MONEY

4 Retirement Mistakes That Can Cost You $250,000 Or More

Sometimes the costliest errors are ones we make ourselves, often without realizing how much damage we're doing.

We tend to think the mistakes that derail retirement are the ones that are inflicted on us: an investment that implodes; an adviser who dupes us; a market crash that decimates our nest egg. In fact, the costliest errors are ones we make ourselves, often without realizing how much damage we’re doing. Here are four of the biggest, plus tips on how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Stinting on saving. Asked by researchers for TIAA-Cref’s Ready-to-Retire survey what they could have done differently to better prepare for retirement, nearly half of the near-retirees polled said they wished they’d saved more. Good answer. Because over the course of a career, failing to push yourself to save can cost you big time.

To see just how much, let’s take the case of a 25-year-old who earns $40,000 a year, gets 2% annual raises and contributes 10% of salary to a 401(k) or similar plan each year—a good effort, but hardly Herculean. Assuming our hypothetical 25-year-old folows that regimen over a 40-year career and his investments earn 7% a year before fees of 1.5% a year for a 5.5% net return, he would end up with a nest egg of just under $740,000.

That’s a tidy sum to be sure. But look how much more he could have with a more diligent savings effort. By stashing away just two additional percentage points of pay each year—12% vs. 10%—his nest egg at retirement would total just under $890,000. That’s an extra $150,000. And if he can pushes himself to save 15%—the target recommended by many pros—he would be sitting on a nest egg of roughly $1.1 million, fully $360,000 more than its value with a 10% savings rate.

Of course, some people are so squeezed financially that they simply can’t save more than they already are, or for that matter save at all. But unless you’re one them, then you may be effectively giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars in future retirement spending by not pushing yourself to be a more committed saver. To avoid that, look for as many ways as you can to save at least 15% of your income consistently.

Mistake #2. Getting a late start. Call this mistake “the price of procrastination.” It’s the potential savings balance you give up by failing to get going early with your savings regimen. To put a dollar figure on this error, let’s assume that our fictive Millennial above takes the advice of retirement pros, saves 15% a year, earns 5.5% after expenses annually on his savings and ends up with that $1.1 million nest egg at 65.

But look how much that nest egg shrinks if he postpones his savings regimen. For example, if he puts off contributing to his 401(k) for five years until he hits age 30, his age-65 nest egg would total about $875,000 instead of $1.1 million. So procrastination cost him $225,000. If he waits 10 years to age 35 to begin saving for retirement, his nest egg would weigh in at roughly $680,000, putting the cost of a late start at $420,000.

The way to avoid or at least cut the cost of procrastination is to start your savings regimen as soon as possible—and do your best to maintain that regimen despite the inevitable ups and downs you’ll experience during your career.

Mistake #3. Overpaying for investments. Many investors are simply unaware of how much high costs can dramatically reduce a nest egg’s growth. Consider: By getting an early start and saving 15% of income a year, the 25-year-old builds a $1.1 million nest egg. But that assumes he earns 7% a year before investing costs, and 5.5% a year net after annual expenses. If he cuts his annual expenses by half a percentage point to 1% a year, his nest egg would total just over $1.2 million at retirement. And if manages to whittle investing costs down to 0.5% a year, he’s looking at an eventual nest egg of $1.4 million. In short, higher-cost investing options are effectively costing him as much as $300,000 in potential retirement savings.

Granted, your potential savings from cutting costs may be limited if you do most of your savings through a 401(k) that’s short on investment options. Still, you can at least reduce the cost of this mistake by sticking as much as possible to inexpensive index funds and ETFs (some of which charge as little as 0.05% a year) in your 401(k), IRAs and taxable accounts.

Mistake #4. Grabbing Social Security without a plan. Many people put more thought into which breakfast special to order at Denny’s than when to claim their Social Security benefits. That’s a shame, because taking the money at age 62 (still the most popular age for claiming, according to a recent GAO study) or shortly thereafter can cost you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each year you postpone claiming benefits between age 62 and 70, your payment rises roughly 7% to 8%, which can significantly increase the total amount you collect throughout a long retirement. Married couples have the biggest opportunity to boost their potential lifetime benefit by coordinating when they claim.

For example, if a 62-year-old man and his 59-year-old wife earning $75,000 and $50,000 respectively each take benefits at 62, they stand to collect just over $1 million in joint benefits, according to estimates by Financial Engines’ Social Security calculator. But if the wife takes the benefit based on her earnings at age 63, her husband files at age 66 for spousal benefits based on his wife’s work record and then switches to his own benefit at age 70, their projected lifetime benefit jumps to roughly $1,250,000. Or to put it another way, by taking benefits as soon as possible, this couple may be giving up $250,000 in lifetime benefits.

The potential increase for singles isn’t quite as impressive, as the benefit for only one person rather than two is at stake. But the upshot is the same: Whether you’re single or married, taking benefits without a well-thought-out plan can be a costly error. And, as with the other mistakes above, it’s one you can likely minimize or avoid with a little advance planning.

Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com. If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at walter@realdealretirement.com.

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MONEY 3D printing

The Future of 3D Printing Just Arrived

Visitors view a 3-D printed bust of U.S. President Barack Obama on display at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., U.S. on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. The portrait, printed using 3D Systems Inc.'s selective laser sintering printers, will be on display until Sunday, Feb. 15.
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

And leading 3D printing companies hate it.

