Archives for September 2016

Robinhood Gold Review: $10 a Month For Extended Trading and Interest-Free Margin

rhgold0The Robinhood app (my full review) became well-known for their free stock trades and sleek app-only interface. People wondered, how will they make money? Well, they just announced one way – Robinhood Gold, a premium plan starting at $10 per month with the following highlights.

  • Extended hours trading. In addition to standard trading hours, you can start trading a half-hour earlier (pre-market) and two hours later (after-market).
  • Additional buying power. The equivalent of a margin account, or a line of credit for the stock market. You get up to 2x your buying power so you can invest more, and keep any profits. You pay no interest, just the flat monthly fee.
  • Bigger instant deposits. Instant Reinvesting lets you access proceeds from a stock sale immediately, instead of having to wait for it to settle. Instant Deposit eliminates the three-day wait period for funds to transfer from your bank into Robinhood.

Let’s look at these features more closely.

Extended hours trading.. Traditionally, the markets are open from 9:30 am EST to 4:00 pm EST during normal business days. With extended hours trading, every market day you’ll be able to trade an extra two and a half hours:

Pre-Market opens 30 minutes earlier starting at 9:00 am EST
After-Hours continues for 120 minutes (2 hours) until 6:00 pm EST

Do you really need these hours? If you don’t have a specific reason, then you may want to steer clear. Liquidity is limited, price volatility is high, and you’ll be trading against mostly professionals and/or computers. It’s also not that special… Most other brokerage firms also allow extended hours trading.

Additional buying power. Robinhood Gold upgrades you to a “full” margin account. For one, this means that you can get immediate access to funds after selling stock. That means you can reinvest those funds without waiting three days for settlement. This also means that they are required by law to have a minimum balance of $2,000.

Margin is essentially borrowing money from Robinhood and using your cash and stocks as collateral. The amount of extra “Gold Buying Power” you get is based on how much you pay, up to 2X your normal buying power. If you invest in high volatility stocks like penny stocks or leveraged ETFs, they may also limit your buying power to less than 2X.

  • $2,000 of extra buying power is $10 a month, with 0% interest
  • $4,000 of extra buying power is $20 a month, with 0% interest
  • $6,000 of extra buying power is $30 a month, with 0% interest
  • $10,000 of extra buying power is $50 a month, with 0% interest
  • Additional buying power over $50,000.00 has a yearly interest rate of 5.0%.

For example, if you have $2000 in your account, you can get at most $2000 in Gold Buying Power. But if you increase your account value to $3000 by depositing $1000, you can get at most $3000 in Gold Buying Power (if you are on the appropriate tier).

Now, if you really cared about margin, you’d probably use a broker with cheap margin rates like Interactive Brokers. IB’s current margin rates for a $2,000 balance is 1.9%, which would amount to $38 a year in interest if you carried a $2,000 balance for an entire year. (IB also requires you to spend at least $10 a month in commissions and fees if you hold less than $100,000 in assets.) On the other hand, TD Ameritrade will charge you 9.25% on a $2,000 balance, or $185 a year. Compare with Robinhood Gold at $10 a month would be $120 a year.

Bigger instant deposits. Another way that Robinhood lets you borrow some short-term money is with Instant Deposits. When you initiate an ACH deposit at most brokerages, you have to wait 3 business days for the money to actually show up. With Instant Deposits, you can use the money to buy stocks instantly. Your maximum instant deposit amount is the same as your extra buying power tier above ($2,000 for $10/month, $4,000 for $20/month) etc.

Instant deposits let you act on a stock idea quickly without having a bunch of idle cash sitting around all the time. You can keep it in an online savings account earning 1% instead of nothing at Robinhood.

What about Robinhood Instant? Robinhood Instant is a free middle tier that has been around for a while. This is a “limited” margin account that has the following features:

  • Immediate access to funds from selling stock. That means you can reinvest those funds without waiting two days for settlement. (All brokerage margin accounts offer this.)
  • Limited instant deposits. Use up to $1,000 of your pending bank deposits right away. No waiting 2-3 days for a bank transfer to complete.

Bottom line. Robinhood has been doing a nice job of meeting their basic promise of free stock trades. Robinhood Instant is a useful upgrade option that I recommend in most cases. At the same time, they don’t let you use leverage, which magnifies both gains and losses.

