A Key to Financial Success

Blog post #393

It can seem easy to remain invested in stocks when they are increasing.

You likely don’t feel worried or stressed when your assets are increasing, when you are making money. 

Your real test occurs when financial markets are down…when you are losing money. 

As your advisor, some key information can be helpful to your financial success. 

We want to help you to have reasonable expectations of the stock market. 

If you have reasonable expectations of the stock market, in advance, both positive and negative, this should help you to be a better long term investor. 

The US stock market, as defined by the S&P 500 Index**, has delivered an average annual return of around 10% since 1926. 

While we recommend investing in a globally diversified stock portfolio, using the S&P 500 Index as a base for discussing the stock market in general is appropriate for purposes of this post, even though the Index consists of only US based large companies. 

How often has the S&P 500 Index’s annual returns actually delivered returns near 10%? Actually, quite infrequently. 

The results are surprising! In Exhibit 1 below, there is a shaded band which represents the 10% historical average, plus or minus 2%. Thus, the band represents annual returns between 8-12%. As Exhibit 1 below shows, the S&P 500 Index has had returns of between 8-12% in only 6 of the past 93 calendar years, between 1926-2018. 

In most years, the Index’s return was outside of the 8-12% range, often above or below by a wide margin, with no clear pattern or predictability. 

The Index was down in 24 of the 93 years. That is 26% of the years. That means that 74% of the years, or almost 3 of every 4 years, the Index has been positive. That should help you to remain invested when the down years do occur. 

This emphasizes the point that while investing in stocks comes with significant volatility, the downward fluctuations are temporary. You need to have the emotional ability to stick with your asset allocation to stocks during the down years, to reap the long term positive rewards which stocks have provided in the past and are expected to in the future. 

You can potentially increase your chances of having a positive financial outcome by maintaining a long term focus. As Exhibit 2 documents, the longer you invest, your odds of success improve. While positive performance is not guaranteed, the past evidence is very strong. 



This data is for 12 month rolling time periods, not calendar years, between 1926-2018. For example, the first period starts in January, 1926. The second period starts in February, 1926. 

As the chart shows…
* 95% of the 10 year rolling periods were positive
* 88% of the 5 year rolling periods were positive and
* 75% of the one year rolling periods were positive. 

What can help you endure the ups and downs of the stock market?

There are no easy or simple answers. We feel that working with an advisor that provides you with this type of data, and explanations, can be a valuable starting point. 

If you are aware of the range of potential outcomes of the stock market, it should help you to remain disciplined. In the long term, this can increase your odds of a successful financial experience. 

We want to help you to be prepared for stock market volatility, as no one knows when that will occur. 

We want to help you to react rationally, and not emotionally, to the stock market, so that you can focus on the long term and strive to reach your long term financial goals. 

We strive to provide you with clarity and guidance, so you can have a greater sense of financial security, comfort and success

If you are not a client, we would be pleased to talk with you.  Call or email us.

If you are a client and have friends or relatives that could benefit from this type of guidance which you have received, please let them know about our firm.  We would be pleased to help them as well.  You can start the conversation.

For more reading on this topic, see our prior blog post, “When Average is Not Average.”

Source: The Uncommon Average, White Paper published by Dimensional Fund Advisors, May 2019 

**The Standard & Poor’s Composite 500 Index consists of 500 of the largest companies based in the U.S. The companies in the Index change over time. You should also realize that the companies within the S & P 500 have changed frequently over this period, as companies grow, fail, merge and get acquired.


Changing Perspectives

Blog post #392

After my three-day learning group session ended with fellow advisors from across the country in Monterrey, California, I went for a walk before heading north towards the airport. 

As I walked along the jagged, rocky Pacific Coast, I came upon a group of people peering into the Pacific Ocean. 

I took the following picture…..as I was focused on the ocean waves crashing into the rocks. 

As I got closer to this gathering, it seemed like some of them had pretty extensive photography equipment. Some were talking, others just looking out. But I didn’t listen carefully enough. I took this next picture….still focusing on the water. I was looking for sea lions, but didn’t see any in the water. But I kept looking…..

Then I heard what the others were saying. I listened better. Then I realized my focus was wrong. I had the wrong perspective.

I was looking out too far. My focus was incorrect. 

Much closer to me, but not in the water, were many sea lions or sea otters warming themselves on the beach… not in the water. This is what the others were focused on, which I did not see at all. 

