It's your money!
The business of conquering, at least in the corporate world, is still good - but naturally, the larger the fortune you amass, the more trying it is to manage. By the time a CEO has reached the corner office, his or her portfolio has likely already grown to proportions that make managing it a full-time occupation. And as salaries rise, compensation packages grow in complexity, and as stock options stockpile, that portfolio begins to resemble an unwieldy mass of diversified holdings, off-shore accounts, and steep, onerous tax traps lurking on every page.
Hiring a professional to manage this may seem like a no-brainer, but many CEOs are quite comfortable with the hands-on management style; they actively and closely monitor the progress of their own companies' financials - and they are no less eager to do so for their own personal coffers. "A former senior executive of one of the top five companies in the world bought stocks at the top of the market and sold them at the bottom. Then he forgot to get back in," says David Elias, CEO of Elias Asset Management. "He was travelling all the time and did not have the time to manage his money. It took his wife a year and a half to talk him into going to an investment advisor."
But though there are exceptions, most wealthy CEOs have found soon after accumulating their first round of sizable assets, that the requirements for managing their own financials have swelled beyond the scope of their personal finance expertise - including those CEOs with a penchant for investing.
"Even savvy investors can be bamboozled," says John A. Van Raalte, financial consultant at securities firm Fahnestock & Co. "Some very famous CEOs were taken in by a scheme where a so-called financial planner promised to send a percentage of the returns from their investments to charity. Instead, it was a Ponzi scheme, and they lost all of the money they had invested with this swindler."
While it's true some very good financial planners have at times been mistaken in their recommendations, good reasons abound for letting the experts manage your personal financial headaches, not the least of which is the fact that you're paying them to think of everything - just as your company's shareholders hire you to do that for them.
While no planner can claim to be an expert on everything, a good financial advisor should have a sound handle on the big picture regarding investments, tax planning, insurance, real estate, complicated compensation and benefits plans, and estate planning. "Also, the planner must be well-versed in sophisticated charitable strategies and SEC guidelines for buying and selling stock throughout the year, including stock options and deferred compensation," says Bradley E. Comp, counseling VP at the AYCO Co. "Many CEOs sit on the boards of other companies and need help with board compensation and benefits. If a client is on the board of three companies and each offers retirement benefits, the plans must be coordinated and optimized so the CEO does not get all of the money when he or she retires, but spreads it out."
If you've divvied up your assets to different advisors or experts (you may have left your retirement planning to an expert in that field, but hired a real estate expert to handle the management of various properties) you'll rely on your financial planner to help monitor and coordinate these disparate areas of your total portfolio. "The planner should be able to review what investments the CEO already has and see how the accounts overlap, where there are investment holes, or perhaps too much concentration by industry," says William Webber, president and CEO of asset management firm Carret & Co.
FINANCIAL PLANNER VS. PRIVATE BANKER
In many cases, a CEO's financial planner may function as an added investment advisor to an already assembled and trusted team of professionals. However, those executives who don't currently have a team in place - or who have recently found their present financial situation to be expanding beyond the expertise of their chosen team of experts - may decide to head straight to a private banker. The private banker already has a team in place, the members of which will be used according to the CEO's need.
"A private banker is a much more comprehensive role than a financial planner," says Robert Elliott, senior executive VP of client services at Bessemer Trust Co. "In addition to financial planning, a private banker is a client's trusted advisor on financial and/or family affairs. A private banker provides lending services, estate planning, traditional banking roles, and investing. A private bank will have credit cards, bill-paying services, insurance analysis, services as trustee and executor, and income tax preparation."
Essentially, the private banker is the one-stop financial shop for the busy CEO, says Karlheinz Muhr, managing director of UBS private banking and head of the global executive group in the Americas. "In addition to other services, it is important to be international and able to provide a continuation of service around the world. Bundling of services, global asset allocation, and understanding industry segments in a multi-currency environment are also essential."
But while some experts extol the virtues of private banking, critics say the role of the private banker, in its most basic form, could represent a potential conflict of interest. "The private banker tries to be a conduit into other services; he wants you to be involved in as many banking products as possible," says Webber.
