It's that time of the year again -- no, not for the summer solstice or the baseball All-Star Game, but for TMF's annual FoolFest. In this clip from Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp provide a few morsels from this (very loosely speaking) Woodstock for Fools.
The pair also dive into the mailbag, discussing a reader's query about whether the current popularity of gold and silver is justified. And in a nod to the commencement speeches aimed at college graduates in recent weeks, we read a few suggestions from listeners as to how to better manage personal finances.
A transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on June 14, 2016.
(Ad: This podcast is sponsored by Rocket Mortgage.)
Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick, and I am joined, as always, by Robert Brokamp, personal-finance expert here at The Motley Fool. He's also the advisor on the Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter.
Robert Brokamp: Hi, Alison.
Alison: Hi, Bro!
Brokamp: Always a pleasure to be back in a small room with only one exit with you.
Southwick: I don't know what you're trying to insinuate with that, but here we are again.
Brokamp: Here we are. The highlight of my week -- it truly is.
Brokamp: It's true.
Southwick: In today's episode, we're going to give you a sneak peek into FoolFest, the Woodstock of Foolishness that happens every year at Motley Fool HQ. Fools from around the world get together for two days of investing. They get to hear from Motley Fool analysts, famous authors, and thought leaders, and they even get hugs from me. Not special hugs -- just regular hugs. I'm a hugger.
Brokamp: You are a hugger.
Southwick: All that and more on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.
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Southwick: It's time for answers, and today's question comes from Josh. Josh writes: "Back a way, you two talked about a guy who had saved up money, put it in gold, and had buried it on his property." I honestly don't remember us ever talking about this, but Josh, I believe you.
Josh continues: "Well, that's practically my dad. He placed all of his retirement money in silver and some gold bullion. Help! He invested around August of 2015, so it's actually increased in value. However, I believe in diversification and would like to see him in other investments. Furthermore, some of his investments are likely to be my inheritance, so naturally I'd like him to invest wisely." That's some good long-term thinking there.
Brokamp: That's right.
Southwick: "Hasn't the stock market outperformed gold and silver over the long term? Could you give me some statistics to help encourage him to diversify?"
Brokamp: Well, Josh, you have a great question. You might be thinking back to when I talked about how my dad buried cash around his house. Maybe that's what he was thinking about. So I can relate, Josh. I have relatives who bury assets in random places.
Southwick: We forgot to tell you that Robert Brokamp is a squirrel. Surprise! He's been a squirrel this whole time. Nuts!
Brokamp: Anyway, you bring up a good question, because this year silver and gold have been doing much better than the stock market, so there's a lot more renewed interest. Both of them are up almost about 20% so far in 2016, as opposed to the stock market, which is just about flat. So you're seeing more interest in it. You might have seen more of the infomercials on TV, as I have recently, trying to get people to buy gold. But you are right in the sense that over the long term, stocks have outperformed gold.
First of all, it's important to think about why you're investing in something. You're basically using cash today to buy something that will provide cash in the future. And you can do that with a productive asset like a stock. You buy it today, and hopefully in the future not only has it gone up in price, but it is providing dividends. You're using that cash to accomplish a goal, and that's usually retirement.
Gold and silver don't do that. They're not businesses, they don't produce cash, and they have limited industrial uses, so basically when you're buying gold today you are just hoping that in the future there's more demand for it -- so much more demand that the price will be higher. But historically speaking, that hasn't been a reliable bet.
Gold peaked in about 1980 at about $800 an ounce. It then collapsed and didn't reach that point, again, until 2008. There you're looking at 28 years of where someone didn't make any money. And if you [look at 10-year holding periods] from 1975 to 2014, as I did for an article from about a year ago, gold lost money about one-third of the time, whereas the stock market made money about 95% of the time. So generally speaking, gold and silver are not good long-term investments.
A couple of other things to think about. If you buy a stock, today, in a regular taxable account, hold it for the long term, and sell it for a profit, right now the capital gains tax is probably going to be about 15% for most people. Collectibles -- which is often the case for gold and silver, including the biggest gold and silver ETFs -- are taxed at long-term capital gains rates of 28%. So not only do you have to make a better return to make gold and silver pay off, but you have to overcome that you're going to probably pay more taxes, too.
