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First Quarter 2014 - Pinnacle Investment Management, Inc.

First Quarter 2014

April 10, 2014 / Quarterly Newsletters

April 2014

Most stock indexes advanced slightly this quarter however concerns over Russian intervention in the Ukraine and a potential increase in US interest rates kept the advances very modest.  In spite of advances elsewhere, the Dow Jones Industrials, Japan and emerging market indexes declined.  Both REITs (real estate investment trusts) and precious metals posted strong returns.

Returns for key indexes (including dividends) were:

 

Full  Year1st Qtr
20132014
Dow Jones Industrials29.50%-0.20%
S&P 50032.30%1.80%
NASDAQ38.30%0.50%
S&P 400 mid-cap31.60%2.70%
Russell 2000 small-cap37.00%0.80%
Total International, excluding US14.60%0.40%
Dow Jones World Stock20.80%0.80%
Barclays Aggregate Bond  Index-2.00%1.80%

 

The Federal Reserve, which had been purchasing $85 billion of bonds each month in response to the financial crisis, began to reduce (taper) their purchases in  January by $10 billion per month and will “only” purchase $55 billion in bonds in April.  At this rate, they will completely halt the controversial program by the fourth quarter.  Fed Chair Janet Yellen has indicated that, given current economic forecasts, she expects that the Fed will begin to raise short term interest rates six months after that.

Surprisingly, given the Fed’s reduction of bond purchases, interest rates declined.   The yield on the ten year US Treasury bond declined from 3% at year-end to 2.7%.  Falling rates provided a tailwind for bond investors, with many bonds posting gains.

Economic and Market Outlook

As a result of last year’s strong US market, foreign stocks, especially emerging markets, are now more attractively valued compared to the US.  However several possibilities are concerning investors.  The most immediate is whether Russia will make further military advances into the Ukraine.  While this appears unlikely, it is not guaranteed.  Over the longer term, there is also a concern about what the Federal Reserve will or can do in regard to interest rates and the impact that may have on the economies of other nations, especially in the emerging markets.  A further concern is that China may be facing both a housing bubble and debt problem.  In spite of these concerns, Professor Jeremy Siegel of the University of Pennsylvania believes the US stock market is 10% to 15% undervalued.   Other countries look even more attractively valued, and with the European financial crisis receding it is possible that foreign markets will outperform the US this year.

As a result of quantitative easing (QE) the Federal Reserve now owns $4.2 trillion of intermediate and long term bonds and other financial assets which they purchased.  This compares to $700 billion of short term US Treasury notes they held in 2007.   The Fed purchased most of the bonds from banks and, rather than lend out the money, the banks have let the proceeds sit as “excess reserves”.  If the Fed cannot find a way to redeem the bonds or to persuade the banks not to loan the funds, the money will work its way into the money supply, creating inflation.  This is unchartered territory for both the Fed and investors and the ultimate outcome will be important for investors.  An increase in inflation would produce higher interest rates and likely higher values for precious metals, real estate and other real assets.  Irrespective of inflation, intermediate and long term interest rates are expected to rise as the Fed begins to reduce its bond purchases, and this will produce a headwind for bond investors.

Michael Lewis created a stir by his appearance on 60 Minutes and by his new book detailing the impact of high frequency trading.  While we hope that there is a way to stop this practice, the reality is that for long term investors, the impact is minuscule.

Income disparity

Media and politicians have recently focused on growing “income disparity”.   In 1915 the top 1% of households accounted for 18% of all income, but by 2007 they accounted for 24% of the income.   However statistics can be misleading and scholars and others do not agree on the causes, solutions or even the statistical significance of the trend.  That does not prevent some politicians to call for higher taxes on the wealthy.  There seem to be three main reasons why the reported disparity has grown.  Older people have always earned more than younger ones and statistically the large cluster of aging baby boomers are contributing to this reported disparity with younger households.    Secondly, since the 1970’s there has been an increase in households with two incomes.  Thirdly, in an increasingly global and technology based economy, educational achievement has become more important.    On average those with a bachelor’s degree have twice the income of high school graduates.  This holds true for each racial and gender subgroup.  While the government cannot change disparity brought about by aging baby boomers or two income households they may be able to influence educational and vocational training.  Yet that might not be as easy as it sounds.  Both the mayor of New York and teacher’s unions oppose Charter schools that have been shown to benefit disadvantaged students and result in higher academic attainment at a lower per student cost than other public schools.  Improving educational attainment, especially for disadvantaged children is important to maintaining both individual and US competiveness in the global economy and should be an important national priority.

IRS phone scam

If you get a call from the IRS out of the blue and the caller says you owe taxes, and asks you to wire money or pay with a debit card, beware.  It is likely a scam.  When the IRS questions a tax return, they always make their first contact by mail.

How financial advisors add value 

A recent Vanguard study quantified the value of financial advisors.  According to Vanguard, the value of a financial advisor is about 3% per year as a result of their work in a number of areas including:  asset allocation, selection of cost effective funds, rebalancing, “behavioral coaching” (persuading investors not to buy at market peaks, sell at market bottoms or buy the latest hot investment), tax efficient asset location, and developing a strategy on withdrawing funds tax efficiently.

Connecticut’s growing fiscal challenges

Connecticut’s unfunded retiree healthcare liabilities grew 20% in 2013 – from $16.2 to $19.5 billion.  Officially this is not a new record.  In 2011 Connecticut changed how they calculate the current value of future payments to retirees (by raising the interest rate used to determine the present value from 4% to 5.7%).  This change resulted in a 33% reduction in the reported liability.  While the numbers are now smaller on paper, they do nothing to slow the pace of the growth or change the economic reality.  Further, the new State budget has been criticized for allegedly understating anticipated healthcare costs by $70 million in the proposed budget.  Connecticut, which already has more debt and unfunded liabilities per taxpayer than any other State had a declining economy in 2012 and a net loss of jobs in 2013, and can ill afford any further financial mis-steps.


About the author

Pinnacle Investment Management: Pinnacle Investment Management, Inc. is a comprehensive investment management and financial planning firm committed to the financial future of our clients.


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