Leverage for the Next Generations: How to Build Credit Effectively

According to a study done by Sallie Mae recently, the younger generations, from teens to young adults, are much more likely to make payments by debit card, cash, or mobile transfer (Venmo, Paypal), than by credit card. In fact, only around 50% of them have credit cards at all. This statistic is leaving some analysts, like those at Fortune magazine (Bloomberg) wondering if credit cards will soon go the way of the video store or Toys R Us. But what are some possible reasons for this shift away from debt lending instruments in young adults, and what lessons can they learn to ensure that picking one up doesn’t lead them to further financial struggles?

One of the big reasons that can easily be identified as an answer to the first question is the looming student loan debt floating over most of those adults’ heads. The average student leaving college in 2017 had roughly $28,650 in student loan debt. On top of this, about 11% of outstanding student loans were 90 days or more delinquent or in default. With the risks of this debt compiling and carrying out, students and young people entering the workforce are less concerned about credit scores and more concerned on making sure they can pay their monthly loan amount, on top of any other recurring expenses. However, the one piece of good news coming out of paying these student loans is that by doing so, one can build up significant credit that will help take the place of missing out on credit card payments. While this avenue won’t leave much room to start borrowing to buy discretionary items, making these payments on time and for the right amount will allow young folk to build a strong credit foundation for the future.

In addition to student loans, many other issues impede those looking to get a credit card early. In 2009, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act set forth a precedent that banks needed to have more stringent policies with which they lend money, including not offering credit cards to anyone under the age of 21 without a co-signer or proof of income. Even if these are available, with little to no credit history available, some will be turned down for credit card offers. However, most companies offer some sort of secured debt instruments at the least which ask for a deposit upfront as a collateral credit limit. These will allow those with low or new credit scores to earn it while keeping the banks/credit card companies from being at risk. One additional method for those who choose not to use these types of cards is simply to be added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. While at a slower pace, this can help out a young person get started even if they don’t use it at all.

Additionally, once their credit is established and starts going in the right direction, they must remain diligent to avoid having what they worked for diminished. There are many different factors that go into a person’s score, however following some key principles will be more than enough to continue pushing this score up:

  1. Use 30% max of the allowed total credit line. This 30% rule is used to ensure that one’s spending habits are in-line with how much they can borrow.
  2. Pay all bills on time. Either through setting up auto-pay or keeping a calendar with important payment deadlines written down, this is one of the most important factors.
  3. Continue using the debt instrument. Even if it’s only being used to pay for small monthly charges or gas bills, continuing to use the card will build up credit.
  4. Pay as much as is feasible. The balance set on the card is not nearly as important as the fact that it’s being used. In order to keep interest down (some go as high as 17%!), one should pay off as much of the balance as they can each month. This is especially important since roughly 25% of millennials have carried a credit card debt for over a year!

All in all, younger generations of people have sincere trepidation when it comes to using credit cards or any other item causing them to incur more debt than they’ve already been exposed to through student loans. They’re still fearful, having grown up through the Great Recession, and face several hurdles even if they decide to pursue getting a credit card. However, once they have them, and through loans, they can still build up a reasonable credit score and attain their financial dreams by remaining diligent and following advice like those points listed above. Please let us know if you have any questions on the above information for you, your family, or your friends.

Happy Easter!

Easter is the only time of year when it is safe to put all your eggs in one basket. Best of wishes for an egg-cellent holiday!

Sincerely,

Detterbeck Wealth Management

DWM 1Q19 Market “MADNESS” Commentary

In basketball, March Madness is a big deal. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, March Madness refers to the time of the annual NCAA college basketball tournament, generally throughout the month of March. In the market, it may appear that “Madness” is never confined to any one month. If you really want to talk about Madness, just think about the last 6 months: The S&P500 was at an all-time high late September, only to throw up an “airball” and bottom out almost 20% lower three months later on worries that the Fed was raising rates too fast, only to “rebound” to have its best first quarter since 1998 as the Fed shifted its tone to a more dovish nature. Is it the NCAA or the markets in a “Big Dance”?!?

Yes, the investing environment now is so much different than our last commentary. Then, it certainly felt like a flagrant foul after a tenacious 4q18 sell-off that had gone too far. We advised our readers then to essentially do nothing and stay the course. And once again, rewards come to those that stay disciplined. With the market back within striking distance of its peak, it almost feels like its “cutting down the net” time. (“Cutting down the net” refers to the tradition of the winning basketball team cutting down the basketball net and giving pieces to team members and coaches.) But of course, the game of investing is not just four quarters like basketball. Investing can be a lifetime. So if you’re thinking about your portfolio like you would a basketball team, let’s hope its more like the Chicago Bulls of the 90s and not the 2010s! (Where’d you go, Michael Jordan?!?)

