Quarterly Commentary – Q2 2019

One for the Record Books

The current U.S. economic expansion is now officially the longest in history, having just entered its 121st month. Shortly after the end of the second quarter, stock markets also hit all-time record highs. These milestones are juxtaposed against another less thrilling record: the current economic expansion has also been the weakest recovery since World War II.

While it is impossible to know how long the current expansion will last, economic data is flashing warning signs. Growth was already on course to slow this year as the fiscal stimulus boost associated with last year’s tax cuts has faded. The bigger drag, however, is stemming from the U.S. administration’s erratic trade policies, which has introduced further uncertainty in business investments.

History of U.S. Economic Expansions

Source:  National Bureau of Economic Research & Bloomberg

Synchronized Asset Class Appreciation

All asset classes, both risky and more conservative, surprisingly, have rallied strongly in the first half of the year.  This rally has occurred against a backdrop where global economic growth has slowed, trade tensions have persisted, large tech companies have faced regulatory scrutiny, and financial market distortions have deepened.  As we pointed out in our first-quarter client commentary, the most obvious explanation for the appreciation of asset classes across-the-board has to do with central banks’ renewed willingness to cut interest rates, thus raising virtually all asset class valuations.

The first half of the year saw a historic policy U-turn from a well-advertised “policy normalization” to a significantly more dovish stance by the U.S. Federal Reserve, which has also been adopted by the other three major central banks (European Central Bank, Bank of Japan and People’s Bank of China).  While history will tell the tale of the record-breaking U.S. economy and stock markets, it may fail to show how reliant financial markets have become on extraordinary accommodative monetary policies (i.e., zero or negative interest rates and multiple rounds of quantitative easing, or money printing) from the central banks.  The table below summarizes the second-quarter and year-to-date (YTD) performance for selected indices.

Source: Bloomberg. Please see important disclosures at the end of this commentary.

“History May Not Repeat Itself, But It Often Rhymes”1

Over the past decade, financial market participants have become conditioned to associate extraordinary monetary policies and central bank liquidity with higher asset prices.  This has in turn led to heightened speculation, as reflected in the surge of recent IPOs with negative earnings and the increasing number of “zombie companies” (companies whose interest expenses are larger than their earnings) in the market.  The result has been tremendous asset price inflation and steep valuations as prices have well outpaced the fundamentals.

Most investors are familiar with the concept of P/E (price-to-earnings) ratios as a reflection of stock market valuations.  When a stock goes up in price, it either does so as a result of improving fundamentals (i.e., increasing earnings) or based upon investor sentiment or expectations.  If the latter is the case, that stock is said to appreciate because of multiple, or P/E, expansion.  As illustrated in the chart below, in the current stagnant earnings growth environment, P/E ratio expansion has accounted for 92% of the year-to-date rally in the U.S. equity market.  Goldman Sachs research indicates that P/E expansion has also been responsible for nearly 30% of the bull market return since March of 2009.

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1 Attributed to Mark Twain

S&P 500 Price Return Attribution

Source:  FactSet, Goldman Sachs Investment Research

Given the headwinds mentioned above, it is unreasonable to expect either earnings growth or multiple expansion to continue at such a pace, which suggests that investors cannot expect such strong returns over the next several years. In our opinion, central bank liquidity, low interest rates and passive investing in mega-cap U.S. growth stocks have pulled forward future investment returns.  We concede that no one can accurately predict the timing of an economic recession or stock market decline.  What we can do, however, is identify environments where investors face heightened risks and adjust our portfolios accordingly.  If equity market valuations revert to historical norms, investors who are only relying on traditional assets to meet their goals may face a very challenging path forward.  Our approach is to mix in strategies that exhibit less dependence on global economic growth in an attempt to provide more consistent returns for our clients in an otherwise uncertain world.

Please do not hesitate to contact your Morton Capital wealth advisory team if you have any questions or would like to review your portfolio or financial plan in more detail.  As always, we appreciate your continued confidence and trust.

Morton Capital Investment Team

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Disclosure Update

MCM recently filed an amendment to its Form ADV Brochure with the Securities and Exchange Commission to reflect some material changes since our last filing in March. Please click the link for a full copy of the amended ADV Brochure:
https://mortoncapital.egnyte.com/dl/vn7uYGXjaY.

