Posts

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.

5 Untold Truths of Acting in Your Clients’ Best Interest

FOREWORD by Kate Holmes — Innovating Advice, FOUNDER & CEO

What does acting in your clients’ best interest mean to you? When was the last time you challenged that thinking?

Going beyond top-of-mind responses like compensation, investment portfolios, and consistent, clear communication, you’ll find that truly acting in your client’’s best interest is much broader than you think and leads to more fulfilled employees, happier clients, and a more successful, resilient business. To get there often requires a mindset shift and an abundance mentality, meaning that once you’ve committed to thinking and doing things differently, everyone wins. This won’t happen overnight but it’s an outcome worth investing in as it’ll shape the future of our industry. As important as quarterly investment reviews and annual compliance requirements are, making time to regularly and thoughtfully pause from working in the business to ensure you’re always working on the business is well worth it. Part of that process is challenging your thinking to continually innovate, which is crucial to the ongoing success of any organization. It’s also what’s in your clients’ best interest.

As financial advisors, we often hear — and even say — the phrase “we are fiduciaries.” What we are conveying when we say this is that we put our clients’ interest in front of our own — an all-too-important distinction in an industry that has spent the last 20 years trying to rebuild its reputation. However, the truth of what it actually means to act in the best interest of a client is rarely explored, and, in fact, this phrase is even sometimes used solely as a marketing tactic. If a financial advisory firm were to truly act in its clients’ best interest, it would go far beyond the investments it recommends or planning strategies its advisors propose, but also focus on the enterprise it is creating. We believe this begins by focusing on five untold truths of what it means to act in a client’s best interest.

Untold Truth #1: Create a resilient enterprise

As a service-based industry, our people are our most important assets. Most registered investment advisors are not selling products, but rather asking our clients to trust us — our people — to manage their wealth appropriately. To continue to do so, we need to ensure our company can stand the test of time and thus we need to think long term. Consensus thinking around how to run a successful business, though, is to set clear goals that can be measured over specific time frames. Metrics such as gross margins or revenue per employee are measured on a yearly or even quarterly basis, with success being defined as consistently improving on these numbers. But what if these “truths” around running a business are simply arbitrary metrics and, more importantly, this focus on short-term goals affects our ability to build a lasting, resilient enterprise that will serve our clients best over the long run? To be clear, we are not saying that these metrics are not important and that accountability to these metrics should be ignored. But putting too much emphasis on these shorter-term measuring sticks can often result in strategic decisions that conflict with truly putting a client’s best interest at the forefront. Simply put, we believe that there are untold truths of running a successful organization that should be more focused on the long term. This means we need strong infrastructure, processes that will create efficiencies and scale, and effective management of our profits and losses so that our company will not be lost to the whims of the markets. After all, you cannot take care of your clients if there is no one here to take care of them. To that end, the first step in creating a resilient enterprise is to create an infrastructure that can withstand significant challenges. We can look to the restaurant industry as an example of well-designed infrastructure (as well as an industry that has had to display a level of resiliency during a pandemic environment). Think about the key players— chef, sous chef, kitchen staff, expediter, servers, bussers, host/hostess, and manager. Each person plays a unique and specific role and, in truth, none of them could do their job without the other. After all, a server cannot serve food without a chef to prepare that food. This is similar to a well-run financial advisory firm. A resilient firm focuses attention on the activities that need to be accomplished [i.e., financial planning, investment research, portfolio management, client servicing, business operations (compliance/finance/ HR), relationship management, and business development] and team members are dedicated to their role and specialty. The resilient firm also leverages marketing to engage with their client communities and technology for effective and efficient communication. If you can create an infrastructure that is resilient to the challenges the firm might face, you have accomplished the first step in establishing a long-lived enterprise.

