Lifetime advice

Blog post #477

The advice is simple. Living it is much harder.

You should remain invested in the stock market for the long-term, regardless of what is happening in the world, in a diversified manner, at a level that is consistent with your need, ability and willingness to take risk.

This means you should not get out of the stock market in a significant manner or go mostly to cash, no matter what is happening in the stock market, economy, politics or other factors.

This means that if you are in the accumulation phase, when you have money to invest and have a long-term time perspective, you should keep investing in stocks on a regular basis, irrespective of what else is going on. This is what we do.

In general, you should only change your stock allocation when your financial or life circumstances change. This means that your stock allocation will likely change as your wealth grows and as you get older, but not due to external factors.

Why are we writing this? Because regularly investing in the stock market and sticking to your stock allocation, through good and bad, is some of the most important advice we can convey to you as financial advisors.

Some people struggle with these concepts. They may get very nervous during a downturn and want to go to cash. Others are hesitant to invest in the stock market now or at other times because they think the market is “overvalued,” at a peak, or for some other reason (like a “potential” oncoming recession or the fear of higher future taxes).

We feel you need to have a guiding set of investment principles and stick to them. For our firm, remaining invested according to your long-term plan is one of these core principles.

But sometimes, should we make an exception to our own core principles?

Last year was one of those times when we challenged our long-held belief. When the pandemic began and started spreading outside of China during January and early February, I became increasingly concerned about Covid. I began questioning if this was a time to sell or reduce client stock allocations. As Covid started spreading in the US in late February 2020, Keith and I talked about this extensively, for hours, over many days.

Was the onset of Covid a reason to try to time the markets? After much consideration, we determined that there was no way that we could time the markets successfully, as you need to determine when to sell (February 2020) AND be able to determine when to buy back into the markets. We had no way to rationally figure out when to buy back into the market. We knew this downturn was different than most prior downturns, but we also knew that most prior major downturns seemed unexpected and unique at that time. We decided to adhere to our core philosophy and recommended that clients remain invested.

  • In hindsight, we made the correct decision by staying in the markets. Instead of selling in February/March 2020, we recommended that clients should gradually begin buying stocks after the markets had dropped significantly.

We knew from past financial history that markets generally rebound way before “the all-clear signal” is readily visible. Stock markets tend to be very forward thinking. By the time it eventually seems “safe” to get back into the markets, the markets have usually already advanced much higher from their bottom.

This is exactly what occurred in late March, which was the approximate bottom for the S&P 500. The stock market rebound began when lockdowns in the US were just starting and Covid had not even reached its worse impact, medically or economically. We made the proper decision not to temporarily get out of stocks due to the Covid pandemic, as US and global markets have strongly rebounded since March 2020, to higher levels few would have predicted a year ago.

To be a better investor, you should try to understand the following concepts:

  • No one is consistently able to accurately predict the future of the stock market. Market timing does not work.
  • The long-term path of the stock markets, US and globally, are upwards.
  • Declines in the stock market are temporary. The long-term historical path for the stock market since the 1920s has been upwards, with declines along the way that have been temporary. We do not see any change in that long-term pattern.
  • Peaks in the stock market are temporary, as they are exceeded by higher highs. This means that at some point in the future, the highs of today will be replaced by higher levels.

So you are prepared in advance, we want to remind you what normal declines are in the stock market when you own a broadly diversified portfolio.

  • It is normal for stock markets to decline at least 10% during almost every calendar year, from top to bottom, at least once during a year.
  • It is normal that stocks will drop a lot, like 20%-30%-40%, or more, every 3-5 years.

Addressing these issues of market timing and continuing to invest on a regular basis are some of the most important services that we can provide in our relationship with you.

  • If these are concerns or issues for you, we would be pleased to discuss this with you. We can listen to each other and work through your concerns, so we can determine an appropriate stock allocation for you and your family for the long-term. That stock allocation should enable you to have the ability to remain invested and learn to get more comfortable, so that your money can work for you and to help you reach your life and financial goals.

We want to work with you to develop a financial plan that includes an asset allocation to stocks that you can live with, when markets are rising and when they are dropping. That is how you can be a more successful long-term investor.

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

 

Source:  *27 Principles Every Investor Should Know, by Steven J. Atkinson (Illustrations by Dan Roam) July 2019

How was November?

Blog post #471

November was one of the best months ever for nearly all asset classes of public stocks, both in the US and Internationally. 

Many asset classes gained 10-15% in November 2020 alone, with several asset classes exceeding 15%.

Let’s put that into perspective. The expected return for a full year for US large company stocks is in the 8-10% range. In one month, nearly all asset classes exceeded the historical average return of a full year.

If you go back to October, things didn’t look quite so good. There was great uncertainty about the US elections. People were very emotional and concerned. Covid cases were growing and continue to grow. There was hope about vaccines, but no news at the end of October about the progress of vaccine trials.

