Lucia spends a minute or so explaining what the charges are (and what they are not) and then takes up the allegation he says is at the root of the charges filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: his use of a 3 percent historical inflation rate in his retirement planning strategy.
Lucia notes that the 3 percent historical rate is “universally accepted by among others the AARP and the federal government, including the SEC.”
It’s an excellent strategy no doubt devised by Lucia’s lawyers at Locke Lord in Los Angeles. It puts gets him out quickly with a response that zeros in on the weakest link in the SEC allegations and attemps to spin the allegations as a dispute over statistics.
Of couse, it’s more than a dispute over statistics. Lucia goes out and tells people that his “Buckets of Money” strategy has been proven over time to allow them to retire in comfort. Lucia claims that he has “spent 20 years refinining” his “time-tested” strategy, which follows “science, not art.”
Well, sure that’s what everyone wants to hear. But when the SEC asked for proof, Lucia coughed up nothing more than a pair of two-page Excel spreadsheets put together by one of his employees in 2003.
And it’s the employee spreadsheets that use this hypothetical 3 percent inflation rate. The actual historical inflation rates available here show a wide fluctuation in inflation rates over time. In 1974, the year of the OPEC oil embargo, inflation zoomed to 11 percent. In 1980, after another oil shock and the Iran hostage crisis, it was 13.5 percent.
The SEC notes:
Lucia admittedly knew that using a lower inflation rate for the backtests would make the results look more favorable for the [Buckets of Money] strategy.
This is the heart of the issue: Lucia used the lazy, shorthand of 3 percent because it makes him look better. Those “Buckets of Money” don’t look quite so full when you use the actual (higher) historical inflation numbers. For the same reason, Lucia also didn’t include the massive fees his clients are charged. Apparently, the way to keep your bucket full is to pretend that inflation is less than it really is and ignore the high fees you’re paying.
As a radio host broadcasting his message over many radio stations, Lucia has a huge soapbox. As an SEC registered investment advisor, Lucia has a duty to do the math, to tell his clients the straight truth. So kudos to the SEC for calling his bluff.
This has restored my faith in government…
Washington, D.C., Sept. 5, 2012 – The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a nationally syndicated radio personality and financial advice author for spreading misleading information about his “Buckets of Money” strategy at a series of investment seminars that he and his company hosted for potential clients.
The SEC’s Division of Enforcement alleges that investment adviser Ray Lucia, Sr. claimed that the wealth management strategy he promoted at the seminars had been empirically “backtested” over actual bear market periods. Backtesting is the process of evaluating a strategy, theory, or model by applying it to historical data and calculating how it would have performed had it actually been used in a prior time period.
“Lucia and RJL left their seminar attendees with a false sense of comfort about the Buckets of Money strategy,” said Michele Wein Layne, Regional Director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office. “The so-called backtests weren’t really backtests, and the strategy wasn’t proven as they claimed.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against Lucia and RJL, they held the seminars highlighting their Buckets of Money strategy in an effort to obtain advisory clients who would be charged fees in return for their advisory services. They promoted the seminars on Lucia’s radio show and on Lucia’s personal and company websites.
According to the SEC’s order, a backtest must utilize actual data from the time period in order to get an accurate result. Lucia and RJL have admitted during the SEC’s investigation that the only testing they actually performed were some calculations that Lucia made in the late 1990s – copies of which no longer exist – and two two-page spreadsheets.
According to the SEC’s order, the two cursory spreadsheets that Lucia claims were backtests used a hypothetical 3 percent inflation rate even though this was lower than actual historical rates. Lucia admittedly knew that using the lower hypothetical inflation rate would make the results look more favorable for the Buckets of Money strategy. These alleged backtests also failed to account for the negative effect that the deduction of advisory fees would have had on the backtesting of their investment strategy, and their “backtesting” did not even allocate in the manner called for by Lucia’s Buckets of Money strategy. The slideshow presentation that Lucia and RJL used during the seminars failed to disclose the flaws in their alleged backtests and was materially misleading.
I’ve recently been contacted by a few disgruntled Ray Lucia investors who found their way to my website and asked for my help. Short of recommending they file complaints the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and FINRA, there was little I could do.
However, since I’m one of the few people writing about Lucia, I’ve become a sort of clearing house for these people. One investor who recently contacted me on behalf of her 75-year-old father wants to organize a meeting and speak to others in the same situation. This person was able to get dad out of one of the non-tradeable REITs that Ray Lucia (senior, not junior) stuck him in and is willing to share with others how to do it themselves.