The second step is not only to create efficient processes but to document them as well. Every single one. Do you know how many steps it takes to onboard one new client with three investment accounts and a financial plan? Around 250 steps. It would be unfair to expect your team to execute processes if they are not documented and expectations are not clearly set. This is a daunting task and usually one of the first items to get pushed to the back of the to-do list. But business owners do not have to do everything. In fact, it would be best to collaborate with a team member regularly doing these tasks so that they can set up a process by which they and anyone who joins after them will be successful. Remember that an employee is acting on behalf of the client, so a successful employee will create the best possible client experience. If the firm has detailed processes, as well as an excellent communication plan where a client is updated regularly on progress, clients will have more confidence in the advice they are given.

And the third step to setting up a resilient enterprise is to manage profits and losses with the utmost thoughtfulness and care. This means that the management of revenue and expenses is more than a task for the person in charge of finance. In fact, the P&L statement should be treated in the same way as you would a client’s nest egg. It is just a much bigger balance sheet. The expenses (human capital/ compensation, rent/office, technology, marketing, etc.) are investments and revenue is your return on investment. As we all know, to get a return, we must invest and take on financial risk. But we should not take on too much risk (i.e., dig into our profitability safety net) because we would not want a market correction to cause us to lose our ability to effectively serve our clients and act in their best interest. If we invest thoughtfully, however, the results will be a more efficient infrastructure, scalable processes, and an excellent employee and client experience.

 

Untold Truth #2: Focus on your employee experience

It is not uncommon for any firm to obsess over its client experience, whether that includes the services it offers or the way it differentiates itself in the market. However, it is far too often overlooked that the employees are the ones actually providing this experience. The truth is, if your employees are not happy, it is a guarantee that your clients will eventually not be happy. The employee experience encompasses all of the following aspects of a business: culture, career pathing, compensation philosophy, resources, talent management, education, transparency, trust, respect, values, meaningful/ fulfilling work, and an empowering leadership team. Oftentimes, we mistake a positive culture with an organization where people get along and like working together. This definition of culture is too limited because it only focuses on the employee-to-employee dynamic and is frequently too reliant on people being physically present with one another. While there are immense benefits to people physically working together, they need to be connected beyond the four walls of the office to have an enduring positive culture. This lasting positive culture starts with the leadership team and their ability to create an environment where people feel truly cared for beyond their work output. Think about the way we as humans maintain any kind of long-distance relationship, like with family or childhood friends — it is not always possible to be physically present, but it is possible to show that you care.

Image for postIn advisory firms, this care can be displayed through the ability of leaders and managers should be empowered and trained to prioritize personnel growth and empower them to achieve success in their careers. If an organization focuses on its employee experience, the team members will bring their best selves to work each day and the employee, the firm, and the clients will all benefit.the organization to offer career growth opportunities, allow team members to build personal wealth with transparent compensation plans, and listen when team members articulate what would make them most fulfilled in their work (see the exhibit to the right).

Untold Truth #3: Prioritize education and lifelong learning

Our clients are the beneficiaries of our knowledge. This could be factual knowledge, like investment research or financial planning strategies, or intuitive knowledge, like goal setting or behavioral finance. In either case, the truth is that the only way to ensure your clients are getting the best possible advice is to reject complacency and encourage continuous personal growth. Our industry has many resources available, including financial publications, webinars, conferences, and programs and credentials like the G2 Leadership Institute or CFP® certification. However, it is not enough for firms to send their team members out for education outside of the four walls of the organization. There also has to be a purposeful program within the organization so that everyone knows that learning and education are cornerstones of the firm. This focus on education could look like accountability groups, study sessions, education sessions with COIs or other experts, employee-led case studies on investment and planning topics, or even life skills (e.g., how to keep your inbox from overwhelming you). Oftentimes, firms are reluctant to form mandatory education programs for fear that they will take away from the actual work that needs to be done or business development activities. But, if you are one of those firms, have you asked yourself the question about what happens if you do not invest in education? If not, you may not want to know the answer. If you instead ask your team members to spend 2–3 hours per week investing in themselves, the result will likely create a more fulfilled team member with better and more effective work habits. If clients are to truly get our best, we must ask our people to adopt an attitude of lifelong learning and continually strive to grow.

