bond funds, bonds, funds, Index Investing, Investing, Low-Cost Funds, money, options, Small Business

More Hypothetical Proprietary Fund Ideas

While the Σ1 Fund is currently a real 100% privately-held investment vehicle, all language and speculative plans about its future are currently (9/28/2010) STRICTLY THEORETICAL.  There is currently no SOLICITATION or even OPPORTUNITY for anyone other than Balhiser LLC shareholder(s) to invest in the fund.  Further, there is currently no SOLICITATION nor OPPORTUNITY to invest in Balhiser LLC at present. Thus the HYPOTHETICAL and SPECULATIVE language is merely just words at this point and time.  It is entirely possible that outside investors NEVER be given the opportunity to invest.

I’m wondering… should I revise my $10K minimum investment.  Perhaps $5K-$9K with a ~2% up-front load ($5000 yields $4900 of principal, $5000 yields $5100).  Increments above $5K are $1K with an up/down choice.  Increments are also $1K for investments over $10K.  Additional subsequent investments for current investors are $2K minimum with $1K increments.  Withdrawals minimums are $5K or %100 plus optional $1K increments.  Additional fund investments are subject to the same early withdrawal penalties as initial investments.  ALL requested redemptions are FIFO by default.

Distributions (realized capital gains, dividends, etc) are annual.  How they are distributed is TDB.  My initial inclination is that there is an ex-dividend date on the last trading day of each month, and dividend income is distributed in proportion to #months held * #shares.  Distributions are re-invested by default. Non-reinvested distributions are held in a non-interest-bearing manner until $500 is reached, upon which the total distribution will be paid in full by ACH or check.  Non-reinvested dividends may be paid, upon request, before the $500 minimum is reached, but a distribution-collection fee of $50 will be assessed.  For shareholders with >= $100K NAV none of these distribution restrictions or fees apply.

75% of redemption fees will be paid to Balhiser LLC, the remaining 25% will be paid to the Fund.

Requirements for potential investors:

  • Minimum of 5 years experience investing in stocks, bonds, ETFs, and/or mutual funds.
  • Acknowledgment that this is an investment of at-risk capital that may be subject to forced liquidation without notice during volatile and illiquid market conditions. This could result in severe or even total loss of investment.
  • Acknowledgment that options WILL be part of the Fund’s holdings/obligations.  While the primary target use of options is “covered-call” writing the notion of “covered” is not strict.  The fund may consider an RNM (Russel 2000 mini call option contract) to be “covered” by ownership of “an appropriate amount” of SPY (S&P500 ETF) shares.
  • Acknowledgment that ETF futures contracts may part of the Fund’s holdings/obligations.
  • Signed (and notarized) legal waiver that specifies that in exchange for participating in this fund, fund participant, fund participant beneficiaries and/or heirs, agree to hold legally blameless the fund manager and Balhiser LLC  for losses sustained by the Fund.
  • Solid familiarity with E-mail and the Internet and Internet-based “paperless” documents and communication.

In exchange for these concessions, the fund manager agrees to the following “skin-in-the-game” and transparency conditions:

  • So long as fund assets (or total net unredeemed funds invested) exceed $50K, the fund manager and/or Balhiser LLC will maintain a minimum of $25K invested in the Fund.
  • So long as fund assets exceed $50K, the fund manager and/or Balhiser LLC will reinvest all fund net distributions and net fund management proceeds into the Fund.
  • So long as FE>$50K. Fund manager and/or Balhiser LLC will be subject to same fees, terms, and conditions as all other investors PLUS will have to provide an ADDITIONAL 60-day advance notice to all fund shareholders (via email or other means) prior to any sale of holdings in the Fund.
  • 100% of Balhiser LLC/fund manager redemption fees (fees incurred for “personal” withdrawals) will be paid to the Fund.
  • End-of-month NAV reports will be delivered by email to shareholders. (delivered within 5 business days)
  • Subject to NDA: Unaudited Annual Report detailing complete fund holdings (delivered within 20 business days). Disclosure to CPA is permitted.
  • Subject to NDA: Upon request unaudited inter-year report (delivered within 30 business days). A $250 fee applies.  Disclosure to CPA is permitted.  Fee is waived once per year for investors with >= $100,000 invested in the Fund.

