Market Update – January 2021

Blog post #475

As 2021 begins, the US and the world are very different than they were a year ago.

Financial markets continuously change in response to new information and unexpected events. Stock and fixed income prices move on earnings and future expectations.

What are we seeing and what are we doing?

The way that we manage your investments and strive to help you reach your financial goals are consistent and disciplined, with the flexibility to change as needed.

As uncertainty always exists, we recognize that no one, including us, can accurately and consistently predict the future. For example, no one could have predicted Covid in December 2019. Even if someone had predicted the Covid pandemic, we doubt that they could have predicted and accurately timed the rebound and strong gains in nearly all asset classes since the onset of Covid. Similarly, we cannot predict the continued impact of Covid, how successful/fast the vaccination process will be, or the impact of new Covid strains.

We remain committed to key investment principles, such as broad diversification across many asset classes, utilizing investments with very low costs, and active tax management (as applicable). These are all things that we can control and should benefit our clients.

Stock update:

Asset classes that are performing well so far in January 2021 are many of the same asset classes that performed well late in 2020 (see index definitions below). Over recent months, many asset classes are outperforming US Large stocks, as defined by the S&P 500, which is a reversal of US Large stocks outperforming most other asset classes during recent years. For illustrative and informational purposes, below are selected asset classes and return data for their respective indices that we recommend to clients:

Consider the significant gains in the sample of asset classes provided above, which have occurred since November 1. If we recommended getting out of the market or significantly reducing your stock exposure before the election, or shortly after the election, when many political changes became more likely, you may have missed out on these gains. This is why we encourage you to adhere to your asset allocation plan and focus on the longer-term, not on political proposals.

We do not make investment policy decisions based on political matters, such as potential tax increases or the size of the Federal deficit.  Financial markets, which include the stock and bond/credit markets, very quickly incorporate all known information into prices and valuations. The financial markets clearly know about the potential for personal income tax increases on high-income taxpayers and corporate tax increases, even though no one knows what proposals will become enacted or when they will be effective.

We will provide our clients with advice about these tax and other changes, as they affect each person or family. However, we do not recommend basing your long-term investment strategy on political matters, as the stock market has done well under both Republican and Democratic Presidents. There are so many other factors that impact the direction of stocks beyond just who is in the White House or what party controls Congress.

Given the significant gains in many asset classes since last March, and particularly in recent months, we are reviewing client portfolios for rebalancing (selling some stocks) for those clients whose stock allocations have exceeded their IPS (Investment Policy Statement) stock targets. This is the disciplined implementation of buying low (which we encouraged you to do starting last spring) and selling high, after significant stock increases.

We also want to remind you that stocks have increased almost straight up since early November. There has not been a significant decline in the markets (of 10% or more) since the major decline last February-March. We are not predicting a near-term decline but reminding you that 5-10% declines are normal. They frequently occur when you least expect them. You must always be emotionally prepared for these types of pullbacks, which are temporary, not permanent, and a part of investing in stocks.

We hope that information like this is helpful for you to adhere to your asset allocation plan, despite whatever uncertainty and changes are occurring in the world.

Talk to us.  We want to listen.  We want to assist you, your family members and friends.

 

 

*Indices used for the above asset classes are:
US Large stocks: S&P 500
US Large Value stocks: Russell 1000 Value
US Small Cap stocks: Russell 2000
US Small Cap Value: Russell 2000 Value
International stocks: MSCI EAFE NR USD
International Value: MSCI ACWI ex USA Value
Emerging Markets: MSCI EM NR USD
Disclosure: This data is provided for illustrative purposes only and do not represent actual mutual funds or ETFs, or actual client portfolios. We recommend more asset classes to clients than is provided above. These indices represent asset classes, which do not have fees. The actual mutual funds or ETFs would have internal expense ratios, which would reduce the returns provided above. These figures also do not include the deduction of WWM advisory fees.

 

Why this is so important

Blog post #474

One of the most important services that we provide for clients is preparing a written Investment Policy Statement (IPS) for them.

Developing a written Investment Policy Statement, along with a diversified portfolio, are critical for making the investment process more disciplined and systematic, and less emotional. For most long-term investors to meet their various financial goals and objectives, they need to be able to stay in the financial markets.

Having a written Investment Policy Statement can increase the likelihood that you will adhere to your plan (during both good and bad markets) and give you a better chance of attaining your financial goals.

An IPS document means you have a target for your asset allocation plan. You don’t just have a bunch of investments that are randomly thrown together. You have a written investment plan based on your current situation, your goals, needs, time perspective and tolerance for risk. This provides both you and us, as your advisor, with discipline to act rationally in a world full of unknowns and uncertainty. 

The IPS that we develop for each client states their overall asset allocation target, such as 70% stock / 30% fixed income, or 40% stock / 60% fixed income. It states what % of the stock allocation would be invested in the US and Internationally. It then identifies target allocations for various asset classes, such as US Large stocks, US Large value, US small and small value stocks, as well as for International asset classes and Real Estate.

For clients of our firm, having an IPS may seem logical as we have always used them.  However, some other brokers or financial advisors may not develop IPS documents or asset allocation plans for their clients.  If you don’t have a plan or target, how can you properly monitor the risk of your portfolio?

An IPS may sound like an impersonal document. But behind this Policy Statement is our understanding of your personal, family situation and your goals. We talk with you to learn and understand your objectives and concerns, before we prepare your IPS. Everyone is different and unique. Two people of the same age and assets may likely have different IPS’, as they are unique with different past experiences and different future goals. While the IPS is an unemotional document, preparing an IPS for each client is a very personal process.

Having an IPS allows us to manage portfolios in a rational manner. This means that we are not reacting to current events with guesses and predictions. We act and provide guidance in a disciplined manner. For example, during the onset of the Covid crisis last winter and spring, IPS’ provided us and our clients with the structure to buy stocks when markets fell, as we worked to maintain their stock allocations in the desired range. This enables us to help our clients maintain their stock exposures during times of great uncertainty and volatility, when your emotions may be telling you it’s time to get out of stocks.

Having an IPS with target asset allocations prevents your stock allocation from getting either too high or too low. When markets or specific asset classes go down, we would review buying more. This was mid-2020. When stocks increase, such as they have done very strongly in past months, we review client portfolios to see if their stock allocations have grown to exceed their target stock exposure. This is what we are doing now and have been doing over the past few months. This provides the discipline of buying low and selling high.

Your IPS would also clearly state that there will be times when your diversified portfolio will vary from major stock market indexes, such as the S&P 500. A diversified portfolio is very different than an index which is comprised of just US Large stocks. This means there will be periods, which could be months or years, when a diversified portfolio will underperform or outperform a major market index. We talk about this likelihood for portfolios to be different than major US indices with our clients in advance, to manage their expectations.

Your IPS can be revised. This is generally done because of changes in your financial situation over your lifetime, not usually due to changes in current financial markets. The goal is that the IPS is a long-term document that is not influenced by short-term ups and downs of the stock market. It is impacted (and modified) by changes in your life, your finances and your goals.

Isn’t the goal of investing to help you reach your financial goals? Then working with a financial advisor that uses a written Investment Policy Statement should be an important part of your financial planning.

 

Note: As a reminder, the blog will be emailed to you every other Friday going forward.

 

Talk to us.  We want to listen.  We want to assist you, your family members and friends.