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Welcome to the Bigelow Blog!  We look forward to sharing articles, comments and information on a wide range of investment, financial and retirement topics.  Use the Blog Categories navigation bar on the left column to search for specific topics.

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BIGELOW INVESTMENT ADVISORS, LLC DOES NOT PROVIDE TAX ADVICE. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL TAX ADVISOR REGARDING YOUR INDIVIDUAL TAX SITUATION.
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LOW INFLATION, Probably Not Forever

 

The United States has enjoyed an unusually long period of very low inflation.
As the graph below indicates, U.S. Core Inflation as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been below three percent for over twenty years. That means there are many people who have only known an era of stable prices.

CPI as of May 2017. PCE as of April 2017. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Haver Analytics

There are exceptions.  Higher education has been notorious for its persistently aggressive price increases.  This is consistent with the data which has shown little or no inflation in the prices of many consumer goods and higher inflation in prices paid for services.

Such a long period of mild inflation can invite complacency and a perception that inflation and interest rates will stay lower for longer.  Low energy prices add to the perception that inflation is at bay because some of the most famous periods of rampant inflation were triggered by a series of oil price shocks.  Inflation pressures can come from other sources and it is important to remember that not all periods of inflation look the same.

In the current environment, we are seeing wage pressures increase as the labor market continues to tighten.  The U. S. unemployment rate is hovering around 4.5 percent.  Government labor statistics have noted a decrease in the proportion of the labor force working part time from its peak in 2010-2011.  This firming labor market has translated into increases in average hourly wages across a wider spectrum of wage categories that we believe are likely to continue.

The dollar strength against other major currencies peaked earlier in the year and as the dollar weakens, imported goods become more expensive.  This contributes to inflation in subtle ways, not just in the prices of imported finished goods, but in the pass-through effect of component parts included in many manufactured goods.

Another potential source of inflationary pressures is the decline in efforts at further expansion of international trade.  There are the beginnings of the imposition of barriers to the flow of goods across borders. The increased tariffs on Canadian lumber imports earlier this year is a good example of this phenomenon. Sustained efforts at protectionism and potential retaliation among trading partners could contribute to price increases and additional inflationary pressure.

It is easy to assume that things will continue as they are.  However, some of the factors that have contributed to this enviable period of low inflation are changing.  Since inflation can increase for a number of reasons, our response to signs that inflation is heating up may include a wide range of investment tools.

PLUS OR MINUS

The trade deficit of the United States has received a lot of media attention lately.  A surplus or deficit in international trade is created when the value of goods and services exported is unequal to the value of what is imported. The U. S. exports everything from software to soybeans.  Some types of products are in both columns. We import pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastics and we export pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastics.

Many of the countries with trade surpluses are large exporters of energy like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, or high value manufactured goods like Switzerland or Germany, or mass market exporters like China. The United States has run a trade deficit since the 1970’s as has the United Kingdom and Australia.  The graph below shows the trade deficit for the past twenty five years.  During that time, the United States lived through two recessions and White House occupants from both political parties.

The presence of a trade surplus or deficit does not automatically equate to a vibrant economy.  Nigeria habitually ran a trade surplus due to its crude oil production and massive reserves. Yet more than sixty percent of its population lives in poverty. Nigeria is a one product economy and the recent decline in crude oil prices moved Nigeria into the trade deficit column.

By contrast, the U. S. economy has a diversified list of imports and exports.  The largest categories of exports are machinery, electronic equipment, aircraft and vehicles. The largest import categories are electronic equipment, machinery, vehicles and petroleum products.

Trade with China has been a hot button issue.  Eight percent of U. S. exports and twenty percent of imports are with China.  The trade friction is based on the effects of the lower cost imports that have devastated manufacturers of consumer goods like furniture and consumer electronics. Employment in the furniture manufacturing industry concentrated in North Carolina has declined by more than sixty percent in the past twenty years.  Furniture output there has never regained the level reached prior to the 2008-2009 Great Recession.  The benefit some consumers obtain by having access to lower cost furniture contrasts considerably to the dramatic localized costs of a shrinking industry.