This commentary is mailed quarterly to our clients and friends and is for information purposes only.  This document should not be taken as a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any individual security or asset class, and should not be considered investment advice. This memorandum expresses the views of the author and are subject to change without notice. All information contained herein is current only as of the earlier of the date hereof and the date on which it is delivered by Morton Capital (MC) to the intended recipient, or such other date indicated with respect to specific information. Certain information contained herein is based on or derived from information provided by independent third-party sources. The author believes that the sources from which such information has been obtained are reliable; however, it cannot guarantee the accuracy of such information. Any performance information contained herein is for illustrative purposes only.

Certain private investment opportunities discussed herein may only be available to eligible clients and can only be made after careful review and completion of applicable offering documents. Private investments are speculative and involve a high degree of risk.

The indices referenced in this document are provided to allow for comparison to well-known and widely recognized asset classes and asset class categories. Q2 returns shown are from 03-31-2019 through 06-28-2019 and the year-to-date returns are from 12/31/2018 through 06-28-2018.  Index returns shown do not reflect the deduction of any fees or expenses. The volatility of the benchmarks may be materially different from the performance of MC.  In addition, MC’s recommendations may differ significantly from the securities that comprise the benchmarks.  Indices are unmanaged, and an investment cannot be made directly in an index.

Indices:

Past performance is not indicative of future results.  All investments involve risk including the loss of principal. Details on MC’s advisory services, fees and investment strategies, including a summary of risks surrounding the strategies, can be found in our Form ADV Part 2A. A copy may be obtained at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

Mid Quarter Newsletter May 2019

The Return of Trade Tensions

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since President Trump launched us into a trade war with China. (We first delved into this issue in our second quarter 2018 client letter here.) While it appeared that progress was being made in negotiations toward the end of 2018, the recent breakdown in trade talks and escalation in tensions once again has this topic dominating news cycles.

As a quick reminder, a tariff is a tax specifically related to imports and exports that encourages consumers to buy less of the taxed good (whose price has now risen) and more of a cheaper, untaxed alternative. Effectively, a government imposes tariffs to try and benefit domestic producers by making imported goods relatively more expensive. There is much debate, however, regarding whether or not domestic producers truly benefit—for example,  U.S. farmers are actually among those most likely to suffer from the tariffs imposed to date.

Why are tariffs and the ominous-sounding trade war such big news? From all the hubbub, you might expect this to be a disaster for economic growth. The reality, however, is that the broad economy isn’t expected to take a big hit, even if the situation continues to escalate. Capital Economics estimates that the drag on the U.S. and China’s gross domestic product (GDP) will be minimal: around 0.4% for China, and 0.1-0.2% for the U.S. The effects, however, may be harsher on confidence and on financial markets. The uncertainty surrounding the tariffs and the lack of visibility regarding future escalations may cause businesses worldwide to limit investments and encourage consumers to become more cautious with their spending.

Free trade has been a major boost to global growth over the last several decades, with exports accounting for roughly 23% of the global GDP. Protectionist policies in the U.S. and abroad may threaten global growth going forward. Still, as precarious as the situation sounds, it’s only one of many uncertainties facing markets going forward. It’s important for investors to remain disciplined in their approach and stick to their financial plans, even when news cycles get a little feisty.

Welcome Olivia and Elana

Olivia Payne, Client Service Administrator

Olivia joined Morton Capital in April 2019. She brings with her 7 years of customer service experience in retail and social services. Olivia is originally from Georgia, where she attended the University of Georgia and obtained her degree in human development and family science. She is passionate about helping people make choices to improve their lives and learning as much as she can along the way. Olivia enjoys traveling and experiencing the different ways in which other cultures choose to enjoy life.

Elana Yaffe, Paraplanner

Elana Yaffe joined Morton Capital in February 2019 as a Paraplanner, where she collaborates with the advisory team to analyze and prepare financial plans. Prior to Morton Capital, she worked at Merrill Lynch as a seasonal client associate and at American Financial Network as a Paraplanner. Elana graduated with a degree in retailing and consumer sciences from the University of Arizona. She loves to travel, watch sports, and play with animals, especially with her shihtzu, Brandy, and boxer, Sunshine.

Meet the MC Team

Say Hello to Audriana Rex!

Kevin Rex, one of our Lead Wealth Advisors, and his wife, Nicole, welcomed their third child, Audriana, on April 12, a beautiful and healthy baby girl. A big congratulations to their growing family!

Best Places to Work for Financial Advisors Award

We are proud to announce we were named one of the Best Places to Work for Financial Advisors by InvestmentNews. This list highlights the top 75 firms nationwide in the financial advice industry. We were chosen 2nd among firms our size and 16th overall for our commitment to creating a firm culture that encourages idea-sharing and empowers employees to get the most life out of their career. Thank you to our amazing team for making Morton Capital a great place to work every day.

Read the full article by Investment News here

Be Careful Out There: Cybersecurity Tips

By Eric Selter, Chief Compliance Officer

As Elmer Fudd would say: “You should be vewy, vewy afwaid.”

Cybersecurity is a huge topic today. And it should be. The fraudsters are smart and persistent. If they put half as much time into doing good things as they do thinking up ways to steal your information, the world would be a much better place.

Recently, the Morton Capital team sat in on a cybersecurity seminar. Here are some important takeaways that we wanted to share:

* Your data is out there. Don’t think it’s not! Fraudsters can easily buy your personal data on the dark web. Have you ever used Yelp? Believe it or not, there are Yelp ratings for fraudsters on the dark web—that’s how prevalent it has become. Features like two-factor authentication, DocuSign, secure email links and other advanced security tools are useful in helping to prevent some of the more basic security breaches.

* It’s not just you they’re after. While individuals continue to be targets, the fraudsters are now coming after businesses too in order to mine the data they collect from their clients. Have you heard the financial expression, “Cash is king?” Now, data is KING!

* Prevention is key! Some debate the value of credit protection and monitoring services, but any potential alert that someone has opened an account in your name could help you nip fraud in the bud. One example of how to protect yourself: go to your mobile carrier’s website and change your settings so that any call forwarding must be done from your phone and not via their website, which can be hacked.A typical scheme that cybersecurity firms often see, which illustrates the depth of the potential fraud, goes like this: Fraudsters hack your email and see you’re in the process of buying a house (who doesn’t have dozens of emails back and forth with their realtor or escrow officer?). Since they can tell you’ve already warned us that you’ll need some cash for the closing, they send us an email that provides wire instructions to a fake account. Without verbal verification on both sides (you verbally verifying the escrow wire instructions with a trusted escrow officer; us verbally confirming the information with you), money can easily be lost forever.

To safeguard our clients against this common type of fraud, Morton Capital will continue to verbally verify and confirm all new money transfer requests. We know this extra step may be a hassle, but it’s for all of our protection. It’s better to spend some time up front preventing transfer fraud than trying to recover funds after they’ve transferred out. At the risk of dating myself, I’ll end with the line that Captain Esterhaus from Hill Street Blues would say at the start of every shift: LET’S BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!

 

GET THE MOST LIFE OUT OF YOUR WEALTH (SM)

 

Morton Capital Perspective on Recent Market Volatility

“The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.” – Warren Buffet

The markets have been on a roller coaster ride recently, but now is not the time to get off—it is time to be patient.  While we understand that fear is a natural result of uncertain times, it is important to remember that market corrections, and even recessions, are a natural part of the market cycle.  In this article we answer three key questions that we have been asked in recent weeks, including our thoughts on the economy, the markets and the recent volatility.

What is happening in the markets?

If you’re expecting more volatility, why not sell stocks now?

What is Morton Capital’s approach given this uncertainty?

READ OUR FULL ARTICLE HERE

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Disclosure: This communication is for informational purposes only. Any investment strategy involves the risk of loss of capital. Some alternative investment strategies discussed are limited to qualified eligible investors. Past performance does not guarantee future results. 

Mid Quarter Newsletter June 2018

Why You Should Care About Rising Interest Rates

Recently, you’ve likely been seeing headlines that breathlessly wonder whether the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates at their next meeting. With what many consider a relatively strong economic environment and higher inflationary expectations, most agree that the Fed will raise rates at least another two times in 2018.

While there are countless ways higher rates may impact the broader economy, individuals will start to feel the impact as well. As a consumer, if you go to buy a car or use any other form of credit, higher rates will affect any loans you take out. If you have an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), rising interest rates could cause your monthly payments to increase meaningfully.

Individual investors, especially those with more traditional allocations, will also feel the impact in their investment portfolios. Simple bond math states that interest rates and bond prices move in opposite directions. So a holder of a “risk-free” 10-year Treasury bond has lost 2.8% in value in five short months since the beginning of the year . . . not so “risk-free” after all!