With the 3D printing industry expected to grow by more than 31% per year between 2013 and 2020, and eventually generate more than $21 billion in annual revenue worldwide, there’s currently a high incentive for industry players and new entrants alike to improve upon the technology’s many shortcomings. After all, compared to many conventional manufacturing processes, 3D printing remains inferior in terms of speed, surface quality, and running costs.

Combine these two dynamics — bright industry prospects and technological shortcomings — and it creates an environment in which lots of resources are being focused toward making technological breakthroughs that could push 3D printing further into the realm of larger-scale manufacturing. Depending on what side a 3D printing company sits on when a breakthrough occurs, it can either be viewed as a threat or a competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, 3D Systems 3D SYSTEMS DDD -9.68% was on the wrong end of a recent 3D printing breakthrough that claims to drastically improve printing speeds over current technologies by orders of magnitude and produce parts with unparalleled smoothness.

Meet Carbon3D, a 3D printer inspired by T-1000 from the movie Terminator 2 that’s expected to be available within the next year:

The rise of disruption

Carbon3D leverages a proprietary technology called continuous liquid interface production, or CLIP, which is similar to stereolithography, or SLA, in that a pool of UV-light-sensitive resin is selectively cured with a UV laser to build objects one layer at a time. But instead of pausing between layers like SLA does, which creates rougher surface finishes and reduces printing speed, CLIP controls the flow of oxygen to the resin, enabling it to continuously “grow” objects with an “animation” sequence that the UV laser follows during the printing process.

To put it simply, CLIP uses UV light to solidify some parts of the resin and oxygen to keep other parts of the resin from solidifying, which lays the foundation for a revolutionary continuous 3D printing process. The result is a technology that claims to be 25 to 100 times faster than leading 3D printing technologies and features part qualities that resemble injection molding in terms of smoothness.

Staggering implications

If CLIP delivers on its promise of being able to rapidly produce commercial-quality parts, which seems likely, it could fundamentally change the common belief that 3D printing is a technology primarily reserved for prototyping applications and isn’t well suited for larger-volume manufacturing needs.

Consequently, the market opportunity for CLIP could be significantly greater than for other 3D printing technologies that were originally designed for prototyping and often struggle with producing a high volume of parts, or parts that end up inside finished products.

In other words, 3D Systems and other 3D printing companies could have much to lose against a technology that’s likely to make a host of existing plastic 3D printing technologies seem inferior.

To be fair, the potential fallout that Carbon3D poses to competing 3D printing technologies would likely be small at first, considering the printer currently features a relatively small build volume, limiting the size and versatility of parts it can create. However, as CLIP technology matures and scales, it could become a growing business risk for 3D Systems, should the company fail to match Carbon3D’s technological capability.

Putting it all together

Carbon3D has raised a total of $41 million from private equity firms including Sequoia Capital and a division of Silver Lake, giving the start-up plenty of resources to continue developing its breakthrough CLIP technology. With this kind of backing, acquiring Carbon3D is probably out of the question for 3D Systems — and it wouldn’t likely come cheap.

Conversely, investors may find it reassuring that 3D Systems remains the most diversified 3D printing company in the industry — thanks to having seven distinct technologies in its portfolio. This level of diversification could potentially help 3D Systems mitigate the degree to which breakthrough 3D printing technologies threaten its business prospects.

Still, investors shouldn’t dismiss the threat that Carbon3D poses simply because 3D Systems is diversified. After all, Carbon3D appears to have the right elements to become a formidable competitor in the 3D printing space.

MONEY Financial Planning

Why I Want Clients to Get Emotional About Retirement

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Chutima Chaochaiya—Shutterstock

Digging deep into clients' emotions helps one planner uncover what they're really thinking.

I like to delve into clients’ emotions and feelings. People may tell me one thing initially, but upon further questioning may see that their first response wasn’t emotionally true.

One example of that came up in a recent meeting with a couple who were getting ready to retire. Of course, they had worries about what they should do.

They wondered if they should move all their money into conservative investments. They floated the idea of moving everything into an annuity — an option they believed carried no risk.

When I asked them about longevity in their blood lines, I learned they each had at least one parent in their mid-90s. I then explained to them how we are in a low-rate environment and talked about the danger that their annuities would be capped at very low rates of return that likely would not keep pace with inflation or taxes.

That’s where my emotional questioning began. Let me summarize our conversation:

Question: The chance of your living another 30 to 40 years is extremely possible. How do you feel about that?

Answer: That we won’t have enough money.

Q: How does that make you feel?

A: Afraid and very uncertain.

Q: When you started work and got married, what were the rules?

A: Save money in a retirement account, have children, and make sure they get good education.

Q: What are the rules in retirement?

A: We don’t know of any other than just making your money last.

Q: If all of us are living longer, and you know that certain health care costs and taxes are going up, why would you not want to grow your money? Why would you want to buy this financial product that is not designed to keep pace?

A: That’s just what we were told. And that’s what we thought you did as an adviser.

Q: Well now that you are here, how do you feel about this happening?

A: We are very uncertain and really don’t know what to do!

Q: Has anyone worked with you to put together a plan that is balanced with investments and also has an income component that is adjustable for you?

