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Mid-Quarter Newsletter – June 2021

 

Hear Our Story Video

We’ve been busy capturing some exciting video content these last few months as we prepare to launch a new look on our website. As a firm, we wanted to create a video to give our clients and our community the opportunity to learn more about us: how we began, why we believe in investing in alternatives, how we define our mission of “empowering better investors,” what we think sets us apart as a company, and what our vision is for the future of Morton Capital.

We hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes look into our company. Click below to meet our leadership team and hear our story.

Watch the video here.

 

Why Is Everyone Talking About Inflation?

Inflation has been a hot topic over the last couple of months. Core consumer prices, which are how much you pay for typical goods and services (excluding much more variable food and energy prices), rose 0.9% last month, the biggest monthly gain since April 1982. The combination of higher labor and material costs is leading to a larger pickup in inflation at a time when governmental policies are supporting faster economic growth. The Federal Reserve has told investors that it will continue to support the economy, with the goal of achieving full employment, so it’s willing to let inflation run “hotter” than before. The question is whether or not these factors will lead to a short-term but temporary bump in inflation or a sustained and problematic increase.

There are several global trends that are helping make the case for higher sustained inflation going forward. For years, globalization had been a force keeping inflationary pressures in check, as manufacturing and consumer goods production moved to emerging economies with cheaper labor. This trend appears to be reversing and many countries, including the U.S., are looking to bring manufacturing jobs back home. Another important global trend supporting inflation is the push toward decarbonization to offset the damage and danger of climate change. Demand for renewable sources of energy will continue to push up prices on base materials like silver, copper, nickel and lithium, as these are essential components to implementing these technologies. A third, and perhaps more important, factor has been the explosion in global debt following the COVID-19 pandemic. The ratio of global debt to gross domestic product (the total value of goods and services in an entire year!) rose to 356% in 2020, up 35% from 2019. For perspective, this ratio only rose 10% in 2008 following the Global Financial Crisis. Given this huge amount of debt, policies have to support higher inflation so that debt burdens can be paid back in future years with cheaper dollars.

As fiduciaries, we must be aware of the risk of higher inflation and its resulting erosion of purchasing power in our clients’ portfolios. We’ve been concerned about increasing inflation for many years now, and have consequently built certain positions into the portfolio that we believe can act as hedges against the depreciation of fiat currencies, which don’t have intrinsic value on their own. For example, our positions in gold and mining companies, as well as our focus on real assets (real estate equity and lending strategies backed by real assets), we believe will remain resilient and maintain their true value in an inflationary environment. In the face of rising inflation pressures and expectations, we’ll continue to monitor the overall landscape and incorporate additional real assets and inflation hedges as we see fit

 

DISCLOSURES
Information presented herein is for educational purposes only. It should not be taken as a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any security or asset class, and should not be considered investment advice. Certain investment opportunities discussed herein may only be available to eligible clients and are presented for illustrative purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results. All investments involve risk including the loss of principal.

 

What to Expect from an In-Depth Financial Plan

 Here at Morton, creating a financial plan is one of the key steps to our clients getting the most life out of their wealth. But what does creating a financial plan look like for you, our clients? Contrary to what you might think, a financial plan is not something that your advisory team does for you; it’s something that you and your advisory team do together.

Your advisory team will work behind the scenes with Morton’s financial planning team to craft your plan, but it’s only with your participation in the process that we can create a plan that will serve as a road map for your financial success. There are a lot of strategies in financial planning that can help solve issues, but the more information you give us about your financial life, the better we can determine which of those planning strategies are right for you. After all, if you buy a sweater in the wrong size—no matter how beautiful—you won’t be able to wear it. If, however, you spend the time upfront taking your measurements, you’ll end up with a sweater that actually fits you. In financial planning, just like in life, one size does not fit all.
That’s why, over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of posts on the various components of an in-depth financial plan: cash flow, retirement, insurance, investments, tax, and estate. Our goal is to educate you on what to expect in the financial planning process so that you can fully partner with us: what topics we’ll bring up, what documents we’ll ask for, and why all of this is important to create a full picture of your financial situation.

We believe that committing to doing a financial plan is committing to investing in yourself. The success of your plan is directly impacted by how much time and effort you want to invest in the process. If you make the commitment, we can help empower you to make informed decisions so that you’re in control of your wealth and success, whatever that means for you. Might that be a lofty goal? Yes. Is it worth it so that you can sleep at night and achieve what you want in life? Absolutely. You may still be able to make an ill-fitting sweater work, but don’t you deserve a sweater that fits you just right? Here at Morton, we think so too.

 

DISCLOSURES
Presented for informational purposes only. You should seek financial, tax and legal advice from your professional advisors before implementing any transactions and/or strategies concerning your financial plan.

 

New Podcast: The Ripcord Moment

Our Senior Vice President and Wealth Advisor, Joe Seetoo, recently kicked off his passion project called The Ripcord Moment, a podcast dedicated to empowering business owners through the exit planning process. Each episode of the podcast focuses on the experiences of business owners and their team of advisors who have made the jump and successfully handed off their business to the next generation, existing partners or strategic buyers.

Subscribe to the podcast and listen to the latest episodes of The Ripcord Moment by clicking below.

Also available to listen on Apple and Spotify
Listen to The Ripcord Moment Podcast here

 

Welcome, Brian and Sherry

Brian Mann
Wealth Advisor

What does wealth mean to you?
“Get the most life out of your wealth” have been words to live and work by at Morton Capital for years. Notice how the word “life” comes before the word “wealth”? That’s intentional. I don’t think my definition of wealth has changed over the years—it’s still very much associated with accumulating money. What has changed, however, is that my wife and children have completely transformed and refocused my purpose behind actually building wealth. Now, wealth to me feels much more like a means to an end, the “end” being a life spent using the money I earn on the people and experiences that produce lasting and meaningful memories. I want to continue to go on dates with my wife. I want my children to experience the world. And I want the time and freedom to enjoy the little things along the way. THAT’s my wealthy life.

What inspires you about the work you do at MC?
I’m inspired by the prospect of doing well by doing good and by helping clients uncover what values guide their lives (and investing accordingly). I started my career working at Human Rights First in Washington, D.C., advocating for and defending the rights of immigrants and refugees, so doing good is incredibly important to me. On a daily basis, I have the privilege of speaking with my clients about sustainable and values-based investing, and I’m able to design financial plans and portfolios that allow them to speak with their dollars. At Morton Capital, we’ve been deeply involved in our local communities and charities and offering investments in socially conscious funds for years. True to our mission and investment philosophy, I’m proud that we consistently seek knowledge and resources that allow our clients to pursue these investments at our firm.

What’s a fun fact that most people may not know about you?
I learned to scuba dive in the Philippines but am still terrified of any large marine animals.

 

Sherry Uchuion
Compliance Administrator

What does wealth mean to you?
Wealth is often defined in terms of possessions and the abundance of quantifiable things, but what if we were to consider the unmeasurable aspects of our lives the most precious? To me, wealth has always been about those moments in between: the slow mornings with your family making breakfast, taking the day to be outside with your friends, or having the ability to be present for your partner in times of celebration and times of despair. I have always defined my wealth by how I spend my time, because unlike any other currency, time is one that cannot simply be replaced.

What inspires you about the work you do at MC?
I’m inspired daily by the entire team at MC. The best part of what I do here is providing support so that my coworkers feel confident that they’re delivering the best possible service to our clients.

