REINVENT CAPITALISM?

Kraft Heinz (KHC) and Unilever (UL) have many things in common. Both companies own hundreds of global consumer brands- KHC includes not only Kraft foods and Heinz Ketchup but also Planter’s peanuts and Grey Poupon mustard. Unilever owns Dove soap and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Lipton’s tea and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Both have been in business since the 1920s. Both employ tens of thousands of employees.

In early 2017, KHC offered to buy UL for $143 billion. UL’s then CEO, Paul Polman, fended off the takeover attempt because of a “corporate culture that couldn’t have been more different from Unilever’s.” Since then, KHC’s share price has dropped 70% and UL’s has increased about 35%. If we look at some of the differences between KHC and UL we will see why Mr. Polman didn’t want to merge with KHC and why he would like to see capitalism “reinvented.”

After receiving his M.B.A., Mr. Polman joined Procter & Gamble which provided the foundations for his leadership approach. In his recent NYT interview, Mr. Polman indicated that “P&G has enormous values that permeate all levels and all places in the world that it operates. Ethics, doing the right thing for the long term, taking care of your community is really the way you want a responsible business to be run.”

Fast forward to 2009. After 10 years of decline, UL hires Mr. Polman as CEO. Annual sales had dropped from $55 billion to $38 billion. Mr. Polman felt UL had good brands and good people but had become too “short-term focused.” A change was needed.

Mr. Polman brought back values from the 20s that were at the roots of Unilever’s success. He felt a more responsible business model was needed. He came up with a bold plan to double Unilever’s revenue while cutting the company’s negative impact on the environment in half. And, he committed his entire team to focus on the long-term, not the short-term, in solving important issues.

In short, Mr. Polman believes “We need to reinvent capitalism, to move financial markets to the longer term.”  He felt that “KHC is clearly focused on a few billionaires that do extremely well, but the company is on the bottom of the human rights indexes and is built on the concept of cost cutting.”

This long-term vs. short-term focus is at the heart of a recent best seller, “Prosperity” by Colin Mayer, a former dean of Oxford’s Said business school. Dr. Mayer believes that a great shift in businesses, here in the U.S. and abroad, started about 50 years ago with the overwhelming acceptance of Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s simple doctrine that “the one and only responsibility” of a business is to increase its profits for the benefits of its shareholders, as long as it stays within the rules of the game.” This has been a “powerful concept that has defined business practice and government policies and has molded generations of business leaders.” It has resulted in a huge emphasis on quarterly reporting and quarterly behavior.

Dr. Mayer believes, on the other hand, that the purpose of a corporation should consider its customers, employees, suppliers, and communities as well as its shareholders. Historically, family-owned businesses were cognizant of and responsive to all the constituencies that compose a business and focused on the long-term. Today, almost all corporations in the UK and many US corporations are no longer owned by the founders or their families. This change has accelerated due to the focus on short-term profits, often by simply merging and cutting costs. Dr. Mayer also pointed out that corporations can also have dual-class share structures (typically voting and non-voting shares) which can allow the founders and their like-minded successors to control the company and therefore focus on its long-term purpose rather than quarterly earnings reports. Ford, Google, and Facebook all have this structure. This is a positive trend.

Robert Reich’s new book “The Common Good”, sums it up this way, “In the corporate world, the single-minded-pursuit of shareholder value has displaced the older notion that companies are also responsible for the well-being of workers, customers and communities they serve.” “The common good is no longer a fashionable idea.” He defines common good as “consisting of our shared values about what we owe another as citizens who are bound together in the same society.” Regardless of political party, all Americans should embrace contributions to the common good.

For 50 years, there has been a huge focus on financial capital with less attention paid to human capital, intellectual capital, material capital and environmental capital. All five of these components of capital should be considered for the overall long-term growth and common good of America and the world.

Reinventing capitalism would require companies to focus on more than quarterly profits. Consideration of all of its constituents- customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers, communities and the environment for the long-term-could certainly benefit the common good and likely produce even better stock market returns in the long-run as well.

Happy Labor Day!

“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work” – Booker T Washington

Happy Labor Day from all of us at DWM!