 

Untold Truth #4: Grow the organization

Some clients fear firm growth because they think that will mean you are less dedicated to them. This is understandable, especially if you are running a silo practice where you are “the person” to whom they go for everything. However, the truth is, if you are a founder/principal of an organization, it might actually be in their best interest for you to have another advisor take over as their dedicated relationship manager so that you can grow the business. If you grow the business, you will have more resources for better research, technology, financial planning tools, talent acquisitions, support positions, and leaders/managers. These additional resources can translate to more services that will solve client problems and give advisors more time to focus on client strategy and goals. In addition, if you are to truly create an effective enterprise, those clients will be better served by a specialist who is dedicated to investment advising and financial planning and not distracted by running a business, trading, or filling out paperwork. Appointing dedicated leaders who focus on growing (and running) the business will create more time for client-facing personnel to spend with the client. And as the firm grows, there will be more talent with whom to collaborate to solve client needs and create strategies and plans on behalf of the clients.

Growth is also important to your ability to keep talent. If you grow, more employees will be able to move forward on their career path, building knowledge that will enable them to face and conquer more challenges. In addition, you will attract those who are trying to create a future for their own families. Ideally, this growth will create multiple owners in an organization, which will establish more resiliency and strength. These talented team members will partner with you to continually expand the company and help serve more clients.

 

Untold Truth #5: Don’t just invest with the herd

It is easy to invest alongside a benchmark (e.g., the S&P 500 or Barclays Agg). However, there are thousands of businesses that make money outside of public companies or public bonds. Aren’t we doing a disservice to our clients if we do not look at every possible opportunity? Yes, it is true that it is much harder to seek out investments that add value beyond the traditional markets or to find cash-flowing assets in a world with all-time-low interest rates. However, I believe it is also true—and absolutely necessary—that you should do so (when appropriate) in order to act in your clients’ best interest. If you do not utilize alternative investments when appropriate for clients and continue sailing along with only stocks and bonds, you will eventually subject your client to more physical (and emotional) volatility than any plan can handle.

Truly diversifying your clients’ assets must include an analysis of risks and purposefully putting “risk eggs” in different baskets. This might mean investing in stocks (subject to market risk), some bonds (subject to interest rate risk), real estate (subject to market, idiosyncratic or leverage risks), and other alternatives when appropriate (subject to other risks not correlated to the markets). However, many clients only have exposure to 75% of these categories, all of which can suffer in a nasty market. The truth is that it takes hard work, dedicated resources, and a willingness to look different that pushes some advisors to look outside of the box for alternative investments and veer from the herd. We believe it is a risk to not hide behind a benchmark and use the excuse that “the market is down, which is why your portfolio is down.” However, it is a risk more advisors should take if they want to do best by their clients. If they are willing to source non-traditional investments, they can then say to their clients, “Even though the market is down, we have you allocated to a diversified pool of investments. Some of these are not subject to the risks of the stock market, which we believe will help keep your portfolio afloat and increase the likelihood of reaching your financial goals.” The second answer is not only powerful from a performance standpoint, but also from a behavioral finance perspective.

Advisors often encourage clients to align their investments with their goals. But do you know why we do that? Because defining purpose = protection. It is paramount that advisors dig deep and truly understand how the client will react in order to build a solid investment strategy (one that includes emotional behaviors). Sometimes advisors do not insert emotions into the equation, but emotions show up whether you address them or not. Genuinely understanding the purpose behind someone’s wealth and the emotions tied to their goals will increase the client’s success rate. Research shows that negative emotions (such as fear) hit us with an intensity that is two and a half times stronger than positive emotions because they signal a disturbance that we should do something. When a client defines the purpose of their wealth, it provides more clarity to the “why” behind the investment strategy and ultimately protects the client from their own emotions. If we are to truly act in the best interest of clients, we cannot only focus on the specific investments, but also need to understand emotions and help define the purpose so that clients have more confidence in the end result.