Robinhood Gold takes off the training wheels and gives you a full margin account, for a fee. You are moving from credit as a temporary convenience to enabling riskier trading with long-term leverage and extended trading hours. This may be appealing to a newer trader that eventually wants a bit more buying flexibility. For a serious trader that uses a lot of margin, it may be cheaper to go with another broker with low margin rates.

Sign up for Robinhood with my referral link and get a free share of stock, and I’ll get one too. Details on this promotion here.

Don’t Have Prime But Shop at Amazon? Read Those Prices Carefully

ProPublica has a new article Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t, which outlines how Amazon does not always list the lowest price including shipping as the first available option. Here’s an example they provide of how this works on some pruning shears if you don’t have Amazon Prime or reach the $49 Super Saver Shipping tier:

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Amazon really, really wants everyone to buy Amazon Prime. They do all kinds of little nudges to get you to join. For example, their Super Saver Shipping option went from a few days to oftentimes weeks to get to me. Another way they promote Amazon Prime is by promoting merchants that join their Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) program, because that means customers can buy more stuff with Prime. ProPublica points out that Amazon used to be more blunt about it with this former language:

Because most FBA listings are ranked without a shipping cost, you get an edge when competing!

Bottom line: If you don’t have Prime and don’t qualify for Super Saver Shipping, the default buying option will often not be the cheapest. By using the term “algorithm”, that suggests to me some sort of complicated scheme. What Amazon does is simple but perhaps deceptive: They assume that their Prime-eligible items will ship to you free, whether you have Prime or not. If you don’t have Prime and don’t reach the $49 tier for Super Saver Shipping, you should remember this rule across the entire site. Don’t click on the “Add to Cart” button without closer inspection. Amazon is simply adding yet another inconvenience for non-Prime shoppers. (I can’t wait for the new Top Gear, er… Grand Tour to start though!)

10-Minute Digital Privacy Tuneup from Consumer Reports

1plogoFollowing the news of the Yahoo hack of half a billion users (noted as the biggest data breach in history), you may be interested in some more tips regarding online security.

In their latest issue, Consumer Reports has a 10-minute digital privacy tune-up. Here are highlights and direct links for your convenience:

  • Turn on automatic software updates wherever available.
  • Use screen locks wherever available.
  • Check where else you’ve been hacked at haveibeenpwned.com. You’ve probably been pwned. Adobe and Dropbox for me.
  • Use temporary e-mail addresses. I tested their recommendation 10minutemail.com and I will definitely use it in the future for those “Give me your e-mail and get XXX” offers.
  • Cover up your laptop webcam.
  • Use the HTTPS Everywhere Browser Extension (available on Chrome, Firefox, Firefox for Android, and Opera). Help you use encrypted https whenever possible.
  • Turn off location tracking in apps.

I would also add a reminder about free and/or cheap password managers. All of my accounts now have their own unique, complex passwords. I can’t imagine not using one anymore. I still use 1Password mostly because it was the first one I tried, but if they force me into a monthly subscription I will likely bail. I’ve heard positive things about LastPass, KeePass, Dashlane, and RoboForm.

Marriott / Starwood Hotels Merger: Status Match, New Points Transfer Options

mr_spg2Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels last week, and has already started the merging process for their loyalty rewards programs. Both programs will essentially be run separately for a while, but you can now match status and exchange points. The new name is Marriott International, although a full merger will not be completed until sometime in 2018. Here’s a quick summary of your options:

Manually link your Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards (MR) accounts at this Starwood page or this Marriott page. They will not be linked automatically. You can only link one MR account to one SPG account (and vice versa), so you’ll need to merge any duplicate accounts first.

If you are an elite member of one program, your status will be matched in the other program. SPG Preferred Plus = Marriott Silver. SPG Gold = Marriott Gold. SPG Platinum = Marriott Platinum.

You can transfer points both ways with no fees. 3 Marriott points = 1 SPG point. You can transfer up to the full balance of your account in increments of 1,000 points into the linked account. Ex. 1,000 Marriott points = 333 SPG points. 1,000 SPG points = 3,000 SPG points. Transfers should be instantaneous.

Points transfer and expirations. Transferring into Starwood will help extend your Starwood points expiration, but transferring into Marriott will not help your Marriott points expiration. If your Marriott points are really going to expire soon, just move them all over to Starwood? Taken directly from their Frequently Asked Questions:

If I transfer points from my Rewards account to SPG, does it count as activity against points expiration?
Transfers don’t count as a qualifying activity in the Rewards program, so transferring points won’t keep your points balance from expiring.

