The inheritance boom
Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial insights, gathered from around the web:
The inheritance boom
"U.S. households are poised to inherit $36 trillion over the next 30 years," said Ben Steverman at Bloomberg. That's an unprecedented amount, and "the pace of bequests is already surging." The beneficiaries, though, are much older than they used to be: Since 1989, "the average age of recipients rose by a decade, to 51. More than a quarter of bequests now go to adults 61 or older." That's increasing the wealth gap between Baby Boomers and younger generations. Another factor in that disparity: The average inheritance in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, was $295,000. That's up from $169,000 (in today's dollars) 30 years ago. With the safety net of pensions disappearing, many middle-class Americans are spending "frugally" in their late years "to make sure their wealth lasts."
The devil is in the details
Beware of the footnotes in corporate earnings reports, said Julie Segal at Institutional Investor. Many investors have suspected that companies use "accounting maneuvers" to distort the results they disclose to the public. Now a new study from Harvard Business School and MIT's Sloan School of Management confirms that, finding a pattern of companies burying nonoperating income-statement items in the footnotes as well as in the "management, discussion & analysis" sections of regulatory filings. Often the information hidden in the fine print involves "unusual or one-time gains" that might not be "apparent to investors analyzing income statements." As a result of the misdirection, "earnings for the S&P 500 were distorted by 22 percent on average in 2018." That's part of a "rapid rise in earnings distortion since 2015."
Betting big on a few picks
An increasing number of active fund managers are concentrating their bets on just a few stocks to differentiate themselves from low-cost index funds, said Mischa Frankl-Duval at The Wall Street Journal. Assets managed by funds that hold fewer than 35 stocks have tripled. Advocates of the strategy say that having "fewer stocks allows funds to provide investors with only their best ideas," pointing to investors like George Soros and John Paulson as successful examples. But there is a risk to breaking from conventional wisdom, and the most highly concentrated portfolios — those with 20 or fewer investments — have returned 190 percent since 2009, versus 322 percent for the S&P 500.