A: No

Q: If you could become more educated on a balanced plan and how that may help you navigate the next 30 years, how would that make you feel?

A: It would make us feel like we have a chance to succeed.

When clients say that they do not want to lose any money, my response is, “Okay, but how do you feel about not making any money?” They don’t like that idea either.

In today’s marketplace, “no risk” equals minimal return and loss of purchasing power.

It is very important to educate clients on current economic conditions and teach them that calculated risk is worth taking. The average retiree who has a net worth of, say, $500,000 to $1 million either falls prey to annuity salesman or is so shell-shocked from 2009 that he or she only trusts CDs.

There is a real need to educate clients on how rates work and why the market have been the place to be for the past six years. Retirees also need greater clarification on annuities in order to understand their income and growth restrictions.

Asking questions to gauge risk is key to financial success. More importantly, it is key to building a sound relationship between adviser and client.

I always ask my clients, “In the next one to two years, what do I need to make happen to assure you that you have made a good choice in working with me?” These answers vary, but generally speaking, clients want to know that they are staying on the right path and are not falling behind. Keeping in touch with clients and knowing how they feel emotionally is paramount to them feeling good about their adviser.

———-

Matt Jehn, CFP, is managing partner of Royal Oak Financial Group, which offers small businesses and individuals in Columbus and Lancaster, Ohio a complete financial solution through professional accounting, tax and wealth management services. Jehn, who earned a degree in family financial planning from The Ohio State University, enjoys helping his clients grow their businesses by educating them on the meaning behind the numbers.

MONEY investing strategy

The Dark Secret Behind Most Popular Investing Strategies

money splitting into different directions
C.J. Burton—Corbis

Investing gurus scrap their advice all the time.

Like countless others, I read Benjamin Graham’s book The Intelligent Investor when I was young. It totally changed how I looked at investing.

Graham’s book was more than theory. He gave directions — actual formulas — investors could use to find cheap stocks. The formulas were simple and they made sense. This appealed to me, as I had no idea what I was doing.

But something became clear once I started putting his formulas to use. None of them worked.

Graham advocated purchasing stocks trading for less than their net working assets — basically cash in the bank minus all debts. This sounded great, but no stocks actually trade that cheaply anymore — other than, say, a Chinese pharmaceutical company accused of accounting fraud, or a shell company run out of a garage in Toledo. No thanks.

One of Graham’s criteria suggested that defensive investors should avoid stocks trading for more than 1.5 times book value. Following this rule in recent years would have led an investor to own almost nothing but banks and insurance stocks. In no world is this possibly OK.

The Intelligent Investor is one of the greatest investing books of all time. But I don’t know a single person who has invested successfully implementing Graham’s formulas exactly as they’re printed. The book is chock-full of wisdom — more than any other investment book ever published. But as a how-to guide, success is elusive.

This bothered me for years. Then, a year ago, I had lunch with Wall Street journalist Jason Zweig, who explained what was happening.

Graham was as practical as he was brilliant. This is probably because in addition to being an academic he was an actual money manager, running what we’d now call a hedge fund. He had no desire to stick with antiquated strategies that other investors had caught on to and become too competitive, rendering them less effective.

“In each revised edition of The Intelligent Investor,” Zweig once wrote, “Graham discarded the formulas he presented in the previous edition and replaced them with new ones, declaring, in a sense, ‘that those do not work any more, or they do not work as well as they used to; these are the formulas that seem to work better now.”

The most recent edition of The Intelligent Investor was published 42 years ago. Who knows what Graham’s strategies would look like today if he were alive to update them?

The cornerstones of successful investing are timeless. Patience, contrarian thinking, and tax efficiency will be as important 50 years from now as they were 50 years ago.

But among specific investing strategies, things change.

Every strategy to outperform the market must be based on the logic of, “The market disagrees with me today, but it will agree with me in the future, and when it does share prices will rise and I’ll profit.” But what investors believe today, and what they’re likely to believe tomorrow, changes. Since the prevalence of data, social norms, and company disclosures change over time, what worked in one era might not work in another. As an investor, you have to adapt.

Just before his death in 1976, Graham was asked whether detailed analysis of individual stocks — the kind of stuff he became famous for — was still a strategy he believed in. He answered:

In general, no. I am no longer an advocate of elaborate techniques of security analysis in order to find superior value opportunities. This was a rewarding activity, say, 40 years ago, when our textbook “Graham and Dodd” was first published; but the situation has changed a great deal since then.

What he believed, he continued, was buying a portfolio of stocks based on a few criteria — maybe low P/E ratios, or high dividend yields. But what matters — and what so many overlook when studying Graham — was that he changed his mind. He adapted.

In his great book Investing, Robert Hagstrom compares financial markets to biological evolution. There’s a tendency to think of markets as something that are established and rigid — a set of numbers that get jumbled around. But they’re not. Markets evolve over time. Successful strategies are selected, while those that are no longer effective — usually because investors gain access to better information than they had before — get pushed out.

Hagstrom looked at the last 100 years, and found that four popular investing strategies have come and gone.

