Friday, April 20, 2018

How About Some Good News for a Change


“If it bleeds it leads!”

That was the motto in the newsroom of the ABC-TV affiliate in Harrisburg, PA where I started my career. Fresh out of college, I remember those bleary eyed mornings, 5:30 am, just developing a taste for very bad office coffee. My job was to call every hospital emergency room, police precinct and ambulance dispatcher in central Pennsylvania to find out if there was any overnight carnage in the area.

How about something from sports or scientific breakthroughs I once suggested to our chain-smoking, managing editor. “That ain’t want the audience wants” he growled between hacking coughs. Research confirms he was right. According to author and entrepreneur, Rolf Dobelli, News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier.  Entrepreneur emeritus Peter Diamandis said it’s all about understanding ourNegativity Bias.”

With a revolving door White House, Facebook privacy breaches, FBI leaks, mass shootings at schools, and tensions flaring from the Middle East to the Korean peninsula, we’re up to our eyeballs in negativity from the conventional media and social media.

However, every once in a while some positive news tops the headlines. This week it happened not once, but twice. In both cases, female heroes were cited for doing their jobs extremely well under supremely difficult circumstances—and we’re not talking about coming forward to report workplace harassment.

On Monday, lightly regarded 34 year-old distance runner, Desiree Linden, become the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. Linden overcome bone-chilling Nor’ Easter weather conditions and an unplanned sportsmanship break 45 minutes into the race, while waiting for Shalane Flanagan, a teammate and pre-race favorite, to take an emergency bathroom break. Together they chased down the lead pack and Linden, somehow found an extra gear in the final slippery miles, cruising uncontested to break the finishing tape.

"It's supposed to be hard," Linden told reporters after her victory, shivering with a laurel wreath atop her head. "It's good to get it done."

On Tuesday, Southwest Airlines pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, calmly made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after the engine on Shults’s New York-to-Dallas bound plane exploded shortly after takeoff, spraying shrapnel into the aircraft. If that wasn’t bad enough, the explosion caused a window to be blown out and left a female passenger dead after she was partially sucked out of broken plane window for several minutes and hit by the flying debris.
The plane plummeted from 31,000 to 10,000 feet in just five minutes as panicked passengers texted their final goodbyes to loved ones while struggling to bring the ejected woman back into the plane. Despite the havoc in the passenger area, Shults kept her calm in the cockpit. She found an alternative landing strip, made a smooth emergency landing in Philly and got everyone safely to the tarmac with only one fatality and a few injuries.

Several of you shared comments with me in the aftermath. “The coordination and calm is astounding!” remarked Donna Vislocky, head of Dunedin, Florida-based DV Media and a former award-winning network news producer. “It’s just incredible what all these people
do!” Stuart Sessions, who runs an environmental consulting firm near Washington, DC said “Wow! How great to hear everyone doing their jobs wonderfully when it counts the most.”  Recollecting the movie about Sully, Sessions said, “I hope she gets the credit she deserves without the second guessing.”

In a joint statement made with First Officer Darren Ellisor Wednesday, Schults said:  "As Captain and First Officer of the Crew of five who worked to serve our Customers aboard Flight 1380 yesterday, we all feel we were simply doing our jobs."

Trust us, Stuart, she won’t be second-guessed. Listen to the actual control tower transcript.

Conclusion

Do yourself a favor. Turn off the news every so often and just take a look at the world around you. Everyday people are doing remarkable things each and every day. Their acts generally don’t grab the headlines or boost the ratings, but they make the world a much better place than the pundits, news media and tweeting heads of state would like you to believe.


TAGS: Tammi Jo Schults, Desiree Linden, Peter Diamandis, Rolf Dobelli, female heroes

Friday, March 30, 2018

Common Investor Mistakes Plague Your March Madness Picks, Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, Evan Powers CFP®  author of myFinancialAnswers, observed that filling out your brackets is a lot like constructing an investment portfolio. “You’re trying to find the balance between the ‘safe’ picks (top seeds, blue-chip stocks) and the ‘upset’ picks (lower seeds, growth stocks); crafting a ‘unique’ bracket that you think can outperform your coworkers (or ‘the market); even making picks that will make us feel good when they work out well (picking our alma mater’s team, or values-based investing).

As we head into tonight’s national semifinal games (aka The Final Four) it’s clear that none of the tens of millions of people who filled out their brackets every year can consistently crack the code. Sure two of the four survivors were heavy favorites going into the tournament (#1 seed Villanova and #1 seed Kansas), another was decently respected Michigan (a #3 seed) and the fourth? Loyola of Chicago, an unheralded #11 seed which hasn’t won the tournament since 1963.

It’s so difficult to pick all 67 games correctly in this 3-week long single elimination tournament that investing icon, Warren Buffet once offered a $1 billion prize to anyone who could do it. Out of more than 10 million entrants, exactly ZERO were successful.

The old saying, “Past performance is no indicator of future results,” applies to the hardwood as much as it does to Wall Street. In fact, there are many parallels between human fallacies in finance and human biases around the annual NCAA basketball tourney. “Investing and gambling share multiple biases such as recency bias in which gamblers believe teams that did well for them in past years will continue to do well in 2018,” explained Matt Topley, a former college basketball player and currently, chief investment officer of Valley Forge, PA-based Fortis Wealth, just a long inbounds pass down the road from Villanova. “Investors believe that stocks or funds that did well recently will continue to do well going forward. They believe this even though mountains of academic research is to the contrary,” added Topley.

Topley said another common shared bias is Overconfidence.  “Who had pre-tournament favorite University of Virginia (UVA) getting knocked out of the tournament in the very first round?” asked Topley. Less than .01% according to CBS Sports, which provides automated bracket picking tools for millions of office pool players “Most pool participants have massive confidence is top-ranked teams or in their alma maters who qualify for the tournament without empirical evidence to support their case.”

Anchoring
is another common fallacy known to affect millions of investors and NCAA Tournament pickers, said Topley. It’s the misguided belief that “Kentucky ALWAYS gets to the Final 8” or that “Kansas can’t win the big games” so why should this year be any different? Considering that star players often don’t stay more than one or two years at the elite programs these days, anchoring based on brand name or reputation is even more dangerous today than it was during the past.

“One of my favorite investing biases is herding and oddsmakers love it when the American public stampedes over itself herding into the same bets,” quipped Topley.  “No one had top-seeded University of Virginia going out in first round, let alone getting blown out by UMBC. Vegas has been making money since 1931 because of the American public’s uncontrollable urge to follow the herd.”
Another Wall Street staple is the “Halo Effect,” explained Topley, a recent winner of the Philadelphia InquirerInfluencer in Finance” award. The Halo Effect comes into play often when investors blindly follow the recommendations or investing choices of gurus such as Bill Gross and Warren Buffet. “If Bill or Buffet said so then it has to be right—except when it isn’t.

“We tend to create Gods among men within the investment world and gamblers do the same,” noted Topley.  “It’s the same when iconic broadcaster and college basketball analyst Dick Vitale screams to the nation that Villanova will win it all….How could Dickie V be wrong? Topley suggested you read “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis’s bestseller about baseball analytics, “for proof that baseball gurus have been wrong for a century.”

Then of course there’s the fallacy of “getting back to even” a mental accounting trap that has plagued gamblers and investors alike for centuries. After losing so many bets in the first two rounds of the march madness tournaments (think a string of losing hands at the Blackjack table), “I am due for a win, so let’s double down to get back to even,” you tell yourself “In investing, as in life, holding onto your losers is an emotional death trap,” observed Topley “Investing and the NCAA bracketology are psychology games, not IQ games

Conclusion

Whether investing, gambling, or just wagering a sawbuck in the friendly office pool, always check your emotions at the door.
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TAGS: Matt Topley, Fortis Wealth, Busted Brackets, March Madness, Behavioral Finance, Evan Powers,

*** Take our Insta-Poll and see how you stack up to your peers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Behavioral Finance Explains Why Your Brackets Are Busted



Ask 100 of your (distracted) co-workers how their NCAA basketball tournament picks are holding up and 98 will tell you they got “blown up” this year thanks to all the “F’n upsets!” The other two are probably lying.