*******

As investors, you may sometimes be focused on the wrong thing. It is our role, as your guide and financial advisor, to help you to focus on the right things. We want you to have the proper perspective.

You may be focused on political concerns or that the US or other International economies may be slowing. 

However, we feel that it is vital to remain invested, as appropriate to your personal Investment Policy Statement (asset allocation plan). We feel that this discipline is important to help you reach your long term financial goals. We think this is the best perspective for your financial future. 

So while it may be true that the US or International economies may be slowing, with that perspective, you may not realize that US and globally diversified stock funds are up double digits for the year. 

Is your focus and perspective on the right things? Are you focusing on the long-term or what you can control?

*******

For the past 15 years, I have been privileged to be part of an incredible learning group. We started in 2005, with a core group of advisors who were willing to try something new and join a program led by a financial industry expert, for a significant fee. The group’s members and how it has been run has gradually changed and evolved over the years, but the focus has always been on learning from each other and from the many speakers we brought in.

These meetings and the discussions, and during regular calls between meetings, gave us new perspectives. It helped to make sure we were focused and had the right perspective….what were the best ways to serve and advise our clients. We wanted to keep current and exchange ideas, so we could be better for you, our clients. 

Since the very first session in the summer of 2005 in Santa Monica, CA, I have not missed what became an annual Spring meeting, as well as October sessions, and for the past few years, a few days in January. 

For a multitude of reasons, I will likely be part of a new learning group starting this fall.I have mixed emotions about this transition, as I have developed great personal relationships with the members of my group. However, many of these advisors are older than me and will become part of a group which will have a greater focus on issues related to their own retirement transitioning. Their perspective is different than mine, as I am not retiring anytime soon. 

As we discussed the group’s transition Monday morning, one member from Nashville stated “this is about business. It’s not personal.” And he is right. I need to do what is best for my clients, which is what we always strive to do. 

While I may miss some of these personal connections that I have made, I will surely develop new ones….and that is exciting and invigorating to me. It is an opportunity to learn and exchange ideas with a new group of outstanding advisors. 

And that is really the primary goal of these learning groups. My responsibility, focus and perspective is always to strive to be a better advisor, to continually learn and develop a better firm, so we can better serve, guide and advise you, our clients, as best as we can. 

*******

As I write this on the plane back from California Wednesday morning, I have many pages of notes, ideas and concepts. I look forward to digging deeper and implementing the ideas that were presented and discussed, which will benefit you, our valued clients. 

From the broadest perspective, I remain very confident in our long- term investment strategy. 

As I tighten the focus, our mission is to strive to provide each of you with an excellent financial experience, hopefully for your lifetime.

And we will have a far better chance of providing you with a successful financial experience by participating in these learning groups, as well as other ways to learn and strive to always get better. 

******

If you have worked with other financial advisors, you may (or may not) realize that many of them likely do not participate in these types of learning experiences. Ours are not trips provided as a reward for selling a certain mutual fund or reaching some sales/commission target. 

If you have friends or relatives that could benefit from the advice and guidance which you have received, and from the dedication to continuous learning that we have, please let them know about our firm. We would be pleased to help them as well. You can start the conversation. 


Should You Get Out or Stay for the Ride?

Blog post #391

As many US market indices are at or near all time highs, and International markets are also performing strongly, many are asking the opposite question. Have US markets reached new peaks? Will they go higher? 

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal had an article titled “As Stocks Climb, Some Investors Wonder When to Get Out.” The article started by asking that as stock indices approach new record highs, it “leaves investors with a difficult choice: Lock in this year’s startling gains or hang on for the ride?”*

As an investor (and client), this may seem like a reasonable question. What should you do and how should you react when markets set new records? Will markets go higher? Should you be selling now?

This is another time we can be valuable as your financial advisor and guide, to provide you with advice and clarity during key moments and to help you avoid what could be a critical financial mistake.

We encourage and help you to be rationally optimistic. We help you to be rational, and not emotional, as you deal with uncertainty, especially in the financial markets. These principles enable us to provide you with financial and investment advice that is timeless and can be effective, if you are disciplined and patient.

We remain rationally optimistic about the long term financial markets, both in the US and overseas. History and academic data teaches us that corporate earnings will continue to grow, which will lead to higher stock markets in the future, both in the US and Internationally. 

