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In this podcast, Motley Fool senior analyst Bill Mann discusses:
Motley Fool host Alison Southwick and Motley Fool retirement expert Robert Brokamp dip into the Fool Mailbag to answer questions about Roth IRAs, how ETFs work, and more!
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool’s free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.
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Chris Hill: Walmart surprises and Charlie Munger speaks his mind, which isn’t surprising, but usually entertaining. Motley Fool Money starts now. I’m Chris Hill joining me in studio today, Motley Fool Senior Analyst Bill Mann. Nice to see you.
Bill Mann: Hey Chris, how are you doing?
Chris Hill: I’m doing well because for the second time, in less than a week, we got some lovely big macro data. Last week was the Consumer Price Index. This morning we get the Producer Price Index. Once again, sign that inflation is cooling down the market, not shooting to the moon like it did last week. But that’s probably just as well. But for people looking for clues inflation is cooling down, we just got another piece of that puzzle.
Bill Mann: We did. It came in at 7.2. It’s important to note that the Producer Price Index includes things like food and energy, which are wildly variable at all times. The core Producer Price Index was even lower. It was essentially flat. It is really good news. But it does feel bizarre to think that like a year ago that we would have said, hey, PPI number of 7.2. Yes. Thank goodness. It is in fact, another piece of evidence that inflation has peaked. We don’t know for sure, but it’s always interesting to me to look at big macro and people are very sensitive to its movements.
This would suggest that inflation actually peaked back in March. If you remember what was going on back in March, there was a debate about whether it was transitory or whether we were talking about a permanent level of inflation. Now, I would not suggest that 7.2 percent inflation, you would say, hey, the transitory people were right. This isn’t like Wrigley Field. You’re not putting up the W flag and saying, and we’ve got this one in the bag, but at the same time, there is something to suggest that once again, coming out of the pandemic and the shutdowns and everything else that we can point to all of that and say, the weirdness had an impact and it may be abating.
Chris Hill: Not to jinx us.
Bill Mann: Go on give it a shot. Let’s see how powerful Chris Hill is.
Chris Hill: I know I’m not the only investor who’s looking at this today in the wake of what happened last week and thinking we just need a couple more exactly this and then we can declare victory. When I think back to March one of the thoughts I think at the time as an investor, I was thinking, and I think I was saying on this podcast everybody buckle up because it’s not getting better anytime soon. If it takes that long for the goodness to translate into the market, is it reasonable to assume we’ve gotten more favorable conditions over the next six months or so?
Bill Mann: Well, yes and no. Here’s what I would say. This comes directly from the comments of the Federal Reserve. What is it that they’ve been most focused on? It’s been inflation and they have quite literally said that we are willing to risk a recession to beat inflation. That is going to be a necessary evil. If inflation is in fact dropping, that gives the federal reserve a little bit more leeway to think about what they can do to help stop a recession in its path. Now, they are not all-powerful. There’s no levers that they can pull to make things to be a sure thing.
But to me, the really good news is that they don’t necessarily, at this point have to have the same level of Sophie’s choice of we have to go after inflation and everything downstream is just going to have to take care of itself for a while. If inflation is in fact continuing to drop on a producer level — I would suggest that the producer level is in some ways a lot more important than the consumer level — that gives the Federal Reserve some leeway to take on some other challenges that they have just simply up till now had to say, we can’t worry about.
Chris Hill: You know how you and I and other people who do this for a living, we get signs of how pervasive a topic is. When people in our lives who have nothing to do with the stock market, just bring it up. The most recent example of that is last night, I got a DM from a friend on Twitter who was like, hey, are we in a recession? I was like it’s possible, but it’s also possible that it’s going to be a very mild recession just because it doesn’t look like any recession in my adult lifetime.
Bill Mann: It’s really important to tell your friend that the Federal Reserve doesn’t have really precise instruments. Most of the moves that they make take months to get into the economy. They know this. When they are making moves like for example the incredible string of interest rate rises that they’ve had, they are guessing a little bit about the downstream effects. But at this point, if inflation is coming down, it lowers the probability that they’re going to continue to keep jacking up interest rates.