There are risks associated with changing the terms of international trade.  Protecting certain industries can distort prices for goods and services.  If some industries are protected and others are subject to global competition, trade policy can be viewed as picking winners and losers.  A bigger concern would be the potential of a trade war where other countries respond to U. S. trade restrictions in kind.  That would limit access to markets for American goods.

Protection of favored industries is not the same as vigorously enforcing trade agreements and calling out other countries who shield their own industries from global competition.  This activity is time consuming and expensive but essential to our economy.

Is having a trade deficit a negative for the United States?  There is no black and white answer and there are many nuances to the discussion.   Most observers agree that elimination of the United States trade deficit is unlikely anytime soon.

EVERYDAY LOW PRICES

 

The year 2016 will be long remembered for the contentious U.S. federal election, the fracture of the European Union from the Brexit vote and a number of horrific terrorist attacks.  Such dramatic recent events have an immediate impact on our consciousness and of course on the financial markets.

The focus on the headlines can sometimes obscure the longer term trends that are shaping our environment.  The year-end holiday season demonstrated the continuation of one of those trends as we saw traditional department and specialty stores suffer while online sales were burgeoning.

For many years retailers talked about Black Friday.  We have all seen the news footage of people camped outside the doors of consumer electronics stores and stampedes of shoppers at discount stores when the doors opened.  Cyber Monday is a relative newcomer describing the wave of purchases made using a computer and a credit card.  Either way, retail sales over the holiday season account for about twenty percent of total consumer sales in the U.S.

Traditional brick and mortar stores, especially the department stores, emphasize the shopping experience.  Shopping malls with their dozens of stores, food courts, waterfalls and tropical plants are designed to make shopping both entertainment and a destination in itself.  The goal is to have shoppers spend hours at the mall.

The online shopping experience emphasizes speed and convenience.  Instead of getting dressed, driving through traffic and hunting for a parking space at the mall, the shopper, still in robe and slippers, scrolls through the inventory of several stores at once.  Once the selections have been made, items are delivered to the door in a few days.

When Macy’s, Kohl’s and GAP stores were reporting their disappointing store sales for the most recent holiday season, all reported declines in traffic at stores open for more than a year.  The reason given was “changing customer behavior.”   Meanwhile online sales increased by double digits.  Analysts estimate that e-commerce sales are growing six times faster than retail sales as a whole.

Some retailers are developing a hybrid model, where the existing brick and mortar footprint complements the e-commerce part of the business.   This is especially advantageous for oddly shaped or bulkier items.  Companies like Home Depot and Staples allow customers to order online and pick up items at the nearest store, sometimes within a few hours.

The e-commerce revolution is not without its problems.  Returned items create headaches for consumers and fulfillment centers.  Some retailers make returns easy by including return labels and packaging that can be repurposed for returns.  Our local icon, LL Bean, allows online orders to be returned to any brick and mortar store.  Other packages can be expensive and difficult to return.

Despite some challenges, the transition from the century old department store model to e-commerce should continue to accelerate.   Large, “big box” and discount stores, boutiques and bookstores will continue to be part of the mix.  Consumer spending will evolve in new ways.  Perhaps in a few years we’ll obtain licenses from consumer products companies and create little plastic toys on our three dimensional printer at home.

The Experts Speak

 
A book by that name was published about twenty years ago and is filled with astounding and often humorous pronouncements by well-respected figures. The humor comes from seeing in hindsight the miscalculations and overconfident prognostications made by the so-called experts.

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” This quote was attributed to the president of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen, in 1977.  Irving Thalberg, a well- known Hollywood producer in the 1930s, is quoted as saying this to Louis B. Mayer who recently had bought the rights to produce Gone With the Wind, “Forget it Louis, no Civil War picture ever made a nickel.”

The experts speak when it comes to Wall Street as well. The financial markets particularly seem to lend themselves to extensive use of extrapolations combined with expert opinion.  Paul Samuelson, the first American ever to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, famously said that Wall Street had predicted nine out of the last five recessions.  As recent as this past year we had most financial market watchers predicting that 2016 would produce two or three increases in U. S. interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve Bank.  To date, the Federal Reserve has left rates unchanged.