“In the 1930s and 1940s, the discount-to-hard-book-value strategy … was dominant. After World War II and into the 1950s, the second major strategy that dominated finance was the dividend model … By the 1960s … investors exchanged stocks paying high dividends for companies expected to grow earnings. By the 1980s a fourth strategy took over. Investors began to favor cash-flow models over earnings models. Today … it appears that a fifth strategy is emerging: cash return on invested capital.”

If you don’t know that markets have evolved and some strategies are no longer valid, you’ll end up making terrible decisions.

“If you are still picking stocks using a discount-to-hard-book-value model or relying on dividend models to tell you when the stock market is over or under-valued, it is unlikely you have enjoyed even average investment returns,” Hagstrom writes. There is no reason to expect this strategy will lead to outperformance because so few investors pay attention to it anymore. Even if you find stocks trading at a discount to book value, there’s no reason to believe that anyone else will agree with you … later.

So many investors today put tremendous faith in investing metrics showing, say, that this stock is overvalued, or that the overall market is undervalued. They back it up with a century worth of historic data, showing how well the metric has worked in the past.

I often wonder: Have things changed? Have so many people caught onto a popular metric that they’re less effective than they were in the past? Should we, like Graham, be constantly tinkering with our metrics, discarding what’s unlikely to work anymore?

The S&P 500 did not include financial stocks until 1976; today, financials make up 16% of the index. Technology stocks were virtually nonexistent 50 years ago. Today, they’re almost one-fifth of the index. Accounting rules have changed over time. So have disclosures, auditing, and market liquidity. 401(k)s and IRAs — which hold trillions of dollars — didn’t exist until 40 years ago. Comparing today’s market to the past isn’t apples to apples.

There’s a mocking statement that “it’s different this time” are the four most costly words in investing. And sure, investors fall for some of the same traps again and again. But for many things, it’s always different this time. Things change. So should you.

MONEY Warren Buffett

The One Thing Warren Buffett is Wrong About

Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
CNBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Buffett's personal bias seems to be interfering with his judgment in food stocks.

Warren Buffett cannonballed through the food industry once again this past week, orchestrating a merger of Heinz and Kraft Foods KRAFT FOODS GROUP INC. KRFT -0.92% to create the world’s third-largest food company.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate and partner 3G Capital, a Brazilian investment firm, will pay a special dividend to Kraft shareholders worth $10 billion, and Kraft shareholders will own 49% of the new company while Heinz, which was acquired by Buffett and 3G Capital in 2013, will hold 51%.

This is far from Buffett’s first foray into the food business, but the deal seems questionable at a time when more Americans are shunning the packaged processed foods that Kraft is known for such as Velveeta and Lunchables, and its sales have been flat in recent years. Still, Kraft is a typical Buffett target with its portfolio of well-known brands and easy-to-understand business model. Berkshire is also a major holder of Coca-Cola COCA-COLA COMPANY KO -0.15% , and owns Dairy Queen, after acquiring it in 1997.

Buffett is a big personal fan of these brands, and readily admits that he eats “like a six-year old.” He has said he’s a regular consumer of Heinz ketchup, and Dairy Queen. He drinks at least five Cokes a day, regularly munches on Potato Stix, and told Fortune he had a bowl of chocolate chip ice cream for breakfast the day of the interview. Perhaps the octogenarian’s tastes may be clouding his judgement when it comes to his investments in the food world.

Coca-Cola COCA-COLA COMPANY KO -0.15% , for example, was one of the best performing stocks of the 20th century, but as soda consumption has fallen in the last decade, the stock has languished in recent years. Over the last five years, it’s returned 44%, against the S&P 500’s 74%, while in the last two years Coke is down 1%, compared to a 32% gain for the broad-market index. As long as people are turning away from soda, Coke’s prospects look poor.

In 1997, Buffett bought Dairy Queen for $585 million. At the time, it had 6,200 restaurants under its banner. Nearly 20 years later in 2014, it has only grown to about 6,500. As a minor subsidiary, Berkshire doesn’t break down Dairy Queen’s financial performance, but its average sales per store was just $659,000 in 2013, below most major fast-food competitors. Growth in individual stores has also significantly trailed the industry. In that time, McDonald’s, for example, has grown from about 23,000 restaurants worldwide to over 35,000. Fast casual chains have boomed as Chipotle Mexican Grill went from a handful of stores in 1997 to a valuation north of $20 billion today. Buffett may have gotten a good price for Dairy Queen, but the business is past its prime.

Heinz has only been under Buffett’s auspices for less than two years, but sales have been falling recently.

Like the recent Duracell deal, Kraft is yet another low-growth company with a strong brand. 3G has shown a knack with such businesses before, applying its playbook of cost-cutting and international expansion to ramp up profits. It worked with Anheuser Busch-InBev, and Heinz managed to grow profits last year. The group is now trying to pull the same trick with Restaurant Brands International, the result of the merger of Burger King and Tim Horton’s.

That may be the saving grace in the deal for Kraft, but the $10 billion dividend still seems like a generous gift for a company with flat sales that was valued at $35 billion before the deal was announced. If 3G can wring more profits out of Kraft, then perhaps the deal will pay off, but the business itself — with its products losing shelf space to organic competitors — looks weak. For a master of the deal like Buffett, the merger may pay off, but a Heinz-Kraft stock looks unappetizing for the average investor.

MONEY Financial Planning

Would You Trust Your Retirement to a Machine?

150326_ADV_ROBOADVISOR01
Peter Yang

New websites called robo-advisers are promising smarter investment advice at a much lower cost. But are you really ready to give up the human touch?

Betterment looks like a startup right out of tech disrupter central casting. Its office, in an airy loft space, features a beer tap and Ping-Pong table. The founder, Jon Stein, favors open-necked shirts at work, not a suit and a tie. He is 35 years old.

But Betterment isn’t in Silicon Valley, and it’s not selling chat apps, cat videos, or cheap car rides. It’s in Manhattan and trying to make a splash in the very serious business of investment advice. Stein has a Wall Street résumé: He’s a former banking consultant and a chartered financial analyst. He also thinks that Wall Street charges way too much and that Internet-based companies can fundamentally change the way you invest for your retirement. “We’ve taken the friction out of the process. We’ve made [advice] accessible to everyone. That is the future,” says Stein, with the modesty you’d expect from a tech CEO.

What Stein calls “friction” other advisers call a good business. Advice can be expensive. You may pay about 5% off the top for a commission-based adviser who puts you in mutual funds. Or you might pay an annual fee—1% of assets is typical—but many advisers and planners often won’t bother with clients who don’t have a lot to invest. “It’s almost like there were two options: walking, or driving a Mercedes,” says Michael Kitces of Pinnacle Advisory Group.

Betterment and at least a dozen competitors, including Wealthfront and FutureAdvisor, think web tools and computer models can deliver advice much more cheaply. Known (sometimes pejoratively) as robo-advisers, they pick investments for you and monitor your portfolio. Many do it for 0.15% to 0.5% of assets a year and welcome tiny balances.

“Many financial advisers are going to get drummed out of the business,” says adviser Ric Edelman, a well-known industry figure. That’s a bold forecast: Robos manage $19 billion, a relative sliver. Charles Schwab alone runs $2.5 trillion.

Private venture capital investors are racing in—Betterment recently got a shot of $60 million. Using Betterment’s implied value as a yardstick, VCs think a robo may be worth about $30 for every $100 in client assets, vs. $3 per $100 for some traditional advisers. Robos “see themselves becoming the next Schwab,” says Grant Easterbrook, author of an industry report for the research firm Corporate Insight. “Based on the money they’ve gotten, the VCs believe them.”

A close look at what most robos do reveals a fairly cookie-cutter, if common-sense, investment approach—one many MONEY readers would feel comfortable doing themselves. And there are important things the services haven’t yet figured out how to do well.

Still, this could start to finally open up advice to a bigger chunk of middle-class investors, not just the wealthy. Even if robos aren’t for you now, you may soon benefit from the way they’re changing the business. Other sites, such as LearnVest and Personal Capital, are using technology to connect you to a human adviser or planner you just never happen to meet in person. Established players like Vanguard and, yes, the current Schwab are responding with their own low-cost offerings. (Schwab’s headline price: free.) The existence of the robo option puts pressure on everyone’s prices.

In other words, you don’t need to buy the Mercedes. “Now there are Kias. There are Fords,” says Kitces. “There are a lot more choices.” Here’s how those choices stack up today, and what they can do for you.

Continue reading the rest of this story here.

MONEY Tech

Why GoDaddy’s IPO Shares Look Cheap

A lot could still go wrong.

GoDaddy, the website hosting service with the provocative ads and a NASCAR sponsorship, is going public this week. Everyone loves a coming-out party, particularly for a well-known consumer brand. In general, however, investors ought to be appropriately skeptical of initial public offerings, particularly for well-hyped technology companies. In these transactions – as with any investment — price is what you pay and value is what you receive: Below, I lay out my initial thoughts on GoDaddy’s valuation.

“We have a history of operating losses and may not be able to achieve profitability in the future.”

That is one of the prominent risk factors that greets prospective investors in GoDaddy’s most recent prospectus. On a GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] basis, GoDaddy has lost $622 million cumulatively over the past three years – hardly inconsequential for a company that generated $4.2 billion during that period. The good news, however, is that, as of last year, GoDaddy is profitable on the basis of free cash flow (which is what really matters, ultimately — not GAAP earnings).

By my calculations and based on a share price of $18 (the midpoint of the current indicative range of $17 to $19), GoDaddy’s enterprise value-to-EBITDA multiple is 7.2. Enterprise value (EV) is the sum of a company’s market capitalization and its net debt; EBITDA is a measure of cash flow, the acronym refers to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

It’s cheap, surely

On that basis, GoDaddy is cheaper than all 10 companies in Bloomberg’s selection of comparable companies for which this multiple exists and roughly in line with AOL AOL INC AOL -0.12% , at 7.5. The median for the group, which includes Facebook, Google, IAC/Interactive IAC/INTERACTIVECORP IACI -0.32% , Yahoo! and Yelp is 15.1.

So, GoDaddy looks cheap, then. If only it were that straightforward. I calculated GoDaddy’s EV/EBITDA using the firm’s own adjusted EBITDA figure of $271.5 million. However, Bloomberg puts 2014 EBITDA at $90.9 million, which would lift the EV/ EBITDA to 21.8. All of a sudden, GoDaddy is more expensive than all but three of its peers and significantly more expensive than Google, for example, at 14.7. As such, using EV/ EBITDA is inconclusive until one examines the adjustments the company makes to derive its EBITDA figure. I would tend to remain skeptical and lean toward an “expensive” verdict here.

On the other hand, looking at the price-to-free cash flow multiple, GoDaddy looks like a remarkable bargain at 2.3. Alas, a whopping three-quarters of its $443.8 free cash flow to equity in 2014 was the product of an increase in long-term borrowings — not a sustainable source of free cash flow. Still, even if we substitute the operating cash flow figure of $180.6 million for free cash flow, the multiple only rises to 5.6, which looks very reasonable by comparison with AOL (9.2), IAC/Interactive (15.1) or Yahoo! (85.3). In fact, that multiple would put it at the very bottom of its peer group.

Finally, let’s resort to a blunt instrument: the price-to-sales multiple. For GoDaddy, that number is 0.73, which looks pretty darn cheap for a technology company. The S&P North American Technology Sector Index was valued at 2.92 times sales at the end of February.

May be cheap… within the indicative pricing range

I’m going to come down on the side that says, based on this preliminary assessment, GoDaddy shares look cheap. (That holds at the $18-per-share midpoint of the indicative pricing range, which could of course end up being substantially lower than the price at which they become available in the secondary market.) The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the GoDaddy IPO could see the company raise as much as $418 million and give it a market value near $3 billion.

Furthermore, the business has some attractive qualities, including its high retention rates (over 85% in aggregate and approximately 90% for customers that have been with the service for over three years). Nevertheless, I would strongly encourage investors who are considering buying the shares to read the prospectus closely, particularly the “Risk Factors” section (all 36 pages of it!). Everyone likes to imagine what could go right with an investment, but a prudent investor likes to spend more time gauging what could go wrong.

Related Links

MONEY Warren Buffett

Investing Advice from Warren Buffett’s Right-Hand Man

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, right, and his right-hand-man, Charlie Munger.
Nati Harnik—AP Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, right, and his right-hand-man, Charlie Munger.

Words of wisdom from Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.

There aren’t many iron rules of investing, but one of them is “When Charlie Munger speaks, drop everything and listen.”

Munger, the 91-year-old billionaire vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has two amazing traits: He’s brilliant, which gives him authority, and he’s rich and old, which amplifies freedom of speech to a level most of us couldn’t get away with. He says what’s on his mind without fear of offending anyone. It makes him one of the most quotable investors of all time.

Munger gave a talk this week at the Daily Journal, where he’s chairman. Investor Alex Rubalcava took notes. Here are some great things Munger said (my comments below).

“I did not succeed in life by intelligence. I succeeded because I have a long attention span.”

Time is the individual investor’s last remaining edge on professionals. If you can think about the next five years while most are focused on the next five months, you have an advantage over everyone who tries to outperform based on sheer intellect.

“The finance industry is 5% rational people and 95% shamans and faith healers.”

There are few other industries in which people are paid so much to be so consistently wrong while clients come back for more without demanding any change.

“I think that someone my age has lived through the best and easiest period in the history of the world.”

People ignore the really important news because it happens slowly, but obsess over trivial news because it happens all day long. News headlines will forever be dominated by pessimism, but by almost any metric we are living through the greatest period in world history.

“When things are damn near impossible, maybe you should stop trying.”

Related: Everyone should know the difference between patience and stubbornness. Patience is the willingness to wait a long time while remaining open to changing your mind when the facts change. Stubbornness is the willingness to wait a long time while ignoring and dismissing evidence that you’re wrong.

“Other people are trying to act smarter. I’m just trying to be non-idiotic.”

Napoleon’s definition of a military genius was “The man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy.” It’s the same with investing: You don’t have to be brilliant, you just have to consistently be not stupid.

“If the incentives are wrong, the behavior will be wrong. I guarantee it.”

Anyone criticizing the behavior of “greedy Wall Street bankers” underestimates their tendency to do the same thing if offered an eight-figure salary.

“I don’t spend too much time thinking about what is almost certain never to happen.”

This likely includes: accurate economic forecasts, stable markets, consistent outperformance, reasonable politicians, and hyperinflation.

“I don’t think anything that any average person can do easily is likely to be worthwhile.”

Good investing hurts. It’s not any fun. It requires the ability to endure things most people aren’t, such as bear markets that last for years and times when you perform worse than average.

“The way to get rich is to keep $10 million in your checking account in case a good deal comes along.”

You don’t need $10 million, but cash in the bank will be the best friend you’ve ever had when stocks fall. If you’re upset that your cash is earning a dismal interest rate right now, you’re doing it wrong. Cash’s value isn’t its ability to earn interest. Providing flexibility and options is how it earns its keep.

“Nobody survives open heart surgery better than the guy who didn’t need the procedure in the first place.”

Avoid debt. Spend less than you earn. Advocate humility. Learn from your mistakes. If you can manage to not screw up too many times in investing you’ll probably do just fine over time.

For more:

MONEY 401k plans

What You Can Learn From 401(k) Millionaires in the Making

These folks are doing all the right things to reach retirement with a seven-figure nest egg.

The 401(k) has become the No. 1 way for Americans to save for retirement. And save they have. The average plan balance has hit a record high, and the number of million-dollar-plus 401(k)s has more than doubled since 2012. In the first part of this series, we shared tips for building a $1 million retirement plan. Now meet workers on track to join the millionaires club—and get inspired by their smart moves. Once you hit your goal, learn more about making your money last and getting smart about taxes when you draw down that $1 million.
  • Greg and Jesseca Lyons, both 30

    Greg and Jesseca Lyons

    Carmel, Indiana
    Years to $1 million: 15
    Best move: Never cashed out their 401(k)s

    Though only 30, Greg and Jesseca Lyons are well on their way to reaching their retirement goals. The Lyons—he’s an operations manager for a small research company, she’s a product development engineer for a medical device maker—are on the same page when it comes to planning for the future.

    College sweethearts who have been married seven years, they made a commitment to start investing for retirement with their first jobs. They contribute 15% of their salaries. Employer matches bring that annual savings rate to about 19%. Together, they have $250,000 in their retirement accounts, invested 90% in stocks and 10% in bonds.

    Unlike many young people, they have resisted the temptation to cash out their 401(k)s when they changed jobs. Though they dialed back contributions for about six months when they were saving for a down payment, the Lyons didn’t stop putting money away. “We have stuck with the idea that retirement money is retirement money forever,” says Greg. His goal is to retire by age 60. For Jesseca, saving is about independence and financial security. “I love what I do, so I don’t see retiring early. But I don’t want to be worried or stressed out about our money either,” she says. “I am not going to sacrifice our retirement just to live a certain lifestyle now.”

  • Tajuana Hill, 46

    By starting to save for retirement at age 26, Tajuana Hill has put herselv on track to grow a seven-figure 401(k).
    Jesse Burke

    Indianapolis
    Years to $1 million: 17
    Best Move: Keeps raising her savings rate

    It’s taken Tajuana Hill, an employee trainer with Rolls-Royce, two decades to max out her 401(k), but she’s been a steady saver since her twenties. When she joined the firm at age 26, she put 10% of her pay into her plan right away. As her income rose, she ramped that up to 12%, then 17%, and finally 20% in January.

    Her reward: $224,000 in her 401(k)—all the more impressive since her employer offers no match. What has helped Hill is a side business she launched three years ago, Mimosa and a Masterpiece, an art studio where students can sip a drink during painting classes taught by local artists. The extra income let her pay off her credit cards, freeing up earnings from her day job so she could boost her 401(k) contributions.

    “When I retire, I hope to do it as a millionaire,” says Hill. If she sticks to this regimen, her 401(k) could top $1 million just as she reaches 65.

  • Steven and Melanie Thorne, both 37

    Steve and Melanie Thorne have been disciplined about hiking their retirement contributions with every raise. Melanie saves 10% of her pay in her plan, while Steve sets aside 12%. They even save extra in Roth IRAs.
    Jesse Burke

    York, Pennsylvania
    Years to $1 million: 15
    Best move: Invest in low-cost stock index funds

    Having a healthy stake in stocks is a hallmark of 401(k) millionaires. With decades to go until retirement, you can ride out market swings. That’s a philosophy Steven and Melanie Thorne have embraced. Together they have $310,000 in their workplace retirement plans, Roth IRAs, and a brokerage account, all invested 100% in stocks. “We are young, so we can be more aggressive,” says Steve, a security officer at a nuclear power plant.

    Investing is a passion for Steven, who first started saving for retirement with a Roth IRA when he was 18. He says he follows Warren Buffett’s philosophy about buying stocks: Be greedy when others are fearful, be fearful when others are greedy. But, he says, he and Melanie, a nurse, are buy-and-hold investors and keep most of their portfolio in low-cost index funds.

    Steven and Melanie have been disciplined about hiking their retirement contributions with every raise. Melanie saves 10% of her pay in her plan, while Steven sets aside 12%. They even save extra in Roth IRAs. They live below their means and direct tax refunds into retirement accounts, as well as save for college for their five year old son Chase. “We look for extra ways to save cash and keep our investment costs low,” says Steven.

  • Jonathan and Margaret Kallay, 56 and 53

    By saving more as big expenses fell away and their incomes rose, Jonathan and Margaret Kallay have been able to amass 401(k)s worth a combined $750,000.
    Jesse Burke

    Westerville, Ohio
    Years to $1 million: Four
    Best move: Power saving late

    Life can get in the way of saving for retirement, but ramping up your savings later in your career pays off. Jonathan and Margaret Kallay contributed only small amounts to their retirement plans early on. “It wasn’t much, about $50 a paycheck on a $13,000-a-year salary,” says Jonathan, a firefighter. Margaret, then an ER nurse, put away 5% of her pay.

    As big expenses fell away, the Kallays saved more. Married in 1993, the couple each paid child support for daughters from previous marriages until the girls reached 18. Once that ended and they paid off car loans, the money went toward retirement.

    Earning more has helped too. Jonathan worked extra shifts as a paramedic. Margaret got a business degree and is now a vice president at an insurance company, where she gets a generous company match. They each put about 15% in their 401(k)s, which total $750,000 and could hit $1 million in four years. They plan to quit work soon to spend more time traveling and spending time with their daughters and 5-year-old twin grandsons. “We’ve made a lot of sacrifices to invest for retirement,” says Jonathan. “It’s all been worth it.”

