Young lives matter

January 25, 2017

They need protection from the ‘streets’, a decent eduction, and financial skills.

Beta is the incline of a straight line

December 10, 2016

Beta (which is symbolized as β) is the incline of a straight line. Mathematicians would say the same thing another way, that beta is the slope of a regression line. Either way, β describes the tendency of investment returns to move with market returns. The investment is a security (e.g., stock, bond, mutual fund) that has a unit price. The market is a trading place for a large group of securities. The combined value of all securities is measured by a market index.


Trading causes security prices to change during the passage of time, a process called price movement. Calculations of β require price movements to be measured as percentage returns. In table 1, the daily closing prices of a security and its market index are listed under the column heading “close”. Percentage daily changes in closing price are listed under the column heading “Return %”.   Equation 1 is the formula used to calculate a return:

Return % = 100 x (current price – past price) / past price  (equation 1)

Notice in table 1 that all prices are a positive number and that the market’s close is bigger than the investment’s close. However, the calculated returns are positive and negative numbers of similar size. The positive and negative returns represent up and down movements of prices. Table 1 has 3 pairs of investment and market returns with corresponding dates.


Beta (β)

β may be calculated directly from a table of returns, but it’s more meaningful to analyze a scatter plot of returns. The scatter plot in figure 1 has a solid blue line derived from 5 years of daily returns represented by more than a thousand black dots. Each dot has a pair of corresponding returns on each axis.

The blue line offers the single-best comparison of investment returns to market returns. The incline of the blue line is β, which is calculated as a ratio of the lengths AC and BC of the dashed lines. Since AC and BC have equal point spreads of 5%, β is 1.00, which means that the investment and its market TENDED to move together at the same rate of return.

Notice that the black dots are closely aligned to the blue line, therefore excluding the random movement of returns. Consequently, the blue line is highly predictive of this particular investment’s past performance.


β is a measurement that literally means for every percent of market return, the percent investment return TENDED to change by the factor of β.  This is illustrated in figure 2.

The colored performance lines in figure 2 represent different investments. Each line offers the single-best comparison of investment returns to market returns. For the sake of graphic clarity, a large cluster of paired returns was not plotted as data points.

At β = 1.00 (black dashed line) the investment and market TENDED to move together at the same rate. At β >1.00 (yellow line), the investment performance was amplified by trading activity in the market. The yellow line’s β infers that the investment’s return was 1.72 times the market’s return. At β <1.00 (green line), the investment performance was diminished by market activity. The green line infers that the investment’s return was 0.86 times the market’s return. At β <0 (red line), the investment performance was reversed by market activity. The red line infers that the investment’s return was -3.86 times the market’s return.

Thus, β is a ‘pretend’ multiplier of market performance. Higher β ‘amplified’ the market performance, lower β ‘diminished’ the market performance, and negative β ‘reversed’ the market performance.


Risk is the chance for a capital gain and capital loss. Betas greater than 1.00 tend to be riskier investments and those lower than 1.00 tend to be safer investments compared to performance of the market. Negative β infers a reversal of investment outcomes compared to market outcomes.

Summary and advice

β is a statistic for past performance that describes the tendency of investment returns to move with market returns. When comparing the β of different investments, be sure to verify the time periods and market index used by the analyst. β is typically measured with weekly or monthly returns for the past 3-5 years.

Copyright © 2016 Douglas R. Knight

Why we need stocks and bonds

October 20, 2016

Believe it or not, Society is coming to the point where all capable people need to invest in stocks or bonds. So what are stocks and bonds, and why do we need them?

They are valuable certificates purchased from businesses by investors. Businesses need investors’ money to build and sell products to customers for a profit. Investors need the certificate to retrieve their money with a bonus payment. That bonus payment is an enticement to invest in businesses.

Stock and Bonds are different from each other. Stocks represent part ownership in a business. The stock owner hopes to collect portions of business profits called dividends and to eventually sell the stock certificate for a bonus amount. Bonds are written promises to refund investors’ money with an extra amount called interest. Both potentially offer individuals an extra source of money.

Markets for stocks and bonds will grow and endure for future generations.  More individuals will become investors out of necessity.  The details of investing are interesting and challenging.

Copyright © 2016 Douglas R. Knight

Choosing an ETF

August 16, 2016

Investing in an exchange-traded fund (ETF) begins with screening many funds to identify a few candidates, then rating the candidates. My preferred open-source screeners are and, both of which have inclusion criteria for selecting desirable ETFs and exclusion criteria for rejecting undesirable ETFs.  Aim to find a reputable low-cost ETF that best matches the performance of its category.