The chart below shows the divergence between the returns of the average investor and results for the major asset classes. Why such a gap? Many analysts believe that one important reason for this discrepancy is emotional.  Too often investors are attracted by short term market predictions, pursuit of the hot investments, and market timing strategies. Market prognosticators are often guilty of accentuating these short term factors.

investor-chart

We are not suggesting that making predictions on the economy and markets are without value.  Indeed, putting current economic conditions into context by comparing them with past periods is very useful.      It is also helpful to look at stock performance and measures of value against historical norms.  In addition, demographic trends, like the aging of the Baby Boom generation or the rising middle class in India and China, are often incorporated into projections about the future.

Rather than basing investment decisions on short term forecasts and uncertain predictions, we prefer an investment approach that addresses long term factors such as diversification, time horizon, and willingness to take on risk.  We believe these are more important considerations when trying to reach your financial goals.

BREXIT AFTERMATH

After the vote last month by the electorate of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the headlines warned of chaos, uncertainty and financial calamity. That was from the mainstream media; the tabloids were even more alarming in their assessments. There were certainly plenty of reasons for all the shock and awe. The pound lost twelve percent of its value in one day, the equity markets have taken a blow, the British Prime Minister announced his resignation, and the major rating agencies are in the process of downgrading U.K. sovereign debt.

British and EU Flags

The British and other central bankers will be poised to step in if it looks as though the financial markets are wobbling. The odds of any Federal Reserve rate increase this summer are remote and this should keep U.S. borrowing rates at historically low levels.
While we are in the midst of some sort of market upheaval, it can appear as though its unique set of circumstances have altered the way investment decisions are made. A good example of this phenomenon took place in the late 1990s.

In 1997, there was a series of currency crises culminating with Russia in 1998. In August of that year, Russia devalued its currency and defaulted on its ruble denominated government debt, an unanticipated event that roiled the markets and subsequently brought down a very large hedge fund in the U.S. called Long Term Capital Markets.

SPX500

The broad stock market index, the S&P 500, lost about fourteen percent of its market value between July and October of 1998. Contemporary commentary referred to “global turmoil” and “panic selling” as investors worried about the long term prospects for post-soviet Russia.

Very few investors remember, let alone dwell on, the events of that summer. Instead, many people think of the 1990s as one of the greatest periods of stock market returns ever.
Will the reaction to the Brexit vote have a lasting impact on global financial markets? Will it be like the Russian currency crisis of 1998? The truth is that no one knows. The timing of the U.K. separation from the European Union and its long term effects are yet to be determined.

What we do know is that short term dislocations can create opportunities. We know that unexpected political or market events turn our attention away from what typically drives market activity, growth in earnings for stocks and steady rates of return for bonds. If we are long term in our focus and mindful of the resilience of consumers, economies and well run businesses, we should be able to weather this particular tempest.

 

Disruption. Innovation. Progress.

The American economy has long been known for its dynamism. Many products and processes we take for granted were originally developed and popularized in the United States. Indeed, even today more patents are issued globally to American citizens than to those of any other country. If you are wondering who are in the top three for global patents, Germany and Japan alternate the number 2 and 3 positions from year to year.

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about the disruptive nature of many recent technological innovations. Some new technologies have made longstanding products obsolete. Who needs a camera if you can take pictures on your phone? We use google as a verb. It means: to look up people and things on the internet that we used to find in the Yellow Pages or the encyclopedia. Travel agents have become an endangered species now that we book so much of our travel online. The current fault line of the disruption economy pits taxi drivers against drivers for Uber and Lyft.

These new ways of doing things provide us with convenience, lower costs or sometimes both. The benefits were not as apparent to those who sold advertising in the Yellow Pages or who worked for Kodak. On the other hand, there are many people working at Alphabet (formerly Google), Trip Advisor or a host of other companies creating businesses that didn’t exist a generation ago. Some of these enterprises may be the horse and buggy companies of tomorrow.

Progress

How do we incorporate elements of the new economy and adhere to our goal of investing in high quality investments? We participate in both emerging technologies and venerable corporations by investing in two ways. We often obtain broad exposure to a number of companies and economic sectors through the use of index funds. Large capitalization U. S. index funds include newcomers like Amazon and Netflix. The small and mid-sized companies include players that have disrupted the old ways of doing things as well. Most of the smaller companies are not household names but a few, like Jet Blue, are familiar.