Despite the fears and declines at the end of 2018, far more corporations have reported solid earnings for the first quarter of 2019 (so far) than declines in their revenues or earnings. Good earnings reports and guidance for continued earnings growth, along with the change to stable interest rates, have propelled stocks so far in 2019. 

Even though US markets may be at or nearing highs, and International markets are doing well, we recommend that for your long term financial future, you do not exit the stock market. This should not be a time to sell off a major portion of your stock investments.We know that you cannot successfully and accurately time the markets and predict the high and low points.

Instead, as your financial advisor, we already have a plan in place to handle market increases, which we call “rebalancing.” We have developed an Investment Policy Statement for each client, which details the intended allocation to stocks, based on your specific circumstances. 

For example, if your target allocation to stocks is 50%, as markets increase and the stock allocation increases to 55%, we would review your accounts and consider selling certain stock asset classes, to bring that allocation back towards 50%. We do not do this in an attempt to time the markets or make short-term market predictions. This is a disciplined strategy of maintaining your desired stock allocation, which has the long-term benefit of selling high and buying low. 

This gradual tweaking of your portfolio does allow for some selling as markets reach new highs, but more importantly, also allows you the opportunity to gain from further long-term increases in the markets.

Remember, the stock market has many more positive days and years than negative ones.

Remember, US and International stock markets have increased significantly over years and decades. We expect these long term trends to continue, with bumps along the way, of course. 

To reap these long term rewards, you must remain invested in stocks. You must be in the game.  You should stay for the long-term journey.

And it’s our role to help you along the way, so you can remain invested and have the ability to reap the long-term benefits that stocks can provide. 

Prior to working with our firm, you may not have had a disciplined strategy for how to handle the stock market reaching new peaks. Now
you do. 

We provide you with understandable answers and advice to these key questions. We provide you with clarity and guidance, so you can have a greater sense of financial security, comfort and success. 

If you have friends or relatives that could benefit from the advice and guidance which you have received, please let them know about our firm. We would be pleased to help them as well. You can start the conversation. 

Source

“As Stocks Climb, Some Investors Wonder When to Get Out.”The Wall Street Journal, by Ira Iosebashvili 04/22/2019  


Make Things Better

Blog post #390

Better implies that what you have right now can be improved. It is an assertion that requires confidence to say it and the optimism that it’s possible. 

Make implies that it’s up to you (and us). Someone needs to make it better. Better requires change, and change can be scary for some people. 

These are thoughts from a recent blog post, Make Things Better, by Seth Godin. Seth writes a daily blog, which I highly recommend, and is a prolific author.

Godin’s blog post about “make things better” is meaningful to us for what it represents about the values, goals and service that WWM provides to our clients.

We started WWM in 2003 to make things better. We entered the financial advisory business because we knew there were better ways to provide comprehensive financial and investment advice.

Investing can be complex. You may have had bad experiences in the past. You may have had advisors or brokers you thought were doing a good job, but something went wrong. You may not understand how to choose your 401(k) plan investments.

The financial world can be daunting and ever changing. You may not know what stocks, mutual funds or other investments are best for you. Tax and estate laws change. Retirement planning requires understanding and coordinating many types of data. 

You may not know the actual costs of your investments and whether you are paying hidden fees. You may not know how your money is really invested, especially if you have accounts at multiple places or brokers. 

Fees and costs are important and a critical component of investment success. We are transparent about our fees and the costs of the investments that we recommend to clients. When we meet with prospects, our fees and the total costs are generally much lower than the prospects current situation. We are not compensated by the investments we recommend, which is very different than traditional brokerage firm models. 

We believe your investments should be coordinated, so you have a real financial plan, which we call an “Investment Policy Statement.” We will advise you on your 401(k) plan and the many retirement decisions and issues you face. We can help you plan for Social Security and develop retirement projections. By having advisors develop a coordinated plan for you, this should reduce your financial anxiety and stress.

Working with a firm with a long-term investment philosophy which we feel is understandable, disciplined and rationale can help to provide you with confidence and security, regardless of how the financial markets are doing. We explain things in English. We communicate with you regularly, such as this blog, in a manner that helps you understand what is going on in the financial world. We know that clarity and understanding are important. 

We are very pro-active in our efforts to reduce and minimize the taxes related to your investments. We utilize tax-managed asset class mutual funds, which strive to minimize the taxes distributed from the fund, without hindering the performance. This type of fund is still relatively rare in the financial world. When appropriate, we place trades to recognize tax losses or avoid taxable fund distributions. We did a lot of these for clients last year, as applicable. 