Asset class

Assets are potential sources of income to investors.  Consequently, an asset class is a group of assets that earn income the same way.  The ETF portfolio holds assets consistent with the fund’s investment strategy, which is either to copy a market index by process of passive management or compete with a market index by process of active management. The index measures the performance of an asset market.

Competing ETFs are typically grouped in one of the following asset classes:

  1. EQUITY is a share of ownership claimed through the purchase of a company’s stock. Equity ETFs earn capital gains and dividends from stocks.
  2. REIT.  The real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns and manages income-producing real estate. The REIT earns money from rent, mortgage interest, or other real estate investments. At least 90% of the REIT’s taxable income must be given to shareholders in the form of dividends. REIT ETFs earn capital gains and dividends from REITs.
  3. FIXED INCOME securities pay an expected amount of interest (e.g., bonds) or dividends (e.g., preferred stock).
  4. COMMODITIES are raw materials sold in markets for use in making finished products. Commodities are sold for cash or traded in futures contracts.
  5. CURRENCY is a system of money in the form of cash or notes. The currency market trades different currencies to profit from trading fees and differences in interest rates.


The following inclusion criteria direct the search for reputable candidate funds desired by most individual investors:

  1. Passively managed ETFs typically charge lower fees than actively managed ETFs and likely outperform actively managed funds over long time-periods.
  2. U.S. listed ETFs comply with SEC regulations, U.S. stock exchange rules, and the U.S. tax code.
  3. One of these Asset classes: Equity (stocks), REIT (real estate), or Fixed Income (bonds).

Refine your inclusion criteria by selecting reputable indices and desired market categories.


The following criteria should be excluded by all but the most adventurous investors!

  1. Exchange-traded notes (ETNs) are not ETFs.
  2. Closed-end funds (CEFs) are not ETFs.
  3. Leverage and inverse ETFs are very tricky investments.
  4. Actively managed ETFs charge higher fees in order to create porfolios that outperform or underperform a market index.
  5. These asset classes:
    Alternatives (imitation hedge funds)
    Asset Allocation (actively managed mix of assets)
    Multi-Asset/Hybrid (diversified asset classes)
    Volatility (exposure to volatile market)
    Commodities (potential tax burdens)
    Currency (potential tax burdens)

Reputable index

All ETFs compete on the basis of an Index they use to design an investment portfolio. Some Indices make better measurements of market performance than others. Beware that some Indices measure untested markets. Generally speaking, the best-in-class ETFs use reputable market indices. One way of choosing a reputable index is by selecting a long-standing, oft-quoted Index provider or Index name.

Index providers are companies that specialize in measuring market performance and selling the information to financial institutions. Table 1 provides a sample of reputable Index providers.


Category and Index names

Asset Classes have unique categories. Each category may be measured in a variety of indices listed in Tables 2-4.






Rating the candidates

By now you should have several ETFs that could satisfy your investment goal. Verify that they belong to the same category, then assess their suitability based on the following critera:

  1. Net assets, Total assets, Assets Under Management (AUM), or Market cap AT LEAST $1 BILLION.
  2. Inception date AT LEAST 5 YEARS AGO
  4. Legal structure PREFERABLY “OEIC” OR “UIT” (table 5)

The finishing touch

It’s a good idea to review the Annual Report of your selected ETF.  Your potential tax burden is determined by the ETF’s legal structure, its portfolio turnover, and your tax accountant’s hourly fees.


Copyright © 2016 Douglas R. Knight

Empower young investors with savings plans.

May 29, 2016

The purpose of this article is to help young people make long range savings plans.  It’s a three-step process: 1) Set the goal. 2) Adjust for inflation. 3) Make recurring payments. I begin by presenting a retirement savings plan and conclude with a generic process for making other savings plans.

Planning for retirement

QUESTION: How much money should I save to start retirement?

ANALYSIS: I know people save money for future expenses even though inflation increases those expenses. Thank goodness my current budget is designed to pay for emergencies and pay all debt before retirement. If I live within my means and save 25 times my annual salary, I could safely withdraw 4% of those savings in the first year of retirement and keep withdrawing that amount, adjusted for inflation, each year of retirement. Life would be good! [refs 1-3]

GOAL: Save $25 per dollar of annual salary, plus an adjustment for inflation. The goal has 2 parts: 1) The savings account should hold at least $25 for every $1 of gross annual salary. 2) Every saved dollar should be inflated to match the Economy’s inflation rate.