The third issue is, how you are going to hold the investment? If you buy a stock, it's held by your broker. It's very easy to buy and sell. You just click a button. You can do that, too, with these gold and silver ETFs. But what your dad is doing, holding the actual gold ...
Southwick: A physical chest of gold and silver ...
Brokamp: ... holding it somewhere if he wants to sell it, he has to go out, find someone who's going to give him a good price. It's not as liquid. You have to protect it. You have to insure it. And if he really is hiding it around the house, hopefully you'll be able to find it when he passes away. That may not be the case, and so when you hold that estate sale and some kid buys some old trunk for 10 bucks, there will be a surprise for that kid and he'll be very happy, thank you very much.
Southwick: I would add, Josh, that as we know, money decisions are emotional decisions, so maybe it would be more important, rather than just throwing stats and figures at your father, to talk to him a little bit and find out why he is investing in gold. Like, is he nervous that the whole economy is going to collapse and he wants to hold on to a tangible asset? I think it's more important to get to the emotional why ...
Because he's a pirate! That's why!
Southwick: That's a good point! Maybe your dad is a pirate!
Brokamp: Maybe he's a pirate!
Southwick: So if your dad's a pirate, then I understand why he's burying gold. But assuming he's not a pirate, find out why he's making this emotional decision and then I think you'll be better prepared to come at it.
Brokamp: You really hit on something very important. When people are pouring all of their money into gold, or silver, or something like that, it's usually out of fear. Fear of high inflation. Fear of the collapse of the currency. Fear of some sort of chaos. And generally speaking, it just hasn't held up that well during times when you would need it.
I mean, if you think about it, if society really collapses, who wants a nice-looking ring or a necklace? People are going to want other things than something like gold or silver.
Southwick: He should be investing in soup.
Brokamp: That's right.
Southwick: Canned soup.
Brokamp: Canned soup.
Southwick: I'm just sayin'.
Brokamp: Just sayin'.
Southwick: Thank you, Josh. Good luck with that. Having conversations with your dad about money is so much fun!
Brokamp: You know what? I'm glad he's doing it, because he's thinking not only for his father's well-being, but in the end, he will either inherit it or, if his father does something silly with his money and runs out of money, chances are he's going to be responsible for helping his dad.
Southwick: Oh! Josh is absolutely doing the right thing.
Brokamp: We love you, Josh.
Southwick: It's just not an easy thing, so good luck.
[ ... ]
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Southwick: We recently held FoolFest, our annual Woodstock of Foolish Investing. It's held here at Fool HQ for members of services like Supernova and Million Dollar Portfolio, etc. It's two days of speakers and Foolishness, and we thought we'd share the highlights with you, our dear listeners, so ...
Brokamp: Here you go.
Southwick: ...here you go. First up, we have CEO Tom Gardner. He shared "10 Rules for Investing the Motley Fool Way" and these are a few of those rules.
Tom Gardner: Live below our means. Saving is the engine of great investment. It's not something that's taught in schools. I learned it from my dad driving around during my high school years in the state of Massachusetts when it was going through a recession. And I remember driving through a town that was having real difficulty in Massachusetts, and my dad was saying, "You know, there's a lot of pain here right now. Just remember that if you get in situations like this, as long as you can live below your means ..."
And Dad's key point to us was, "Spend money on experiences, not things. Things just don't really bring that much joy to life, but experiences do. Learning. Travel. Getting to know people. Starting a business. These are the ways to deploy your capital to learn about the world."
I encourage everyone here to own at least 30 stocks. Now, if you're a Warren Buffett aficionado, you know that he has sometimes said, "All anyone needs are eight punch holes on that ticket. Just buy and hold those eight companies for the rest of your life."
It's funny, though. I'm not going to pick on Warren Buffett, who's a hero of mine and ours at The Motley Fool, but he's bought a lot more than eight investments in his life.
Gardner: And I also think that if you're going to have just eight, or six, or 12, or 14, I think it should be really deliberate. You should really know why. You should probably have a lot of business experience, and you should have, again, made that choice.
Getting that diversification across more than 30 companies -- it isn't just that you'll get different industries, different market cap sizes, or maybe stocks from different countries. You'll also be able to see those days that are painful when all 30 of your companies are down. And even though that will really hurt in one way, it will also give you context. Oh, this must just be a terrible day for the market. It's not that I'm terrible. It's just the market moves in [different] directions. You'll see full industries go down, even though only one company had bad news.
So I really believe in diversification across more than 30 holdings and no more than 15% in a single position. This is definitely a rule that I would welcome somebody saying to me, "I'm breaking that one," but I'd be really deliberate about it. I have a close friend who worked not at an executive level, but at a mid-level role at Enron. I had another very close friend who worked as an analyst at Lehman. These are people who ended up with a massive amount of their personal wealth in a single holding.
And it's natural to have that happen if you work at the company and you're getting a discounted opportunity to buy that stock or you're getting stock options. But I just encourage you to really think through what it means to have something that's adding up to more than 15% of your wealth and to really be deliberate about making that decision.
For the rest of us, I think that's a pretty good cutoff to start saying, "Hey, there are so many great recommendations across Motley Fool services that I ought to be able to find some other stocks." In our family, our father's most successful investment was The Washington Post. He held it for a number of years, and it became a large percentage of his portfolio.
And thankfully, as the industry started to turn a little bit sour, he began to say, "I'm going to take the tax. It hurts, but it's better to have all these great companies I could be invested in. All these things I can learn about in the world. Why don't I diversify my portfolio a little bit more?"
Expect that four out of your 10 investments will disappoint you. Four out of 10. That's true at The Motley Fool. The more Rule Breaker-y, innovative, and high growth, maybe you'll have five out of 10 that disappoint you, but you'll get some super winners in the five that succeed for you. So just expect that, like baseball and like so many other aspects in life, 40% of the time we're not above average. We aren't at The Motley Fool, and I don't think any of us should expect to be, and that's probably true of decisions we make in life as well.
All of your stocks will fall more than 50% at some point. Look at your portfolio, cut in half every position, and ask yourself how you would feel. In the ideal, that doesn't happen all at once, but sometimes it does happen all at once, as we know in the last 20 years in the U.S.
So run the numbers and evaluate your emotional state when you look at a company like [Amazon.com] and see it down 60% from October 2007 to October 2009. Berkshire Hathaway (you wouldn't think it possible) from October 2008 to February 2009. That's not many months right there -- October 2008 to February 2009 down 50%).
Starbucks, November 2006 to November 2008, down 83%. November 2006 to November 2008. One of the greatest companies in American history up 24% a year since 1992. But in order to get those returns, you have to be able to hold when those stocks get utterly crushed. And I didn't even cite Amazon's biggest fall, which came in 2000 to 2002, when it fell from $90 a share to $7 a share.
So we need to set our portfolios up. That's one of the reasons I think you should have more than 30 stocks, no position larger than 15%, and at least have that thought in mind as you're building your portfolio, because your stocks will get crushed at different points along the way.
Brokamp: I think what I like the most about that is Tom likes to be very realistic about what people can expect as investors. That you really have to be willing to put up with some investments that drop 50%-75% and hold on, hoping to get some of the returns at least the company has seen and knowing that not all of them will do that.
There was a wall at FoolFest where people were able to put down things that they learned from being with The Motley Fool, and I think the things I found the most heartening were the people who said, "I now feel better about handling volatility. I now know that I have a resource to go to during the tough times."
Southwick: I don't panic.
Brokamp: I don't panic. [ ... ] It is crucial.
Southwick: Next we have Nell Minow. She's a movie critic, shareholder advocate, and friend of the Fool. She's been dubbed "the queen of good corporate governance" by Businessweek, and she was interviewed by Chris Hill at FoolFest. People who listen to Motley Fool Money will be very familiar with her name.
It just so happens that she helped us answer a listener question, and that listener question came from Brent. Brent wrote: "I have, this year, voted over several thousand times, but please, before you go calling the feds, I'm talking about shareholder votes. I have heard the stories from all the economists that tell me my vote doesn't count for president and I'm better off doing something else. Is that the same for stock votes? If I'm not Buffett; do I really matter?"
First, before we go any farther and hear Nell Minow's answer, is a shareholder vote the same thing as a proxy vote?
Brokamp: Yes. Every company has an annual meeting, and the board of directors will offer proposals that the shareholders will vote on, and then there's some proposals from the shareholders themselves, and you're allowed to vote on them. If you don't attend, you can do it via proxy, and that could be you send it in, or nowadays it's more likely to be electronic. This morning I got my proxy for Facebook, and I could just click on the 13 or so proposals and register my opinion.
Southwick: So Brent, Nell Minow would say that proxy voting does matter, and here's her guide to helping you decide how to vote in a quick and easy fashion.
Nell Minow: I'm going to tell you, now, my 15-second rule for voting a proxy. You open up the proxy, you read it from the bottom up. If there is a shareholder proposal on the proxy, vote no on all the directors. If there is no shareholder proposal on the proxy, vote yes on the directors, no on the pay. Vote no on the pay always, except for Berkshire Hathaway. Vote no on all the pay plans. Vote yes on the shareholder proposals, and if a board of directors cannot negotiate with a large shareholder like CalPERS or TIAA-CREF or the [NYC Public Pension Funds], then that is a bad board, and they don't deserve your support. So that's my 15-second how to vote a proxy.
Southwick: So, Bro, is there anything you'd want to add to what Nell said?
Brokamp: When you look at the proxy, she said read from the bottom up. That's because the first few proposals usually come from the company itself, and then they come with the shareholder proposals. She thinks you should start at the bottom with the shareholder proposals.
For example, I got my proxy from Facebook, like I said. The first couple are about approving the board of directors and their pay. When you start at the bottom, the last one is a stockholder proposal regarding a gender-pay equity report. And then right there it says "Board recommendation: Vote against it."
Southwick: Why would we want to have a gender-pay equity study done?
Brokamp: Exactly. Well, you could look at Facebook's 184-page PDF that explains the proposal and why the board said it's not necessary. Then they add all the things that they're already doing, and I think they feel it's just an unnecessary expense. One of Nell's points is that a good board of directors pays attention to the shareholders and finds a way to negotiate these things without it going to a vote. If they can't do that, then they're not a good board.
And this is not specifically about Facebook, in general, but one of her big issues is that a lot of what a board of directors does is basically just rubber-stamps everything the company wants to do, including CEO pay, and they make a lot of money in the process. For example, if you're a regular outside board member on Facebook, you get $50,000 a year and $300,000 worth of stock.
Brokamp: Quarterly. Now these are big-brained people. Very accomplished folks who are coming in to help out, so you have to pay them something ...
Brokamp: ... but we have seen, especially over the last 15 years, boards of directors not really doing their jobs of protecting shareholders. Not really keeping the CEOs accountable.
I would say the main point to take away from Nell's advice, and also just the general idea of proxies, is don't just disregard it. It's really interesting to read the proposals, and to see how much these folks are making, and to understand the company a little bit better just by understanding who's on the board.
She said in her interview that when she first got into this business, O.J. Simpson was on five boards, including on an auditor board. I mean, a lot of these people are just there to lend their name and a certain level of credibility, but they don't do anything in terms of helping the business. As she pointed out in her talk, Berkshire Hathaway is very different when it comes to that.
Nell also mentioned CalPERS, which stands for the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which manages all of the money for the public employees in California -- their healthcare benefits and their pension benefits ...
Southwick: That must be massive.
Brokamp: Massive. They also publish how they vote on their proxy statements, so Nell recommended that as a resource, in case you want a little more direction on how to vote on a proxy, go to the CalPERS website and they indicate how they voted. And since it's so big, they own just about every stock out there.
Southwick: One of the keynote speakers was Dan Pink. He's the best-selling author of Drive and To Sell Is Human, among others. He spoke with Tom Gardner in front of FoolFest and told this helpful story to motivate even the most stubborn of people -- a teenager.
Dan Pink: Let's say that somebody has a 17-year-old daughter, and hypothetically let's say her name is Eliza. Eliza Pink.
Pink: And let's say you want to get her to clean up her room. Now, how many of you are parents out here? So you've seen this movie before. So what do you do? You're frustrated, so in some ways your muscle memory is to yell, is to threaten, is to do something coercive. Sometimes people are, "OK, we'll bribe you." And those kinds of things might work in the short term, but this technique is really interesting.
It's a technique called motivational interviewing. It's something that's used, actually, in therapy and it goes like this. You ask two seemingly irrational questions. On the first question you say -- I probably should not have picked my own daughter for this, but I'm already down that rabbit hole.
So you say, "Eliza, on a scale of 1 to 10" -- this is the first question -- "on a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you to clean your room?" Now, she is likely to give an answer of 2.
Now all of you raise your hand, all of you who are parents. Your blood is boiling already, right? Because you want to say, "A 2? Brrp, brrp." But you hold back.
"OK, Eliza. You're a 2. Here comes the second question." This is the big deal. This is the major key right now. The second question is this. "OK, Eliza. You're a 2. Why didn't you pick a lower number? Now, what's going on here? Why aren't you a 1?"
So Eliza might say, "Well, you know, I'm 17, and I should be able to take care of myself. When I lose stuff, you and Mom never know where anything is. I might be able to get to school faster and not have to race out of the house every morning. And then I could be a little bit more mellow when I got to school, and maybe do a little studying before I got to school, and see my friends."
What's happening there? She begins articulating her own reasons for doing something. And what's axiomatic here is that when people have their own reasons for doing something, they believe those reasons more deeply and adhere to the behavior more strongly. This goes to some of the ideas in Drive, which is that human beings, by their very nature, I think are autonomous. They want to be self-determined.
Circumstances can crush that. Can suffocate that. But at our roots, we are people who want to have some kind of sovereignty over what we do and how we do it. And one of the best ways to motivate people -- one of the best ways to motivate yourselves -- is define the context, the situation, and the circumstance where that innate autonomy can come to the surface.
Very rarely do people say "I'm a 1." You don't get anything over 4, usually, because it's a problem. When you say it's a 1, a 1 is sometimes very revealing. I'm a 1. "OK, what can we do to take this to a 2?"
And what you'll find is that there's usually some kind of obstacle there. "You guys are always making me set the table every night, and empty the dishwasher, and mow the lawn. Or, "You know what? This particular time of year I have this extracurricular thing, and I'm just so busy. I'm overwhelmed here, and so if you guys give me some relief, maybe I can do a little bit better here." So when you say, "What can we do to get you to a 2," it's usually people are a 1 because there's some kind of big obstacle in the way. But in most cases, people are like 2s, 3s, and 4s.
Brokamp: Have you read Drive, Alison?
Southwick: I have not read Drive.
Brokamp: One of Dan Pink's main points is that the 20th century was about extrinsic motivation -- mostly, pay people more. This century is going to be more about intrinsic motivation. He cited several studies that found that for jobs that are basically mechanical, very rules-based, if you offer people more money, you will get higher performance. As soon as you need a little bit of cognitive skills, problem-solving, creative work, or anything like that, money can actually be a deterrent.
What you really need to do is find people's intrinsic motivation, and it relies on a few things. Autonomy -- people want to be self-directed. Mastery -- people want to become really good at something, and he uses examples of people like musicians, who know they will never get paid, or people who write for Wikipedia. Why would you write for Wikipedia? You don't get any money, but people just want that sort of mastery. And then purpose -- having some sort of work that contributes to something bigger than you.
I think the point about his teenager is you're getting the teenager to talk about their own motivation for doing that.
Southwick: Well, if you want to get more of FoolFest, you can. These are just a few clips, so if you want to hear the rest of Tom's "10 Rules for Investing the Foolish Way," or hear more from Nell, who's fascinating, or Dan Pink, you can go to digitalpass.fool.com/answers, and for $99 you can get access to all of the video presentations at FoolFest.
Not only are you going to get the keynotes for people like Nell Minow that you heard today, and Dan Pink, but you're also going to get deep dives into options, and investing in different companies that you may love, like Chipotle and Facebook. I think Bro even did a couple of presentations. Isn't that right?