We hope that whether you’re at the beach, the lake, or eating BBQ with friends and family at home, that you enjoy the long weekend and soak up the end of summer!

 Around The Office: Blair Gaddis is the newest Addition to the team as the Client Services Associate for the Charleston office. She moved from Atlanta with a background in fundraising and marketing and is excited to be a part of the DWM team!

Dealing With Investor Anxiety: Think Long-Term

Stock prices reflect a mix of emotions, biases and rational calculations. The bond market reflects the economy. Historically, bond markets had done a better job in predicting recessions.

The two big bond stories last week were 1) the “inverted yield curve”- when interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than long-term bonds, and 2) yields below 2% on 30 year treasuries- indicating investors expect low inflation and a weaker economy for a long time.

We all remember the 2017 income tax cut that boosted the economy and produced stock markets returns of 20% or more in 2017. These tax cuts were supposed to lay a foundation for many years of high economic growth. Since mid-2018, however, the economic data has been confirming what many of us expected. The tax cuts provided a short sugar “high,” which is now over. Instead, we have trillion dollar deficits and lack of large promised business investments, including infrastructure, which never materialized. The economy has reverted to its pre-stimulus growth rate of near 2%.

This shouldn’t surprise us. No major economy is growing as fast as it was before 2008. In almost every country, the national discussion focuses on what must be done to revive growth and ignores the fact that the slowdown is happening everywhere. The working population is declining in 46 countries around the world, including Japan, Russia and China. Demographics are a key driver of economic growth. So, we can expect to see recessions (two quarters of negative growth) more likely in the future as working populations contract. BTW- the U.S. population is growing at less than 1% per year.

Over the next few decades, we will likely see more growth decline. Ruchir Sharma, author of “The Rise and Fall of Nations,” suggests that new benchmarks for economic success should be 5% growth for emerging countries, 3-4% growth for middle income countries like China, and 1-2% growth for developed countries like the U.S. and Germany.

Yes, there are uncertainties in the market, including US-China trade tensions, a weakening European economy, and concern about a recession. These produce a huge dilemma for U.S. business owners, trying to make plans for the future. So, there are lots of piles of cash, waiting for clarity. We may or may not soon have a recession. Yet all of this uncertainty produces increased volatility and anxiety. And studies show that a 3% down day, like last Wednesday, feels about ten times worse than a 1% down day. What’s an investor to do to reduce anxiety?

We understand it is difficult to think long-term, but we highly recommend it:

1) Recognize that equities will likely produce lower nominal returns in the future. However, with inflation also likely lower, the real returns of equities will likely outpace fixed income and alternatives. Equities will continue to provide the primary engine of growth.

2) Use all three asset classes. A diversified portfolio composed on equities, fixed income and alternatives has been shown to reduce risk and increase return.

3) Review your long-term financial plan and determine what rate of return you need to meet your financial goals. The expected return of your asset allocation must be sufficient to meet your goals or you need to revise your goals and plan.

4) Review your risk profile to determine your appropriate asset allocation. Using the assumption that equities could drop 40% and you can’t tolerate a loss of 10% or more in your portfolio, then your allocation to equities should not exceed 25%. Of course, this allocation would severely limit your upside.

5) Stay invested. Don’t try to time the market. A recent report from Morningstar shows that “low cost funds”, (like those used at DWM), “lead to higher total returns and higher investor returns.” First, for efficient markets, the active managers in the high-cost funds overall produce gross results equal to the benchmarks, but then the additional costs of 1% or more is subtracted. Second, studies show that active managers attempting to time the market have failed and this subtracts another ½% per year from performance. Even highly-paid active managers can’t time the market successfully.

Lastly, in this time of overall investor anxiety, fee-only total wealth managers, like DWM, are here to rescue you. Yes, we execute a detailed process to add value every day in the areas of investing, financial planning, income taxes, insurance and estate planning. Yet, one of our most important tasks we have is to protect our clients from hurting themselves in the capital markets. Investors overall have a very human tendency to do exactly the wrong thing at the worst possible moment.

We understand it’s hard to think long-term. Today’s world moves at a very fast pace. And, the news is often designed to instill fear. Don’t succumb to emotions. Reduce your anxiety. Allowing your portfolio to compound quietly over time can be boring, yet very successful.   If your allocation or the markets are making you anxious, let’s talk.

EQUIFAX’S BIG PAYBACK: SHOULD YOU FILE A CLAIM?

It was just two short years ago when Equifax went public with the realization that access to about 150 million users had been obtained by a third party still unknown to top security officials. Without knowing the perpetrators, motive behind this breach has yet to be concluded, generating worries about criminals using the identities stolen to cash in through the sale of said data or something more nefarious, including spy scandals.

While advanced cyber security and dark web professionals sift through to try and find the data, Equifax has been trying (and being forced to) make up for their mistake with the millions of Americans whose information was violated. On July 22nd, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission, in conjunction with several other agencies and all 50 states, agreed in court to a settlement of roughly $700MM to be paid out in reparations to those affected by the breach in accordance with allegations that the company did not provide and monitor security measures to protect against this attack. This is on record as the largest settlement ever dished out for a data breach in U. S. history.

Of that $700 million dollars, at least $300 million is to be used to offer the plaintiffs access to years of free credit monitoring service in order to ensure that any data stolen from Equifax during the breach was not used to steal individual’s identities, and also allows for free credit freezes as well for those who are more concerned. The other payout option they provided was $125 for anyone who files a claim for it. An extremely small payout on an individual level considering the fortunes that could be lost if a person’s identity was indeed stolen, but still a payment nonetheless. Should you file for one of these checks?

Well, unfortunately, Equifax has turned around and in the blink of an eye, stating that the amount of people filing for this $125 payment has surpassed the allocated funds for paybacks. According to the FTC, “because of high interest in the alternative cash payment under the settlement, consumers who choose this option might end up getting far less than $125”. Beyond the fact that this amount may be smaller in scope than originally planned on, the filing process isn’t as easy as filling out a form. Instead, those who file are required to gather documents related to the hack that show losses, and provide ancillary information and documents in the process of filing your claim. Many of those who have started the process are turned off by the fact that they need to proceed in presenting further information to the company that they already don’t trust to keep their information safe, and several scammers have set up websites to further deceive you into entering personal information. However, regardless of all these issues, millions have, and are continuing to file their claims which will remain open until January 22, 2020.

While the $125 (or likely much less) payment option may not be the best call, the alternative option for free credit reporting, monitoring, and freezing is catching on with some of those affected. Included in this package is free credit reporting, most importantly from all three major credit bureaus, which in theory is worth “hundreds of dollars a year” according to Robert Schoshinski, the assistant director for the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. To add to this value, included in the credit reporting is up to $1 million dollars in identity theft insurance and individualized identity restoration services. All in all, this secondary option may not be the source of direct money in your pocket, but rather can save you huge amounts of money in the case that something malicious were to occur as a result of this breach.

Here at DWM, we are always monitoring ways we can protect our clients, and we will continue to do so. While Equifax may not be giving out the $125 check anymore, free credit monitoring might be a very nice way to go if you’re willing to go through the process of filing a claim. This can essentially mean spending five to ten minutes of your time for 10 years’ worth of peace of mind, and roughly $2,400 worth of value ($20 per month of monitoring for 10 years). While it may seem like pocket change in comparison to the value of the data stolen from you, this can definitely serve as great protection in the case that any of this information is fraudulently used in the future.

 

If you would like to file a claim, please visit Equifax’s claim website: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/file-a-claim

Did You Ever Dream That You Forgot Your Pants? No Problem.

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Have you ever dreamed that you are walking into a college final exam and you have done no studying for it?   Better yet, in the dream, have you walked into the exam and forgotten your pants? I can tell you from personal experience, I have had dreams where both events occur. Fortunately, I’m pleased to report, this has never happened in real life and likely and hopefully never will. More importantly, though, I now know that my dreams have served an all-important psychological function-working out my anxieties in a low-risk environment and preparing for the future.

Most of the emotions we feel in dreams are negative; including fear, helplessness, anxiety and guilt. Yet, this night-time unpleasantness may, in fact, provide an advantage during the day.

