DWM SAYS THANKS – LAST WEEKEND AT THE SWEETGRASS PAVILLION

This past Saturday, many clients/family/friends attended our annual Charleston Friends of DWM Appreciation Event at Sweetgrass Pavillion in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Although the sun evaded us, the room was filled with bright faces!

A great time was had by all!

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Marilyn Dingle, the resident sweetgrass basket weaver, educated us on the history of sweetgrass baskets.

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And some even participated!

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Everyone learned a thing or two about Marilyn and the art of sweetgrass basket weaving!

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And had lots to talk about!

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Many thanks to all who waded through the rain and joined us for our appreciation event! And to both those that did attend and to those that couldn’t make it, let us reiterate that we are honored to have you all as our friends and look forward to a continued great relationship! Thank you!!!

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Nobel Prize Winner Helps Add $30 Billion to Retirement Accounts

Richard Thaler received the Nobel Prize in economics last week, principally by showing that people don’t always behave rationally and, in fact, we are systemically irrational.

Here’s an example: Two friends are given tickets to a basketball game in the Northeast.  The night of the game there is a tremendous snowstorm.  One friend calls the other and suggests there is no way they are going to the game now, in the snowstorm, and they don’t go.  But, he said “You know, if we had paid for those tickets ourselves, we’d be going.”

Studies by Dr. Thaler show that if the friends had paid for the tickets, they would likely driven through the snowstorm because they didn’t want to “lose” their money.  Classical economics would say that’s crazy, but it’s true.  People pay huge attention to “sunk costs,” often irrationally.

Because of Dr. Thaler and others, we know more about human biases and anomalies that impact our financial decisions. These include compartmentalizing (putting money in mental boxes), mental accounting (thinking differently about money in your pocket versus money in the bank) and the endowment effect (once you own something you value it more than before you owned it).

Dr. Thaler not only helped discover our biases but also identified ways to make irrational behavior work to our advantage.  Savings and retirement has always been a big area for him.  He applauds the fact that if we compartmentalize (have a “mental box”) for retirement savings we are doing a very good thing.  Putting money in a 401(k) plan makes it much “stickier” than other money and it stays there.

In 2004, Dr. Thaler and Shlomo Benartzi published “Save More Tomorrow.”  It is based on the idea that instead of asking people to save more now, ask them to save more in the future.   We tend to irrationally discount our future commitments.  Hence, we tend to put off savings because retirement is so distant, but we will commit to future savings because it is also so distant.  Dr. Thaler suggested that people save 50% of every raise.  No need to give up anything now.  And, this concept would mean that if you save 50%, then the remainder will be left for current spending, without any guilt.  Every raise therefore increases both spending and savings- a much more palatable idea than taking away some of our current income to save.

Over the past few decades, most company pension plans have been discontinued and replaced by company sponsored defined contributions plans, where employees needed to make contributions.  These voluntary accounts should have worked better.  Rational employees were expected to save and invest to meet their long-term goals.  But, it didn’t work that way-participation rates early on were very poor.   Dr. Thaler was asked about the problem and his response was that workers can be their own worst enemies- “without help, they’ll never retire.”

His solution: “Nudge” them into joining company retirement plans, using a concept known as automatic enrollment.  Rather than waiting for employees to complete paperwork, companies would automatically enroll them and workers, if they don’t want to be in, can opt out.

Last year, 58% of companies were automatically signing up workers. That’s up from 8% in 2000.  And some companies are automatically escalating the contributions or giving the employees the option to do so.  Thaler and Benartzi’s research shows, as compared to 2011 data, 15 to 16 million more people are saving.  Assuming an average contribution of $2,000 a year, that’s $30 billion a year in additional contributions.

Dr. Thaler, with his colleague Hersh Shiffrin, suggested that our mental accounting of money is often a battle in our brains between the “doer” (focused on short-term rewards) and the “planner” (focused on the long-term.)  How choices are presented to us (“the choice architecture”) makes a big difference in our decision.  Making enrollment in the 401(k) occur by default and requiring a worker to “opt out” will likely put the “planner” in control, not the “doer.”

