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Mark Biller

Mark Biller

Executive Editor

Mark joined SMI in 2000. He leads SMI’s overall content strategy, managing the editorial direction and writing many articles. He led the company’s efforts to create its first web site, helped develop several of SMI’s investment strategies, and has been a contributing author to the Sound Mind Investing Handbook. 

In addition, Mark helped design and launch the three Sound Mind Investing mutual funds. He has served as the Senior Portfolio Manager since the original SMI Fund was launched in 2005.

Prior to joining SMI, Mark worked at Tax and Accounting Software Corporation. 

Mark received an undergraduate degree in Finance from Oral Roberts University.   

Mark and his wife, Cindy, have three children at home.

Most Recent Articles

The Next Step in Your Personal Financial Plan: Transitioning From myMoneyGuide® to MoneyGuidePro®

More than 525 Premium Members have already signed up for personal access to the award-winning myMoneyGuide® financial planning software, offered by SMI Advisory Services. In this follow-up to last month’s cover article, we explain how to transition your financial plan from temporary to permanent access, how to link your investment accounts to your plan for real-time updates, and how the new software vastly expands your planning capability.

Last month’s offer from SMI Advisory Services was met with a huge response, as hundreds of SMI premium members signed up in the first weeks it was available. The early feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. A whopping 96% of those who completed the survey at the end of the Lab process rated their experience as either “Easy—I had no problems” (60%) or “Somewhat easy” (36%). Nearly half (48%) said “the process helped me identify personal goals, questions, and concerns” while 59% said they found “the privacy and ability to complete a plan by myself” to be among the most valuable features. Perhaps most importantly, 52% said the process helped them feel more educated, while 67% said it helped them feel more confident. Not bad for $50!

If you’re among those who have already completed the myMoneyGuide® lab process, this follow-up article is for you. It will explain how to transition to the permanent version of MoneyGuidePro®.

If you haven’t yet taken advantage of this offer and gone through a myMoneyGuide® lab, you should do that before proceeding with this article. That process is laid out in the February cover article, An Exciting New Opportunity for SMI Members: Personal Financial Planning via MoneyGuidePro®. Read that article first, complete the video-guided lab process, then come back to this article when you’re ready for step two.

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New Upgrading Recommendation

As promised yesterday, here is the new fund recommendation for SMI's Large/Value stock risk category.

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Stock Upgrading Special Alert: Urgent

In a highly unusual situation, we are pulling today's recommendation of Fairholme (FAIRX).

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Stock Upgrading — New Fund Recommendations for March 2017

Our most aggressive core strategy, Stock Upgrading is a “momentum” strategy premised on the idea that recent past performance tends to persist. The strategy has you diversify your portfolio across five stock fund “risk categories” (along with up to three bond fund categories). You then buy the funds SMI objectively determines to have the highest momentum, occasionally replacing lagging funds with those showing stronger momentum. With only monthly maintenance, Fund Upgrading has generated better long-term returns than the overall market. This article explains the changes to put in place for the coming month.
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Investors Don’t Experience “Average” Returns

Much of our focus the first six weeks of this year has revolved around financial planning — specifically the MoneyGuidePro® offer recently extended to SMI Premium Members by SMI Advisory Services. The cover article of our upcoming March issue, scheduled to be released at the end of next week, details some of the valuable new features Members will have access to in the full version of MoneyGuidePro®. Among those is the ability to project their plans using any rate of return they want. This is important for good planning, as the future may not look like the past, and wise planners will want to know what their financial future might look like if the high returns of the past are harder to come by in the future.

While planning tools that rely to at least some degree on historical returns are helpful and necessary, there's an inherent danger in focusing on average rates of return. Investors who stay invested over the long haul may, in fact, earn returns close to the stock market's long-term average (which has been 9.8% over the past 113 years). But they'll rarely feel like they're earning that type of average return, because the market doesn't plod along steadily. Rather, it races ahead, producing dizzying gains during bull markets, then crashes back to earth during bear markets. When it all comes out in the wash, it may look like a steady 9.8% per year. But along the way, an investor's returns are nothing of the sort. Which explains why most investors wind up with substantially inferior returns — the emotional swings of the journey cause them to make counterproductive moves at both the highs and lows of the cycle.