Like the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney, your portfolio holdings are probably like some of the best out there. But there will always be some winners and losers. Let’s take a look at how the major asset classes fared to start 2019:

Equities: The S&P500 soared to a 13.7% return. Small caps* did even better, up 14.6%. Even with a challenging Eurozone environment, international stocks** climbed over 10%. In basketball terms, let’s just say that this was as exciting as a SLAM DUNK for investors! Of course, with a bounce-back like this, valuations are not as appealing as they were just three months ago. For example, the S&P500 now trades at a 16.4x forward PE vs the 16.2x 25-year average.

Fixed Income: With the Fed taking a more dovish stance, meaning less inclined to raise rates, yields dropped and thus prices rose. The total return (i.e. price change plus yield) for most securities in fixed income land were quite positive. In fact, the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index & the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index jumped 2.9% and 2.2%, respectively. Further, inflation remained under control and we don’t expect it to be a pain-point any time soon. But TIME OUT!: Within the last several weeks we have seen conditions where the front end of the yield curve is actually higher than the back end of the yield curve. This is commonly referred to as an “inverted yield curve” and has in the past signaled falling growth expectations and often precedes recessions. To see what an inverted yield curve means to you, please see our recent blog.

Alternatives: Most alternatives we follow had good showings in 1Q19 as evidenced by the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, up 3.9%. Two big winners in the space were Master Limited Partnerships***, up 17.2%, and Real Estate****, up 15.2%. The pivot by the Fed in terms of their attitude toward rates really benefited the real estate space as new home buyers are now seeing mortgage rates almost a point lower than just several months ago. Unfortunately, not all alts did as well. Gold barely budged. And managed futures†, down 3.1%, were tripped up by the last six-month whipsaw.

So if you think of your asset classes as players on a basketball squad, one could say that pretty much every one had a good game, but the star of the show was definitely “LeStock”. Moreover, there was no buzzer beater necessary this quarter, as your team flat out won. In fact, most balanced investors after just one quarter are up high single-digits! A definite nice start to the year. You have now advanced to the next round, but where does your team go from here?

The game we saw in the first quarter cannot continue. With the Tax Reform stimulus starting to wear off, economic growth has to decelerate. In fact, companies in the S&P500 are expected to report a 4% decline in 1Q19 vs 1Q18; their first decline since 2016! World trade volume has really slowed down, so there’s a tremendous focus on a US-China trade agreement happening – if not, watch out! The good news is that the Fed seems to be taking a very market-friendly position, and unemployment and wage growth are under control.

As always, there are risks out there. But with the bull market on the brink of entering its 11th year of economic expansion, the end-of-the-game buzzer need not be close as long as you have a good coach at the helm. Just like within NCAA basketball, to succeed, you need a good coach on the sidelines – someone like Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans who always seems to get his players to work together and play their best. The same way a wealth manager like DWM can help you put the portfolio pieces and a financial plan together for you in an effort to thrive and succeed.

So don’t wind up with a busted bracket. If you want a lay-up, work with a proven wealth manager and you’ll be cutting down your own nets soon enough. Now that’s a “swish”!

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

 

*represented by the Russell 2000

**represented by the MSCI AC World Index Ex-USA

***represented by the Alerian MLP ETF

****represented by the iShares Global REIT ETF

†represented by the Credit Suisse Managed Futures Strategy Fund

When Your Plan Ends…

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As our clients know, we use MoneyGuidePro (MGP) as our financial planning software tool and we generally review our clients’ particular plan with updates when we meet. This allows us the opportunity to discuss any changes in their lives, perhaps an upcoming life event, like retirement, or a new goal, like starting a 529 for a grandchild. We help to analyze all of the “known” factors and make some assumptions about the future, including when your time on earth may end. MGP euphemistically refers to this as the “plan end”, or in other words, the time when these variables, assets and concerns will no longer be yours!

Here is where good estate planning comes into play. At DWM, we think it is important to help you with the preparation for the end of your life, as well as your legacy after. We aren’t lawyers, but we work with some trusted estate attorneys and can use experienced insights and knowledge of your financial world to make sure that all of your wishes are properly addressed. We have helped many of our clients in this way, as well as many of their extended family members. We offer to carefully review your existing wills or trust in an effort to make sure your asset distributions and beneficiary designations are how you want them. We like to provide our own CliffsNotes version in a summarized Estate Flow for your convenience.   If things need updating, we can make some recommendations on how and also on who can help you with the legal paperwork and advice.

We also review all of your estate plan ancillary documents that discuss your end-of-life plan. These include the Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA), which designates an agent to represent you on health care decisions, the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), which designates a financial, legal and business representative on your behalf and the Living Will, which essentially outlines your care wishes in the event of incapacitation or when you can’t speak for yourself. Many of our clients come in not understanding how vitally important these documents can be for you and your family to have in place BEFORE there is a reason to need them! These documents are also state-specific and must be updated or kept current for where you spend time, either in a primary or secondary residence. Every situation is different – a terminal diagnosis may give you time to determine the answers for these questions and to generally get your affairs in order. However, a sudden, unexpected incident, especially for a younger person, can leave the people you love with decisions and demands that may be overwhelming.