When we make individual stock selections, we seek to identify profitable companies that we think will meaningfully contribute to the economy in the next five years. They may be market leaders in their industry, have some proprietary brand (think Nike swoosh), process or patents, or some combination of these. The focus on profitability means that some of the newest companies and latest initial public offerings would not meet our screens for quality and profitability.

Some of our clients own shares in companies because they are captivated by their products or technology. These “client directed” holdings are not necessarily stocks we would recommend and we try to ensure that an investment in Tesla for example, represents a modest position in an overall portfolio allocation.

We are regularly refining our investment management process and enjoy the opportunity to discuss our investment philosophy as well as any other financial matters.

Beyond The Blue Horizon

During the past year, the economy in the United States continued to improve. Automobile sales were very strong, unemployment declined and there was even some modest wage growth.   Lower energy prices have bolstered the consumer economy by freeing up money that would have been spent on gas or heat now going to purchase other goods and services.  In addition, home values continued their rebound to prerecession levels in many parts of the country based on some of the most widely used surveys.

Despite all the positive news, investment returns for 2015 were weak. The U.S. ten year Treasury bond yield was 2.17% on December 31, 2014 and it was 2.27% on December 31, 2015.   The broad stock market indices increased about one per cent for the year after many zigzags in between.  If the economy is doing better, why are the markets doing worse?

This tendency of markets to react poorly to good news and do well during bad periods can seem perplexing. Investors are always looking ahead and trying to gauge the potential for future earnings.  The economic performance of the here and now is yesterday’s news.   As we try to look over the horizon there are assumptions we make about what we think the future will bring.  Market participants are engaged in a similar exercise and also adjusting their assumptions for the amount of uncertainty they feel.

In 2015, the Federal Reserve Governors increased interest rates for the first time since 2006 and suggested this will be the first of a series of rate hikes. The Chinese economy slowed considerably and this along with other factors put pressure on commodity prices.  The current stock bull market is somewhat longer than average. This is an election year in the United States.  All these elements and more added to uncertainty and negative sentiment throughout much of the past year.

The chart below shows the S & P 500 Stock Index plotted against major recessions indicated by the gray bars. It shows the typical pattern of a market decline while the economy is still positive and a rebound while a recession is ongoing.   The effort to look beyond the immediate situation contributes to the mismatch between good news/bad news and market behavior.

fred

At some point in the future, the negativity will be overdone. Some signs of improvement will appear. Earnings will be revised upwards.   It is important to maintain a consistent portfolio objective using a mix of assets despite the inevitable fluctuations and changes in market sentiment.

 

 

 

 

PULLBACK PHASE

Many market commentators have used colorful, even poetic language to describe the global equity market results for the third quarter. The market “swooned”, “tumbled” and all this movement made the markets “queasy” and “jittery”.  This expansion in vocabulary reflects the not unexpected general nervousness that investors feel when markets decline for some period.

History shows us that market pullbacks are common occurrences and are part of the reason that long term returns are better for stocks than for other less volatile investments. Stocks are volatile and you get paid for enduring that volatility.

The chart below shows the price index for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of U.S. stocks over the last five and one half years. This covers a period when equities were recovering from the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and posted some impressive returns.  The graph shows that, even in a period of above average returns, there have been a half dozen major pullbacks.

Pullback Phase Graph

Source: J.P. Morgan, Standard & Poor’s

We could have just as easily shown the same graph and focused on the upward momentum of the U.S. Stock market during the same time period. The average market decline in the past thirty-five calendar years was 14.2%.  Yet despite the regular occurrence of stock market pullbacks, the U.S. stock market had a positive return in twenty-seven of those past thirty five years.

Of course a diversified portfolio that includes other types of assets will help mitigate the inevitable swings of the global equity markets. Even a well-constructed, diversified portfolio is not immune to market forces however.  An umbrella will protect you from the rain but you will not stay completely dry.  So too, a diversified portfolio will dampen the volatility in the stock markets but cannot eliminate it.

