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Survey shows adults struggle with financial literacy

One of the reasons SmartStops came into existence was to help investors worldwide understand the risk they were taking when owning a stock or ETF.  As the article points out:  “..Understanding risk is critical to a person’s financial well-being.”   The concept of Risk in the stock market originally focused on modern portfolio theory’s of diversification. But in today’s computerized/internet age, even that has shown to be insufficient.  We, at SmartStops, hope to help investors move into a more profitable Buy & Protect vs. Buy & Hold mindset by proving the efficacy of such an approach.

From article here:

Risk diversification. The concept that most people didn’t understand was risk diversification, or the idea that you need to diversify assets to minimize potential losses.

Lusardi, who teaches an elective course on personal finance to graduate business students at George Washington University, says she’s not surprised.

“I’ve seen the same thing in my class,” she said. “It’s just a harder concept because you’re talking about probabilities. And with diversification, you have to think about correlation. It’s just more complex.”

But understanding risk is critical to a person’s financial well-being. As Lusardi noted, most financial decisions involve some type of risk, from buying a home to deciding how much money to save for retirement.

And worldwide, it is becoming increasingly important to teach about risk and other financial basics.

See SmartStops-in-Action here.


SmartStops comment:  an excellent article that every investor should read as MPT continues to be deeply entrenched in our systems.  Its shortcomings are proven.  The article concludes with:

The advice that most investment advisors give their clients – At its core, the message is usually something similar to this: “The markets are random and unpredictable, so the best way to invest is to properly diversify and wait for the averages to play out.”

However, what most investors seem to be unaware of is that this whole theory of random movement of market prices was proven false over 50 years ago by one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, Benoit Mandelbrot. The random motion of market prices was a very nice theory, but it just doesn’t match what actually happens in the real world.

Some excerpts from JJ Abodeely, CFA’s article :   Modern Portfolio Theory Is Harming Your Portfolio

              1. MPT and the quantification of investing has further (mis)informed the debate by seeking a easy way to label and quantify “risk.” In 1952, Harry Markowitz chose variance or volatility of prices or returns to define risk. He did so because it was mathematically elegant and computationally simple. However, this idea has serious limitations (most of which Markowitz has since acknowledged).

              On the individual stock level, Vincent notes

Risk is often in the eye of the beholder. While “quants” (who rely heavily on MPT) might view a stock that has fallen in value by   50 percent over a short period of time as quite risky (i.e. it has a high beta), others might view the investment as extremely safe,   offering an almost guaranteed return. Perhaps the stock trades well below the cash on its books and the company is likely to         generate cash going forward. This latter group of investors might even view volatility as a positive; not something that they need to be paid more to accept. On the other hand, a stock that has climbed slowly and steadily for years and accordingly has a       relatively low beta might sell at an astronomical multiple to revenue or earnings. A risk-averse, beta-focused investor is happy to add the stock to his diversified portfolio, while demanding relatively small expected upside, because of the stock’s consistent track record and low volatility. But a fundamentally-inclined investor might consider the stock a high risk investment, even in a diversified portfolio, due to its valuation. There’s a tradeoff between risk and return, but volatility and return shouldn’t necessarily have this same relationship.

2.  After all, if you buy and hold the market you can earn the long-term returns right? Unfortunately, the answer to that is no. The long-term “average” returns are rarely available. In fact, depending on where you are standing, the returns are either much higher, or much lower. Consider this chart from Crestmont Research which shows that even for periods as long as 10 years, average rarely occurs:


3. Consider this chart which you’ve probably seen in one form or another. It shows expected risk and return of various mixes of asset classes and the typical approach to asset allocation which Modern Portfolio Theory has spawned:


So what’s wrong with this picture? Lots of things.

The first is the inputs– namely expected returns and volatilities of various asset classes– most investment programs are built on logic like this:

  • Bonds will return 5% on average over the long-term but be between 0-10% in any given year
  • Stocks will return 10% on average over the long-term but be between -10% and +20% in any given year
  • Some might include other nuance regarding different types of bonds like High Yield or different types of stocks like Emerging Markets
  • Some might include different types of assets like real estate, commodities, or “alternatives”

The problem of course is this is an incomplete description of investment returns:

  • The math contends that returns are randomly and unpredictably distributed around the average
  • This “normal distribution” of returns contends that larger market movements outside of the ranges above will be relatively rare
  • “Average” returns ignore the role of valuation and the importance of when you start investing (buy) and when you finish (sell) even over multi-decade time horizons

The traditional approach to asset allocation is built on false axioms. The phenomenal secular bull market in stocks and bonds from 1982-1999 created the perfect conditions for the nearly religious acceptance of MPT. In a recent post, Expensive Markets Mean Low (or Negative) Prospective Returns, I made the case that valuation matters greatly and currently portend disappointing returns for both stocks and bonds. Traditional asset allocation has no way of dealing with this in a way that successfully protects portfolios from experiencing meaningful and unnecessary drawdowns.

