Our Blog

DWM is committed to learning for its team, clients and friends. In this changing world, it’s extremely important to stay current in all areas impacting your financial future.

We encourage all of team members to “drill down” on current topics important to you and contribute to our weekly blogs.  Questions from our clients and their families are often featured in our blogs.  

Financial literacy for clients and their families is very important to us.  We generally hold an annual wealth management seminar for all of our clients.  We encourage regular, at least semi-annual, meetings in person with our clients to review family updates, progress on financial goals, asset allocation and performance of investments.  We’re happy to assist younger members of the family as part of our total wealth management program.

Here’s our latest blog:

 

Print
PDF

Warning: Alternative Facts May be Hazardous to your Portfolio Returns

Written by Les Detterbeck.

geo washington alternative factsAlternative facts may work sometimes in business and politics, but they don’t work with investments.  Returns are based on reality, which can be complicated, random and uncertain.

30 years ago, in his book, “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump extolled the virtues of “truthful hyperbole” which he described as “an innocent form of hyperbole-and a very effective form of promotion.”  In interviews over the years, Mr. Trump has inflated everything from the size of his speaking fees to the cost of his golf club memberships to the number of units he had sold in his new Trump buildings.   His decades of habitually inflating claims about his business acumen and his wealth have helped produce lucrative licensing deals for the Trump brand around the world.

It is no surprise that President Trump has continued his pattern in his first days in office.  He has made inflated claims about how many people attended his inauguration, his insistence (contradicted by his own Twitter posts) that he had not feuded with the intelligence community, or his claim that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only because millions of people voted for her illegally.  No worries. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway simply refers to these as “alternative facts.”  Others might call these falsehoods, some would call them lies.  Regardless, they are part of the “post-truth” era in politics.  Very disturbing but apparently part of the current political landscape. Overall, it reminds some people of George Orwell’s “1984” in which the Ministry of Truth had three slogans:  “War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.” Yes, very scary.

Even so, in business and politics, alternative facts may be effective.  Voters live in their own bubbles of perception and confirmation bias.  Once they lock in on a candidate, it’s tough to change their minds regardless of subsequent facts.  It’s true- all of us have patterns of irrationality.   We all get lead astray.  This is described brilliantly in Michael Lewis’s new bestseller, “The Undoing Project.”  We can become victimized by the “halo effect” in which our thinking about one positive attribute causes us to perceive other strengths that aren’t really there.  Another is “representativeness” which leads us to see cause and effect when we should accept uncertainty or randomness.  Mr. Lewis showed how pioneer behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky demonstrated that all of us misanalyse all sorts of situations, in business, politics, and everyday life.  We accept alternative facts rather than true reality.

Investors can lose lots of money when their beliefs diverge from the reality and they are led by alternative facts and subjective reality.  They believe they understand major issues; such as how tax reform might impact corporate earnings, the odds for a recession, and repatriation of overseas capital.  The real problem is their absolute certainty in areas which are, in reality, uncertain or random.  (The U.S. election results and the markets’ behavior thereafter is a great example).

The subjective reality investor imagines they can understand complex issues and predict what the marketplace will do and even how specific sectors and individual securities will perform.  They exhibit “representativeness,” believing they understand the cause and effect, when it fact they should accept uncertainty or randomness.  Subjective reality investors often believe they know how to “time the market” which has been shown to be a losing strategy over and over again.  Even full-time mutual fund “active” managers consistently underperform benchmarks over time.  Using alternative facts and subjective reality, these subjective reality investors put their (and others) capital at far more risk than they should.  Sometimes they get lucky, most often they don’t. 

What really gets these subjective reality investors in trouble is the difference between fact and opinion and falling prey to overconfidence.  No one knows the future.  None of us can possibly comprehend all the forces at work every day and how these continually change.  Each of us has our own baggage we bring to our decision-making every day that turns facts into opinions and often truth into alternative facts.

At DWM, we always say, focus on what you can control and respect what you can’t.  Establish a diversified portfolio with an asset allocation commensurate with your risk profile.  Keep costs low.  Stay tax efficient.  Stay invested.  Stay disciplined.  Monitor results and rebalance as necessary.  Don’t try to time the market.  Don’t think you’ve found the “silver bullet.”  Don’t kid yourself-your subjective beliefs and alternative facts can be hazardous to your portfolio returns.

Print
PDF

Big Macs and Donald Trump

Written by Nick Schiavi.

mcdonalds big mac-6Big Macs are becoming a real bargain everywhere in the world… except for the United States. This is because most emerging market currencies have taken a big hit since the election of Donald Trump, whereas, the dollar is as strong as it has been in almost 20 years. Not only has Trump raised expectations of an increased strength of the dollar, but many foreign countries have had problems of their own as well, leaving emerging markets lagging behind.  The Turkish Lira, for example, is one of the worst performing currencies so far this year due to terrorist bombings, economic slowdowns, and a central bank reluctant to raise interest rates to defend the currency (The Economist, Big Mac Index of Global Currencies). Emerging market struggles paired with a surging US dollar has led the Lira to be undervalued by 45.7% according to the Big Max Index.

You may be asking yourself “what on Earth is the ‘Big Mac Index?’” At least that’s what I asked myself the first time I heard it. You may be surprised to hear the Big Mac index is exactly what it sounds like: the cost comparison of a McDonalds Big Mac burger from one country to another. It is a fun, educational, and interesting way to learn how the world is valuing cost of goods on a country by country basis. The Big Mac index is built on the idea of purchase-power parity, meaning in the long run currencies will converge and rates should move towards equalization of an identical basket of goods & services.

Big Mac Index picIn the United States a Big Mac costs $5.06 versus 10.75 Lira, or $2.75, in Turkey. The Mexican peso is even more undervalued at 55.9% versus the US dollar, meaning, a Big Mac only costs $2.23 in Mexico as of January 15th, 2017. The Big Mac index allows us to take complicated subjects, such as international commerce, and make it relatable and understandable.

One drawback of the Big Mac index is it does not take account of labor costs. Of course, a Big Mac will cost less in a country like Mexico because workers earn lower wages than workers in the US. So, in a slightly more sophisticated version of the Big Mac index, labor is included. This typically devalues the US Dollar (USD) compared to other countries around the world because our income is higher. For example, in the traditional Big Mac index, the Chinese yuan is 44% undervalued to the greenback, but after labor adjustments, it is only 7% undervalued. When this adjustment of labor cost is made, it makes it nearly impossible for the USD to trade at a premium against the Euro. This is because Europeans have a higher cost of living and lower incomes than Americans (The Economist, Big Mac Index of Global Currencies). Typically, the Euro trades around a 25% premium against the USD according to the Big Mac index. However, since the election of Donald Trump, even with the labor cost adjustment, the Big Mac index currently finds the Euro UNDERVALUED to the dollar. The US dollar is so strong, it is currently trading at a 14 year high in trade-weighted terms.

 A strong dollar may sound great, but it has many disadvantages. In the United States specifically, a strengthening USD can lead to a widening trade deficit with decreased exports and increased imports. This has a negative result on domestic businesses that operate in foreign countries as well as anyone servicing debts tied to the US dollar. President Trump has publically stated he feels international commerce is rigged against the United States. Whether he is right or wrong, as the trade deficit grows, so does the likelihood of him imposing tariffs on imports from China and Mexico in hopes of bringing balance to trade. If we put a tax on imports, it will lead to something called “protectionism,” or the practice of shielding the United States’ domestic industries from foreign competition. Some feel this is a strong policy because it will keep businesses in the United States and, according to Trump, will prevent us from being taken advantage of. However, it is fairly accepted in macroeconomics that protectionism is a poor/outdated policy because corporate globalization has led to international supply networks that promote convergence and integration throughout the world. Simply put, the countries that are the best at developing goods, develop them, and other countries benefit from the best products at the lowest prices. When something like protectionism takes place, it disintegrates these networks and adversely affects trade-dependent states and the domestic country itself (in this case the United States). The import tax will ultimately drive up prices for domestic consumers who would otherwise benefit from world prices that are significantly lower. This will lead to an increase in trade of intermediate goods and inward investing into value chain niches.

The reason the Big Mac index is so interesting is because it can explain a complex subject like macroeconomics with something as simple as the cost of a hamburger. By knowing the price of a Big Mac on a country by country basis, we are able to understand a significant amount about the world economy and the repercussions the US will face based on the actions we take moving forward.