Looking forward we see continued opportunities in the global markets and welcome the opportunity to develop investment portfolios that help achieve your goals.

 

 

 

It’s Always Something

In the early days of Saturday Night Live, very talented comedienne, Gilda Radner, created some memorable on-screen characters.  Perhaps her most famous personality was Roseanne Roseannadanna, a frizzy haired news commentator who always ended her monologue by saying “It’s always something.”

This remark seems especially appropriate when reviewing the economy and financial markets.  As 2015 reaches its halfway mark, the financial markets are dealing with the uncertainty surrounding Greece’s position in the euro zone, the major market correction in the mainland Chinese stock market and the continued weakness in energy prices.

Last year Ukraine ousted its prime minister and Russia occupied Crimea, the U.S. Federal Reserve ended its quantitative easing and there was endless speculation about the federal budget in the wake of the mid-term elections.  Who can forget the fiscal cliff, sequestration, or the earlier versions of the Greek debt crises?   Roseanne was right.

Looking back, we can see how these stories played out but, at the time, the commentary and media coverage can distort the importance of any particular issue.  The current list of problems and uncertainties can lead to reluctance to commit to invest in assets with a long time horizon.  The worries of the moment can induce some hesitation before committing to a long term financial plan.  Alternatively, some investors are afraid to continue to hold their long term investments and decide to liquidate everything and “wait it out.”

Our approach to this dilemma is to create an investment portfolio that meshes with a level of risk that you can tolerate during the inevitable gyrations of the markets.   We may review with you a chart that shows the yearly results for different investment portfolios as well as U.S. stocks and bonds over the last twenty years and how certain types of investments performed during the financial crisis in 2008-2009.

As important as determining risk tolerance is the discipline of regularly rebalancing your portfolio.  This helps insure that your mix of investments stays within the agreed upon risk level targets.   If the stock market is doing well, it can be hard to imagine wanting to sell.  When the market is doing poorly, buying can seem equally daunting.  Rebalancing keeps the risk level of your portfolio from creeping up and making the risk level higher than you wanted when the inevitable market downdraft hits.   It also gives you “permission” to buy long term investments when things seem particularly bleak.

The financial and economic issues during the remainder of 2015 will likely surprise and confound us.  The market reaction, always difficult to predict.  Since we know that there is “always something,” our goal is to continue to manage high quality investment portfolios that meet your long term needs.

Benchmarks

The word benchmark originated as a two word term used by surveyors to describe a mark made on a stationary object with a known elevation or position.  That mark would then be used as the reference point for subsequent measurements of nearby geographic locales.  If you have ever been hiking or walked by an older building or church, you may have seen some bronze discs or cast iron squares indicating your position relative to some other fixed point.

The benchmark concept has been widely used in many other spheres including investment management.  It is often used to describe a standard against which an investment portfolio is compared.  There is plenty of commentary about whether a particular portfolio has a higher or lower yield than its benchmark or is more or less volatile than a particular benchmark portfolio.

Short term investment performance is often compared to an index, a basket of unmanaged assets having some particular characteristics, and that index is considered the benchmark.  Daily results for several U.S. stock indexes are reported widely in the media.

This chart shows the results for various indices over the past ten years.

featurearticlechartIV

In our quarterly reports to you we include a benchmark return based on your investment objective. This benchmark return combines indices for U.S. equities, international equities, fixed income and short term treasury bills in proportion to their weight in the benchmark portfolio.  We also include data on inflation as measured by the consumer price index to serve as a benchmark for cost of living adjustments.

What none of these index reports can do is compare your actual financial assets to your personal benchmarks. Benchmark data does not answer the question of whether you are making progress towards your goals whether it be college education, charitable gifts or a comfortable retirement.   We work to structure your portfolio with these personal goals in mind and focus on the often multi-year process involved in accomplishing your objectives.

Knowing how your portfolio stacks up is useful information. Like the hiker, it is interesting to know the exact location as shown on the benchmark at the top of the mountain.  Yet it is the trail markers and blazes along the way that get you to the summit.