For those clients who are now working with us, in Seth Godin’s terms, these people reviewed their situation at the time they first talked with us and thought working with us could make their financial lives better. They took the initiative to change, even if the change was difficult to do. 

We work hard at getting better. We take our role in providing you and your family with financial advice and guidance very seriously. 

If you are a current client, we hope that we have made things better for you. That is certainly one of our goals. If you have friends or relatives that could benefit from the advice, clarity and guidance we provide, please let them know about our firm. Forward these blog posts or share with them. 

If you are not yet a client but a reader of these posts and think you may be ready to consider a “change for the better,” please call or email us to schedule an appointment. 

Jeopardy phenom continues at record pace

As a follow up to last week’s blog post, James Holzhauer has continued with his incredible pace of Jeopardy winnings, as he has won $697,787 in 10 straight wins. Holzhauer now has the 4 highest winning games, including 3 games of more than $100,000 each. He is averaging almost $70,000 per night, while 74 game winner Ken Jennings averaged below $34,000 per game.

His speed, knowledge and confidence in betting are remarkable. My big question is when he eventually loses, will he be beat by a smarter and faster contestant, or will the cause be his own overconfidence? 

“All in” on must see Jeopardy phenom

Blog post #389

A professional sports gambler set a Jeopardy single game winning record of $110,914 on Tuesday’s episode. 

But that one day win is only part of the story. 

James Holzhauer has won an astounding $298,687 in 5 wins. His aggressive betting, different game strategy and vast knowledge has resulted in must see viewing. He is averaging almost $47,000 in his other 4 wins, which is far higher than typical winners. For perspective, Ken Jennings averaged $34,000 per night during his record 74 game win streak in 2004.

Holzhauer has turned the game upside down with his strategy. Most contestants start at the top of the board, starting with the small dollar clues in each category. Holzhauer picks the most valuable clues across the entire board first, which can earn him the most money the fastest. This enables him to bet super aggressively if he gets one of the 3 Daily Doubles, which he can bet up to his full winnings at that point in the game. He has repeatedly gone all in with huge bets, even at critical points in the game.

His change in strategy, how he plays the board, is interesting. I wonder why no other contestants, particularly those who have been very successful on the show in the past, have not tried his strategy? 

Similarly, for many of our prospects, and now clients, we present a different approach to investing than most had used in the past. However, once you understand it, you see the logic in our investment strategy. It will be interesting to see if future Jeopardy contestants adopt Holzhauer’s strategy in the future.

On Jeopardy, speed and information are key. Holzhauer is very fast with the buzzer, which then gives him an advantage, so he can try to answer the question correctly. And he is certainly well informed, as he correctly answered 129 of 133 attempts, through the 4th game. 

In investing, we do not feel that speed or certain information matters. Company specific information is supposed to be public and disseminated to all at the same time. Unless you have inside information, which is illegal, speed should not be an advantage. Earning announcements are generally either before or after the markets open or close. Major financial institutions can react quicker than individuals can, but they all get public information simultaneously. We rely on academic data and historical information for our investment philosophy, so speed is not critical. At times, we feel patience can actually be an advantage over speed. 

Holzhauer can have a significant advantage by being faster with the buzzer. However, he cannot control what categories he will face each show and the knowledge or expertise his fellow contestants have. He may be very skilled, but he may face a competitor that is even faster at the buzzer or smarter than he is on certain topics. He can only control his ability. 

In our investment strategy for stocks of using asset class mutual funds which are globally diversified, we take the view that active money managers cannot provide added value to you by being smarter than the market, over long periods of time. Active managers do research and charge higher costs to their investors, but extensive data shows that these active managers generally underperform their respective benchmarks.

Holzhauer has made very aggressive bets. So far they have paid off spectacularly. But his overconfidence may cost him a win at some point.

During his record breaking one night win, he bet all his money, about $34,000, early in the second “Double Jeopardy” round. He was far ahead of the two other contestants, but if he had answered the question incorrectly, he would have blown his insurmountable lead.  When he made this $34,000 wager, he must have felt that if he answered wrong, he was very confident he would recapture the lead because he was faster at the buzzer and then could answer subsequent questions correctly. He did get the question correct and went on to win.  His great confidence has resulted in huge success, so far. To keep winning, he will have to balance his aggressiveness without being too overconfident.