An article in the WSJ recently talked about this issue of “Preparing for a good end of life”. Planning ahead and talking to your loved ones is important for everyone’s peace of mind. There are some fundamental pieces that should be considered to have a good plan ready. As the WSJ writer recommends, “Imagine what it would take to die in peace and work back from there.” This might include where you want to be and how you will manage the financial and physical obligation of your end-of-life. Would you want to be at home and perhaps have in-home care? Would you rather allow for in-patient hospice treatment so there is less demand on your family? The WSJ references a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study that suggests most people care much more about the burden on their families, both financially and emotionally, than about extending their own life.

The Living Will and HCPOA allow you to specify what kind of medical attention you want during a serious medical event or terminal situation. Will you want to be kept alive artificially while being treated so you can live as long as possible? These documents allow you to determine who will be your representative on these matters and what decisions for your care that you make ahead of time or ask that your representative decide for you. In some cases, the right choice might be someone more neutral than a close family member, as their judgement may be emotionally clouded. Either way, it allows you to make decisions now that will offer a guideline to follow for those who love you. Having these conversations ahead of time about who will make decisions and how you wish to be cared for will hopefully bring solace to your loved ones, as well as relieve any stress for you by knowing that this is in order.

It is also important to ensure that all of your legal affairs are in order. Make sure that all of your bequests to others and the timing for them to receive them are kept up to date. It is also important to make sure deeds and the beneficiary designations on other assets are current and titled the way you want them, whether in a trust to avoid probate or with named beneficiaries to make your wishes clear. Make sure to keep life insurance policy information in a safe place and the beneficiary designations current. Also, safely store a list of all important financial documents and social media passwords in at least one place to make it easier for your personal representative(s) to tie up your affairs. Prepare a business succession plan and keep all the documents current. Don’t put off assigning items of sentimental or financial value to those you want to receive them. Many people are now even planning their own memorial services and writing their own obituaries to lessen the obligation and make sure everything is how you would like it. We are happy to help you store some of these financial documents in our secure “vault” in our DWM cloud.

We may have all experienced or know about situations where no planning was in place or updates to wills, titles and/or beneficiary designations were missing or outdated. Your family and friends will be dealing with tremendous grief during this time, so making these preparations ahead of time will allow both you and them some comfort when it’s time. While it may be hard to have these conversations and make these decisions, it will certainly make it easier for everyone in the long run.

Please let us know if we can help you get these affairs in order. At DWM, we are always happy to help bring peace of mind to our clients and their families.

Tick, Tock…is it Time for Your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)?

“Time flies” was a recent quote that I had from a client.  Remember a long time ago…putting money aside in your retirement accounts, perhaps at work in a qualified traditional 401(k) or to an individual retirement account (IRA)?  It’s easy to ‘forget’ about it because, it was after all, meant to be used many years down the road.  It would be nice to keep your retirement funds indefinitely; unfortunately, that can’t happen, as the government wants to eventually collect the tax revenue from years of tax deferred contributions and growth.

In general, once you reach the age of 70 ½, per the IRS, many of those qualified accounts are subject to a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) and you must begin withdrawing that minimum amount of money by April 1 of the year following the year that you turn 70 1/2.  Of course, there are a few exceptions with regards to qualified accounts, but as a rule, when you reach 70 ½, you must begin taking money from those accounts per IRS guidelines if you hold a traditional 401(k), profit sharing, 403(b) or other defined contribution plan, traditional IRA, Simple IRA, SEP IRA or Inherited IRA.  (Roth IRA withdrawals are deferred until the death of the owner and his or her spouse).   Inherited IRAs are more complicated and handled with a few options available to the beneficiary, either by taking lifetime distributions or over a 5 year period.  The importance here, is to be aware that a distribution is needed.  Another word of caution…In some cases, your defined contribution plan may or may not allow you to wait until the year you retire before taking the first distribution, so a review of the terms of the plan is necessary.  In contrast, if you are more than a 5% owner of the business sponsoring the plan, you are not exempt from delaying the first distribution; you must take the withdrawal beginning at age 70 1/2, regardless if you are still working.

The formula for determining the amount that must be taken is calculated using several factors.  Basically, your age and account value determine the amount you must withdraw.  As such, the December 31 prior year value of the account must be known and, second, the IRS Tables in Publication 590-B, which provides a life expectancy factor for either single life expectancy or joint life and last survivor expectancy, needs to be referenced.  The Uniform Lifetime expectancy table would be referenced for unmarried owners and the Joint Life and Last Survivor expectancy table would be used for owners who have spouses that are more than 10 years younger and are sole beneficiaries.  It comes down to a simple equation: The account value as of December 31 of the prior year is divided by your life expectancy.  For most individuals, the first RMD amount will be roughly 4% of the account value and will increase in percentage each year.

It all begins with the first distribution, which will be triggered in the year in which an individual owning a qualified account turns 70 ½.  For example, John Doe, who has an IRA, and has a birthdate of May 1, 1949, will turn 70 ½ this year in 2019 on November 1.  A distribution will need to be made then after November 1, because he will have needed to attain the age of 70 ½ first.  Therefore, the distribution can be taken after November 1 (for 2019), and up until April 1 of the following year in 2020.