Over the last several years at Morton Capital, we’ve consistently reduced our weightings to fixed income strategies that have exposure to rising interest rates, so our bond portfolios look VERY different from those of other traditional wealth managers. When investing in bonds, others point to the fact that traditional bonds have posted positive and predictable returns for decades on end. After all, what has worked in the past should work going forward, right? However, interest rates have been in a steady decline since 1981, so many investment professionals were still napping in their cribs when rates last rose and have little idea of the potential risk lurking in many bond strategies. When considering this risk to traditional bonds, we think it’s crucial to spend the time searching for alternative bond substitutes that can generate predictable returns, even in a rising rate environment. Just because we haven’t seen rising rates for 30+ years, doesn’t mean the next 30 years will look the same.

Welcome Dan and Leah

Dan Charoenrath
Director of Client Operations

As the Director of Client Operations, Dan manages our Account Servicing Team. Prior to joining Morton Capital, he spent five years managing multiple units for Peets Coffee and Tea, overseeing all locations from San Luis Obispo County through Ventura County. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2004.

 

 

Leah Loewenthal
Portfolio Analyst

Leah began her career in the financial industry in 2013 after graduating from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, with a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science. As a portfolio analyst, she provides excellent operational, administrative and client support. She enjoys traveling, being outdoors and coaching youth basketball. She holds Series 7 and Series 66 licenses.

Planning for Incapacity

If you have parents of a certain age, you’ve likely had to start having those uncomfortable conversations about how they and the rest of the family will handle their affairs as they age. At what point should they stop driving? Should they consider downsizing to a more manageable home? What are their preferences if they need help with their personal care? While thinking about these issues regarding your parents is uncomfortable enough, have you also started thinking about your own incapacity plan? No one wants to think about the day they no longer have the ability to make rational, coherent choices, but being proactive will ensure you have a say in your lifestyle even if you can no longer make day-to-day decisions.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s accounts for most cases of dementia and affects an estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older. Other common causes of dementia include strokes, abnormal brain chemistry, and Parkinson’s disease. Some of the warning signs of dementia include memory loss that disrupts daily life, difficulty completing familiar tasks at home or work, confusion with time or place, new problems with words in speaking or writing, and changes in mood or personality.

So how can you plan for the possibility of dementia or other incapacitating disability? Be proactive by identifying someone you trust to make decisions for you when you can’t, and to serve as a resource for your advisors and other professionals. You can use the following form to add a “trusted contact” to your Schwab or Fidelity accounts – simply complete and sign the form and return it to Morton Capital. Encourage your parents to do this as well. Take the time now to make sure you have a durable power of attorney for your financial affairs and an advance health care directive, and revisit any directives you have already to ensure they are still consistent with your wishes.

If there’s someone you would like us to contact in case you begin showing signs of incapacity, reach out to your advisory team and let us know. Introduce this person to other trusted professionals in your life as well. Unfortunately, if you don’t make your incapacity choices yourself, someone else will get to decide who will make those choices for you.

Mid Quarter Newsletter Q2 2017

Our Legacy of Stewardship

In reflecting on Lon’s rich legacy, no part of his work was more important to him than being the trusted steward of his clients’ financial futures. Stewardship is defined as the responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. It is a position we hold in the highest regard. Beyond our charge of helping clients with financial planning and investments, our most important role is to be a trusted partner available to you and your family for any questions or needs.

Prior to Lon’s passing, he shared with clients that he was excited to unveil the updated brand and image for Morton Capital. Over the next few months we will be completing the project we started with Lon, including the below video on our stewardship philosophy. This is one of a series of five videos and outlines how we see our role as your trusted steward.

How Is Your Financial Professional Getting Paid?

Back in 1983, when Lon founded Morton Capital, the financial investment landscape largely revolved around selling products. The more products financial professionals sold you, the more commissions (read: money) they made. Charging only a single fee based on a client’s assets under management (AUM) was extremely rare, if unheard of. However, Lon saw early on that the only way to truly align himself with clients’ best interests was to be paid for his objective advice and not based upon how many products he was able to sell to them.

Today, it is much more common for advisors to be “fee-only” as opposed to charging commissions.  The challenge with the “fee-only” title, though, is that it may not tell the full story. For instance, an advisor at a brokerage firm may not directly receive commissions, but that individual may still be incentivized to make money for the firm as opposed to their clients. Brokerage firms are notorious for making fees in a myriad of ways, and in many instances, clients can’t see these fees anywhere on their statements. In a Wall Street Journal article published in 2014, it was found that individual investors trading $100,000 in municipal bonds over the course of one month paid brokers an average “spread,” or markup, of 1.73%, or $1,730. In today’s low-interest-rate environment, this could amount to an entire year’s worth of interest. Brokers could also be getting kickbacks from mutual fund companies to recommend their funds to clients. Again, these incentives don’t show up anywhere on client statements, but the concern is that those funds were selected based on the broker’s compensation rather than solely on their appropriateness for clients.