For many investors, investing in individual stocks has great appeal. You think you know what company, store or product will be successful, so you invest in it. Many years ago, before I began this firm, I thought I could identify mutual funds based on their past track records or reading about the money managers. All too often, this overconfidence in our abilities to pick financial winners does not prove out to be as successful as we would hope. Unexpected things happen to companies or sectors that we think are good ones. The world changes. Amazon comes along and online shopping has hurt the stocks of many retailers, for example. 

Holzhauer has made huge bets, relative to what others contestants have done in the past. I went back and watched online the previous highest single game winner, from 2010. That contestant bet $7,000 when he had $25,800 and $5,000 when he had $33,600. In comparison, Holzhauer bet his entire $14,600 early in the game, $25,000 later in the game and then wagered $38,314 on the Final Jeopardy question (though he could have bet more), as his goal was to win $110,914, as the total represented his daughter’s birthday, 11/09/14. 

Holzhauer is a professional gambler and he may already be wealthy. He obviously is a risk taker. He told ESPN “…my work is similar to an investment bank, except that I’m the analyst, trader, fund manager and day trader all into one.”**

In our investment firm, as we work with clients, we want to take appropriate risks, but not more risk than is necessary. We plan and discuss with you how much risk you need to take, and are comfortable with, to reach your various financial goals.

James Holzhauer is a highly intelligent person and professional gambler. I hope he continues to win, as he is great to watch.

This contestant is playing a game. He may be ok with “risking it all” on one question or taking outsized gambles on his ability to answer a single question, which may lead to huge success or failure. 

We feel strongly that broad diversification is prudent and advisable for your financial future. We are not “going all in” on one stock or any particular financial sector. 

As we manage your investments and provide you with financial advice, we want you to be comfortable and be able to sleep well at night.

Cite:

**”Sports Gambler James Holzhauer Shatters ‘Jeopardy!’ Winnings Record”,www.huffpost.com, 04/10/2019 by Ron Dicker

Sources:
“Professional sports bettor sets ‘Jeopardy!’ record”www.ESPN.com, 04/10/2019 by David Purdum

The secret weapon of the sports gambler who just broke the single-game ‘Jeopardy!’ record?  Children’s books.“,www.washingtonpost.com, 04/10/2019

www.jeopardy.com

Spring Investment Fundamentals

Blog post #388

The 2019 baseball season has just begun. 

This means that spring training has just concluded, which is the time when experienced players and rookies alike focus on the fundamentals of the game. Even though these players are the very best in their sport, they have just spent many weeks practicing baseball basics under the direction of their coaches.

The players went through repeated drills and practiced skills they have been doing ever since they were youngsters first playing baseball. Repetition. Reinforcement. Remembering the basics!

In that spirit, let’s review some investment fundamentals. 

Over the very long term, returns from stocks in the US and Internationally have far outperformed the returns of investment grade bonds, by a significant margin. 

It thus makes sense to own stocks, and not bonds, if you want your investment portfolio to grow over the long term.

The long term return of the S&P 500, representing large US based companies, is around 10% annually. We believe in a well diversified global portfolio, which includes small and large companies, as well as value companies. This type of globally diversified portfolio has future expected returns that should exceed that of the S&P 500 alone, over the long term.

To get the reward of the long term returns of stocks, you must endure the volatility that comes with owning stocks. This is a temporary risk, as diversified stock markets have climbed higher over time.

  • For example, the S&P 500, an index of 500 US-based companies, of which the companies in the index change over time, has increased over 25 times since the beginning of 1980.
  • The S&P 500 has increased from 108 on January 1, 1980 to greater than 2,800 in April, 2019.

The temporary risk is the challenge. The hard part for most investors is dealing with the volatility, like when markets drop by 20% or more. This has happened and will continue to occur, about once every 5 years since WW II. 

Helping you to deal with this volatility is one of the key benefits we can provide to you.

As stock markets cannot be consistently or accurately forecasted, the only way to benefit from the returns of the stock market is to remain invested in stocks, in accordance with the stock allocation that is determined to be appropriate for your specific situation. You can’t time stock markets. It doesn’t work. 

During the baseball season, a manager and coaches will continually remind their players of the key fundamentals, to help them succeed.

