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stock market

Why Investors Feel So Bullish

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

The stock market exploded higher in November along with cases of COVID-19, just as it did in April. Despite all the challenges of 2020, it seems the market is so bullish that it can only go one way. The reality is that anything could happen. The future is not predetermined, and the market does not think for itself. It is merely a compilation of investors’ views – a popularity contest, or as Warren Buffet calls it, “a voting machine.” For most of 2020, investors have viewed all good and bad news as positive. “Heads I win. Tails I win.” It is all a matter of perspectives–perspectives that I would like to explore.

Government Help
Stimulus in Spring and Summer was 6 times greater and was spent 6 times faster than that for the Great Recession of 2008/2009 (David Kelley, JP Morgan). The impact was incredible! It immediately forced stocks upward. Then it lifted spending, especially on items like homes, cars, furniture, and laptops.

Many Americans are in great need of more help and may get it. This additional stimulus may not come until February and will likely be much smaller than in May. However, with the economy already doing okay, the stimulus would be viewed as positive from the perspective of investors.

Low Rates
The Federal Reserve said it would build a financial bridge to the end of the pandemic, and it has stuck to that statement. It has lowered interest rates and promised to keep them low unless inflation averages move well beyond 2%. This has pushed investors away from low-yielding bonds and into riskier assets, pushing stock prices even higher.

These low rates have also increased the affordability of homes, which has, in turn, pushed those prices up.

One major risk is stocks could get too hot – a problem that contrasts with the uncertainty of 2020.

Improvement
The COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever. With positive vaccine news, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With investors and consumers already feeling optimistic, there is the potential for more economic growth.

Investors have anticipated this improvement and continue to push up prices. While we are enjoying the higher market, we recognize that the more hot stocks get, the greater the chance of them being overcooked. We continue to emphasize the need for a good strategy and personalized plan.

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Market Resiliency Overcomes Biases

By | 2020, Executive Message, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

As we near the end of 2020, we can look back on what we have experienced over the last 12 months, and more importantly, what we have learned from our experiences. Good and bad, we have all been impacted by the events brought on by COVID-19.

Evaluating the past is helpful in looking forward to a new year and the seasons of life ahead. Unfortunately, it is easy for our perspective to be swayed by biases we have developed. Biases are subconscious thoughts that shape our opinions and drive our behaviors. A bias might cause us to make assumptions about the future, such as “The market has changed and will never be the same again,” or, “Life as we know it has changed forever.” These are examples of Recency Bias. Our brain takes a recent experience and uses it as an atlas for all future decisions. It is almost like tunnel vision; we can only see one outcome.

Over the past 26 years, I have learned that every experience is different. Each is driven by a new set of circumstances – always changing. Our personal situations, the economy, and financial markets are fluid, ever-shifting. No one can predict what will happen in the future, positive or negative.

The market has faced many headwinds in the past – the dot com bubble, the Great Recession, Brexit – and has recovered from each. The economy has ebbed and flowed through market cycles while dealing with inflation pressures, political change, unemployment, and many other factors.

When I think of these hurdles, which seemed insurmountable at the time, I cannot help but be awed by the resiliency that followed the hard times. It is that perspective that gives me hope and a positive outlook for what lies ahead.

While the next six months may look fuzzy and hard to predict, the longer-term picture appears more defined, clear, and encouraging.

I am grateful for you, our clients, and the opportunity to help shape your financial future. I wish you and your family health, happiness, and prosperity in the years to come.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season.

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Markets Might Predict Elections, But Elections Don’t Predict Markets

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Election years are usually positive for stocks, and despite all that has happened in 2020, stocks could end this year positive again. It’s been so good that many have been conditioned to join the hottest trades. They are throwing caution to the wind as they mistake an irrational market for genius. This will not last forever.

An increase in risk impacts votes. Of course, 2020 could continue to surprise.

The Market May Predict the
Next President of the United States

(1) Has there been a decline of 20% anytime in the election year? If so, the incumbent party loses.

(2) Are stocks lower on Election Day than the end of the incumbent’s party convention (Aug 27th)? If so, the incumbent party has never won.