It’s essential to understand how financial professionals are paid in order to find out what factors could be guiding their decision-making. At Morton, we don’t get paid incentives for recommending any of our investments to you. Paramount to our process is getting to know you and your needs and goals first, then making recommendations based solely on what we believe is best for you. Just as Lon envisioned when he decided to create an advisory firm all those years ago, this approach puts the focus back where it belongs: on the best interests of the client.

ETFs and the Illusion of Diversification

With the recent proliferation of ETFs (exchange-traded funds, or vehicles that track indices or a basket of assets), investors are better able to get instant diversification and cost effectively purchase hundreds of stocks in one fell swoop. However, as ETFs have grown as a percentage of total stock market ownership, an unexpected result has emerged; namely, a positive feedback loop has developed as individual stocks now move up and down in lockstep fashion. This makes sense-when you buy an ETF that tracks the S&P 500, you are effectively purchasing all 500 stocks in the S&P index instantaneously, pushing all of their prices up at the same time. Similarly, when you sell that ETF, you are selling all 500 stocks simultaneously, pushing all stock prices down. No surprise that the correlation amongst stocks has moved up meaningfully in recent years. Just when you thought you “won” the diversification game by buying that ETF, you now simply own a bunch of stocks that move up and down together. This behavior will be further exacerbated in a nasty market environment (think 2008) as investors at large will sell their ETFs at a push of a keyboard button, thereby selling thousands of individual stocks in unison.

The age-old solution to diversifying beyond stocks is to add bonds to your portfolio mix. After all, bonds typically behave well during periods of stock market volatility. However, while the last 30+ years have seen falling interest rates and rising bond prices, our concern is that the next 30 years may be a mirror image, with rising rates and poor bond performance. In future stock market dislocations, we believe bonds may not act as the ballast in the portfolio that they were in the past.

Given the heightened political uncertainty in the developed world, coupled with extremely high valuations across most asset classes, we strongly believe an alternative approach toward diversification is essential. Morton Capital is a thought leader in this realm, having taken a unique approach toward diversification for decades. Fundamentally, most traditional asset classes are exposed to three main factors: 1) valuations (we live in a world of expensive valuations); 2) GDP growth (growth around the world is stagnant); and 3) interest rates (trading at all-time historical lows). It may sound counterintuitive, but we seek (rather than avoid) risk exposure to other areas of the economy to curate a well-diversified portfolio. In other words, we crave exposure to asset classes that will behave differently than stocks and bonds in a variety of market environments. Examples include exposure to reinsurance (natural disasters), alternative lending, and gold. Additional examples, where applicable for clients who can access illiquid vehicles, are private lending, real estate, and royalty streams. While investors at large are extremely complacent, as evidenced by very low volatility levels in the global markets, complacency is one risk that we aggressively seek to avoid as we are never satisfied in our search for truly alternative sources of return.

Information contained herein is for educational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell or solicitation to buy any security. Some alternative investment opportunities discussed may only be available to eligible clients and involve a high degree of risk. Additionally, the fees and expenses charged on these investments may be higher than those of other investments. Any investment strategy involves the risk of loss of capital. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Protecting Yourself Online: 7 Cybersecurity Tips

Our world is full of connected devices, everything from our computers and cellphones to our cars. This constant flow of information provides efficiency, convenience, and comfort, but along with these benefits comes increased risk. According to Forbes, cyberattacks currently account for losses of over $400 billion annually and that number is expected to skyrocket to over $2 trillion by 2019. Cyberattacks can target large corporations, as we have seen with Target, Home Depot, and JPMorgan Chase, but they can also target anyone who uses the Internet. Over half of all adults in the US suffered from a cybersecurity incident in 2016.

The amount of money lost to cybercrime has quickly surpassed that which is lost to physical theft, yet many of us do not protect ourselves from cybercrime the way we do with traditional crime. There are a variety of methods malevolent parties may use to get ahold of your personal information, which is why it is important to be vigilant when doing anything that involves your personal or financial information. Most cybercrime involves a combination of hacking and phishing. So, to protect against these attacks, you must ensure that both you and your devices are prepared.

Here are 7 steps you can take to protect yourself from cybercrime:
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