We remind you of these concepts to help you reach your financial goals. 

  • Risk and return are related.
  • The better your ability to emotionally handle the temporary drops of the stock market, the greater your chances are to reap the long term rewards that stocks can provide.
  • We will be here to guide and advise you.

Talk to us.


Handling recession and interest rate fears

Blog post #387

The economy and investment worries are always changing. 

Last year, many feared the impact of trade wars and rising interest rates to their portfolio. 

Most investors had portfolios that declined in 2018 but have seen a strong rebound so far in 2019.

Recently, there has been growing concern that due to slowing economic growth, stock portfolios may be at risk if there is a recession. If the US or global economies continues to slow, that could worsen and turn into a recession, which means at least two quarters of decline in the economy. 

Interest rates have dropped recently, so that some longer-term rates are now paying less than some short-term interest rates. For example, the three-month Treasury bill is yielding 2.439%, while the 10-year Treasury note is yielding 2.374% as of Wednesday afternoon. This is called an “inversion” of part of the bond yield curve. Some forecasters feel this type of “inversion” is an early warning sign of a future recession.

Should you be worried about this?

If you are not working with an experienced team of financial advisors, you could be worried. 

If you do not get clear and timely information, you could be worried. 

Why we don’t think you should be worried.

If you get advice and guidance from a financial advisor such as WWM, you have a long-term investment plan in place which is based on sound philosophies, so we don’t think you should be worried. We plan with you for these types of occurrences, even though we cannot predict when they will occur.

Recessions are very hard to predict. And when recessions do occur, they usually do not last that long, ranging from 6 months to less than two years. Since the Great Depression in 1929-1933, which lasted 3 years and 7 months, the longest recession was 18 months, from December 2007- June, 2009.*

And there is not necessarily a direct correlation between the timing of recessions and the impact on your investments. The stock market can decline before a recession starts and rise before a recession ends. We do not feel that what happens in the next 3-6-18 months, to the economy or your investments, should impact your ability to reach your long-term financial goals, with sound financial planning and investment advice. 

A recession does not mean that the stock market will necessarily incur the huge declines that were experienced in 2007-2009. That is always a possibility, as major declines generally occur at least once every 5 years, but again, these types of downturns cannot be reliably and accurately predicted in advance. 

Thus, fears about a potential recession should not translate into a change in your long-term investment plan of action. In a CNBC interview on Thursday, March 28th, Warren Buffett was asked about a potential recession and the impact of that on his investment strategy. He reiterated his belief, which we agree with, that you can’t predict when events like recessions will occur and it would not change his long-term desire to buy and hold stocks.

If you work with WWM, you have an investment plan that is developed for your personal situation. We view these plans as long term, to cover your financial goals and objectives for many years. You would have a globally diversified asset allocation mix (the amount of stocks and fixed income investments) that is appropriate for your goals and risk tolerance. 

If you work with WWM and you are in retirement, your investment plan is designed for decades, to support your desired standard of living. 

If you are saving for college or retirement, your plan is intended to suit you for many years or decades, during both good and bad stock market periods. 

We understand that at times you may have concerns or worries. If you are still worried after reading this, that is what we are here for. Call us and let’s discuss it. 

Working with WWM, we strive to guide you through the always changing economy and financial markets with a solid investment philosophy.  We strive to provide you with advice, re-assurance and clarity. 

We don’t want you to panic and sell because of fear. That could be detrimental to your financial future. Selling because of fears and downturns could reduce, not increase, your long-term goal of financial success. 

We want you to understand what is happening in the financial world, so that you will have the fortitude to adhere to your long-term financial plan. We feel that sticking to a long-term plan that we develop for you is much more likely to lead you to financial comfort and success. 

If you are not working with WWM and not receiving our financial advice, we encourage you to contact us. See the difference that we can make in your financial life. 

Source:

* “List of recessions in the United States“, Wikipedia


Major Financial Plot Twist

Blog post #386

In December and the fall of 2018, the Federal Reserve played the role of villain.

They had raised short term interest raises for five consecutive quarters and were projecting more increases for 2019 and 2020.

As a result of these increases, the Federal Reserve appeared to be Grinch-like just prior to last Christmas, which contributed to significant stock market losses in 2018. See our blog post, Is the Fed acting like Grinch?, from December, 2018. 

But in January, the Federal Reserve began changing the plot in this economic story. They went from villain to hero, at least as far as global stock markets and investors are concerned. 