Don’t let what you think about politics change how you feel about investing. As Election Day gets closer, many investors will consider moving their money to the sidelines until the uncertainty is over. This is a mistake.

Markets typically rise prior to the end of uncertainty, and they also have risen regardless of the party in the White House. So, while elections have winners and losers, investors who stay the course should be winners.

*Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. The S&P 500 index is used to represent the overall stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass.

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The Emotional Cycle of Investing

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Emotions are a dominating force that impacts every aspect of our lives. The decisions we make, the interpretation of our experience, even our very personalities are all primarily influenced by our emotions. We are neurobiologically wired to create, feel, and think by emotion. In so many ways, our perceived realities are governed not by facts, but by feelings.

Psychologists believe that emotions drive 80% of the choices we make, while practicality and objectivity only represent 20% of our decision-making. This is because our brain has two sides, the thinking side, and the feeling side. The thinking brain is slow, rational, and objective. It deliberately, methodically, and logically reasons through information. The feeling brain is much faster. It is impulsive, emotional, and unconscious. It is also our default decision-making system.

How often do we describe the reason for a decision by saying, “It feels right?” Yet strangely, the mechanism we rely on most when making decisions is so fickle that it can be greatly altered even by what we ate (or did not eat).

This is why Dave Ramsey said that personal finance is not a math problem, but a behavior problem. Investors are emotional. Thus, they judge investment decisions mainly by emotion. This can have expensive consequences.

Most investors go through a recurring cycle that follows the market. This emotional cycle often leads an investor to make the wrong decision at the wrong time. You have heard the saying, “Buy low and sell high.” Logically, this means buying when everyone is feeling despondent (selling) and selling when everyone is feeling euphoric (buying). This is so much easier said than done.

One of many examples: In 2018, when the S&P 500 lost 4.38%, the financial analytics firm found that the average investor lost more than double that, at 9.42%. Investors lost money because they acted on emotion when markets declined. A study that same year published in the Journal of Financial Planning found that investors who implemented strategies to remove emotion saw returns up to 23% higher over a 10-year period.

As accredited Behavior Financial Advisors and Certified Financial Planners, we can help remove emotion from the equation and make wise financial decisions. Whether it is investments, estate planning, or a large purchase, we can provide the expertise that can make a positive difference in your financial future.

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Can We Stop the Tide?

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

I love Warren Buffett’s metaphor about the tide going out. It’s hilarious and true. Jerome Powell’s response demonstrates the magnitude of the task at hand in 2020. Now, a confession: Jerome Powell never said he could stop the tide—at least not in words. However, he is trying to stop the economic tide from allowing struggling businesses to borrow more and more money until the current global healthcare crisis is over.

A little background: When the federal government exceeds its budget, it must borrow. There is only one government agency where this does not apply, the Fed. My favorite metaphor for the Fed is the hammer. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Whether we are in a real estate crisis or a global pandemic, the Fed has one response: create money. And because it does not have to borrow, there is no limit to the amount it can make. The Fed wields a hammer of infinite size.

Just as you may have projects at home that require other tools, it makes sense that a hammer cannot solve all of America’s problems. A pandemic seems like it may be one of these. It has not stopped the Fed from trying. In less than 3 months in 2020, the Fed created more money than it did during the previous 12 years combined. (That includes the 2008 Great Recession and the trillions of dollars to get out of it.)

A consequence of the unprecedented government intervention is a massive amount of wealth creation. The Fed’s money goes mostly into debt markets, which pushes prices higher and makes the owners of assets wealthier. The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own approximately 80 percent of market assets, so there is an unintended consequence of increasing the wealth gap. This is not the Fed’s fault exactly. Remember, it may have unlimited amounts of money, but it is really limited in how it can spend it.

You may be wondering, doesn’t printing money create inflation? Why haven’t we seen it in the last decade? Inflation is rising prices. It has averaged only 2 percent despite the $7 trillion created by the Fed during the previous 12 years and the $27 trillion borrowed by the federal government, most of this over the last 20 years. Instead, let’s describe it as follows: “Inflation is when prices go up for the stuff you want.” By that definition, I think inflation has been higher than 2 percent.