One of our key jobs and challenges at DWM is to assist our clients by framing questions and choices in the appropriate way.  Like Dr. Thaler, we understand that wealth, health and happiness decisions are not always rational yet we do our best to find a way to “nudge” both your doer and planner parts of your brain in order to help protect and grow your assets and your legacy. We haven’t made a $30 billion impact yet, but we’re passionately working on it every day.

October: Halloween and National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

What a combo!  Ghosts and goblins seem pretty tame compared to the potential theft of our financial information.  146 million Americans got a big scare last month when Equifax announced that hackers had stolen their personal information.  Fast food chain Sonic just announced that customers’ debit and credit card information was stolen last week.  So, while Halloween costumes, haunted houses and trick or treats get put away on November 1st, cybersecurity issues cannot be put away in the attic trunk or tossed into the garbage.

We probably all wish we could just email Equifax a two word message:  “You’re Fired!”  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.  For example, Fannie Mae, who sets the rules for most mortgages, requires information from all three credit “repositories.”   If you will never need a mortgage, you can try to delete your files from Equifax.  However, those who have tried have been put “on hold” for hours and then told that deletion of their files was impossible.  The “no” response to deletion was confirmed by Equifax former CEO Richard Smith last week to Congress. For now, the best we can do is freeze (not “lock”) our accounts at Equifax, Transunion and Experian.

New “cyber-vampires” are emerging from the darkness.  Did you ever watch the movie “Catch me if you can?” Great film.   It is the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a master of deception and a brilliant forger who stayed one step ahead of the FBI (Tom Hanks) for five years with his highly successful scams.  Once arrested, he spent five years in jail from age 21 to 26.  Since that time, Mr. Abagnale has put his unique skills to good use teaching FBI agents around the country about cybercrime, identity theft and fraud.    He also serves as an ambassador for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and lives in Daniel Island, SC.  Here are some of Frank Abagnale’s (“FA”) recent warnings:

FA: “Stop writing checks- if you are still paying by check, you might be putting your life savings at risk.”  If you go into a grocery store and write a check, you have to hand the clerk the check with your name and address, phone number, your bank’s name and address, your bank account number, the bank routing number and your signature.  And then, the clerk may ask to write down your date of birth and driver’s license number as well.  You never get the check back, it goes to the store’s warehouse, where it may be destroyed thoroughly (or not) six months from now.  Anyone seeing the check has all they need to draft on your bank account tomorrow.

FA: “It is now 4,000 times easier to forge checks (with today’s technology).”  50 years ago, FA used a Heidelberg printing press, originally costing $1 million, to forge checks.  The press was 90 feet long and 18 feet high.  Now, one simply opens their laptop and says, “Who’s my victim today?”  In fact, FA indicates that forging checks is so easy these days that street gangs that used to deal in drugs and narcotics are forging checks instead.  FA: “It’s easier and you spend a lot less time in jail if you are caught.”

FA: “Technology breeds crime-whether it is forging checks or getting information.”  Facebook is a great source of information for the crooks.  One of the most common scams now is the “grandparents scam.”  The bad guys go on Facebook and find out who the grandparents are and see who the grandson is dating.  They easily manipulate their telephone caller ID to show a call coming from the NYPD or other police department.  The thieves place their call on a Friday night and tell the grandparents that the grandson is at the jail after being picked up for DUI/DWI and being held for bail.  If money for bail is not received in two hours, the grandson will have to spend the weekend in prison.  “Millions of grandparents have fallen for this scam.”

At DWM, we recognize that you have worked and continue to work very hard for your money.  Our goal, in every facet of providing Total Wealth Management, is to protect and grow your assets.  Cyber-safe practices are a key element of risk management.  Our first job is to educate our clients and friends about the importance of cybercrime, identity theft and fraud.  Charles Schwab & Company, the custodian for our clients’ money, is as dedicated as we are to keep you and your funds safe and help prevent attacks.

Watch for more blogs this month (and beyond) on cybersecurity.  It’s a tremendously important topic!!

DWM 3Q17 Market Commentary

“Train Kept A Rollin’ All Night Long…” The US economic expansion continued on during the third quarter of 2017. It is the third longest expansion since World War II and is now closing in on 100 months.  There were plenty of negatives that tried to slow it down. Politically, we had the debt ceiling deadline, a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, and a war of words with North Korea. Even the lives and economic losses from the likes of Hurricane Harvey, Irma, Maria, western wildfires and two Mexican earthquakes – amounting to what could be the most expensive year for natural disasters ever – couldn’t slow this train down.

