Friday, February 27, 2009

Private Client Commentary - everything has a ceiling and floor

Dear Clients,

Looks like another one of those days that calls for two commentaries. As I mentioned in this morning

Private Client Commentary - ceilings and floors

Dear Clients,

I write this early Friday morning and it's looking to be yet another down day for the market.

"Could get worse before it gets better" is something I've been reminding for months now. I've also been reminding that market history supports the notion that to sell when the market has taken this kind of hit could be a bad idea. The thing is, market history supported that notion when the Dow was at 9,000 less than two months ago. So if two months ago you had a two month time horizon, you should have sold. If you have a time horizon that extends several years, well then it's an altogether different set of circumstances.

The question we have to ask ourselves is; is this time different? Will the market bounce back in furious fashion when the sideline cash (one day) comes roaring back in - when a real return of 0% in T-Bills is no longer acceptable and it believes the worst economic scenario is finally priced into stocks? Or will it rush to gold, already at record highs, while the economy continues to struggle under the weight of, well you name it? Do we buy into an asset class (gold) that has run through the roof

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Private Client Commentary - Technical Analysis

Dear Clients,

Last December I wrote that in the near-term the Dow could certainly drop below 7,500. And it did just that today.

As you

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Private Client Commentary - bad bank and mtm

Dear Clients,

Well so much for the stock market making its turn in the midst of all this bad news. Last week completely erased the previous week's gains while the market found its way closer to the bottom set last November. To market technicians this comes as no surprise, as many have suggested that stocks need to test those November lows at least one more time before they can move higher in any sustainable fashion. Since I'm not a technician I can't say whether or not last week's 5% drop in stocks indeed follows some predictable pattern.

I will say this however; if it's not due to some fifty-two week mountainesque pattern in the charts, or a double top with an inverted head and shoulders breaking through the resistance line (technical jargon), I'm betting last week's drop was simply the market thumbing its nose at Washington for a week of horrendously bad politicking.

Of course I could be missing something, but it's my observation that the market is signaling (with sirens and flashing red lights no less) precisely what it wants to see come out of Washington. Forget the stimulus package

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Private Client Commentary - Geitner's speech

Just want to pop in and touch on what did not happen this morning. The market is off 3% in the wake of Treasury Secretary Geitner

Monday, February 9, 2009

Private Client Commentary - American spirit

Dear Clients,

In a recent commentary I stated that over the past year plus I have written to you almost exclusively on days when the stock market is down. While my intent is to help you see through the myopic media coverage, in reality, over the past year I didn't have a whole lot of choice - as most days were in fact down for the stock market.

I write you today after a week that was actually positive for the market. I almost don't know how to act! Especially when, at the end of last week, the reported unemployment numbers were nothing short of horrendous - nearly 600,000 jobs lost in January alone. And what happened? The Dow went up 217 points.

Could it be that what they say is true? That the market will begin its turn around in the midst of the worst possible news? My answer is yes. Since that's been my observation over the past 25 years. And that's what the charts of the past century have told us as well.

Now does this mean that we're finally there? My answer is I don't know. The news has felt like the worst possible for months now and the market has done nothing more than tease us with a few false springs. And last week's gains may simply reflect the hope that our leaders in Washington can fashion together a stimulus package that will jump start us out of this recession. But make no mistake, government stimulus or not, sooner or later one of these seemingly false springs will turn into the real deal and lead us right into summer.

With what this bear market has put us through and with all the persistently bad economic news, you might ask how in the world I could suggest that a sustainably positive stock market is in our future.

Honestly, predicting a warm-temperature turn around is the easy part. The hard part, which I won't attempt, is predicting when.

One reason I feel that a very healthy rebound (at some point) is indeed in our future is simply the fact that there's a virtual mountain of cash on the 'sidelines' (money market instruments earning almost zero). According to CNBC this mountain is now 9 trillion feet high. That's right! There's supposedly $9 trillion in cash sitting on the sidelines, earning less than nothing (when you factor in a little future inflation).

OK, but $9 trillion or not, who in their right minds would want to own stocks after what we've seen the past 15 months, you might ask. I'd say only the folks who recognize that the market has recovered from every single recession/bear market history has ever thrown at it. And those who believe that they'll be buying new computers, cell phones, cars, shoes, socks, food, cameras, medicine, houses, furniture, toenail clippers, nose hair trimmers, deodorant, make up, airline tickets, etc, etc, etc, for years to come. Only those silly fools - and I guess I'm one of them.

Yes I know this is the same simple message that I repeat all too often. And I know it's sexier to write about the "Bad Bank" proposal, or more about why I think protectionism is bad news for our economy, or how companies aggressively slash jobs and inventories during the latter stages of a recession. And while these are worthy topics (and I'll no doubt go to these in the future), when it's all said and done, it's the American spirit that makes our economy great. And that spirit has survived a Great Depression, multiple recessions, world wars, impeachments, terrorist attacks, bursting tech bubbles, floods and droughts - you name it, we've survived it. And I see absolutely nothing that will keep that spirit from surviving the recession of 2008/2009.

Now that I have you jumping out of your chair with unbridled patriotism, know that the stock market will continue to be a very volatile place going forward. For the foreseeable future, a whole lot can happen

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Private Client Commentary - biggest one point day

Dear Clients,

All I can say again is Wow! Yesterday saw the biggest single day point increase in the history of the Dow. And of course the question today is; is it sustainable? Has the bear market finally done its part in bringing the excesses to light and helping purge them from the system - and are we now ushering in the next bull market? Or, is it a sucker's rally - where the market surges, taking investors with it, only to sell off back to the bottom - breaking hopeful hearts along the way?

Of course you know, I don't know. Timing the stock market is something no one has ever done with any, investment worthy, degree of accuracy. And anyone willing to go on national television and tell us, with great conviction even, that they know where the market is headed, has let his ego run wild with his common sense. I woke up this morning to Bloomberg Television just in time to hear that three "major market strategists" (as opposed to minor market strategists) are indeed labeling this a bear market rally. Two simply stated that, due to the coming deep global recession, investors must sell into this rally; for we are no where near the end of the pain. The other was so bold as to even predict precisely when the market will bottom, which, if you're interested, is mid 2009. As I've illustrated many times in the past, not that these guys are wrong, but even the most popular gurus seldom guess correctly when it comes to forecasting the market.

Now, having clearly stated my position on market timing and my opinion regarding those fortune tellers who would have us bet our portfolios on their predictions, I will say emphatically, that I would not keep these primetime palm readers from making their prognostications for all the tea in China. In fact, if it is indeed time for this market to turn the corner, these guys are essential to making that happen.

Think about it, if everyone turned bullish at exactly the same time, every drop of cash on the sidelines would rush in at once, and I'd guess the Dow would settle somewhere north of 16,000, with nothing to keep it there. And trust me, that's not what we need! We need pessimists, and we need them to remain pessimistic, and we need people (not us) to continue to listen to them. That will help ensure that the liquidity the next bull market needs to move higher at a healthy (sustainable) pace stays in place. There's the old adage, "bull markets climb a wall of worry", implying that they are born, and advance, in the midst of very bad news - and again, we need the doom-sayers to keep things relatively negative, at least for a while.

So here we are, and like our kids suffering through the long drive to Grandma's house, all we want to know is - are we there yet? And all I'm saying is; if we are, we want to keep the air conditioner running and leave the ones sleeping in the back seat (dreaming that they're still on the road) there for as long as possible - while we go inside and enjoy Grandma's apple pie.

And lastly, please do not take this as my prediction that the bear market is finally over. I honestly do not know!! And as I've said many times before, it's not important that it end today, it's only important that this bear market end after, and only after, it's finished its work.

Have a great week,

Private Client Commentary - Bernanke

Dear Clients,

As of this moment, the market has re-traced more than half of Monday

Private Client Commentary - investor personalities

Dear Clients,
For this commentary, I thought we'd take a break from investment topics and take a look at the investor. Hope you enjoy it.
Take care,

What's your mentality, your personality if you will, when it comes to your finances? Having spent the last couple of decades working with individuals in relation to their money, I have a few observations I'd like to share with you.
For starters, it almost goes without saying that money holds a very high position on most people's list of priorities. Many would profess however that, at best, it comes in fourth behind faith, family and contribution to their community. And I wouldn't dispute that for a moment, but this number four priority can lead to serious stress for some people.
At the two extremes, we have what we call the scarcity and abundance mentalities. Over the years I've counseled a number of individuals who I'd consider scarcity minded. These folks are great people; nice, humble and very conservative (financially speaking). However, they can be quite anxious when it comes to money. They may fear they won't have enough to retire. Or, once retired, they fear their money will run out before their bodies do. Many of them (not all) grew up in a financially challenged environment, where their association with money was one of stress and worry. They may have watched their parents worry, complain and even argue about what they felt they lacked materially. I have worked with scarcity minded people who have enviable fortunes (from years of saving diligently and spending minimally), but live like they're just getting by. They clip coupons, live in modest (paid for) homes, keep the thermostat at 84 in the summer, 64 in the winter, take modest vacations, if at all, drive nice full sized cars they paid cash for 11 years ago, and they can worry intensely when the stock market goes down (even though they usually have only modest exposure to stocks). These wonderful soles will die rich (having never lived rich - financially speaking), and leave wealthy heirs behind. For the scarcity minded investor, a conservative to moderate risk asset allocation strategy makes the most sense. These individuals tend to feel real pain when the market heads south (notice I said when), and left to their own devices, many would become the typical investor who, long-term, usually earns a much lower return on his or her stocks than the market indices would suggest. They would likely sell when things get scary, and only buy when they're sure it's safe - which is usually after the market's been going up for a while (sell low, buy high). Their emotional intensity is usually higher during down markets than up markets. In essence, the fear or anxiety they feel when stock prices decline is much more pronounced than the positive sensations they experience when stocks rise. It is highly unlikely that these investors will get into trouble by taking more income than their portfolio can support.
At the other extreme we have the abundance mentality. The abundant minded may also be nice, humble and even conservative in many ways. But this group doesn't seem to experience the kind of anxiety around money that many of the scarcity minded seem to. They believe they'll always have plenty. Many of them (not all) grew up in an environment where money, even when it was scarce, was not a topic that provoked stress and worry in their households. They're more likely to live lavishly - name brands, big homes with big mortgages, they keep the thermostat at 70 in the summer, 70 in the winter, take fabulous vacations, trade in their leased vehicle every three years, and worry very little when the stock market dips. These folks live rich lives (financially speaking for sure), and may very well die rich. A few however tell us that their ultimate goal is to spend their last dime on their death bed (a tough one for us to time by the way). Left to their own devices, they would stand a good chance of earning market returns on their stock portfolios. This is due to the fact that money doesn't scare them and they are therefore less apt to make emotionally driven investment decisions, which is a good thing since they need to maintain portfolios that can keep up with their lifestyles.
I guess I should also touch on another group we, as advisors, rarely see. This third group is tough to name since, in a sense, they seem to possess both abundance and scarcity minded traits. But rather than falling somewhere between, they live beyond either extreme (financially speaking). They're not likely to work with investment advisors, because there aren't any investments to seek advice on. They're abundant minded in a sense, since they have no problem spending money. But unfortunately, they tend to spend beyond their means, seemingly blind to their lack of abundance. So we could label them "abundant blinded". But, like the scarcity minded, I imagine they feel intense stress around money (for good reason), but unfortunately, acquiring new things is how they find temporary relief from their woes - which of course serves only to intensify their stress. So could we label this group the "scarcity blinded"? In either event, these are no doubt some (not all perhaps) of the folks we're hearing so much about in the news these days - the ones who financed expensive homes with interest only adjustable rate mortgages that blew up in their faces when their rates were adjusted up and their home values came down (as the real estate bubble began to burst). While we would never wish this on anybody, in our system, they will survive, and many will look back and see their experience as a blessing in disguise, the great turning point, where they were forced to look inside and make necessary changes in how they approach their lives financially.
So there you have it, the three extremes - keep in mind, these are extremes. We have found that most individuals (our clients at least) fall somewhere between the scarcity and abundance mentalities. They may feel anxiety when they read the headlines during bear markets (which is perfectly normal), but they're not likely to react and make potentially big (emotionally driven) investment mistakes.
As you've experienced, we spend a lot of time and energy helping our clients maintain what we believe is a healthy perspective on the financial realities of our world today. And we will certainly continue to walk you through the ups and downs to come. For yourself however, the next time you feel fear or anxiety as it relates to your money, take a look at your financial reality (give us a call if you need help with this) and consider whether your worry is based on the reality of your situation today, and, if not, ask yourself if you're not perhaps a little pre-wired to worry. If you can relate, who knows, maybe this insight will alleviate some of your stress. On the other hand, if you never worry about money, but wonder how you're going to pay off the VISA after booking the four week African photo safari, and tell yourself - "it's okay, we'll just hit the home equity line of credit, or skip our quarterly estimated tax payment in June, or, better yet, we'll just pull it out of our retirement plan like we did for the six week Mediterranean cruise we took all the kids on last year", ............ WE NEED TO TALK!!

Private Client Commentary - win fall profits tax

Dear Clients,

The American Heritage Dictionary defines socialism as; any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
AHD defines capitalism as; An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

I swear I have to stop watching the news during the political season