 

Concluding Thoughts

It is important that advisory firms recognize that their ability to service their clients is contingent upon the strong foundation of the business (including the resiliency of their investments) and the happiness of their team members. If we put thoughtful energy into the business, inspire and empower our employees, and care for our clients, we will then be able to truthfully say we are acting in our clients’ best interest.

 

About the Authors:

Stacey McKinnon, Morton Capital, COO

Stacey McKinnon, CFP®, is the Chief Operating Officer and a wealth advisor at Morton Capital, an RIA with over $2B in AUM and more than 45 employees. She is passionate about creating environments where employees and clients can thrive and has dedicated her professional career to spreading the message of positive leadership inside Morton Capital and throughout the financial services industry. Being from Lake Tahoe, a small town in Northern California, she takes this same passion into her personal life with the goal of creating an environment where her family can thrive. She enjoys paddle boarding, skiing, hikes with her pup and husband, and most other outdoor activities. The “pursuit of being better” is her personal mantra and is the underlying theme of her papers, podcasts and public speaking engagements. Learn more about Morton Capital here.

Kate Holmes, Innovating Advice, FOUNDER & CEO

Kate Holmes, CFP®, is the energetic and passionate founder of Innovating Advice, which provides coaching, consulting and community for forward-thinking financial advisors and financial planners. As an advocate for propelling the global financial planning profession forward, Kate has had the pleasure of speaking, consulting and working with financial services professionals in over 35 countries and territories. She is the host of the first globally focused podcast, The Innovating Advice Show, and, having worked virtually throughout her 15-year career, she can often be found traveling the world with her pilot husband or enjoying the sunshine at home in Las Vegas, Nevada. Learn more about Innovating Advice here.

 

 

Disclosures: Information presented is for educational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase of any security or asset class. This presentation should not be relied on for investment recommendations. Certain alternative 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. Any investment strategy involves the risk of loss of capital. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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.

Quarterly Commentary – Q3 2020

In our third quarter 2020 client letter, we address four prevalent myths as they relate to financial markets and our clients’ portfolios:

Myth #1: The economy and the stock market have recovered
Myth #2: The stock market leaders (i.e., mega-cap tech stocks) will keep outperforming.
Myth #3: If [insert Democrats or Republicans] win the election, the stock market is doomed.
Myth #4: Stocks and bonds are good diversifiers.

To read the entire letter, click here or on the image below!

Why Is Gold Going Up?

Gold is making headlines in 2020, as its performance leads most other asset classes year-to-date and investors are starting to take notice. In particular, Warren Buffet’s recent purchase of a gold mining stock has caught the attention of the media. Those who only think of gold as a “safe-haven” investment have been surprised by its strong performance even as the stock market rallied from its March low. But fundamentally, we believe that gold is not an investment at all. Instead, it’s just another form of money like the U.S. dollar or the Euro. So, if it’s not an investment, what’s driving this big rally in gold? While the answer can be complex, we’d argue that there are two main areas on which to focus when it comes to understanding the price of gold: the money supply and investor sentiment.

Read the full article by clicking the image below.

 

Mid-Quarter Newsletter – August 2020

Our Investment Philosophy

The last several months have been extraordinary to say the least and there are still so many unknowns in terms of the financial markets, our economy, and what our world will look like post-pandemic. As a firm, we have undoubtedly adapted how we communicate with our team, other business professionals, and our clients. Throughout all of these changes, the element of our business that has stayed consistent is our investment philosophy. At Morton Capital, we’ve always taken a different approach to investing—one that we believe is the best way to provide the returns our clients need for their lifestyle while trying to protect them from the swings of the market. Our beliefs have remained the same since our founder, Lon Morton, started our company almost 40 years ago and we take great pride in carrying on his legacy.

As we continue to communicate virtually, our Investment Team recently created a video that speaks to how we design portfolios to help our clients get the most life out of their wealth. Watch the video to meet the team and learn a little more about us.

Watch our Investment Approach Video here.

 

Financial Advisor Success Podcast & RIA White Paper
Featuring our COO, Stacey McKinnon

Our Chief Operating Officer, Stacey McKinnon, was featured on a recent episode of Michael Kitces’s Financial Advisor Success Podcast. Michael is a well-known speaker, writer, and editor in the financial services industry. In the episode “Scaling an Advisory Firm by Finding New Talent Outside the Financial Services Industry,” Stacey and Michael talked in-depth about how Morton has grown and evolved as a firm in recent years. Stacey touched on our culture of trust initiative in 2017, our non-traditional approach to hiring talent from outside the industry, and the way we’ve restructured our compensation model.

Stacey also co-authored an RIA white paper with the CEO of PFI Advisors, Matt Sonnen, called “The New RIA Workplace.” The industry report explores the changes firms have had to make to their businesses since stay-at-home orders began. It also shares the pros and cons of both office and remote work environments, how leaders and managers are maintaining company culture during these times, and what the office of the future could look like.

Click here to listen to Stacey’s podcast with Michael Kitces and read the RIA White paper here.

 

Why Is Gold Going Up?

Gold is making headlines in 2020, as its performance leads most other asset classes year-to-date and investors are starting to take notice. In particular, Warren Buffet’s recent purchase of a gold mining stock has caught the attention of the media. Those who only think of gold as a “safe-haven” investment have been surprised by its strong performance even as the stock market rallied from its March low. But fundamentally, we believe that gold is not an investment at all. Instead, it’s just another form of money like the U.S. dollar or the Euro. So, if it’s not an investment, what’s driving this big rally in gold? While the answer can be complex, we’d argue that there are two main areas on which to focus when it comes to understanding the price of gold: the money supply and investor sentiment. Read the Full Article here.

 

A Conversation About Change with Chris Galeski
Featuring Retired PGA Tour Player Peter Tomasulo 

Chris Galeski, Wealth Advisor and Partner at Morton Capital, speaks with Peter Tomasulo, retired PGA Tour player and Director of Investor Relations at Lyon Living. In this 30-minute video interview, they reflect on their former sporting careers, life lessons, family, and the triggers and milestones that opened the door for transition and career change.

 

Watch the video!

Quarterly Commentary – Q2 2020

Welcome to Wonderland

Adults and children alike are familiar with Lewis Carroll’s classic story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where the intrepid Alice ventures into a fantasy world that mixes the ridiculous with periodic insights into the human condition.  The story is one of the most well-known examples of the “literary nonsense” genre, which combines elements that make sense with others that do not.  In thinking about how to explain current events, certain anecdotes from the story offer some striking similarities.  If we lived in Wonderland, we might accept a market that is optimistically rising in the middle of a pandemic. But given that we do not live in Wonderland, we are staying consistent with our investment philosophy of risk management, true diversification, and cash flow, which has shown its resiliency in the first half of 2020 despite the wild roller coaster ride in the broader markets.

As the magnitude of the pandemic started becoming clear in early March, the financial markets fell into a bear market.  From its high in mid-February, the S&P 500 Index lost almost 35% in a span of five weeks, as volatility exceeded the turbulence of the Great Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009.  Both the Federal Reserve (Fed) and the federal government reacted to the market downturn with aggressive policy responses that exceeded any other historical response (more on this later).  The extraordinary stimulus fueled a robust recovery in equity prices, though limited for the most part to larger companies in the United States.  From its low in late March, the S&P 500 Index rallied close to 40% to close down only 3.1% for the year by the end of the second quarter.  While other stock indices had a strong second quarter, most are still meaningfully negative on the year.