So, will we see inflation get even worse? All it takes is for demand to grow faster than supply, but this hasn’t happened yet. Consider investors like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. When the Fed pushes up the value of their investments, do they buy another home or a big-screen TV? The wealth creation that the Fed engages in is unlikely to turn into major inflation unless it creates a significant increase in demand. Once consumers get accustomed to rising prices, then further increases may follow.

If the Fed had written checks out to every American for $21,000, there would have been a massive increase in spending. Demand would have been way beyond supply, and the prices of homes, cars, and other items would have skyrocketed. The Fed cannot do this, and it wouldn’t want to. Stable prices and full employment are its two mandates.

However, I believe that a more mild increase in inflation may come in the next decade. While the Fed’s money went into financial assets, there was an effort by the federal government to help Americans more directly.

The CARES Act provided $1,200 in cash to most Americans, including approximately 70 million children and over a million deceased. In addition to this, around 20 million unemployed Americans received a $600 per week boost to unemployment benefits.

All this adds up to a lot of extra stimuli, and it has had a more direct impact on spending, saving, and even investing. Approximately 30 percent of all income is now coming from the government.

The federal government is $27 trillion in debt, which is well beyond the size of our entire economy. And there may be even more stimulus coming.

As this stimulus works its way into the economy over the coming years, we may see inflation begin to rise for the first time in a long time.

Another potential impact of the Fed’s actions is also unintended. We call it moral hazard. If we avoid the pain and devastation of recession, then when will we learn the hard lessons?

Finally, will all this help productivity and innovation or hinder it? Will we have to pay off any of this debt, or will we use inflation to make it less meaningful? Only time will tell.

Even with all the uncertainty, the Fed firmly believes it does not have much choice. Jerome Powell likes to describe the Fed stimulus as a bridge to keep Americans out of financial harm until this crisis has passed. This is what I would call the Great Financial Experiment of 2020. This is not only happening in the United States but all over the developed world.

The success so far has been stunning and without major unintended consequences, but it’s also still early–very early. So, as investors, we look for opportunities to participate, but we never forget the risks. Only time will show if the United States of America and the rest of the developed world successfully stopped the tide from going out.

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Facing Coronavirus Uncertainty, Think Long Term

By | 2020, Executive Message, Money Moxie | No Comments

I often include the phrase, “Past performance does not guarantee future results,” to remind us that uncertainty will always be an integral part of investing. I also repeat the words, “Long term,” frequently to help keep perspective in the face of uncertain times.

Warren Buffett understands uncertainty and long-term investing. He is one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet and one of the best investors of all time. Recently he gave us a glimpse into how he is viewing the extreme pessimism and optimism on Wall Street. On May 2, 2020, Warren Buffett conducted a virtual shareholder meeting. In the discussion, we learned that Buffett has been selling some and holding much of his investment portfolio during the Covid-19 pandemic. With around $137 billion in cash, many people thought Buffett would be buying aggressively. We also learned how he is viewing short-term and long-term investing now that he is 89 years old:

I hope I’ve convinced you to bet on America. Not saying that this is the right time to buy stocks if you mean by “right,” that they’re going to go up instead of down. I don’t know where they’re going to go in the next day, or week, or month, or year. But I hope I know enough to know, well, I think I can buy a cross section and do fine over 20 or 30 years. And you may think, for a guy, 89, that that’s kind of an optimistic viewpoint. But I hope that really everybody would buy stocks with the idea that they’re buying partnerships.

At the age of 89, Buffett is still thinking 20 to 30 years into the future. That’s an important lesson for all of us because the likelihood of making money increases with time.

The Dow Jones index is made up of 30 stocks, so it’s not a comprehensive example, but it is perhaps the oldest index. Over the last 100 calendar years, the probability of a positive return in any given year was 69%. That’s not bad, but that means that 31% were negative. Now that’s uncertainty. At the extremes, the Dow lost over 50% (1931) and gained 63% (1933). That’s what we call short-term.