Typically, aggressive investors have found private bankers to be a bit too rigid and conservative for their tastes. But Michael Busse, senior VP and market executive for the Investor Center at Harris Bank argues, "Competition being what it is, no banker wants to appear to be too rigid. However, he or she will ultimately need to do what is in the best interest of the client relationship, and the bank."
FINDING A GOOD MATCH
Strong credentials are a must, but personality fit can be a deal-breaker. You wouldn't hire a CFO based solely on his or her credentials; you would make certain his or her personality fits in with your team. Likewise, your potential advisor may have years of experience dealing with multi-million dollar portfolios, but if he or she rubs you the wrong way, you're not going to get the most out of the relationship. "Make sure the chemistry and even the body language is good," says Elias. "You have used your intuition in successfully running your corporation; don't second guess yourself elsewhere. And if you lose your trust in the planner, you must fire him or her."
Trust, too, is of the essence if you're going to feel comfortable calling your advisor for every big business decision you make. That may seem like a bit much - particularly for CEOs used to making decisions unilaterally - but not consulting your advisor can leave you blindsided. "One client's worst mistake was quitting one publicly traded company to become CEO of another without advising me or his accountant before he quit," said John Henry Low, president of Knickerbocker Advisors. "His failure to pick up the phone cost him several hundred thousand dollars."
Generally speaking, it's tough to measure your financial planners' performance; you can only compare what he or she has done with what you both determined were the best goals at the outset of the relationship. "A financial planner by job description is generally less quantifiable than someone running funds," says Michael C. Dailey, president and CEO of Dailey Capital Management. "Performance is measured quarterly and annually, but it is an ambiguous task, because it is difficult to compare track records."
The goals you set to measure your planner or private banker's performance will depend largely on your own investment philosophy. If your comfort zone is a strategy that's relatively risk-averse, but you're looking for more of a return than T-bills can offer, you might not care whether you beat the S&P 500. But if you're an aggressive investor, more interested in strong and immediate returns, the planner has a different standard to reach.
Specifically, says Muhr, "the planner should be measured on the level of service delivered, dialog, new ideas, ease of dealing, speed of response, tax optimization, performance against a market benchmark, and efficient trust structure. All of this has to be optimized against the CEO's needs and risk preference."
Questions to ask a Financial Planner
We know you're busy. And it may seem easier to run with the first intelligent planner to whom you're referred by a fellow CEO. But, as is true when finding a good surgeon or attorney, taking the time to find the most suitable match is as important as any business decision you'll ever make. So if you're thinking of making a move to a new planner (but perhaps haven't interviewed one in years), here are a few questions to bring to the table:
What experience do you have? Look for a minimum of 10 years experience. Says David Elias, CEO of Elias Asset Management: "Someone who has seen tough times is less likely to get carried away with exuberant markets."
What is your educational background? What licenses do you have? If the planner is not a referral, get the rundown on credentials. "Hiring a financial planner is equivalent to hiring a CFO to run your company, except he is running your money," says Elias.
What is your specialty? What technical skills do you have? Challenge your candidate to impress you. Can you cover investment taxes, income taxes, estate planning? Do you understand complex compensations and benefits plans? What are your strategies for exercising options?
Is there a real or potential conflict of interest? "A CEO of a publicly traded company should not use a private banker from the same firm as his company's investment bank," advises Knickerbocker Advisors' president John Henry Low. "The banker could stretch matters for the CEO's personal interest to keep the corporate account. It diminishes objectivity."
What is your investment philosophy? "If a financial planner is too aggressive, the CEO has to be concerned about tax planning," warns Elias. "There are gray areas, which can put the account in jeopardy, and Uncle Sam will come knocking on the door."
Do you charge a fee, are you fee-based, or are you on commission? Clearly, selling a product for commission can easily be a conflict of interest. Experts agree that a fee-only relationship helps maintain objectivity. Some planners are paid on an hourly basis and some prefer flat fees, rather than open-ended fees such as wraps. Fees - how much and the type - should be disclosed up front, generally at the first meeting. Fee-based is not the same as fee-only; a fee-based relationship means 10 percent or more of compensation is from commission.
RELATED ARTICLE: Hedge Funds
What's the downside of a roaring bull market, other than a bigger tax bill in April? For many CEOs, it's the task of figuring out how to lock in profits without sacrificing further gains should the stock market continue higher.
Hedge funds can help. Usually structured as private partnerships available only to high-net-worth individuals and institutions, hedge funds employ a wide range of investment strategies that run the gamut from highly speculative to staunchly conservative. Many of the latter have been designed to earn money whether the market is up or down.
One popular strategy for doing that involves holding both long and short positions simultaneously. If the market goes up, the long portion [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] of the portfolio earns money. If the market falls, the short portion earns.
Through careful stock selection, long-short funds try to ensure that their stock picks don't cancel each other out completely. Many have done this, and so have attracted investor interest. "We're seeing a number of high-net-worth individuals and institutional investors moving some of their long equity exposure to equity-hedged investments," says Joseph Nicholas, CEO of Chicago-based Hedge Fund Research and author of Investing in Hedge Funds (Bloomberg Press). The rationale? "They have a large portion of the upside in many of these vehicles, but also a short exposure that provides cushioning on the downside."
In a typical long-short fund, the manager weights the long portion of the portfolio more heavily than the short portion, recognizing that over time, the stock market has a pronounced upward bias. In more extreme variations of the model, known as equity market-neutral funds, the portfolio is carefully designed to be dollar neutral, and, in many cases, sector neutral.
Of the 11,800 portfolios BARRA Inc. tracks for its institutional clients, two equity market-neutral funds ranked near the top of the low-risk screen: AXA Rosenberg Investment Management's Market Neutral Fund L.P., and Zacks' Market Neutral Fund.
But be prepared to pay if you want to play: the minimum investment for the AXA fund is $1 million, and $10 million for the Zacks fund.
- Randy Myers
RELATED ARTICLE: Private Equity
Leonard M. Harlan buys and sells companies for a living, but occasionally the president of New York-based private equity group Castle Harlan participates in other firms' buyout funds. His advice is a valuable asset to these limited partnerships, which acquire companies and grow then over several years with an eye to an IPO or a higher-priced sale. Likewise, Harlan appreciates having investors "who, if they spotted an investment opportunity, would suggest it to us."
SIZING UP PRIVATE EQUITY In total, the Private Equity Analyst reports a jump in partner commitments to private equity funds from $55.8 billion in 1997 to $85.3 billion. GROWTH IN PRIVATE EQUITY, 1997-1998 1998 Funds 1997 Funds Number Capital Number Capital Corporate Finance 107 $54,809 101 $35,952 Mezzanine 10 $2,072 13 $3,492 Venture Capital 139 $17,260 136 $11,699 Fund of Funds 30 $9,594 16 $4,028 Other 3 $1,557 5 $599 Source: The Private Equity Analyst, January 1999
Referrals and relationships are the building blocks of private equity funds. Investment returns can be astronomical - for example, Castle Harlan's Partners II fund, which raised $275 million in 1992, has enjoyed average annual gains of 71 percent before fees through the end of 1998. Private funds buy companies in virtually all industries and at every stage of fiscal health. Some invest along a broad spectrum; others are more specialized. But admission to this red-carpet club isn't cheap. Because the number of investors in any single fund is often not more than 50, investment minimums are large, often $5 million or $10 million.
But private equity funds frequently waive investment minimums to accommodate corporate leaders who bring knowledge, analysis, and marquee value to a fund. A $500,000 investment might do in some cases, says Harlan, but whatever the figure, "it should be a meaningful amount to the CEO so he is interested in helping the fund be successful."
Individual investors typically are not partners with the big institutions, endowments, and pensions in the main fund. Rather, portfolio managers assemble what's called a "side-by-side" fund that tracks the larger entity. Private equity funds usually take 20 percent of any profits after a specified minimum return, or "hurdle rate," in addition to an annual management fee of between 1.5 percent and 2 percent. Side-by-side funds reduce these charges or dispense with them. "They're put together on terms favorable to investors," says Lawrence Graev, CEO of legal firm O'Sullivan Graev & Karabell. "They're giving friends of the general partners an opportunity to invest a relatively small amount of money into a fund - enough so there's a reason for them to be helpful."
To be sure, everybody wants a piece of this pie - a record $88.4 billion flowed into 364 private equity funds in '98 alone, a 25 percent increase over the year before, according to Securities Data Co. But there's good reason to be cautious and diligent. This alternative investment is a five- to 10-year mission, with no escape. Buyout funds are illiquid; unlike a standard mutual fund, you can't withdraw cash whenever you want, but you may be asked for cash when you least expect it. "On two weeks' notice, you have to be prepared to put up as much money as we call from you, up to the limit," says Robert Shields, a principal at turnaround specialist Questor Management Co.
CEOs with plenty of will but not much wallet also might look into a private equity "fund of funds" that takes money from individuals and smaller institutions and allocates the investment among several different private funds. Fees are somewhat higher, but you get the benefits of diversification and skirt those stiff investment minimums.
- Jonathan Burton
RELATED ARTICLE: Mutual Funds
For chief executives accustomed to solving problems by throwing money and brainpower of them, investing in an mutual fund that merely mimics a stock index might seem rather provincial. But Michael Stolper, president of San Diego-based Stolper & Co., an investment advisory firm that counsels high-net-worth individuals and foundations, couldn't disagree more. "The most important thing for anybody to remember, regardless of who you are in the corporate food chain, is that there is a positive upward slope in the equity markets," says Stolper. "It's a wonderfully benevolent environment, and the principal contribution an investor can make is to show up and stay put. Beyond that, you're fiddling on the margin."
Index funds are especially appealing to investors in high tax brackets because they're tax efficient; their buy-and-hold strategy minimizes trading and hence onerous capital gains. They're also cost efficient, generally operating for one-half to one-third the price of actively managed stock funds. The less you spend on management fees, trading costs, and taxes, the more you get to keep of your fund's earnings.
What's more, index funds work. Of 2,933 domestic stock funds tracked by Morningstar, a stunning 2,735 failed to beat the S&P 500 stock index for the three-year period ended March 31. By contrast, virtually every S&P 500 index fund matched the index within one percentage point.
While the S&P 500 has been outperforming virtually every other major stock index for the past several years, Stolper warns that won't always be the case. "Inevitably, that will end and something else will assert itself."
Accordingly, he suggests Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index Fund as a fine anchor for almost any investment portfolio. The fund seeks to mirror the performance of the entire U.S. stock market as presented by the Wilshire 5000 index. For the three years ended March 31, the fund posted a total return of 24.3 percent vs. 24.5 percent for the Wilshire 5000. Some of the credit goes to its rock-bottom costs; while the average domestic stock fund charges 1.4 percent in management fees, this Vanguard offering levies a miserly 0.2 percent.
Although the Vanguard Total Market Index Fund invests in stocks of all sizes, it will still enjoy exposure to the S&P 500 if large caps stay in favor a while longer, since stocks in the S&P 500 account for about three-quarters of the fund's capitalization. But this fund will also provide exposure to small-cap issues when market sentiment finally does change.
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If you'd like to augment your index fund with something that takes advantage of today's hot market for Internet stocks, you may be considering one of the newer mutual funds focused on that sector of the market. Stolper has another suggestion. Instead of buying a fund with such a narrow charter, he advises selecting a broad-based technology fund along the lines of T. Rowe Price Science & Technology (total return of 39.2 percent last year) or the new Janus Global Technology, both of which have exposure to Internet stocks but aren't tied exclusively to their fate.
"With these funds, you're paying somebody who knows what they're doing - somebody who's sorting through the business models of these companies and assessing their risks," Stolper says. "Over the long run, you'll probably do a lot better."
- Randy Myers
RELATED ARTICLE: Advice From the Experts
* "Phantom stock, used as a 'golden handcuff,' is an excellent way for companies (especially private firms) to compensate the CEO and hold onto them without giving away a piece of the company. The CEO gets a chock at the end of five years for the amount the phantom stock is worth under some formula. Phantom stock are hypothetical units with no tax at the time of the grant. They can be structured to fit many varied situations." - Tim Smith, president of Comprehensive Asset Management and Servicing.
