Month: July 2018

Clients, What Are You Seeing?

© Can Stock Photo / carenas1

Clients, you represent a vast treasure of human capital, educated in every field of study, experienced in working at everything from farming to pharmaceuticals. We are seeking your help and perspective.

The world is awash in facts and data… about short-term factors. But we invest time in trying to understand longer-term trends because they may have a major impact on the world and our work with you. Slower-moving trends and concepts can be more difficult to spot, so here’s how you can help us help you with two goals.

Finding bargains. Hidden trends may produce mispriced investments. An example: our belief that the next energy revolution, solar plus batteries, will change the world. We may see many years of increased demand for the materials that go into solar cells and batteries and electrical equipment. Also, pipelines and conventional electricity generation might have less activity than anticipated. No guarantees on any of this, of course. But here we are, seeking to understand more about the future—as always:

• What is the coming thing in your area? What is just over the horizon but cannot yet be seen?
• What in today’s world is going away, but few have noticed yet?

Avoiding hype. Obvious trends with investment market implications may get overplayed, again producing mispriced investments. The tech boom of 1999–2000 is a good example. Some said the internet would change everything. It did. But internet-related stocks fell dramatically even as the story came true. So talk to us about what you see in your areas of interest:

• What is everybody talking about today that may be overhyped? What do you see that others don’t?

Clients, please comment, email, or call to talk about these topics or anything else. We look forward to learning to see what you see.


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 economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

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

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Optional Thinking

© Can Stock Photo / lisafx

Readers know we believe there are those financial arrangements that maintain stability and those that may garner long-term investment returns. But anything that promises both stability and high returns is not likely to work out that way.

The uncomfortable truth is, we must live with volatility in order to have a chance at market returns. Short-term market action cannot be reliably forecast, nor profitably traded, in our opinion.

Yet market values can be volatile. Imagine an account of $500,000: a 20% drop would shrink it to $400,000, while a 20% gain would grow it to $600,000. How do people stand it?

First, long-term clients tend to take the long view. If that $500,000 account started as a $200,000 account years ago, the owners remember where they’ve been. That original investment is their anchor: any value above $200,000 represents a gain from that beginning value. (We are talking about the effects of time and compounding, not claiming any unusual investment results.)

Second, the long view helps clients understand that volatility is not risk. Put another way, as we’ve written before, a short-term drop does not necessarily represent a loss. How should we view that $500,000 value dropping to $400,000, in the long view? Relative to the original $200,000, it’s still a gain. Worrying about drops as if they are losses is optional for people who are investing for many years or decades down the road.

Third, even while staying the course over the long haul is important, strategies need to address short-term needs. For those who are living on their capital, knowing where the cash is going to come from is vitally important. With secure cash flow, it is easier to live with the ups and downs in account values. We call this pursuit of opportunity “owning the orchard for the fruit crop.”

This perspective requires a certain confidence that we will stumble through any problems and likely come out of whatever troubles have arisen. Optimism is sound policy, for if we are going back to the Stone Age, it won’t matter what is in your portfolio anyway.

Clients, if you would like to talk about these ideas or any other, 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.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.

 

Building a Retirement Fund: Two Simple Things

© Can Stock Photo / tashka

As a rookie in business, I impressed myself with how much knowledge the work required. It was complicated! It did not take long to figure out that many people believe the same thing about their work.

The point was driven home when I made the mistake of suggesting that working in the ice cream factory must be pretty simple—to a fellow who worked on the production line. “Are you kidding me? You got all your different flavors, plus the ones with nuts or candy mixed in… it’s complicated!”

Like any field of endeavor, retirement planning has those who seek to impress with how complicated it is. But if you get just two simple things right, you can put yourself on the road to progress.

Your Savings Rate. The money you put away is the raw material of your future retirement. The first thing is to set aside money every payday. 401(k) plans make it easy, but you can do it with or without one. It seems like many people starting out cannot save 10% or 15% of their earnings—one needs to buy groceries and electricity, too.

But wherever you start, even at 1% or 4%, you can increase that 1% per year until you get to 15%. Or put half of any raise into the plan—if you get a 4% raise, add 2% to your contribution rate.

Your Long Term Strategy. Put your long term money into long term investments. Various investments offer short term stability or long term returns—but not all of both. If your retirement is decades away, investments that promise a stable value tomorrow or next year do nothing for you in your real life. You might aim for higher returns instead.

(Some people are unable to live with the ups and downs of long term investing. We aren’t suggesting that living with volatility is right for everyone. But if you require stability, you will probably need to save more in order to reach your goals.)

Clients, if you figured these things out long ago, you might pass this along to younger folks. To talk about these ideas or anything else, 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.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

 

Peak Experience

© Can Stock Photo / Nejron

You know we are endlessly fascinated by the search for investment bargains, the interplay of human behavior and the markets, and economic cycles. We enjoy talking with you, and collaborating on your plans and planning. But the pinnacle of our work is in a whole different category.

Once, a life-long friend of a close client had not been able to solve the question, “Can I afford to retire?” Mrs. S had raised two children on her own after being widowed at a young age, and was working at a job that had become onerous as she approached retirement age. For two years she had pursued the answer, but could not find it.

She needed to gain the confidence that she could retire. The resources were there, through her lifetime of diligent saving. We were able to explain the meaning of her wealth, how it could help her work toward where she wanted to go, in terms she could understand.

A year and a half after that, she called to ask another question. Would it be possible for her to own a home, or was that a pipe dream? She had spent thirty years in a modest rental duplex. Some time later she began her home search.

These questions, and others like them, are the reason we are in business. Our real work is not about making money. It is about helping clients make decisions that could change their lives.

Mrs. S was never our largest client. She never paid us the highest fees. But the personal satisfaction we felt from our work was vast.

Many will never need that much help. They come to a comfortable understanding of the meaning of their wealth without our context and perspective. We are still very happy to play a role investing their resources, and answering those financial planning questions that do arise.

Clients, if you would like to talk about these things or anything else, 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.

 

Connect the Dots

© Can Stock Photo / bradcalkins

Do you remember the “connect the dots” pictures for children? By drawing lines from one dot to the next, the players discover that a coherent picture emerges from a seemingly disorganized collection of dots on the page.

Likewise, our work involves creating a picture that makes sense out of all the things going on in the world. In our version, though, there’s no handy numbering guide to draw our attention to the relevant dots.

Instead there seems to be an infinite number of dots in the world. So our first task is to do some sorting. For example, a vast mass of information is available about the day-to-day movement of the stock market. We can sort out any dots that fit into the category “the market goes up and down”—and then discard them. They are not pertinent for long-term investors.

Time horizon plays a large role in sorting as well. There is a wealth of opinions about nearly any investment alternative. A short-term technical analyst may have an opinion that is useful to a day trader but worthless to investors who are thinking in terms of years or decades.

But our work involves more than sorting out what to ignore. We frequently need to dig deeper—to read SEC filings, to research what happened in prior cycles years ago, and to look up many years of operating results. In other words, we still have to be able to find some of the specific dots we know are needed to complete the picture.

For example, we believe that inflation in the next few years will exceed consensus expectations. There is little information from the past decade supporting this view, in our opinion, but as we dig deeper, the patterns going back many decades suggest we may have it right. (No guarantees.)

Another way of saying all of this is that perspective, context, and background matter as we try to connect the dots. We are fortunate to have time to think deeply—and clients who value our methods and our work are a big plus. Together, we’ll create the picture.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else on your agenda, 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.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Who Controls Your Destiny?

© Can Stock Photo / photocreo

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
-C.S. Lewis

When we came across this quotation from novelist and academic C.S. Lewis, it made us realize one other trait tends to set you, our clients, apart from others. We have long believed you form a niche market of the mind, sharing certain beliefs about investing and life. Our understanding of your uniqueness is deepening as we go along.

Successful planning—our work–requires all of us to believe that we have some control over our outcomes—that we can start where we are and change the ending. But not everyone believes that.

Do people have control over how things turn out, or do external factors, things beyond our control, govern? Psychologists refer to this dimension of personality as the locus of control. We humans vary in this respect.

Much is beyond our control. Accidents happen, markets move randomly in the short run, others sometimes make decisions we do not like. Yet we try to make the most of what we have to work with. We expect that we can make the future better with the actions we take today.

At one extreme, some believe nothing they do can make a difference. If planning is fruitless, we cannot be of service. At the other extreme, some believe that everything can be controlled. This is a problem too—we do not control the stock market!

We are grateful for your balanced outlook: willing to take action to make a better future, knowing that stuff happens, always looking to make the best of it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else on your agenda, 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.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Wishing For A Gold Mine?

© Can Stock Photo / snokid

We know a fellow who built a gold mine. Whenever we mention this, people usually ask what it was. The answer is…a gold mine. This client worked as a construction superintendent for a very large contractor. He had built coal mines and a gold mine among many other large projects.

This anecdote comes to mind as we prepare to tell you our latest thoughts on investment tactics. We invest time every week looking for the best bargains, trying to figure out emerging trends, thinking about the economy and the markets. In a recent research meeting, Greg Leibman posed the question, “What can we own that might benefit from rising inflation?”

We humans tend to think that recent conditions or trends will persist. This makes it hard to realize the long spell of very low inflation might come to an end, with inflation outpacing expectations.

One way to weather periods of rising inflation is to invest in companies that own things: land, buildings, factories, raw materials, and so on. An oil company already owns the oil in their reserves and the wells to pump it; when prices go up, they get to sell it for more profit but most of their capital expenses have already been baked in.

Miners similarly benefit when the prices of their existing mineral reserves go up. Like oil companies, their stock price tends to move in correlation with natural resource prices, making them a potential inflation hedge. Some mining companies have exposure to the gold market, which some people may see as a particularly important hedge against inflation.

We have had raw material companies on our radar for some time now: they tend to be big cyclical movers, and we have been bullish about the current cycle so far. But we believe that this same sentiment may have created buying opportunities in the mining sector.

We look for potential gaps between expectations and the unfolding reality. That is where profit lives, in our opinion. When Greg posed the question, we put our heads together and started looking at potential opportunities. To summarize,

• Inflation may exceed expectations in the years ahead.
• We believe that some companies within the mining sector are at bargain levels.

There are no guarantees. What we think of as bargains sometimes have the dismaying tendency to get cheaper after we buy them. But we think we have identified potential investment opportunities that may be appropriate for some portfolios. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, 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.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

The fast price swings in commodities and currencies will result in significant volatility in an investor’s holdings.

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

The Inflation Powder Keg

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A few weeks ago, the Federal Reserve issued a policy statement greenlighting more interest rate hikes despite fears of inflation.1 For years the Fed has struggled to keep inflation up to its target rate of 2%, and now that it is there, it looks likely to us that the Fed may overshoot the target entirely.

Interest rates and inflation tend to go hand in hand. When interest rates are high, borrowers can earn more money to spend, creating upward price pressures. When inflation is high, lenders try to raise rates to keep ahead of inflation. As rates continue to rise, you can often expect inflation to do the same.

Worse, there are other pressures looming on the horizon that we think may contribute even more to inflation. A strong economic cycle and robust jobs market may often bring higher inflation. As unemployment drops, workers become harder to find. Many companies might have to offer higher wages to get the employees they need, forcing them to raise prices—at the same time that workers have more money to spend from higher wages. Rising prices and rising wages equals inflation.

We also expect more price pressure to arrive from overseas. The trade war that the current administration seems bent on fighting shows no signs of cooling off. When you raise taxes on a product, such as a tariff on imports, inevitably the price may go up to pay for the taxes.

Tariffs create knock-on effects, as well. Many products manufactured inside the U.S. use materials imported from overseas that are subject to tariffs, so domestic products may also face rising prices. And domestic companies that are fortunate enough to dodge the tariffs entirely may still raise their prices opportunistically: with the prices of other goods rising, they have an opportunity to increase prices and profits without hurting themselves as much competitively.

Once again, where you have rising prices, you have inflation. Put it all together and the economy may be sitting on a powder keg of explosive inflation pressure. We do not know when or if the powder may exploded, but we cannot afford to ignore it.

We have gotten so used to low inflation rates in the past decade that it is easy to pretend they will last forever. Sooner or later, we expect some investors to be burned by this mindset. We want to do what we can to avoid being among them. Clients, if you have any concerns about how inflation may affect your portfolio or investment strategy please call us.

Notes and References

1:Press Release, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve: https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20180613a.htm. Accessed June 28, 2018.


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 economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.