Then, if one could save $400 hypothetical dollars every month or every other month or even every quarter, one could still use this system- though there is no guarantee you won't lose gobs of money so do your own research and take responsibility for your own investments!

I'll try and work out how hypothetical portfolios of fewer funds perform as well.

Finally, I want to compare my list of Etrade's best no load no fee mutual funds (in my opinion!) against a similar portfolio consisting of Vanguard index funds and also against a portfolio of ETFs.

If all the work I did picking mutual funds does not lead to a portfolio that outperforms what could be easily done with simple index tracking, that will be good for me to know when I do have $50,000 real dollars saved up after I stick with all our tips for living cheaply!

So to do this, I need to finish picking the 20 funds. I hope to set up the portfolios starting in May so expect a few more posts soon!


When to buy Mutual Funds Part II

In part I we discussed the difficulties involved in choosing when to invest. Now I will talk about a few strategies for timing investments in mutual funds. These strategies may be no better than reading the almanac or having a blindfolded monkey throw darts at a list of stocks. Regardless of whether these strategies are better than monkey darts, they provide me with an approach that takes the emotion out of the decision of when to invest which has its own value.

When everybody is selling and has been selling, it is often a good time to buy. Motley Fool wrote a nice article about this notion. Buying mutual funds on a dip is a little trickier than buying a stock on a dip. When you buy most mutual funds, you buy shares at the price of the fund as of 4 pm on the day you make the purchase. So if 3 pm comes around and the market category you are investing in is down 2% for the day, you can place a buy order and you will buy shares of a fund in that sector at a price close to 2% lower than had you bought them the day before. Of course the fund itself won’t be down 2% exactly unless it is an index fund, and even then it won’t be the exact same, but typically if the category is down, the fund will be down. Now there is nothing to say the market sector won't go down another 2% or more the next day, but if you are going to buy, buying at a slightly lower price than the day before seems like a good idea to me. My sense is that when sell-offs happen, momentum often drags good companies down with the bad so if your fund manager is making good picks and the value of the fund takes a hit from some panic selling it is a good time to buy.

Tip one: Invest on a dip.

Another concept is: money moves from sector to sector as certain kinds of companies go in and out of favor among traders. For the most part, I am not looking into ‘sectors’ with the hypothetical portfolio I am putting together on this site. Recently, Financial, Technology, and Health sectors have lagged behind Natural Resources, Utilities and until recently, Real Estate which have been on fire.

I have been choosing funds for the Wylie portfolio among Growth and Value businesses across companies of all sizes. But even in these ‘categories’, some go up while others go down. So if you have money to invest, it is not a bad idea to see which category has lagged behind. If you invest in sectors, the same concept applies.

One easy way to find out how sectors or categories are performing is to use Morningstar's free list of performance by category. This list mixes in what I am calling categories and sectors. There are many ways to build diverse portfolios, but you gotta pick one if you are going to get started and I picked categories (Large Growth, etc.).

Tip two: Invest in categories that are lagging behind.

Another thing to consider is that stock prices are generally based on some combination of how a company is doing and how investors think the company will do in the future. But investors use all sorts of different formulas to determine how profitable a company really is and to guess what impacts new products or ideas will really have. The way accounts 'expense' stock options as part of employee compensation, how the iPhone will boost or detract from Apple’s free cash flow... who knows? Part of why I am looking at mutual funds is I do not have enough time to analyze or stay on top of enough individual companies to build a good diverse portfolio.

Morningstar, pays lots of people to try and do this though, and they have a specific approach to calculating what they call Fair Value Estimates. Then they take these values and track indexes to determine if the markets those indexes track are fairly valued. Finally, they share this information for free. In part I, we looked back and saw that not buying because stocks are overvalued can lead to missed gains, but when the bubble popped, extremely high valuations were a sign that some heeded ahead of time and they were happy they did. I wish Morningstar's tool actually tracked valuations by category and included international companies as well but you get what you pay for I guess.

Tip three: Invest when markets are undervalued.

So we have three gauges to help identify good times to invest.

The general concept is, when the US market is broadly undervalued, identify which market categories specifically have underperformed and on a specific day when the market is down a good bit, buy.

No one tip or even all three will enable you to identify the perfect time to invest. Part III of this series will look at how to hypothetically jump into a Wylie portfolio like the one I am putting together on this site, using these three general ideas in a systemic way.


In Honor of Bilbo

Yesterday Bilbo, our family pet, passed away. He was a great dog. He lived in Memphis, TN for over 15 years. He will be sorely missed.

Here is a picture of Bilbo in his yard after a snowfall (Ice actually. Notice the lack of paw prints!):


Thanks for Donating!

A few of you have donated to the Walk for Hunger in support of my team and I thank you! You have also let me know that it does not appear that your donations are being associated with my team. I have several emails in to Project Bread to try and fix the problem.

If you have made or make a donation, you will get an email- please reply to the
email and let them know you made it in support of this team if it does not show up on the Wyliemoney Walk for Hunger page or if it does not state in the email that it was given in support of Wyliemoney.

I will call them tomorrow and try and sort out the issue. Rest assured that regardless of whether the donation is associated with my walk, Project Bread will put it to good use.



When to buy Mutual Funds Part I

It is often said, "You can't time the market."

What does this mean?

In general it means you never know what will happen tomorrow.

If you thought the market was ready to slump after its nice run up before 1999 and not invested in the beginning of 1999, in some cases you would have missed the largest one year returns we may ever see in our lifetime. Data courtesy Yahoo Finance for Janus Global Technology fund:

By all accounts, many of the stocks in this fund were trading at prices way above historical averages given what the underlying companies were earning, even before they proceeded to double in value in less than a year.

Stock prices and therefore fund prices are not driven by fundamentals, but by what people are willing to pay. Many people determine what they are willing to pay based on fundamentals, but many people do not. And in either case you still have to guess how you think the economy will do in the future. Had you invested at the beginning of 2000 thinking that this is a new economy and historical valuations do not apply because technology is going to enable corporate growth to expand at levels never before imagined, you would have been very sad by the end of 2002. Again consider Janus Global Technology:

Since 2002, markets around the world have gone up, almost across the board. Small and large company stocks have increased. Growth and value oriented companies have done well. Historically when oil prices have soared, economies have struggled as the added cost of manufacturing and transportation have been factored into the price of goods, lowering sales or reducing profits. Recently this has not been the case as companies across all sectors have grown and earned significant profits. Some claim tax cuts in the US are the cause, but European markets despite much higher taxes have trounced American markets so I am hesitant to attribute any single factor to these trends. Despite a long run of gains, stock price valuations are nowhere near as high as they were in 2000. So what does all this mean?

Beats me, I'm a philosophy major.

Some claim that current valuations are too high as they are calculated anticipating that above average growth will continue for a while which is possible, but unlikely given historical trends.

Some think the economy is ready to pick up steam. Would you trust this guy?

Others say things are not good, not bad.

One of the reasons the hypothetical portfolio I am creating here only holds funds that allow $100 or smaller subsequent investments is to not have to figure out how to time the market. My thinking is that if I buy a fund and contribute $100 every month, every 2 months or once a quarter, the exact timing of each purchase will not have a significant impact over the long term as the cost of the overall holdings will be the average of each purchase through up and down markets. If the sector the fund invests in grows and the fund managers make good picks, I should come out ahead.

I agree that you can not time the market, but you do have to determine a time to make the initial investment. And no advice works in every situation. If you had cash to invest in January 2000, the notion that you can't time the market so just buy when you have the cash, would not have been good advice. So even though I agree with the claim that you can't time the market, there are, good and bad times to invest and more importantly good and bad strategies for investing. And even if you buy into the Wylie idea of regular contributions, you still have to make the initial purchase which for the funds I am looking at are often a minimum of $2500.

So even though you cannot predict how markets will perform there are a couple of tools out there that you can use to see if it is a good time to buy or not and hopefully avoid buying at a market peak.

In part II I will talk about these tools and lay out a strategy for hypothetically investing in the Wylie hypothetical portfolio. Then I will pick the last few funds necessary to round out the portfolio and begin tracking the performance of the portfolio.


Giving: Walk for hunger

Wylie walks for Hunger! Click here to donate.