If I transfer points from my SPG account to Rewards, does it count as activity against points expiration?
SPG Starpoints don’t expire as long as your account remains active. Linking and transfers count as activity.

Possible new transfer options. You can now mix and match the various external partners to get improved or previously-impossible transfer options, including:

  • 60,000 Marriott points = 20,000 SPG points = 25,000 American, Hawaiian, Delta, or Alaska Airlines miles.
  • 18,667 Starwood points = 56,000 Marriott points = 25,000 United Airlines miles.
  • 90,000 Starwood points = 270,000 Marriott points = 120,000 Southwest points and 7 nights in a Marriott category 1-5 hotel. Why is this handy? Earning 110,000 Southwest Airlines points in one year will get you the Southwest Airlines Companion pass which lets you choose a friend to fly with you for free – for this year and the next! – your paid or points-redemption tickets. (If you want to do this, do it quickly, as this option may end prematurely…)

Credit card considerations. Given the 3:1 ratio, Chase Marriott card now has bigger relative sign-up bonus, but SPG American Express has earns more rewards on all everyday purchases.

  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card can get you 80,000 + 7,500 Marriott points if you meet the purchase hurdle. 87,500 Marriott points = 29,166 Starwood points.
  • Starwood Preferred American Express can get you 25,000 Starwood points if you meet the purchase hurdle. You’ll also get 1 Starwood point per dollar spent = 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Vanguard Advice on Dynamic Retirement Spending Rules

eggosThere is a lot of focus on how to accumulate a big nest egg, but possibly even more complicated is how to spend it down. Vanguard Research has released a new whitepaper called From assets to income: A goals-based approach to retirement spending [pdf] (companion article). The three major topics covered are (1) spending rules, (2) portfolio construction, and (3) tax-efficient withdrawal ordering in retirement. This is a long, dense paper covering a lot of ground, so here are my highlights of just the dynamic spending rules.

The two major competing goals of spending strategies are:

  1. You want your nest egg last for the rest of your life. Well… yeah. If your portfolio drops 25%, your stress level goes way up.
  2. You want a consistent level of income. Everyone likes a reliable stream of income, especially if you’re used to a reliable paycheck during your working years. Having income drop by 25% on year can also be quite painful.

One major consideration is your initial, or target portfolio withdrawal rate. Here’s a figure showing how four primary factors can affect this choice: time horizon, asset allocation, flexibility in annual spending, and how certain you want to be that your portfolio won’t be depleted.

vg_dyn1

Another major consideration is how to adjust your withdrawal each subsequent year. Vanguard supports a hybrid solution called “dynamic spending” that is a compromise between someone who completely ignores market performance (reliable income most important) and someone who is completely dependent on market performance (portfolio lasting forever most important).

vg_dyn2

Here’s how dynamic spending works.

  1. Once a year, multiply your current portfolio balance by your (initial) target portfolio withdrawal rate. This is your unadjusted target spending for the year. For example, $1 million times 5% = $50,000.
  2. Determine your ceiling (maximum) and floor (minimum) based on last year‘s spending number. For example, you may say that it can only increase by 5% or decrease by 2.5%. If this is your first year, just stick with your existing number.
  3. Compare the two numbers. If your unadjusted number exceeds the ceiling amount, spend the ceiling. If your unadjusted number is below the floor amount, spend the floor. If unadjusted number is in between, the unadjusted amount becomes your final number.

For example, if last year’s spending was $50,000, then your upper and lower “bumpers” for this year will be $48,750 and $52,500. No matter what the market does, you’ll stay in between these two numbers. You can see a worked-out example using actual numbers in this previous WSJ article.

Your flexibility is rewarded with better portfolio survival odds. Here’s the results of an analysis with the following assumptions: moderate asset allocation of 50% stocks (60% U.S. equity, 40% non-U.S. equity) and 50% bonds (70% U.S. bonds, 30% non-U.S. bonds), a time horizon of 35 years, and initial portfolio withdrawal rate of 5%.

vg_dyn3

You can see that your portfolio success is improved significantly, even with a relatively high target withdrawal rate of 5%. You can see here that Vanguard picked the 5% ceiling and the 2.5% floor because it provided a portfolio survival rate of 85% over a 35-year time horizon.