All sleep is not the same. Dreams typically occur in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when our brains are more active. You cycle between REM and non-REM sleep. First, comes non-REM sleep followed by REM sleep and then the cycle starts over again. Babies spend 50% of their sleep in the REM stage, compared to only 20% for adults. Deep sleep which is non-REM is known for the changes in your body, not your brain; when your body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle and strengthens the immune system.

REM sleep is crucial for mental and physical health, yet we generally slough off the dreams as being silly, juvenile, and self-indulgent and simply get on with our day. Because dreams seldom make literal sense, it can be easier to discard them than to try to interpret them. In fact, according to Alice Robb, author of “Why We Dream,” dreams can help us “consolidate new memories and prune extraneous pieces of information.” Further, they may provide a time for the brain to experiment with a wider array of associations of the facts and outcomes and sometimes help solve problems.

Finnish evolutionary psychologist Dr. Antti Revonsuo studied the perplexing question of why our minds subject us to something so unpleasant. He reasoned that if our ancestors could practice dealing with dangerous situations, perhaps battling a mastodon, as they slept, they might have an advantage when they had to confront them in the next day. Research on animals fits into this theory. REM deprived rats struggle with survival-related tasks such as navigating a maze, while rats with REM sleep apparently dream about this upcoming challenge and perform better.

In 2014 researchers at the Sorbonne interviewed a group of aspiring doctors about to take their medical school entrance exam. Nearly all of the 719 students who replied had dreamt about the exam at least once beforehand and, understandably, almost all of those dreams were nightmares. They had dreamed that they got lost on the way to the exam facility, that they couldn’t understand the questions and that they had written their answers with invisible ink. Ouch. But, when the researchers compared the results of the exam with dreaming patterns, they found that students who dreamed more often performed better in real life.

Ms. Robb suggests that, while we tend to focus on and discuss dreams that are strange, most dreams are less bizarre than we think. A study in the 60s by psychologist Frederick Snyder of 600 dream reports showed that “dreaming consciousness” was, in fact, “a remarkably faithful replica of waking life.” He found that 9 out of 10 dreams “would have been considered credible descriptions of everyday experience.”

In another study, Dr. Revonsuo and Dr. Christina Salmivalli, analyzed hundreds of dreams from a group of their students and discovered that the emotions in the dream were usually appropriate to the situation, even if the situation itself was unusual. “The dreamer’s own self was ‘well preserved.’” Effectively, even in dreams, we know who we are.

So, go ahead and get a good night’s sleep tonight and look forward to the REM dreaming phase. It may feel negative and not be all that comfortable. However, it just might give your brain some time to work through some important matters and find solutions.

ECONOMY CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF GROWTH: IS IT TIME TO PARTY?

Next week will mark the 121st month of the current bull market- the longest business cycle since records began in 1854. Based on history, a recession should be starting soon. Bond rates now form an “inverse yield curve” with shorter term rates above longer term, which typically signals a downturn. Business confidence is down. However, 224,000 American jobs were created in June and equities continue to soar, rising 16-20% year to date. Is it time to party or not?

The business cycle appears to be lengthening. The current expansion, coming after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, has been unusually long and sluggish. Average GDP growth has been 2.3% per year, as compared to the 3.6% annual growth in the past three expansions. The workforce is aging. Big firms invest less. Productivity has slipped. And, Northwestern Economics Professor Robert Gordon continues to assert that American’s developments in information and communication technology just don’t measure up to past achievements including electricity, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and the internal combustion engine.

However, the changing economy may now be less volatile for a number of reasons. 1/3 of American’s 20th century recessions were caused by industrial declines or oil-price plunges. Today, manufacturing is only 11% of GDP and its output requires 25% less energy than in 1999. Services are now 70% of our GDP. Furthermore, the value of the housing market is now 143% of GDP, as compared to a peak of 188%. Banks have lots of capital.

Finally, inflation has been very low, averaging 1.6% in the U.S. (and 1.1% in the euro zone) per year during the current expansion. In earlier business cycles, the economy would surge ahead, the jobs market would overheat, causing inflation to rise and leading the Federal Reserve to put on the brakes by raising interest rates. Today, it’s different. Even though the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low of 3.7%, wage growth is only 3%. As the Economist pointed out last week in “Riding High,” American workers have less bargaining power in the globalized economy and are getting a smaller percentage of company profits, keeping inflation down. The Fed recently announced that it is less concerned about rising prices and more concerned about growth slowing and, therefore, will lower interest rates at its meeting next week.

Changes in the economy to slower growth, more reliance on services and lower inflation all contribute to longer business cycles. Yet, the changing economy, particularly globalization and technology, has also produced new risks.

Manufacturing that was formerly done in the U.S. is now outsourced to global producers. These chains can be severely disrupted by a trade war. This could produce a major shock- imagine if Apple was cut-off from its suppliers in China. Also, take a look at the impact that the prolonged grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX is having on the U.S. economy. It’s hurting suppliers, airlines, and tens of thousands of workers, while $30 billion of the MAX sit grounded. Global supply chains are extremely interconnected these days.

IT is significantly linked as well. Many businesses outsource their IT services via cloud-computing to a few giants, including Alphabet (GOOGL).  85% of Alphabet’s $100 billion annual sales comes from advertising, which in the past has been closely correlated to the business cycle. GOOGL invested $45 billion last year, 5 times more than Ford. In fact, the S&P 500 companies invested $318 billion last year, of which $220 billion was spent by ten tech companies. The big IT companies are now facing regulatory issues worldwide. What would be the worldwide impact if GOOGL, Facebook or others get their “wings” clipped?

Also, finance issues could disrupt the expansion. Although housing and banks are in decent shape, private debts remain high by historical standards, at 250% of GDP, or $50 trillion. And, if the prime lending rate continues to decline, banks’ profits and balance sheets will likely weaken.

Lastly, politics is a big risk. There are the threats of trade wars with China and physical war with Iran. The big tax cut that pushed markets up in 2017 could now produce lower year over year earnings for companies. On Monday, July 22nd, Congressional leaders and White House negotiators reached a deal to increase federal spending and raise the government’s borrowing limit. This would raise spending by $320 billion, at a time when the annual deficit is already nearing $1 trillion, despite the continuing expansion.

Conclusion: Changes in the economy have produced reasons why business cycles are longer, yet more sluggish. Those changes have also added new risks for a continuing expansion and bull market. No one can predict the future. Focus on what you can control: Make sure your risk level is appropriate for your risk profile. Make sure your portfolio is prepared for the next downturn. And, yes, stay invested.

Pizza Meets Technology

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What’s your favorite pizza? In Chicago, I love Lou Malnati’s deep-dish, in the Lowcountry, Grimaldi’s Brooklyn Bridge, with ricotta and Italian sausage, is amazing. And, now, thousands of years after pizza was invented, it too is being impacted by technology. Recently, the WSJ, in their “The Future of Everything” section, focused on the impact technology is having at Domino’s Pizza.

But first, let’s take a look at the history of pizza. Archeologists in Sardinia have found ancient remains from the 1st millennium B.C. of flattened bread that was apparently very popular. Writings in the 6th Century B.C. mentioned soldiers baking flatbread and covering it with cheese and dates. Stone ovens are mentioned in the 3rd B.C. when Roman historians described “flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked in stones.” Excavations made in Pompeii show that in the 1st Century B.C. retail shops were making and selling pizzas.

Modern pizza seems to have come from Naples in the 16th century. Tomatoes from the New World combined with bread and other products to produce the earliest form of modern pizza. The Queen of Naples in the mid-18th century had a special oven in her palace for making pizzas. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, the first modern pizzeria, opened in Naples in 1830. By the end of the 19th century, citizens of Naples were consuming pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In the early 1900s, the first Italian pizza in America was introduced by street peddlers who walked up and down Taylor Street in Chicago. New York City got the first pizza license in 1905. Pizzerias spread across the U.S. in the early 20th century. In 1943, Chicago’s Ike Sewell invented the deep-dish pizza. In the 1950s, celebrities of Italian origin, including Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio, promoted pizza. The first frozen pizza was released in 1957. Pizza Hut started in 1958, Little Caesar’s in 1959 and Domino’s in 1967.