Thing is: the positives outweigh those negatives. At the end of the day, the market is powered by companies’ earnings. And those earnings have been robust and are expected to continue to be! And it’s not just domestically; growth is accelerating at a global level with Eurozone businesses and households more confident about their prospects than at any time in more than a decade. Japan has shown decent growth and inflation this year. And emerging markets are enjoying better fundamentals with more credible politics. Choo! Choo!

We are big believers in asset allocation which is why we showcase the major asset classes each quarter. Here’s how each fared:

Equities: The S&P500 rose 4.5% on the quarter and is now up 14.2% year-to-date (“YTD”). Sounds excellent, but actually a more diversified benchmark, the MSCI All Countries World Index, which includes US large cap stocks, US smaller cap stocks AND international stocks, did much better, up 5.3% quarter-to-date (“QTD”) and now up 17.3% YTD. We’ve been saying for some time that domestic large cap stocks in general look pretty “frothy” and hence it’s not surprising to see this rotation out of domestic large cap stocks into other cheaper equities. The other thing at play is the renewed interest in the so-called “Trump trade”. The areas that moved post-Trump Presidential Election, like small cap and value, have ‘steamed ahead’ in the last few weeks from the renewed hope of possible tax cuts. In just September, the Russell 2000 outperformed the S&P 500 by 4.2% and the Russell 3000 Value outperformed the Russel 3000 Growth by 1.6%.

Fixed Income:  During the quarter, the Fed announced that they are pushing ahead with an aggressive schedule for rate increases. We are happy to see the Fed take this path toward “normalization” while the economy is strong. The US needs to get back to higher rates so that the Fed has “some coal for their engines” if things go bad. That said, this announced path has succeeded in boosting inflation expectations, which has pushed up yields in both the 2-year and 10-year US Treasury notes, with the latter closing the quarter at 2.3%, its first quarterly gain of 2017. For the record, the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index gained 0.9% in the third quarter and is now up 3.1% for the year. The inclusion of global fixed income assets led to better results with the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Indexregistering +1.8% for 3Q17 and +6.3% YTD.

Alternatives:  Let’s take a look at a few ‘alts’ we follow. Gold gave back a little in September, but registered a +3.1% 3Q17 return represented by the iShares Gold Trust. With 2017 going down as one of the worst natural disasters year on record, the alternative exposure to reinsurance-linked securities (sometimes referred to as ‘catastrophe’ securities) took a hit. One would have thought oil would have suffered from the hurricanes as well, but demand was strong and with slowing US production, oil prices (WTI) ended the quarter up 12.2%. For the record, the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, was up 1.6% for the third quarter and 2.8% YTD.

For balanced investors, It’s been a pretty nice three quarters to start 2017. Looking forward, this bull market train can continue to roll, and a case can be made that returns can even get stronger given the great economic fundamentals around the globe. If Washington can get something done relative to a tax cut, look for stocks to accelerate into year-end.

Of course, there will always be (rail) road blocks. We are thrilled to see inflation measures move toward the Fed target range around 2%, but there are many out there concerned that inflation might ‘chug’ right through those target levels and create havoc on the back-end. Furthermore, the announced and about-to-start-very-soon Federal balance sheet reduction is an unprecedented experiment. And it’s not just the US attempting this.  Global central banks at some point need to do some house-cleaning and will be reducing their balance sheets as well. There is a huge risk something can go wrong and send this train off track. Lastly, we don’t think the markets are adequately pricing in the geopolitical risk out there, which some would say is approaching multi-decades high. Frankly, when a small probability risk is hard to price in, the market usually just shrugs it off. With trading activity so light recently and little risk currently priced into the market, things could get ugly very quickly if anything goes wrong.

In conclusion, these are challenging times. It’s not easy to navigate the terrain out there. So make sure you have good direction and management. Don’t fall victim to a bad conductor and wind up like Ozzy Osbourne “going off the rails of a crazy train!” Make sure that your engineer is keeping you on track. At DWM, we engineer our clients’ portfolios to ride safely through the peaks and valleys that this train has and will travel through. With the right team at the controls, you can make your journey a pleasant one.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT