What’s Trending?

trend_watching1We are certainly living in an exciting time.  The world is facing many political, economic, demographic and technological shifts and it is fascinating to observe and participate in the changes. In 2016 especially, we are inundated with political polls and national statistics.  Often, these statistics or polls are reported to best suit a particular agenda.  It can be worrisome and makes many decisions, including those regarding our personal financial management, fraught with anxiety.  As Americans, we watch these trends and polls and try to put our world in perspective.

It is really fun to watch the technological advances!  These trends now come so quickly we can hardly imagine things before they are a reality.  A car that drives itself? Drones that deliver goods to your doorstep? A watch that contains your phone, internet service and monitors your health?  I have a personal example of the impact of new technology.  My grandfather, George Crowley, was an inventor and, as a boy, looked for ways to use electricity to better the world around him.  He rigged his mother’s curtains to open and close with the flip of a switch and made a dining room door that moved automatically.  As a Navy engineer assigned to GE, he used his talents during WWII to create heated flight suits that allowed the American bomber pilots to fly above the German anti-aircraft weapons, an ability that is noted in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum as helping to turn the tide of the war.  That also led to a GE patent for the modern electric blanket, which, if you live in colder climates, is a wonderful luxury even now!  At the 1964 World’s Fair, my grandfather contributed to a GE film exhibit about a “House of the Future”.  In the imagination of the creators, there was a medical bed on which you would lay down each morning and receive a report on all your vitals – a quick health check-up.  We can now do this on most home exercise machines or health apps.  Everything in the 1964 smart house was voice activated or electronic in some way…video cameras in the baby’s room with monitors for the parents around the house; lights, music and security systems that were voice activated; kitchen appliances that allowed for “instant” cooking or multifunctional chores like today’s microwave ovens or food processors.  Amazing innovations in the 1950’s and 60’s and taken for granted nowadays.

It is also interesting to look back in history and see which economic and political predictions have been accurate.  John Naisbitt, who wrote “Megatrends” in 1982, outlined some of the challenges that lay ahead because of the economic shift from the industrial age to a more global information-based economy.  The issues of population increases, environmental stresses, militant religious forces and an explosion in the increase of information technology are trends discussed in the book.  They seem obvious now, but were certainly less so when originally written.  Our economy has had to adjust, rapidly at times, to these economic and political shifts and certainly impacts our life in this century!

Americans are facing some significant demographic changes ahead.  By 2055, the U.S. will not have one single ethnic or racial majority, according to the Pew Research Center (www.pewresearch.org) in the latest report on their population findings.  In this political year, with much focus on immigration issues, Asia has replaced Latin America as the biggest source of new immigrants to the U.S.  In fact, the Pew Research Center found that between 2009 and 2014, more Mexicans returned to Mexico than arrived in the USA.  Americans, it continued, are more likely to embrace our country’s diversity than consider it a burden.  The demographic group called Millenials, young adults born after 1980, are the generation to watch.  Millenials are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation.  They also tend to consider themselves more politically independent than their elders and are optimistic about their financial future, despite the burdens of student debt and a weak job market.  And this is no surprise, but we have changes in our families, too.  Marriage rates and two-parent households are dropping and, with more women in the workforce than ever before, at least half of the traditional two-parent families have both parents working full-time.  Whatever these trends portend, Americans seem to take them in stride.

So we sit back and watch the technological genius and demographic, economic and political changes with fascination and perhaps, at times, with trepidation.  At DWM, we embrace change and strive to help navigate and make sense of at least some of these trends for you.

My stand-up desk converter should be here any day… they say sitting is the new smoking, so this may be a trend that is here to stay.  My grandfather would have loved it.

Don’t Neglect the Emerging Markets

From The Charleston Mercury, February 7, 2013:

financial advisors, asset allocation

Yes, 2012 was a great year for U.S. equities. The S&P 500 index rose 13%. However, did you know that the MSCI Emerging Markets Index was up 15%? Emerging market results were uneven. Turkey and Thailand had exceptional performance. China and India did well. Chile and Indonesia did poorly.

Bond returns in the U.S. were lower in 2012; the U.S. Aggregate bond index was up 4%. Not so with emerging market bonds. The JP Morgan Emerging Market Bond Index returned 18% in 2012 (11% per year in the last decade.) Even countries like Mongolia, Zambia and Bolivia are issuing sovereign bonds and receiving favorable terms. The world is changing every day.

You and your financial advisor should consider including emerging markets as a small part of your diversified core portfolio of stocks and bonds. Here’s why:

The demographics are great in the emerging countries. They have an expanding middle class, low debt to GDP and improving credit quality. Growth prospects in emerging countries are much better than developed countries. The IMF forecasts an increase in GDP in emerging markets from 5.3% in 2012 to 5.5% in 2012. Developed countries will likely be around 1%. 

An additional reason for considering an allocation to emerging market stocks includes current valuations. Emerging market stocks are selling for around 12 times earnings for the past 12 months versus roughly 16 times for S&P 500 stocks. 

Emerging market bonds are certainly a more risky investment than the bonds that compose the U.S. Aggregate bond index; which is roughly 2/3 U.S. treasuries and agencies and 1/3 corporates. With a credit quality rating generally comparable to high yield bonds, emerging market bonds would be expected to produce a higher return. However, some of the emerging market countries are stabilizing and, in fact, receiving upgrades in their government bond ratings, while the ratings of some developed countries are being downgraded.

Certainly, there are risks with emerging market securities. First, we are interconnected in the global economy. When growth stagnates in mature countries, this has a direct impact on emerging markets. Second, emerging market stocks and bonds are more volatile. During the last bear market from April, 2011 to October, 2011, the MSCI Emerging Market Index plunged 28%, while the S&P 500 index dropped 19%. In a flight to safety, both emerging market stocks and bonds will likely fare worse than domestic stocks and bonds.

Even so, don’t neglect to allocate a small part of your portfolio to emerging market securities. Over the long-term, you should be well rewarded for your foresight and incurring slightly more risk on a small portion of your portfolio.

Les Detterbeck is one of a small number of investment professionals in the country who has attained CPA, CFP®, and CFA designations. His firm, DWM Financial Group, Inc., a fee-only Registered Investment Adviser, has offices in Charleston/Mt.Pleasant and Chicago. Les may be contacted at (843)-577-2463 or les@dwmgmt.com