mark leibman

The Pain Up Close and the Big Picture

© Can Stock Photo / PongMoji

This is personal.

I was visiting with a client the other day about the inevitable rebound to come in our economy, and the opportunities that are developing now. The conversation turned to concern for those we know who might not survive a COVID-19 episode, and the grim scenes and stories from tragically overburdened hospitals.

It was a reminder, again, of the duality of our existence.

On the big scale, it is almost mundane. Demographers estimate that 108 billion humans have been born in all of history, and 100 billion of us have already died. Death comes to us all. It happens to everyone.

Yet when you get down to cases, what could be more unique or personal than our experience of the loss of a friend, lover, parent, brother, sister?

It may seem impersonal or cold to compare a projected death toll from our current troubles to some past pandemic, to talk about economic recovery and market rebounds. But we have to think about the big picture in order to make plans for living. We need to avoid emotional reactions to issues which would benefit from reasoned consideration.

I am only going to say this once. I feel the pain up close, intensely. Less than a year ago I learned first hand what happens when the ventilator loses the battle to keep a person alive.

I’ll not be apologizing for trying to figure out how to make the most of what we have to work with. Cathy wrote me a note in her last hours. It said “You have a lot of wonderful life left.” That’s the big picture. 330 million of us will survive the virus in this country. We have a lot of wonderful life left.

We need to feel our feelings about the pain up close. But we owe it to each other to think our thinking in the big picture.

If you would like to talk about the big picture or anything else, please email us or call.

20% – 30% – 40% Off!

© Can Stock Photo / PaulMatthew

Some say the seeds of future gains are planted in the downturns. The future is always uncertain, but the past is not: we know many investments can be owned for less money today than last month or last year.

As we go about our work, we are seeking three kinds of bargains.

  • Great companies available at good prices.
  • Cyclical companies at low points in their cycle.
  • The best bargains in the investment universe, wherever they are.

Often, the companies we most admire seem expensive. We know farmers that are always excited to talk about buying their favorite iconic tractor maker. We hear the same thing from parents about the entertainment conglomerate that makes the movies and runs the theme parks their children enjoy. Downturns sometimes reduce stock prices to attractive levels.

Everyone knows that recessions usually hurt company revenues and profits. We are thinking how the inevitable recovery might improve revenues and profits. That long view improves our appetite for temporarily depressed cyclical companies.

Some of our favorite past bargains have come from the sector politely known as “high yield bonds.” (You and I can use a more descriptive term, junk bonds.) From time to time, at rare intervals over the past twenty years, we have found something we believed to be investable hiding in the junk pile. Times might be ripe for that again.

Now is the time. We are studying and thinking and researching to make the most of it.

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

Change: Lasting or Fleeting?

© Can Stock Photo / martinan

The efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 are reshaping our lives. Work-from-home (WFH), social distancing, and self-isolation mean big changes, with some unforeseen consequences.

We have been thinking and studying some of the impacts on society, striving to understand the effects on commerce and the economy. There are many unknowns.

Fewer people commuting means less traffic past the coffee shop, less wear on automobiles, emptier workplaces. When the virus has faded, will these effects be lasting, or fleeting?

Will work-from-home gain a permanent boost, reducing the long term demand for office space?

Do those who formerly stopped at the coffee shop everyday resume that habit when they begin commuting again?

After enjoying more free time from less commuting, will more people seek to live closer to their work?

“Dinner and a movie” has given way to carry-out, cooking from scratch, and streaming services. What happens when the crisis fades?

What is the future for movie attendance?

Does cooking replace some fraction of restaurant meals?

What effects will these trends have on commercial real estate?

There have been other effects, too. Online shopping got a big boost from mass retail store closings. Weddings, funerals, and other kinds of gatherings have been cancelled or postponed. Some people report an increased interest in improving their health; others talk about using food or alcohol to deal with stress. Are these changes lasting or fleeting?

After the 1918-1919 great influenza pandemic, the Roaring Twenties followed. Were exuberance and celebration a bounceback from the isolation, sickness and death of the pandemic?

We have many questions. What do you think? If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

The End of the World Portfolio

© Can Stock Photo / twindesigner

We live in trying times, a recurring feature of our existence.

Our entire investment philosophy is underwritten by a simple fundamental belief: tomorrow will be better than today. We can’t know that this will be true of every single tomorrow, but we’re pretty sure about the long term trend.

Though they say that “past performance does not guarantee future results”, human civilization has a track record thousands of years long of resilence, rebounding from crisis to do better than before. We expect it will continue. Without this belief the idea of investing for the future is meaningless.

We know that there are troubles in the world, with the news full of the virus, death and disruption. People sometimes feel that the latest bad news signals imminent total catastrophe. This isn’t anything new–people have been predicting the end of civilization for the entire span of human history. Yet somehow we’ve always rebounded all the same.

If the most dire predictions ever do come to pass, it isn’t going to matter what investments you own. Your meanest neighbor will be trying to steal your canned goods. So the ideal portfolio for the end of the world is the one that will serve you best in the event that the end of the world fails to show up—again.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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.

First Light

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Each one of us remembers some new beginning. Perhaps your first thought at seeing the phrase might be of a first day of school, or first kiss, first day at a new job, new relationship, life in a new neighborhood, or something else.

Beginnings are all about potential, anticipation and excitement: a journey on roads we’ve not traveled.

I often take walks in the first light of dawn. The quality of the light in that hour can be magical, whether in the village of Louisville or the banks of the Platte River, along San Diego Bay or Michigan Avenue or in Pinellas County, Florida.

But the meaning of first light is more special to me than the beautiful scenes it might envelope. First light is a new day dawning, another step on a path never before taken. It is fraught with potential, anticipation, and excitement. Each day is a beginning.

This perspective may be helpful to move forward from past hard times, or to change things we would like to change. But it can also be useful as we seek to strengthen new habits or build on recent successes. Whether things are going well or poorly, a beginning is a chance to reset.

What new beginning excites you? Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Liquid Assets

© Can Stock Photo / sparkia

One of the keys to successfully weathering the downturns in the market, large and small, is having sufficient cash to do what you need to do in your real life. That helps avoid selling long term investments at bad times.

A few weeks back we went through investment advisory accounts to check cash balances for ongoing monthly distributions and make sure we had cash positions to last several months. And in our reviews with you, we inquire about upcoming cash needs.

As our lives unfold, our situations may change. For example, we talked with a pair of young adults a few weeks back, a brother and sister, who each are completing advanced degrees. In infancy, they received a gift of shares of stock from their great-grandfather, an old friend of mine.

Their holdings grew over the years. Each one called to talk about the strategy for paying off student loan balances later this year with the value of the accounts. When it became evident that the holding period was down to months, we advised the sale of sufficient stock to clear their balances, at once. Money that you plan on spending in the short term should not be invested for the long term.

The moral of the story is to communicate with us about exceptional cash needs that develop. If together we manage your liquidity to avoid untimely sales of long term investments, you and we will both be better off.

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

Better Safe Than Sorry

© Can Stock Photo / Subbotina

2020 will certainly go down as a memorable year, between the changes in our every day lives and the economic and market developments. My years as caregiver for a person with an extemely fragile immune system has given me a sense of caution about the coronavirus. (Cathy continues to influence me!)

In the spirit of ‘better safe than sorry’ we are seeking some modifications in our work with you. The median age of our advisory clients is in the area of elevated risk, and many of us have other risk factors as well. Here are the things we can do to limit exposure and illness among us all:

  • Many service matters can be done by phone or email; most forms can be signed electronically. This reduces traffic in 228 Main.
  • Schedule appointments in advance, to minimize the chance to be in a crowded place.
  • One on one consultations can be done by phone at your option; we will soon be able to video conference if you prefer.

Of course I will meet with you in person if you need that. We work with you on vital subjects, and we want you to have what you need. For the present we see no reason to suspend face to face visits.

We are doing what we can in the shop to keep it safe, wiping down public surfaces and shared objects, making hand sanitizer available. Handshakes and hugs need to stay virtual for now, not physical.

The best thing that can possibly happen is for everyone to be laughing at me in a few weeks for the needless over-reaction. I desperately hope for that outcome.

Having some experience with respiratory failure leading to death, I’m just wary of a virus that can produce that in a slight fraction of cases in a period of a couple weeks. Thank you for humoring me on this.

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

Flattening The Curve

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We have worked to understand as best we can the coronavirus. There are a lot of aspects to it: the health and safety of our family and friends, public health considerations, economic and investment effects. All this, while sorting through information and misinformation of varying quality.

Which of these are true?

“Most people experience negligible symptoms, or those of a typical case of the flu” or “The virus can cause rapid respiratory failure and death”?

“People who have no other health problems and are below age 60 have little risk” or “It is important for everyone to do what they can to slow the spread of the virus”?

“The experience of other countries should comfort us” or “The experience of other countries should concern us”?

Get your mind wide open, because all of these things contain some truth. Those who are below age 60 and healthy will likely only get mild symptoms with a low risk of death. But healthy people can spread it to at-risk people.

Do you have an elderly neighbor? A young cousin with asthma? Relatives with diabetes or cardiac disease? Are you around people that have organ transplants? Or being treated for cancer? No matter what course the virus takes in the weeks and months ahead, some people with those conditions are probably going to be struggling to stay alive. Not all will survive.

To protect ourselves and others, it makes sense to do what we can to slow the rate of infection. If cases spike up rapidly, hospitals will be overwhlemed, with catastrophic effects on care. (This happened in parts of Italy.) If the rate of infection is more moderate, health facilities have a better chance to stay ahead of the curve. It makes a difference on the death rate.

The experts call this moderating effect of slower infection rates “flattening the curve.” It’s a good thing.

The extremes are not where we want to be: the virus is not going to kill us all, but neither is it a big hoax. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email or call.

Our Work With You

© Can Stock Photo / gajdamak

One of the blessings of a periodic travel day is time to think. My thoughts about our work together recently crystallized at 40,000 feet in the air. The guts of our business may be captured in a single sentence:

People who know us believe we are worthy of helping them manage some part of their net worth.

This thought has three distinct facets.

1. “People who know us” highlights the key role of communicating our principles and values. Who are we? What are we doing? Why are we doing it?

2. To determine if “we are worthy” of helping you, it helps if you can get a feeling for our competence and consistency. Whether we are focused on your results or ours is a key thing, too.

3. “Net worth” figures into our work. We strive to help you two ways, by investing effectively and helping you frame major financial issues so you can make effective decisions. The better off you are, the better off we will be.

It seems to us that this concept of the financial advisory business is timeless, has always been true. Yet our experience with 21st century communications over the past few years says each facet is powerfully improved by the new methods.

People get to know us much more quickly by reading our blogs and seeing the videos. What makes us tick? What are we focused on? Are we paying attention to business? Do we care about our clients? This digital presence makes it easier for you to form an opinion about our worthiness to work with you.

Apart from all that, we know that communication can help drive understanding and attitudes about effective investing behavior. Although some do not need it, others may benefit from the perspective and context we provide. If we are successful in promoting effective investment behavior, we may be helping people build their net worth over time.

It feels invigorating to be using 21st century methods to do business according to timeless principles. Clients, if you would like to talk about this 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 investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

What Comes Next? Three Paths

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Psychologist Shawn Achor wrote about crisis and adversity, recurring features in both the markets and life. Stuff happens, as they say.

Achor says there are three alternate mental paths in the aftermath of crisis.
The first one leads nowhere. We simply expect the crisis conditions to continue. The second one leads downward to more trouble, a continuation of the trend. We humans do tend to believe current conditions or trends will continue.

Finding the third path is difficult when times are tough. Many people do not see it because they do not believe it exists. The third path leads from the challenging conditions to greater strength, capabilities, opportunities and success. Think of it as falling forward.

Studies show those who conceive of failure as an opportunity for growth are more likely to find the third path, and experience that growth. Others have talked about the same concept with words like resilience and grit, or more vividly, post-traumatic growth.

We see this pattern in the investment markets. Although historically the stock market has recovered sooner or later from every downturn, some investors do not recover. Those who can only see the first two paths have a hard time staying invested. If they sell out at low points, believing the crisis conditions will continue or worsen, what might have been a temporary loss becomes permanent.

By the time they see the third path, the market may have already recovered. Their diminished pool of capital can only get reinvested at higher prices, perhaps to repeat the cycle of crisis and loss.

Fortunately, here at 228 Main you clients tend to have productive attitudes toward investing. You can see the third path, which is a big advantage. If you would like to talk about this 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.