On Portfolio Building, ETFs and Where to Live Now

Includes: ITMN, VTI, VWO
by: Roger Nusbaum

First up is a world class blowup for biotech stock InterMune (NASDAQ:ITMN). The FDA said "ni" to the company and its drug pirfenidone, which is for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The reaction from the stock was a 74% drop. I do not know if InterMune is a one-drug company or not; if so, then it could be thought of as a lottery ticket company.

There is nothing wrong with buying a stock like this and having it not work out; that goes with the territory. But to repeat a long running idea, I can promise you that there are people who owned way too much of the stock -- I'm talking ruinous proportions. This is a behavior that repeats over and over. Even a 10% portfolio weight, which is far more than I would ever put in one stock, in a blowup like this would likely only result in a bad year and maybe not even that, assuming no snap back, but much more than that starts to drift into ruinous territory. Again, I promise there are people who have been ruined by this, which is unfortunate and unnecessary.

Next up is an interesting post by Scott Adams who writes the Dilbert comic strip. I don't read his blog very often but occasionally he writes about investing and does so in an enjoyable way. The post linked to here was about creating the simplest portfolio possible which, after defining some parameters, came to 50% into Vanguard Total Market ETF (NYSEARCA:VTI) -- I think; he never used the proper name or ticker symbol -- and the other 50% into Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:VWO). He then solicited opinions and other ideas in this context.

This was interesting for two reasons. One is that I find discussions about simple, or permanent portfolios to be a useful exploration. Not so much because I plan on putting 25% of my portfolio into gold but this sort of study can teach or remind about how different asset classes relate to each other, and it might help readers figure out a version of this stuff that is better than what they currently do.

The other reason that this was interesting was for some of the comments. Unfortunately the comments reaffirmed that a lot of people have a lot of learning to do. Many of the assumptions about how money compounds in the stock market and entitlement programs are on shakier ground these days than what most adults have experienced first hand. This could all work out just fine, but if it doesn't then people who took the time to seek out a better education will have given themselves a much better chance to succeed with their retirement plans than those who did not.

CNBC's website posted a Ten Best Cities To Live slide show with information complied by The Economist. The study compiled data related to stability, health care, education, infrastructure and culture and environment.

The top ten as follows;

10 Auckland, New Zealand
8 Adelaide, Australia
8 Perth, Australia
7 Sydney, Australia
6 Helsinki, Finland
5 Calgary, Canada
4 Toronto, Canada
3 Melbourne, Australia
2 Vienna, Austria
1 Vancouver, BC

There are two number eights because Adelaide and Perth tied. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that eight of the top ten are from commodity-based economies. While I could not find the entire list I am surprised that Oslo, expensive as it is, did not make the top ten. Amusingly, Prescott was number 11; they must know we will be getting a Trader Joe's in November. Just kidding. I can't imagine Prescott would be included in this sort of thing.