These days, pizza is a huge business. According to 2018 “Pizza Power” report, the worldwide pizza market was $134 billion, with U.S. the top country, at $45 billion annually. There are 75,000 U.S. pizzerias and the top 50 chains have average unit sales of almost $600,000, with annual growth overall at 12%. The big winners were reported to be those who focused on consumer needs by embracing “websites, social media, online ordering and delivery technology.”

Domino’s, with 6,000 U.S. outlets is the world’s largest pizza company. Yet, their just-issued 2Q19 quarterly report showed slower growth. Their stock has gone “cold”- investors have “lost their appetite” for Domino’s Pizza. Technology has fueled new and improved competitors, delivery apps, online ordering and quality.

The growth of online ordering through companies like Grubhub and Door Dash has impacted Domino’s business. Domino’s, with its own delivery drivers, has declined to form partnerships with them. Also, food delivery companies, such as Uber Eats and Postmates, have jumped into the business aggressively with free or discounted delivery during the March NCAA tournament period with great success. Even though Domino’s hasn’t raised their prices on pizzas in over a decade, increases in same-store sales are slowing.

Ritch Allison, CEO of Domino’s, was recently interviewed by the WSJ for its “The Future of Everything” section. Mr. Allison was clear that “Pizza will endure. However, almost everything about how a pizza is made and transported to the customer is undergoing a high-tech shift.”

Domino’s has maintained that it won’t outsource delivery. Instead it will invest in operations to make delivery more efficient and better for customers. Low unemployment and rising minimum wages in some cities are pushing up labor costs and making it harder to find drivers. They’re working on a driverless vehicle smaller than a golf cart, with compartments that can be heated up or chilled. They are looking at drones and even deliveries by bike and scooter riders.

Mr. Allison indicated that they are working on upgrading their “Dom” automated telephone answering service. They’ve been missing customer calls during busy times. Their goal is to answer every call and hopefully build bigger orders as well. They hope improved data on customers will help them produce better menus, adding and deleting items over time based on demand patterns.

For Domino’s “Robots will help, but not replace human pizza makers.”   Robots can put dough balls on trays, but Mr. Allison wants to “keep the magic of pizza making” with humans. Domino’s is currently using, in locations in Australia and New Zealand, artificially intelligent cameras to photograph and grade each pie based on different criteria. This quality audit is designed to ensure that a subpar pizza never reaches a customer’s door. They hope to extend this quality method to operations worldwide.

Yes, even our beloved pizzas, that humanity has been eating for thousands of years, and hopefully for many more thousands as well, are being impacted by technology. Hopefully, that will make it easier in the future for all of us to get our perfect pizza at the perfect time.

DWM 2Q19 Market Commentary

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Summer is finally upon us! Weather is steamy, kids are out of school, and it’s the midst of carnival season. Merriam Webster has several definitions of carnival including:

  • An instance of merrymaking, feasting, and masquerading
  • An instance of riotous excess
  • An organized program of entertainment or exhibition

Sounds a little bit like the markets we’ve seen in 2019 so far: it’s certainly been an entertaining program with all asset classes parading higher. But does this Fun House continue or is it all just a House of Mirrors….

Equities: You win a small prize! Equities continue to be the most festive part of the fairground, with many stock markets up over 2-4% on the quarter and now up around 12-18% on the year! Domestic and large cap stocks continue to outperform value and smaller cap stocks, which is typical of a late-stage bull market, this one being over a decade-long!

Fixed Income: You can trade in that small prize for a medium prize!  Like a Ferris Wheel where one side goes up, the other side comes down; yields and bond prices operate the same way. With the 10-yr Treasury now down to around 2.06% at the time of this writing compared to 3.2% last November, it’s no surprise to see strong returns in bond land. In fact, the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index & the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index popped another 3.1% and 3.3%, respectively for the quarter and 5.6 & 6.1%, respectively year-to-date (“YTD”).

Alternatives:  You can trade in that medium prize for the largest prize! The merrymaking continues as most alternatives we follow had good showings in 2Q19, evidenced by the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, up 1.3% and now up 5.7% YTD.