Being flexible during periods of poor performance is most important. Vanguard found that a retirees’ ability to accept changes in their floor helps their portfolio more than increasing their ceiling hurts it. Here’s a modified chart from the paper that shows how your portfolio survival rate improves with a lower floor percentage.

vg_dyn4mod

You have to be careful, as having your withdrawals drop 5% a year for 5 straight years might be more than you can handle. You should carefully examine how much flexbility you have in your spending, taking into account other income sources like Social Security. In general, the numbers support Vanguard’s suggestion of a 5% ceiling and 2.5% floor as a good starting point.

Finally, here are some initial/target withdrawals that will get you 85% survival certainty for various time horizons and asset allocations. Click to enlarge. I’d prefer to see some numbers with a 95% survival certainty.

vg_dyn5full

Since my time horizon is (hopefully) closer to 50 years and I want a significantly higher survival certainty, I am personally thinking about a 3% target withdrawal rate combined with a 5% ceiling and 2.5% floor.

Access from AT&T Review: Affordable Home Internet For Low-Income Households

accessatt0Access from AT&T is an affordable internet access plan for low-income households offered in certain areas with AT&T service. The cost is either $5 a month at 3 Mbps or $10 a month for 5-10 Mbps, depending on your area. According to their FAQ and press release, other features include:

  • No deposit required
  • No activation or installation fee
  • No contract
  • Free modem + WiFi router rental
  • Free access to the entire national AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spot network.

However, note that AT&T will run a credit check. I don’t quite understand the reasoning though, as they state it won’t affect your eligibility. From their website:

As part of standard AT&T policy, all orders for new service are subject to a credit check. Results of the credit check will not impact your ability to obtain Internet service under the Access program from AT&T.

Qualifying households must have:

  • At least one resident who participates in the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and
  • An address in AT&T’s 21-state service area, at which we offer wireline home Internet service, and
  • No outstanding debt for AT&T fixed Internet service within the last six months or outstanding debt incurred under this program.

California residents also are eligible if:

  • At least one member of your household receives SSI benefits; and
  • At least one of the Access from AT&T Internet speed tiers is available at the address where you live.

You can apply for the Access by AT&T program here. You can also learn more by calling AT&T at 1-855-220-5211 for assistance in English or 1-855-220-5225 for assistance in Spanish.

I am not applauding AT&T for this effort, just promoting its availability. AT&T agreed to offer this service as a condition of their merger with DirecTV. I think people should take advantage of it if it works economically for them. However, I see no evidence that AT&T did this for charitable reasons. They are only doing the bare minimum required by law. I think they are rightly being criticized for not offering this affordable plan in areas where they have speeds lower than 3 Mbps.

Also see:

Ooma Hub Upgrade Offer: Discounted Telo + No Monthly Taxes and Fees

oomahub

I replaced my landline with Ooma VoIP home phone service over 6 years ago and and haven’t had a monthly bill since. This ended up being one of those deals where early adoption was rewarded. First there was no monthly fees, then it was about $1 a month, then about $3 a month. Today, buyers of the newest Ooma Telo are subject to the upfront equipment cost plus monthly taxes and fees of roughly $4.23 a month (varies by location). I’ve resisted upgrading to Telo as it would have forced me to give up my grandfathered monthly fee waiver.

If you are also a grandfathered Ooma Hub owner, you should check your e-mail for the following message titled “Important Service Update for Ooma Hub Owners”. (Thanks to the readers who asked me about this offer, as I would have probably deleted the e-mail.)

As a valued Ooma Hub owner and one of our earliest customers, we’d like to thank you for your support over the years.

As you may know, we discontinued technical enhancements and customer support for the first generation Ooma Hub product over three years ago. Recently, we made several network infrastructure upgrades for our Ooma Telo product, which unfortunately could cause Hub users to experience reduced service reliability due to the firmware limitations of the Hub.

As one of our earliest customers, we’d like to offer a special opportunity to upgrade to our latest Ooma Telo device for just $79.99 with free shipping. Plus, we’ll continue to waive the taxes and fees for the lifetime of your Telo device!1

When you upgrade to the Ooma Telo, you’ll enjoy better reliability and voice quality with PureVoice. Ooma Telo also supports HD Voice, integration with Amazon Echo, additional connectivity options like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and support for our whole family of accessories such as the Linx and HD2 Handset.