Once the first distribution is withdrawn, subsequent annual RMDs need to be taken for life, and are due by December 31.  In this case, John Doe will need to next take his 2020 distribution, using the same formula that determined his first distribution.  This will become a regular obligation of John’s each year.

So, we’ve talked about who, what, why and when, now let’s talk about the where.  Once the distribution amount is calculated, an individual can then choose where he or she would like that money to go.  Depending on circumstances, if the money is not needed for living expenses, it is advised to keep the money invested within one of your other non-qualified accounts such as a trust, individual or joint account, i.e. you can elect to make an internal journal to one of your other investment accounts.  Alternatively, if you have another thought for the money, you can have it moved to a personal bank account or mailed to your home.  Keep in mind that these distributions are taxed as ordinary income, thus, depending on your income situation, you may wish to have federal or state taxes withheld from the distribution.  At DWM, we can help our clients determine if, and what amount, to be withheld.  One exception is the qualified charitable distribution or QCD, which is briefly discussed next.

Another idea that may be a possibility for some individuals is for the distribution amount to be considered a qualified charitable distribution (QCD).  Instead of the money going into one of your accounts, a direct transfer of funds would be payable to a qualified charity.  There are certain requirements to determine whether you can make a QCD.  For starters, the charity must be a 501 (c)(3) and eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions, and, in order for a QCD to count towards your current year’s RMD, the funds must come out of your IRA by the December 31 deadline.  The real beauty about this strategy is that the QCD amount is not taxed as ordinary income.  You would simplyprovide the QCD acknowledgement receipt(s) along with your 1099R(s) to your accountant for the correct reporting on your tax return.

It may be pretty scary to know how quickly time flies, but with DWM by your side, we can take the scare out of the situation!

Ask DWM: Should I Consider Investing in Marijuana?

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana. This began, for many, the first opportunity to legally invest in this industry. In 2012, both Colorado and Washington State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Both events were monumental for the development of marijuana investments but, arguably, the most momentous day in marijuana investments occurred on October 17th, 2018 with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada. In June of 2018, Canada voted “yes” to legalization and became the first major country to do so. Interest in these investments have soared ever since.

Cannabidiol (“CBD”) is one of the major attractions in this story. CBD is a cannabis compound used primarily for medical purposes. CBD has been proven to provide benefits for pain management, sleep aid, and stress. The primary difference between marijuana and CBD is its lack of hallucinogenic properties. CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), the main hallucinogenic property found in marijuana. CBD is currently legal in all 50 states. As of February 2019, marijuana has been legalized in over 30 US states for medical purposes and ten, including Washington D.C., have approved it for recreational use.

Spending in the legal marijuana industry is expected to surge from $8.5 billion in 2017 to over $23 billion in 2022. As a side note and for comparison purposes, illegal sales of pot represented 87% of all North American sales and over $46 billion in 2016 according to Arcview Market Research. Hard to not get excited about those growth figures! Further, in a sign of credibility to the industry, major investments from some of the world’s largest beverage makers including Coca-Cola and Corona brewer Constellation Brands have created even more hype and have sent some pot stocks soaring. It’s not just Wall Street taking notice, but ordinary people are wondering if they should get in on the craze.

But just like Bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies, this upstart legal cannabis industry has many red flags and may lead to some scary results.

First off, “FOMO” or the Fear Of Missing Out is no reason to plow good money into a speculative area. It is prudent to do some serious research before dipping into the waters of an industry that faces many legal, regulatory and other hurdles. Further, beware of fraudsters on the internet claiming “this pot stock is the next big thing!” Investing in cannabis is like the wild, wild west and similar to the dot.com mania of the 90s with tons of extreme volatility and broken promises.

More specifically, there are a variety of risks associated with investing in this area. Marijuana is still not legal at the Federal level, which makes banking for marijuana companies within the US difficult and future issues uncertain. Second, most marijuana companies are considered “start-ups” where company revenues are low or nil, and they may be running at a loss. In addition to this, overall investments in marijuana continue to remain small, albeit growing, in comparison to developed industries. For example, the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (symbol: MJ), one of the largest marijuana funds available, holds just $1 billion in capital. Lastly, with only a handful of well-known “reputable” companies in this area, don’t get burned by loading up in just one or two names and thus becoming subjected to company-specific risk.

If you are still interested in investing in marijuana, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. As a general rule, you should not allocate more than a couple percent of your total investment portfolio to one company name. Further, prudent portfolio management suggests to limit your overall exposure to a speculative area like this to no more than 5% of your total investable assets. Avoid concentrated company-specific risk and diversify. A diversified mutual fund or ETF like the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (symbol: MJ) mentioned above is a great choice for those that aren’t good at research but “have to get in”…

At the end of the day, investments in marijuana should be considered widely speculative and highly susceptible to losses. Volatility in both specific companies and funds have been extremely high since their inception. Investments in these areas should be considered more like taking your money to Las Vegas. It’s a gamble and you could potentially lose your entire investment.

