When it comes to investing, January brings a clean slate. And we certainly need it. Last year, virtually every investor's portfolio in the country, perhaps the world, experienced a decline. (The exceptions: the Ghanian, Tunisian, and Ecuadorian stock markets all ended 2008 in positive territory.)
Over the next 12 months, let's shake off the annus horribilis we've just emerged from and commit to a journey, a journey of financial re-invention. By the end of the year, your portfolio of passive investments should offer the following:
It should make sense to you as a non-professional investor and as an entrepreneur. You'll understand the holdings in it, you'll understand why you bought them in the amounts you bought them. And you'll know how they fit in with the rest of your financial assets. (For example, do you hold a lot of tech stocks and own part of a tech business? Not good.)
You should be working with the right people. No longer will we keep our money at a brokerage just because our old college frat buddy or family friend's our broker. That's not a good enough reason to entrust someone with our passive assets. Instead, we'll keep our money where we want it. With a provider that's fair, accessible and reasonably priced
It should be transparent. No more oddball illiquid holdings or secret hedge funds from a guy named "Bernie." We want our passive assets in the public markets where we can see them, follow them and have faith that they're priced fairly at all times.
So let's commence a year's worth of blog posts with a very simple, but very useful rule of thumb: the "new money" rule.
The "new money" rule goes as follows. When considering any particular passive investment that you currently hold in your portfolio (a "passive" investment is one where you invest but don't have any control over the underlying company, such as a publicly traded stock, a bond, or mutual fund. I distinguish that from an "active" investment such as a company you run or a limited partnership you are directly involved in), decide whether or not you want to stay invested based on the answer to this very simple question: If you had that money in cash today, would you buy it again?
Or put another way: Do you like everything in your current portfolio? If so, keep it for now. If not, sell it.
Don't keep any holdings because you hope the price comes back. Or because you wish it would come back. Trust me, the market cares about neither. For the most part, keeping an investment because selling it creates taxable consequences is also a bad reason for holding on. The way I see it, if you're paying taxes, it means you're making money. (However, it's worth running this by your tax adviser before you make a move).
As business owners and entrepreneurs, we have some unique concerns when it comes to reaching our goals. We are, after all, wealth creators: a unique breed which adds value through ingenuity, hard work, risk-taking, and our relationships with other people. Our passive portfolio should be in balance with the achievement of those goals and a thoughtful component to our long term vision.
In the financial business, we talk about the "smart money," those people who are "in the know." Well, the smart money isn't always so easy to spot in times like these. So, let's remember on this journey towards financial re-invention that, like with entrepreneurship, the best person to trust is ourselves. We are the smart money. Let's act like it, for our families, for our communities, and for us.
p.s. For those of you who read my recent blog post, "Where's Robert Rubin," you'll note that Mr. Rubin recently resigned from Citigroup and cited his interest in working in the field of public policy again. The way I interpret that is this: as a much-admired Democratic financial thinker, the very smart, very capable Mr. Rubin can now go back to tinkering with the financial system as he did for President Clinton. During that time, he laid the groundwork for the financial mess we find ourselves in today. Before he picks up where he left off, I hope he brings us up-to-date publicly, including more on what he was thinking when he wrote in his resignation note, "My great regret is that I and so many of us who have been involved in this industry for so long did not recognize the serious possibility of the extreme circumstances that the financial system faces today."