Base Management Fee Rates (similar, but not identical, to an expense ratio)

  • 7.8 basis points per month (0.078%) of previous close-of-month fund NAV.
    [~0.95% in simple interest, or ~0.9772% compounded annually]
  • Base management fee reduced by:
    • 10% for investors with >=    $50,000 NAV (or $50K net unredeemed investments).
    • 25% for investors with >=   $100,000 NAV (or $100K net unredeemed investments).
    • 33% for investors with >=   $250,000 NAV (or $250K net unredeemed investments).
    • 50% for investors with >= $1,000,000 NAV (or $1M net unredeemed investments).
bond funds, bonds, finance blog, Index Investing, Low-Cost Funds, options

Small Investors: The Best of Times

The small investor has some truly excellent options these days.  Two in particular are just this side of awesome.  The first is index ETFs (exchange-traded funds).  The second is low-cost online trading.  ETFs and cheap online trading form a powerful combination for the small investor.

In addition, the wealth of online investment information is voluminous, and in many cases free.

So for the small investor (whom I define as someone with < $1,000,000 of net assets to invest), 2010 is a pretty great starting point to get serious about personal finance

I recommend that before you embark, that you have at least a 3-month emergency fund and little to no credit-card debt.  If this doesn’t describe your financial situation, this article doesn’t currently apply to you.  [Please consider paying down those credit cards and then saving up a modest rainy day fund!]

However, if you meet these basic criteria consider the following suggestions:

  • Open a Vanguard account with a minimum of $3000.  Put those first funds in either the Prime Money Mkt Portfolio or the Tax-Exempt Money Market
  • Keep putting spare money into Vanguard.  Once you hit $10,000 to $25,000, consider other Vanguard offerings.  If you are unsure of what to invest in, call a Vanguard adviser.
  • Consider maxing out your 401k contribution, if your income permits.  Keep that “rainy day” fund in mind.  A rainy-day fund is cash, money market, or diversified short-to-intermediate AA or better rated bonds or CDs.  Stocks, mutual funds, etc. don’t count for rainy day cash.
  • Keep that Vanguard account.  If your tax situation permits, consider making Roth IRA contributions.  Vanguard is a good place to hold these, Fidelity is another.
  • Once you’ve got your rainy-day fund to 9 months or more, and can maintain solid 401k and Roth IRA contributions, congratulations.  You may be read to become a “big-time small investor”.

Enough preamble.  Let’s assume you are ready.  Now what?

You can select any number of online brokerages and invest for less than $9 per trade.  That includes option trades.  Some even allow futures trades.  So, the world is your oyster.

However, prudence is crucial.  There are just so many opportunities, options, pitfalls.  May I make a few suggestions?

  1. Start by investing in ETFs.  Consider, SPY, VTI, BND, VEU,  and, now, VOO.  These are excellent diversified ETFs with very low expense ratios.
  2. Want to dabble in individual stocks?  Diversify.  If you buy some tech stocks, also buy some consumer goods, or basic materials, or utilities.
  3. Want to dabble in options?  Try starting with writing (selling) covered calls on your ETFs.
  4. Futures?  Think once, think twice.  Do some research and think a third time.  The just maybe you might given them a try.  But, please, please do so with caution. [Note futures contracts require a margin account… please tread carefully with margin (aka leveraged) investing.]

That is just a start.  Might I also point out that an investor today could construct an excellent life-long portfolio with just VTI, BND, and VEO… re-balancing annually as age and situation dictate?  As age 60 approaches, mixing in a few laddered CDs (bank certificates of deposit) is not an unreasonable option.  Owning and paying-off a home is also a reasonable retirement goal.

I, however, am now content to fully adopt a reasonable and prudent approach.  I also dabble with a small Crazy Ivan Account (CIA), and with (limited) option strategies.  I also incorporate rental real estate into my investing mix.