STRATEGY: Start to invest regularly at the beginning of my career.

  1. Starting at approximately age 25 and finishing at approximately age 75 will provide 50 years of opportunity to save for retirement.
  2. At an annual inflation rate of 3%, the average price of everything that costs $1 today will likely be $4.38 fifty years from now (check this estimate with a future value calculator).
  3. My real savings goal is $25 X $4.38, which rounds to $110 for per dollar of salary.  The planning table in Fig. 1 will help me select a regular deposit.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

For instance, a stock index fund that’s expected to earn a 10% annual rate of return could accumulate $110 when 9 cents per year are deposited into the account for 50 years.

How does this apply to me?  Suppose I start earning $50,000 a year at age 23 and invest in a stock index fund that earns an 8% rate of return. Thanks to the help from my parents, I already have $1,000 to open an investment account. According to the 50-year plan in Fig. 1, I will choose to deposit 18 cents per year for every dollar of salary. That means my annual deposits will be $9,000 from the $50,000 salary. If things go right, my investment account will be worth $5,546,902 after 50 years. Really?!!?

  • The future value of $1,000 is $46,902 based on an annual return of 8% for 50 years {test this calculation with the future value calculator}.
  • The planning table in fig. 1 is designed to earn $110 by making regular deposits for every $1 of salary; $110 X $50,000 = $5,500,000.
  • $46,902+$5,500,00 = $5,546,902.  Happy retirement!

THEN WHAT? Plan on safely withdrawing 4% of your savings at the beginning of retirement in order to match your annual salary before retirement; 4% of $110 is $4.40. Next year withdraw the same amount plus extra cash to adjust for inflation. The adjustment factor is (1+I) for the annual rate of inflation. Assuming that I is a 3% rate of inflation, (1+0.03) X $4.40 = $4.53. Each succeeding year, withdraw the same amount as the previous year plus an adjustment for inflation. In the first 5 years of retirement your annual withdrawals will be $4.40, $4.53, $4.67, $4.81, and $4.95 per $1 of pre-retirement salary and you will have plenty of savings for the rest or retirement [refs 1,2].

Risk management

There’s no guarantee that your plan will work. What could go wrong and how do you avoid failure? Some likely risks are missed deposits, taxes, low rates of return, brief time, and market declines.

  1. Missed deposits- Deposits energize the process of compounding interest to accumulate savings [ref 4]. Avoid missing deposits by making automatic payments through an employer sponsored savings plan –e.g., 401(k), 403(b)– or through payroll deposits into an individual retirement account (IRA).
  2. Taxes- Tax-deferred savings plans reduce your taxes. Deposits into employer-sponsored retirement-savings plans and traditional IRAs are not taxed until withdrawals are made after retirement when the withdrawals are taxed as regular income. Deposits into a Roth IRA are taxed at the time of deposit, but never taxed again. If the traditional and Roth IRAs are not affordable for you, the U.S. Government offers an affordable Roth IRA called the MyRA. If you wish to invest in Treasuries and corporate bonds, beware that they ares taxed at a higher rate than the long term capital gains from stocks.  Use a tax-deferred account to invest in bonds [ref 5].
  3. Low rates of return- Stocks reputedly pay higher rates of return than bonds. Investing in individual stocks is a risky and time-consuming effort; joining an investment club may be helpful. Consider buying shares of index funds that invest in market sectors with the understanding that investing in market sectors is riskier than investing in broad markets.
  4. Brief time- Start investing while you’re young. Starting later will require larger payments.
  5. Market declines- Since 1929 the average stock market cycle was 40 months divided into 30 months of price inclines and 10 months of price declines [ref 6]. The net effect was an uptrend in prices over long time periods. Individual investors can protect their investment returns from market declines in two ways: 1) Continue investing during market declines when regular deposits will purchase more securities at lower prices. 2) Diversify by adding bonds to your stock portfolio. This is best done by making supplemental payments for bonds in tax-deferred accounts such as MyRA.

Generic savings plan

Any long range savings plan can be made in 3 steps:

1. Set a goal for how much money you want to save. Your goal becomes the accumulated amount calculated by the compounded interest calculator [Fig. 2].

2. Adjust for inflation by multiplying your goal by the factor (1+I). I is the decimal value of the annual inflation rate. If you choose last century’s average annual inflation rate of 3.2% [ref. 7], the factor is (1+0.032). If 3.2% seems too high, use your internet search engine to discover more recent inflation rates.

