Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learning New Realities

1 - Our New Realities panel discussion on Tuesday was loaded with meaty content. Between the insights of the panelists and the probing questions of the attendees, there was a lot to think about. Erik Olsen is preparing a video synopsis; we will include it in next week's newsletter.

2 - On Thursday I took part in a conference call with Mohammed El Arian and Bill Gross of PIMCO. As an indication of the respect the investment world has for these two, the call included participants on four continents. My semi-raw notes from the call are assembled in an article below:

Andy's Notes from PIMCO conference call, 1/19/2012:

Participants from North America, South America, Europe and Asia.
Mohammed El Arian discusses microeconomic conditions:

Global markets and economies are seeing a morphing of expectations. Flatter bell curve with fatter tails - both on the positive and negative sides.

Europe: The very construct of the eurozone is in play. It's hard to see a repeat of 2011 - this should be a make-or-break year for the eurozone. Need to bring Italy and Spain from the brink. It is a bi-modal recovery: at end of 2012, will have tipped to the left or right tail - either very good or very bad. Europe has great relevance for investors in the US.

US: Encouraging data recently. Evidence of an ongoing healing process. Will it accelerate? There are four primary drivers:

1 - Increase in household savings rate.

2 - Scope for further policy changes is limited to the federal reserve. Over time, the effectiveness of additional measures reduces.

3 - Headwinds from Europe.

4 - Political and social dimensions hinder policy activism out of DC.

Emerging markets: Much better economic conditions, but structurally still catching up.

We are comfortable with the traditional bell-shaped curve - tails are low-probability - this curve guides investors' traditional risk approach. We are moving INTO a bimodal distribution: flatter curve with fatter tails - and need to prepare more fully for both tails. Used two-humped camel (Bactrian, in Mongolia) as an illustration.

Gross discusses investment strategy:

Does not believe success can be found with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, or going to cash and sitting out the year. Must approach with a recognition that the two fat tails would occur in different time periods. Left tail (bad) involves credit destruction, right tail (good) involves successful reflation and economic growth. Left tail would/should come fairly soon (6 mos) while right would be farther out. Try to anticipate policymakers' policies and watch for negative repercussions.

Trillions of $ of checks have been written by the ECB, Bank of England, Operation TWIST, Bank of Japan - everybody's writing checks. Checks are flowing through into financial markets. This reflects "financial repression:" extremely low interest rates and very low real rates for an extended period of time. It represents an effort to prevent the left tail. It is like picking pockets of investors and savers, allowing economies to maintain low rates.

This financial repression could go on for 5 - 10 years, could lead to a left tail. Must anticipate this and invest accordingly. If they're going to write checks, we want them to write them to us. Try to "pick the clean dirty shirts." Greece has the dirtiest shirt around, the US has one of the cleaner dirty shirts - also Canada, UK, and Germany. Go out longer on the yield spectrum by purchasing intermediate-duration securities. Focus on a duration strategy - which is counterintuitive - by going farther out in a environment of low rates. Intermediate, NOT long (10 years and out). Long bonds should be TIPS.

Left tail could occur if the central banks' policies do not succeed. In that case, you don't want a lot of credit. Reduce credit exposure, especially those that are levered to the system, such as banks and financial companies.

Stocks, commodities and currencies: stocks yield more than bonds right now; that's good. A normal distribution to stocks is called for: steady cash flow, highly certain dividends. Commodities: also could go either way. Focus on scarcity and geopolitical considerations. Currencies: the dollar is king in left-tail world; a right-tail world would be dollar-unfriendly. Be careful in terms of any high-percentage weighting in either direction.


Q: Implications of a possible default in Greece? A: Depends on whether it is orderly or disorderly. Disorderly would affect our strategy. Orderly: risk-on; disorderly: risk-off.

Q: What about the US? A: There is less liquidity in the system than there has been, and some that is in the system is slanted toward official (government and bank) channels. Too few people manage their risks properly, so when things shift, investors jump to change asset allocation. Make sure you can navigate this volatility - the last thing you want is to be forced into a move at the wrong time.

3 - Attention all lady clients: Please be our guest at a special Valentine's Day Ladies' Tea to be held on Tuesday, February 14 at 3:00pm in the Depot Room. We love being able to show our appreciation to our clients, and the Depot Room setting is the ideal place. Michele and Juliet are still finalizing the plans, so mark your calendar for Valentine's Day at 3:00.

4 - TD Ameritrade recently issued a client statement describing the various levels of protection they use for client accounts. If you'd like to read it, click here to download it.

Have an awesome week!


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Importance of Global Economy

1 - Please remember to attend tomorrow's panel discussion on the Global Economy. Our panelists are Dr. Jody Lipford, chair of the Department of Economics at Presbyterian College; Scott Hamilton, CEO of Advantage West; and Bob Quattlebaum, former VP of Cryovac who travels extensively and does business in China. It promises to be a lively and thought-provoking event. Everyone is welcome (clients and non-clients alike), and no reservations are necessary.