The point I want to emphasize is that there are so many opportunities for the modern small investor.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the choices.   But, by starting with the basics — Vanguard mutual funds, low-cost diversified ETFs, and online investing — it is possible to construct and manage very solid personal portfolios.

Best wishes.


Quant Logic Tackles Sloppy Betas in Finance. (Part II)

I’ve crunched my first set of numbers.  Specifically I’ve computed the beta of  XOM (Exxon Mobil) vs. SPY (SPDR S&P 500 ETF) for 365 days ending Feb 4, 2010.   My computed beta is 0.125.   This is based on daily sampling of closing prices for a 365-day period.   Not content with non-uniform sampling (e.g. discarding holiday and weekend data when the markets are not open), I recomputed beta over the same period with interpolated weekend/holiday data and came up with a beta of 0.117.  I have not yet bothered to compute R-squared.

These are surprisingly low betas.  Also interesting is the difference data interpolation can make… a not insignificant difference of 8.6%

Next I checked out reported betas from other sources.  Yahoo Finance reports a beta of 0.35 for XOM (without specifying a time period, sampling method/frequency, or even reference index).   MSN Money reports a beta of 0.43.   This is a difference of about 23%.  This could probably be accounted for by different time periods, etc.  But what is most annoying is that these betas are presented without any such context.

I’ve only just started to explore this topic, but I think I’ve started to show that there is significant room for improvement in computing beta.  And because beta underlies CAPM and modern portfolio theory, I think this is a big deal.

I’ve already got some more ideas for part III of this series, I just have to crunch some more numbers.

funds, money

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

There are two very different types of funds that are traded on the stock exchange(s).  The dominant form is the open-ended exchange-traded fund, commonly called an ETF.  The smaller cousin of the ETF is the closed-end fund commonly called the CEF.

According to a recent Forbe’s article ETFs currently contain $725 billion in assets and could top $1 trillion in the next two years.  According to this site CEF assets totaled $335 billion in 2007.

Closed-End Funds

The weakness of the CEF is that its assets are bound up in a closed financial package.  In a way a CEF is a bit like a financial black hole — the investments inside are not reachable by the rest of the financial universe outside the event horizon.  The only way that the money is accessed is indirectly through the current price of the CEF and through cash distributions.   To take the analogy further a CEF is a bit like a “white hole” in that the internal assets can slowly radiate out in the form of cash distributions.

Because there is no effective mechanism to keep CEF price in line with NAV (net asset value) they hold they frequently trade at a premium or discount to their NAV.  This yahoo finance chart shows the ever-changing relationship between price (red) and NAV (blue) for S&P 500 covered call CEF.

The price versus NAV tracking-error in CEF pricing is a big con to CEF investments.    It does also present a couple opportunities.  1) Buying CEFs at a steep discount to their NAV is sometimes possible and 2) shorting CEFs that are at a steep premium is another opportunity.  Generally, however, I don’t advice speculating or investing in CEFs, largely because of the superior alternate — the ETF, or exchange-traded fund.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETF)

The ETF is a really great financial innovation.  ETFs excel over CEFs because they build in a financial arbitrage mechanism that minimizes price/NAV tracking error.   The underlying components (stocks, bonds, money, etc) can be be redeemed directly from the ETF issuer in large blocks of ETF shares called creation units.  Typically 50,000 shares of an ETF equals a single creation unit.  If the NAV is greater than the price of the ETF a large investor can buy a creation unit worth of shares and resell the constituent investment pieces for a profit.  This arbitrage mechanism helps to keep ETF prices in very close correlation with the underlying NAV.

The beauty of ETFs is that they incorporate many of the best attributes of stocks, closed-end funds, and mutual funds into an efficient financial package.  ETFs, like CEFs, trade like stocks.  Because they do, they can be bought and sold in virtually any brokerage account just like any other stock.  Additionally, ETFs can do essentially anything a mutual fund can do — provide diversification, passive or active management strategies, invest in foreign or domestic securities, etc.