I would define long-term as 10 years or more. It makes a big difference. The Dow was positive 83% of the 10-year periods and 96% of the 20-year periods. Only during the Great Depression were the 20-year numbers negative, but any investor who could have stayed invested would have done well in the latter half of the Depression and in the decades to come. Through these 100 years, the Dow averaged a 5.7% annual return (and that does not even include dividends).

So, while uncertainty will probably always be difficult to embrace, time can be our ally. Warren Buffett is choosing to think this way at the age of 89. I firmly believe that the same perspective will be beneficial to us as we continue through the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

*The Dow Jones index is often used to represent the U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index and of course, past performance does not guarantee future results.

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Unprecedented Times

By | 2020, Newsletter | No Comments

It is unprecedented times like these that bring people together with a common focus and a shared desire. Protecting the lives of our family, friends, and community has become top of mind, and our daily efforts reflect that devotion.

While times have changed, our commitment has not waivered. Your financial success and well-being are our top priorities. We are diligently working to stay abreast of the changing financial landscape and keep you on track to meet your financial goals.

When creating financial plans, we are continually watching for bumps in the road that could prevent our clients from reaching their goals. Financial markets and the associated volatility are not unexpected. In fact, market volatility, as a risk, is built into every plan we create, whether you are working toward future retirement or enjoying retirement now.

Having had the opportunity to help clients through multiple bear markets, and numerous market corrections, we know that sticking with your plan delivers the best opportunity to achieve financial success.

We will continue to use email and social media to stay connected and keep you informed. We will resume sending postal mailings when COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

I invite you to contact one of our wealth managers to discuss your situation, get answers to your questions, and hear what Smedley Financial is doing to help protect your financial future. We are working remotely and are still available.

I want to thank those who have reached out to us, concerned about our well-being. Your thoughtfulness is very much appreciated.

It is our greatest hope that you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe.

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Year of the Coronavirus

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter, Travel | No Comments

Coronavirus was difficult to recognize and impossible to track when first contracted around November 17, 2019. It was misunderstood in China. Dismissed in America. Many said, “it’s just the flu.” But Covid-19 is no ordinary flu. Those infected are contagious days before symptoms show. Some may never have symptoms as they spread the disease. It is a novel strand of the Cornovirus, and that means it’s new, and there is no immunity to it. Most of us are likely to catch it sometime in the next 12 months.

The healthcare system is ill-prepared for an outbreak. We have the expertise, equipment, and medicine. We do not have the capacity. This is where flattening the curve comes in. The goal of the government is to slow the spread of the virus to buy time to help those infected and those researching prevention and treatments.

In 2020, the stock market lost 20% in roughly 20 days. Historically, it has taken 400 days from the market top for it to fall by 20%. The 12-year-old bull market is over.

Over the last few years, we have had a smooth run interrupted by violent drops. The S&P 500 dropped roughly 19% in 2016 and twice in 2018. This week, it finally reached 20% and then kept going.

There is so much we don’t know, so we will focus on what we do know. American consumers will continue to spend. We are resilient. However, there is a shift in where we spend. This has led to a lack of global demand for oil. OPEC producers prefer stable prices and would like to cut oil supplies to push prices higher. Russia refused to cooperate, which has driven prices sharply lower. The United States is now a major world producer, so we find our country caught in the middle of this unexpected consequence of the current pandemic.

Falling energy prices are both bad and good. The immediate impact is bad. Energy suppliers feel the financial pinch. Some may default on debt payments, which could domino through the economy. Eventually, these lower prices reach consumers. I have never heard a friend complain about low prices at the gas pump. This leads to more flexible spending and more growth. It takes about 18 months for the low price of oil to show up in higher economic growth. Of course, the financial markets anticipate.

Don’t fight the Fed. The Federal Reserve lowered its overnight interest rate to zero and announced it will inject $1.5 trillion into the financial system to keep the markets functioning properly. This is more money than the Fed has put into the markets in the last 5 years combined. The entire Federal Government budget is $3.8 trillion. So, while the Fed can’t fight the virus, it is doing what it can to prevent a breakdown as we experienced in 2008.

When will financial markets come back up? (1) Investors need to wrap their minds around all the sudden changes to everyday life, and (2) The growth of Coronavirus cases must slow. Problems don’t have to disappear. Investors just need less uncertainty.

When all the news turns negative, any sign of hope could be the turning point. That’s what makes predicting the future so difficult. And this is why we work so hard to manage risk and be invested to participate in long-term growth.

*Research by SFS. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. The S&P 500 index is widely considered to represent the overall U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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Election Years: Positively Volatile

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It may turn out to be a typical election year. I expect stocks to be up in 2020, but in the single digits—much less than in 2019. Investors dislike uncertainty, and 2020 will be filled with plenty of political unknowns. Despite some extra ups and downs, election years tend to be positive for stocks. Hang in there.

A lot of Republicans could have missed out from 2009 to 2016. Similarly, Democrats would have missed the 2017-2020 markets. The rule for election volatility is that it comes sooner than most investors expect. Most summers have a bit of a slowdown. In election years, that drop usually hits in spring.

The classic October drop is typical even in election years, but don’t get caught saying, “I’ll invest when the election is over.” The market usually begins to climb a couple of weeks before the final vote.

Some rotation in the markets may develop as we learn who the candidates will be. Still, the most likely outcome is gridlock in Washington, with the Republicans staying in control of the Senate and the House controlled by Democrats. Regardless of your political opinions, gridlock is usually good for stocks because large companies plan 10+ years ahead of time and prefer a predictable business environment.

*Research by SFS. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. The S&P 500 index is widely considered to represent the overall U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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Climbing a Wall of Worry

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Climbing a wall of worry is a common phrase in the investment world. The implication is that the market will move higher as it overcomes uncertainty. In 2018, the U.S. stock market had its worst December since 1931. It followed with the best returns since 2013. The American consumer kept things going in the economy at just above 2 percent while interest rate cuts and asset purchases by the Federal Reserve made all the difference for the markets.

Don’t Fight The Fed

In 2018, the Federal Reserve (Fed) was on auto-pilot: raising interest rates unless something went wrong. By December 2018, the Fed’s actions spooked investors.

By July 2019, the 2-year government bond paid a higher interest rate than the 10-year. That is what we call an inverted yield curve. The short-term rates are somewhat controlled by the Fed. The long-term rates are more driven by investors. So, the inverted curve is the result of investors believing that the Federal Reserve is making a mistake by keeping short-term rates too high. Over the last 50 years, the Fed has never been so quick to react as it was in 2019. This very well could have helped us avoid a recession in 2019-2020.

The Fed seems willing to do whatever it takes to keep this steady economy going, but the Fed is also going to try to stay out of the way in an election year. I expect it will take a large change in the economy to entice the Fed to make any changes to interest rates.

After three interest rate cuts last year, the Fed really may not have to engage in more stimulus in 2020. The impact of those cuts is likely to trickle down into the U.S. economy this year.

More Slow Growth: No Recession

The U.S. economy has averaged 2-3% economic growth for the last 10 years. This trend is likely to continue. Corporate earnings in the United States ended 2019 near zero. Expect a bounce. However, uncertainty over global demand, trade, and politics will probably continue. Once again, economic growth will rely heavily on American consumers.

Coronavirus: Watch For a Peak

Coronavirus has spread incredibly quickly through China, and around 2.3 percent of those who become infected, die of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global health emergency on January 30, 2020.

Of recent outbreaks (Ebola, Zika, & SARS), SARS seems the best comparison. SARS spread more slowly. The World Health Organization did not declare it a global crisis until the number of people infected peaked (March 12, 2003).

In 2020, the Chinese government and the WHO have acted more quickly to contain Coronavirus. If successful, infections should peak in February. If efforts fail immediately, it seems likely that, just as with SARS, Coronavirus will be on the decline by March.

*Research by SFS. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. Dow and S&P 500 indexes are widely considered to represent the overall stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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