One of the longest-standing debates in investing is over the relative merits of active portfolio management versus passive management. With an actively managed portfolio, a manager tries to beat the performance of a given benchmark index by using his or her judgment in selecting individual securities and deciding when to buy and sell them. A passively managed portfolio attempts to match that benchmark performance, and in the process, minimize expenses that can reduce an investor’s net return. Each camp has strong advocates who argue that the advantages of its approach outweigh those for the opposite side.
There are two fundamental ways that you can profit from owning bonds: from the interest that bonds pay, or from any increase in the bond’s price. Many people who invest in bonds because they want a steady stream of income are surprised to learn that bond prices can fluctuate, just as they do with any security traded in the secondary market. If you sell a bond before its maturity date, you may get more than its face value; you could also receive less if you must sell when bond prices are down. The closer the bond is to its maturity date, the closer to its face value the price is likely to be.
Making decisions about your retirement account can seem overwhelming, especially if you feel unsure about your knowledge of investments. However, the following basic rules can help you make smarter choices regardless of whether you have some investing experience or are just getting started.
It’s easy to see how inflation affects your daily life. Gas prices are higher. Electric bills are steeper. Wallets are thinner. But what inflation does to your investments isn’t always as obvious. Let’s say your money is earning 4% and inflation is running between 3% and 4% (its historical average). That means your so-called “real return”–the stated return minus inflation–is only 1% at best. After you subtract any account fees, taxes, and other expenses, you could actually end up with a negative number.
If you participate in a traditional pension plan (known as a defined benefit plan) with your employer, you may receive monthly benefits from the plan after you retire. These benefits are generally based on your age at retirement, as well as your years of service and your average earnings with the company. Depending on your plan’s provisions, you may have more than one payout option to choose from. You want to select an option that will provide you with sufficient retirement income. In addition, if you are married, you want to be sure that your spouse will have sufficient income in the event that he or she outlives you.
When it comes to investing in bonds, one of the first factors to consider is yield. But what exactly is “yield?” The answer depends on how the term is being used. In the broadest sense, an investment’s yield is the return you get on the money you’ve invested. However, there are many different ways to calculate yield. Comparing yields can be a good way to evaluate bond investments, as long as you know what yields you’re comparing and why.
The combination of investments you choose is as important as the individual investments themselves. In fact, many experts argue that it’s even more important, since the mix of various types of investments accounts for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s return. Each type of investment, or asset class, has strengths and weaknesses that let it play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments, such as stocks, may be chosen for their growth potential. Other asset classes, such as bonds, may provide regular income. Still others may offer relative stability or serve as a place to park money temporarily. And some investments may try to fill more than one role.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become increasingly popular since they were introduced in the United States in the mid-1990s. Their tax efficiencies and relatively low investing costs have attracted investors who like the idea of combining the diversification of mutual funds with the trading flexibility of stocks. ETFs can fill a unique role in your portfolio, but you need to understand just how they work and the differences among the dizzying variety of ETFs now available.
Conventional wisdom says that what goes up must come down. But even if you view market volatility as a normal occurrence, it can be tough to handle when your money is at stake. Though there’s no foolproof way to handle the ups and downs of the stock market, the following common-sense tips can help.
You probably already know you need to monitor your investment portfolio and update it periodically. Even if you’ve chosen an asset allocation, market forces may quickly begin to tweak it. For example, if stock prices go up, you may eventually find yourself with a greater percentage of stocks in your portfolio than you want. If stock prices go down, you might worry that you won’t be able to reach your financial goals. The same is true for bonds and other investments.
Mutual funds have been one alternative for many investors seeking professional money management. But when you buy shares of a mutual fund, your assets are pooled with those of other fund shareholders. You gain professional money management, but the fund’s manager certainly can’t tailor its portfolio to meet your individual requirements.