The Big Mac index is telling us one thing for certain: the US dollar is abnormally strong, which makes the near future uncertain. It is important to have a well-diversified portfolio with an appropriate asset allocation and a competent, experienced fiduciary like DWM to help guide you through times like this. 

Print
PDF

Winning the Super Bowl and Achieving Long-Term Financial Success

Written by Les Detterbeck.

0643042001467695633 filepickerClemson and Alabama know it.  The Super Bowl contenders-Patriots, Steelers, Falcons and Packers- know it.  There are many factors and lots of hard work that contribute to success.  You need consistent, effective blocking and tackling.  You need excellent offense, defense and special teams.  You need a super game plan.  And, you need to be able to make modifications as conditions change.  It’s the same thing with achieving your long-term financial goals. This “elephant” needs to be eaten in “smaller bites.”  Wealth management requires attention to the key building blocks, a disciplined process and likely an accountability buddy and coach to be successful.

Here are the main building blocks to achieving your long-term financial goals:

  • Goals- establishing the financial and personal goals for your lifetime and your legacy; separate them into needs, wants and wishes.
  • Financial Plan- developing the road map for your future; showing how you get from point A to point B and accomplish all of your goals.
  • Investments- identifying your investment objectives, constraints, risk tolerance, asset allocation, and rebalancing and other procedures to protect and grow your assets.
  • Income Taxes- determining strategies to minimize your income taxes and make sure your investments and financial planning strategies are tax efficient.
  • Insurance/Risk Management- making sure your coverage is appropriate (like Goldilocks, “not too much and not too little”) and the premiums are as low as possible.
  • Estate Planning- ensuring that your estate will be distributed in the manner you wish, that you pay the least amount of estate tax and that estate administration is inexpensive and hassle-free.

At DWM, we review these key areas with new clients using our DWM “Boot Camp” process.  This is a series of four to six meetings, typically over a 4-12 week period.  For you ex-athletes, our clients tell us these meetings are like “two a day” practices:  “It feels great when they are over.”

Next is monitoring.  Again, you need a process.  In today’s world, “set it and forget it” just doesn’t work.

On a daily basis, you need to track activity in your investment accounts.  You need to keep up to date with the news, the investment environment and the financial information that could be impacting you and your goals.  At least monthly, you need to review investment performance by asset class and compare to benchmarks.  On a quarterly basis, you need to review your investment portfolio for performance and asset allocation.

You should review your financial and personal goals at least a couple of times per year and update your financial plan.  You should review your prior year income tax returns in May, determine what new strategies might apply for the current year and obtain a current year projection.  You should review and update this tax projection in the fall.  You should carefully examine your insurance premium statements when received and, at least every couple of years, go out for quote again.  You should review the key points of your estate plan every year, including executors, trustees and agents and their successors. Based on updated current assets, you need to review if your estate is taxable and the distributions and their timing based on your current plan.

Monitoring is a big job. And, then add to that some of the key life events for you and your family (that may also require changes to your game plan) including:

  • Birth of a child or grandchild
  • Educational matters
  • Child/grandchild reaches majority
  • Weddings
  • Job and career changes
  • Moving
  • Major illnesses
  • Inheritance
  • Divorce
  • Onset of physical incapacity in old age
  • Death of a spouse, parent, sibling or other significant person

Is it any surprise that with all you need to do to achieve financial success and manage your wealth that you might consider an accountability buddy and coach, perhaps someone like DWM?

At DWM, we use a proprietary process to help you develop, monitor and modify your financial plan and manage your wealth over time.  Our Boot Camp is a great way to develop your plan.  Our daily, weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly processes which we refer to as “Increasing Wealth by Adding Value” are designed to monitor your plan and provide suggestions to improve your plan.  Personal meetings with you are times to review both progress and status of your building blocks and changes (including key life events) so we can help you keep your plan current.  And, most importantly, as your independent friend and coach, we are accountable to you and help you be accountable to yourself and your family in achieving your long-term goals.  When you accomplish all of that, it’s like you (and we) have won the Super Bowl.

Let's Get Acquainted

We offer a complimentary "Get Acquainted" meeting to describe our services, and to see if our services are right for you.

Contact Us