Okay, so $80 will get you a new Ooma Telo box and continued no monthly fees for the lifetime of the new box. Is it worth the upgrade? Some considerations…

Pros

  • My Ooma Hub is now 6 years old, and the fee waiver is only for the lifetime of the device. This offer would get a a new device and thus a new “lifetime”, which ideally would extend my fee waiver.
  • The Telo-exclusive features may interest you (better voice quality, Amazon Echo and Nest integration, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, Linx and HD2 accessories). Some folks seem to love their Amazon Echo, and using a wireless Bluetooth headset may offer valuable convenience.

Cons

  • It costs 80 bucks.
  • The warning of “reduced service reliability” is rather vague. I’m still satisfied with the current voice quality, although I am not a heavy user.
  • Is it possible that my old Ooma unit is more reliable than the new Telo? Or am I just pushing my luck? Running for over 6.5 years x 24/7 is pretty great. I have a Macbook from 2006 that still runs fine.
  • Telo Basic users have to pay extra for certain services that are included for free with Ooma Core/Hub including caller ID name (not just number) and e-mail alerts of new voicemails. It is unclear if this upgrade will cause us to lose these free features.

Bottom line. If you are a heavy Ooma user, it may be worth taking advantage of this offer to “future-proof” yourself for perhaps another 5 years or more. If like me you are a light Ooma user thanks to unlimited cellular minutes and/or robo-calling politicians, then a potential loss would not be as severe. The original Ooma Hub advertised “free monthly home phone service for life” (of the equipment), so I suppose I’ll see how long that ends up being.

Join Fairmont Hotels President’s Club, Get 1,000 Free Aeroplan Miles

Here’s an offer for 1,000 free Air Canada Aeroplan miles if you sign up for the Fairmont Hotels President’s Club loyalty program and use the enrollment code FED16 (embedded in link). Be sure to enter your Aeroplan number (join free here) under the expandable section labeled “FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS (OPTIONAL)” and select that plan as your earnings preference. You must join by November 15, 2016. Found via FFB.

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These bonus miles can be handy as Air Canada requires activity every 12 months to prevent Aeroplan miles expiration. The basic free tier of Fairmont’s loyalty program still gets your free room Wi-FI during your hotel stay.

Secret Eaters: Fighting Your Unconscious and Semi-Consicous Choices

In my last Buffett post, I talked about the importance of tracking performance carefully when trading your own portfolios. Most casual traders “think” they are doing fine, but if you ask them their rate of return for the last year compared to a benchmark, they won’t be able to tell you. They may have a rough idea, something like “last year was bad but this year I did a lot better”. Alternatively, they may point out that they gained a lot on Apple but lost a lot on Valeant.

This reminded me of a British TV show called Secret Eaters. Along the same lines, most people “think” they eat relatively healthy. They remember the time they turned down that bacon cheeseburger and had a nice salad instead. Participants in this show had their eating habits quietly tracked by private investigators, hidden cameras, or by digging through their trash. Many were surprised to find that they ate an additional 1,000+ calories a day in snacks, desserts, and oversized portions. Here’s a sample episode (the intro shows you the general show structure):

Now, this is a TV show and thus more about entertainment than proper nutritional science, but the point remains that the people profiled did a lot of semi-conscious eating. After being presented with the hard evidence, they were quite surprised. Here’s a Mirror article that follows up on some of the participants and how they started tracking their diet more carefully using things like smartphone apps. In addition to better tracking, another tip is to change your environment. In my opinion, watching TV is the great enabler of mindless eating. I try to avoid eating in front of the TV or computer whenever possible.

The same fuzzy tracking is what gets us into trouble with spending. You get the credit card bill, and all these little charges here and there added up to an extra 500 dollars. To counteract this, you could use one of the many budgeting apps now available. Changing your environment also applies: unsubscribe from some daily deal e-mails, pre-plan your weekly meals, and only visit a shopping website when you have something specific to buy (no browsing).

If you consistently make poor eating decisions, your body will probably tell you. If you consistently make bad spending decisions, your bank statement will probably tell you. But unconsciously bad choices in investing are especially sneaky because you may never know how much potential money you lost on high fees or badly-timed trades.

Warren Buffett’s Ground Rules: Do-It-Yourself Investing Guidelines

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Okay, so you probably aren’t reading a book titled Warren Buffett’s Ground Rules: Words of Wisdom from the Partnership Letters of the World’s Greatest Investor if you are perfectly happy owning solely index funds forever. While the shared concepts with low-cost, passive investing still apply, here are things to consider if you want to do some of your own picking and choosing between individual stocks and bonds.

Given how much energy an 86-year-old Buffett seems to have, it must have been very interesting to invest with him as a hungry young man. On the other hand, reading through the partnership letters also shows how mature he was in his late 20s and early 30s.

Be honest with yourself. Pick a yardstick ahead of time. You need to pick a proper benchmark against which to measure your performance, not just having positive or negative years. Back in 1966, it was the Dow over the last 3 years. Note that it wasn’t just an index, but also a timeframe of at least 3-5 years.

If you’re going to invest a portion of your portfolio on your own, always keep track of your performance. You need to be honest about your results and whether they beat the rest of your portfolio, or even a simple target-date fund.

Investing modest amounts is an advantage. Use it. Warren Buffett had a lot more flexibility with a smaller asset base. There are many deals out there that on a percentage basis are attractive, but if you have to deploy billions, it won’t even move the needle. For example, there might a 12-month CD that earns you 8% APY, but only on $10,000. If you only have $20,000 to invest, putting a big chunk of your portfolio in a risk-free 8% would be much smarter than stocks over the next year. However, if you have $100 million to invest, such a deal would be a rounding error. Some other transactions like odd-lot tenders are also ideal for smaller investors.

Worry about risk and return, not about the name of the product. It doesn’t matter if it’s a laundromat, rental unit, shares of a public company, or bonds. When Buffett was winding down his partnership, municipal bonds were yielding 6.5% on a tax-free basis. In his mind, it was a better investment to buy the municipal bonds rather than stocks given the near-term prospects. So that’s what he recommended.

Ignore the crowd. Think rationally and independently. If you’re going to “beat the market”, then you have to think differently than the market. You’re looking for some area where the market price is much lower than the intrinsic value. By definition, that means a lot of people will be disagreeing with your opinion.

Develop your best ideas, and then bet big on it. Buffett is not a big fan of owning 100+ stocks in the name of diversification. If you have your 5-10 best ideas, why also invest in the other 90 that are worse? If you’re going to actively manage your portfolio, you must have the conviction to bet big on your opinions.

Self-confidence is required, as you will have periods of bad performance. For me, keeping my conviction during times of underperformance is the primary reason most of my portfolio is indexed. Here a stat from the book credited to Joel Greenblatt: Of the top 25% of managers who had outperformed the market over the decade: 97% spent at least 3 years in the bottom half of performance and 47% spent at least 3 years in the bottom 10%.

If you are hiring an outside manager, look at integrity first. Buffett on the types of managers he seeks for Berkshire:

We look for three things: intelligence, energy, and integrity. If they don’t have the latter, then you should hope they don’t have the first two either. If someone doesn’t have integrity, then you want them to be dumb and lazy.

As a side example, here is how Buffett organized his own fee structure for the partnership. If the fund did not accumulate anything past a 6% annual gain every year, he would not take any fees at all. Above the 6% annual rate, he would take 25% of gains as his fee. While some hedge funds also employ a “high water mark” system, they usually still have some form of flat fee that they take, no matter way. If Buffett didn’t reach his 6%, he got nothing. In addition, he had nearly all his own net worth in the partnership as well. He “ate his own cooking”.

Uber and Android Pay: 50% Off 10 Rides (Up to $5 Each Ride)

uberpayUber and Android Pay are running a promotion offering 50% off 10 rides (up to $5 per ride) now through 10/15. No promo code required. The instructions they provide are pretty straightforward:

  • Download and set up Android Pay on the Play store
  • Open your Uber app
  • Add Android Pay as a payment option in the Uber app
  • Make sure to select Android Pay in the confirmation screen when requesting a ride and you will get 50% off 10 rides* (up to $5 per ride) now through 10/15
  • No need to apply any additional codes

* Supplies limited. Offer good for 10 rides. 50% off up to $5.00 off a trip requested using the Uber App and Android Pay. Only one offer per Uber account. Offer expires October 15th, 2016, or earlier at Uber’s sole discretion. No cash value. Valid in the US only.