At DWM we consider ourselves to be financial advocates for our clients and we love being a part of all of our client’s financial decisions. Questions such as investments in marijuana have been a reoccurring theme as of late, eerily similar to those in 2017 about Bitcoin and we know what happened there….In other words, if you are still interested in this area, PROCEED WITH CAUTION!!!

At this time, DWM is not investing in marijuana for managed accounts due to the many issues mentioned above. For clients still interested in reviewing marijuana investments via a self-directed/unmanaged account, we welcome your calls.

DWM 4Q18 & YEAR-END MARKET COMMENTARY

Fantasy Football and portfolio management may be more similar than one would think. Over the past weekend, I drafted a playoff fantasy football team which I’m hoping will amass more points than the other five “owners” in my league. Fantasy football drafting for both the regular season and playoffs is similar in that you want to take the NFL players that get the most touchdowns and the best stats in turn for rewarding you with higher points. The team with the most collective points wins! However, playoff fantasy drafting is much different than a regular season fantasy draft, with the key difference being one doesn’t know how many games that a player will actually play! Patrick Mahommes may be the best player available per game on paper; but if his KC Chiefs lose in their first game, a middle-of-the-road player like Julian Edelman from the Patriots who is expected to play multiple games, can be superior. Thus, the key is trying to pick not only the best available player, but also the one who will play the most games.

It’s sort of like investing, where picking NFL players and their teams become synonymous with picking companies. You want a collective bunch of players/securities that outperform others which ultimately leads to higher values. I looked at this draft pool of players like I would constructing a portfolio: diversifying my picks by player positions and teams.

Some of the other owners didn’t follow this disciplined approach, instead opting at throwing all of their marbles into the fate of one team and hoping it would lead them to the Fantasy Football Holy Land. And just like investing all or the majority of your dollars into one stock, this type of “coaching” can lead to utmost failure. Case in point: one owner loaded up on one team, taking several players on the Houston Texans. Ouch. (If you’re an NFL fan, you know that the Texans were squashed by the Colts and are out of the playoffs, just like this “owner” is now out of contention in our Fantasy League!) The morale of this story is: there is no silver bullet in football or investing; stay disciplined and diversified and reap the rewards over the long term.

And now onto the year-end market commentary…

Unfortunately, there were not many good draft picks this year. In fact, as stated in one of our previous blogs, around 90% of asset styles were in the red this year. And I don’t mean the Red Zone! Let’s see how the major asset classes fared in 4q18 and calendar year 2018:

Equities: Stocks were driving down the field, reaching record highs right before the 4th quarter began and then…well, let’s just say: “FUMBLE!” with the MSCI AC World Index & the S&P500 both dropping over 13%! This was the steepest annual decline for stocks since the financial crisis. Yes, investors were heavily penalized in 4Q18 for several infractions, the biggest being:

  • The slowing of economic growth
  • The ongoing withdrawal of monetary policy accommodation, i.e. the Fed raising rates and until recently, signaling more raises to come
  • Trade tensions continuing to escalate
  • The uncertainty of a prolonged US Government shut-down
  • Geopolitical risk

None of these risks above justify the severe market sell-off, which brought the MSCI AC World Index to a -10.2% return for 2018. This is in stark contrast to 2017, when it was up 24.0%! “Turnover!” Frankly, the stock market probably overdid it on the upside then and now has overdone it to the downside.

Fixed Income: The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index & the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index “advanced the ball” in the fourth quarter, up 1.6% and 1.2%, respectively. Still, it wasn’t enough to produce any “first downs” with the US Agg essentially flat and the Barclays Global down 1.2% on the year. Bad play: In December, the Fed raised rates another quarter-point and indicated they may do more. Good play: within the last week, they may have completed the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” by signaling a much more dovish stance – it certainly made the stock market happy, now up 7 out of the last 9 days at the time of this writing.

Alternatives:  Like an ordinary offense playing against the mighty Chicago Bears D, alts were “sacked” in the fourth quarter as evidenced by the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, falling 4.0% for the quarter and finishing the year down 5.1%. This is the worst showing ever for this alternative benchmark. Frankly, we are shocked with this draw-down, chalking it up to 2018 going down as the year where there was no place to hide. Gold*, Managed Futures**, and Merger Arbitrage*** proved to be good diversifiers in 4q18, up 7.5%, 3.6%, 2.4%, respectively; but not many “W’s” (aka “wins”) for the year in alts or any asset class for that matter.

Put it all together and a balanced investor is looking at negative single-digit percentage losses on the year. Yes, 2018, in particular the fourth quarter, was a brutal one for investors. It was like we were in the Red Zone about to score an exhilarating touchdown, only for a “Pick 6” to happen. (Pick 6 is when the football is intercepted and returned into the opposing end zone.) What we learned is that “L’s” (aka “losses”) or corrections can still happen. Going into this year, many had forgotten that markets actually can and do go down. Further, markets can be volatile, down big one day, and up big the next. So what is one to do now, besides putting the rally caps on?