3. Determine recurring payments needed per $1 of annual salary.  Display them in a customized planning table similar to Fig. 1.  Here’s how:

  • The columns are values of N for the number of years. Choose at least 2 time periods for the sake of versatility.
  • The rows are values of R for an investment’s annual rate of return. Choose a practical range of stock and bond returns for the sake of versatility.
  • The cells display fractions of $1 for making the minimal recurring deposit (d). Determine the deposits by testing trial values of d in the compounded interest calculator (Fig. 2). For example, start with d = 10 cents at the highest rate of return (R) for the longest time period (N). 10 cents represents the idea of depositing 10% of every dollar in your annual salary [Hint: it’s practically impossible to deposit more than 50 cents per dollar of salary].
  • In Fig. 2, the value of PV can be $0 unless you already have an initial deposit.

Appendix: All-purpose Savings Calculator

Try fig. 2’s all-purpose savings calculator that’s in the open-source publication of [ref. 8].

Fig. 2


Note: Fig. 2 can be validated by tests using the compound interest formula for annual additions discussed in ref 4.


1. Jane Bryant Quinn. How to make your money last. The Indispensable Retirement Guide. 2106, Simon & Shuster, New York. 366 pages.

2. William P. Bengen. Determining withdrawal rates using historical data. Journal of Financial Planning, pages 171-180, October, 1994.

3. Craig L. Israelsen. The importance of diversification in retirement portfolios. AAII Journal, April, 2015. pages 7-10. American Association of Independent Investors.

4. Miranda Marquit. How does compound interest work for investments? ©️2016 empowering media inc. 2/18/2016.

5. Types of Retirement Plans., 10/7/2015.

6. Paul A. Merriman. 22 things you should know about bear markets. Aug 24, 2015. MarketWatch.Inc, ©️2016.

7. Tim McMahon. Average annual inflation rates by decade. June 18, 2015.

8. Compound interest calculator. ©️2010 Visa.

Copyright © 2016 Douglas R. Knight

Book Review: Blue Chip Kids, what every child and parent should know about money, investing, and the stock market.

April 24, 2016

Blue Chip Kids, what every child and parent should know about money, investing, and the stock market. David W. Bianchi. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, 2015. 234 pages.

Author David W. Bianchi wrote this book for young people who are interested in spending money. He wrapped the uses of money into 3 important topics: 1) All about money; 2) Ways of investing money; and, 3) Stock markets.  Gambling was excluded from the discussion.

I was interested in learning to coach my granddaughter on ways investing money. Bianchi exposed me to very low-, very high-, and mid-range risks of investment (I wouldn’t advise my granddaughter to invest at either end of the spectrum!). Here’s my synopsis:

All about Money. “Rule #1: live within your means”.

Chapter 1 has one of the best sections in the book which describes ways of earning money throughout life. Money is a “currency”. Don’t be surprised to learn that there are many different currencies with constantly changing values. Chapter 2 describes ways of paying for things.

The best ways of borrowing money are discussed in Chapters 9-11. If you want to avoid a penalty, repay your debt on time. Payments of interest on loans are called coupons. Coupons are a cost to the borrower that are paid to the lender. Some borrowers must pay simple interest and others pay compound interest. Lenders usually prefer payments of compound interest.

Borrowers are expected to show that they are reliable (“credit worthy”) people. For example, bankers will ask to read your financial statement before giving you a loan. Your financial statement is a document that lists the total value of assets (things that you own) and liabilities (money that you owe). The difference between total assets and total liabilities is your net worth.

Governments earn money by charging taxes and selling bonds. Everybody has to pay taxes. Failure to pay any of the many taxes described in chapter 12 may lead to a government audit and penalty. Chapter 13 reveals that the U.S. Government owes 17 trillion dollars to lenders from around the world! All of us face serious consequences if our government fails to pay its debts! Meanwhile, we can protect our personal financial reputations by avoiding default and bankruptcy. Better yet, don’t borrow money. Create a budget to “live within your means”.

Chapter 15 explains the challenge of retirement, which is to continue paying bills after you stop working for a living! After you graduate from school to begin a career in early life, start saving for retirement later in life at age 60-75 years. The author wisely advises to “give yourself the ability to retire if you want to”. Your retirement income will come from retirement savings, social security, pension plans, and annuities.


Investing is all about risk and return. Treasury bonds are considered no-risk investments that return about 3% annually. The investment choices that Bianchi offered to his readers were stocks (chapters 3,8), options (chapter 5), funds (chapter 6), bonds (chapter 7), and private companies (chapter 14).