What’s a fun fact that most people may not know about you?
I was a piano teacher for almost 10 years and I taught students from the age of three years old all the way up to adulthood.

Mid-Quarter Newsletter – March 2021

Congrats to the MC Team!

For the third consecutive year, and ranking #2 on the 2021 list, we feel incredibly honored to be recognized on the prestigious annual Best Places to Work for Financial Advisors list by InvestmentNews.

Each year, InvestmentNews recognizes standout employers in the financial advice industry. These firms, ranging from small practices with fewer than 20 people to large companies with over 700, go beyond offering attractive benefits and perks and create work atmospheres that empower their employees with the skills and confidence necessary to deliver the best possible investment and financial planning guidance to clients.

We are SO PROUD of each and every one of our team members for helping us earn this distinction. Without them, this would never be possible.

Click here to read the full article and explore the list.

 

Revisiting Your Savings Strategy

With many service industries shuttered due to quarantine measures—not to mention the seemingly never-ending stay-at-home orders—the opportunity for spending money has significantly decreased over the last year (though the at-home-entertainment budget might have increased). According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the result has been a record-high savings rate for households with disposable income: the personal savings rate hit 32.2% in April 2020, breaking the previous record of 17.3% in May 1975 (FactSet). Since having fewer opportunities to spend may continue to be the case until the vaccine is fully rolled out, now is a great time to revisit your current savings strategies, especially when it comes to emergency fund savings, retirement savings, and paying down debt.

Read more

 

Untold Truths of Acting in Your Clients’ Best Interest – Interview With Our CIO, Meghan Pinchuk

Our Chief Operating Officer, Stacey McKinnon, recently sat down with Meghan Pinchuk, our Chief Investment Officer, to talk about “Untold Truth # 5 – Don’t just invest with the herd” from Stacey’s industry white paper and why Morton Capital feels investing in asset classes outside of stocks and bonds helps protect our clients.

These types of investments come in all different shapes and sizes and in this interview, Meghan shares how we execute our alternative investment philosophy, including how we source and structure our investments.

They also talk about why it was important for Meghan to build a resilient enterprise when she took over running the firm with Jeff Sarti in 2013, her love for learning, and how the most successful clients are generally engaged, humble, and open-minded.

Click here to read Stacey’s industry white paper on the “Untold Truths of Acting in Your Clients’ Best Interest.”

View more of Stacey’s interviews from the Untold Truths series featuring industry experts such as Michael Kites, Chief Financial Planning Nerd at Kitces.com, and Philip Palaveev, CEO of The Ensemble Practice, LLC, here.

Watch the interview here.

 

The Madness of Crowds

In 1841, Charles Mackay, a Scottish journalist and author, published his study of crowd psychology, called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In the first volume of his study, he examined economic mass manias, notably the tulip mania in Holland in the 1630s. Due to a bull market in tulip bulbs, many in Holland abandoned their businesses to grow tulips, trade them, or become tulip brokers. Even banks got involved and started accepting tulips as collateral, thus fueling the speculative bubble. Not long after, the mania collapsed in waves of panic selling, leaving many people financially ruined and shocking the Dutch economy.

Throughout history, there have been many examples of similar mass manias driven by crowd behavior, even in spheres beyond the financial markets. However, in today’s era, social media’s ability to quickly mobilize crowds for a single purpose has introduced a new level of risk. When joining crowds, individuals tend to develop a herd-like mentality. Regardless of their character, intelligence, and education, once in a group, individuals get swept up in the collective mind and may engage in riskier behavior than they otherwise might have on their own.

One recent example of this type of behavior was the price manipulation in GameStop stock earlier this year. This price manipulation was initiated by the r/WallStreetBets Reddit forum, which has over 9 million subscribers and is known for its aggressive trading strategies. In this instance, the crowd had decided that by buying GameStop stock, they would somehow be able to redistribute gains from hedge funds that had profited from betting against the struggling video game retailer into the hands of ordinary people. The power of the crowd caused the price of shares to shoot up by nearly 2,500% in the month of January, at one point trading at a volume nearly twice that of Apple. [1]

What happened with GameStop clearly shows the extent to which the financial markets are susceptible to the mobilization of investment crowds. And while a large group of people can indeed wield enough power to move markets, without investment fundamentals or appropriate risk management backing amateur investors’ moves, their gambling behavior may result in devastating consequences, just as it did during tulip mania nearly 400 years ago.

[1] Yahoo Finance

 

Welcome Lauren and Mollie

Lauren Salas
Private Investments Administrator

Lauren joined Morton Capital in June 2020 as a Private Investments Administrator. Previously, she worked as the Business Operations Coordinator for eight branches of an HVAC distributor in the Northern California region. She graduated from New Mexico State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing and managerial leadership. She is currently studying for the Series 65 exam. In her free time, Lauren enjoys going to the beach, camping, and traveling.

 

Mollie Privett
Client Service Associate, CFP®

Mollie joined Morton Capital in July 2020 as a Client Service Administrator before moving into a Client Service Associate role on the advisory team. Mollie graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business management from California State University, Long Beach, in 2017. Throughout her roles at prior companies as a Financial Representative and Client Service Specialist, she earned her life, health and disability insurance license, Series 6 license, Series 63 license, and her CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification. She is extremely passionate about helping others, solving problems, and communicating effectively. Outside of work, Mollie loves spending time with her family and friends, going to the beach, writing poetry, cooking plant-based meals, and being in nature.

 

MC Team Fitness Challenge For Safe Passage Youth Foundation

Making a healthy impact and supporting the community continue to be main focuses of ours. At the beginning of January, we kicked off our “Get Moving” initiative where our entire team participated in a fitness challenge to raise money for Safe Passage Youth Foundation, a local organization that provides daily nutrition and emergency COVID relief to hundreds of children (grades K-12) and their families. For every workout or outdoor activity each team member completed, MC made a donation to Safe Passage. In all, our team completed over 700 workouts and raised over $3,500. We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful cause in our local community.

Learn more about Safe Passage here.

Quarterly Commentary – Q4 2020

Deus ex machina

One of the few, albeit minor, benefits to an epically challenging 2020 was when blockbuster movies started being released straight to our homes. For example, the new Wonder Woman 1984 appeared on HBO on Christmas Day, offering two hours and thirty-five minutes of escape from reality. We won’t rate the movie in this commentary, but (spoiler alert!) we will say that we were not fans of them bringing back Chris Pine’s deceased character using some silly gimmick in the plot.

This gimmick is also known as a deus ex machina, a Latin term that dates back to the dramas of ancient Greece and Rome. Merriam-Webster defines deus ex machina as a “person or thing that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” In other words, if you have a problem for which there is no solution, you simply change the rules to fix it. When this device is used in literature or media, it is often unsatisfying and uncomfortable for the audience. We may willingly suspend our belief to enjoy a new world with new rules (e.g., one with a superhuman Amazon running around with a truth lasso), but once the rules have been created for this new world, they should not keep changing every five minutes.