On May 6th, 2007 I will be participating in the Walk for Hunger in Boston. My wife has been participating for a while and got me hooked when we met and we have done it together each Spring. It has become a seasonal tradition- when we get up early Sunday morning and head down to the Boston Common, we know that spring has finally arrived.

I have not done much to try and raise money in years past and have been content to just make a donation myself, but a friend who walked last year created a page on the Walk for Hunger site and asked for donations. The great thing about donating this way was I could do it online with a credit card and I got an email right away with all the information I needed to write it off my 2006 taxes! The great thing about raising money this way is I do not have to collect checks or ask for folks to pledge and then track down money later.

So this year I signed myself up with a Walk for Hunger web site and am asking Wyliemoney readers looking for a charity to make donation to Project Bread is support of team Wyliemoney. You can give as little or as much as you like and you can donate anonymously if you prefer.

If you want to give, just click here, and find a credit card that will give you cash back, airline miles, or donate to a different charity (yes there are cards that do that too!).

That way you do not have to worry about me pocketing your donations and turning my hypothetical portfolio into a dream come true!

If you do not have money to donate now, or even if you do, please forward this to friends or family who might be willing to donate!

When I do the walk, I will take some pictures and report back about the day.


U2's The Edge to become a Doctor

That's right- Dr. Edge.

Gloria and Emilio Estefan and Andrew Hill are also becoming doctors but none of their new titles will be as cool as "Dr. Edge."

On May 12th these folks will be receiving honorary Doctor of Music Degrees from Berklee College of Music.

In honor of how cool this is, I am adding the Edge's charity- Music Rising to the Wylie list of charities worth considering when you're ready to give.


Free art! Free wine!

The psyche needs beauty.

Riker sums it up in Human Excellence when he states "From its unequaled exposition in Plato's Symposium, through its worship by the Romantics, to its grounding of Whitehead's vast metaphysical system, the desire for beauty has been recognized as a basic human need.*"

So how is a wylie spirit to meet this basic human need without spending money?

Check out local open studios. Some of the artists you will encounter may be at the ummm... "early" stages of their careers, but some artists are creating amazingly rich art and are showing it for free.

One example of the latter type of artist is Dave Anastasi who runs the site east3rd.com and is participating in the Somerville Open Studios May 5-6. 2007.

Dave explains: "This show will be a celebration of alcohol, with its vibrant colors and seductive curves captured in a series of abstract photographs. Wine and hor d'oeuvres will be served.'

Not only does the frugal connoisseur of fine art have an opportunity to check out great up and coming artists, she finds free drink and food in the process. I imagine Dave is not the only artist of the 300+ participating who is serving snacks.

The risk here is that you will find an item that you want to buy, thus rendering ineffective your frugal plans. If this is the case, and your judgment has not faltered after a day of cheap Bacchic revelry and the piece you intend to purchase is awesome, do not feel guilty.

Purchasing seductive pictures of alcohol along with activities like donating time and money to charity are among the reasons we save and attempt to build wealth in the first place, right?

Events are scheduled all year long- Boston Area open studios:

*John Riker, Human Excellence and an Ecological Conception of the Psyche (New York: State University of New York Press, 1991), 101.


Why we save...

Back when I first started putting together list of tips for living below your means, a wylie reader commented to me that one way to save money was to not give to your local public radio station.

While I must give props for factuality- you will have more money in savings if you do not give any of it away- I must take the props away because this suggestion is evil.

And by evil I mean 'not good.'

I do not mean to suggest that it is evil to not give to public radio. This tip was inspired by marketing almost as annoying as a head on commercial. And bad marketing is worthy of lengthy criticism. Whether or not you give to public radio specifically is up to you. Whether or not you give at all is a different issue altogether.

MFJ over at myfinancialjourney wrote a very nice post about the fine line of frugality- specifically in regards to giving. And whether or not you have- or think you have- enough money to give some away, you also have time, sweat, and support that you can give.

So I would be ok with suggesting that one way to save is to find a charity you want to support and volunteer if you cannot afford to give cash. But if you can afford to give money, where should you give?

Beats me- that is up to you.

But I am going to list some organizations my wife and I have given to and invite you to share ideas too. If you have suggestions please add a comment on this post or send me an email at wyliemoney at gmail dot com and I will add them to this list.

Health/Quality of Life
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger and Housing
Disaster Relief