* "Conventional wisdom is to hold options until expiration, but some executives should exercise earlier for diversification. Our executive stock option model includes strike price, risk/reword parameters, and reinvestment, as well as such variables as age, how far the CEO is from retirement, gifts to charity, and other liquidity needs. Whether the CEO exercises options and holds stocks or exercises and sells the options, he or she should understand the income tax consequences, casts, and implications for the broader estate and financial plan. Also, the CEO must consider the possible imposition of the Alternative Minimum Tax in the year of the option exercise." - Craig Smith, J.P. Morgan & Co. 's Wealth Advisory Group
* "To be a successful investor, you mast make a plan and have the discipline to stick to it. But some investors get antsy to buy and sell, and some are looking for cocktail fodder. For them, I suggest taking a small part of assets, about 10 percent - and no more than 20 percent - on amount that if they lost it, it would not affect their lifestyle, and they can trade this amount any way they wont to." - William E. Mayer, managing member, Development Capital LLC.
* "A CEO wanted to invest in his competitors' stock to receive their annual reports and monitor what his competition was doing. I recommended only using 3 percent of his assets for this endeavor. I suggest clients use up to 10 percent of their assets as 'Vegas Money,' if they want to speculate. For instance, a CEO was in the locker room of his club and overheard a conversation that XYZ company was 'going to the moon.' He chased the latest hot tip and got into hot water." - David Elias, CEO, Elias Asset Management
* "If a CEO has a large concentration in one stock, he should invest with inverse ramifications. For example, a CEO of an oil company with a lot of stock in that company must restructure his portfolio to include another industry with on inverse correlation, such as on airline. When oil prices drop, the cost of airline operations should fall as well, and the airline stock should rise." - Skip Gianopulos, Harris Bank's head of financial planning
* "If a client has not redone her will since being named CEO, it is an indication that she needs help in assembling o financial planning team. If however, the CEO is very organized and up-to-date with her finances, it is likely she will have already assembled a financial team." - Robert S. Abramson, managing director, Sanford Bernstein
RELATED ARTICLE: Real Estate
Afraid the stock market is overdue for a correction? Bored with bands? Consider diversifying your portfolio with real estate.
Plenty of other investors already have, driving the Morgan Stanley Real Estate Investment Trust Index up 16.7 percent from its September low through mid-April. That erased much of the 26 percent loss the index had sustained in the prior 12 months. But Samuel Lieber, CEO and portfolio manager at Alpine Management & Research in New York, which runs three real estate mutual funds, says there are still bargains to be found.
"The way to really make money in this group is to buy stocks that are out of favor," Lieber says. "One interesting play is Meditrust Cos., in which you get the benefit not only of its current depressed valuation and hence its high dividend yield, but also the opportunity for appreciation as the stock rebounds."
OH, GIVE ME A HOME... As the data show, returns on real estate and stocks. as measured by two popular indices, have shown little correlation over the past 10 years, with real estate outperforming stocks in three of those years. REAL ESTATE VS. STOCK RETURNS: TOTAL RETURNS (%) S&P 500 Wilshire REIT Index 1989 31.68 2.72 1990 -3.12 -23.44 1991 30.48 23.84 1992 7.62 15.28 1993 10.06 15.46 1994 1.32 0.79 1995 37.53 12.24 1996 22.95 37.04 1997 33.35 19.54 1998 28.58 -16.96
Meditrust is a real estate investment trust, or REIT, which divides its business between health care and lodging. Its shares peaked at $39 7/8 in late '97 and have since fallen to about $12 1/2, principally as punishment for the company having taken on too much debt for too many acquisitions.
But Meditrust today isn't the company it was even several months ago. It has sold some of its properties, and just since the end of '98, has pared its long-term debt to about $1.4 billion from $3.3 billion. With its improved balance sheet, Meditrust's cash flow is more than sufficient to meet dividend requirements, Lieber says, adding that analysts expect Meditrust to generate funds from operations of $2.30 a share this year, well above its $1.84 dividend.
"From our view, the company as a whole is worth $20 a share," he adds. "Even allowing for some uncertainty in the market, this stock should be trading around $16, which would still give you a double-digit dividend yield. If investors can see $16 on a $12 1/2 stock, plus this dividend, we're talking about a 40 percent-plus return in 12 months time."
Lieber is also bullish on Miami-based Lennar Corp., one of the nation's largest homebuilders and land owners. It builds about 10,700 homes a year and has a large inventory of land acquired at favorable prices during past market downturns. Lieber charges Wall St. with failing to recognize that big homebuilders like Lennar are run much more professionally run today than decades ago, when speculative building was rampant. He suggests they are now less susceptible, though certainly not immune, to economic cycles.
The popular view is evident in Lennar's stock price, which at a recent $25 is only about 10 times the company's trailing 12-month earnings of $2.49 a share. By contrast, the stocks in the S&P 500 index are trading at about 30 times earnings on average.
Lieber expects Lennar to earn about $3 a share this year and up to $3.30 in 2000. And that's not the only plus working in Lennar's favor. "Their underlying real estate is probably worth $28 a share or more," observes Lieber. "You're buying the business for nothing."
- Randy Myers
RELATED ARTICLE: Tax Relief With Munis
Like most investors, CEOs pay close attention to their stock portfolio. For many, in fact, their companies are the bulk of their portfolios. Others diversify stock holdings across industries and companies, trading away some potential gains for a less-volatile ride. But for true diversification, current income, and attractive tax advantages, consider tax-free municipal bonds.
MAKING MONEY WITH MUNIS As the chart below illustrates, the yield on a taxable corporate bond may start out higher than a tax-exempt bond, but the tax bite puts the municipal bond out in front. 6% Tax 8% Taxable Exempt Bond Investment Cash Investment $30,000 $30,000 Interest $1,800 $2,400 Federal Income Tax in the 36% Marginal Tax Bracket 0 $864 Net Return $1,800 $1,536 Yield on Investment After Taxes 6.00% 5.10% Source: Legg Mason, Inc.
Muni bonds are issued by state and local governments to cover everything from expenses to expressways. And for high net-worth individuals in the top tax brackets, munis are gift-wrapped presents, especially for residents of tax-burdened states such as New York, Massachusetts, and California. Unlike U.S. Treasury bonds, which are free from state and local taxes but subject to federal tax, munis are completely tax-free.
"It's hard for an upper-bracket investor to ignore munis," says James Tesone, a managing director and fixed-income specialist at Carret and Co., a New York-based money management firm. "Munis are under-recognized for the substantial advantages that they give investors in terms of liquidity and safety."
Wealthier investors with at least $500,000 to put into munis can rely on brokers or money managers, and their own research, to construct a custom portfolio. Figure on investing $100,000 in a single security, Tesone says. Currently he likes intermediate-term munis - a class of bond that will repay principal, or "mature," in seven to 15 years. The yield, or dividend income, from these bonds is unusually close to comparable Treasuries, and their tax benefit sweetens the deal. To create a steady cash flow, Tesone staggers maturities within a portfolio in a "ladder" fashion. A $500,000 portfolio might be spread among bonds maturing in seven, nine 11, 13, and 15 years.
For all others, Tesone recommends a single-state muni-bond mutual fund. Choose a fund with below-average annual operation expenses. Recently, the typical muni fund charged 1.04 percent of assets under management, according to fund-rating service Morningstar.
At certain times, like now, muni bonds are more attractive than Treasuries, and nearly as safe. For added security, buy insured muni bonds that guarantee principal in the unlikely event that the issuer defaults.
To see if a muni bond works for your situation, compare its yield to a Treasury with a similar maturity. Suppose a 10-year Treasury yields 5 percent, while a 10-year, AAA, fully insured muni yields roughly 4.3 percent. The Treasury offers more current income, but remember that the muni interest equates to after-tax dollars. Here's how to calculate the taxable equivalent yield of that 4.3 percent dividend: First, subtract your federal tax rate from. If you're in a 36 percent tax bracket, for example, then 1 minus .36 equals .64. Then divide 4.3 by .64. This equals a yield of 6.7 percent - an attractive 1.7 percentage points above the Treasury. Even in the 31 percent tax bracket, the muni yield equates to a richer 6.1 percent.
Be aware that as cities and states enjoy huge tax revenues and budget surpluses, their need to issue munis has diminished at the same time that demand is growing. The result: bond prices are up, and yields are down. But don't look to munis for a big score. "There's no thrills, chills, or potential spills," says Marilyn Cohen, president of Envision Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based fixed-income investment manager. "They stand like a rock and pump out income."
- Jonathan Burton