If it is frustrating when this happens in the movies, it is even more disconcerting when it happens in real life. In many ways, it feels like this phenomenon keeps appearing in the modern world of finance as fiscal and monetary authorities keep changing the rules by which the game is played. Some examples include interest rates being held at zero or negative levels or trillions of dollars/euros/yen being printed globally under new monetary theory that fiscal solvency is irrelevant. The extremes of 2020 only exacerbated these distortions of reality and it is tempting to shut your eyes to the manipulations and hope that our government really has found a way to defy the truths of finance. Hope, however, is not a sound strategy. Instead, we need to keep our eyes wide open to the imbalances and risks that exist in our world today. If those in charge keep changing the rules, then we need to be willing to find a different game.

 

Stocks continue defying the laws of gravity and common sense

Most probably would have guessed that a global pandemic would have been negative for the stock market. Not so! Fiscal stimulus, in conjunction with early and sweeping monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve (Fed), created the easiest financial conditions on record and flooded the market with liquidity, driving stocks higher in 2020. The fourth quarter also saw the introduction of two high-efficacy COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, as well as prospects for additional stimulus, which propelled risk assets to new heights by the close of the year.

So not only has the market recovered the steep losses first suffered when the extent of the pandemic became apparent in early 2020, but it has since surpassed pre-pandemic levels to a meaningful degree. This is in the face of declining earnings and a great deal of uncertainty about when and to what extent those earnings will recover. To be sure, there have been some “winners” that came out of 2020. The pandemic shock has been transformational for the economy, bifurcating it into “haves” and “have-nots.” This bifurcation has benefited the so called “stay-at-home” sectors of the market, in particular technology, while decimating other sectors such as retail, travel and entertainment. While some of these shifts may prove to be temporary, others will be permanent, and still others have accelerated longer-term trends that were already in place.

At the end of 2020, markets seemed to be pricing in a degree of optimism and certainty regarding the path forward that did not appear to reflect the underlying challenges facing the U.S. economy. In our opinion, uncertainty still remains elevated with respect to both the short-term path of the recovery as well as the long-term transformation of the post-pandemic economy. The discrepancy between stock performance and earnings in 2020 served to only further exacerbate stretched valuations. Also, it is important not to forget about the revolutionary amounts of debt it took to keep things afloat, which we believe will reverberate through future generations. Is this really an environment where it is logical for stocks to be making new all-time highs?

 

Investor speculation adds fuel to the fire

While massive government stimulus has been a major driver of the recovery in stocks, investor behavior has also played a key role. Historically, two main indicators that point to how investors are engaging in more speculative behavior are heightened margin levels and abundant initial public offerings (IPOs). Starting with margin, this is simply debt that brokerages extend to their account holders, using their existing securities as collateral. Past market peaks have tended to coincide with high levels of margin debt. This is not surprising as it is human nature to become greedy when stocks go up and borrow to buy even more stock. Toward the end of 2020, margin debt topped $700 billion, a new high and well above levels that have been seen since the dot-com bubble.

Also consistent with previous market pinnacles, private companies are going public at a heightened rate. As you can see in the chart below, 2020 has had many more IPOs than in recent history.

In a year of a global pandemic, where our economy collapsed in terms of output and we lost 20 million jobs in just a few months, does it make sense that the IPO market was robust? Perhaps it would have been more prudent for companies to take a breather and wait until there was more certainty surrounding their near-term futures. After all, look at the middle of the chart in 2008 and 2009, where IPO activity collapsed. This makes a lot more sense in an economic downturn. But not this time, because despite all the uncertainty, in 2020 investors have been eager to take a chance on pretty much any and all IPOs. It is irrelevant if these companies have earnings; in fact, looking at the numbers you would think it was discouraged since about 80% of these 2020 IPOs had negative earnings.

Far from caring about earnings, speculative investors have pushed these stocks higher, to the point where their valuations often reach ridiculous levels very quickly. An example of a recent IPO in this category is QuantumScape, an up-and-coming entrant into the electronic vehicle battery space. With Elon Musk and Tesla making headlines, this is obviously a very hot area of the market, so it is no wonder that this company attracted investor interest. But despite the company’s exciting potential, THEY HAVE YET TO SELL A SINGLE BATTERY. The technology, while very promising, is not yet proven. So what valuation did investors give this pre-revenue company? Nearly $50 billion. To put that in context, that market cap is roughly double the size of Panasonic, which is the battery maker for Tesla cars. Panasonic has a number of other business lines as well and has been around for decades, but the market likes shiny new toys in this speculative environment, so QuantumScape reached a height of $50 billion before getting slashed back down to a meager $20 billion.

Another hot 2020 IPO was Airbnb, the popular company that allows you to rent a home or apartment online. This was a company that got hit pretty hard with the pandemic and its revenue in 2020 was down a good amount from the year before. Also, on $2.5 billion of sales, it lost an impressive $700 million. This is a company that has never made a profit in a calendar year. Yet it was rewarded with a $100 billion valuation when it went public. To put that in perspective, Starbucks, a truly global brand and moneymaker, has a valuation of a little more than $100 billion. FedEx, a massive company that has done well during this pandemic, is worth about $70 billion. These types of IPO valuations are completely disconnected from reality and reflect a speculative fervor that has seized market participants, not dissimilar from the tech frenzy that gripped markets prior to the dot-com bubble bursting.

 

If you don’t like the rules, then change the game

Most investors need to make their investments work for them over the long term to meet their financial goals. Even for those who have large cushions built-in, it is still prudent to make sure that you can stay ahead of inflation, which we see as being a meaningful risk in the years ahead. So what is the solution when we are faced with an investment landscape that includes massive debt imbalances from government intervention and frenzied investor speculation? Though the situation with traditional markets seems dire, we are not intimidated and instead feel increasingly confident in our approach to portfolio management. Three key aspects to our approach include:

1) With traditional stocks, focus on what you can control.

While our target stock allocations are at their lowest in our firm’s history, this does not mean that we do not own any stocks. There are a number of reasons why stocks are a prudent part of a long-term portfolio, not the least of which is that if the Fed continues pumping money into the system, we could continue to see stocks benefit from asset price inflation. At the end of the day, we do not believe that this is a long-term recipe for success. But the proverbial end of the day could potentially be far off and, in the meantime, stocks can continue to benefit from the tremendous liquidity in the system. One key is making sure that stocks are at an appropriate level in the portfolio given their potential for meaningful volatility. Another key is making sure you maintain diversification and do not allow FOMO (fear of missing out) to push you to overweight the hottest, most overvalued tech stock in the market. Finally, while we cannot control market valuations and performance, there are some attributes of this investment that we can control: namely, fees and tax efficiency. If we access our stock allocations using vehicles with relatively low fees and high levels of tax efficiency, this can help maximize returns for the long run.

2) Take advantage of speculative behavior (safely) when you can.

While we have no interest in being swept up in the speculative fervor of negative-earning IPOs, that does not mean that there aren’t ways to profit from the space. An increasing number of companies are choosing to go public through the use of special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). SPACs, also known as blank-check companies, are pools of capital raised by a sponsor, such as a well-known businessman or asset manager, with the goal of finding a company to take public. At the onset, a SPAC is funded entirely with Treasuries. The manager that Morton Capital utilizes in this space looks to take advantage of a structural inefficiency that allows investors to participate in the initial jump up in SPAC prices following the announcement of a deal without actually having to own the stock and assume the downside risk. Thus, investors can participate in some of the upside from these SPAC IPOs with the downside being the yield on Treasury bonds. Needless to say, there are quite a few moving parts to this strategy, as well as logistical requirements and minimum sizes. If you are interested in learning more, please contact your Morton Capital wealth advisor.

