News From The Helm
News from the Helm Summer 2021
Earlier this spring I shared with you what a tremendous turnaround we had experienced over the preceding year since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. The good news is that conditions have continued to be favorable leading us to recent all-time stock market highs. We have truly been rewarded for not letting our fears get the better of us. Congratulations to us all!
But now, what lies ahead?
It’s been quite a while since we have seen a pullback of 10% or more in the market. Rest assured, we will probably see one again soon as this happens on average a little more than once a year according to Ned Davis Research. The S&P 500 declines 20% or more every three years. We certainly experienced that in Q4 2018 when the Federal Reserve Board threatened to raise interest rates, and again in Q1 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. Despite this, historically we have always managed to then reach new record highs.
Certainly, we have concerns about inflation, proposed new taxes and the potential for enormous new spending that could dampen the economy (or possibly even stimulate it.) One meaningful indicator for the direction of stocks is the Presidential Election Cycle. Ned Davis Research reports that, typically, the first year with a new President is positive with returns front-loaded into the first half of the year. Such has been the case so far in 2021. The second year tends to be somewhat volatile with more of a sideways movement before taking off after the midterm elections (November 2022 in this case) with a strong upward trend into year three. While this historical fact has been true on average, it in no way should be relied upon as an expectation to what the future will bring this time. I do, however, remain optimistic with a good dose of skepticism.
I want each of us to be ready to see some headline grabbing volatility and prepare to experience some fluctuations in your portfolio value. My metaphor continues to be that although we may encounter some choppy seas, it is nothing that the boat cannot handle. Should the ride become uncomfortable for any of you, please know we can always deviate tactically to shelter.
Obviously, no one knows for sure what tomorrow will bring, and those who think they do are probably mistaken. Will the strong stock market continue? Should we take our profits and hunker down? The best answer for a call to action remains in the plan that we have in effect for each of you. Unless something significant has changed in your personal situation since we last spoke, we should continue to allow our strategists to deal with the day-to-day allocations. If you do have new developments in your life, please let us know so we can evaluate appropriate alternatives and recommend any warranted course adjustments. Naturally, we will reach out to you if we feel any changes would be helpful.
For those of you who either reside in Washington State, or who have family/friends who do, you should know there are two new taxes taking effect next year.
1. Capital Gains Tax: The state will be taxing 7% of most long-term capital gains items that are triggered in 2022 and beyond. While this is being challenged in court as unconstitutional in the state, we do need to be aware of this new method to tax your earnings. Fortunately, at this time it does not apply to real estate transactions, retirement accounts, to long-term capital gains of less than $250,000 or to the sale of Goodwill of a certain automobile dealership whose family has close political ties. I am concerned that should this tax be upheld by the court it could likely expand such as with the sales tax, tolls and the like. We are reaching out to those of you whom we believe might be impacted by this tax to discuss mitigation options. If you feel this may apply to you, or someone you care about, please send us a message to explore potential actions we can still take this year.
2. Long Term Care Tax: Well, this one we are not supposed to call “a tax.” Washington State is calling it a premium for a mandatory insurance policy that will apply to all W-2 wage earners now and into the future. In my opinion, this mandatory policy is so ineffectual and limited that the State would never allow a private company to offer it. This tax was widely shut down across the state in an advisory vote, yet, it will be imposed starting in 2022 for anyone not having a private long term care policy in effect prior to November 1st of this year. Please know I do not consider this message to be a comprehensive examination of this new mandate. The key takeaways are:
a. It applies to all W-2 wages, unlimited
b. To opt-OUT one must own a private policy of equal or greater coverage prior to 11/01/21
c. Federal and Tribal employees are exempt
d. Self-employed persons are not mandated, but may choose to opt-IN
e. Qualifying benefits are limited those residing in Washington at the time of claim and must be vested (generally ten years of uninterrupted contributions or have paid in 3 of most recent 6 years)
f. Benefits do not begin until 2025. This presumably will give the State time to build up reserves.
g. The benefit is limited to $100/day for one year or $36,500
Unfortunately, it appears that the window has closed for most everyone seeking to apply for a minimal coverage alternative to this tax. Most carriers in the State have suspended new applications until after the deadline passes. Recently, there was still one company we know of willing to accept applications for those over age 50. I do not consider this mandated plan to be a reasonable amount of coverage for most people considering long term care insurance. Please let us know if you have interest in discussing what may be considered more reasonable long term care coverage for you. Those of you living outside of Washington may be asking, “Why should I care?” This type of mandated coverage is being considered in other states and may be coming to you and the ones you care about.
On a bit more of a personal note, Natalie has completed her third of six rotations for med school. Now that she has a short break, we are going boating over the two weeks centered around Labor Day Weekend. The bonus for us is that Canada is finally open! We plan to enjoy some time in both the San Juans as well as the Canadian Gulf Island, a treat kept from us last year. Please know that I will be accessible while out and, being who I am, will still keep an eye on the investment news and world developments. Of course, our strategists will continue to act according to our guidelines.
Well, that’s it for now. As always, I do want to express my sincere gratitude for all of the years of confidence you have shown in our services. We are honored to have the opportunity to work with each of you.
Best wishes for fair winds and calm seas!
News from the Helm Spring 2021
Just a little over a year ago I wrote to you after the major drop in the stock market on Monday March 9, 2020. Yes, I know most of you don’t even remember it now, but it was quite a down day for the markets. The declines continued for two more weeks until we hit a low on March 23rd as we entered into the ether of the Coronavirus and its potential effects on the world economy. A month later in April oil prices plummeted to the point where you could actually be paid for taking possession of a barrel of oil as storage facilities were completely full. Crazy times. Scary times.
At that time, I mentioned some potential winners that could benefit from such turmoil. That guidance turned out to be right! (Even a broken clock is right twice a day.) Home ownership, transportation, telecommuting and home delivery sectors all did well over the past year. In fact, the markets are at, or very near, all-time record highs as I write this message.
Now I’m not writing to gloat, but rather to reinforce the sound advice that I have provided time and time again. Last year I wrote:
As a general rule remain as-is. For the most part our strategists have been taking appropriate action given their specific mandates. Continue to allow them to make the day-to-day decisions so you don’t have to. The money managers who are strategic in their methodology are generally tweaking their portfolios a bit knowing that there are times like this. Our tactical strategists tend to make much larger position changes during these times. Alternative approaches strive to make more incremental gains regardless of the conditions.
This guidance remains steadfast today. We benefit from not overreacting to the current headlines in the news. Today there are many challenges facing our economy:
· A $1.9 Trillion spending/stimulus bill was passed and it looks like things are ramping up for an even larger infrastructure package
· Tax increases appear to be very likely
· The Federal Reserve is increasing the money supply
· As interest rates begin to creep up, we are hearing more and more talk about the prospects for inflation
· What if there is yet another wave of the virus or newer, stronger variants? Will the vaccine prevail?
· A $28 Trillion National Debt!
· With the markets at record highs, is a crash imminent?
So much potential for calamity.
Again, the more things change the more they seem to remain the same. The turmoil is real, but the strategy remains the same. Certain winners and losers will emerge. Yes, they may be different from the recent past, but rest assured our strategists know this, too. They are competent to navigate these troubling waters. We will be contacting you individually IF there is anything we think should be adjusted in your portfolio. Of course, we are available to answer your questions and to provide further guidance as needed. Please continue to keep us posted on changes in your life so that we may be better prepared to serve you.
Speaking of changing in our lives, many of you have asked for updates about Natalie. She continues to do well. She passed her first round of Board Exams early March and is now beginning a series of six-week rotations. She is currently at Madigan Hospital at JBLM delivering babies (and more.) Then she will be off to Alaska for a family medicine stint. Afterwards she will return to Seattle to work at Seattle Children’s as well as the Seattle VA. After a brief boating break with dad, YEAH, she will then go to Spokane for a surgical rotation. Given all of that she continues with her interest in neuro surgery. She mocked me for my queasiness when describing how she touched a live human brain when she scrubbed in on a procedure. I cannot even watch a “surgery” on TV!
Let’s all hope that a continued safe and speedy reopening is upon us. I’m sure we each have places we’d like to visit and people we’d love to see. I remain optimistic that with greater distribution of the vaccine hopefully Canada will open back up this summer for a boating excursion to the Gulf Islands. It has certainly been a very long year!
That’s it for now. Thank you again for your continued confidence.
Coronavirus Update March 2020
I simply wanted to provide this brief update to be a voice of calm and to confirm that we continue to be steady at the helm. First, I want to sincerely express how proud I am of each and everyone of you. Throughout this unpleasant experience not one of you has succumbed to the temptation to panic sell.
I have shared this chart with many of you over the years. I believe it accurately depicts human nature’s tendencies which, unfortunately, can lead us to making unwise investment decisions. Congratulations to each of you for understanding that we do experience rough seas from time to time.
As I wrote previously, our strategists continue to make appropriate adjustments given their mandate for your risk tolerance. Leaving portfolio changes to the professionals in times like these is the right call. We will continue to contact you individually should I recommend any rebalancing opportunities suited to you personally. For now, just continue to hunker down and be prepared for the March statements to look unpleasant, but not insurmountable.
This week our Governor ordered the shut-down of all non-essential businesses. Fortunately, we continue to operate as I am sure you would agree that your money is essential. We think so, too! Maria and I have a plan in place to remain open and continue to serve you in an uninterrupted fashion. We also have been in contact with our financial partners to assure the best possible service during this extraordinary period. At this point we are geared up for minimal inconvenience to you. We are available to meet in person if you wish, or we will certainly arrange for a phone call or web meeting to adhere to recommended “social distancing” policies. Please know we are also able to function at a high level from a remote location should the need arise. (Yes, that does mean from either at home or the boat.)
I’m sure you know that I have read tons of data regarding volatile times like these. Over my 35-year career I have experienced many challenging times through which most of us have navigated together. Thank you for all of the messages we have received making sure that we are doing well. I have especially enjoyed the many cartoons shared. They are a welcome reprieve.
Finally, I must be sure to take a moment to thank all of our responders on the front lines of this fight:
· Our medical personnel who are working tirelessly to protect and treat us.
· Educators who are adeptly providing remote schooling for our kids.
· Friends, family and neighbors for each finding a way to be compassionate and cooperative in helping others.
I believe we will be able to look back at all of this one day and realize that we are more resilient than we ever knew. I remain confident that we will come through this even stronger than before. Meanwhile, I wish each of you good health and continued sanity throughout all of this craziness. We standby to assist you as always. Thank you again for your continued confidence in our services.
Happy 2019! Can you believe another year has come and gone so quickly? I hope you each enjoyed some wonderful times with family and friends over the holidays. Natalie and I traveled to Madeira Island (off the coast of Morocco) to join my brother and his family for New Year’s celebrations in Funchal on their 600th Anniversary. Their fireworks show was spectacular! It was simply the most amazing I have ever seen. In fact, it was overwhelming to be standing in the middle of a 360o ring of fireworks wrapped around the surrounding hillsides and extending out into the harbor. For those with the travel bug and who may be interested, here is a link to a video of the show. Watching it brings back memories, but in no way captures the totality of the experience.
Traveling to Madeira was not easy. I would certainly recommend breaking up the journey. We traveled for a total of 24 hours to get there and then experienced a grueling, mind and body numbing, full 48 hour return trip after a weather-related missed connection in Lisbon. Every seat on every flight was full. This is why I generally prefer to not travel during the holidays. Add insult to injury, the College Bowl games and NFL were blocked from internet access! Can you imagine? They think football is played with a round ball ! Overall, though, we enjoyed our time there. I have included a few photos for you below.
So, yes 2019 is here. Some may say “Finally here!” and “Good riddance to 2018!” at least in terms of the stock market. Yes, it was a volatile year that ended with a fourth quarter that would seem to have been a complete and total meltdown. If you listened to the media you would have heard terms like “Unprecedented,” “The worst December since the Great Depression” and that “A recession is right around the corner.” But is all of that hyperbole really true? The media certainly tends to sensationalize events to meet their message and attract viewers/readers to sell more advertising. I always like to repeat the expression that figures don’t lie, but liars figure.
Over the years I have never been one to bore you with tons of economic data and blather, and I won’t start now. You trust me to be on top of things and to share with you relevant advice customized to your particular situation. Suffice it to say, that in my opinion, the last three months of 2018 were not unprecedented and certainly not unexpected. Was the fourth quarter painful? Of course! Human nature all but mandates that we make a mental note of our portfolios at their high water mark only to measure “losses” whenever our accounts go below that randomly selected level. We never like to see our account values go down…ever. However, that simply is not realistic and, in fact, a prolonged upside in the markets historically leads to bubbles that do pop. Volatility is back. Volatility is completely normal. Volatility should be welcomed.
“Volatility is the price we pay emotionally to make money over the long run.”
- Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist First Trust
Despite the dramatic news reports, the stock market (as measured by the broader SP500 Index) was down approximately 6.25% for the year…which is well within expected tolerance. The point swings on the Dow were head-spinning, but again, the percentage change is what matters. For 2018 the Dow was off just about 6%. To put this into better perspective, if someone had told you on January 1, 2016 that in three years the market would be up over 22% by December 31, 2018 I know most of you would be pretty pleased. The same goes for two years ago being up 12%. Not so bad, is it?
So what is really happening?
In my opinion, media hype. It’s always far more dramatic to measure the drop between the peak and trough of any time period. That is where we perceive the pain. Generally, the media have not hyped up the all-time record highs set in January and again in October last year, but certainly like to reference those peaks as benchmarks for the plummet to the trough when calculating “tremendous drops.” Just like a boat out on the ocean, we have to expect to encounter uneven seas. It is perfectly normal. Now there are a number of key data points, Federal Reserve actions, jobs numbers, leading economic indicators, political strife, threat of trade wars, investor sentiment, algorithmic program trading and so forth that all play a role in creating this volatility. Please simply accept that none of this is new.
In over 30 years of service to you we have been through all this time and time again. I have shared with some of you in my office the “Learning from the Lessons of Time” brochure. One of our investment partners assembled a collection of TIME magazine covers with calamitous headlines dating from as far back as 1972. Here is a link to that report. Along the bottom they show a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Despite the perilous and doomsday fears represented on the covers, the stock market always pulls through to attain new record highs. Please know that to satisfy the regulators I am not making any predictions or promises about the future results of the stock market, any particular investment nor your portfolio, but I do want my optimism for the future to ring through loud and clear. I continue to study a great deal. Given all of the data points, opinions of economists and portfolio strategists, and along with lessons from history, I remain both optimistic and confident in knowing that we have a strong strategy in place for our continued success.
So what do we do?
1. Don’t fall victim to the fray.
2. Evaluate your specific situation.
3. Make professionally advised adjustments along the way.
On the first point it is only natural to get our attention up when the media start sounding the warnings. I am not advising you to ignore everything you hear, or to not open your statements; just merely that I don’t want you to get unnecessarily caught up in it.
Secondly, let’s take a look at our strategic approach and evaluate where things are for you. After establishing a suitably funded emergency reserve, we advocate for three tiers of resources based on when they may be needed:
· Short term income: This involves current income and savings to get us through the next two years. It is comprised of income from work, pensions and social security in addition to earnings derived from investments along with some use of low-risk principal.
· Mid-term income: This tier covers years 2-5. Here we do not need absolute safety of principal, but rather subject to smaller changes in value with an emphasis on income producing investments.
· Longer term: Beyond five years out we really want to focus more on our ability to outpace inflation and give ourselves a fighting chance to grow our portfolio over time. This is the money that by definition will be subject to greater volatility. I refer you again to the Brian Wesbury quote above.
We sincerely believe that each of you is benefiting from this approach in one fashion or another. In certain cases portions of your portfolio may play a dual role in fulfilling these three tiers. If you have any questions as to how your personal portfolio fits this model, please request a review so that we may provide clarification. Which leads me to the third point.
We will recommend suitable adjustments to your portfolio as is advisable. Normally this is done during review meetings, unless circumstances warrant other action. For the most part our portfolio strategists continue to be on top of the situation given the parameters we have established with them. Overriding their professional guidance is generally not advantageous.
The funny thing is I am a little conflicted as I write this message. On one hand, I feel compelled to check in with you with a message of reassurance. On the other hand, we have not fielded one phone call from anyone panicking. I am so proud of each of you. As one client said today, “It’s because your clients are smart and they have a good teacher.” I am just happy giving all of the credit to you. Well done! Yes, we have been through times like these before and we undoubtedly will again.
Thank you for your continued confidence in our services. We are available to assist you with any questions you may have.
Best wishes for a prosperous 2019!
Fall is upon us. I hope you enjoyed a wonderful, fun-filled summer. As I am writing this message on the last Friday of September I am relaxing on the aft deck of our boat at Henry Island near Roche Harbor in the San Juan’s. For the past two weeks Natalie and I have enjoyed some much needed time together on the water and refuse to let summer end. The sunshine is warm, the skies are blue, the winds light, and the water calm and tranquil. It’s amazing how much different it is on the water at this time of year. The crowds have gone home for the most part and we have enjoyed several days of being the only ones around in a few of the places we’ve visited.
One of the many joys on this trip to stand out was to experience the confidence-building moment when Natalie fit the boat into a dock space at Customs just barely able to accommodate us. Just imagine the look on the faces of the people on the dock as they saw this little girl (Okay, well, young lady) unable to see both ends of the boat, expertly maneuver us with great skill with only me on the headset to call out distances from the back. The Border Patrol officer was impressed, too!
I’m sharing this with you now because throughout our voyage I have often thought about how fortunate I am in my life and how much I have to thank you for your trust shown in our services over these many years. Truly, I owe my success and these moments to you. Thank you.
As I wrote previously, this boat represents a 25 year plan come to fruition. For years you have noticed our nautical theme. You know, financial planning is a great deal like boating. The voyage requires planning in advance, competent assessment of the conditions, alternate routes at the ready, constant monitoring, a well-maintained vessel suitably equipped with navigational aids, ample provisions for the journey, and, of course, a competent captain. The metaphor is clear. We have worked together for many years in all sorts of “sea conditions” with some days certainly more challenging than others. Still, we’ve weathered through it all together and have come out in good shape.
My role as your “Retirement Captain” is to work with you to determine the proper course for your financial plans including: goal setting, development of timelines, risk assessment, reasonableness of expectations and so forth. All of this requires proper two-way communication. Just like when I was on the back deck verbally guiding Natalie into that tight space, we need to be able to openly communicate with each other. I need to know what is important about money to you, as well as your priorities, in order to help chart the proper course and to make suitable recommendations for adjustments along the way.
With October upon us we will be reaching out to offer year-end reviews. We greatly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity if you haven’t recently met with us. Please feel free to call or email us in advance of our next invitation to talk. Confirmation of our existing plan and review of “optional routes” will serve to keep us better prepared for potential (i.e. imminent) rough seas ahead. Now is the time to be prepared. Just as Natalie and I have enjoyed some very pleasant cruising conditions, we have the experience and certainty of knowing that there are rougher seas on the horizon somewhere. Likewise, we have enjoyed some wonderful economic cruising conditions. Please do not interpret this as I see storm clouds on the horizon, but rather three decades of experience, and a look to history, remind us all that we must be prepared to ride out the bad as much as to enjoy the good. While we are now enjoying so much good, I want for us to each be fully prepared for a negative change in conditions and to have our plan in place for how we will ride through it again.
I have written before about our commitment to better utilizing technology. While I am always a big fan of in-office, face-to-face meetings, we know that is not always realistic for some of you. Other than phone conferences we are implementing video conferencing as a means of improving our “face time” should we not be able to meet in the office. This may also facilitate the sharing of documents and make it easier for us to be on the same page. Please let us know if this method of communicating interests you. We are still in the learning stages, but are committed to making it work seamlessly for you.
In addition to improved technology, please know there is another reason why I am able to take time to enjoy my passion for boating. As many of you have experienced personally, Maria continues to do a phenomenal job. Just has she keeps you updated on transaction status she continuously keeps me posted on progress while I am on the water. Of course, I enjoy monitoring business, economics and the news while I’m out as a means of relaxing (I know I’m a bit of a freak in that sense), but what helps me the most is the competence Maria has displayed and the way that she executes nearly flawlessly every day for me on your behalf. I appreciate the numerous compliments and expressions of gratitude that I have received from you regarding your experience with her. Maria is just another person I have to thank for my success.
Ok, the sun is getting downright hot now and I think I’m ready for a cold beverage. I look forward to speaking with you soon on our next review. Until then, here’s to wishing you smooth seas!
Thank you again,