The Secret Agenda That's Hurting Your Returns

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By Daniel Solin

If you follow the financial media regularly, you will find daily predictions about the direction of the markets. Breakout, a daily blog on Yahoo Finance's website, is typical of what passes for financial information. On Sept. 6, Breakout's Jeff Macke featured Mike Jackson, the CEO of AutoNation (AN), as his guest. Jackson opined that the economy "has moved into a self-sustaining recovery." He may or may not be correct in that assessment, but relying on his views or the views of others claiming predictive powers is more akin to gambling than investing.

Macke's program is no worse than what is dispensed by many of his colleagues in the media. The format is familiar to all of us: Intelligent people in positions of power and influence make rational-sounding statements about the economy, the direction of the market or the merit of a particular stock or fund. What's missing is any data indicating that their views are worthy of consideration, based on a history of accurate past predictions or demonstration of predictive skill (as contrasted with luck).

There is ample evidence to the contrary. In a paper published in July 2010, three finance professors from Duke University and Ohio State University published the results of an extensive survey they performed. Each quarter from March 2001 to February 2010, they surveyed "top U.S. financial executives." They asked them to predict one- and 10-year stock market returns and also for their predictions of best- and worst-case outcomes. The data they gathered aggregated 11,600 S&P 500 forecasts.
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You would think the accumulated expertise of these executives would permit them to make fairly accurate predictions about a commonly used index such as the S&P 500 (^GSPC). The opposite was true. The authors of the study found no correlation between the estimates of these top financial executives and the actual value of the index. In fact, the correlation was negative. When they predicted the index would decline, it was modestly more likely it would go up.

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman commented on this study in his book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow", noting, "These findings are not surprising. The truly bad news is that the CFOs did not appear to know that their forecasts were worthless."

Since the data is overwhelming that predictions are basically "worthless," why do investors continue to pay attention to them, often to their financial detriment? Kahneman provides this answer: "Facts that challenge such basic assumptions -- and thereby threaten people's livelihood and self-esteem -- are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them."

If investors accepted the fact that the predictive views of financial "experts" were "worthless," the ramifications would be profound. Much of the financial media would cease to exist. Brokers would go out of business because clients would view their advice through the prism provided by sound academic studies and the views of scholars such as Kahneman. This result -- threatening the livelihood and self-esteem of powerful segments of our society -- is simply not going to happen.

While much of the financial media and many brokers are driven by this secret agenda to maintain their livelihoods, you should ignore their musings and base your investing decisions on reliable, peer-reviewed data.

Dan Solin is the director of investor advocacy for the BAM Alliance and a wealth adviser with Buckingham Asset Management. He is a New York Times best-selling author of the Smartest series of books. His next book, The Smartest Sales Book You'll Ever Read, will be published March 3, 2014.

The views of the author are his alone and may not represent the views of his affiliated firms. Any data, information and content on this blog is for information purposes only and should not be construed as an offer of advisory services.


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The Secret Agenda That's Hurting Your Returns
Not only does it have a Florida-like climate, but Tennessee also boasts the second lowest cost of living in the country. Combined with a low tax burden and great access to medical care, Tennessee is ideal for retirees living on fixed incomes, Kahn said. The only downside: the state has one of the country's highest crime rates.

One of the state's oldest towns, Sevierville, Tenn. (pictured above), provides close access to a national park where retirees can picnic, hike and fish, and it's an easy drive to Knoxville.
Another balmy locale, the state has an average temperature of 66.7 degrees -- behind only Hawaii and Florida for warmest average climate. Louisiana residents also enjoy low taxes, above-average access to medical care and a relatively cheap cost of living. Like Tennessee, though, it suffers from a crime rate that is among the nation's highest.

It may not be a retirement hot spot, but Bankrate says it should be. The state has the country's lowest crime rate, and an estimated state and local tax burden of just 7.6% -- lower than every state but Alaska. The downside: with an average temperature of 46 degrees over the past 30 years, it's pretty darn cold there.

For small town lovers, Aberdeen, S.D., holds a renowned film festival and has a historic downtown that plays host to farmers markets, haunted walking tours and holiday parades.

Photo: Conspiracy of Happiness, Flickr.com

The Bluegrass State is one of many Appalachian states to dominate Bankrate's top 10. While it may not have Florida's sunny beaches, it does boast an extremely low cost of living, warmer-than-average temperatures and a below-average crime rate.

In Louisville, retirees can stay active by walking or biking on the Louisville Loop, a pedestrian path set to eventually cover more than 100 miles. The smaller town of Danville, Ky., meanwhile, is ideal for horse lovers.

Beyond its warm weather, Mississippi also provides cheap living costs and a lower tax burden. But retirees may want to choose where they live carefully: the state has a high crime rate and subpar access to medical care. It has only 178 doctors per every 100,000 residents -- almost 100 less than the national average.

Photo: Natalie Maynor, Flickr.com

This coastal state came in above average for most factors that Bankrate analyzed, including climate, access to healthcare and cost of living. Its crime rate is one of the lowest in the country, with only 2,446 property and violent crimes per 100,000 people.

An affordable college town, Lynchburg, Va. offers the beauty of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as historic Civil War sites.

Another Appalachian state, West Virginia is boosted onto the list by low crime, a cheaper cost of living and above-average access to medical care. Still, it has a colder climate than some of the other states.
Warm temperatures, low state and local taxes and a relatively low cost of living all pushed Alabama into the top 10. Yet it suffers from below-average access to medical care and a relatively high crime rate, with 4,026 crimes per 100,000 people -- almost double that of Virginia.

Home to a campus of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, Ala. offers botanical gardens and nature preserves and 19th century architecture. Near the Georgia border, Fort Payne, Ala. is a quintessential small town with activities that include an annual fiddling convention and a stop at the "world's largest yard sale."

Beyond its cornfields, Nebraska offers excellent access to hospital care, a below-average crime rate and living costs among the country's cheapest. But with a lower than average temperature, it's another state for retirees who don't mind the cold.
Like neighboring South Dakota, this state is not for retirees looking for warm weather. But it does have the second lowest crime rate in the nation, a mild estimated tax burden of 8.9% and 5 hospital beds available for every 1,000 residents.
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