3) Lend on assets, not to zombies.

The more debt that piles up in the system, the riskier it is to loan money to companies that may be challenged when paying back that debt. The stock market is currently plagued with the highest level of zombie companies in its history (representing around 20% of the largest U.S. companies according to a late 2020 study by Bloomberg). A zombie company is defined as a company that generates insufficient earnings to pay its debt service and has to continually borrow to stay in business. Instead of lending to companies that need a constant supply of cheap debt to survive, our focus has been on making loans on tangible assets. This includes making private loans to companies that are cash-strapped but have real assets that can be sold if the company does not survive. It also includes making loans to borrowers on assets such as real estate, including mortgage loans in both the private and public markets. The key to any strong asset-based loan is how conservatively the manager values the collateral assets that back the loan and what type of cushion the manager leaves to account for any changing values over time. Another preference of ours is to invest in managers that make short- term loans for periods where there is better clarity around the values of the assets. In an environment where traditional bonds offer little reward with plenty of risk, finding managers with expertise in asset- based lending can add meaningful downside protection as well as opportunities for heightened cash flow.

We recognize that these are trying times with a great deal of uncertainty pervading all aspects of life. Instead of being intimidated by the uncertainty in financial markets, we hope that our clients feel empowered by our willingness to look beyond the traditional game, where the rules keep changing, and instead find investments with fundamentals that still make sense. If you have any questions about your portfolio or financial plan, please do not hesitate to reach out to your Morton Capital wealth advisor. As always, we appreciate your continued confidence and support.

Best Regards,

 

Disclosures

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 investment opportunities discussed herein may only be available to eligible clients. References to specific investments are for illustrative purposes only and should not be interpreted as recommendations to purchase/ sell such securities. This is not a representation that the investments described are suitable or appropriate for any person. It should not be assumed that MC will make investment recommendations in the future that are consistent with the views expressed herein. MC makes no representations as to the actual composition or performance of any security.

The indices referenced in this document are provided to allow for comparison to well-known and widely recognized asset classes and asset class categories. YTD returns shown are from 12-31-2019 through 12-31-2020 and Q4 returns are from 10-01-2020 through 12-31-2020. 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.

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.

2020 Reflections | Year End Letter

NEW YEAR’S WISHES

As we look back over 2020, this year has turned out very differently than we expected at the start. As the world has slowed down to keep everyone safe, Morton Capital has continued its work to bring an essential service to our clients and community. As you’ll see from the highlights below, we are more dedicated than ever when it comes to our team and our clients. We would like to thank you for allowing us to continue to be part of your story, especially during such a challenging time.

 

MC TEAM AND GROWTH

In 2020, initiatives around hiring, team development, and firm growth continued to be a focus.

  • MC was named one of the Best Places to Work for Financial Advisors by Investment News for the second year in a row. This list highlights the top 75 firms nationwide in the financial advice industry.

  • We implemented our Employee Value Proposition, a commitment by MC and its team members to create an organization full of meaning and purpose and that champions our core values.
  • We launched our Mentor/Mentee program, which pairs team members across the firm to provide support and development around such skills as leadership, presentation skills, and written communication.
  • We held our first Core Values Awards, highlighting team members who exemplify each of our five core values.

  • This year, we began working more closely with Talia Jacqueline of Visceral Impact to help with team development and to teach us about the psychology of communication.
  • MC hired talented new people across several teams, including the advisory, compliance, client service and private investments teams. New hires included:
    • Brian Mann (Wealth Advisor), Mollie Privett (CFP®, Client Service Associate), Thao Truong (CFP®, Associate Wealth Advisor), Sherry Uchuion (Compliance Administrator), Jessica Hull (Client Service Administrator), Cameron Meek (Client Service Administrator), Trent Paddon (Client Service Administrator), Lauren Salas (Private Investments Administrator), and Judy Lee (Private Investments Administrator)
  • Across the firm, leaders met with team members to discuss individual, personalized career path timelines, for a total of 45 firm-wide.

  • Advancements through those career path timelines included:
    • Menachem Striks (Chief Compliance Officer), Sarah Ellis (Client Experience Manager), Dan Charoenrath (Director of Operations), Olivia Payne (Associate Wealth Advisor), Chris Wahl (Associate Wealth Advisor), Benjamin Markman (Trader), Elana Yaffe (Financial Planning Associate), Edward Garcia (Paraplanner), Patrick Garcia (Fund Relationship Manager), Moriah Bowles (Client Service Technical Specialist), Austin Overholt (Client Service Administrator), Kierstan Lewis (Private Investments Administrator)
  • We enhanced leadership development initiatives and the number of team retreats.
  • Two of our team members became new partners in the firm: Wealth Advisor Chris Galeski and Chief Compliance Officer Menachem Striks.
  • Through the hard work and dedication of our team, we were able to add 40 new client households to the MC community. We now manage over 1,000 client households and surpassed $2 billion in assets under management (AUM).
  • Three team members welcomed beautiful babies Aila (Chris Galeski), Anderson (Carly Powell), and Presley (Patrick Garcia) this year.

 

INVESTMENT RESEARCH, FINANCIAL PLANNING, AND WEALTH AND LEGACY PLANNING

We work diligently behind the scenes to source great investment opportunities for our clients. To give you a peek behind the curtain, this year:

  • Our investments team had over 180 calls on new potential investment opportunities.
  • Out of all the new strategies reviewed, we introduced 3 new strategies.
  • Our CIO, Meghan Pinchuk, and our investment research, private investments, and portfolio management teams collaborated on an “Investment Approach” video that highlights the core tenets of our investment philosophy.

Financial planning and wealth and legacy planning are key ingredients to helping our clients get the most life out of their wealth, and we continually work, year after year, to refine and expand our planning offerings. This year, we:

  • Introduced a five-month-long Paraplanner training program to provide a strong foundation for our Paraplanners, both those staying on the Financial Planning Team career path and for those moving along the advisory team career path.
  • Expanded our Financial Planning and Wealth and Legacy Planning Teams to five members.
  • Reviewed and completed over 250 financial plans.
  • Completed over 130 Wealth and Legacy Planning meetings with Wealth Planner Brian Standing.
  • Held 48 education sessions for our team members around estate planning, insurance, tax strategies, and retirement planning.

 

MC IN THE COMMUNITY

Earlier this year, as a result of a company-wide innovation tournament, we formed an internal committee dedicated to pursuing charitable initiatives in the community. Our team members at MC feel passionately about giving back to the community, not just financially but also with our time and energy. Here are a few of our 2020 charitable initiatives:

  • Community Give Back – We were able to help 22 individuals/families with complimentary financial planning advice at a time when many are having to make extremely hard financial decisions.
  • Get Moving Fitness Challenge – In November, we chose Feeding America as the recipient of our first-ever fitness challenge for charity. Every time a team member exercised for 30 minutes, MC donated $5. We are excited to report that our team members were active 532 times, logging more than 250 hours and raising $2,660!
  • Holiday care packages – In December, we collected non-perishables, toiletries, and other supplies to send to the military overseas. We were able to send over 150 holiday care packages this year.

 

INDUSTRY RECOGNITION, ENHANCEMENT, AND EDUCATION

 Education is incredibly important to us at MC, as is enhancing our offering through technology and marketing initiatives. We are also pleased to share below how our firm and team members are making an impact in the financial services industry.