So, if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pass along the details.
Actor and corporate pitchman Ben Stein charges more than $50,000 for a single speech, according to his page at the Keppler Speakers Bureau.
If that’s the case, I would love to know how much he charges San Diego money manager Ray “Buckets of Money” Lucia for making numerous appearances each year at Lucia’s free seminars and lauding him in The New York Times as a “guru.”
Update: Lucia in 2020 settled SEC charges that he misrepresented his “Buckets of Money” investing strategy; Stein was not charged with wrongdoing.
Let’s face it: it’s Stein, not Lucia, who was the big draw at the “Buckets of Money” seminars. Stein has made a career out of being a bow-tied smartypants ever since he famously played a dull economics teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He even sued over his signature look in this lawsuit in which he describes himself as “the most famous economics teacher in the world.” In the public’s mind, Ben Stein is what an economist looks like.
The public doesn’t know or care that Stein is a securities lawyer by trade whose credentials as an economist amount to having a famous economist for a father and a bachelor’s degree in economics. Never mind that to the folks I know in the finance world think Lucia and his “buckets” are a joke. Never mind that anyone at Goldman Sachs who starts blabbing about buckets of money will be shot at dawn.
I doubt that Stein truly believes that the “genius” of Ray Lucia is his bucket strategy. His genius such as it is lies in his salesmanship. Lucia understands that regular people don’t want to read financial reports and SEC filings. They want to see a man who plays an economist on TV. They want to hear jokes get some free advice about what to do with their retirement nest eggs. They want a show.
So they come for a show and they leave with a new money manager, Lucia’s son, Ray Jr. It will take a while before these unsuspecting investors realize that Lucia Jr. has drilled holes in their buckets of money with his company’s high fees and questionable investments such as non-tradeable REITs that earn Lucia huge commissions.
Stein provides his pal Lucia an additional, equally valuable service — repeatedly dropping Lucia’s name in his business columns in The New York Times and elsewhere. Stein’s shilling got him canned from the Times, so now he name drops Lucia in his American Spectator diary.
Stein will say almost anything if you pay him. He served as an expert witness for lawyers at Milberg Weiss until the firm went down under federal indictment for bribery and fraud. He has pitched Comcast, eye drops, cars, office equipment. So it’s no surprise that Stein praises Lucia as a “guru” or a “genius” in the same breath as Warren Buffet.
But this is a particularly insidious form of advertising. If you repeat something enough times, goes the old saw, it becomes truth. Especially when you can repeat it in The New York Times.
I happened to be sitting at Morton’s restaurant in Beverly Hills a few days ago with Mr. [Phil] DeMuth and with another financial adviser for whom I have high esteem, Raymond J. Lucia (for whom – full disclosure – I am about to give a speech or two urging people to save for retirement).
Ray and Phil said something like this to me: “You know there are not a lot of shows on TV that actually teach the viewer how to be a better investor. There is a lot of stock picking and predicting what can’t be predicted, but there is not a lot that tells the ordinary Joe or Jane how to save for retirement.”
Ray and Phil were right. And they will keep being right.
~ The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2005
I was recently on a panel with the stock guru Ray Lucia, who offered overwhelming data about how impossible it was to pick stocks, trade in and out of them and fare as well as the market. His data was terrifying.
~ The New York Times, Oct. 14, 2007
I checked with my investment gurus, Phil DeMuth, Raymond J. Lucia and Kevin Hanley. None of us could see how Mr. Madoff could do what his friends said he could do.
~ The New York Times, Dec. 26, 2008
I am to give a speech at a huge gathering hosted by my pal Ray Lucia. It is about investing. He has an immense crowd of well over 1,000 people today and my job is not really to sell them anything, but to give them a general overview of the economy.
~The American Spectator, May 2010.
Now, to pack and prepare to go see my pal Ray Lucia. Ray is simply the best wealth manager I know of. He knows more about personal finance than any other person I have ever met. His advice — lots of liquidity and very wide diversification — is so sensible it has saved me from suicide many a night. This guy is a lifesaver where managing money is concerned. We are colleagues, so I am not disinterested, but even before we were colleagues, I was learning from him and being guided by him.
~The American Spectator, June 1, 2010.
I have done the best I can, with the help of some true geniuses of finance like Phil DeMuth, Chris DeMuth, Ray Lucia, Anil Vazirani, J.W. Roth and, supreme above all of them, John Bogle and Warren Buffett, to invest wisely.
~The American Spectator, Aug. 12, 2011