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MC Stories – A 22-Year Love Affair with Alternatives

I met Lon Morton, the eponymous founder of Morton Capital Management, in 1984 when our family business was looking for a pension administration company. My father and I then started investing with Morton Capital in 1987, just three weeks before something called Black Monday, when the markets dropped about 50%. I remember calling Lon and asking, “What do we do now?” He said, “We do nothing.  Unfortunately, these things can happen, no one is able to predict it, but we are going to stay the course as markets tend to work themselves out.” With hindsight being 20-20, it was good advice as the markets did work themselves out and we had solid returns for the next few years.

I sold my company in 1996 and left in 1998, telling Lon that I was intended to retire at the ripe old age of 40. He firmly told me that I was NOT going to retire and that I was going to work with him at Morton Capital. We had worked together investing for many years, and he wanted to tap my experience in managing a company. Little did I know how wonderful a relationship and lifetime adventure it would turn out to be.

As luck would have it, I started investing my final company sale payout in the second half of 1998 and was met by a significant downturn in stocks. Disappointed, I came home to my wife and said, “I will never let the stock market be the sole dictator of our financial future.”  Thus, my love affair with alternative investments began.

With some effort, we survived the three years of the Y2K market crash and lived through the great financial crisis of 2008. Now we are faced with probably the biggest health and financial crisis in our lifetime: pandemic. With most of the world shut down, it will take all our combined resolve to overcome and beat the virus and get back to our normal lives. Having lived through a number of these disruptions in the markets, I firmly believe that our resolve and perseverance on the health side, and our asset allocation decisions on the financial side, will win the day!

Much of this is made possible by the incredibly hard work and dedication of the entire Morton Capital team. Being the senior partner, it is gratifying to see all our younger teammates working so hard and sensing the responsibility of service to our clients and making sure that they are okay. I have been fortunate to work with many good teams in the past, but there is no doubt that the current team at Morton Capital is outstanding. It makes me proud to be part of that diligence and compassion. I am even prouder of Morton Capital’s recent Give Back initiative: a community outreach to offer free consultations, advice, and guidance to help our community in this time of need. If you know of a friend or loved one in need of some direction, please see our Facebook or LinkedIn page for more information or just click here: Community Give Back Video

Before 2020, and after 22 years at Morton Capital, I figured I had mostly seen it all in the financial markets.  Leave it to a pandemic to prove me wrong!  But, the one thing that remains constant for me is my love affair with alternative investments and how they help round out my investments and exposure to a world where there are never any guarantees what will be coming next.

Mid Quarter Newsletter Q2 2017

Our Legacy of Stewardship

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

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

How Is Your Financial Professional Getting Paid?

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

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

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

ETFs and the Illusion of Diversification

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

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

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

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

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley building Dedication honoring Rocky & Lon Morton

Rocky & Lon_Boys & Girls Club building Dedication_large
Recognized for their support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley and for their many contributions to the community, Rocky & Lon Morton were honored at a Building Dedication of the Rocky & Lon Morton Boys & Girls Club last month.
The Dedication was open to local businesses, organizations and individuals who had an interest in honoring Rocky & Lon Morton. Event highlights included building tours and dedications followed by a luncheon.
Lon Morton has been a board member for over 10 years, and has served as the Sponsorship Chair each year at the annual ‘Stand up for Kids’ Gala Dinner & Auction. He was a past recipient of the distinguished Cal Johnston Service Award and has been elected to serve as incoming Board Chairman for 2016. Rocky Morton has been involved as a community leader since 1998 serving on the Malibu Search and Rescue team for over 25 years. Her activities and leadership has resulted in helping to make the community a safer and better place to live and raise children.