How can that be? Two of the Final Four teams are #1 seeds (Villanova and Kansas) and the third is well-regarded University of Michigan, a #3 seed. Okay, not many of them foresaw unheralded Loyola of Chicago (a #11 seed) surviving into the final weekend of the tournament—only the fourth time in history a #11 has done so well. But, other perennial “blue chips” teams like Duke, Purdue, Syracuse and Florida State had deep runs through the March Madness gauntlet.

So, why all the bellyaching about upsets?

“The process of filling out an NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket is ultimately like constructing an investment portfolio,” Evan  Powers CFP®  observed in myFinancialAnswers. “You’re trying to find the right balance between the ‘safe’ picks (top seeds, blue-chip stocks) and the ‘upset’ picks (lower seeds, growth stocks); crafting a ‘unique’ bracket that you think can outperform your coworkers (or ‘the market); even making picks that will make us feel good when they work out well (picking our alma mater’s team, or values-based investing).

As the old saying goes: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” For example, Powers’ alma mater, University of Virginia, was the #1 overall favorite in this year’s tournament. How’d they do? Despite being 20-point favorites over their first round opponent, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), Virginia didn’t just lose to the 16ht-seeded Terriers and their 5-foot-8, 140-pound guard
K.J. Maura--they got blown out by 20 points! UMBC’s Cinderella run ended abruptly in the next round, but they made history—it was the first time in tournament history that a #16 defeated a #1.

Then there’s the University of Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, lightly regarded a #11 seed, that hadn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament for over a decade. The fact that Loyola made it to the Final Four this year “befuddled all but the less one half of one percent of the more than tens of millions of ESPN bracket players who picked them to advance this deep into the annual contest,”
observed Bill Kelly, CEO of the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association® (CAIA) and author of the All About Alpha blog.

It’s only the fourth time in tournament history that a #11 seed has advanced to the Final Four.

Assuming there is some information advantage here, and this group is the closest proxy to expertise, it’s no wonder that the experts sometimes look and feel very foolish,” added Kelly.

Whether investing or filling out tournament brackets, following the herd simply means following the trends. Despite a stellar year for hedge funds in 2017, Kelly said many of the big managed futures funds quite happily followed the longer-term equity trends right over the sizeable February speed bump” which is reflected in the disappointing YTD numbers. “Is this the time to lock in losses or take a pass based on a one-month composite index? If so, the investor may resemble the many NCAA bracket players who are now on the sidelines wondering how so many seemingly inferior teams have risen to dominance amid So Much March Madness,” lamented Kelly.

According to Powers, “the biggest mistake that people tend to make when filling out their brackets is picking too much “chalk”, or highly-seeded teams. People confuse the most likely individual outcomes with the most likely aggregate outcome.

With 63 games in a high-pressure single-elimination tournament, “there’s basically no way that all the top-seeded favorites will win every game,” noted Powers. “Remember, there has only been one year in history when all four #1 seeds advanced to the Final Four, as compared to three years when none of the top four did. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature,” added Powers.

No wonder Warren Buffett didn’t break a sweat when he once offered a $1 billion prize to anyone who could pick a “perfect bracket.” He knew it was mathematically impossible to do so. He also knew that America’s predilection toward picking the favorites would cost them dearly and actually make it even more unlikely that they would pick the perfect bracket. Did anyone beat the odds? Heck no. Not a single one of the tens of millions of players who participated in the contest survived the first weekend of the tournament with their brackets intact.

In the same way, constructing a portfolio comprised only of blue-chip stocks is probably a bad idea, explained Powers. In a 2014 analysis, the biggest market cap stocks in the S&P 500 were AppleExxonMobilMicrosoftGoogleJohnson & Johnson. “While a portfolio consisting only of those 5 names (in equal weights) would have earned a solid total return of 14.8% in 2014 (aided mostly by Apple, which clocked a 40.6% return; 2 of the 5 actually would have lost money), their performance was barely distinguishable from the overall market average,” said Powers.

Our Take: As in the March Madness tournament, anyone can be a winner on any given day.