Not a bad deal for regular Uber users. Thanks to reader Tom for the heads up.

Related: Through March 2017, Capital One and Uber also have a partnership that gets you every 10th Uber ride free up to $15 with the Capital One Quicksilver credit card (review).

Warren Buffett’s Ground Rules: Shared Concepts with Low-Cost Index Funds

groundrules0If you get in a debate about owning index funds, Warren Buffett will likely be invoked as an example of successful stock-picking. A recent book called Warren Buffett’s Ground Rules: Words of Wisdom from the Partnership Letters of the World’s Greatest Investor covers a period when Buffett was arguably at his peak of active stock trading. However, even during this time, Buffett’s rules and wisdom still shared a lot in common with low-cost index investing.

From 1956 to 1970, Buffett managed a relatively modest amount of money through the Buffett Partnership Limited (BPL), mostly from family and close friends. Already a good teacher, he wrote his partners a series of transparent, frank, and educational letters. While he does write a lot about his outperformance goals and successful trades, but here are examples of how you can be both a Buffett fan and an index fund fan.

You are buying fractional ownership of a real business. Too often, stock trading is treating like playing a game with numbers that zip up and down. Even if you just buy index funds, you should always realize that you are still buying a piece of a business and all its future earnings. These businesses employ hard-working people and provide tangible value and useful services to customers.

In the long-term, the market is efficient. Value investing tries to take advantage of times when the quoted prices of shares vary from “intrinsic value”. Market quotes will vary in the short-term, and you can’t predict them. You can only choose whether to buy, sell, or do nothing. However, value investing also relies on the price eventually returning towards intrinsic value in the long run.

If you buy index funds, you do not spend your time and energy determining intrinsic value. However, you also believe that the markets will work themselves out over the long run.

In the short-term, be ready for big drops in prices. Even though index funds give up the search for intrinsic value, all stockholders are subject to the same short-term swings. From a 1965 BPL letter:

If a 20% or 30% drop in the market value of your equity holdings is going to produce emotional or financial distress, you should simply avoid common stock type investments. In the words of the poet Harry Truman – “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” It is preferable, of course, to consider the problem before you enter the “kitchen”.

Beating a diversified index of companies is hard. From a 1962 BPL letter. Buffett made these observations more than a decade before a single person owned an index fund… because they didn’t exist yet.

The Dow as an investment competitor is no pushover and the great bulk of investment funds in the country are going to have difficulty in bettering, or perhaps even matching, its performance.

You may feel I have established an unduly short yardstick in that it perhaps appears quite simple to do better than an unmanaged index of 30 leading common stocks. Actually, this index has generally proven to be a reasonably tough competitor.

Consider after-tax results. Buffett offers good advice in that you should always keep track of your portfolio on an after-tax basis. If you are creating a lot of short-term capital gains, your outperformance has to be rather significant in order to counteract the additional tax drag. This doesn’t mean that Buffett never traded – he did a lot of transaction in the partnership years – but he also had many years of awesome returns.

Today, some people criticize Berkshire for not distributing a dividend, but in fact Berkshire does a great job deferring taxes so that the growth can keep compounding and keep your after-tax returns higher. If cash is needed, a Berkshire shareholder can always sell some shares.

A market-cap-weighted index fund usually has very low turnover and thus minimized tax drag. An actively-trading mutual fund that has the same pre-tax performance numbers as a passive mutual fund will often have lower after-tax performance.

More assets makes it much more difficult to create outperformance. More assets doesn’t always translate into lower returns, but as Buffett states you must have enough ideas to put that money to good use. From a 1964 letter:

Our idea inventory has always seemed 10% ahead of our bank account. If that should change, you can count on hearing from me.

Buffett stopped accepting new partners when asset levels reached $43 million. He decided to unwind the partnership completely in 1969, for a variety of reasons. He eventually found a better way to align his interests by all becoming shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway (and only taking a small salary as CEO).

A mutual fund with high performance will naturally attract a lot of assets. The good ones will stop accepting funds if the asset levels outrun their supply of great ideas. The bad ones will keep accepting funds because it means higher management fees. However, with Vanguard index funds the problem goes the other way. As the asset levels rise, the costs go down and the performance is unaffected. Here’s an interesting profile of the little-known manager of the Vanguard Total Market Index Fund, which now holds nearly a trillion dollars in assets.