Month: October 2020

White-Knuckle Dreams

photo shows wooden chairs on wooden deck on a wooded lake

With decades in the financial industry, it’s been interesting to work alongside some friends and their families for years. I’ve gotten to witness many of their big milestones—and share mine, too.

Some goals have changed over time. It has happened in many different ways. Births and deaths can shift priorities. Sudden windfalls can open up opportunities and goals that once seemed unthinkable.

One quality connects a lot of the most successful goals: they stay flexible.

Is it cheating to say that a goal that changed is still a win? Well, was the birth or the death or the sudden windfall “cheating”? These questions are sort of beside the point. If life is change, a flexible mindset is the winning one.

It’s easy enough to mistake tension for focus or drive. But tense muscles don’t work as well as pliable ones. A marathon runner who cramps up, a surgeon who forgets to breathe—those are not success stories in the making.

We’ve loved getting to help clients meet those huge, lifelong dreams, of course, but there’s no romance in a dream that swallows you up. You can’t white-knuckle your way to your dreams.

We think it’s possible to set our sights high and roll with things along the way. That’s why we put so much stake in the plans and planning that go into your financial situation.

And it’s why we enjoy the work so much. Giving shape to dreams can be as thrilling as seeing them through—in fact, you can’t get there without it.

Clients, when you’re ready to talk about this or anything else, let us know.

What To Do With Your Election Portfolio

photo shows U.S> Capitol surrounded by fall trees

Elections matter, they say. People wonder what effect the outcome will have on their finances. We are getting questions and hearing concerns about this election. Perspective is needed, both from history and about our current situation.

For each president since Bill Clinton, one person or another has urgently expressed to us the need to sell all of their investments because of the ruination that was sure to follow. Folks told us that Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump were all, in turn, going to herald the end of prosperity.

Yet the markets have persisted, never failing to manifest an upward trend over extended periods—with ups and downs along the way. (For perspective, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is about eight times what it was the day Clinton was elected.)

The past is no guarantee of the future, of course. But many millions of people who wake up every day and go to work in their businesses or jobs seem to have a bigger impact than the one person works as president.

We understand and appreciate government that is supportive of private enterprise, reasonable regulation, and taxes that are not excessive. Many people feel we have that in the current administration; some worry about the erosion of these things. Three points are worthy of mention right now:

  • Individual income taxes may go up no matter who wins. This was baked into the Trump tax reductions, which were written to go away after 2025. Even before the virus hit, we had record deficit spending and an unprecedented debt binge. Then programs to counter the virus increased the deficit. No matter who is president, our national finances may require fresh attention.
  • Tariffs and other trade restrictions generally depress economic growth. We have many trade restrictions now, as we did in the Depression years of the 1930s. Policy changes in this arena would likely be beneficial to our future prosperity.
  • Immigrants and the children of immigrants founded more than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies and have long been a wellspring of American vitality and prosperity. Currently, legal immigration is sharply restricted compared to past years. Restoring America to more of a destination for the best and brightest people in the world would probably be good for the economy.

Bottom line: elections seem to matter less than we think in the course of the American economy and markets. And any outcome in the current election is a mixed bag—some things will be better, some will be worse, no matter who wins. So what do we do now, to prep our portfolios?

Keep the faith; stay the course.

Clients, if you would like to talk about your holdings and the election, or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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

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.

Drop Your Tools

photo shows the front of a flat, wooden raft and the rushing water in front of it

We need to cross the river. The river has its dangers, but we can’t stay here. We gather materials and fashion a raft. Perched atop, we paddle it to the other shore, where we have a decision to make.

This raft has served us so well: it helped us get to this side of the river. It is a valuable tool. Should we carry it on our backs, as we continue on land?

Just posing the question should reveal how silly it would be to drag along something we’re done with. No, of course we shouldn’t carry the raft with us.

But as humans we do this sort of thing all the time. We mistake the tool for its meaning, and we cling to what has worked in the past. We can’t drop our tools: they got us here! Where would we be without them? Who would we be without them?

That type of thinking gets people all tangled up. We’re not our choices, and we’re not our tools. (And none of this is for forever!)

In our shop, when we suggest a change of course, it may indicate that a new opportunity has become available, but sometimes it just means that an older strategy is no longer serving us. It has played itself out. And we don’t care what anybody else thinks about our strategies, either, but the meaning of our tools comes not from just having them—but from having used them.

The parable of the raft was one of the Buddha’s teachings. He implored his students to trust their own experiences and use his teachings only as they were helpful. Otherwise, drop them. No dogma, no tool for its own sake.

Trust that the proper strategy and tactics will become clear from the values and principles at the core of this adventure. No strategy, no tactic for its own sake.

Clients, when it’s time to make a change in your portfolios, when we learn something new about the world around us, we will strive to be as transparent as possible. We will share our thinking, how it has changed, and what led us to our conclusion.

When you’d like to talk about this, or anything else, write or call.

What’s a Win?

photo shows a person with a hat and ponytail sitting on a cliff's edge

Maybe you’ve seen this type of picture on social media lately: the family perched on big rocks in the hillside or an orange sunset over the shoulder from the peak of a mountain. Plenty of our friends and relations have been enjoying more of the great outdoors in the past few weeks. Some have even been inspired to hike for the first time!

Those majestic views are such a treat, even experienced vicariously through my screen. But they had me thinking about those hikes and the challenges they pose.

Say you were planning a hike on a new trail. Maybe a two-mile trek would be a reasonable goal: challenging given the terrain, but totally possible. Yeah, it could actually be exciting to push yourself and make that happen! Two miles of work, the corresponding exercise endorphins, and gorgeous views?

That hike would be a win.

So you set off. After feeling the initial burn, you settle into a rhythm and are enjoying yourself. Maybe there’s more to gain here than you expected.

At the end of your planned route, you still feel like you have gas in the tank: on a whim, you travel on for two more miles.

You can’t believe it! This is farther than you’ve ever hiked in your life, more steps than you could ever have imagined! It is totally thrilling.

You check your watch. Time to head back, you suppose, but what a ride! It’s only once you look up that you realize what you’ve done. The gas in the tank was supposed to be for coasting back to comfort and safety.

Your reasonable win has become a burden. Your resources are low; it’s hard to enjoy what you did accomplish because of how little you’re left with now.

Mistakes like these aren’t always deadly or catastrophic—but they can certainly harm your goals and your wellbeing. For investors, the instinct to throw everything in on the way up (and up and up and up!) can mean that much harder of a fall when the reality sets in.

What’s a win? If you set your terms going in, you may be less tempted to risk your goal for some moonshot you didn’t need in the first place.

Clients, remember: we are all about your goals. If you feel them shifting or want to talk, call or email any time.

Small, Boring, and Extraordinary

We talk a lot about plans and planning. Your goals, your situation are at the center of our work. And they have to be: that’s the whole point.

But you didn’t become the best clients in the whole world overnight. It’s been a journey of change for us and for you. So how did we do it? How did we build relationships where we can navigate change, monitor the conditions around us with clear eyes, and adjust when needed?

We didn’t leap off any cliffs together. We didn’t burn it all down. We didn’t do anything drastic. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” the saying goes—and neither is a solid financial life.

We don’t look at a goal—retirement, for example—and expect that one big, amazing deal is going to land a pot of gold in our laps. But we also aren’t going to scratch our heads and wonder how we’re going to magically produce that pot of gold.

Creative Julia Cameron explains, “When we allow ourselves to wallow in the big questions, we fail to find the small answers.” (In fact, her book The Artist’s Way is all about showing up every day, putting in the work.)

Good work often means doing the small, boring bits—over and over. We show up for work. We make sure our savings plan gets executed every payday. We reevaluate our holdings as conditions change. We read, research, and chat.

Clients, our partnership is not a series of grand gestures. But it is a series of respectful connections. As Cameron would put it, it’s about “respect for where we are as well as where we wish to go.”

That is how we grow, together. And we actually think the small, boring moves can build something pretty extraordinary.

Please, write or call when we can be of service.

The Best Way to Get to Know a Recession

photo shows a foggy bend in a road

Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina begins, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This seems like stretching a point. In my life, I’ve had the good fortune to know many happy families, all quite different. But the quote does capture the uniquely lonely feeling that can come with misery.

The market, we believe, operates in much the same way. Bull markets can cover up a lot of performance differences, and although no two bull markets are quite alike, most investors are generally going to be happy regardless.

But each and every recession hurts in a unique way. We just have to wait.

The market behaved very differently in the tech wreck of 2000–2002 than it did in the Great Recession seven years later. And what we see now is different than either of those!

In a conventional recession, heavily cyclical companies like manufacturers get hammered hard. But cyclical companies generally understand the boom-and-bust cycle and plan for it with their savings.

Consumer goods companies on the other hand might take it for granted that people will keep buying food and clothing and other necessities, so they generally do not keep as much cash on hand. The short, sharp shock we experienced earlier in the year took out a lot of retailers that might have weathered a longer, shallower recession.

Homebuilders are normally one of the biggest casualties in a recession, but they are doing booming business now. So are the companies that make the materials they work with. Many big tech stocks, normally volatile and erratic performers, have been scorching the markets.

This is a stark contrast to the 2007 recession, when the housing market cratered and took out a lot of homebuilders, or the 2000 recession, when growth tech stocks got demolished.

In all likelihood, those previous recessions helped set the stage for these sectors’ current outperformance. Going into this downturn “everyone knew” that homebuilders were going to get wrecked because it happened last time.

Perhaps in five or 10 years there will be big opportunities for investing in restaurants or cruise lines as the next recession prompts investors to flee the businesses that got hit hardest in this one. No guarantees.

Every downturn is different, and we have no way of knowing what the future will hold. All we can do is stick to our principles: avoid the stampede and seek out bargains. Sectors that get trashed in one recession may be found in the bargain bin before a different recession. This is why we study and keep our eyes open.

Clients, if you have any questions, please call or email us.


Content in this material is for general information only and 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.

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.