 

2014: A Good Year for the Economy

It has been more than five years since the financial panic of 2008 and the official end of the economic recession that followed.  Even though the economy was no longer officially in recession, economic growth in the subsequent years has been slow and fitful.  Last year, 2014, was the year in which we saw some sustained improvement in the U.S. economy.

We see several important reasons for the momentum:

  • Household deleveraging is largely over. The Federal Reserve measure of household debt service, which peaked in early 2008, has leveled off after years of dramatic decline.  We are actually seeing some net new debt in the mortgage sector and in vehicle loans.
  • State and local governments have stopped cutting staff and expenditures. Even if local government spending stays at current levels, the end of the declines reduces the drag on the economy.
  • Lower oil prices have encouraged consumer spending. While lower prices for crude oil reduce capital expenditures in the energy sector, it is important to remember that two-thirds of the United States economy is driven by consumer spending.  Lower prices for oil and gas are like a pay raise for many.  This is especially true for low income households which spend a higher percentage oft heir income on fuel.  (See graph below)
bigelow10featuregraph
  • There has been less political uncertainty in the past year.  Recall that there has been debt ceiling crises, threatened government shutdowns, a credit rating downgrade for U.S. debt and plenty of drama in Washington D.C.  This tends to discourage long term investment planning and depress consumer sentiment.

The improvement in the U. S. economy does not mean there will be smooth sailing ahead.  The decline in crude oil prices will translate into slower job growth in a sector of the economy that has been adding jobs as domestic production ramped up.  Weak wage growth and the large number of part time workers limits growth in consumer spending.  The stronger dollar makes American goods more expensive abroad and will be a drag on exports.  The Eurozone is a major trading partner and its economy is struggling.  Japan and China, while they are very different economies, share a common problem of subpar economic growth.

The Federal Reserve has signaled its intention to begin the process of raising short term rates.  We do not consider the prospect of higher short term interest rates to be a major concern because inflation is in check and long term rates, the ones that determine the rates for mortgages and capital goods, are likely to stay at historically low levels.

While we enter the New Year with strong momentum in the U. S. economy, there is no shortage of roadblocks that could hinder continued progress.  We continue to monitor events and incorporate our view of the economy and markets into the management of your portfolio.

 

PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM IDENTITY THEFT

 

We recently held a ‘shredding’ event for clients to bring in old computers and papers for confidential destruction. The event was well attended; we destroyed about 25 computers and a lot of old financial statements and other personal papers.

Here is a reminder with good ideas on how to avoid identity theft:

At Home

  • Keep your financial records, Social Security and Medicare cards in a safe place
  • Shred papers that have your personal or medical information
  • Take mail out of your mailbox as soon as you can; stop delivery when away

As you do business

  • Offer another form of identification instead of your Social Security Number
  • Do not give your personal information to someone who calls you or emails you
  • Use only encrypted websites for shopping and banking (https: “s” is for secure)
  • Look at financial and medical statements. You might see charges you do not recognize.

On the computer

  • Use passwords that are not easy to guess. Use numbers and symbols when you can
  • Do not respond to emails or other messages that ask for personal information
  • Do not put personal information on a computer in a public place (i.e. library or coffee shop)

Get your credit report

  • You are entitled to one free credit report every year
  • Call Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228
  • Read your credit report carefully looking for mistakes and accounts you do not recognize.

MARKET UPDATE 2Q 2017

 

During the second quarter of 2017 U.S., foreign developed and emerging market stocks continued to march higher. Foreign stocks are benefitting from a weaker U.S. dollar and improving economic conditions. Emerging market stock returns are +18.4% year-to-date followed by foreign developed stock returns of +13.8% and U.S. stock returns of + 8.9%.  Global economic growth expectations for 2017 have increased to 3.4% from 3.2%. Faster than expected economic growth has translated into better earnings growth for both U.S. and foreign companies.

With U.S. stock valuations above their historical averages, positive earnings reports and confirmation of accelerating earnings growth are critical to driving stock prices higher. To date, earnings results have not disappointed. While some sectors are facing structural challenges (energy and retail), sectors such as healthcare and technology have more than offset earnings challenges in other sectors.