If you had let your emotions control or influence your investment strategy, you may have wanted to pull money out of the stock market or waited to invest new money into the market earlier this fall.

Emotions don’t lead to good investment decision making. We have learned this repeatedly. It is hard to do….but being rational and reasonable is a better strategy than relying on what your emotions want you to do.

2020 has taught each of us many things. One major lesson of 2020 is that having a disciplined investment strategy is much better than having an emotional investment strategy.  

With all the change and uncertainty that exists, you can rely on our consistent investment philosophy.  The stability of our beliefs and advice should provide you with comfort.

We regularly encourage you to stay in the market and adhere to your asset allocation plan, regardless of what you are worried about or what is going on in the world. Talk to us if you have concerns, so we can discuss those issues with you. 

Last February and March, in the depths of the stock market downturn, no one could have predicted that stock markets would rebound so strongly and be at the levels they are at today.

Emotionally, the stock market gains since March 2020 may not make sense to you. The gains are logical. The stock market reflects the current and future earnings, and expected future cash flows, of public companies. The stock market does not directly reflect the misery of neighborhood restaurants and unemployed workers in certain sectors. The stock market looks forward. The economic data and corporate earnings of many public companies are quite positive.

As a firm, we don’t let our own emotions guide our investment recommendations and actions. When markets fell, we recommended clients to purchase stocks. We pro-actively placed trades to do tax-loss selling where we could, to save clients taxes.

Now, as markets have rebounded, we are looking to take some profits. We are reviewing client portfolios for rebalancing if their stock exposure has increased above their respective target range. These are rational and disciplined actions, not emotional reactions.

We are taking the disciplined steps that you expect us to be doing. Buying low. Selling high. Rebalancing. Making sure that you are not taking on more risk than you need to.

For most investors and clients, their primary long-term concern is about not having enough money to live comfortably in retirement. We understand this.

When markets plummet, as they did earlier this year, it may have been hard to stay the course and remain in the stock market.  It can be hard not to be worried and emotional, and still feel that you will have enough money and be comfortable for years into the future.  The gains of the past months, and November in particular, should make those hard months worthwhile.

This is another reason why you work with us. By being rational and non-emotional, our investment strategy strives to help you make progress towards your financial goals and provide those of you in retirement with comfort and financial security.

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

 

Giving Thanks – 2020

Blog post #470

For many of us, the Thanksgiving holiday will be much different this year due to Covid -19.

We hope that you can celebrate with those you love, either in person or remotely. Most importantly, we hope that you and your families are healthy.

As a firm, we are truly thankful and remain optimistic, and hope you are as well.

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We are thankful for our clients, who have placed their trust in us. We do not take your loyalty for granted and it is greatly appreciated.

We are thankful for the referrals that our clients and others have made to people they care about, so we can assist them and help to improve their futures. We are grateful to those who became clients during the past year, some of whom we have yet to meet in person.

We are thankful that our clients understand the importance of focusing on the long-term and not on short term market swings. We are thankful that so many of our clients adhered to their investment plans and remained invested during this financially and emotionally difficult year. By focusing on your long-term goals and not on short-term market moves, you are more likely to be financially successful.

We are thankful for the clients who talked to us and requested our advice on matters beyond investing and financial planning, such as helping them with life transitions, estate planning, real estate transactions and other issues that were important to them.

We are thankful for our long-term business partners and relationships, which help us to be successful and operate our business effectively and efficiently. This was even more important this year, as we were able to seamlessly transition to working remotely.

We thank those of you and others in the community who are front line workers, who have helped our country to deal with the Covid crisis. We are especially thankful to the scientists and others at various pharmaceutical companies and research labs throughout the world working to create vaccines to fight Covid-19.

We hope that each of you can find reasons to be thankful during this challenging time in our lives. We wish each of you and your families a very happy Thanksgiving.

Note: As next week is Thanksgiving, there will not be a weekly blog post email next Friday, likely the only week of the year there will not be a post. The next email will be Friday, December 4th.

 

 

Post-Election Financial Outlook

Blog post #469

We plan for the long-term. We stress to focus on what you can control. We emphasize that your long-term goals are more important than short-term market moves.

But when major events occur, we want to provide you with our thoughts and analysis (without political opinions).

Stock market reaction:

US and global stock markets have risen significantly since the end of October, due to US election results and positive vaccine news from Pfizer’s phase 3 preliminary testing results. The S & P 500, consisting of US large companies, has increased almost 10% in November, through Wednesday November 11th. Even greater gains have occurred in US small company stocks, value stocks as well as International asset classes.

A major takeaway from the election outcome and the vaccine news is that the financial markets react immediately to new information, and generally much faster than you can take advantage of. 

Changes in stock market trends are difficult to predict in advance and can even be hard to explain why they occur. One trend that has occurred in the past month is that small and value stocks, both in the US and overseas, have significantly outperformed large and growth company stocks. This is a reversal of large and growth outperforming for a long period.