  • Virtual conferences:
    • COO Stacey McKinnon’s “Good to Great” presentation at Bob Veres’s virtual 2020 Insider’s Forum
  • In addition to being featured on industry forums and at conferences, MC hosted our own live webinars for the first time this year.
    • CEO Jeff Sarti and CIO Meghan Pinchuk presented market review webinars over the past four quarters.
    • Our advisory team hosted our six-part “Staying Connected During COVID-19 webinar series.
  • We launched MC’s social media presence, writing hundreds of posts over the course of this year, including advisor-written articles, our This Is Wealth series, and book stack posts of what our team has been reading.

  • To support our increased use of home offices and virtual client meetings, we expanded our technology infrastructure to include Zoom’s cloud-based phone service and the appointment scheduling software Calendly.
  • We updated our reporting process to shift to more on-demand access of portfolio performance through our online client portals rather than traditional quarterly performance reviews.
  • In February, we closed out our popular Financial Bites educational lunch series.
  • Our team members continued to work towards increasing their knowledge by obtaining additional certifications that enhance our offering.
    • Series 65 license (wealth management): Olivia Payne, Benjamin Markman, and Chris Wahl
    • CFP® certification (financial planning): Mollie Privett

Even in such a challenging year, it has been important to us to continue to pursue knowledge and growth to become even better stewards of our clients’ wealth. This year, more than ever, we feel truly grateful for your continued confidence in us and wish you and your family a happy, and healthy, new year.

Here’s to a brighter year ahead.

Your Morton Team

Mid-Quarter Newsletter – November 2020

Year-End Tax Planning

Yes, it’s that time of year again: When it starts to get a bit nippy in Southern California and we have to wear long-sleeve shirts with our shorts and sandals. The time of year when things start to get a little cheerier and we look forward to the promise of a new year ahead (especially after 2020). Yes, you guessed it—it’s time for tax planning!

This year has been an eventful one, to say the least. Amid the social, medical, and political turmoil of 2020, there have been two laws passed that may affect your year-end tax-planning: the CARES Act and the SECURE Act (passed a lifetime ago in January). Let’s take a look at some key opportunities in the new laws, as well as some oldie-but-goodie strategies, to see what’s best for you.

  • Maximize your retirement savings
    • Did you turn 50 this year? If so, you’re entitled to a $6,500 catch-up contribution for your 401(k) plan and an extra $1,000 for traditional and Roth IRAs.
    • If you’ve already maxed out your 401(k) contribution, and your company retirement plan allows you to, consider contributing additional funds to your plan on a non-deductible basis. For 2020, the total contribution limit is $57,000 (made up of your first $19,500 employee elective deferral + any employer matching + any additional contributions you make).
    • If you’re over 70.5 and still working, the SECURE Act increased the age limit to contribute to your traditional IRA to 72.
      • Note, though, if you’re considering making a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), making a deductible IRA contribution may reduce how much of the QCD you can deduct.
    • Take advantage of deductions
      • Charitable deductions
        • The CARES Act increased the limit on charitable deductions in 2020 to 100% of AGI for cash contributions made to public charities.
          • Note: contributions made to a private foundation or a donor-advised fund do not qualify as qualified charitable contributions (QCCs) so the 60% AGI limitation for cash would apply.
        • If you don’t itemize deductions, the CARES Act also permits an above-the-line deduction of $300.
      • Consider a Roth conversion
        • If your income is lower this year—either due to COVID-19 and/or the CARES Act waiver of required minimum distributions for 2020—consider doing a Roth IRA conversion since you’ll already be in a lower tax bracket.
        • The SECURE Act requires that IRAs inherited by non-spouse beneficiaries be distributed within 10 years. Mitigate the tax impact on your heirs by converting funds from a pre-tax IRA to a Roth so the distributions to your heirs will be tax-free.
        • If a Roth conversion is appropriate for you, you can pair it with your QCC to offset the income recognized from converting pre-tax funds into a Roth.

If you’re interested in discussing any of the above strategies further, contact your wealth advisory team now. The last couple months of the year can get very busy with tax-planning requests, so processing times can be delayed at brokerage account custodians. If you and your advisor decide that one (or more) of these strategies is right for you, start early to ensure any transactions are processed by year end. The holidays are going to look a lot different this year, so perhaps a silver lining is the opportunity to be more strategic when it comes to another December tradition—tax planning.

Disclosures: This information is presented for educational purposes only. It is not written or intended as financial or tax advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any federal tax penalties under the Internal Revenue Code. You are encouraged to seek financial and tax advice from your professional advisors before implementing any transactions and/or strategies concerning your finances.

 

Schwab IMPACT Video & Sharkpreneur Podcast

Featuring our CEO, Jeff Sarti

Our CEO, Jeff Sarti, was featured at Charles Schwab’s virtual IMPACT conference. Thousands of investment advisory professionals gathered remotely to learn about how to think differently about the issues that matter most to their practices. This year Schwab highlighted four firms based on the impact they are making in the industry. In a year that has brought so much change, we are honored to be chosen. Watch the video below as Jeff shares his personal thoughts on serving our clients during these uncertain times.

Jeff was also featured on a recent episode of the Sharkpreneur podcast with host Seth Greene, one of the original sharks from the hit TV show Shark Tank. Jeff discusses Morton’s market outlook given the challenging economy and also explains how our three core beliefs drive our business decisions and empower our internal teams.

To watch Jeff’s video from the Schwab IMPACT conference or listen to his podcast with Seth Greene, click below or visit our Insights page on our website.

Links:

Schwab IMPACT video link:  https://mortoncapital.com/schwabimpactvideo/

Sharkpreneur podcast link: https://mortoncapital.com/sharkpreneur-podcast-featuring-jeff-sarti-growing-to-2-billion-aum/

 

What Does “Money Printing” Really Mean?

In recent years, the term “money printing” has become commonplace with investment professionals, economists and politicians. But what does it actually mean? While the specific execution can be highly nuanced and rather complicated, at its core, money printing is when assets suddenly appear on the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve (Fed), which then facilitates the distribution of those assets to privately held banks. Contrary to its name, money printing doesn’t constitute the use of a physical printing press, but, in our electronic world, just requires the push of a button to make digital assets appear.  To better understand what money printing is and why we should care about it, let’s take a look at money printing in action over the last two global economic recessions.

 

Money printing during the Great Financial Crisis (GFC)

To ensure they can meet their obligations, banks must hold a certain amount of cash as reserves. In 2008, according to the FRED economic database, U.S. banks had very low cash levels (only around 3%!), which meant that, as millions of Americans defaulted on their mortgages, banks didn’t have the cash on hand to remain solvent on their own. The Fed stepped in and essentially created “cash” in banks’ accounts with a few keystrokes. The hope at the time was that this move would shore up bank balance sheets and allow them to start lending again to stimulate the economy. While the first objective was accomplished, the higher level of lending activity didn’t materialize, leading many to cite this example as evidence of how money printing was not economically stimulative or inflationary.

 

Money printing during COVID-19

Over the last several months, the financial media has highlighted numerous ways in which banks are now in better shape than in 2008. However, total debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product in the U.S. economy remains very high. High debt levels make the economy fragile to external shocks—COVID was an example of such a shock. As millions of people lost their jobs and businesses struggled to remain solvent, it quickly became clear that this round of money printing needed to channel money directly into people’s pockets rather than shore up the cash reserves of banks.

