Month: September 2017

The Meaning of Money

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Is money the root of all evil? Or is it what makes the world go ‘round? What IS the meaning of money?

Most of us receive most of the money we will ever make in exchange for our efforts. Our labor, our knowledge, our skills may be sold to employers if we are workers. They may be sold to customers or clients if we are in business. For this reason, in large part, money is the residue of the sweat we make while providing value to others.

What could be more noble than this symbol of being worthwhile to the rest of society?

In this framework, a 401(k) balance at retirement is the end result of a lifetime of effort. An inheritance might represent two or more lifetimes of hard work. What could be more worthy of our best efforts to preserve and extend it?

While its sources are of interest, the uses of money have come into sharp focus for me recently. For the most part, my material needs are few. But money has become a vital factor in securing the health and welfare of loved ones.

The recent severe weather has resulted in hardship, pain, suffering and sometimes death for those who could not avoid its effects, or afford backup systems to meet special health needs. Oxygen concentrators require electricity, which sometimes fails. Refrigeration is needed for some kinds of life-sustaining medicine. Mobility is required to avoid some dangerous situations. All of this takes money.

When the power failed, we had a backup generator. When the storm threatened, we could leave the area. When the oxygen concentrator failed, we had another source. All of these things take money. And we had it.

Cathy’s care for children and work in the corporate world produced some of it. My efforts to help people with their plans and investing made some of it. Being good stewards of the amounts we were able to save provided some of it. The money came from worthy efforts, and it does important and worthy things for us.

Is money (or more properly, the love of money) the root of all evil? I don’t think so. It may be the evidence of lives of service and thrift. Luck? Certainly good fortune plays a role. And ill fortune surely plays a role in some people not having much of the stuff. We each must come to our own understanding of the meaning of money. This is mine.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or any other pertinent topic, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal.

Political Risk Rising

© Can Stock Photo / razihusin

Long time readers know we are fairly neutral about the impact of politics on investing. Our American system of checks and balances has served us well through the decades. The worst fears of those who let politics govern their investments may have not come about.

At the root, however, politics can affect policy that has an impact on the economy and markets. We prefer public policy that enables the greatest number of people to engage in the greatest amount of productive endeavor and enjoy prosperity. This is not always what we get.

There are two things being talked about in Washington that are problematic, in our view. Checks and balances may see us through, or we may end up with policies that hurt our economy.

In theory, trade lets us get more for things we produce and pay less for things we use. America and the rest of the world are potentially better off for it. But there is a political desire to put tariffs in place against major trading partners, we believe primarily for the sake of putting tariffs in place. A narrow slice of people and companies might benefit, but the economy may be hurt overall.

If trade volumes are materially restricted, average family incomes and corporate earnings are likely to decline, and the economy and the stock market may not do as well as they could.

Another thing: if you have ancestors that came from Germany, Ireland, England, Italy, Poland, France, India, Scotland, Norway, or anywhere else, some people that were already here were opposed to those immigrant ancestors of yours. But we believe that America is more prosperous today, with higher average incomes, because of the legacy your ancestors and others left.

But on top of the desire to fix our immigration laws so they make sense and are enforced, there is a desire to cut the volume of legal immigration, possibly up to one half from recent levels1. In our mind there is little doubt that our future wealth, prosperity, and standing in the world will be impaired if this comes to pass. We’ve been enriched by the immigrant scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs and others who have come to America in accordance with immigration rules.

You can etch this in stone: we are firmly against cutting our nose off to spite our face. Those who advocate for less trade and less legal immigration are doing just that, in our opinion. We are optimistic that sooner or later, we will end up with good policy—we always have. But there could be some unnecessary turmoil before we get there.

We aren’t suggesting that big changes need to be made in portfolios to reflect the political threats. But we are looking for opportunities that are less sensitive to how these policies work out. Clients, if you would like to discuss these or any other pertinent issues, please email us or call.

1New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/us/politics/trump-immigration.html


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.

All investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Classical Language, Mostly Classic Ideas

© Can Stock Photo / franckito

A surprising number of Latin phrases are woven into modern society, considering the language has not been widely used for centuries. From simple truisms like tempus fugit (time flies) to mottos like e pluribus unum (from many, one), the wisdom and ideas of a civilization lost to antiquity survive.

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote “experientia docet,” experience teaches. We must take issue with this one. Investors make a critical mistake in learning from experience, in our view. They often learn the wrong lesson.

People sometimes adopt tactics and strategies that would have worked great in the last cycle. Unfortunately, times change and the outdated strategies usually fail to perform like they did before.

In the year 2000, following the stock market bust stocks fell—but home values rose. This taught people the wrong idea that “you can’t lose money in real estate”, which caused a lot of damage during the 2007 financial crisis. Then, by 2009, lenders learned the wrong lesson again—because auto loans outperformed in the downturn. Today they may be setting up future losses by putting too much money into substandard auto loans.

A related problem is best illustrated by a product pitch we recently received from an investment sponsor. Their latest offering is based on “the top performing asset class of the last decade!”

Clients, you know what our issue is with this. We love to buy bargains. The best performer over the past decade is, by definition, no bargain. Piling in after a big runup may be jumping on the bandwagon right before it goes off a cliff. However, the experience of the last decade evidently taught many that the specific sector was the one to buy now. Wrong lesson, again.

One interesting facet of all this is that experience actually can teach us. We just need to be certain we are learning the right lesson.

There were useful and profitable lessons in the tech wreck of 2000 and the real estate bust that began in 2007. In our view, those lessons are that it is dangerous to invest in over-priced assets—and it doesn’t pay to join a stampede in the market. Those lessons help us live with attractively priced stocks, and avoid the flight to safety that made historically more stable assets overpriced (in our opinion.)

So let us leave you with a little Latin of our own devising: cognitio ad felicitatem. (Knowledge leads to prosperity.) Clients, if you have any questions, comments or insights please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Because of their narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies.

Life and Wealth Topics, Re-Visioned

© Can Stock Photo / nito

A gifted teacher of our acquaintance talks about the roots of the word ‘revise’ and ‘revision’ with her writing students1. To re-vise is ‘to see again,’ literally. It isn’t just fixing spelling or formatting text, but a fresh perspective, new meanings, an opportunity.

With our native fondness for new ways of thinking that are so often at odds with conventional wisdom, you have to know this concept resonated with us.

A brief catalogue of the major concepts we have seen anew, or re-visioned, includes:

1. How to think about risk in investing.
2. Investing successfully for a long retirement.
3. Integrating personal objectives with the demands of running a business.
4. Comprehensive financial planning.
5. Retirement (ours), which we transformed into a plan to be of service to age 92.
6. Where to live, which resulted in homes in both Nebraska and Florida.
7. Communicating in 21st century media yet staying personal and relevant to you.

We have addressed some of these topics in past articles. Others we will cover in the weeks and months ahead. And you know we will re-vise, “see again,” and find a new twist to tell you about.

One of the great blessings of our career is to know so many people like you who are willing to join us in looking at familiar issues in new ways. We believe this has worked out over time for you and us.

Clients, if you would like to talk about these topics or anything else, please email us or call.

1Caitie Leibman, Director, Doane University Writing Center, http://doanewritingcenter.blogspot.com/2017/09/a-fresh-look_4.html


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

 

Four Trends for Fall, 2017 Edition

© Can Stock Photo / javarman

The gap between consensus expectations and reality as it unfolds is where profit potential lives. This is why we put so much effort into studying trends and the ramifications for investors.

Here are four trends we’ve been watching for some time:

1. The cost of solar electricity and battery storage, being forms of technology, are declining year by year. In some places around the world, this combination may already be the most cost-effective way to provide new electrification. We believe we will see the end of fossil-fuel-powered generating plant construction within the next decade or so. This will not happen because of environmental activism, but because of compelling economics.

The investment ramifications are manifold. There will be winners and losers, and we have been investing in accordance with our developing understanding of how this is going to play out.

2. The world’s most populous democracy, India, may be poised for decades of economic growth much like China experienced over the past thirty years. Moreover, by 2050 India is projected to be the most populous country in the world. China will be surpassed as a result of its short-sighted ‘one child policy’ that created a huge demographic challenge with an aging population.

By getting in early, even a small investment allocation may make for significant potential gains over years ahead. No guarantees, of course.

3. The airline industry, after nearly a century of cutthroat competition that resulted in wave after wave of bankruptcies, has consolidated into a handful of companies that compete much more gently, to their mutual profit. The energy revolution may result in lower prices for fuel in the future—a large part of airline operating costs. And continuing development around the globe bodes well for air traffic volume trends.

The consensus expectation in the market seems to be for a return to the bad old days of costly competition. But we believe the industry has fundamentally changed due to the dramatically lower number of competitors after years of mergers and consolidation. Consequently, stocks in some of the major airlines appear to be bargains.

4. The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world are set to begin unwinding the interventions used to effect the so-called “zero interest rate policy”, the policy by which the Fed kept the effective federal funds rate close to 0% following the recession of 20081. While restoring returns on bank savings and certificates may be a good thing for savers, rising rates on bonds will cause the value of existing bonds to go down. When you think about it, a 2% bond cannot sell for its full face amount in a 4% world.

Many parts of the fixed income universe appear to be distorted by the central bank policies. We believe that massive amounts of money flowed into mispriced assets in an attempt to find safety.

Clients, these are the things that have caught our attention. We cannot know the future, but it makes sense to try to get a better handle on it than the average market participant. We can offer no guarantees except that we will continue to put our best effort into the endeavor. If you have any questions or comments or insights to add, please email us or call.

1Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Federal Reserve Economic Data


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.