The answer is: essentially nothing. Be disciplined and stay the course. Or, if your asset allocation mix has fallen far out-of-line of your long-term asset allocation target mix, you should rebalance back to target buying in relatively cheap areas and selling in relatively expensive areas. Or, if you happen to have come into cash recently, by all means put it to work into the stock market. This may not be the absolute bottom, but it sure appears to be a nice entry point after an almost 20% decline from top to bottom for most stock indices. From a valuation standpoint, equities haven’t looked this attractive in years, with valuations both here in the US and around the globe below the 25-year average.

And speaking of football, it’s easy to be a back-seat quarterback and say, “maybe we should’ve done something differently” before this latest correction. But we need to remember that empirical studies show that trying to time the market does NOT work. You have to make not just one good decision, but two: when to get out and when to get back in. By pulling an audible and being out of the market for just a few days, one can miss the best of all days as evidenced by the day after Christmas when the Dow Jones went up over 1000 points. In conclusion, if you can take the emotion out of it and stay fully invested through the ups and downs; at the end of your football career, you give yourself the best chance to make it to the Super Bowl.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

 

*represented by the iShares Gold Trust

**represented by the Credit Suisse Managed Futures Strategy Fund

***represented by the Vivaldi Merger Arbitrage Fund

Understanding Benchmarks: Why is my Portfolio Trailing the S&P 500 so far in 2018?

Many investors with well-balanced, diversified portfolios might be asking this exact question when they compare their year-to-date (“YTD”) return with that of the S&P 500. To understand the answer to this question is to understand your portfolio composition and your relative performance to a benchmark which may or may not include the S&P 500.

Per Investopedia, “a benchmark is a standard against which the performance of a security or investment manager can be measured. Benchmarks are indexes created to include multiple securities representing some aspect of the total market.” Within each asset class – equities, fixed income, alternatives, cash – you’ll find lots of benchmarks. In fact, the total number of indexes is somewhere in the thousands! That said, “when evaluating the performance of any investment, it’s important to compare it against an appropriate benchmark.” So let’s start by getting familiar with the most popular as well as the most applicable benchmarks out there.

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: Arguably the most well-known index for domestic stocks, the Dow is composed of 30 of the largest “blue chip” stocks chosen by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The Dow is not a good benchmark to compare your diversified equity portfolio because 1) 30 companies is a small sample given there are over 3000 publicly listed stocks traded in the US alone. 2) The Dow isn’t well diversified with a heavy influence to industrials and excludes big names like Apple, Amazon, & Berkshire Hathaway. 3) It is price-weighted, meaning a stock with a higher price will have a higher weighting in the index than a stock with a lower price. Change in share price is one thing, but absolute share price shouldn’t dictate measurement. Thus, this index is severely flawed.
  • The S&P 500: Another index for domestic stocks, composed of 500 large-cap companies representing the leading US industries chosen by the S&P Index Committee. It’s certainly not as flawed as the Dow, but it too has its own problems: the biggest being that it is market-cap weighted, meaning that a stock’s weighting in the index is based on its price and its number of shares outstanding. So as a company’s stock price rises and its market-cap grows, this index will buy more of that stock and vice-versa. Thus, the index is essentially forced to buy larger, more expensive companies and sell companies as they get cheaper. This “flaw” is great in times when large cap growth companies are hot: think about FAANG – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google – these are all stocks that up until recently have soared and essentially the reason why the S&P500 heading into this month was one of the only 10% of 2018 positive areas amongst all of the asset categories Deutsche Bank tracks. (See graph below.) However, the S&P500 won’t show too well when growth is out of favor and investors emphasize value and fundamentals like they did in the 2000s, a decade when the S&P500 had basically zero return.
  • There are many other popular equity benchmarks such as the Russell 2000 (representing small cap stocks), MSCI EAFE (representing international stocks – in particular ones from developed regions of Europe, Australiasia, and the Far East), MSCI EEM (representing stocks of emerging regions), and lots more.
  • All of these above focus on a particular niche within the equity market. Therefore, none of them really make a good benchmark for comparison to your well-balanced, diversified portfolio. It’s like comparing apples to oranges! Which is why we favor the following benchmark for equity comparison purposes: MSCI ACWI (All Country World Index): This index is the one-stop shop for equity benchmarks consisting of around 2500 stocks from 47 countries, a true global proxy. It’s not a perfect benchmark, but it does get you closer to comparing apples to apples.

Next, we look at popular benchmarks within Fixed Income:

  • Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index:  Basically the “S&P500 of bond land” and sometimes referred to as “the Agg”, this bond index represents government, corporate, agency, and mortgage-backed securities. Domestic only. Flaws include being market-cap weighted and that it doesn’t include some extracurricular fixed income categories like floating rate notes or junk bonds.
  • There are others, like the Barclays Capital US Treasury Bond Index & the Barclays Capital US Corporate High Yield Bond Index, that focus on their respective niche, but probably the best bet comparison for most diversified fixed income investors would be the Barclays Capital Global Aggregate Bond Index. This proxy is similar to the “Agg”, but we believe superior given about 60% of its exposure is beyond US borders. Not exactly apples to apples, but it can work.