Brokamp: That's true.
Southwick: There were breakouts on small caps, and dividends, and a lot of great speeches by people you love, like Morgan Housel on behavioral finance and getting to know thyself as an investor.
The bad news is that it's only going to be available until June 15, so if you want to check out everything that happened at FoolFest, you've got to hurry up and do it. Digitalpass.fool.com/answers.
Southwick: A few weeks ago, we asked you to send in some of the money or life advice that was passed down from your parents or grandparents, and we received some real gems. And it's such perfect timing, because this is graduation season, and everyone's hearing all these motivational, inspirational speeches. So we're going to share some of the ones that have come in from you guys that I thought were fun.
Of course, the person who inspired this was a friend of the show, Killian, and she included some other ones that she got from her father, so not just her mother. The first one: "My father used to describe a cheap person as someone whose arms are too short. They don't quite reach down to the bottom of their pocket where their wallet is, so they never pick up the tab or pay their share." I like that one.
Also she added another one: "My aunt was, let's say, frugal, and her father described her as 'tighter than the paper on the wall and so miserly that she held on to a nickel until the buffalo screamed.'"
I have another one that has to do with calling someone frugal to a fault. A friend of mine learned this in Argentina. What you do is hold up your elbow and you tap it. That means you're describing someone who's being so cheap that they would rather walk on their elbows than wear out their shoes.
Brokamp: I never heard of that one.
Southwick: I know. Well, that's because you're not from Argentina. I thought it was a cool one.
Brokamp: No, that's true.
Southwick: We also had some that had to do with the opposite of being frugal. This one comes from John in Queens. He writes: "My grandfather has a well-earned reputation for being frugal with money and for being an excellent investor. He spent many years as the treasurer of his local historical society. After giving up for a few years, he recently got a call from the new president asking if he would audit the books as they'd become a mess. I asked him how the new treasurer had managed to run it into the ground, and his answer was, 'It doesn't take any real skill to spend other people's money.'"
That's basically the story of me in college.
Brokamp: There's something in there about how people treat money that you find versus money that you earn.
Southwick: Oh, here we go. Would you like to hear this one from Patrick on Twitter?
Brokamp: I would.
Southwick: Patrick writes on Twitter: "Money idiom I heard in Honduras: No cuesta, no cuida." I'm probably butchering the Spanish there, but loosely it says, "If you don't pay for it, you won't care for it."
Brokamp: There you go. I think that's probably true. If you're willing to put out just a little bit of money for something, you're more likely to use the service.
Southwick: To appreciate it.
Southwick: The next one comes from Ahmed, and he included it in Egyptian Arabic, so if I ever need to write it, I can, but I can't read it, so he was nice enough to also include it in English. It translates to "the person who gets burned by soup will blow into yogurt."
Southwick: I love this one. He writes, "It means that when you see someone who is extra cautious about their money or investing decisions, or really anything else, maybe give them a break and try to understand their position. So maybe in the past they've been burned by soup, so they're going to be more cautious with yogurt."
Brokamp: I actually really like that.
Southwick: I know. Isn't that one great?
Brokamp: Yeah. It applies to all kinds of things.
Southwick: It does. So those are just a few that came in. Obviously, if you, our dear listeners, have a great idiom passed down through your family that you want to share with us, I would love to hear it. You can email us at email@example.com, or you can also send it over to Twitter, like Patrick did. We are @answerspodcast. And you can even post it on our Facebook group, because that's also a thing. If you're not already a member, search Facebook for "Motley Fool Podcast." It's a private group, and we'll let you in if you knock nicely.
Well, that's going to do it for today. Bro, do you have anything you want to add?
Southwick: Why are you giggling like a schoolgirl?
Brokamp: You keep looking at me like I'm supposed to say something.
Southwick: Oh, you know why? Because this is a podcast, and what we do is we talk into microphones. ... You just knocked your headphone into the microphone. ... I'm sorry. You know, that's on me. That's on me. I didn't explain to you what's going on right now.
You know what? Let's just wrap it up. The show is edited, thankfully, by Rick Engdahl. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody.