Difference Between Economy and Markets

What is the driver of our economy in the United States? Is it labor? Not entirely because our nation is suffering one of its highest unemployment rates in recent history based on a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics dated January 8, 2021, and the world keeps spinning. The current United Stated unemployment rate of 6.7% is not the actual number that concerns me. When you understand the factors that compute the unemployment rate in our country, you must also consider those individuals who have simply dropped out the job market and resigned themselves to remaining unemployable. The true number of unemployed and underemployed individuals in the United States, the quoted unemployment rate would easily double.

Is our economy built on industries? Yes. The five most productive industries in the United States, for 2019, are healthcare, technology, construction, retail and durable goods. Each month the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an official agency of the United States Department of Commerce, reports on the various components of the economy both domestic and internationally. Due to the lack of business operations in the second quarter of 2020, caused by the impact of COVID-19, the gross domestic production in our country fell by more than 31.4% but rebounded sharply when businesses reopened and employees went back to work in the third quarter of 2020.

If the economy has been so volatile, why have the markets been so robust? The answer is not a simple one but allow me to offer a response. Based on a report in Barron’s published on January 2, 2021, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) returned 18.4% for the calendar year 2020. This index is representative of the overall economic condition of the United States. Consider the fate of smaller, less capitalized companies primarily based in our country. The return of the Nasdaq Composite for 2020, based on the same Barron’s report, was 45%. Smaller companies have the ability to adapt to economic conditions but may not have the funding necessary to survive economic downturns.

One word of caution when considering any investment is to think long-term. In the past couple of weeks, I have received requests from individuals for the “hottest” stock or “one that is priced low and guaranteed to rise in value in a short time”. The answer I provided each of these individuals is to think long-term, diversify to lower risk and consider your current needs. One of the individuals commented that he “didn’t have much time until he wants to retire” and intimated that he would have to earn excellent returns over the next two years to meet his goals. I am not one to trample on others’ goals but I can assure you that one should not expect the markets to behave in a predictable manner for the short-term to payoff big investments.

The most probable method of reaching your goal for investing is to start early, invest consistently in good and bad markets and stay focused on the long-term. It will reward you to discount the suggestions of those that promise “no risk” and “excellent returns” when the real world of investing contains no such attributes. All investments have risk. One of the safest investments you can make is to place cash in a savings account. However, that investment has significant purchasing power risk. Your money’s ability to buy goods and services in the next ten years will be impaired due to the impact of inflation. Think about it in an economic sense, your money is earning less than 1% and inflation is greater than 2%. Not a good outcome for your future.

To provide yourself peace of mind, it is critical you stress test your portfolio by measuring performance during market cycles that are not at the peak. If I had a crystal ball, I could inform you of market movements and the world would be swimming in butterflies and unicorns. That is not reality. What is real is financial advice given you in a fiduciary manner that addresses your needs, goals and risks. Wouldn’t you sleep better if you knew you could weather a financial storm? Seek out a Certified Financial Planner™ professional for a complimentary consultation and analysis. Sleep well, my friends.

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What is Risk?

So many people that I meet seek a panacea for their retirement assets. It is one of those facts of life that if anything yields a return, it also inherently contains risk. Let’s explore what risks are applicable in our everyday lives.

Market risk is most common among individuals that meet with us. People will look for a “happy median” and mitigate as much risk as possible while retaining enough risk to allow their investments to earn a targeted rate of annual return. How do you mitigate risk in the market? You have heard this word many times in this column but it is worthy to mention it again – diversification.

The distorted belief of market risk is that it is the overall risk of the market. However, we should look at the various types of risk contained in this general category of risk. For example, market risk can be further defined as currency risk, equity risk or interest rate risk depending on the type of investment you are considering. Should you wish to invest in a security that is issued from a foreign company, you may be subject to potential risks in the difference between the U.S. Dollar and the currency of the domicile country of the target investment. Again, there are measures to mitigate this risk. When we use the term “mitigate” you must understand that it does not mean the risk is eliminated, merely lessened or mollified.

Interest rate risk should be heeded when purchasing debt or bond instruments. Remember, the interest rate of a bond has a direct impact on the value of the holding. For example, bond market prices drop when interest rates rise and vice-versa. The longer the bond term to maturity will also be a consideration when looking at risk exposure.

Equity risk is the presence of risk when you invest in stocks or equity instrument shares and the value of the shares may decrease. This is the most prevalent of risks to investors. Every session the markets are open, and trading is occurring, is a day that equity risk is present. 

Concentration risk may be a new term for many people. This type of risk is explained within its name – concentration. Executives of publicly-traded companies are given shares of the company stock for incentives of compensation. Presumably the executives’ efforts to create profit, increase market share, etc. will cause the stock share price to increase which, in turn, will give the executives greater earnings from the ultimate sale of the stock. Risk is inherent in this type of compensation when the executive is ready to retire and their portfolio consists of the employer’s stock for more than half of the total value of their account. Tax ramifications and other considerations should be analyzed to determine the least costly method of diversifying the portfolio to reduce concentration risk.

Liquidity risk is a significant issue when holding shares or bonds that you can’t sell for a profit when you wish to sell. You may be required to sell your positions for a loss to meet a cash flow need of your family. 

One of my favorite quotes by Will Rogers, which seems very appropriate in an article on investment risks, is “I’m not so much interested in the return ON my money as I am the return OF my money.” Oklahoma’s Favorite Son was always reliable for a good turn of the word.

The types of risk listed above do not fully explain all risks an individual may encounter. However, with the acceptance of a certain level of risk, mitigating the presence of risk by utilizing diversification and other measures, you may feel more comfortable and confident about your future. One method of determining the current level of risk in your portfolio is to request a complimentary analysis or “stress test” from a Certified Financial Planner™ professional. I recommend that you consider a balance between risk and return not simply the elimination of all risk. By eliminating all risk, you may not achieve your goal of exceeding inflation with your investments. See you on the golf course!

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How Do You Define Risk?

Danger! Danger! Red flashing lights! Sirens breaking through the still night awakening you from a deep sleep! These are simple, yet effective, methods of alerting you to risks that arise in life. Don’t you wish investment risk were that simple to alert you when you are about to face an inanimate action that has the power to destroy your life savings?

We accept certain risks in life everyday. Once you leave the safety of your bed, you may be subject to risk. Let’s focus on one type of risk – financial risk. You can control the level of risk in your financial life by taking prudent steps to minimize risk when possible. For example, if you are 80 years of age, it may be too risky to invest in a new tech startup with 50% of your retirement portfolio. If you were 24 years of age, this may be viewed more as an opportunity.

As specialists in retirement planning, we believe it is critical to properly measure and mitigate risk when possible. Many of our clients come to us with portfolios that are highly illiquid or invested in a manner that is not in their best interest. When we ask questions pertaining to their acceptable level of risk, the client will generally be moderate or conservative in their approach to investing their hard-earned money.

However, after a careful analytical analysis of their portfolio we inform them of their current investment risk level and their eyes pop open like they are watching a scene from a horror movie. To mitigate the risk, we believe several factors must be considered in their portfolio design:

  1. Consider liquidity needs
  2. Research suitable and appropriate types of investment positions
  3. Determine the tax-effect of the proposed investments
  4. Properly diversify the portfolio to control the level of risk acceptable by the client.

Simply investing the portfolio in its initial allocation does not resolve the client’s risk issues. Proper monitoring of the performance and appropriate rebalancing of the asset allocation to its original target are critical to maintaining the client’s risk level in the portfolio. The financial planning required for an advisor to fully understand the client’s long- and short-term needs and goals entails significant education, experience and knowledge of the economy.

Certified Financial Planner practitioners are professionals that maintain one of the highest credentials as a witness to their competency and ethics. Don’t risk your lifetime savings to risk. What you don’t know could truly ruin your future. Ask for a second opinion regarding your retirement portfolio. Better to find out early if there is a problem in your future.

Diversification and asset allocation strategies do not assure profit or protect against loss. Past performance is no guarantee or future results. Investing involves risk. Depending on the types of investments, there may be varying degrees of risk. Investors should be prepared to bear loass, including total loss of principal

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