Chris Hill: Let’s move on to Walmart because third-quarter results, profits and revenue both much higher than expected. Stock was up 8 percent at one point this morning, which for Walmart is billions and it’s a huge move for a business like that. I was also struck by the inventory levels at Walmart coming down pretty significantly, they’re obviously not as low as Walmart would like to see, but just if you’re looking for signs of how our inventory levels, well, it’s the biggest retailer in America, are they coming down?
Bill Mann: Are they sitting on millions of GI Joes with Kung Fu Grip at this point? A lot of people were pointing to the inventory levels of this quarter versus last quarter and saying, hey, they’re higher. It is really important to note that inventories particularly for retailers, you should compare on a year-over-year basis because we are gearing up for the holiday season. The fact that they are higher now than they were three months back is not to me necessarily something to be worried about. Chris, do you remember way back in May and Walmart came out and reported results that scared the market to death. It was truly one of those–.
Chris Hill: That sent to the entire retail industry running scared.
Bill Mann: On a tailspin. It does bear remembering just how functionally important Walmart is these results and they earned $1.50 per share, way higher than estimates. Their capex is still a little high, their inventories are still a little high. I do point once again to the weirdness. We’ve just come out of a time in which there were something on the order of 930,000 ships waiting to be offloaded off the coast of California. May that might be a little high.
Chris Hill: It’s directionally correct.
Bill Mann: Yeah, it’s directionally correct, so $64 billion in inventory is a much more appropriate level in that reflects in their cash conversion cycles and their earnings for this quarter. Delightful from Walmart, also announced a $20 billion stock buyback, which I wish they’d started that before they announced, but that is what it is and I think that that’s a sign Walmart has been a very good re-acquirer of its own shares over time. To me, that is a sign from Walmart’s executives that they believe that those shares are undervalued.
Chris Hill: Even though with today’s move, shares of Walmart in positive territory for the year, which is pretty incredible. Charlie Munger who never fails to be interesting or entertaining. Oftentimes both. Sat down for an interview with Becky Quick at CNBC and made comments about Tesla. When you got Charlie Munger, you ask him about a wide range of things.
Bill Mann: Sure. You tee him up is what it comes down to.
Chris Hill: One of the topics as she asked him about was crypto. In typical fashion, he did not hold back Munger calling crypto “a bad combination of fraud and delusion.” I’m quoting here, “it’s good for kidnappers.” There are some people say you shouldn’t kick someone when they’re down, but Charlie Munger is happy to kick crypto while it’s down.
Bill Mann: He’s happy to kick kidnappers while they’re down, I guess.
Chris Hill: Yeah.
Bill Mann: It was an incredible conversation and it was brought up after a really incredibly wild week for crypto with the implosion at FTX. A lot of people, and Charlie Munger, it must be said has been very negative on Bitcoin and the entire crypto segment for years. In 2018, he called it a noxious poison. One of the really easy things to do for someone who is on the other side of the argument is point to the fact that this was, at the time, a 94-year-old guy and currently a 99-year-old guy and say, well, he doesn’t understand, he’s too old. He doesn’t get it, he’s too old. You have to pay attention. Charlie Munger, to me, is a gift for all of us. One, because he’s pretty funny guy. He absolutely, positively, does not care what you think. But more importantly, he is a student of human psychology and whether or not he understands blockchain, he understands crypto, he does understand human psychology and the hubris that comes behind new technologies because he has seen it one or two or three times before.
Chris Hill: I realize as young as you and I are relative to Charlie Munger, there are people listening who rightfully so, consider us to be old men.
Bill Mann: Yes.
Chris Hill: But one of the things I appreciate about Charlie Munger is you never get the sense that it’s personal, you never get the sense that there is anger attached.
Bill Mann: No.
Chris Hill: There’s humor. Relative to you and me, there are old men who go on CNBC and rant about things and I watch them and I think, boy, this really seems personal to you. There’s a level of negativity above and beyond whatever financial angle you are pushing, and you never get that with Munger.