2 - Attention all lady clients: Please be our guest at a special Valentine's Day Ladies' Tea to be held on Tuesday, February 14 at 3:00pm in the Depot Room. We love being able to show our appreciation to our clients, and the Depot Room setting is the ideal place. Michele and Juliet are still finalizing the plans, so mark your calendar for Valentine's Day at 3:00.

3 - January and February constitute conference season for me. First up will be the Inside ETFs Conference next Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. This conference is tightly focused on investing and features some of the top minds in the investment world. I always learn a lot there, and you'll get a report upon my return.

Have a stellar week!


Here's a preview of some of the interesting conversation you can look forward to at tomorrow's panel discussion. Panelist and local businessman Bob Quattlebaum -- who travels extesively and does business in China -- sat down in my office last week to talk about some of the factors affecting our economy. As he talked, I pulled out my mini-camcorder and recorded part of the conversation. In this 2-minute clip, Bob discusses just one of many such factors. Please join us on Tuesday, January 17 at 5:30pm.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Walt Disney World Marathon- A Test of Endurance

1 - Here's a reminder about an important event coming up in just two weeks. We have an outstanding panel lined up for the second in our New Realities series. The topic for this session is the Global Economy. As panelists, we have an economist (Dr. Jody Lipford of Presbyterian College), an expert in Western North Carolina (Scott Hamilton, CEO of Advantage West), and an international businessman (Bob Quattlebaum, former VP of Cryovac who has done extensive business in South America, Europe, and especially China, where he travels frequently for his current business). It promises to be an event you won't want to miss. No reservations are necessary, but mark your calendar.

2 - 2012 started out well for the stock market, with the S&P 500 gaining more in four days than it did for the entire year of 2011. The rub, of course, is that we have another 51 weeks before the tale is finally told on 2012, and there are still a passel of issues to be sorted out in this rapidly changing world. We need to keep a steady hand on the tiller as we steer through these uncharted waters.

3 - In a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek, MIT economist and Nobel Prize winner Peter Diamond contends that federal policymakers should tackle unemployment before fixing the deficit. As Diamond puts it in the article, "We have an unemployment crisis and a debt problem, and Washington is behaving as if we have a debt crisis and an unemployment problem." Diamond's suggestion for increasing economic activity and reducing unemployment? Government spending on infrastructure and research and development. He reasons that unemployed young people are unable to get the experience they need for long-term meaningful employment, which reduces their income for many years to come, thus hurting the entire economy over the long haul. Putting them to work now would remedy that situation, he claims.

Have an outstanding week!

You may know that I enjoy distance running. I'm not fast by any means, but I can go a pretty long way. This past weekend, Sharon and I traveled to Walt Disney World in Orlando with my sister Nancy and her husband Bobby. Nancy and I ran together in Saturday's Disney Half Marathon (13.1 miles), her first distance race. Then on Sunday, I ran in the full marathon (26.2) miles, which was pretty tiring.

Believe it or not, they actually have a name for this two-day self-punishment. It's called the Goofy Challenge, named after the famous Disney cartoon character. You may be surprised to learn that 27,000 runners participated in the half marathon, over 20,000 ran in the full, and a whopping 7,000 did both, thus attempting the Goofy Challenge. So at least I was the only nutcase in the crowd. 

In order to get to the starting line for each morning's 5:30 start, we had to get up at 3:00am. The first several miles of both races were run in the dark, but the sun rose on two brilliant Central Florida days. It was a blast!

Above are some photos from the marathon taken on my cell phone. TOP: A typical scene of a river of runners wending their way through the expansive Disney property. MIDDLE: I paused for a snapshot with one of the many Disney characters who placed themselves along the course for photo ops with the runners. (This was one of the plastic toy soldiers from the Toy Story movies.) BOTTOM: This is what one looks like immediately following a marathon, with iced knees and two finisher's medals (one for the marathon and one for successfully completing the Goofy "Race and a Half" Challenge).

I dedicated yesterday's marathon to my friend (and Blue Ridge BBQ Festival Chairman) Chuck Britton, who is recovering from some recent health issues. Chuck is now on the mend and should be back to bossing us all around very soon.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Welcome to 2012!

1 - A wildly erratic stock market ended 2011 almost exactly where it began. Although the narrow Dow Jones Industrial Average gained a modest 5.5%, the broader S&P 500 ended the year four one-hundredths of a point below where it began the year. If you add in dividends, the S&P finished with a gain of just over 2%. One is reminded of the great Shakespearean phrase: "Full of sound and fury... signifying nothing."

2 - If anything, this year holds the possibility of even more upheaval than last. The presidential election alone should provide ample dramatic interest. Add uncertainty in the eurozone, continuing challenges in the U.S. economy (although there seem to be promising signs in the offing), gridlock in Washington, and the inevitable surprises, and you have the makings of another fascinating year.

3 - Please make plans to attend our January 17 panel discussion, New Realities: The Global Economy. Participating on the panel will be economist Dr. Jody Lipford, Presbyterian College professor of Economics and Business Administration, as well as Scott Hamilton, CEO of Advantage West, Western North Carolina's regional economic development commission. It promises to be a fascinating and enlightening event.

Have a fabulous week!


What in the world happened last year? Take about three minutes to review the major global events of the year just past.