The human mind is dominated by biases. “I have a sports bias towards basketball,” admits our client, Matt Topley, chief investment officer of Fortis Wealth and a former college basketball player and youth basketball coach. “It is so exciting to watch this sport because you are right on top of the action with no players covered in pads or masks.”  Topley hopes the NCAA never changes the single elimination “one and done” format of the annual tournament bringing together 68 of the nation’s top college basketball team.  “This opens up every tourney to a David vs. Goliath story like no other sport, each year a melodrama plays out before millions of Americans where an unknown team rises from obscurity to greatness.”
It’s like when a scrappy, thinly-traded IPO (think Loyola or UMBC) outperforms an S&P 100 global behemoth (think Virginia, Miami or Tennessee)—in the same industry. 

Conclusion

In Part 2 of this post, Topley will explain how the most common psychological mistakes made by investors are also made by the millions who fill out their NCAA tournament brackets every March. Hint: “It’s a psychology game, not an IQ game,” Topley told me recently. Amen to that—and to Sister Jean!

TAGS: Matt Topley, Fortis Wealth, Busted Brackets, March Madness, Behavioral Finance, Evan Powers, Bill Kelly, All About Alpha blog

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

DOL Fiduciary Rule Overturned (Again)

Are you surprised?

As most of you know by now, a federal appeals court vacated the fiduciary rule late last week. On the surface, the decision was a setback for consumers, investors and their advocates and it was a win the broker/dealers, insurers and others in the financial product sales arena who’ve been increasingly under pressure to recommend investments that benefit their clients before themselves.

“It’s definitely a step backward, especially since the rest of the world is moving toward the fiduciary standard,” said our client, Kyle Walters, a partner of L&H CPAs in Dallas. “It’s like the Paris Climate Agreement in which the U.S. was the only major country in the developed world not to sign on.”

Another of HB client, Blake Christian, CPA, said the overturning of the Fiduciary Rule is a concern for larger investors who have significant dollars under management. “There are many games being played with respect to bond pricing, fund fee structures, annuities, Master Limited Partnerships and other investments,” observed Christian, a partner at Long Beach California-based HCVT. “There are a select number of investment advisors who already adopted the Fiduciary Rule before the old rule (now overturned) became mandatory.  These firms will likely leave their voluntary rules in place.”

Since the Fiduciary Rule provides investors with assurance that the investment advisor will be acting on the customer's behalf rather than on behalf of their firm, “there is less likelihood of self-dealing, conflicts and being directed to high-fee investments,” added Christian.

Michael Kitces, CFP, author of the popular Nerd’s Eye View blog, concluded that ultimately, “it’s not about the ‘right’ standard — suitability versus fiduciary — to apply across financial advisors and the brokerage industry. It’s about recognizing that brokers and annuity agents fulfill a sales role that is functionally different than actual advisors.” Job titles and disclosures should accurately reflect the nature of those relationships, Kitces added.

Once the distinction between advice and sales is truly clear, let consumers make their choice, Kitces argued, adding that there are times when
the public just wants to talk to a salesperson to help them effect a sales transaction. “After all, when I walk into a clothing store in the mall, I’m not looking for a personal fashion consultant; sometimes I just want a salesperson to help me complete the process of buying what I want, and giving me the relevant product information I need to make the decision,” quipped Kitces.

“As I mentioned earlier, this ruling is definitely a step backward at a time when the industry needs to be moving toward being an advice industry,” noted Walters. “That’s where everything is going one way or the other. I’m not sure how big the impact will be since clients are becoming better educated. Whether [the fiduciary standard] is required or not, clients are asking the right questions of their advisors. If you’re an advisor of any kind, that’s not something you can hide from,” warned Walters.

HB client Pat Runyen, of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania-based Independence Advisors, said it will be hard to determine what will happen long-term if the fiduciary standard dies for good. “Many large brokerage firms already have begun to roll out changes to comply with the rules, and plan to keep some or all of these changes regardless of what happens. My best guess is if the rules go away, the affected firms will likely go back to operating under the ‘suitability’ standard given the lucrative incentives.”