U.S. and foreign bond returns accelerated during the quarter. U.S. bond returns year-to-date are +2.3% and foreign bond returns are +6.3%. The majority of the gains in foreign bonds are attributed to a weaker U.S. dollar.

While investors continue to expect the Federal Reserve to raise rates in the second half of the year, inflation expectations have declined to 2.1% from 2.5%.  Lower inflation expectations have supported bond prices and yields.

Five year annualized U.S. bond returns of +2.2% serve as a reminder that interest rates remain at historically low levels.

 

 

 

MARKET UPDATE 1Q 2017

U.S, foreign developed and emerging market stocks have all delivered positive returns in 2017.  Foreign developed and emerging market stocks posted strong first quarter returns of 7.3% and 11.4% respectively. U.S. stocks returned 5.7%. Non-U.S. stocks are benefiting from a weaker U.S. dollar, down 3.5% versus a basket of ten major currencies, improving earnings trends and lower relative valuations.

A reassessment of the pace of potential trade reform by the new U.S. administration and a more risk-seeking investment climate has also contributed to this strong performance.  U.S. earnings are projected to grow at their fastest rate in the past five years, further supporting both U.S. and foreign stocks.  With U.S. stock valuations above their historical averages, positive earnings reports and confirmation of accelerating earnings growth are critical to driving stock prices higher.

U.S. bonds have returned 0.8% in 2017.  Foreign bonds have returned 1.7%.  Foreign bonds have benefited from a weaker U.S. dollar and expectations that slow European and Japanese economic growth will restrict the pace of future interest rate increases.

Uncertainty surrounding future U.S. interest rates, and potential inflationary pressures from both possible government stimulus spending and a tight labor market, has capped U.S. bond returns.  U.S. bonds have returned 2.3% annually over the past five years. Unless deflationary concerns emerge, bond returns may continue to mirror yields.

ANNUAL TAX REPORT DATES

 

As in years past, Charles Schwab & Company, Inc., your custodian, is responsible for issuing all Form-1099 reports to clients. If you have any questions about year-end tax reporting, feel free to give us a call.

The timeline to distribute tax forms ranges from January 31st through the end of February.  Most 1099s will be issued in the beginning of February.

Corrected 1099s can be issued in March if the security held reclassifies income after the New Year. If you are the recipient of a Form K-1, you may receive your report on or after March 15th.

Clients who have online access to their accounts through our website link or www.schwaballiance.com can view all tax forms online once they are issued.  The forms can be found in the Documents tab. This option may be quicker than waiting for forms that are being delivered via traditional mail.

MARKET UPDATE 4Q 2016

 

U.S., foreign developed and emerging market stocks all delivered positive returns in 2016.  U.S. and emerging market stocks both posted strong double digit returns. U.S. stocks returned 12.7% and emerging market stocks returned 11.2%. Foreign developed stocks faced significant headwinds from a strong U.S. dollar returning just 1% in U.S. dollar terms.  Foreign developed stock returns in local currency were a more respectable 5.7%.

U.S. and emerging market stocks benefitted from increased optimism for stronger economic growth in 2017.  U.S. stock earnings returned to growth in the third quarter, supporting expectations for faster growth in 2017.  Global and domestic economic growth is forecasted to accelerate in 2017.

U.S. bonds returned 2.7% for the year.  Foreign bonds returned 1.6%.  Bond prices were a tale of two halves. After strong first half returns of 5.3%, U.S. bonds experienced negative returns of 2.8% in the second half of year. The prospects of accelerating inflation and a less accommodative Federal Reserve coupled with renewed hope for faster economic growth post-U.S. elections pressured bond prices in the second half of the year.

After five years of double-digit U.S. stock returns and low but steady bond returns above inflation, stock and bond prices are discounting moderate economic growth and low inflation.

How long can this continue? Will the Federal Reserve raise rates?  Will rising U.S. interest rates curtail economic growth? Will Trump and Congress deliver corporate tax relief and greater fiscal stimulus? Will the U.K. exit the European Union without major fallout? How will global trade change?

We look forward to finding attractive investment opportunities for our clients as the markets grapple with these questions and events unfold.

In the interim, we continue to focus on diversification and creating portfolios that meet your risk expectations.