The table below summarizes the second-quarter performance for selected indices.

 

“Curiouser and Curiouser” 

After tumbling down the rabbit hole, Alice invents the word “curiouser” to try and describe the simultaneously fascinating and nonsensical world in which she finds herself. Our reality today bears similar attributes to this world of make-believe. All the economic news pundits out there keep talking about the different letter shapes that the economic recovery could take. Will the precipitous drop in economic activity be followed by an equally strong rebound, creating the ideal V-shaped recovery? Will economic growth flatline for some time, creating more of an “L” or, ultimately, a “U”? While the debate is still rampant as it relates to the fundamentals of the global economy, stock prices are looking more and more like a “V” as illustrated in the below chart of the S&P 500’s recent performance.

 

Fastest Stock Market Fall and Recovery in History

There is a real danger of confusing this stock market rebound with an economic recovery. While many stock prices have had a V-shaped recovery, valuations and underlying fundamentals tell a completely different story. Corporate earnings have been almost cut in half from pre-crisis levels. While unemployment has slowed its rise, it remains meaningfully elevated. Though numerous cities in the United States started to reopen a few weeks ago, spiking virus cases are sending many back into lockdown. These challenging fundamentals have made us wonder whether the “V” in stocks will turn into a “W” and retest previous lows.

There is a general perception out there that all this economic damage is temporary and will be reversed as soon as there is a vaccine or we get the virus under control. Unfortunately, though, we are already seeing more permanent damage to the economy in the form of spiking bankruptcies—and we are only a few months into this crisis. Many of these bankruptcies are big-name companies that most of you likely know: Hertz, J.Crew, Neiman Marcus, JCPenny, Cirque du Soleil, Pier 1 Imports, and 24 Hour Fitness. Most of the bankruptcies so far have been consumer-related companies, which does not bode well since the consumer accounts for two-thirds of all economic growth! With so much bad news on the actual economy, it is definitely “curiouser and curiouser” that the stock market continues to march higher, day after day, almost in defiance of reality.

 

The Stimulus Rabbit Hole

In the absence of improving fundamentals, the U.S. government’s aggressive response to the COVID-19 crisis seems to be the driving force behind the stock market’s recovery.  The below graph puts the current stimulus and policy response in context with spending that took place in previous crises.

These numbers are in today’s dollars, or, in other words, they are adjusted for inflation to make them apples to apples. And these numbers do not factor in the additional stimulus that is likely coming in the ensuing months. The CARES Act infused $2 trillion into the American economy and included assistance to businesses, states and localities; 159 million stimulus checks to individuals and families; and extra payments of $600 a week in unemployment benefits to tens of millions of Americans. The Fed entered the fray as well by employing their main tools designed to stimulate economic growth: lowering interest rates and buying bonds (with the goal of keeping long-term interest rates low). The Fed very quickly lowered short-term rates to zero and then launched a bond-buying campaign that is expanding its balance sheet to a parabolic degree. Already, the Fed has added $3 trillion to its balance sheet, pushing it up to an all-time high of $7 trillion, and it has all but promised to continue throwing money at the problem and do whatever it takes to get the economy back on track. The challenge is that with each economic bump in the road, it seems to be taking more and more extreme policy responses to keep the economy on track. As the Red Queen tells Alice, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

By injecting massive stimulus, governments are once again contributing to speculative investor behavior that has further decoupled asset valuations from underlying fundamentals. This manifests itself in various forms, one example being the massive run-up in the stock prices of a handful of technology companies. The five largest stocks in the S&P 500 are Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Toward the end of May, those five stocks were up 15% for the year while the other 495 stocks in the index were down 8%. While some of these companies have held up well or even prospered in the current crisis, their stocks are still escalating at a pace well beyond their current earnings growth trajectories. Not surprisingly, the increase in the stock market (coupled with Americans getting stimulus checks and no longer having professional sports to bet on) has corresponded with a spike in new accounts being opened at brokerage firms like Charles Schwab and E*TRADE. These new traders not only speculate on the darling tech companies, but have also jumped into distressed names. There has been very high trading volume in companies like Hertz, which declared bankruptcy in late May and subsequently saw a jump in its stock price from $1 up to $5, before it fell back down again, as these inexperienced day traders jumped in and out of a stock that is very likely worth $0 at the end of the day. Perhaps Alice would have been able to empathize with these traders when she declared, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