To provide the economy with trillions of dollars, the government passed a large fiscal package, which included increased unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and paycheck protection loans. To fund these fiscal outlays, the government had to issue even more Treasury securities, which the Fed stepped in to purchase as the buyer of last resort. Unlike during the GFC, money was poured directly into the economy. As a result, the money supply sharply increased.

The real risk of all of this money printing and fiscal stimulus is that there are now more dollars out there chasing the same number of goods. While money printing may not be obviously inflationary in the short term, it’s essentially adding powder to the inflation keg. Just because it hasn’t ignited yet doesn’t mean that all that extra powder won’t ultimately matter. While some investors may choose to ignore this risk, we’ve turned increasingly to real assets such as real estate and gold to protect client portfolios. Money printing may seem like a harmless push of a button, but its prevalence as the stimulative tool of choice for those in charge makes it especially important to understand and monitor.

Disclosure: This information is for educational purposes only. It should not be taken as a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any individual security or asset class. This document expresses the views of Morton Capital and such views are subject to change without notice. Any investment strategy involves the risk of loss of capital. It should not be assumed that MC will make investment recommendations in the future that are consistent with the views expressed herein.

 

Welcome Judy and Cameron

Judy Lee

Private Investments Administrator

Judy Lee came to Morton Capital in March of 2020, after previously working in graphic design, copy editing, and project management for over 20 years. She brings a wealth of experience and organizational skills, having worked in the fields of publishing, product design/manufacturing, corporate/marketing design, and education. Judy graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. When not at work, she enjoys spending time with her family, collecting children’s books, cooking, watching Dodgers and Bruin sports, and serving at her church.

 

Cameron Meek

Client Service Administrator

Cameron Meek joined Morton Capital in May 2020 as a Client Service Administrator. Cameron is originally from North Dakota, and moved to California to pursue work in the entertainment industry before attending Pepperdine University. She graduated from Pepperdine with a degree in communications. Cameron enjoys spending time at the beach with friends, hiking, and trying new recipes.

 

DISCLOSURE: Your security and privacy protection is important to us. All emails with attachments or the word “secure” appearing in the subject line have been sent with the highest level of security and encryption available to protect your privacy.

Please contact your Wealth Advisor at Morton Capital if there are any changes in your personal or financial situation or any changes in your investment objectives, or if you wish to add, or to modify any reasonable restrictions to our investment advisory services. A copy of our current written disclosure statement (Form ADV Part 2) discussing our advisory services and fees continues to remain available for your review upon request. All e-mail sent to or from this address will be received or otherwise recorded by Morton Capital in accordance with SEC regulations and is subject to archival, monitoring, or review by someone other than the recipient. The information contained in this e-mail message is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the recipient(s) named above. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient or an agent responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that you have received this document in error and that any review, dissemination, distribution, or copying of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by e-mail, and delete the original message.

Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Therefore, it should not be assumed that future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended by Morton Capital) will be profitable. Many factors affect performance including changes in market conditions and interest rates and changes in response to other economic, political or financial developments. There is no guarantee that a particular investment objective will be achieved and Morton makes no representations as to the actual composition or performance of any security.

MC Stories – 4 days, 450 miles in a 4-wheeler

How often do we get the chance to really get away from it all and unplug? With the stresses of modern-day life—raising two children, my wife, Jen, and I working full-time—I was looking forward to a “guys trip.” Now, mind you, this was not with my friends but rather an L.A.-based group called Wilderness Collective, which runs UTV and motorbike trips in the western United States. I had been thinking about doing one of their adventures for the past two years but the timing never seemed to work out. However, in early August, I decided that it was time to get out and make it happen.

I was fortunate to be able to spend four days over Labor Day weekend traveling from St. George, Utah, through the Northern Arizona desert to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in my own UTV four-wheeler. I traveled in a caravan of 14 guests, accompanied by four guides, a cook and a photographer.

 

In reflecting upon my adventure, I was able to take away a few key points that can apply to my role as a wealth advisor.

1. Communication is key. Imagine being alone in the desert for seven hours without a way to communicate with your guide. This is what happened to me on that Saturday. How, you ask? For the prior two days, we were using a “flagging” system where, if the lead guide came to a fork in the road, he would pull over and have the next driver stay and direct traffic in the proper direction. Given the speed at which we were driving (oftentimes 60–70 mph), the distance between vehicles (sometimes hundreds of yards due to the dust or other factors) and the length of our entire caravan, it wasn’t uncommon for the total distance from beginning to end to be 5–10 miles long. Additionally, we had a large truck hauling our food, camping supplies and extra gasoline, among other things, that was oftentimes 20–30 minutes behind. The truck was always the “sweeper,” meaning anyone who acted as a flagger was to remain in position until the truck got to you and that was the signal to move out.

We left camp early on Saturday morning, and after a few miles of winding turns in the pine forest, we reached a fork in the road and the guide positioned me as the flagger. Over the course of the next 15–20 minutes, I performed my duty as four-wheelers passed me, pointing them in the direction ahead along the dirt road. Another 10–15 minutes passed and I began to wonder, Where is the truck? Eventually, it became clear to me that they had left me.

Later, I found out our lead guide had instructed another guide to act as a sweeper instead of the truck. The new sweeper waived as he went by, assuming this was enough for me to follow him. I was still thinking about what the lead guide had said on the first day, which was DO NOT LEAVE YOUR POSITION UNTIL THE SWEEPER RELIEVES YOU. When changes occur, it’s critical that all parties know what the change is.

As you know, we work in teams at Morton Capital to ensure the highest level of client service. To this end, each advisory team meets weekly to thoroughly address all client matters. These recurring weekly meetings are supplemented by morning huddles (brief meetings) throughout the week to address the most pertinent issues of the day so we all know when changes occur.

We are also passionate about proactive communication with your other trusted advisors, like your CPA, insurance advisor and estate attorney.

During the pandemic, we enhanced our communications with our clients even further, all with the purpose of staying connected so you knew we were on top of your finances. Our outreach included robust video content and webinars that covered everything from the economy to investor behavior. Additionally, we created articles and content for social media via platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

2. Don’t make a bad situation worse. It was about 12:00 or 1:00 pm—the sun was directly overhead and the desert was cooking. I’d been alone for probably two hours and I was getting antsy. I thought to myself, Ok, I can catch up to them. I had a general sense of the direction they were going, and it was just me, so I could go faster than the caravan.I took off down the mountain covered in pine trees, screaming around corners and straightaways for about 10 miles. I hit a T-junction and saw the vast terrain of open desert in front of me. I could see for about 100 miles to my left, 100 miles to my right and 100 miles in front of me—truly like something out of a movie. My caravan was nowhere in sight, so I’d be speculating by picking a direction to try and find them.

Oftentimes, when things don’t go our way, we can feel like we have to “do something.” In this case, I had to evaluate the risks of staying put (playing defense) versus going on the offensive. I decided the smart thing to do was to go back to my original position where I had shade and water and wait it out. I knew the terrain better and it was my best chance of the guide knowing where I was. Also, given that we had experienced four flat tires up until that point and my rig was not outfitted with a spare tire or the necessary tools, it seemed too risky for me to wander off into the desert alone with limited water. In the case of my adventure, access to shade and water were my most basic needs and the most important drivers of my decision.