Lastly, Alternatives:

  • For Alternatives, benchmarks are somewhat of a challenge as there aren’t as many relative to the more traditional asset classes of stocks & bonds because there are so many different flavors and varieties of alternatives. We think one of the most appropriate comparison proxies in alternative land is the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index. It reflects the combined returns of several alternative strategies such as long/short, event driven, global strategies, merger arbitrage, & managed futures. As such, it can be considered as an appropriate comparison tool when comparing your liquid alternative portion of your portfolio.

Now that you’re more familiar with some of the more popular and applicable benchmarks of each asset class category, you may be asking the question: which one of the above is the best for comparison to my portfolio? The answer is: none of them alone, but rather a few of them combined. In other words, you would want to build a blended proxy consistent with the asset allocation mix of your portfolio. For example, if your portfolio is 50% equities / 30% fixed income / 20% alternatives, then an appropriate blended benchmark might be 50% MSCI AWCI Index / 30% Barclays Capital Global Aggregate Bond Index / 20% Credit Suisse Liquide Alternative Beta index. Now you’re really talking an apples-to-apples comparison!

You now should be equipped on how to measure your portfolio versus an appropriate benchmark. With 90% of assets categories being down for 2018 according to data tracked by Deutsche Bank through mid-November (see graph below), most likely you are sitting at a loss for 2018. 2018 has been a challenging year for all investors. Besides a select group of large cap domestic names (that are big constituents of the S&P500), most investment areas are down. That 90% losing figure is the highest percentage for any calendar year since 1920! Yikes! This also could be the first year in over 25 that both global stocks and bonds finish in negative territory. Wow! It’s a tough year. Not every year is going to be a positive one, but history shows that there are more positive years than negative ones. Stay the course.

Our investment management team here at DWM is made up of CFA charterholders. As such, we believe in prudent portfolio management which adheres to a diversified approach and not one that takes big bets on a few select areas. We know that with this diversified approach, it’s inevitable that we won’t beat each and every benchmark year-in and year-out, but we can be capable of producing more stable and better risk-adjusted returns over a full market cycle. Further, we are confident that our disciplined approach puts the client in a better position to achieve the assumed returns of their financial plans over the long run, thereby putting them in a position to achieve much sought long-term financial success.

Have fun with those comparisons and don’t forget to lose the oranges and double up on the apples!

A True Halloween Scare: Volatility Returns to the Marketplace

Recently, we here at DWM posted a blog discussing the phenomenon that “Bull Market Runs Come in All Lengths”. Within this article, we mentioned the idea that before our current bull run ends, we may see many more pullbacks and/or corrections.

Within the current month, we have seen these types of market downturns as investor fears of upcoming mid-term elections, tariffs, rising rates,  and international economic slow-down issues have spiked levels of consumer fear (measured by the volatility index, VIX), by nearly 50% .

While this data can’t tell us whether the current bull market run is coming to an end, it opens up the opportunity to better understand just what is happening in the economy, and how we should handle times like these.

To understand the severity of market moves, there are three unique distinctions: a pullback, a correction, and a bear market, which signify downward market moves of 5%, 10%, and 20% respectively.

Over the past month, securities within all asset classes – equities, fixed income, and alternatives – have experienced one of these. On October 23rd, in fact, over 40% of the stocks in the S&P 500 were considered to be in bear market territory. Since then, markets have continued their run of ups and downs.

What can this market data tell us about the future? Unfortunately, not much. While markets tend to be cyclical in nature over the long-term, the short-term is usually marred by emotions (herd mentality, greed, and fear) rather than by solid fundamental and economic modeling. Furthermore, the risk of attempting to predict these short-term outcomes can have a serious long-term effect on the performance of an investor. Studies have shown that by missing out on only a few days strong returns in a market cycle can drastically impact the portfolio’s overall return.

Thus, in order to stay on track with long-term financial goals, one of the most successful and least anxiety-inducing ways to manage investments is to generate a financial plan, assess and re-assess risk tolerance regularly, and continually stay disciplined to these values in order to avoid making emotional and poor decisions. In conjunction with these actions, an investment portfolio needs both an appropriate asset allocation based on a client’s financial plan and has to be made up of a well-diversified portfolio that can help provide exposure to market areas, such as fixed income and alternatives, that are arenas that may still produce returns even with stocks stuck in a slowdown. The combination of these strategies can work as shields to protect both an investor’s assets, and his/her mental health during times of volatility such as today’s challenging marketplace.

At times, corrections, pullbacks, and even bear markets can actually be good things! If certain areas of the market are being overvalued, or company valuations are getting ahead of their fundamentals, pullbacks and corrections can serve as a check and balance system, to get these more in line. This makes companies, sectors, and markets more stable as they can refresh a bull market that is verging on inflating itself beyond its means.

Furthermore, a pullback, correction, or bear market move down for a certain security can provide other opportunities. For example, this month, DWM will be creating value for clients by taking advantage of tax-loss harvesting options. Tax-loss harvesting is the process of selling out of a security that has lost value since an investor first bought it, and using that loss to offset any gains that an investor realized during a tax year. This upside can serve as a nice treat to offset the “trick”-y investment arena of October.