Bill Mann: No. He really does seem like the Lieutenant Commander Data of commentators. This is what he thinks. It may not be what he feels. He has in the past said there may be a use for blockchain. There actually may be a use, but the good ideas carried to wretched excess become bad ideas. I think that he has looked at the mania around this. The belief that you can get rich quick using a new financial instrument has been a way for the insiders to take advantage of the gullible, and that is something that he takes personally.
Chris Hill: Bill Mann, great talking to you. Thanks for being here.
Bill Mann: Thanks, Chris.
Chris Hill: You’ve got questions, they’ve got answers. Robert Brokamp and Alison Southwick are answering the questions you sent to [email protected] about Roth IRAs, helping kids invest, and how exchange-traded funds work.
Alison Southwick: Our first question comes from Corey. I have a question about whether I should be paying off my mortgage early or maxing out retirement accounts. My mortgage interest rate is 2.875 percent. We took out the mortgage in 2020 for 30 years. I know we are behind on retirement. I am 42 and my wife is 37. We make over 200,000 a year, but we only have 60,000 saved for retirement. Not sure if I should focus on only maxing out retirement accounts or should some of that go to paying off the mortgage early. We’re completely debt-free except for the home. We also have three kids under the age of 10. What do you think, Bro?
Robert Brokamp: Well, so the general rule of thumb is, if you can earn rate of return on your investments that exceeds the interest rate on your debt, then you’ll likely be better off investing the money. Given the low rate on your mortgage, Corey, that would seem relatively easy to do. I mean, even treasuries are not yielding around four percent nowadays. Plus you’re probably right that you’re behind your retirement savings. Firms like Fidelity, JPMorgan, T. Rowe Price, they publish retirement savings guidelines, and according to them, folks around the age of 40 should have two to three times their household income saved for retirement by now.
I think most financial planners would recommend that you first max out your retirement accounts before you devote extra payments to paying off your mortgage. Since you have kids, I’ll also add that the general recommendation is that you should prioritize your retirement savings over college savings. Your kids will have various ways to pay for a college degree even if they’ve decided to get one, and they may not. But there’s not much financial aid for people who reach their 60s or 70s with insufficient retirement savings.
Alison Southwick: The next question comes from Serab. I am a fairly recent listener and also a fairly recent stock investor. My parents didn’t invest in stocks and I never really got the financial education related to investing and investing early. My investment journey actually started with a Fool ad, so thank you for that. To continue the trend, I want to teach my kids about money and investing. I’ve opened UGMA and UTMA accounts for them and have been transferring a set amount every month. What should be my investment strategy given the time horizon is several decades. My kids are seven and two. One, some days I feel I should just invest in index funds as I don’t have time to keep up with companies. Two some days I feel I should invest in growth stocks as index funds will have limited growth. Let me know your thoughts.
Robert Brokamp: First of all, good for you for getting your kids started early, and we Fools are happy to have played a small role in that. Thanks for letting us know. As for your question, the answer really is both. That’s what my wife and I have done for our kids. In their accounts, they have index funds and individual stocks. They have a few index funds that track different segments of the market, such as large caps, small caps, international stocks. Our kids are older than yours, but at some point we let them have a hand in picking the individual stocks and that’s something you can do eventually as well. Now, in your question, you also said that index funds will have limited growth, and I think I understand the point you’re trying to make because you can’t beat the market if you own a fund that will just match the market.
But since the majority of professional mutual fund managers, and I would actually guess probably the majority of individual investors, lose to index funds. I think just getting the market’s return is good enough, especially if you and eventually your kids won’t have time to keep on top of what’s going on with the companies you own. A final point I’ll make is that UGMAs and UTMAs are custodial accounts that allow a minor to own an investment account, and there are actually some tax advantages to having assets owned by the kids. However, once the kids reach the age of majority in your state, they’ll get the money and can do whatever they want with it, whether they’re good with money or not. Also because it’s considered an asset of the child, it can potentially reduce financial aid eligibility when they go to college. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t open these accounts for your kids, but I just want to make you aware of the potential drawbacks.
Alison Southwick: Next question comes from Nate. I am 25 and my portfolio consists of 26 stocks as well as several broad market ETFs. I have consciously decided not to have any exposure to bonds as historically, stocks have well outperformed bonds. I understand that bonds are generally more stable and can counter the volatility we see in the equity markets, however, I’m not afraid of volatility as I am in this for the long haul. I feel as though bonds may only drag down my portfolio’s returned over time. Are there other benefits to bonds that I’m overlooking? How would you recommend allocating between stocks and bonds as you get older?
Robert Brokamp: You said about bonds being more stable, it’s generally true, but not this year, the overall bond market is down 14 percent in 2022 as of November 14 while the S&P 500 is down 15 percent. This has been by far the worst year for bonds in our lifetimes, if not the worst in US history. I think this year will change the perception of bonds for some people for awhile. But usually you’re right, bonds are less volatile than stocks, but they’ve also provided about half the return of stocks since the 1920s. As long as you can stand the ups and downs of the stock market, someone in his 20s could have most or all his retirement savings in stocks, given that it’s around a 40 year holding period.
It is important to have a diversified portfolio of stocks, but it sounds like you’re on the right track here too. We at the Fool generally recommend that you own at least 25 stocks along with some index funds for added diversification, and you’ve checked both of those boxes. Just make sure that your stocks aren’t too concentrated in one or two industries or sectors. As for how you should get more conservative as you get older, I think taking a look at the allocations of target date funds for people your age is a good place to start. Target date funds are a mix of cash, bonds, and stocks allocated according to a future year of retirement. You’d be looking at one for 2065, and it’ll be 90 percent or more in stocks.
But as we get closer to that year, the fund will gradually move its money from stocks to cash and bonds with around 50 percent in stocks before retirement. These are offered by most of the big name firms, BlackRock, Fidelity, Vanguard, T Rowe Price, but they do have somewhat, slightly different ideas about allocation, so I think it’s a good idea to look at all of them just to get a range of opinions. Finally, I’ll just add these allocations are for a broad audience, so they’re intended for those with maybe a moderate risk tolerance. If you’re more aggressive, you could have a bit more allocated to stocks than the general target date fund recommends, or look for target date fund with a retirement date that’s 10 years later than your actual retirement date.
Alison Southwick: Our next question comes from Brad. Oh, mighty answerer of all things financial. Brad. You could just call him Bro.
Robert Brokamp: He’s talking about you, Alison.
Alison Southwick: Reader of all questions, financial, that would be my title. Brad writes, my wife and I contributed the max to both our Roth IRAs last year and found out at the end of the year that we unexpectedly made too much, so we have to file an excess contribution form with Fidelity. I have a couple of questions for you. One, any suggestions on how to best navigate the excess contribution process, and two, I am going to have to sell some shares to withdraw the excess funds. I have 50 companies I’m invested in, all of which are down significantly this year, do you have any suggestions for how to decide which stocks to sell? I would be grateful to hear any suggestions you may have, Fool on.
Robert Brokamp: Well, Brad, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. People think they’re eligible for a Roth IRA, but then they get a raise or a bonus or get married and it turns out that they weren’t eligible. Because this happens too many people every year, the way to fix this is to reach out to Fidelity. They should be able to walk you through the steps, and you should do it as soon as possible because you’ll pay a penalty for each year you don’t fix it. Now, depending on your situation, you may have a couple of options with those excess contributions. You may be able to just recharacterize them as contributions to a traditional IRA or have them transferred to a brokerage account.
But you may not have to sell any stocks because while only cash can be contributed to an IRA, distributions can be in the form of shares, so check with Fidelity and make sure, but you may be able to correct the excess contributions just by moving shares from one account to another. If that’s the case, then it’s a question of which investments should be held in which types of accounts, what is known in the financial planning world as asset location. The general rule is that you use your Roth for the investments that you expect to have the highest growth potential. Because it’s the tax-free account, it’s the one you want to grow the most. You’d fix the excess contribution by transferring out the investments that you think have lower growth potential.
