Market Perspectives and Outlook

In 2016, the general election dominated the news headlines while the economy continued its slow slog for most of the year.

Stocks began the year in a slump, losing 10% in the first six weeks and then meandering sideways until July.  The markets rallied in the third quarter, followed by another decline until the election.  That’s when Trump’s surprising win started a rally that has carried the market to nearly 20,000 on the Dow.

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U.S. equities have held their gains since the election, while definitive sector rotations indicate more confidence among investors.  We believe the bull market will continue, although the sharp gains seen recently may give way to more sideways movement and/or potential pullbacks.

Improving economic data alongside a perception that the incoming Trump administration will be more business-friendly has bolstered both stock and Treasury yields.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December and indicated that they expect further rate increases in 2017.

While it remains to be seen how much of Trump’s populist agenda will be embraced by the Republican Congress, a survey of 177 fund managers the week following the elections found they were putting cash to work  at the fastest pace since August 2009.

We always want to be good stewards of our client assets.  As such, we are participating in the market’s growth while at the same time remaining aware that the future holds many uncertainties, especially with the change in government direction and policy as we head into 2017.

As always, we value our relationship with you and welcome your comments and suggestions.

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The Financial Planner as a Healer

Money is a significant source of stress for most people.  In many studies, it ranks above issues such as work, children and family.  Chronic financial stress is often the leading cause of family break-ups.

Chronic stress is also associated with all sorts of health problems, psychological problems, marriage conflicts and behavior issues such as smoking, excessive drinking, depression and overeating.

Men and women under stress have often relied on medical and mental health professionals.  However, financial planners are uniquely positioned to help people address what is likely the number one source of stress in their lives – their relationship with money.  Dealing with these issues head-on with a financial planner can lead to improved emotional and physical health, an improvement of work-related problems and improved relationships with family and friends.

A competent and caring financial planner does a great deal more than manage investments or create a financial roadmap.  He listens and empathizes with the conflicting issues that people face when attempting to manage their personal finances.

Discussing the issues that cause worry with a financial planner can lead to setting realistic goals, analyzing alternatives, prioritizing actions and implementing an easy-to-follow plan.  Just as important, it allows the client and the planner to review progress on a regular basis.

As a result the client gets a sense of personal control over his or her finances.  Someone who is in control of their life has much lower stress than someone who feels that events and outside agents control them.

For a relationship between a client and a financial planner to work well together, they must have shared views and expectations of financial planning, financial markets, investment philosophy, and managing risk.  An initial meeting between a client and a financial planner should establish a comfort level and determine whether the planner is actually interested in the client, or just the client’s money.

The planner’s goal should be to help their clients organize their financial affairs, and to discuss the client’s past, present and future – including death.  The planner should create a level of trust that allows him to keep the client from self-injury, which often results from fear surrounding money.  The financial planner should provide a sort of reality check to the client, reducing both excessive pessimism and irrational optimism.  A client should feel able to discuss money honestly and openly with their planner without a fear of judgment.

In many ways, a financial advisor can be the confidant to whom you can take your financial concerns … and make it all better.

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Dow 20,000? Not so Fast!

The “Trump Rally” has generated a lot of enthusiasm in the investing community.  Despite the cheerleading for the Dow to break through 20,000 before year-end, the market is meandering tantalizingly below that level.

We write this around noon on Wednesday, December 28th, and anything can happen between now and the end of the week.  There is, however, another factor in play that may keep the rally from breaking that magic number in 2016: pension fund rebalancing.

Pension funds have to have a balance between stocks and bonds to meet their risk tolerance targets and investment obligations.  That means as stocks go higher and tilt the portfolio weighting, pension funds will have to sell some of their stock holdings and buy bonds.

Jim Brown at Option Investor wrote this:

The pension fund rebalance for the end of December could see between $38 and $58 billion in equities sold according to Credit Suisse.  Stocks have rallied so much since the election the pension funds have to sell stocks and buy bonds to bring their mandatory ratios back into balance.  That suggests Thursday/Friday should have a negative bias.  Normal volume will be very low so that means even $38 billion in fund selling could have a significant impact.

This helps explain why the market seems to be stuck in neutral so far this week, and why it may stay that way until January.

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Tectonic Shifts – Looking Ahead to 2017

The election has created tectonic shifts in government and promises to make bold changes in the economy.  We have been gathering consensus views from some leading financial analysts for 2017

  • Global interest rates are going up.
  • Global inflation is going up.
  • Global growth is going up.
  • Recession risk is going down.

A new consensus is also building.  The rise of nationalistic self-interest is upsetting the old order the world over.  For the past decade central bankers have been in control of economic policy throughout the world.  It has resulted in low or even negative interest rates in an effort to stimulate economic growth.  The result has been like pushing on a string.  Growth has been slow (the string as a whole hasn’t been moving) and the middle class in the developed world has seen their wages stagnate and their jobs disappear (the middle of the string) while those at the top (the far end of the string) have been virtually unaffected.  It’s part of the reason for the change in political leadership in the U.S. and the re-emergence of economic nationalism as evidenced by the Brexit vote in Britain.

As central bank leadership takes a back seat to aggressive fiscal policy, we can expect political leadership to focus on job growth and economic relief for the long-neglected middle class.  Domestically, here is what we expect to see:

Tax reform:  Trump’s campaign promised corporate tax reform.  To make American companies more competitive globally, he has proposed reducing corporate tax rates from 35% to 15%.  A special 10% rate is designed to repatriate corporate profits held offshore.

Individuals will be taxed at three rates depending on income: 12%, 25% and 33%.

Fiscal policy: The Trump administration wants to spend new money on infrastructure: transportation, clean water, the electric grid, telecommunications, security, and energy.

Health care: Trump wants to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Trade: The new administration has vowed to withdraw from TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) and renegotiate NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).  They also intend to challenge China regarding currency manipulation and unfair trade practices.

Immigration: President-elect Trump intends to establish new, tougher immigration controls to boost wages, build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, deport criminal aliens and end sanctuary cities.

Economy: 25 million new jobs over the next decade is the goal of the incoming administration.  They aim to boost economic growth from 1.5% to 3.5% or 4.0% annually.

The Trump administration will focus on job creation, economic growth, infrastructure spending, reduced regulation, and energy independence while reducing governmental efforts to prevent climate change.  The people that Donald Trump has chosen for his cabinet are largely from the private sector; people that have backgrounds in running successful businesses and creating jobs.

These things are the primary reason that the stock market has reacted well to the election of Donald Trump.  Corporate earnings have been essentially flat for the past three years.  Professional investors see opportunities for renewed economic growth, which will increase corporate profits.  While we view this development with optimism, we always remain cautious.  We expect increased market volatility, especially if terrorist attacks continue throughout the globe.  We also expect interest rates to rise as the Federal Reserve brings rates to a more historically normal level.

We also see opportunities for the creation of new companies.  The number of publicly traded companies has dropped by nearly 50% since 2000.  At the same time, the number of companies that are held by private equity firms has grown explosively – by a factor of six!  This provides a great opportunity for privately held companies to go public and provide yet another opportunity for greater market growth.

As always, we remain cautious in keeping with our philosophy of preserving our clients’ capital.  Over the long term, we see the potential for a new American renaissance.

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Greedy Innkeeper or Generous Capitalist?

During the Christmas season we are reminded of the story of Jesus being born in a stable because there was no room in the inn.  We wanted to share this story with our readers because it says something about Christmas and also about the economy.  It comes from Brian Wesbury of First Trust Advisors

The Bible story of the virgin birth is at the center of much of the holiday cheer this time of year. The book of Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decreed a census should be taken. Mary gave birth after arriving in Bethlehem and placed baby Jesus in a manger because there was “no room for them in the inn.”

Some people believe Mary and Joseph were mistreated by a greedy innkeeper, who only cared about profits and decided the couple was not “worth” his normal accommodations. This version of the story (narrative) has been repeated many times in plays, skits, and sermons. It fits an anti-capitalist mentality that paints business owners as greedy, or even evil.

It persists even though the Bible records no complaints and there was apparently no charge for the stable. It may be the stable was the only place available. Bethlehem was over-crowded with people forced to return to their ancestral home for a census – ordered by the Romans – for the purpose of levying taxes. If there was a problem, it was due to unintended consequences of government policy. In this narrative, the government caused the problem.

The innkeeper was generous to a fault – a hero even. He was over-booked, but he charitably offered his stable, a facility he built with unknowing foresight. The innkeeper was willing and able to offer this facility even as government officials, who ordered and administered the census, slept in their own beds with little care for the well-being of those who had to travel regardless of their difficult life circumstances.

If you must find “evil” in either of these narratives, remember that evil is ultimately perpetrated by individuals, not the institutions in which they operate. And this is why it’s important to favor economic and political systems that limit the use and abuse of power over others. In the story of baby Jesus, a government law that requires innkeepers to always have extra rooms, or to take in anyone who asks, would “fix” the problem.

But these laws would also have unintended consequences. Fewer investors would back hotels because the cost of the regulations would reduce returns on investment. A hotel big enough to handle the rare census would be way too big in normal times. Even a bed and breakfast would face the potential of being sued. There would be fewer hotel rooms, prices would rise, and innkeepers would once again be called greedy. And if history is our guide, government would chastise them for price-gouging and then try to regulate prices.

This does not mean free markets are perfect or create utopia; they aren’t and they don’t. But businesses can’t force you to buy a service or product. You have a choice – even if it’s not exactly what you want. And good business people try to make you happy in creative and industrious ways.

Government doesn’t always care. In fact, if you happen to live in North Korea or Cuba, and are not happy about the way things are going, you can’t leave. And just in case you try, armed guards will help you think things through.

This is why the Framers of the US Constitution made sure there were “checks and balances” in our system of government. These checks and balances don’t always lead to good outcomes; we can think of many times when some wanted to ignore these safeguards. But, over time, the checks and balances help prevent the kinds of despotism we’ve seen develop elsewhere.

Neither free market capitalism, nor the checks and balances of the Constitution are the equivalent of having a true Savior. But they should give us all hope that the future will be brighter than many seem to think.

Merry Christmas.

 

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Is the Trump Rally Real?

Our favorite financial economist, Brian Wesbury, has some hopeful thoughts about the market following the election.

Since the presidential election, the S&P 500 is up 8.4%, the Russell 2000, a small cap stock index, is up almost 20% and the Dow is closing in on 20,000. Financial stocks have surged.

This “Trump Rally,” just like the entire 2009-2016 bull market – which pushed up stocks more than 200% – has its detractors. We heard it over and over in the past eight years, and now we are hearing it again – “the market has moved too far, too fast.”

Wesbury thinks that there’s a real reason for the market’s rise.  “Hope and faith” has nothing to do with it.  His model indicated that the market was undervalued before the election, and he has attributed that to government policies.

We believe the reason it was undervalued was because government policy was constantly making it more difficult for free markets to operate. Higher taxes, higher spending and more regulation increase the risks to future growth. It’s why we have had a Plow Horse economy. At the least, these policies are now stopped, at best, they will be reversed.

He expects that a Trump administration will be much more market friendly.  At the current rate, perhaps he will soon begin talking about a “Race Horse” economy.

Of course, like any prediction about the future, events can get in the way.  That’s why we are always cautious and focused on protecting our client’s investment assets while participating in the market’s advance within the constraints of prudence, knowing that our vision of the future is never guaranteed.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the ride and are getting ready for a very Merry Christmas.

New Years Resolutions for 2017

As another year winds to a close, we wanted to present you with some New Years resolutions designed to improve your financial health in the coming year.

  • Update your estate plan. Has there been a change in your family over the last year?  A marriage, a new baby, a death in the family?  If so, you need to update your estate plan, your insurance policies and your beneficiary designations.
  • Update your internet passwords. Are you using the internet to pay bills, shop, or access your investment accounts?  You will want to update your passwords and make them harder to guess.
  • Review your investments. Have you reviewed your portfolio recently?  Is it still aligned with your needs and goals?  If not, make some changes.
  • Get a personal “Risk Number.” Do you know how much risk you can take?  Most people don’t really know.  Resolve to get your personal “Risk Number“this year.  If you don’t know yours, click here to figure it out.
  • Get your portfolio’s “Risk Number.” Do you know how risky your investments are?  Most people don’t know how much risk they are taking.  Get your portfolio’s “Risk Number” and compare it to yours.  If it’s not the same, you need to consult your financial advisor.
  • Update your financial plan. If you don’t know where you’re going you probably won’t get there.  What’s your financial plan?  If you answered: “I don’t have one” resolve to get one this year.
  • Set your financial goals. Do you know how much you need to save to retire?  Here are some guidelines:

A 30-year-old can open a retirement account and make regular monthly contributions.  By investing properly and aiming for a modest 6% per year rate of return:

  • Saving just $200/month, by age 67 his account will have grown to nearly $350,000.
  • By saving $500 per month the account will be worth over $850,000.
  • Saving $1,000 per month will make our 30-year-old a millionaire by age 59.

 

If you have problems with any of these resolutions, you should definitely consider working with a financial advisor; someone who will be like a health coach for your personal finances.  Resolve to find one this year.

Think of the Advisor as your Sherpa, as it were, whose job it is to guide you amid the extreme altitudes and treacherous passes in investing’s hazardous terrain. That is to say, an Advisor is not someone you hire to beat the market for you, but rather someone who can help you achieve your personal financial objectives as “a facilitator, mentor, and market strategist” for those who, on their own, struggle to achieve their goals.

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The New Trump Economy

We have been talking about the “Plow Horse Economy” for quite a while now.  Low interest rates designed to spur economic growth have been offset by other government policies that have acted as a “Plow” holding the economy back.

Market watchers have assumed that the November election would see a continuation of those policies.  The general prediction was for slow growth, falling corporate profits, a possible deflationary spiral, and flat yield curves.

What a difference a week makes.  The market shocked political prognosticators by standing those expectations on their heads.

Bank of America surveyed 177 fund managers in the week following the elections who say they’re putting cash to work this month at the fastest pace since August 2009.

The U.S. election result is “seen as unambiguously positive for nominal GDP,” writes Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett, in a note accompanying the monthly survey. 

The stock market has reached several new all-time highs, moving the DJIA to a record 18,924 on November 15th, up 3.6% in one week.

Interest rates on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury bond have risen from 1.83% on November 7th to 2.25% today (November 17th), a 23% increase.  Expectations for the yield curve to steepen — in other words, for the gap between short and long-term rates to widen — saw their biggest monthly jump on record.

 WealthManagement.com says that

Global growth and inflation expectations are also tracking the ascent of Trump. The net share of fund managers expecting a stronger economy nearly doubled from last month’s reading, while those surveyed are the most bullish on the prospect of a pick-up in inflation since June 2004.

Investors are now also more optimistic about profit growth than they have been in 15 months.

Whether this new-found optimism is justified is something that only time will tell.  In the meantime to US market is reacting well to Trump’s plans for tax cuts and infrastructure spending.  Spending on roads, bridges and other parts of the infrastructure has been part of Trump’s platform since he entered the race for President.  It’s the tax reform that could be the key to a new economic stimulus.

According to CNBC American corporations are holding $2.5 trillion dollars in cash overseas. That’s equal to 14% of the US gross domestic product.  If companies bring that back to the US it would be taxed at the current corporate tax rate of 35%.  The US has the highest corporate tax rate in the world.  The promise of lower corporate tax rates – Trump has spoken of 15% – could spur the repatriation of that cash to the US, giving a big boost to a slow growth US economy.

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The Election is Over. Now What?

The general election is over and the people have spoken.  Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.

The run-up to November 8th has shown that our country is sharply divided politically.  Some people will be happy and others disappointed by the result.  However, it’s important to avoid letting your personal political beliefs and emotions cloud your long-term investment decisions.

Our job as your financial advisor is to help you navigate your way through the upcoming economic and political changes.  Forecasters can be wrong, and we have seen that pollsters can be too.  We avoid making big bets based on crystal ball gazing.  So how do we see the future?

As students of history we think that countries that keep their governments relatively small, in terms of spending, regulation, and tax rates, will provide their residents with an advantage in pursuing financial prosperity.  Regardless of who won this year’s election, we think that economic growth in the U.S. will generally continue, even with the policy mistakes the winner may make.

Since 2009, we have experienced what we’ve been referring to as a “Plow Horse Economy.”  That means that the macro-economy has gradually recovered even as many people have not seen much of an improvement in their individual economic lives.  The overall economy has grown despite the fact that debt, regulation and political turmoil have acted as a “Plow” holding the economy back.  Despite this drag, the major U.S. stock indexes are up almost 50% over the past four years.

We remain constructive on the economy and the markets.  With the election in the rear view mirror, we expect the Federal Reserve to begin its long, slow walk to raising interest rates from today’s near-zero percent.  We expect those moves to be very gradual and to have little long-term effect on the market.

One other statistic makes us optimistic for the future.  Consumer spending is said to account for 70% of the U.S. economy.  Unfortunately, that vast middle class that we think of as the “average consumer” has not seen much in the way of a fatter wallet over the last few decades.  That was one reason for the popularity of Trump’s message to the middle class that he would restore good paying middle class jobs.  We believe that if he is able to follow through on this promise, a resurgence of earnings growth by the middle class will be a positive for the American economy, and hope that he is able to implement feasible policies to promote such growth.

 

 

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Exploding health care costs

Here are some scary projections about the cost of health care for retirees:

 The average lifetime retirement health care premium costs for a 65-year-old healthy couple retiring this year and covered by Medicare Parts B, D, and a supplemental insurance policy will be $266,589. (It is assumed in this report that Medicare subscribers paid Medicare taxes while employed, and therefore will not be responsible for Medicare Part A premiums.)

If we were to include the couple’s total health care (dental, vision, co-pays, and all out-of-pockets), their costs would rise to $394,954. For a 55-year-old couple retiring in 10 years, total lifetime health care costs would be $463,849.

These projections come from Health View Services.

“Obamacare” enrollment has just begun for the coming year and premiums are increasing an average of 22% even as deductibles have increased to $6,000 for the “Bronze” plan before insurance actually pays anything.   The number of companies offering health insurance to individuals is shrinking and some of the larger companies have stopped offering individual policies altogether.

Many people tell us that health care is one of their top concerns in retirement, right up there with running out of money.  Unfortunately the majority has not even begun to put money aside for retirement and those who have underestimate the cost of doctors, hospitals and drugs during their retirement years.

No matter where you are in your life cycle, you should take action now to get to know a knowledgeable financial advisor, preferable a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) who specializes in retirement and who can provide guidance on these issues.

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