Often a mutual fund company will offer a particular fund it two different packages– a typical mutual fund or as an ETF.  For example Vanguard offers the Vanguard Total Stock Market fund as a mutual fund under the symbol VTSMX and as an ETF under the ticker VTI.

I have just scratched the surface of the CEF and ETF investment world with this blog article.  Suffice it to say I am a proponent of ETF investing.  Understanding the disadvantages of CEFs helps illustrate the advantages of ETFs.  In fact, I believe ETFs are one the of greatest financial innovations since the index mutual fund.  One passing word of caution.  Please be carefully not to confuse ETFs with the similar-sounding ETN (exchange-traded note).  ETFs are backed by the underlying securities they contain, whereas ETNs are simply senior debt notes that are only as secure the issuer who sells them.  For this reason, I prefer the real McCoy, the EFT.


Schemes and Scams

I like to write, except when I must.   I didn’t post last week because the muse was not with me.  But now she is back, filling my head with questions about the line that tries to divide sound investments from downright scams.  Often that line is quite clear to many of us.  We can often spot an unsophisticated scam from a mile away.

Sometimes those who should know better get taken.  When a wise investor get had she is only taken for a small percentage.  For example, the collapse of Enron directly impacted my investments… to such a small degree it possibly lost in the round-off error.  VTI for example, because it is a market-weighted index, exposed me to a little bit of Enron.


In principle, regulation exists to combat Enron-style malfeasance.  And it works to a large degree.  However, for individuals and corporations alike, prudence is a perhaps more important factor.  It occurs to to me that it is in my own best interest to periodically remind myself of this fact.

It for this reason that I looked up the classic Ponzi scheme to check my facts:


Then there is the legally grey red/black roulette scheme.  A financial adviser collects 10% return on all investment profits.  He takes the investors money and bets it on black.  If the roll looses he tells the client “sorry”.  If the roll wins he collects his 10 percent and does the same again at a later date… and demonstrates a 90% after expense return.    Now in real life the investment vehicle isn’t literally a spin at the roulette wheel, but a similarly functioning derivatives play or plays.

There is also the advising scam.  Start with 1024 target email addresses.  Predict, say, the outcome of an NFL football game.  Email the Colts prediction to 512 addresses and Panthers to the other 512.   Send the next prediction in a similar manner to the 512 folks who were send the correct answer (ignore the others to whom the wrong prediction went).   After, say 5 times, you have 32 folks who have all seen your prediction come true.  Hit them up for $99 to hear your next insightful pick.  If half these folks bite, there’s almost $1600 of ill-gotten gains at your disposal.  Until the cops come knocking. 🙂  [Note repeat again with the 8 folks who took your advice and you advised correctly, however this time the fee is $495.  Repeat again with the four remaining folks, then new fee is $995.  You get the idea.]


It is smart and generally easy for most people to avoid big scams and cons.  It is sad to hear about folks losing money at Indymac bank.   Deposits over $100,000 ($250,000 IRA) will likely lose most of the excess.  However, may I pointedly say “Duh!”  It is helpful to get your FDIC facts straight folks.  Yes, banks are safe, generally.  But, come on, spread it around $100K at a time ($250K IRA).  That’s pretty easy… and wise to do.

Personally, I’m asking myself “What are the risks”.  Some are market-risk.  Some are company-risk.  There are many flavors.  The US stock market is pretty well regulated.  It is among the best managed markets in the world.  However, stock brokers, they vary.   My number 1 pet peeve is excessive fees including high expense ratios and (any!) loads.  Other key peeves are lack of diversification, bad annuities (not that I know much, but someday I will do more research),  and setting up or failing to adjust investor expectation.

Sadly, I’ve barely broached the topic and ideas that are coming to mind.  Suffice it to say that it behooves an investor to aware of and wary of scams and schemes.  A good place to start is with big, classic ones like the Ponzi.  There is, I believe, a continuum of such investing parasites (parasitics?) that can drag down investment return.  High fees and loads are the most obvious example.  These are legal, but should be avoided.

Parting words for now… loads are just that– a big load of *%$#!   Best investment wishes, and to all a good night.