Runyen believes this will ultimately be a “net positive” for individual investors over the long-term given the awareness it has raised. “Since last year, many new clients I’ve met with will ask if I’m held to a fiduciary standard (yes). Before that, no one asked such a question. Many CPAs have told me they’ve been asked the same question,” added Runyen.
Walters agreed with Runyen. “As clients get better educated, they can make the fiduciary standard a priority when choosing who to work with. It doesn’t matter from a legality standpoint. They’re going to vote with their feet.”

According to Christian, those who are acting in a trustee or administrator role will be wise to deal with investment firms that continue to operate under the Fiduciary Rule provisions.  “This will offer the trustee/ administrator added protection if a contingent beneficiary or other interested party brings an action against trustee/ administrator,” added Christian. 



Conclusion

Our Take—as always, the best educated consumers—and the most ethical advisors—will find each other eventually and they’ll win in the end.


TAGS, Kyle Walters, Michael Kitces, Pat Runyen, Blake Christian, L&H CPAs, Nerd’s Eye View, Independence Advisors, HCVT



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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Institutional Investors Under the Gun to Do the Right Thing

Many of you have been following this blog for years. You know I’m neither a Lefty Liberal nor an arch conservative. I do my best to stay in the middle lane of public opinion and keep politics out of this forum.

That being said, I proudly participated in our Connecticut town’s march against gun violence last weekend. We have extremely tough gun laws in my home state. We’ve had multiple lockdowns and terror scares at our town’s two public high schools. I’m glad we have tough gun laws and I don’t keep firearms in my home. But I do know how to fire a weapon properly (and accurately). I’m proud to say I learned the right way to treat a firearm growing up, thanks to the NRA’s youth marksmanship program at my summer camp. Again, I’m not a gun owner, but I don’t have a problem with responsible adults using pistols or rifles for protection, sport-shooting or hunting.

So, please explain to me why any civilian needs to own a high powered military assault rifle such as the AR-15 favored by today’s terrorists and mass shooters. It certainly ain’t for sport or self-protection. Safety was the first (second and third) priority in my youth riflery program, followed by learning how to focus, control your breathing and relax under pressure. These were all valuable life skills. And if you didn’t take the safety part seriously, the instructors wouldn’t think twice about booting you off the range…no second or third strikes. No parental or social worker intervention.

I have two teenage boys. The faces of those kids from the Parkland, Florida mass shooting looked eerily similar to my 14 year-old and his classmates. I coached my son in baseball for many years and our biggest rival was a very good team from Newtown, CT, half of whom survived the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. You couldn’t have met a nicer group of kids, parents and coaches, but they’re very close knit in a way that few other teams are. Sadly, tragedies have a way or bringing people closer together.

So what’s all this have to do for a blog catering to financial professionals?

First, I’m sure many of you have been asked by clients to help them divest their holdings of publicly traded gun manufacturers. And it’s not that easy to do so is it?

Ron Lieber outlined 7 key challenges to socially conscious investing last week in the New York Times. It’s not that easy to put a gun maker in your investing cross hairs since most, like Smith & Wesson, are part of broader diversified retailers (American Outdoor Brands). There also challenges of style drift as funds designed to replicate the indexes they track, can no longer do so if several major gun makers and ammunition suppliers and are taken out of the equation.

Can the money guys influence the gunny guys?

Two of the world’s biggest asset managers, BlackRock and Vanguard, are now among the top shareholders of three publicly traded gun companies: Sturm Ruger, American Outdoor Brands and Vista Outdoor.
BlackRock has an 11 percent stake in American Outdoor Brands, while Vanguard’s stake is 8 percent. For Sturm Ruger, BlackRock owns 17 percent while Vanguard has 9.5 percent.
BlackRock said it would be contacting officials at the three publicly traded firearms companies, asking them about how they were responding to the shootings.
Vanguard has taken a more cautious stance. With 20 million clients, the firm said it was unrealistic to cater to such a wide variety of views on pressing social topics. “We believe mutual funds are not optimal agents of social change,” a spokesman said, adding that Vanguard does offer clients a way to screen funds for stocks that they do not want to invest in.
Last week BlackRock announced it will be dropping stocks of companies that touch the gun industry. "As a significant provider of index-based investments, we are required to replicate the holdings of particular indices," the firm told CNBC in a statement. "Third-party providers determine which companies are included in these indices."
That doesn't mean BlackRock will be dropping stocks of companies that touch the gun industry, though. "As a significant provider of index-based investments, we are required to replicate the holdings of particular indices," the firm told CNBC in a statement. "Third-party providers determine which companies are included in these indices."
Get the picture?