Since their late December meeting, Federal Reserve officials have signaled in speeches and meetings that further rate increases may not be needed in the near term. 

This change in the Fed’s stance, though caused by their concern that US and global economies are slowing in growth, are a large factor in the strong performance of major US and global stock indices so far in 2019.

To reap the long-term benefits of investing in a globally diversified stock market portfolio requires patience and discipline. If you were patient and disciplined in late 2018, and didn’t overreact to the 2018 stock market declines, you have likely been rewarded in 2019.

The Federal Reserve announced no new short-term interest rate changes this week and projects no increases for the remainder of 2019, after their recent two day meeting. The average member now expects a single .25% increase next year, in 2020, and no increases for 2021. 

This is a major change from their position in December, 2018, when Board members forecasted two .25% rate increases in 2019, which was a reduction from their projections earlier in 2018 for three 2019 increases.

The Fed reaffirmed its stance that it “will be patient” in determining future interest rate changes, based on observed economic data (past economic activity) and expected future conditions.

It is clear once again that economists are not able to accurately predict the future.The Fed is supposed to have some of the top economic experts in the country, yet their “dot plot” forecasts of future interest rate expectations have consistently been inaccurate over past years. 

How will the economy act in the future? Will the Fed play the role of villain or hero?

We know that the future story will likely not play out as currently forecasted. There will be events and changes that can’t be anticipated. No one really knows the economic future, how the trade issues will be resolved or the pace of growth. It is likely that the Fed’s current dot plot forecasts of future short term interest rate changes will be different than they predicted this week. We don’t know when or if they will raise or even reduce rates, or the pace of the actual future changes…from what they predict now. 

This reaffirms our philosophy of not investing based on interest rate predictions. This is why we believe in using laddered fixed income holdings, spread across various maturities, and not betting on interest rate moves. This is why we don’t make stock market investments and recommendations based on predictions. 

Fed Chair Jerome Powell still expects the US economy to “grow at a solid pace” in 2019, but at a slower pace than in 2018. This is causing longer term interest rates, such as the 10 year bond, to decline even further than expected. The rate was over 3.24% in early November, 2.77% in late December, 2018 and was 2.54% Wednesday afternoon, which was the lowest level since January, 2018.

We always stress that investors need to be focused on the long-term. Commenting about these Federal Reserve changes may appear that we are focusing on the short term. However, we feel that it is important to share our thoughts and analysis about current market news and actions.

You want investment and financial advice. You want reassurance and confidence, with a future that is uncertain.

We can provide you with clarity, perspective and solid answers. 

We can guide you through financial complexity and work toward increasing your changes of meeting your financial and retirement goals. 

Talk to us.

Investing and Brackets

Next week, much of the country will participate in the annual fun of trying to choose which college basketball teams will do best in the NCAA national basketball championship tournament.

They will get the brackets, print them out or make their picks online. Have fun! And hope for the best. 

Picking the winning teams can be like investing. There are many different approaches. Some make sense. Some don’t. Some are effective, some are not. 

We cannot help you to have the top, most successful bracket selections to win your basketball pool, but we want you to do well. To outperform all the other people in a basketball pool, you have to take risk, and likely a lot of risk at some point. You have to get lucky. You probably need to choose some long shots and try to predict some upsets that you hope will occur along the way. You have to take some chances, if you want to outperform all the other entrants. 

We work with realistic goals and we want to help you to succeed financially.  When we make investment recommendations and structure a portfolio for you, making you the absolute most money is not our goal. That would require taking on too much risk for most people. That is not our approach or our philosophy. 

Our goal, and we think yours as well, is to perform well. It means that we make solid decisions and use processes and philosophies that strive to set you up for the best chance of financial success, in an unknown and unpredictable world. 

We believe in globally diversified portfolios. We believe that utilizing low cost mutual funds is vital, as striving to minimize your costs makes a difference over the long term. We use tax managed funds when possible, to strive to reduce your taxes. 

When you fill out your brackets, you can use different approaches. 

You can choose teams that you know. You can base your selections on past winners or the team colors. You can choose against Duke, if you don’t like them, just because. All of these are emotionally based decisions, not a rational process for decision making. We use rational thinking, not emotions, when making investment decisions. 

