401k basics – discussion

For the record I am not a licensed investments professional, I have in the past taken some investment classes, and mostly I have just managed my own investments closely over time. I thought that this discussion that Jell and I had around her 401k contribution might be helpful to somebody out there who is just getting started with a 401k, and since I didn’t have to do anything but copy/paste here is the information. If you have other advice/considerations when looking at your own 401k feel free to leave a comment with more helpful advice.  Obviously this is tailored to her funds specifically, but it was a pretty general discussion over all.

HawksRock: the things across the top that you want to look at are the returns: They are shown as a %.
HawksRock: now the issue you have is that we have just come through a terrible 3 year period, so it makes them harder to look at.
HawksRock: so the first column is how well the stocks have done YTD this year, and then you see over the last 1 year, 3-year, etc time frame
HawksRock: I personally really like to look at the Inception Date and then the since inception performance.
HawksRock: are you with me so far?
JellyBean: yes
JellyBean: affilated fund, the 1st one…
HawksRock: okay, the next most important thing you can get off this sheet is the Exp. Gross
JellyBean: since 1934?
HawksRock: yeah!
HawksRock: I like that one.
JellyBean: and in come fund since 1932
JellyBean: income*
HawksRock: the Exp. Gross – stands for the Expense Gross. There are certain fees associated with trading stocks as well as a management fee that the mutual fund charges you for their managing of the funds.
HawksRock: This is expressed as a %, so basically any of the return numbers that are shown you basically just subtract the Expense Gross from the return number to figure out how much you would have actually made.
HawksRock: In other words sometimes you will see a fund that is getting 15% return, but they have a 5% Expense Gross so you are actually only getting a 10% return.
JellyBean: k
HawksRock: okay, so that is the basic info that is important on this sheet.
HawksRock: All of your money was going into the USG & GSE Money market fund
HawksRock: which you can see has the absolute lowest % return.
HawksRock: the thing is though that it will never go negative.
HawksRock: it will just sit there for all time. lol
JellyBean: i think thats what my county one was at
JellyBean: when i worked for the da
JellyBean: cause it never grew
HawksRock: honestly most money market accounts do better than this one, normally more in the 3-5% range
HawksRock: but iunno… regardless you don’t wanna be in that.
HawksRock: so you are with me so far right?
JellyBean: yes
HawksRock: okay, typically there is a basic relationship between risk and return. The higher the risk of losing money, the higher the potential for return has to be.
HawksRock: The money market is the absolute lowest risk – you can’t ever lose any of that money, and therefore it offers the lowest return.
HawksRock: The next lowest risk option is government backed bonds – which are what mostly make up the Income Fund and the Bond Debenture Fund.
HawksRock: The one time though that bonds will make huge returns is when the stock market goes into the crapper.
HawksRock: People will sell off their stocks, and put all that money into government bonds when the stock market is in freefall, because typically you can make 5-7% return in bonds, and when stocks are crashing that is a much better return than losing a bunch of money.
HawksRock: So if you look at the recent returns on those bonds they have been pretty good, but over the long haul they aren’t all that high.
HawksRock: especially when you net out the 1% in expenses.
HawksRock: you still with me?
JellyBean: yes
HawksRock: so to me, with you being a longer term investor, and knowing that I expect stocks to go up over the next 20 years, and us to rebound from this economy, I didn’t want to put any of your money in either the Bond Debenture Fund, Income Fund, or Money Market.
HawksRock: so that leaves us with the remaining stock funds to pick from.
HawksRock: Now I will show you how you can look at those remaining funds.
JellyBean: kk
HawksRock: There are basically a couple of ways you want to balance your portfolio.
HawksRock: 1) You have to decide how much you want in the US vs how much international exposure.
HawksRock: 2) You have to decide between Large, Mid, and Small Cap stock.
HawksRock: 3) You have to decide between growth and value.
HawksRock: okay, so those are the three things we are going to go through.
HawksRock: am I boring you to death? lol
JellyBean: um no?
JellyBean: your enthusiasm is so contagious
HawksRock: it is just hard to gauge how much you want to know… like how much is too much from here. lol
HawksRock: anyways… let’s look at the first one #1
JellyBean: Chestnut
You should take some time to have Hawks help you understand it JB. The decisions you make are important.
JellyBean: and thats why i’m here
HawksRock: your here because Chestnut told you so?
JellyBean: ok looking… Affillated?
JellyBean: noooo, because its important
JellyBean: and i do trust you to handle it but what if something happens and you’re not available for me to ask?
HawksRock: alrighty then… better answer.
HawksRock: So I am not really looking at the specific mutual funds yet, I am just talking high level.
HawksRock: For the decision on Domestic verses International, it really becomes a bit of personal preference. Stocks are still a little bit like gambling.
HawksRock: For me personally, with my experience of working in International, and seeing what is going on in China and Latin America, I personally feel that the growth opportunity is better for so called “emerging markets” than it is for domestic. I have a lot of reasons for that which I can bore you with another time, but let’s just say it is a bias at this point.
JellyBean: lol ok
HawksRock: So the first thing I did was go look at what International offerings they give for your portfolio. Unfortunately they only have one option: International Core Equity Fund
HawksRock: If you have that mutual fund page up you can click the link on that fund.
JellyBean: i’m lost
HawksRock: hang on just a sec
HawksRock: click the actual name International Core Equity Fund
HawksRock: to bring up the detail on just that fund
JellyBean: ok
HawksRock: okay, so when looking at an international fund, you wanna know where they are invested at
HawksRock: so click on the link that says: Fact Sheet under Fund Documents
JellyBean: k
HawksRock: that will pull up a pdf file
HawksRock: all international funds should have a fact sheet that shows you how they are allocated by part of the world.
