Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Art as an Investment Class? It's Tricky

This Basquiat painting of a skull just sold at Sotheby's for over $110 million. Wow! Maybe investors really should regard art as an asset class, along with junk bonds, private equity and such.

But as White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have learned, the notion of art as a serious wealth component can have unintended consequences. The other day they got criticized for failing to declare their art collection as a financial asset on the disclosure forms required for government work.

Conservative investors and their advisers may prefer to follow Northern Trust's advice and think of art collections as more akin to a second home or a yacht-charter business. Adam Lindemann. a prominent collector, blames the "art as investment asset" movement on the proliferation of art advisers: "There are almost as many of them as yoga instructors."

Lindemann's advice to investors? Buy art for art's sake.
Back in 2005, I asked Larry Gagosian if he believed art was an investment. He answered laconically: “Art is an investment, but that doesn’t make it a good investment.” At the time I thought his response was genius, but I’ve now changed my view, because investing requires cold analysis and objective thinking, and there’s no art in that. Art collecting is a different thing, it requires interest, patience and hopefully some passion, or at least intellectual curiosity.
What do you think? Will somebody ever be willing to invest more than $110 million in that skull? 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tax Reform – The Impossible Dream?

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

                * * *
This is my quest, to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far. . . .
– Joe Darion, "The Impossible Dream (The Quest)"

Those in the know say the chances of meaningful tax reform this year are none to negative. Worst case: a tax bill that leaves the complexities and lowers the tax rate for regular income that's filtered through Limited Liability Companies and other "pass throughs." (The president is reported to have hundreds of LLC's.)

Yet the need to prune and simplify the Internal Revenue Code persists. Even if meaningful tax reform remains a dream, it's worth pursuing.

Start by joining me in reading T. R. Reid's A Fine Mess. The Washington Post reporter explores how other countries handle taxation. Sometimes they goof; more often they manage to separate taxpayers from their money in simpler, friendlier fashion than we do.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Stock Picking, Fifty Years Ago and Now

"Some facts will not come to us," reports this 1967 Merrill Anderson ad for U.S. Trust. "We hunt them out and bring them back – alive."

Today, stock pickers need not hit the road. The digital revolution offers access to zillions of facts in the form of big data, and quants use algorithms to massage the data and generate investment decisions.

"Prognosticators imagined a time when data-driven traders who live by algorithms rather than instincts would become the kings of Wall Street," The Wall Street Journal($) recalls. "That time has arrived." Quantitative hedge funds "are now responsible for 27% of all U.S. stock trades by investors, up from 14% in 2013,"

WSJ subscribers can view the anatomy of an investment algorithm here.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Generosity of a Reformed Stockpicker

After trying and failing to pick stock winners himself,” a retired ophthalmologist in Washington, D. C., “made his fortune by investing in the funds in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.”

Unmarried and living modestly, the retiree has used the fruits of his investing for philanthropy, dispensing millions to area charities. He agreed to tell his story to The Washington Post “to encourage others to invest wisely, research thoroughly and support those doing good work that will make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

Will the publicity cause the wise indexer to be inundated with requests for handouts? Not likely. He says he would never donate to an institution that approached him first.”

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mother's Day

A wealth manager we'll call Ed just sent a financial-workshop invitation to my mother. The mailing arrived today, May 12, exactly 26 years after my mother died on the eve of her 95th birthday.

A little late, Ed!

Ed's off-the-shelf web site could use more care, too. When boilerplate copy calls for inserting your company name, the text should not still display the place marker "(DBA as)."

Whether breeding dogs or judging horticultural exhibits, my mother was conscientious in her work. Marketers of wealth management do well to follow her lead.

And for Ed's sake, clean up your mailing lists every quarter century!


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Today's Trusts Explained

From a Massachusetts law firm comes Demystifying Trusts, a guide to currently popular trust arrangements. They include revocable living trusts, special needs trusts and trusts designed to maximize Medicaid eligibility for trustors in nursing homes. Also, ILITs.