Read JJ Abodeely, CFA’s article :   Modern Portfolio Theory Is Harming Your Portfolio in its entirety.

Risk Mitigation strategies as Fed Tapers

SmartStops Comment:   WisdomTree suggests its time to consider a strategy of hedging with ETFs to mitigate risk as the Fed begins to taper. That can be one approach to ensuring that a market correction will minimally affect your portfolio.  But determining when to hedge especially with the costs incurred, becomes the main question. That’s where SmartStops can help – by providing an objective analysis for when risk levels are increasing in the market.  

This excerpt from a white paper of WisdomTree:

Over the last nine months, the Federal Reserve (Fed) has gradually reduced the pace of its asset purchases in
conjunction with improving strength in the U.S. economy. With tapering on pace to conclude October 29, we believe that investors should now look beyond 2014 and start to focus on when, not if, the Federal Reserve will begin to tighten monetary policy. In our view, the way that investors have prepared their portfolios for tapering could be inadequate for the likely market reaction to increases in short-term rates. In the remainder of this discussion, we intend to focus on the following topics:
+ Preparing your portfolio for tightening is different than tapering
+ Traditional approaches to rising rates may not adequately insulate portfolios from losses going forward
+ Duration4-hedged and negative duration exchange traded funds (ETFs) may provide investors with
more comprehensive and intuitive tools to mitigate interest rate risk

For the entire white paper, click here.

Position Sizing: Key to Maximizing Returns

In a time when market volatility and equity preservation is of utmost importance, determining the correct number of shares to buy, or “position sizing”, is key to maximizing returns and minimizing risk.

The common investor generally doesn’t spend much time thinking about how many shares to buy or how significant of a position to take.  Instead, most investors use a common methodology of trading the same number of shares each time, which usually translates to a specific dollar amount.  Other, more sophisticated investors, opt to allocate a certain percentage of their portfolio value to a specific position. Following this train of thought, a new position in a portfolio of $100,000 would transcribe either a $10,000, or 10%, investment or a usual position of 50 shares.

Although these methods may work for some, using the volatility of a specific portfolio is likely to be the most effective decision tool.  Measuring a portfolio’s overall volatility enables an investor to decide on what percentage of that portfolio he is willing to risk losing on the new position.  This methodology is better explained through the following example. Read More…

A New Risk Indicator To Sidestep Market Downturns: Is It Better Than VIX?

By Chris Georgopoulos, originally published on 11/14/11

Without question the most popular model to predict market crashes is the VIX, commonly referred to as the “Fear Gauge,” a market index that measures the implied volatility of the S&P 500 index options. Its concept is quite simple, when the uncertainty and fear among investors rises, they commonly run to the S&P 500 options to either hedge or speculate. The increased interest in the options usually leads to higher premiums and as the premiums increase so does the VIX. However, predicting the future isn’t 100% accurate, most of the time it’s not even close. Every forecasting model has its flaws and the VIX is not an exception. There are many problems skeptics have found with the VIX such as; its population study is limited to only the 500 stocks of the S&P 500 and” {the} model is similar to that of plain-vanilla measures, such as simple past volatility” (Wikipedia). A blog post on summarized the VIX as “simply an indicator of actual volatility in the market but one that is very sensitive to changes in actual volatility particularly if it is on the downside.” Is there a better way?

An elementary statistics theory states that the larger the population size, the greater the likelihood that the sample will be represented. If markets are graded by the performance of popular indexes such as the S&P 500, why limit a forecasting model’s population to only 500 stocks? The economy has become global; interactions from every corner of the world’s businesses affect every other business. If there is a model that forecasts market direction, should it limit itself to just the largest companies? As for only using a month or two of short term option premiums to garner a prediction, as the VIX does, it seems to limit itself to only a single variable. Instead of short term options premiums and limited samples what if we could measure real-time individual stock trend alerts on thousands of domestic and foreign stocks and ETFs? Or simply what if we analyzed the micro components (every stock) to develop a macro forecast of the market based off trends and risk?

By studying the history of risk alerts from, an intelligent risk management service, two proven alternatives to the VIX were found. has developed their own proprietary risk model that monitors the trends and risks to over 4,000 of the most popular stocks and ETFs. If the risks grow on any individual investment alert their subscribers with both long and short term exit triggers. However not only do these alerts help individual and institutional investors manage specific investment risk, the reviews of the alerts themselves have predictive capabilities. By back-testing every alert that has issued from their inception versus the S&P 500 performance, there is proof of this and the results speak for themselves.

There have only been 7 days for which the amount of Long-Term Exit Triggers (stop alerts) as a percentage of every stock and ETF covered by has been over 20%. The subsequent market action of the S&P 500 has averaged a negative return for the time periods of 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and a year. The 6 month average return is over -7% and when examined from the absolute lows of the S&P 500, the returns average over -19%. If you remove the knee-jerk market reactions caused by “Flash Crash” on 5-6-2010, the returns are even lower.
Another metric offered by is their SRBI(tm) (SmartStops Risk Barometer Index); this index measures the current percentage of stocks and ETFs that are in “Above Normal Risk” state (ANR) divided by the 100 day average above normal risk percent. By definition, a stock that is listed ANR experienced a risk alert as its last SmartStop alert identifying a downtrend. Conversely, a stock that is listed in a “Normal Risk State” experienced a reentry alert as its last SmartStop alert indicating trading strength and an upward trend. Back-testing historical SRBI data since inception shows that the repercussions to the market when the percentage of downtrends increases to over 40% of all stocks and ETFs covered are profound. Below you will see that there have been only five occasions where this has happened. In each case the S&P returns for the following year were all negative.

Is this a better way?

Before a concrete conclusion can be determined, the predictive capabilities of the VIX must also be analyzed. Read More…

How Can Advisors Build a More Modern Portfolio?

Originally published By Matt Ackermann on May 16, 2012 at  

SmartStops comment:   The fear of investing in traditional assets due to volatility can be minimized for an advisor’s clients by the use of a SmartStops methodology.  SmartStops was created because of the need for a more Modern Portfolio approach that could better manage traditional assets.      

 How Can Advisors Build a More Modern Portfolio?

Following a pair of bear markets, advisors know the days of buy-and-hold investors with 60/40 portfolio allocations are over.

From the mass affluent to the ultra-wealthy, investors want more than just equities and fixed income in their portfolios. Clients expect their advisors to bring innovative alternative investments to the table.

“A lot of investors and advisors have moved their assets to cash or into lower yielding asset classes,” said David L. Giunta, the president and chief executive officer of Natixis Global Asset Management’s U.S. distribution. “To get them off the sidelines, advisors can’t just bring these clients back to traditional approaches. There is just too much volatility.”

According to the 2012 Natixis Global Asset Management U.S. Advisor survey, the global financial crisis and uncertain market recovery has accelerated interest in alternative investing. According to the survey, 49% of advisors are uncertain that the traditional 60/40 allocation between stocks and bonds is still relevant, and 23% said the traditional approach isn’t close to meeting the needs of investors in contemporary markets.

But if a 60/40 allocation is no longer relevant, what is the right mix?

Dick Pfister, an executive vice president and managing director of global sales and consulting at Altegris Investments, A La Jolla, Calif., based provider of alternative investments, said modern portfolio theory has shifted dramatically in the past decade. He said that large institutional investors and endowments have “dramatically” increased their allocation to alternative investments.

According to a national study of endowments by the National Association of College and University Business Owners, the average endowment had 52% of its portfolio investments in alternative assets in 2010, up from 24% in 2002.

Pfister said he doesn’t expect advisors to shift their portfolios that dramatically, but anywhere from 10% to 35% of an individual investor’s portfolio should be held in alternatives.

“We are seeing a lot more on the upper end of that range,” he said. “With more mutual funds trading like hedge funds, more people are allocating to the alternative space.”

Giunta said clients are getting more comfortable with alternative investing because more alternative options are available within the comfortable and familiar confines of a mutual fund, but he says the right portfolio allocation varies on a client-by-client basis.

“We have to create portfolios based on each risk and volatility scenario,” he said. “Advisors need to talk to their clients and understand how much of a dip they can stand. Advisors need to be having those conversations and educating their clients about a variety of alternative options.”

Read More…


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