For all these reasons, we continually communicate the importance of staying invested according to your personal investment plan, as you don’t know when major market moves will occur. Likewise, we recommend very diversified portfolios, as no one knows which asset class or sector will perform best in the future.

How did US election results impact the stock market? US stock markets rose on the Monday and Tuesday of the election and additional gains came as the results of the elections became clearer. US and global stock markets rose as some of the uncertainty of the outcome dissipated. Financial markets rose on the anticipation of split government, with a likely Democratic President, a tighter Democratic majority in the House and the likelihood of a very slight Republican majority in the Senate. Control of the next Senate will not be determined until run-off elections in Georgia are determined in January 2021.

The split government, where no one party controls the Presidency and both parts of Congress, means moderation of many economic policies and an agenda that will require compromise or legislators working together to get measures enacted.

Personal and corporate income taxes:

If Democrats had won control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, expectations were for significant tax increases on both high-income taxpayers (income greater than $400,000) and corporations. Given the split election results, it is unclear what personal and corporate tax changes will be enacted and when. Some analysts now think the emphasis for 2021 will be more focused on dealing with Covid, economic stimulus and dealing with broader economic issues (industries and individuals impacted by Covid) than on tax law changes. This would be positive for the stock market.

There are no specific tax-related actions that we recommend as a result of the potential for split Congressional control. Individual and corporate tax rates are at multiple decade lows, so the trend would be for increases rather than for more cuts, but when and who they may impact cannot be determined now.

Capital gains taxes: Biden proposed changes in capital gains tax rates for those who earn more than $1 million. While that impacts very few people, it would have been a negative for the stock market. There is no way to know whether this proposal will gain legislative traction if Republicans control the Senate. If tax legislation is passed in a Biden administration, we would guess that changes in capital gain tax treatment would be less burdensome than predicted. However, one never knows how the legislative process will work and this may be part of many trade-offs that will be negotiated when tax laws are discussed. We will keep you informed. There is no reason to make any portfolio changes now related to potential capital gains tax changes.

Estate taxes and planning: Based on the Senate being controlled by Republicans, major changes in estate taxes are now much less likely. Currently, each person gets around $11 million of estate tax deductions. For a married couple, this means more than $22 million. If your estate is far below these amounts, you don’t need to worry about incurring any estate tax until 2026, when the Trump law changes revert to prior law. If no changes are made before January 2026, the exemption amounts will return to $5 million plus inflation adjustments, per person. If your assets are at or above $5-11 million per person of estate value, you may want to discuss your situation with us or your estate planning attorney.

Remember, good estate planning is not just about tax avoidance. The more important aspect of estate planning is making sure that your documents properly reflect your wishes of what happens to your assets when you die. This may not be easy to deal with, but it is vitally important and should be addressed properly, and reviewed every 5 years or so.

Economic stimulus package due to Covid:

There still may be a stimulus package due to Covid passed in the future, but if there is one or more passed, they will likely be smaller than if the Democrats had won more seats in the Senate. It is possible some type of stimulus or aid package for individuals, industries, non-profits and municipalities will be passed, but no one can predict when and what they may look like. Additional stimulus measures would be positive for the stock market (as well as for those impacted by Covid), as this government spending or other forms of aid would translate into economic benefits to consumers and certain industries. Aid to municipalities would also alleviate stresses on state and local governments, which are of some concern to the municipal bond market. We are closely monitoring municipal bonds held by clients and promptly acting if there are any changes in their rating or financial situations.

Retirement planning legislation: It is possible that changes related to retirement funding and distribution rules may be passed in 2020 or 2021 that would be advantageous to clients, as bipartisan support may enable retirement legislation. There is no way to know what these changes may be, but they may eventually delay required minimum distributions from IRAs and other retirement plans (continue to move back the initial start date for required minimum distributions) and expand the ability to add to retirement plans.

Interest rates:

The 10-year Treasury Bill increased from around 0.75% in late October to around 0.9%- 1% as of Thursday this week. This increase is based on greater expected economic activity, mostly due to medical progress on vaccines. On a relative basis, that is a pretty large increase in about 7-10 days. The rate is still near historic lows. These rates were around 3% during much of 2018 but have been below 1% since the onset of Covid. Prior to 2008, these rates were generally well above 4% between 1960 – 2008.

Short term interest rates are generally controlled by the Federal Reserve. Short term interest rates are still very likely to remain at very low rates for years into the future. This is not good news for fixed income investors, but for those who have other debts or mortgages, we would advise you to refinance or discuss these with us.

Summary: It is important to integrate and review your financial, investment and tax planning, as market conditions and laws change frequently. We view this as one of our key roles as your financial advisor.

We will continue to monitor all the items above, as well as monitor your investment accounts for rebalancing opportunities, as certain asset classes outperform others. This is the discipline of keeping your exposure to risk in line with your desired risk tolerance (not allowing your stock % to grow far above your target stock allocation). This puts in place the goal of buying low and selling high, on an asset class level.

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

Reasonable > Rational

Blog post #465

As investment and financial advisors, we often say that we are rational and not emotional, as we provide you with advice. We hope that is accurate, as we provide you with financial advice on the various matters that you deal with throughout your life.

As I continue to read The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel, he raises the concept of being rational v. reasonable.

As much as I have written in the past about us being rational….and striving to provide you with rational advice, I think that it is better to be reasonable, than to be completely rational.

Rational may mean that we only deal with the numbers, the hard facts of a situation or portfolio decision. Being rational may lead one to think that there is only one correct answer to some issues. Being rational may mean that advice and decisions should be made strictly based on only the facts and numbers.

Being strictly rational is not always realistic. People have emotions and attitudes….and these must be factored into our advice and your decision making. The world is constantly changing. Many decisions are gray, not clearly A or B. I don’t think we as a firm have provided advice that has been strictly rational, but thinking about “rational v. reasonable” provides some very good insights about each of our relationships with money.

During the financial crisis in 2008-09 and again during the major decline in February-March 2020 at the onset of COVID, nearly all our clients adhered to their asset allocation plans. That means that we, and our clients, were both rational and reasonable, as we had worked with you to set an allocation to stocks that we thought was both financially proper for your long-term financial interests and goals, as well as a stock allocation you could stick with during good and bad times.

However, for those clients that could not stick to their stock allocation and talked to us about making changes, we worked with them to make changes and develop what was reasonable for them during that time period. It is more important that you can sleep at night, as long as you don’t make financial decisions that we think would impair your financial future.

Since the onset of Covid, we have also had discussions with some clients who wanted to re-evaluate their asset allocations. Some have reduced their stock exposure, as we (us and the client) realized they did not need or want to take on as much stock market risk as they had. This is being both rational and reasonable.

The expected future returns for stocks is greater than the expected future returns for bonds (fixed income). Over the long term, you should expect to create much more wealth by having a 100% stock portfolio than a 60% stock /40% fixed income portfolio. A 100% stock portfolio may be rational based on financial history and data, but it is not reasonable for most people to endure and live through. Thus, we provide reasonable advice so that you can reach your financial goals without enduring the extreme volatility that would come with a 100% stock portfolio.

Past financial history teaches us that over the long term, meaning decades not years, small company stocks outperform large company stocks, International stocks outperform US stocks, and value stocks outperform growth stocks. Based on past history, and the assuming the same expected differences in future returns, it would be rational to structure a portfolio with the highest expected returns. This would mean structuring a portfolio consisting of primarily the smallest value company stocks in International and Emerging countries, as they have the highest expected future returns.

Such a portfolio, with the highest expected future returns could be considered rational, but not one we would recommend, as its not reasonable. Very few investors would be able to stick with such a portfolio.

As we have all experienced, markets and asset classes are not predictable. Asset classes may have expected future returns, but actual returns do not always show up in a consistent manner. Like with other financial recommendations that we provide to you, we recommend portfolios that make sense (are reasonable). And sometimes we change or adjust our recommendations and advice, as the world and financial markets change.

We rely on broad diversification among many different types of asset classes to develop reasonable portfolios. We still believe that factors such as small company stocks, value stocks and global diversification will provide long-term financial benefits. We structure portfolios that include these asset class factors, but importantly we recommend including other asset classes as well, so your stock portfolio will benefit from growth and value, large and small companies. This should help you reach your long-term financial goals and maintain your lifestyle (and be able to sleep well too!).

We feel that being broadly diversified for the long term is both reasonable and rational. Just as the “all small value company International portfolio” is not reasonable or rational, we do not think for most people a US Large company-only portfolio (such as the S&P 500), would be rational for the long-term. It may be reasonable for some, but we would not recommend it for the long-term.

Having a portfolio that you can adhere to and stick with through all kinds of financial markets and future events is most important. That is both rational and reasonable.

We look forward to providing you, and others that you care about, with reasonable advice that is also reasonably rational!

Looking out for you

Blog post #464

When you work with our firm, we want you to feel like “we have your back.” We are looking out for you.

If you use a personal trainer or need a physical therapist, he or she will guide you. They will teach you how to do an exercise properly, so you get the maximum benefit and not injure yourself. They will develop a plan for you, monitor it and encourage you so you can get the results that you desire.

First, you must select a trainer or physical therapist that is best for you. And they are not all alike!

The same goes with selecting a financial advisor.

We provide valuable services and advice to you and your family.

We develop a financial plan for you. We monitor it regularly. We rebalance your accounts as needed. We provide you with discipline, so you don’t take on too much risk (if markets rise) or buy low, when markets decline. And we don’t just do this once a year. We do it as needed, which can be much more beneficial to you.

We recommend tax-managed mutual funds for your taxable accounts, which strive to reduce taxable distributions. We pro-actively monitor your accounts for tax-loss selling when markets decline. This also saves you taxes.

We look for things that you may not have thought of or implemented on your own. A second set of eyes, like a medical second opinion, can be worthwhile. When we review 401(k) plan choices, we frequently find that those accounts are not invested in a way that are aligned with your risk tolerance or adequately diversified.

All these are ways we provide you with competence in our advice.

We provide you with coaching and support to help you stay in the market, as we did this winter, when Covid hit.

We can save you time and provide you with convenience by simplifying your financial matters. We can help you tackle tough issues, such as estate planning.

We also provide you with continuity. As we learn about your goals and wishes, we can help preserve your legacy. We can support and protect those people and organizations who you care about if anything happens to you.

A number of clients have named members of our firm as Trustees in their estate plans, to help ensure that their wishes are carried out. Not all financial advisory firms are willing to provide this vital role, but we are honored to do so.

We also provide continuity through our firm, as we have had minimal turnover. Keith and Brad have worked together for over 20 years, since before this firm was founded in 2003. With our firm, you will know your advisors and support staff, and know they will be here for you in the future.

Choosing a financial advisor is one of the most important decisions you can make.

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

Source:  *27 Principles Every Investor Should Know, by Steven J. Atkinson (Illustrations by Dan Roam) July 2019

 

Interest Rates and Your Financial Future

Blog post #462

Interest rates have been quite low for over a decade and are not likely to increase in the next few years. This has important implications for all investors.

The 10-year US Treasury bond yield has been below 4% since 2008, in the 2-3% range for most of 2009-2019, and has been well below 1% since the Covid pandemic hit in March of this year. (see the chart below).

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday provided forward guidance that they project short-term interest rates to remain near zero well into 2023. Eventually they predict short-term rates of around 2.5%, but they do not provide any guidance as to when that may occur. While their forward guidance (projections) have generally not been accurate, they are basing these predictions on the impact of Covid on the economy and the lack of current and expected future inflation.

What is the impact of continued low interest rates mean to you?

When we do investment planning for you, one of the most important decisions is how much to allocate to stocks and how much to allocate to fixed income (bonds, CDs, bond mutual funds, cash, etc.).

This high level asset allocation decision is based on several factors, which include your need and willingness to take risk, how much growth you need from your investments to meet your financial goals and your investment timeframe.

As we review these items with you, that will guide our recommendation of how much of your portfolio should be in stocks and how much should be in fixed income.

The key concept that we want to stress is that even though interest rates are very low, and may remain that way for a while, this should not significantly change how much you should allocate to fixed income. 

Why? Shouldn’t the prospect of continued lower interest rates make someone want to increase their stock allocation, as the fixed income returns will be very low? Let’s look at some examples and discuss this further.

If you are in your 20s or 30s and have decades of work and savings ahead of you, we may recommend a stock allocation of 80% or even more.

If you are in your 40s or 50s and need growth from your portfolio to provide for the retirement you desire, your asset allocation may be 60-70% in stocks, with the remainder in fixed income.

If you are in your 70s or 80s and have saved enough so that you can live comfortably, your stock allocation may be well below 50%.

We don’t think the prospect of continued very low interest rates should materially change your overall asset allocation plan because most people don’t want to significantly increase their stock market risk more than they need to.

If you feel that because of expected continued low interest rates you should decrease your fixed income allocation and increase your stock exposure, you must be prepared for the increased volatility (short term risk) that comes with owning more stocks.

Fixed income provides you with some income, but we view the fixed income allocation primarily to provide stability to your portfolio. Thus, you don’t have as much temporary volatility that comes with owning stocks. If you have the stomach to own more stocks, and can handle the swings and volatility, then your expected returns could be much greater over the long-term, say 10 or more years. But for most investors, they need the ballast of fixed income in their portfolio.

As we remind clients, it is normal for stock markets to decline at least 20-30% every 3-5 years. That is the type of temporary volatility that is to be expected in order to earn the long-term rewards of owning stocks.

  • If someone had a $2 million portfolio with a 50% stock / 50% fixed income portfolio, they would have $1 million invested in stocks. If that portfolio incurs a 35% decline, as happened in the S&P 500 earlier this year, the stocks would decline by $350,000.
  • But if the stock allocation had been increased to 75% because of lower expected interest rates on the fixed income allocation, they would have had $1.5 million invested in stocks. If a 35% stock market decline occurred, the temporary decline would be $525,000, which is far greater than the $350,000 temporary drop of a 50/50 portfolio.

The question you must ask yourself: Is the additional volatility of the stock market worth the increased exposure to stocks? Will you be able to maintain a higher stock market exposure through the down periods? This is so important, because the worst result would be to increase your stock market exposure now, then panic when a major stock market decline occurs.

We plan to remain consistent with our long-term principles regarding fixed income.

  • We will only invest in high quality fixed income, as the return of your principal is most important.
  • We will not reach for yield by buying junk bonds. If a bond fund says high yield, that means it is holding less than investment grade securities, which have a much greater chance of defaulting. We don’t recommend junk or high yield bond funds for our clients.
  • Diversification is vital in fixed income. For those who invest in municipal bonds, we recommend holding bonds of many states, not just your home state.
  • We regularly monitor your fixed income holdings of corporate and municipal bonds for any downgrades or credit risk exposure. We would rather sell today than take the chance on a default in the future.

The financial world is continuously changing. We are here for you, if you have any questions about this or other financial matter. 

We would be pleased to assist you, your family members and friends.

Source:

 

 

It’s Hard to Stay on Top

Blog post #460

The Covid outbreak has caused each of us to adapt and change.

Adapting and dealing with change is not a new concept. In order to succeed over a long time period, organizations and companies must adapt and change to remain on top.

Very little stays constant. We know that change happens over time. Sometimes change is gradual and sometimes it’s sudden. Change can happen for many reasons.

Companies that are successful over long periods must be able to adapt and change, or they will be less successful or less profitable or shrink and possibly even go out of business.

The chart below shows the top 10 US stocks based on market capitalization by decade from 1930 to 2020. The data is based on their overall stock market value at the end of the calendar year, preceding the decade. For example, for 2020, Apple was the largest stock based on market cap as of December 31, 2019 (see the far right column, at the top).

Suggestion….if you can look at this chart on a device where you can enlarge it, the chart is much more informative.

Key takeaway: While some companies remained in the top 10 list for decades, this chart shows how much change there has been over the long term and how hard it is to remain in the top 10.

Based on this past evidence, it is hard to know with confidence if a top 10 stock today will be a top 10 stock in 2030 or 2040.

Exhibit 2, from DFA Article, “Large and In Charge? Giant Firms atop Market Is Nothing New”.

Some observations from this chart:

  1. From 2000, only 2 stocks that were in the top 10 are still in the top 10 as of the beginning of 2020. That is a significant amount of change in 20 short years. What 2 companies do you think these are? Think about this.  The answer is at the bottom.
  2. Apple was not in the top 10 until 2010. It is now #1.
  3. Of the top 10 in 2020, 5 of those companies were not in the top 10 at the beginning of 2010. That is an amazing amount of change in 10 years. And since the beginning of the year, JPMorgan would be out of the top 10 today, and either Tesla or Walmart would be #10. Tesla was far from the top 10 at the beginning of the year.
  4. What decade did Amazon begin in the top 10? The answer is at the bottom.
  5. What stock was in the top 10 every decade from 1930 through 2010, was #2 at 2000, but dropped out after 2010 and is now only about 110-120th largest as of June 30, 2020? General Electric.
  6. The chart by decade shows how the economy and world have changed significantly.
    • Energy stocks were 5 of the top 10 in 1980. There are no energy stocks in the top 10 now.
    • There were 5 technology stocks in 2000 (Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Lucent and IBM) and 5 technology stocks on the list at the beginning of 2020. However, only Microsoft remains on the list from 2000 to 2020. And none of the other 4 stocks have done well in the 20 years since 2000, compared to the S&P 500 index.
      • Today’s leaders may not be the leader’s a decade or two from now.
      • To show how hard change is, Cisco was #3 in 2000. Its current price is still lower than it was at December 31, 1999. In 2007, Cisco purchased a company called WebEx, a web conferencing start-up. In 2011, a VP of Engineering pitched an idea for a smartphone-friendly conferencing system to Cisco executives. They rejected the idea and Eric Yuan left to establish Zoom Video Communications, which is now worth over $100 billion. Cisco is worth about $174 billion but could be worth so much more.
    • Since 1990, it appears that change is even more frequent, or that is even harder to remain in the top 10 list. At the beginning of each decade, these are the number of companies that appear on the list for the first or only time:
      • 1990:  4 companies
      • 2000:  5 companies
      • 2010:  1 company
      • 2020:  5 companies

While many of the current top stocks have performed extremely well in recent years, you should remember that expectations about future operational performance of a company should already be reflected in it current price. Positive developments that occur in the future that exceed current expectations (such as Covid’s positive impact so far on Amazon and Walmart) may lead to further gains in its stock price. However, unexpected changes are not predictable.

Historical data on the performance of the top 10 stocks following the year in which they joined the list of the 10 largest firms shows much less positive results. As Exhibit 3 below shows, these stocks outperformed the total stock market (this is not compared to the S&P 500) by 0.7% per year in the subsequent 3-year period. Over the subsequent 5- and 10-year periods, these stocks underperformed the total stock market on average by greater than 1% per year. This data was compiled for each calendar year between 1927-2019, not just by decade in the prior chart.

 

 

The only constant is change and this clearly applies to the dominant stocks in the market. It remains impossible to systematically predict which large companies will outperform the stock market and which will underperform it. This reminds us of the importance of having a broadly diversified portfolio that provides exposure to many companies and industry sectors.

Answers from above:

1. Microsoft (#1 in 2000, and #2 at the beginning of 2020) and Walmart (#4 in 2000 and #9 at the beginning of 2020).
4. Amazon was not in the top 10 in 2000 or in 2010. The first decade that Amazon appears in the top 10 was in 2020, ranking #3 at the beginning of 2020.

 

Source:

Where do we go from here?

Blog post #456

It’s early August, 2020. In the US, this marks the beginning of the 6th month of dealing with Covid-19, which really started to impact the US in March.

What are we thinking about in terms of investing and financial planning now, and going forward?

What are the lessons of the past 6 months and how should we apply them moving forward?

Markets react quickly and unexpectedly: Stock markets in the US and globally reacted quickly as countries shut down due to the pandemic. Then, unexpectedly, beginning in late March, markets recovered strongly.  Investors looked at the longer term view of recovery and how companies can adapt. However, companies and sectors that continue to be greatly affected by Covid-related challenges are still far off their pre-Covid price levels.

Stick to your asset allocation and financial plan: The rapid recovery of many stocks re-emphasizes why it is so difficult to time and predict the stock market. This is why we are strong believers in developing a long-term financial plan and adhering to that asset allocation.

We work with you to develop a financial plan, based on your goals, your need to take risk and your time frame. We don’t try to time the markets and we don’t base our advice on guesses and predictions.

There is still a long way to go: While there has been great progress in Covid treatments and initial vaccine development, a return to pre-Covid life is still likely to be many months, if not a year or two or even more into the future.

There is no way to know how long vaccine trials will take. We don’t know how many of the potential vaccines will be successful. Even when some are determined to be viable, distribution and receiving vaccines will take time, likely much longer than many now realize. And no one knows how effective any new vaccines will be.

Because of all these medical unknowns, we think it is important for each of us to be realistic and develop a long-term mentality related to this new Covid environment. We need to be resilient. How can you better adjust and adapt? As Covid issues will likely be with us for awhile, are there additional things that you can or should do, to help you and your family cope with this new world?

Is there anything you want to discuss with us, to help you cope?

How your investments will adapt: We focus on developing a very broadly diversified investment portfolio for you, as part of your investment plan. Even more today, we think being very diversified is vital and beneficial.

Your portfolio has growth and value companies, as well as large and small companies. We recommend investments both in the US and Internationally. Diversification, both in stocks and your fixed income holdings, has many benefits. The most important benefit is that you should not be materially impacted by any one industry or company.

As Covid continues in the future, we do not know which countries or companies may be more successful than others. Thus, broadly diversify. As my wife asked the other night during a walk, what will happen to stocks and companies that have hugely benefitted from Covid? Won’t they go down at some point? Will they be considered way overvalued in the future, as Covid is dealt with? We don’t know the answers, which is why a broadly diversified portfolio holds all types of companies, in varying amounts.

No company, industry or geographic region should cause a decline in your retirement lifestyle or your ability to reach your financial goals. Broad diversification provides this.

We want to stress the importance of thinking long-term, even though that means different things, depending on your age.

If you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, you have a very long life expectancy. You should not be focused on what is happening in the markets now. You should primarily focus on saving and investing. That is what I have done and will continue to do, regardless of what the markets are doing. I keep investing, every month, into the same funds and investments we recommend to our clients.

You need to have a positive mental attitude that our country and companies, both in the US and globally, will continue to evolve, grow, adapt and succeed. I believe that years and decades from now, the earnings of public companies will be greater than today, as the world and economies expand. I don’t know which stocks will be the best performers decades from now, which is why we believe in asset class investing as a core principle.

We are concerned about the impact of Covid on small businesses, industries and people that have been greatly affected by Covid, but that does not influence the long-term investment strategy of either our firm or me personally.

As you near or are in retirement, we stress the concept of a “fixed income foundation.” By this we mean that our goal for you is to have many years of your annual withdrawal needs in various fixed income investments, such as bonds, CDs, bond funds or cash.

For example, if you have $1 million of your $2 million portfolio in fixed income investments, and you withdraw $50,000 annually, you have a fixed income foundation of 20 years worth of withdrawals ($1 million divided by $50,000 = 20) and that assumes no interest on the fixed income.

If you have have many years of a fixed income foundation, then mentally we hope that you can focus on that, as your standard of living is not directly impacted by short term declines in the stock market.

Remember, regardless of how old you are, declines in a broadly diversified stock portfolio are temporary, and eventually give way to a more permanent uptrend in the growth of stock prices.

The harder concept for people to grasp, due to human nature, is that lower stock prices mean better value for stocks going forward. It is like a sale at a store (or online!). The store sales seem like a good bargain. Try to think of temporary stock declines like a sale at a store.

We see that periods of market turbulence or stock price declines cause great companies to react, adapt, adjust and add value for the long term. The companies that will succeed will figure out a way to do so, however they are able.

This is why we invest in all types of companies, because you can’t predict who and how they will succeed, and which will have better future stock market returns. For example, while growth companies have excelled, many companies that are now considered value companies trade at a fraction of growth companies’ valuations. Many of today’s cheap companies will succeed, and they will likely have strong stock market returns when we look back, 5 or 10 years from now.

Plan for the future.

Be resilient.

Be positive.

Wear a mask.

How to Deal with Lower Interest Rates

Blog post #452

The Covid pandemic has caused already low interest rates to move even lower. 

Throughout much of 2018, the 10-year US Treasury Note yielded around 3%. During 2019, it dropped from the 3% to 2% and since Covid hit, the US 10-year yield has hovered around 0.6% – 0.7%. It is worse overseas, as Germany’s 10-year notes pay 0.09% and Japan’s are at zero or negative.**

The implication of much lower interest rates are important to you as an investor. Going forward, at least for the next few years, it is likely your fixed income allocation will yield even less than it has been. As each fixed income security that you own matures, it will likely be reinvested at a much lower interest rate.

What are the choices that you have, and we face as your investment advisor, regarding very low interest rates? 

We could recommend some of the following, but that is not likely. We could….

  • Extend maturities
  • Invest in lower credit quality fixed income, to reach for higher yields
  • Invest more in stocks and reduce your fixed income allocation
  • Invest more in alternative investments

For most clients, we are not likely to recommend most of the above, at least not without extensive analysis and conversations with you.

Extending maturities means buying individual fixed income investments or bond mutual funds that are beyond what we are buying now, which is generally 5 years or less. The markets are not paying much more interest to hold longer maturities, so it does not make sense to us.

We view fixed income as your foundation, the safe part of your portfolio. When stocks drop, we don’t want your fixed income to crash as well. We don’t buy high yield (or junk bonds) for this reason. Risk and reward are tied together. If an investment grade 5-year corporate bond is yielding 2% today….and another one yields 6% or 10% for the same 5-year maturity, this means that there is much more default risk in the 6% or 10% bond. We want to try and ensure that you will get your principal back.

For some clients, we may review your stock to fixed income allocation, as fixed income is paying so little. For clients who are younger or can emotionally handle the volatility and greater risk in stocks, it may make sense to maintain a greater stock exposure than we would otherwise recommend. For older clients getting close to retirement or in a withdrawal mode, this may be a difficult decision. We will need to evaluate where you are in terms of your need to take risk, and your willingness to handle more risk. If you are comfortable and have adequate assets, the downside of greater stock exposure is probably not worth it.

We have not found any alternative investments that we are comfortable recommending. We have reviewed many, but they must provide benefits to you through performance track records that add value to your portfolio (and not just expected to add benefits), as well as provide liquidity, be understandable to us and have reasonable or low internal costs. As of now, we prefer to stick with our long-term investment philosophy that we are very comfortable with and not try other investment vehicles.

What does this mean for your future?

We focus on meeting your financial goals and the long-term total return of your portfolio.

  • We are not going to reach for additional yield if it means increasing the risk of defaults on fixed income. Although you will receive less interest income for the foreseeable future, we place greater priority on the return of your principal.
  • We will likely use more investment grade bond mutual funds in the near term, due to the very low interest rates, as they may hold higher yielding investments than we can purchase today. This also provides even greater diversification, which reduces your risk further.
  • We may need to work with you regarding Social Security planning, as we discussed in an earlier blog post, Social Security Projections and Impacts for all, dated May 14, 2020. If inflation remains low for many years, then future Social Security benefit increases will be lower or non-existent.
  • If you are in good health and feel you have a longer life expectancy, delaying Social Security benefits until age 70 may be a strategy that is recommended more in the future. There is a huge annual increase in benefits by waiting until age 70, rather than starting to receive Social Security benefits at your normal retirement age of 65-66.
  • We will continue to carefully monitor the credit quality of your current fixed income investments, as we do when we purchase new investments. We avoid low-quality fixed income investments, in both corporate and municipal bonds. We avoid some sectors entirely which have higher historical default risks.
  • Some clients may face difficult decisions, if interest rates remain low for an extended time period. The future is always uncertain, and things can change. Some may have to reduce their spending expectations or work longer, before they retire.
  • You should review your mortgage and see if refinancing makes sense. Rates are around 3% and even lower, depending on where you live and the length of your mortgage. I thought my refinance at 3.50% a few years ago would be my last, but I will likely refinance it again to lock in these lower mortgage rates.
    • For others, we may recommend paying off your mortgage sooner, which is something that we generally do not recommend. Please discuss these mortgage alternatives with us, as the recommendations are very specific to your individual circumstances.

We know the financial world keeps changing. This is what makes our role in your life valuable, as we will continue to provide you advice that is relevant and appropriate. We take this responsibility very seriously.

Talk to us. We want to help you, and your family, deal with change, today and tomorrow.

Source: **WSJ.com, July 9, 2020.