One other somewhat notable factoid is that in the mid-term election year of October 2014, the stock market took a noticeably similar look. That of the Dow Jones down nearly 3%, rebounding, and selling off throughout, ultimately dropping into correction territory. This was quickly followed by a November post-election market boom hitting record highs for the Dow and S&P 500. Once again, while interesting to see, take these numbers with a grain of salt moving forward and looking at future returns.

All in all, keeping in mind that while volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace can be scary, maintaining a balanced, disciplined portfolio and financial plan, and staying dedicated to that plan throughout all market cycles is the key to being financially sound and minimizing the number of sleepless nights. At DWM, we proactively discuss these matters with clients, and strive to keep our clients informed, motivated, and on-target to their financial plans to help them reach their long-term financial goals. Happy Halloween!

Your “Hidden Brain” Impacts Your Politics

Hopefully, all of us will vote in the midterms on 11/6 or before. Roughly half the country will vote for Republicans (conservatives) and half will vote for Democrats (liberals.). Did you know that your choices are not only impacted by your upbringing and experiences, but also very specifically by your genes? We’re hard-wired from birth for much of our political views.

Shankar Vedantam is one of my favorite authors and commentators. He is NPR’s social science correspondent and before that a journalist at The Washington Post. His 2010 book “The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save our Lives” describes how our unconscious biases influence us. I highly recommend it.

Mr. Vedantam relates the story that on a regular basis, right before an election, someone will share an article with him about how science proves that the brains of a liberal are stunted or that Republicans are less intelligent than Democrats. While those claims likely have no merit, Mr. Vedantam contends that there are “genuine psychological differences between liberals and conservatives.”

On a recent Hidden Brain telecast, Mr. Vedantam hosted political scientist Dr. John Hibbing to the show. Dr. Hibbing is co-author of “Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives and The Biology of Political Differences.” Dr. Hibbing pointed out that differences between partisans are not limited to politics. There are generally differences in food choices, living spaces, and temperaments. Conservatives generally like meat and potatoes; liberals are more likely to prefer ethnic food. Conservatives tend to have organized rooms with things like sports memorabilia, while liberals tend to have lots more books and may not be as tidy. As far as temperament, conservatives tend to favor order and tradition and liberals tend to be more comfortable with ambiguity and change.

Then, there’s a huge difference between conservatives and liberals when it comes to threats and danger. According to Dr. Hibbing, conservatives tend to see the world with its terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, and immigrants as a very dangerous and threatening place.   Liberals tend to believe they live in a relatively safe society.   Conservatives therefore want and need the government to help them “protect themselves and their family, limit immigration, and put lots of money into defense and law and order.” Liberals, on the other hand, are reinvigorated by immigrants coming to our country, don’t see the need to spend so much money on defense and support gun control. Conservatives and liberals read about events of the world and they simply don’t respond to them in the same way.

Mr. Vedantam chimed in: “There is a very powerful illusion that we have that the rest of the world sees the world the way we see the world. And, if they come to a different conclusion, it must be because they’re being deliberately obtuse or somehow deliberately biased, as opposed to the idea that people are actually seeing the world the same way, but reacting to it differently.” Psychologists call it a case of “false consensus” that we assume others will see the world the way we do.

People are wired differently. Roughly 30-40% of our political views come from genetics based on research by Dr. Hibbing. 60-70% comes from our environment. Mr. Vedantam has described how researchers separate the effects of biology from those of the environment. They look at fraternal and identical twins. Both sets of twins have identical initial environments, but the fraternal twins have similar but not identical genes. Data from thousands and thousands of twin pairs supports the conclusion that political views are quite “inheritable.”

Finally, brain activation patterns of liberals and conservatives are different. Dr. Hibbing has conducted tens of thousands of experiments in which he showed various pictures to individuals whose brain was being scanned. Liberals’ brains would highly activate at times much differently than when conservatives’ brains were highly active. The brain scan results alone proved “incredibly accurate in determining whether an individual was a conservative or liberal.”

Frankly, I find it very helpful to learn that political views are at least, in part, biological. Years ago, left-handers (like both my mother and father) were thought to be lazy and had their hands hit with a wooden ruler to make them write “correctly,” using their right hand. People saw left-handers as a flaw, something that needed to be driven out. Now, of course, we understand that being left-handed is very biological. Similarly with politics. Dr. Hibbing concludes: “If we recognize that others, virtually half the country, are oriented to the world in a different fashion, maybe we would be a bit more tolerant to them. This is the only way we’re going to get anywhere if we at least understand where they are coming from even if we might deeply disagree with their conclusions.”

As we approach the midterms with the vitriol rising, let’s all remember our hidden brains and those of others, particularly family and friends and show tolerance and respect to all. We may see the same world differently: our unique genes, unconscious biases and life experiences may produce different conclusions and different political preferences. Yet, we’re all Americans and we and our country will all do better if we work together.