  • Mel and Heather Petersen, both 35

    Mel and Heather Petersen with sons Carter and Perry

    Reidsville, N.C.
    Years to $1 million: 17
    Best move: Buying rental properties to bring in more money

    Despite modest incomes in the early years of their careers, Mel and Heather Petersen have accumulated nearly $200,000 in retirement savings. Their strategy: Consistent saving. Mel, a public school teacher, says his salary has averaged about $40,000 most of his working life. Today he earns $50,000 a year. Heather, a marketing analyst who contributes 10% of her income to her 401(k), has seen a steadier increase in her earnings over the years, bringing the couple to a six-figure combined income.

    “We have always saved money for retirement no matter what our income, and never stopped no matter what financial challenges we have faced,” says Mel, dad to two boys, 8-year-old Carter and 4-year-old Perry.

    It helps that the Petersens supplement their retirement savings with income from rental properties that they began buying seven years ago. Several are paid off, and after expenses they gross about $5,000 a month in rental income. They hope to continue investing in real estate to boost their retirement savings. “We want to max out our retirement accounts down the road,” says Mel.

  • Larry and Christianne Schertel, both 58

    Larry and Christie Schertel

    Valatie, New York
    Years to $1 million: zero
    Best move: Kept faith in stocks

    Investors have enjoyed a roaring bull market for the past six years. But financial markets are cyclical. Even the most dedicated savers can panic and abandon stocks when the markets goes south.

    Despite the massive downturn during the Great Recession, Larry and Christianne Schertel didn’t budge from their 75% stock allocation. “When the market collapsed in 2008, we stayed the course and were nicely rewarded as the markets rebounded,” says Larry, an operations manager at a transportation company until his retirement this January. As they closed in on retirement, the Schertels reduced equities to about 60%. Together with Christianne, who works as an elementary school teaching assistant, the Schertels have just over $1 million in retirement accounts.

    In addition to their resolve during market fluctuations, the Schertels say automating their savings, living below their means, limiting debt, and investing in low-cost funds helped them reach the $1 million mark. “There really is no magic to it,” says Larry. “It is just being disciplined.”

MONEY Oil

Two Big Reasons You Won’t Be Spending More On Gas Anytime Soon

Shaybah oilfield complex, in the Rub' al-Khali desert, Saudi Arabia, November 14, 2007.
Ali Jarekji—REUTERS Shaybah oilfield complex, in the Rub' al-Khali desert, Saudi Arabia.

Chinese demand doesn’t seem to be improving, and Saudi Arabia is actually boosting production.

The beleaguered oil industry was hit with a double dose of bad news on Tuesday, which initially sent oil prices down. On the supply side, Saudi Arabia continues to make good on its refusal to cut its production, instead, it actually boosted production close to an all-time high. Meanwhile, weaker than expected demand in China doesn’t appear to be improving as factory data from the world’s top oil importer slipped to an 11-month low. Unless these two trends reverse course both could continue to put pressure on oil prices in the months ahead.

Gushing supplies

Saudi Arabia is making it abundantly clear that it has no intention of cutting its oil production to reduce the current glut of oil on the market. This past weekend its OPEC governor, Mohammed al-Madi, said that the market can forget about a return of triple digit oil prices for the time being. That statement was backed up by the country’s oil production data, which according to a Reuters report is now up to 10 million barrels per day. Not only is that near its all-time high, but its 350,000 barrels per day more than the country told OPEC it would produce last month. In fact, as we can see in the following chart the Kingdom’s oil output has steadily risen over the past few decades and is nearing its previous peak from the 1980s.

Saudi Arabia Crude Oil Production Chart

Typically the Saudi’s are the first to cut oil production when the market has too much supply. However, this time it’s more concerned with keeping its share of the oil market that it’s willing to flood the market with cheap oil in order to slow down production growth from places like the U.S., Canada, and Russia. This is leaving the world short of places to put the excess oil asstorage space is quickly running low due to weaker than expected demand.

China continues to slow

To make matters worse, China, which is the world’s second largest economy and top oil importer, continues to see its economic growth slow suggesting its demand for oil could be even more tepid in the months ahead. The latest data out of China shows that factory activity is now at an 11-month low. This was after the HSBC/Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index was at 49.2 for March, well below the 50.7 mark from February. Not only is that below the 50.6 that economists had expected, but it’s now below the 50-point mark that separates growth from a contraction.

That’s bad news for oil prices because as the following chart shows China’s rapidly expanding economy has been a key driver of its surging oil demand over the past decade.

China Oil Consumption Chart

With China’s economic growth slowing down it’s leading to a slowdown in its demand for oil. That leaves robust global oil supplies with nowhere to go at the moment as demand for oil in Europe has been weakened by its own economic issues while the U.S. no longer needs as much imported oil thanks to efficiency gains as well as its own robust output. This will put pressure on oil prices as increased demand for oil from China was seen as a key for an oil price rally.

Investor takeaway

So much for peak oil as Saudi Arabia has now pushed its production close to its all-time high with no signs that it plans to tap the brakes. That’s coming at the worst possible moment as the oil market is oversupplied by upwards of two million barrels per day at the moment due to weaker than expected demand in China. Worse yet, Chinese demand could start to contract as its economic machine is notably showing down. This means that investors in oil stocks are in for more volatility as the market continues to work through its supply and demand issues.

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