You can go with the favorites. This would be quite logical, the vast majority of the time. The college teams are seeded by a group of people (the selection committee) that spends a huge amount of time to analyze the teams, their records and all sorts of other data. The committee seeds the teams in each of the four regions from 1-16. 

If you do this every year, and you base your picks on the seedings and choose the favorites until the Final Four, you will most likely do pretty well. You will probably not win a pool in any given year. But we doubt that you will be consistently near the very bottom of your pool most of the time. You will likely have far more success than failure, in terms of your overall long term performance. 

This is similar to the strategy that we adhere to for picking stocks. We don’t strive to pick the major upsets. We don’t pick individual stocks. We go with the approach that the “committee” is pretty smart and that will lead to good long term performance, better than most others over the long term. 

This is in contrast to people who actively try to pick and choose lots of upsets and underdogs. Who they think will do the best, even though the future is unknown. You can spend hours reading all sorts of “experts” on various websites or listening to other “experts” on TV or talk radio programs. You could even pay for access to certain websites or information, because you think they are really in the know. 

You can follow this type of advice, but do you know how they performed last year? Or the year before? And even if you identified an “expert” who did well in the past, how do you know that will lead to good (or outstanding) performance in this year’s tournament? It probably does not! They most likely got lucky one year. They picked a team that turned out to be hot and rode that to glory. Or, it’s just their job to be the “expert” and they are good at doing predictions and interviews in the media. 

So even if you find the best expert and follow their advice, wouldn’t others eventually also learn about them? Over a few years, if someone was really able to consistently be the best at tournament picks (which is highly unlikely), their advice would become so well known that the value of their advice would diminish. Information spreads rapidly and everyone has access to it. 

This is how the stock market and active money managers and mutual fund managers work. You pay a lot for their management with the hope they will deliver better performance, but in the long run, the vast majority underperform their benchmarks averages, which is the equivalent of the tournament committee’s seedings. 

We hope you enjoy the NCAA tournament and your picks are winners. It’s supposed to be fun. You can take some chances and risks. Your future is not dependent on it. 

But for investing, for your serious money and your financial future, we hope you understand the analogy here and follow our rational approach and investing philosophy. 

Let’s Talk

Checking up on things

While we regularly monitor our client’s investments, there are some things you should be regularly checking up on. Just like your annual physical, we recommend that you review the following on a regular basis.

Social Security….For most people, Social Security benefits are a key component of their retirement planning. If you have not yet started collecting Social Security, you should regularly review your Social Security information and future benefit projections. You should verify that the earnings data on record is accurate. You should review this information with your financial advisor.

Social Security stopped sending everyone annual paper statements a number of years ago. To review your data online, go to: www.ssa.gov/myaccount to establish your own Social Security account. Each individual needs to do this. It cannot be done as a couple. You will need to create a user name and password. SSA’s password requirements are very strong, which is good. Be sure to save it, and they require you to establish a new password every 6 months.

Credit scores…You should regularly monitor your credit score and credit report activity.

There are now many credit cards that provide you with your credit score for free, so this is much easier to obtain than it was years ago. It is a good idea to track your score, to monitor if there are changes, and especially declines. Again, if you are married, you should check the score for each spouse, as scores can be quite different.

Your credit score is not influenced at all by your income or assets. Credit scores are based on formulas which factor your total debt, the age of your various types of debt, how much of your credit you have used, the type of debt you have and your payment history, including late payments.

We recommend that every adult should have some credit cards in their individual name only, in addition to any joint credit.

You should review your full credit report at least annually. This way, you can review all of your current and past credit and to see if anyone has established credit cards or other debt that you did not authorize. Each spouse should review their own report, as they are separate.

The best website to obtain a free credit report is: http://www.annualcreditreport.com/. This site is governed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You may also call 877-322-8228.  This site will provide you with a link to get your credit report and you will need to answer a number of personal questions, for identification purposes.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees consumers access to their credit report information from each of the three credit reporting companies, once per year, for free. The best and only way to ensure that you are getting this information for free is to use the above website, http://www.annualcreditreport.com/.

One member of our firm uses Credit Karma. Credit Karma can be accessed through their website, https://www.creditkarma.com/, or you can install the app on your smart phone. Credit Karma gives you free access to your credit scores, reports and monitoring. You can get your scores and reports from TransUnion and Equifax with weekly updates. The app is free to use.

We hope these are helpful reminders. 

If you have any questions on the information you gather from getting these reports, please let us know.