Markets and investments don’t always go as planned. Our natural inclination might be to sell when asset prices fall. While it might feel good in the moment to “do something,” more often than not, these knee-jerk reactions work against us in the long run.

Focusing on risk management ahead of time and properly evaluating both the upside and downside of a given action or investment is critical. Additionally, focusing on the basics when things get complicated can help. This is why we are so passionate about cash flow in our investments. At the end of the day, we can’t control the price a buyer will give us for an investment but if we focus on the basics of cash flow, that is a universal sign of health and stability in any environment.

3. Always have a backup plan or safety net. At the beginning of our trip, our guide had given us a small black pouch and in it was a device with an SOS button. It was only to be used in extreme emergencies. If you hit the SOS button, it would activate local first responders and they would send in the helicopter to find you. Knowing I had that in my tool chest should I need it gave me the comfort to sit tight.Ultimately, I waited it out and one of the guides returned around 5:00 pm. We raced through the desert for the next few hours as the sun set, trying to cover as much ground as possible before night fell. By around 10:00 pm, we made it to camp just in time for roasted herb chicken with a side of fresh dill potato salad. I sat around the campfire with the guys as they teased me for getting “lost.” It was all in good fun.

As we have added financial planning as a core element of our services. When developing our clients’ cash flow plan, we stress-test the plan for a variety of factors like down markets, long-term healthcare events and lower returns to ensure we have a backup plan in place so you are in the best position possible to adapt to most any circumstance.

Knowing ahead of time that your financial plan can withstand these difficult situations helps to calm the natural anxiety you experience when confronted with a situation beyond your direct control.

How often does someone get to spend the night 50 feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon? Or gaze up at the Milky Way galaxy with no light pollution and see the night sky with an unblemished view? Or watch the sun come up over the North Rim? Life is short. We are a culture of information overload, flooded with constant information on a daily basis about politics, our economy, the civil unrest our nation is currently experiencing, the pandemic, etc. Having four days away from emails, text messages and phone calls was really good for my soul and allowed me to be grateful for the career I have, the clients I serve and the talented people I am blessed to work with on a daily basis, all contributing to our mission of helping our clients get the most life out of their wealth. It also made me eager to get back to Jen and the kids and, yes, to take a shower 🙂

MC Stories – Out of the Mouth of Babes

When I became a mom, I always thought I would be teaching my kids things, not the other way around, especially when it comes to what I do for a living. But as they say—out of the mouth of babes. . . .

One morning recently, I was anxious to take the kids to my parents’ house to go swimming. We’ve been isolating inside like the rest of the world due to the current pandemic, but have been fortunate enough to be able to keep my family in our “bubble.”

My husband and I have three beautiful girls: Dilynn (4), Nora (2), and Harlowe (10 mos). Dilynn is my most tenacious. As we were putting on our shoes to leave, she asked if she could go pack her backpack. Knowing she would put up a fight if I said no, I told her to go pack it quickly.

After a minute or two, Dilynn hadn’t returned. I found her in her room just looking around. Somewhat annoyed, I told her to just grab Puppy (her favorite stuffed animal) and Cozy (her favorite blanket). She pushed back (did I mention her tenacity?) and said she always brings Puppy and Cozy and that she needed to pack other things. She then asked me, “Mom, where are we going? I need to know if I should pack my mittens or a bathing suit.”

That question, out of the mouth of my four-year-old daughter, really made clear just how important it is to know your destination before you pack. Similarly, as advisors, our clients’ life goals—their destination—are so important for us to know before we can create their portfolio allocation. We probably all remember our favorite stuffed animal or special blanket/comfort item, which is, as Dilynn pointed out, an essential item we always pack. Similarly, certain assets like stocks and bonds are essential parts of every portfolio. However, at Morton Capital, we believe that diversification beyond those two asset classes is crucial when trying to mitigate risk and customize our strategy to help clients achieve success. How we choose which additional investments to add to the portfolio is guided by the client’s goals/destination. We need to know if a client needs mittens (maybe that is something that provides more long-term appreciation) or if they need a bathing suit (maybe that is something with less liquidity risk that provides monthly cash flow).

Furthermore, when I first found Dilynn in her room, she wasn’t just stuffing things in her bag. She was looking around. She was taking inventory. To be able to pack for your destination, you have to know what you have first (and what you might be missing). As advisors, we feel this “taking inventory” step, what we call data gathering, is the most important part of the process when it comes to creating a dynamic financial plan that gives our clients control over their long-term financial decisions. Thus, we spend a significant amount of time on data gathering, asking for a breakdown of expenses (such as how much you spend on dining out vs. groceries), mortgage statements, bank statements, insurance policies, and tax returns. Many of our clients assume that providing us with broad income and expense numbers will give us sufficient information to produce an accurate plan, or one that is “close enough.” However, this could mean that you might end up packing a bathing suit when what you really need is a pair of mittens, or, worse, packing half a bathing suit and one mitten (i.e., close but not enough).

It is easy to get stuck in the rhythm of our day-to-day routine. I talk to clients all the time about what we do and why we do it. However, this particular morning with Dilynn really made our process and the reasons behind it more tangible for me. I can’t wait to see what she teaches me next.

MC Stories – Set it and Forget it

That sound you heard earlier in April, all across America, was the clattering of knives and letter-openers, dropped to the floor by retirement age investors staring at their quarter-end 401(k) statements. What had gone wrong with their “set it and forget it” investment plan?

The “set it and forget it” rhyming aphorism is one among of a bounty of rhymes that give our brains an easy path to perceived truth. These easy paths are known as heuristics, where one might take a shortcut to an answer — when time or interest or resources do not allow for a deeper dive. The first one we all learned was, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Later, on the golf course we were told, “Drive for show, putt for dough”.

This tendency to view rhyming statements as more truthful is known as the Keats Heuristic, a term coined by two psychologists in a 1999 academic paper.* The term is drawn from Keats’ poem Ode on a Grecian Urn ,** wherein Keats concludes, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” — where a prettier image or prettier language is perceived to be truer. Academic studies have shown that where two phrases possess similar meanings, a rhyming one will be perceived as
carrying more truth:

“Woes unite foes” is an easier path to the brain than “Woes unite enemies”.

“What society conceals, alcohol reveals” trumps “What society conceals, alcohol unmasks”.

Obviously, this cognitive bias has not gone unnoticed by politicians and corporate marketers. General Eisenhower’s Presidential campaign slogan was “I like Ike”. And before it went out of business in 2019, the Thomas Cook Travel Company’s catchphrase was “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it”….All of which leads us to the phrase the financial press has often used to describe Target Date mutual funds: “Set it and forget it.”

Target Date funds (TDF) are most often employed in retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans, where the investor aligns his or her TDF with an expected retirement date. For example, an investor who turned 45 in the year 2000 might have chosen a “2020 Target Date Fund” — 2020 being the anticipated year of age 65 retirement. A fund such as this would begin with a high allocation to the stock market in the early years, and then taper that equity allocation in favor of bonds as the expected retirement year approached. To quote Investopedia: “ The asset allocation of a target-date fund thus gradually grows more conservative as the target date nears and risk tolerance falls. Target-date funds offer investors the convenience of putting their investing activities on autopilot in one vehicle.”

A December 15, 2018 article on MarketWatch offered these comments on Target Date funds: “A good deal of the money in 401(k) accounts is ending up in target-date funds. In fact, more than half of 401(k) accounts hold 100% of their assets in target-date funds, according to third-quarter data from Fidelity Investments. Target-date fund are investments tailored to an individual account holder’s age and retirement year. It’s essentially a ‘set it and forget it’ strategy because the fund will automatically rebalance itself to align with the investor’s age.”

All that sounds good, but many “set it and forget it” investors retiring this year were shocked to see that their 2020 Target Date Fund was not really “conservative”. According to an April 9th Bloomberg News article, the three largest TDF providers — Vanguard, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price — each had half or more of their TDF 2020 allocation in stocks. T. Rowe Price, at 55% equities, had the highest allocation, and the fund’s return from February 20th to March 20th was a loss of 23%. The loss figures have diminished somewhat in the intervening market rally, but the risk is that when a retiree sees his or her portfolio drop by almost a quarter, there is a panic moment when some retirees will (and some certainly did) cash out and lock in their losses. Had these funds been on a truly more conservative glidepath, the less extreme losses would more likely have kept the otherwise panicked investors in the game.

Even if it does rhyme, there is a certain inadequacy to any “set it and forget it” mentality, particularly when considering how complex and fast-paced the world has become. We see governments and Central Banks attempting new, and radical, responses to economic problems. Just so, thoughtful re-evaluation in the face of changing circumstances should be a part of anyone’s financial plan.

It really is incumbent upon investors to think about (or hire an advisor to help take that deeper dive as to) where we are in economic cycles. While there will always be a divergence of opinion about the future, it is a fact that the U.S. stock market coming into 2020 had had a 10-year bull market, the longest on record. And, as cycles actually do occur, one would have observed the above fact and might have reduced equity allocations — certainly on the eve of retirement and the phasing out of a full paycheck.

Bottom Line: When it comes to investing for retirement, the Keats Heuristic just isn’t realistic.

 

* https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304422X99000030
** https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44477/ode-on-a-grecian-urn

MC Stories – Gen Z’s American Dream

For most 20th century Americans, the goal was, have a house with a white picket fence, two kids and a dog named Spot. For their future, they imagined flying cars and holographic images, something you would see in a sci-fi film. For those born between the years of 1997-2015, known as Generation Z, the idea of the “American Dream” has completely evolved from what their parents and ancestors imagined as their measure of success. Today young adults experience a level of connectivity that influences their purchases, investment decisions, and overall interpretation of wealth. Holographic images are a reality, but video calls just seem to be more practical.

Technology Age

The way we communicate has come a long way from the ever famous, “You’ve Got Mail.” While email is still the most prominent form of communication in many professional settings, Millennials and, even more so, Generation Z use text messages and direct messaging as their primary form of communication. Platforms like Twitter have championed the distribution of information in bite-size formats like short passages, videos, and GIFs (brief collages of images and/or text). The rapid-fire of information impacts many decisions being made by young adults, whether they are aware of it or not. Furthermore, the demand for up-to-date information is even higher and affects businesses in all industries. There is now a generation that is not only concerned with their personal style and brand but also the cost to bring their vision to life.

Financial Literacy

Generation Z is regarded as more financially savvy than their big sibling Millennials. Since they were born to Generation X parents, comprised of the do-it-yourself “latch-key kids,” they were raised with the philosophy that nothing will be handed to them. Do your own research and make your own way is the mentality of Gen X. Sometimes the best-orchestrated plan does not work, and you need to have contingencies. That imprint from their parents is what birthed the determined and opinionated Generation Z. They view the world through their personal lens and that of their parents, who have experienced multiple market crashes and withering retirement savings. Gen X parents went to four-year colleges and got the well-paying job (then came the dotcom bubble) and moved out to the suburbs (just before the housing crisis) to start a family. They checked all the boxes in the American Dream checklist and still came up short on the scale of financial security. So, what does that mean for Generation Z?

Wealth Transformation

While previous generations caught on gradually, young adults today make swift moves to take control of their future. These adults have the option of being an “Influencer” as a full-time occupation, which essentially means being a celebrity of social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Generation Z has harnessed the demand for instant communication by sharing their opinions on everything over the internet. Coupled with the famous marketing and advertising revenue that businesses have generated for decades, you have yourself a cash cow. There is a level of investment that young adults are putting into themselves that was unheard of for earlier generations. If you can take out a personal loan for an iPhone, ring light, and the aesthetic backdrop of a performing artist’s dressing room, you may be better off now than someone who invested $200,000 in post-graduate education. Both roads are a path to potential success, but the value of success is dependent on the individual.

In Conclusion…

The metrics measure of success is different for every person. Generation Z is not immune to the feelings of financial insecurity, not measuring up to the success of their peers and having doubts about their future. Those feelings are a part of every generation’s coming- of- age story. The important part is to gain awareness along the way. Generation Z was set up for success in the sense that financial literacy is much more prevalent today. Tools to improve daily living or “life hacks” are readily available in a five-minute YouTube video, instead of an eight-week course. Education about how to protect your assets and ensure that you are growing your financial buckets with purpose are all tools that young adults already have in their knowledge bank. The final piece is living a healthy life with enjoyment and purpose. That means: Build bonds that deepen relationships with family and friends. Set goals with your circle and execute them so that the whole group improves their quality of life in this generation and the next. Please stay tuned for future articles about the impact that our culture has on the financial decisions of young adults and future investors.

MC Stories – Finding Calm in the Chaos

What has been your reaction to pandemic news? Perhaps you are instinctively driven to hunker-down and shelter in place with your loved ones. Maybe it’s the opposite – perhaps you are driven to action and do whatever you can to stock up on food and supplies to weather the storm. Perhaps you are somewhere in between. Regardless of where you stand, a crisis affects each one of us differently. It is very personal. That being said, you are not alone!  We are all going through the same collective experience right now, and while the feelings and emotions that arise will be unique to each person, the tools available for working through them are not.  While material concerns are top of mind for many us, there may not be much within our control.  However, we can reconnect with our own internal compass during this time to help us achieve a sense of direction when no external marker exists.

What you do and how you deal with what is in front of you is personal to you. But what happens when it all seems too overwhelming and you find yourself unable to move or act? Perhaps you find yourself crippled with fear, anxiety, or uncertainty of the future. With the amount of news and information constantly coming our way, managing our emotions becomes a daily priority, and we can take small actions that add up to a meaningful change in our ability to regulate ourselves over time.

There are four actions I take whenever life feels out of my control:

  1. Stop. Take a moment where you are and consider that as humans, we are biologically equipped to be adaptable to change.  Assess what you have and what you need. Make a list and focus on accomplishing the small tasks.
  2. Breathe. Bring awareness to your breathing if you start feeling stuck. Start your mornings by spending quiet time journaling, meditating, listening to your favorite music or reading a book that inspires you. Give thanks. Go for a walk.
  3. Focus. Narrow in on where you are and where you want to go. Reach out to friends and loved ones. Use technology as a tool for connecting with others. Choose to see this time as a gift to work on yourself, to work on projects that perhaps you never had time for, or to act in service to others. Take as much time as you need to find your footing and love yourself through the process. Speak positivity and kind words to yourself.
  4. Let go. Accept what you cannot control…Do your best to stay present and know that nothing lasts forever. This too, shall pass.

We are powerful in our ability to care for ourselves.  What small action will you commit to today that moves the needle toward balance in your life?