Instead of trying to do laser surgery on clients’ diversified portfolios, why don’t we encourage our lawmakers and major institutional investors to pressure gun manufacturers to stop making military assault weapons available for civilian use.

We can also ban civilians OF ANY AGE from purchasing military assault rifles and increasing background checks and waiting periods for all gun purchasers. If the nation’s once-siloed intelligence organizations could come together after 9/11, why can’t we do a better job of sharing intelligence between law enforcement, mental health professionals, and school resource personnel to identify people who could be at-risk for using weapons of any type.

While we’re at it, we can start looking for ways to reform the earliest stop in the mayhem supply chain--violent video games. My teen boys wouldn’t hurt a fly, but I’d be a lot happier if they spent less time blowing off steam playing Grand Theft Auto and other violent video games with their friends. Whether or not playing violent video games contributes to mass shootings, it definitely desensitizes players of all ages and genders, to violence.

Borrowing a page from the tobacco industry, video gaming giants say their products are not addictive, that they don’t specifically target young consumers and they have reams of studies showing their product do not cause harm. If you think you’ve heard this before from the tobacco industry, the soft drink industry and the NRA, you’re not alone.

Even President Trump has expressed deep unease with violent video games, telling video-game execs last month that they are “shaping young people’s thoughts.”

"We discussed the numerous scientific studies establishing that there is no connection between video games and violence, First Amendment protection of video games, and how our industry’s rating system effectively helps parents make informed entertainment choices," the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), a Washington-focused lobbying organization for the industry ESA responded in a statement.

Hmm, same argument different industry. It’s the old “We just make the product, we can’t control who buys it or uses it” defense.

Conclusion

I don’t know how much our town’s March Against Gun violence will accomplish in the long-run, but at least it’s a start. It was an encouraging turnout considering frigid windy conditions on a Saturday morning. Even more impressive was the poise of the half dozen high school students who spoke at the march’s conclusion. They held their own alongside seasoned adult politicians and they were very well informed.

Maybe these post-Millennials (Generation Selfie) are more than narcissistic, screen-addicted slackers. Most will be old enough to vote in the next Presidential election and they are a force to be reckoned with no matter where you stand on the gun debate.


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TAGS, gun debate, NRA,
Entertainment Software Association, violent video games

Sunday, February 25, 2018

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

The latest stock market volatility, combined with the Florida school shootings, the daily soap opera in the White House and the crappy weather in the East and Midwest could give even the sunniest of us the late winter blues.

Fortunately there’s hope. The U.S. overachieved its way to Winter Olympic medals in our non-core sports such as curling, bobsledding and cross-country skiing. We dodged another interest rate hike and the equity markets showed resilience once again in what many pundits assured us was the start of the Long, Long, Long Overdue Correction.

Our client, Matt Topley, chief investment officer of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania-based Fortis Wealth and author of the popular View from the Top blog, said there are a number of simple reasons why the recent market volatility is not a bear market in the making:

1. If we were moving into a truly defensive market, Topley said we would be seeing rotation out of aggressive sectors like technology and consumer discretionary and into defensive sectors like utilities and consumer staples. During the recent 10-percent market pullback, the (risk-on) tech and consumer discretionary sectors went down the least.

2. “Yes, we’re in the later innings of a long bull market,” said Topley, “but the stock market is driven by earnings growth and 80-percent of S&P companies are beating their revenue estimates—even without the tax cut.”
3. Wage growth peaked at 4 percent leading up to the last three recessions—it’s barely growing at 3 percent today, observed Topley.