HawksRock: do you see the little pie chart
HawksRock: under Region Breakout
JellyBean: yes
HawksRock: okay, well for me I am very big on Asia and Latin America as being the growth behind the emerging markets.
HawksRock: But you can see from this pie chart that Europe and the UK make up over 50%
JellyBean: right
HawksRock: in fact the Pacific Ex-Japan makes up only 14% and that is probably mostly in Japan
HawksRock: so basically these guys are going after the bigger economies in international rather than emerging markets.
HawksRock: in my opinion the only ones likely to do worse than the US in the recovery is freaking Europe. lol
HawksRock: but regardless this is your ONLY option for international, so I think you hafta put some of your portfolio there.
JellyBean: yuh
HawksRock: so anyways, I debated with how much to put in this sucker, but I ended up with 30% which means that 70% of your portfolio will be based on domestic stocks.
JellyBean: kk
HawksRock: For my own personal portfolio, I am at 50% international, but that is heavily weighted towards asia.
HawksRock: I am not as comfy putting it into Europe.
HawksRock: but as yours grows over time, I guess you will be balancing me out.
HawksRock: 2) You have to decide between Large, Mid, and Small Cap stock.
HawksRock: 3) You have to decide between growth and value.
HawksRock: #2 and #3 kinda go together
HawksRock: you have to consider both when thinking about where to put your money.
JellyBean: kk
HawksRock: Because there are small cap value and small cap growth, mid cap value and mid cap growth, etc
HawksRock: Simplistically value means it is a company that is well established, and the managers think that it is undervalued compared to its purchase price.
HawksRock: Growth means it is has a lot of upside potential that hasn’t been realized yet.
HawksRock: A lot of tech stocks, and pharmaceutical stocks are often lumped into the growth category based on something they are building which people think might be revolutionary.
JellyBean: k
HawksRock: that is often why they are valued really high in relation to how much money they actually make.
HawksRock: people think they are going to make a lot more money in the future – hence the word Growth.
HawksRock: but it is a little bit of a hope and a prayer picking which ones are going to take off.
HawksRock: so Growth is typically seen as more risky than Value – which means the returns that are required are higher.
JellyBean: so out of the 4
JellyBean: 3 are risky?
JellyBean: lol
JellyBean: all 4?
HawksRock: Small cap – just means it is a smaller company, mid cap – is a middle sized company, and large cap – is a larged sized company
HawksRock: well once you move out of money markets and bonds technically everything is risky.
HawksRock: it is just a measure of how risky
JellyBean: k
HawksRock: just ask all the people who lost 50% of their retirment over the last few years, how risky it is.
HawksRock: they do jump around, but over a long time frame it will come back and grow beyond.
HawksRock: as long as I don’t need that money until retirement, no issue at all. But if it looks like you have to draw it out anytime soon, then that would be bad.
JellyBean: yuh
HawksRock: the best sich is when you are in your position, and making regular contributions to your 401k, then as stocks drop in price you are still buying em, so even though you are losing money, you know you are buying em at a better deal.
JellyBean: ah
HawksRock: small caps are seen to be a lil more risky than mid caps which are a lil more risky than large caps.
HawksRock: I mean everything has gotten pounded, but obviously if you are a huge company like microsoft you can probably weather the storm better than a tiny company which might go under.
HawksRock: So at this point we have already put 30% in International so we have 70% left to allocated.
HawksRock: I will tell you that I started with that top fund, the affiliated one, and I really liked the fact that it had been around since 1934 and had provided a 10% return – net of fees.
HawksRock: so I put 25% there… which now left 45% to be allocated.
HawksRock: I have a bit of bias again towards steering you towards a more aggressive portfolio, than less aggressive, so I wanted to put money into small cap and mid cap over large cap.
JellyBean: ah ok
HawksRock: unfortunately there is not a small or mid cap growth option, they only offer a value option, but I still think you are better off being in small and mid cap.
HawksRock: I personally didn’t like the Stock Appreciation fund because any fund that has been around for 10 years and ran negative 9% return wasn’t too appealing to me. lol
JellyBean: yuh
HawksRock: I know it has been tough, but I kinda feel like they coulda managed the downside a lil better.
HawksRock: the fundamental equity and the capital structure fund are both predominantly large caps… so I stuck with the mid and small over them.
HawksRock: Another personal bias I have is that I don’t like to have my stuff scattered across a million mutual funds.
HawksRock: I typically keep to like 4 or maybe 5 options at the most.
HawksRock: It seems silly to split it so thin, that you end up only have a few hundred dollars in something.
JellyBean: should i have my money scattered more?
HawksRock: More than the 4 I picked?
JellyBean: yuh
HawksRock: That is up to you, and it depends on how well you thinked you picked em.
HawksRock: If you knew which one was going to do the best, you would put 100% in that one.
HawksRock: I am not THAT confident… lol
JellyBean: lol
HawksRock: but I do think that we picked pretty well for a longer term vision. If you wanted to pull back on something you could and throw a little bit into one of the large cap options.
JellyBean: well i think you did fine
JellyBean: and i’m really lucky to have u cause you’re like really big smart
HawksRock: my gut says the small and mid will do better over the long haul… which is why I didn’t, but it is still just an educated guess.
HawksRock: haha
HawksRock: i have just been around this stuff for a lot of my life.


One Response to “401k basics – discussion”

  1. Very nice! I giggled when Jelly quoted Chestnut as to why she was there.

    Your explanation of dollar cost averaging:
    “HawksRock: the best sich is when you are in your position, and making regular contributions to your 401k, then as stocks drop in price you are still buying em, so even though you are losing money, you know you are buying em at a better deal.”
    is a good one for people who are worried about stocks dropping.
    Bravo all around!

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