 

We Refuse to Play Croquet with a Flamingo

Investing in broader markets today, we can relate to how Alice must have felt playing “croquet” with the Queen, where the balls were hedgehogs and the mallets live flamingos. The rules of the game keep changing, but rather than give into the nonsensical, we are more determined than ever to find investments where the fundamentals still make sense.

An example of one such investment is the allocation that we made during the second quarter to a mutual fund that invests primarily in bonds backed by real estate. At the height of the volatility this year, these bonds traded down dramatically as certain holders were forced to sell to generate liquidity. The fundamentals, however, did not justify such dramatic price declines. When we dug deeper, we found that many of the bonds were backed by seasoned home mortgages that were outstanding prior to the 2008 crisis. These loans survived that crisis and now have 12 to 15 years of payment history, lower balances since they have been amortizing over time, and typically higher home values since real estate prices have appreciated. Pools of these mortgages had average loan-to-value ratios of approximately 55-60%, meaning that home prices would have to take major hits before the loans would be at risk of impairment. Because of the dramatic price declines these bonds saw earlier this year, they now yield income in the mid-single digits and have the potential for double-digit total returns as prices recover in the future.

Another example of sticking to the fundamentals is our allocation to gold. We have had an allocation to gold for some time but increased our target to this asset in late 2019. While we, of course, had no insight into the upcoming pandemic, we were increasingly concerned with the lack of discipline being exhibited by governments. This lack of discipline has only been magnified in the current environment, increasing our conviction in gold as a true store of value in an environment where more and more money is being printed every day. We think that this is an environment where the fundamentals support a strong outlook for gold.

We continue to look for other opportunities with solid fundamentals, but many of the investments that are currently on our radar are less liquid than those found in public markets. Even prior to the recent crisis, we were finding that willing investors could trade market risk for some degree of liquidity risk (i.e., an inability to immediately sell for cash). We believe these less liquid assets have the potential for more consistent long-term returns based on the fundamentals and offer investors an alternative to exposing themselves to the irrationality of investing in Wonderland. However, the amount of liquidity risk that is appropriate is going to vary for each individual’s portfolio. As we pursue a number of these new strategies in the coming months, we would strongly encourage you to revisit your financial plan. Your plan is essential in determining how much liquidity risk is appropriate for your personal situation. It is also a great time to revisit your risk tolerance and ask yourself how much volatility you are comfortable within your portfolio. We just went through a roller coaster ride in the stock market; if you found yourself nervous and losing sleep over it, it may make a lot of sense to take some risk off the table now that asset prices have had a strong recovery.

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

 

 

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 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. Q3 returns shown are from 06-28-2019 through 09-30-2019 and the year-to-date returns are from 12-31-2018 through 09-30-2019.  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.

Staying Connected During COVID-19 – Final Webinar

Our final COVID-19 webinar was moderated by our COO, Stacey McKinnon, who asked the following questions of Wealth Advisors Bruce Tyson and Jason Naiman related to the impact of government policy on investor portfolios: 

  • We have seen a massive amount of money printing over the last decade – how has that impacted stocks and bonds?
  • How might the pandemic impact the election?
  • How should business owners think differently coming out of the lockdown?

To register for access to these online events and/or submit any questions you would like our Wealth Advisors to answer for you please email us at questions@mortoncapital.com

https://vimeo.com/mortoncapital/stayingconnectedwebinar05052020

We look forward to you joining us on future webinars!