It almost feels like you could go over to the Duck Pond and pick up a winner every time. There are indeed a lot of positives out there:

  • US stocks near record highs
  • A stock-market friendly Fed
  • Historically low unemployment with inflation that appears totally under control
  • Americans’ income and spending rising, leading to relatively strong consumer confidence

But this carnival has some roller coasters in the making given some riotous issues including:

  • US-China trade tensions most likely not ending with a solid deal anytime soon, which will fuel anxiety
  • A weakening European economy due to tariffs and other issues, which could bleed over to all markets
  • Slowing US economic growth here as the Tax Reform stimulus wears off
  • A relatively expensive US stock market, evidenced by the S&P500’s forward PE ratio now at 16.7 times versus its 25-year average of 16.2

It definitely wouldn’t be fun if the yummy funnel cake turns into spoiled fried dough…Yuck! We don’t know exactly when or what will happen, but we do know that at some point this bull market will indeed end. You cannot time the market so forget about getting out of the Cliff Hanger before the time comes. That said, you want to stay invested and continue to control what you can control. Don’t wind up being on the bottom end of a Whack-A-Mole game; make sure your portfolio is prepared for the next downturn, which includes making sure your risk level within is appropriate for your risk tolerance.

So don’t wind up being a carny clown. If you want to continue hearing “winner-winner-chicken-dinner!”, work with a proven wealth manager and you’ll be the one controlling the Zipper!

 

Zipper

Real Estate: Time to Sell that Large House?

American homes are a lot larger than they used to be.  In 1973, the median size of a newly built house was 1,500 square feet.  In 2015, that figure was 2,500 sq. ft. – 67% more. Plus, with smaller families, there is lots more room per person: 507 sq. ft./person in 1973, and, almost double, 971 sq. ft./person in 2015.

In addition, Americans aren’t any happier with bigger houses.  A study by PhD Clement Bellet found that “house satisfaction in the American suburbs has remained steady for the last four decades.”  His reasoning is based on the premise that people compare their houses to others in the neighborhood-particularly the biggest ones.  The largest homes in the neighborhood seem to be the benchmark.  Dr. Bellet tracked the “one-upmanship” by owners of the biggest homes from 1980 to 2009.  He found that the size of largest 10% of houses increased 40% more than the size increase of median houses.  Apparently, the competition never ends.

Fifty years ago, a one bathroom house or a bedroom that slept 3 siblings might have felt cramped- but it also probably felt normal.  Today, many Americans can afford more space and they’ve bought it. They just don’t appear to be any happier with it.

Dr. Robert Shiller, the noted Nobel Prize winner and co-author of the Case-Shiller index of housing prices, was interviewed recently by the WSJ for an article titled “The Biggest Ways People Waste Money”.  Dr. Shiller opined that “Big houses are a waste.”  He believes that modernization has reduced our space needs.  However, he recognizes, that for some, a big house is a symbol of success. Your neighbors may not know about your finances and achievements, but they can see your big house.

Dr. Shiller suggests books such as “The New Small House”- that talk about designing houses to look impressive as well as function on a smaller scale. Living smaller can be easier on the pocketbook, the owner’s time and the environment.  He concludes: “Just like Uber and Lyft and Airbnb, using resources more efficiently, we can also build houses that are better at serving people’s needs without being big”.

As a result, we’re seeing that fewer people want to buy large, elaborate dream houses.  We know that in the high-end suburbs of Chicago that prices today, in some cases, are ½ of what they were 10-15 years ago. In the Southeast and the Sunbelt, McMansions are sitting on the market, enduring deep price cuts to sell.  For example, Kiawah Island currently has 225 houses for sale, which is a 3-4 year supply.  Of these, the largest and most expensive are the hardest to sell, especially if they haven’t been renovated recently.

The problem is expected to get worse in the next decade.  Baby Boomers currently own 32 million houses, 40% of all the homes in America, and many of these homes are big ones. As the Boomers advance into their 70s and 80s, many will be looking to downsize and/or move to senior housing and therefore will attempt to offload their big house.

When we at DWM talk with clients about housing, we generally ball park a figure of 5-7% of the market value of the house as the annual net cost.  The costs include interest, if there is a mortgage, the opportunity costs of not investing the equity in the house, real estate taxes, insurance, and maintenance and repairs. From this total we subtract the expected appreciation.  For example, a $500,000 house with a $200,000, 4.5% mortgage, might have $9,000 in interest, $18,000 in opportunity costs, $5,000 in real estate taxes, $3,000 in insurance and $5,000 in repairs. Total costs of $40,000 less 2% appreciation of $10,000 nets $30,000 in annual net costs or 6% of the market value.  Of course, values differ across the country and by house. Furthermore, there are some sections of the country experiencing excellent appreciation and some that are experiencing deprecation in value.

As we look at our spending, it’s always good to compare the value received to the cost and, if the cost exceeds the value, a change might be in order.  In our example, if the couple owning the $500,000 house feels they are getting $30,000 or more per year of value from the house, that’s great.  If they are not, particularly if they have a bigger house that may not be appreciating and may be hard to sell in the future, they may want to think about a change now.  Give us a call if you would like to discuss this very important topic.

Your Digital Footprint: How to Protect your Virtual Footprint

The new digital age has seen the onset of countless new conveniences whether through online shopping, banking, entertainment, or social networking. We can now order food and have it delivered to our door, transfer money at the push of a button, and video chat with friends and family that are halfway around the world. Through all these advancements, however, one thing stays the same, the necessity of virtual security. With all these new apps and websites to use comes the addition of endless different passwords to ensure the safety of personal information, with some sites even forcing you to make a new password every x months as an extra layer of security. All in all, this builds up quite the “portfolio” of digital “assets” that can sometimes get confusing. Now, it may not be a comfortable topic, but in the case of the death or incapacity of the owner of these digital accounts, add another layer of complication, as family members now have to weed through various accounts to consolidate their estate.

The good news is that the same advancements in technology that brought around all these security features, questions, passwords, etc. are the same ones that provide a solution here. Available widely on the web are numerous different password vaults and managers that will allow users to store all of this information in one spot. Applications such as LastPass, True Key, Zoho Vault, 1Password and many others all can accomplish this purpose of simplifying this complicated web of components down to something that is easily manageable. Any new website or service you use can easily add log-in information or notes so that if you ever need to log-in and can’t remember your information, the application will do it for you!

These applications also offer the option to designate “digital heirs” that in the case something happens to the user, these vaults can be passed along and not locked permanently! In this manner, those handling the estate can easily gain access to all the accounts necessary all in one place.

In the case that you’d prefer to simply write down all of your log-in information and other important online details in a notebook or binder, which is sufficient, just make sure to let someone know where that “book” is and how to access it! We at DWM have actually put together a document that can help to organize this all in one written location including other important estate information such as the location of trust documents, powers of attorney, etc. Please feel free to use it if you’d prefer the traditional paper copy!

One additional step beyond providing access to your accounts to your digital “executor” is actually letting them know what to do with the accounts. For instance, if you’d prefer your Facebook to be set to “memorialized” which will effectively make the account inactive, but allow family and friends to continue to post memories and stories on the page versus closing it out entirely. Also actively selecting if you’d like certain digital assets to go to certain heirs, for example if you would want your grandson to receive your illustrious Fortnite account or your daughter to receive the log-in for your online knitting chat group, you can designate those wishes either in the password manager app or in your notebook. That way there will be no confusion or argument over who gets what when the time comes to distribute those assets.

As an added layer of protection, the right to digital assets can be specified in a trust document drawn up by an estate planning attorney for those with more complicated situations that need specific direction. These specifications usually outline the power of the successor trustees to access, view, modify or make use of any electronic accounts including those financial sites that are used.

To summarize, from Uber to Schwab to Amazon to Facebook and many, many more, the necessity to build a plan to preserve our digital legacy for when “the time comes” is imperative. Using these plans can ease the transition for your loved ones to get their arms around your digital assets and secure your legacy properly. At DWM, we would encourage you to get these items in order to make things easier on you and your loved ones in the future, hopefully a long time down the road.