A Stock is a certificate of ownership, also called a security. Brokers don’t issue the certificate, they send a confirmation that serves as evidence of ownership. The market value of the stock usually rises when its company earns profits.

Options are contracts that guarantee the trade of an asset at a fixed price for a limited period of time. The seller earns a fee for guaranteeing the trade. The buyer pays the fee in turn for the right to execute the trade before expiration. The buyer may benefit by 1) using the option as an insurance policy, 2) exercising the option at a favorable price, or 3) trading the option in the options market.

A Fund is a pool of money collected from many investors to invest in a group of assets. The advantages of the fund are that investors don’t spend considerable time doing research and don’t spend large sums of money for a diversified portfolio. Among the types of funds are

  1. Index funds, which copy a security index and charge low fees for the service.
  2. Mutual funds, which don’t copy a security index and do charge several fees for the service.
  3. Hedge funds, which invest in anything and charge very high fees. Hedge funds have strict rules of eligibility and charge “2 and 20” fees (2% annual management fee and 20% management ‘tax’ on investment returns).

A Bond shows that you lent money to the company on condition that it returns the money, with interest, at the maturity date.  The bond’s face value is the original price (printed on the face of the bond); it is the redeemable amount!  The yield is the bond’s annual rate of return; Yield = Interest / Price.

A Private Company does not trade its stock in a public stock exchange. Private company stocks are illiquid because they don’t have an open market. Venture Capital and Private Equity firms buy stocks in private companies. Venture Capital is money invested in start-up companies. Private Equity firms inject money into established private companies in exchange for the companies’ stocks.

Stock market

Advice: It’s difficult to predict the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of market prices. Do homework to buy quality stocks at a reasonable price.

Chapter 3 explains that the stock market is a place for orderly buying and selling of stocks (and other securities). There are many stock markets that vary according to listed stocks and total market capitalization (‘market cap’ is the total value of the company’s shares).  Chapter 8 describes how to make stock-buying decisions, how to participate in the stock market, and how the market behaves.  David W. Bianchi, if I misread your book, then I apologize for citing 2 nearly insignificant errors that were made about investing in stocks:

  1. Contrary to statement, there is no P/E ratio = 0.  Ratios of x/0 are undefined.  Financial websites don’t report the P/E as a number when company earnings are negative or 0.
  2. A share buyback doesn’t raise the price per share of stocks; only trading activity in the market can raise the price.   A share buyback raises the earnings per share (eps), which then may raise the share price.

I believe your book is well worth reading.

Websites for retirement-planning

February 19, 2016

[updates: 3/4/2016, 3/18/2016]


http://DOL.GOV/EBSA/PDF/RETIREMENTTOOLKIT.PDF , federal programs and retirement calculators
http://SOCIALSECURITY.GOV , benefits & ‘retirement estimator’
http://MEDICARE.GOV health insurance for retirees
http://WISERWOMEN.ORG Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement
http://HHS.GOV/AGING , health- and legal information
http://USA.GOV/BENEFITS-GRANTS-LOANS , federal benefits
http://AGING.OHIO.GOV , quality of life , to plan retirement, reduce debt, find work, and cut spending.

Money management (‘financial planning’)

http://DOL.GOV , search for “Taking the mystery out of retirement planning” and download this excellent pamphlet of useful advice.
http://MYRA.GOV , A safe, affordable Roth savings account for wage earners.
http://WESTERVILLELIBRARY.ORG , search for “Investments 101”

Portfolio management , find link to “required minimum distribution”
http://BANKRATE.COM , click on “RETIREMENT” tab, then on “Retirement Calculators” subtab, then on “Asset allocation calculator”
http://53.COM, click on “Financial calculators”, then click on the “Retirement Planning” tab, then click on the “Retirement Income Calculator” to estimate your longevity of savings; click on the “Retirement Account Calculator” to compare retirement savings accounts.

Risk management

http://IRS.GOV , search “identity protection”, about Identity theft
http://FINRA.ORG (securities help line for seniors, 844-574-3577), Check the credentials of a broker or financial advisor; about Investor protection; to assess your risk for Financial fraud
http://NELF.ORG , about Elder Law
http://ELDER.FINDLAW.COM  , about Elder Law
http://LONGTERMCARE.GOV , about LTC health insurance
http://PBGC.GOV ,  to assess pensions , to shop for simple annuities , obtain a second opinion about variable annuities

Low income assistance nationwide and in Ohio

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