4. Another fear driver during this selloff has been a flattening yield curvea situation in which long-term debt is not yielding much more than short-term debt of the same credit quality. But, Topley said equities tend to do well leading up to a flattening or inverted yield curve. “An inverted yield curve—when short-term debt is yielding more than long-term debt--is one of our firm’s five key recession indicators, but we are not in the danger zone yet,” said Topley.

5. There was absolutely no retail investor panic during the latest correction. In fact, the average American was buying stock during the recent market pullback. The “buy the dip” mentality is still intact, said Topley. “For a true bear market to ensue, retail investors have to throw in towel and sell in volume.”

Last week’s stock market volatility has caused many to wonder if the real estate market has also hit its near-term peak. Randy Hubschmidt, who manages Fortis’s Real Estate Fund, said many investors have asked him if it’s time to take some chips off the table and diversify into other sectors of the real estate market.

“Multifamily housing should remain strong as new tax laws make single family ownership less attractive and as downsizing Boomers migrate to urban markets vacated by Millennials who are finally settling down, starting families and moving to the Burbs,” said Hubschmidt. “There is still plenty of upside left for properties that can be upgraded quickly and cost effectively and can be repositioned in the market.”

Rays of hope on the tax reform front

While nearly half of you (45%) told us in our unscientific reader poll that you were dissatisfied with the Trump tax reform package, there are still some less known provisions that should cheer up taxpayers from Red states to Blue states.

Our client, Blake Christian, CPA, of HCVT in Long Beach California shared this sampler from a recent interview in US News & World Report:
·         529’s plans can now be used for K-12 educational expenses (not just for college) to the tune of $10,000 per year.
·         For 2018, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) doubles to $2,000 per qualified child from $1,000.  In addition, now up to $1,400 of the CTC for each child is potentially refundable, explained Christian, even if the taxpayer has a tax liability less than the credit amounts.  “For the 2018 year, taxpayers may also be eligible for up to $500 per non-child dependent.”
·         The American Opportunity Credit of $2,500 per year is now available for couples earning less than $180,000 per year who are financing an undergraduate’s education.
·         Achieving A Better Life (ABLE) accounts are designed for families with dependents who experienced disabilities prior to turning 26.  Christian said that in such cases “the ABLE accounts allow family and friends to fund up to $15,000, up $1,000 from 2017, annually and these funds grow tax free and are also excluded (up to $100,000) from impacting various federal and state benefit programs.”

AI is NOT taking over everyone’s jobs

Our client Anthony Glomski, founder of Los Angeles-based AG Asset Advisory and author of the new book, Liquidity & You, said non-linear thinking has always been an asset in business.  “Thinking globally and outside the box,” or “seeing the big picture” are clich├ęs rooted in truth.  As we enter the era of automated automation, these abilities are the key advantage we’ll (presumably) maintain over exponentially learning machines.” Technical expertise will become obsolete more quickly and it is still unclear how this plays out for workers and businesses; and on what timeline. “It seems likely, however, that opportunities and success will follow for individuals and enterprises that can best perceive, anticipate, strategize, and adapt,” added Glomski.
Conclusion

As my dad always reminded me, things are never as good as they seem when you’re on a roll and they’re never really as bad as they seem when you’re down in the dumps. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Be smart. Trust your instincts and keep your eyes focused on the big picture that lies ahead. As my boyhood basketball idol, Charles Barkley, famously said, Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is actually a train.

Let’s hope the powers that be who are guiding our government, financial markets and economy have their eyes wide open as they lead us into the future.

TAGS, Anthony Glomski, Blake Christian, Charles Barkley, Matt Topley, Randy Hubschmidt

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

What Super Bowl 52 Taught Us About Calculated Risk

I remember one chilly Tuesday as an elementary schooler in Philadelphia. We were allowed to stay home because the hometown Eagles beat Dallas on Monday Night Football the night before. It wasn’t for the East Division title or National Conference championship. It wasn’t even for the final playoff spot. We simply beat Dallas during the peak of the hated Cowboys’ dynasty. That single game made the “Iggles” otherwise forgettable 2-12 season a huge success. At least in the eyes of Principal Warnick.