This is illustrated beautifully by Justin Sibears of Newfound Research in the article Anatomy of a Bull Market. Altering the view of average annual returns to map them by bull and bear markets, we see the market's "zoom/crash" dynamic at work:

Only one of the 23 market cycles since 1903 has averaged returns close to the market's long-term average, and that one ended 100 years ago in 1916.

Mr. Sibears points out:

Consider this: since 1903, there has not been a market cycle with a single digit annualized return.

Ten of the twelve bull markets had annualized gains greater than 15%.  Similarly, annualized losses exceeded 15% in ten of the eleven bear markets.

In other words, the market is typically surging ahead or plunging lower. Rarely does it "cruise" along at a comfortable speed.

So while effective planning dictates that we use some sort of "normal" long-term rate of return for our calculations, it's important that emotionally we're prepared for a very different kind of investing experience. Creating a portfolio that enables you to stay invested through the market's emotional ups and downs is a crucial — and vastly underrated — element of actually earning those long-term rates of return.

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Beware Party-Tinted Glasses

Investing based on your political beliefs/expectations is a terrible idea. We've touched on this theme a few times since the election, but I continue to see comments and questions that relate to it, so I'm briefly delving in again today.

It's such a strong impulse to project our political feelings onto the economy and the markets. But it's a bad idea, as the financial markets are impacted by so many factors that boiling their performance down to one is rarely wise. That's especially true when most of us tend to see the world through rose-colored — excuse me, party-colored glasses.

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An Upgrading Overview: Easy as 1-2-3

Why Upgrade?

SMI offers two primary investing strategies for “basic” members. They are different in philosophy, the amount of attention they require, and the rate of return expected from each. Our preferred investing strategy is called Fund Upgrading, and is based on the idea that if you are willing to regularly monitor your mutual-fund holdings and replace laggards periodically, you can improve your returns. While Upgrading is relatively low-maintenance, it does require you to check your fund holdings each month and replace funds occasionally. If you don’t wish to do this yourself, a professionally-managed version of Upgrading is also available.

SMI also offers an investing strategy based on index funds called Just-the-Basics (JtB). JtB requires attention only once per year. The returns expected from JtB are lower over time than what we expect (and have received) from Upgrading. JtB makes the most sense for those in 401(k) plans that lack a sufficient number of quality fund options to make successful Upgrading within the plan possible. Here are the funds and percentage allocations we recommend for our Just-the-Basics indexing strategy.

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DAA — February 2017 Update

There are no changes to the DAA lineup for February. Read on for the full details.

DAA is a core portfolio strategy that is designed to help SMI readers share in some of a bull market’s gains, while minimizing (or even preventing) losses during bear markets. The strategy involves using exchange-traded funds to rotate among six asset classes, holding three at any one time. DAA is a defensive, low-volatility strategy that nonetheless has generated impressive back-tested results, demonstrating the power of “winning by not losing.”

The recommended categories/ETFs for February remain (in order of current momentum):

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Sector Rotation - February 2017 Update

Sector Rotation is a high-risk/high-volatility strategy. While its peaks and valleys have been more extreme than SMI's other strategies, it has generated especially impressive long-term returns, as discussed in Sector Rotation is Risky, But Highly Rewarding.

Sector Rotation was a great performer in 2016, gaining 16.8%, and is off to a great start in 2017.

There is no change being made to Sector Rotation for February. Here are the details.

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An Exciting New Opportunity for SMI Members: Personal Financial Planning via MoneyGuidePro®

Personalized financial planning offers tremendous benefits. Understandably, those benefits haven’t come cheap. But thanks to our friends at SMI Advisory Services and an arrangement they’ve negotiated with MoneyGuidePro®, such planning is now within the reach of more people. Read on to learn how to access the planning software rated number one by financial advisors for the past eight years in a row—at a price nearly anyone can afford.
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