Alison Southwick: The next question comes from Bruce. I believe that the Motley Fool breaks down stock market capitalizations as small caps are less than two billion, mid-caps are two billion and 10 billion, large caps are over 10 billion. All of these seem low considering that we have companies with capitalizations of over a trillion dollars now. What would be a good updated rule of thumb for the size of companies in each of these classes?
Robert Brokamp: Well, you’re right, Bruce, those market cap breakdowns were standard for a long time but really have become outdated. And the fact of the matter is market cap is a relative designation. A large-cap stock is considered large only because it’s larger than other stocks, and a small cap is smaller than other stocks and so on. The index providers do generally update these market cap ranges for these labels. For example, 15 years ago, Standard and Poor’s considered a large cap stock to be one with a market cap of at least five billion, but as of March of this year, it has to be at least 14.6 billion. A company has to be at least that big to be in the S&P 500. The current ranges for the S&P 400 index of mid-cap stocks is 3.7 billion to 14.6 billion, and the range for the S&P 600 index of small-cap stocks is 850 million to 3.7 billion. Now, check back in a year or two and those ranges will have changed. They may be higher or if next year is like this year, they may actually be lower.
Alison Southwick: Our last question today comes from Alex. We hear about how low-cost index funds are a great, diversified, low-cost passive option for investing. What I don’t understand is how the buying and selling of that index fund works over time. If I’m pitching an S&P 500 index fund today with lots of [Alphabet‘s] Google, [Meta‘s] Facebook, and Tesla, what happens when I go to cash in that index fund 50 years from now and the index is tracking totally different front running stocks? Am I selling the Googles and Teslas of 40 years ago, or am I selling the new companies?
Robert Brokamp: Alex, here’s the way to think of it. The managers of index funds take in millions or billions of dollars from investors and they have to invest that money in a way that matches the holdings and allocations of an index at that time. So if they’re managing an S&P 500 index fund, they may take a look at the S&P 500 today and see that it’s 6.7 percent in Apple, 5.5 percent in Microsoft, 2.7 percent in Amazon and so on. That’s how they invest their money. Now, when they take a look tomorrow, the percentages will have changed and they have to make sure their fun matches those changes. Some of it will happen naturally as the stock prices move up and down, but the managers may also have to sell some of some stocks and buy a little bit more of other stocks to exactly match the allocations of the S&P 500.
This likely happens more than once a day and probably throughout the day, and I suspect it’s mostly actually done by computers nowadays. As a stock drops, it’ll become a smaller part of the index and that’s a smaller part of the funds. I came across an article that showed how the biggest company in the S&P 500 in the fall of 2001 was General Electric. Well since then, GE stock is down 70 percent. Now it’s a much smaller part of the S&P 500 and it’s gone from number one to number 80, and the committees that manage the indexes meet regularly and decide what should be included and what should be removed from the indexes. So this year the committee at Standard and Poor’s decided that Under Armour should be removed from the S&P 500 in June. Every manager of an S&P 500 index fund had to sell Under Armour in June. If you buy an index fund today and sell it 40 or 50 years from now, you will be cashing in the shares of the companies that meet the index’s criteria at that time.
Alison Southwick: That’s all the questions for today. Thank you, oh mighty answerer of all things financial. If you, our dear listeners have a question for us that you would like to have answered on this show, well, you can send it to us in a couple of different ways. You can email us @[email protected], or you can call and leave a voice mail at 703-254-1445. Once again, that’s 703-254-1445. Then that way you might actually even hear your voice on the show and impress your friends and enemies.
Chris Hill: As always, people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talk about and the Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don’t buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. I’m Chris Hill. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you tomorrow.
JPMorgan Chase is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Alison Southwick has positions in Amazon and Apple. Bill Mann has positions in Alphabet (C shares). Chris Hill has positions in Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Under Armour (A Shares), and Under Armour (C Shares). Robert Brokamp, CFP(R) has positions in Tesla. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, Bitcoin, JPMorgan Chase, Meta Platforms, Inc., Microsoft, Tesla, Under Armour (C Shares), and Walmart Inc. The Motley Fool recommends Under Armour (A Shares) and recommends the following options: long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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