Fast-forward 40 years later. The Lombardi Trophy finally rests in Philadelphia. Never happened before. In case you missed it, the Super Bowl went down to the final play with the NFL’s winningest quarterback (Brady), coach (Belichick) and franchise (Patriots) trying to pull out one more miracle comeback from their bag of tricks. Eagles Nation was bracing for yet another gut-wrenching disappointment, but the football gods finally got over their grudge against the guys in green. Brady’s 50-yard Hail Mary pass got lost among a sea of arms, legs, hands and elbows and fell harmlessly near the end zone and the clock ran out. No flags on the play! No review! No Buffalo Bills comparisons.

For once, the guys in green and black came out on top. Nick Foles, the humble backup quarterback-turned-Super Bowl hero, simply said, “I didn’t try to be Super Man out there.” Just play the game and trust your teammates, is essentially what Foles added. I don’t think it was an intentional dig at the Hall of Fame-bound opposing quarterback, but Brady didn’t exactly congratulate the Eagles for their victory in his terse, post-game press conference.

Side Note: New York Giants fans, to their credit, have been very gracious to yours truly for the unlikely win by their bitter NFC East rivals.

Not your dad’s NFL title

Sure the Birds won the NFL title back in 1960, but there were only about 10 teams in the league and no such thing as a Super Bowl. I wasn’t born yet, but my dad told me pro football wasn’t that big a deal. You could get cheap walk-up tickets the day of the game at creaky old Franklin Field. He doesn’t recall a ticker tape parade in the Eagles’ honor. It’s going to be a little different on Thursday morning with over 2 million green-clad supporters on hand to salute their heroes and/or take advantage of the free Bud Light along the South Philadelphia parade route.

Living between NYC and Boston the past two decades, I’ve endured countless Super Bowl victories, World Series titles and Stanley Cup hoists by the hometown teams. In 1994, I accidentally stumbled into the NY Rangers parade in lower Manhattan and sort of got caught up in the excitement. It didn’t last. I’ve tried to root for the hometown boys, but old habits are hard to break. Do I have a perpetual chip on my shoulder? Yep. Does the city of Philadelphia? Yo!

We like it that way. The Eagles (and their raucous) fans will never be confused with the Chicago Cubbies and Boston Sox--“lovable losers” who endured over a century of futility before using sophisticated analytics and a business-like approach to the game to end their respective championship droughts. Eagles fans taking losing very personally.

Underdogs, Not!

Sure, the Eagles wore the underdog label like a badge of honor, but they are a shrewdly run organization that spends big bucks to sign high priced stars, between (and during) each season. Sure they started the season at 60-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. But, The Philadelphia Eagles Professional Football Club, Inc. uses sophisticated data mining and decision-making algorithms to exploit opponents weaknesses and to determine when to gamble on gutsy 4th down plays and two-point conversion attempts….and when not to.

Data analytics is also what allowed the Eagles to diversity their portfolio of players with enough “Next Man Up” talent to overcome the loss of nine opening day starters, including their MVP quarterback Carson Wentz.

As with the stock market, information moves at lightning speed in the NFL. Most teams will start emulating the Eagles’ use of data analysis, calculated risk taking and roster-stacking. They may not be able to manufacture the same team chemistry, but it won’t be easy for Philly to stay ahead of the pack, even with a full healthy roster next year. That’s what makes the Patriots’ recent dynasty so impressive in this data-driven free-agency environment.

Conclusion

As with the long-running bull market, the Patriots dynasty may be losing some steam, but the team will be back among the contenders next year--with or without the game’s greatest quarterback and supporting cast. Same goes for stocks. In fact, 80 percent of you told us in our fall 2017 Wealth Advisor Confidence Survey that you expected a 10-15 percent correction in 2018. That’s what gave me the courage to post Is the Miraculous Market/Economy Coming Back to Earth?  last Monday when the Dow was over 26K.

Stocks will take some healthy hits this year, but in the long run, they’ll remain the top contender in the asset-class competition for investors’ money. Just remember they’re a risk asset, not a savings bond. You can review this call as often as you like. It won’t be overturned. Principal Warnick said so.

TAGS: Stock market correction, Super Bowl, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles, risk management

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