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Investing in the Moment

A clear view of the present is the only thing that Richard Bregman thinks can guide his investment decisions.

Ilana Polyak, 10/08/2009

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A few years ago, Richard Bregman was on a family trip to Costa Rica when he and his son, Michael, went out on a WaveRunner. Twenty minutes after setting out on the Pacific Ocean, they hit a swell and the vehicle tipped over. Michael managed to swim away injury-free, but Bregman's right foot was lodged in the WaveRunner's sideboard. When he wiped out, he fractured his ankle, which required two surgeries to repair.

"The chances of having an accident like that were so slim," Bregman, chief executive officer of MJB Asset Management, says from his midtown Manhattan office. "I'm sure somewhere I could find the statistical analysis of what the probability of breaking your ankle while riding a WaveRunner are and it would minuscule, but it doesn't change the fact that I had two screws in my ankle and I spent three months on crutches."

Once-in-a-lifetime events are just that. But they do happen. Yet investment analysis focuses on the vast majority of times when things go as expected. That could leave clients vulnerable to risk and derail a well- laid financial plan decades in the making, Bregman believes. Take 2008's final quarter when all asset classes--bonds, stocks, foreign stocks, natural resources, real estate, everything--fell in tandem. "In the financial world, we call this systemic risk," Bregman says. "But individuals experience this as the scary unknown."

Since the tech bubble burst in 2000, Bregman has been thinking about how to shelter his clients from risk, realizing that many of them simply can't stomach it. He found that the standard one-liners he had used to counsel about the nature of markets and staying the course rang hollow after two years of stock declines. "We're talking about someone's retirement. We're talking about someone's ability to send their kids to college," he says. "Anyone can lose 40% on their own. They don't need me to lose it for them and collect a 1% fee."

His clients began to flee. As his assets under management shrank, Bregman began to think about his business in a different way. Even as the next bull market took off in 2003, Bregman began using hedging strategies. At the time, there were few open-end mutual funds that did these strategies, so he began with just the Merger Fund MERFX and Gabelli ABC GADVX. Today, his portfolios carry a slew of funds employing strategies such as long-short, market neutral, options, and futures.

Art of Money Management
Bregman's skepticism about the wisdom of investing through thick and thin used to put him at odds with those who espouse a buy-and-hold strategy. But since markets turned brutal last fall, other planners have started to wonder if they could do better by taking a more active role in money management.

To Bregman, buy-and-hold is just one way of managing money. When he was studying for his chartered financial analyst certification in the late 1990s, he was exposed to investment ideas, such as arbitrage pricing theory, other than Modern Portfolio Theory, the cornerstone of many financial-planning practices. He also learned stock analysis. He came to the conclusion that no one way of investing makes sense all the time. Bregman borrows from all these schools of thought. He calls his money management style "investing in the moment."

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