Seeking a Greater Purpose in Investing

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFP, Investment Analyst

The “science” of investing is well known. The modern portfolio theory (MPT) of investments developed over the past 50 years, starting with Harry Markowitz, has become so ingrained into the investment management culture that the concept of portfolio diversification has become second nature to most people. This is of course due to the mathematical analysis showing that diversification improves investment portfolios’ risk and return characteristics. To say differently, it makes good math sense.

6.27.13_Williams_1Recently though, investment management research has begun to venture into the new field know as Behavioral Finance. At a high level, this theory points out that the owners of these investment portfolios are not emotionless robots that are attempting to optimize the expected value of portfolios for a given level of risk, but rather humans who have reactions to watching their portfolios change in value and who also have goals for the wealth created. Often times this theory’s task seems to be to point out our human flaws and biases so that we can move closer to MPT. This includes our confirmation bias (seeking out only information we agree with rather than information that challenges our thinking), overconfidence bias (believing we are above average in our skills), and loss aversion (finding that we will irrationally gamble to avoid a loss already sustained but unwilling to take a gamble that might result in a loss, even when the odds are in our favor). Still, this idea also points out what gets lost in the math of MPT. Specifically, that an investment portfolio has greater purpose than just the accumulation of money.

The meaning here can be shown in the following dream scenario. You take a trip to Vegas, you see a slot machine, you put a dollar into the machine for fun, pull the lever, and you hit the big jackpot. You are then told that you can either have the $10 million prize immediately, or a flip of a coin for the chance to win $25 million or lose it all. The vast majority of people would take the $10 million dollars. Consider instead the experience of the MPT optimizing robot. First, the robot would likely not put the $1 into the slot machine. Why put $1 in when the expected value is $0.95? Second, given the jackpot options the robot would likely gamble it all at the chance for $25 million as the expected value of $12.5 million is greater than the $10 million. The math is clear—the robot is optimizing and we are not. But that is not the whole story.

6.27.13_Williams_2First, most humans get utility from putting a dollar into a slot machine outside of the outcome of the gamble. As such, we may be rational to gamble if the utility of the $0.95 expected value and the experience of gambling together are greater than the utility of the $1 in our pocket. Second, given the jackpot options, outside of the fear of losing the $10 million, there is also a diminishing marginal utility to money. That is to say simply that an extra $1 million to you or me changes our lives a lot more than an extra $1 million to Warren Buffett. It is quite possible that the utility we tie to that first $10 million is greater than the utility to that next $15 million. As such, we could be rational in both the action to gamble and the decision to take $10 million.

While lottery dreams are nice, the practical meaning is that our investments allow us to do things. Said differently, our investment balance is not just a number, it represents our ability to meet goals. To some, that $10 million meant the ability to have the freedom to travel, to retire for others, a fleet of cars to those so inclined, and a chance to make the world a better place for still others.

NorthstarIn this line of thinking, the relatively newly developed bucket approach to investment management ties specific assets to specific goals. This simple concept turns a portfolio that is invested based on some risk profile that in an opaque manner will meet your goals into a portfolio of portfolios that represent directly your goals. Accordingly, rather than having portfolio performance measured against a generic market benchmark, the measure that matters is whether each of these portfolios is on track to meet their assigned goals. Accordingly, Brinker Capital’s recent offering in this area is appropriately named “Personal Benchmark.” A final point is that people draw utility not just from spending their investments to meet goals, but also from where and how they invest. Socially Responsible Investing, also known as ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), allows people to allocate capital where they believe the welfare of those outside themselves is best considered. Outside of the fact that there is evidence that investing in industries and companies that have these positive attributes may also improve investment performance, the fact that we are able to encourage positive change in the world while we save for our goals is a powerful concept.

In aggregate, the recent changes to investment management are brilliant in their simplicity to give purpose back to investments. The more empowered we feel with meeting our goals with our investments, the more likely we are to meet, and even exceed, those goals.

Brinker Capital Announces Partnership with Financial Services Institute

BeamanNoreen Beaman, Chief Executive Officer, Brinker Capital

We are excited to announce that Brinker Capital is now a Premier Sponsor of the Financial Services Institute (FSI). As the voice of independent financial services firms and independent financial advisors, FSI’s mission is to ensure that all individuals have access to competent and affordable financial advice, products and services.  We support their advocacy for a healthier, more business-friendly environment.

6.24.13_FSI_PartnershipOur sponsorship for FSI is much more than providing the financial backing that allows them to advocate on behalf of the industry. It allows us to support their efforts to ensure individuals have access to competent and affordable financial advice, products and services.

Click here for more information about this partnership.

The Name is Bond, Muncipal Bond

Magnotta@AmyMagnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

As interest rates have moved higher over the last six weeks, municipal bonds have sold off along with other fixed income sectors, but to a slightly greater degree. From May 1 through June 17, the Barclays Municipal Bond Index declined -2.25%, compared to -1.98% for the Barclays Aggregate Index and -1.72% for the Barclays Treasury Index. While municipals are still in negative territory year to date, they are slightly ahead of taxable bonds.

6.19.13_Magnotta_InterestRatesBoth the technicals and the fundamentals in the municipal bond market remain on solid footing. From a technical perspective, supply and demand dynamics are favorable. New issuance isn’t keeping up with maturing debt, resulting in a reduction in total outstanding supply. With 10-year municipal bonds now yielding 2.4% and 30-year maturities yielding above 4%, we will likely see buyers step back into the market. The muni/Treasury ratio is north of 100%. In addition, June and July are typically large months for reinvestments, potentially creating more demand for municipals.

On the fundamental side, state and local government finances have improved. State revenues are back to pre-2008 levels across the board and are expected to increase. Local governments, which source their revenues primarily from property tax receipts, have received a boost from stabilizing home prices. Most states have taken steps to address their longer-term entitlement program and pension issues in some form. While credit is improving generally, there are still areas of concern. Headlines surrounding Detroit, MI, Stockton, CA and Puerto Rico could negatively impact the municipal bond market, but we do not see a concern regarding widespread municipal defaults.

The backup in interest rates has resulted in significant outflows from both taxable and municipal bond mutual funds over the last two weeks. ICI reports that municipal bond funds experienced $2.2 billion in outflows the week ending June 5 and $3.2 billion in outflows the week ending June 12. The recent sell-off could provide an opportunity for municipal bond investors, especially those focused on higher quality intermediate and longer-term bonds where valuations are attractive.

Applying Behavioral Finance To Investment Process Crucial To Financial Advisors, Brinker Barometer Finds

Earlier this week, the results of our latest Brinker Barometer advisor survey were made public. Click here to read the full press release. This particular Barometer had a focus on aspects of behavioral finance and how advisors gauge progress towards meeting their clients’ financial goals.

Check out some of the most interesting survey results in the infographic below!


Not Your Average Town

WilsonTom Wilson, CFA, Brinker Capital, Managing Director,
Institutional Investments and Private Client Group
& Senior Investment Manager

Midland, TX is not an average U.S. town. Midland is an oil town. Flying over the area, one will notice a landscape littered with oil pumps. Not surprisingly, the sizable impact of oil and natural gas continues to benefit the local economy.

As I ate lunch in town at a crowded restaurant on a Sunday afternoon, I witnessed a crew of “mudders” stop in to grab some food and then hastily jump back into their trucks, destined for the next oil pump.  The fact is, unemployment is not an issue in this town. Midland currently boasts a 3.1% unemployment rate, strikingly less than the U.S. average of 7.6% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).  In speaking with the locals, the demand for teachers, doctors, and construction workers is quite significant.  Everywhere I looked, it seemed like the town was flourishing.

According to Strategas Research Partners, the United States is the second largest producer of oil in the world today with a 12% market share. We narrowly trail the Middle-Eastern country of Saudi Arabia, who enjoys a 13% share. Surprised? The International Energy Agency projects that the United States could become the largest producer by 2017. One can’t help but wonder about the immense potential we harbor as a country in the field of energy. The impact it could have on our nation in terms of growth, defense, employment, and tax revenue is profound. Let’s hope that in the near future thriving economic towns, just like Midland, won’t be so hard to come by!


A horsehead oil pump in Midland, TX as seen first hand by our very own, Tom Wilson.

Show and Tell: Five Points to Make with Prospects

Sue Bergin@SueBergin

The best storytellers are the ones that have mastered the art of “show, don’t tell.” Their ghost stories, for example, have descriptions of settings and physical manifestations of emotions. Sentences like “it was a scary place,” serve only to punctuate what the reader or listener already concluded.

The same can be said of advisors. Telling someone that you can help them achieve their financial goals does not make nearly as big of an impact as when you show them how.

The following are five areas where it is important to show clients why you are the best choice.

Five Points to Make with Prospects:

  1. How you will organize their financial lives. While most clients don’t come out and admit it, their financial lives are chaotic. They may not know how many assets they truly have and how they can put them all to work to increase purchasing power. The first step for advisors is to show clients the before and after. Explain to them what they currently have now versus what their potential growth may look like. Demonstrate how you will make them feel more in control of their financial lives. It could be something as simple as taking out your iPad and showing them the client portal of wealth management tools.
  2. 6.11.13_Bergin_Show&TellHow you will help them make good investment decisions. The term “good investment decisions” is too opaque to resonate with clients. Instead, walk clients through the process used to create an Investment Policy Statement (IPS). Talk to the client about how an IPS helps to guide future decisions. In the recent Brinker Barometer, we learned that 72% of advisors use a written IPS to help clients make non-emotional investment decisions when the market is in flux. The IPS is tangible proof of a disciplined process that will benefit the client.
  3. What you do to ensure that clients get the best advice and service possible. Marketing-darling phrases like independent, objective and unbiased, fall flat. Instead, describe the process that you go through to ensure that your recommendations are appropriate for the need you are trying to solve.
  4. You have been there, done that. Your experience does not speak for itself. You have to give it a voice. If you just say, “I have been an advisor 22 years,” you miss the opportunity to highlight what you have seen throughout your career. It is more impressive to learn that you have helped others thrive in all market climates than to know that you’ve been at this for a while.
  5. You appreciate their business. It’s easy to say “I value your business,” but to convey that message through action takes a concerted effort. Personal touches such as the just-checking-in phone calls, handwritten notes, and occasional invitations to social events let clients know that their business and their well-being matter to you.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook – June 2013

Magnotta@AmyMagnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Financial market performance diverged in May. Despite selling off in the second half of the month as investors began to worry about the Federal Reserve tapering its asset purchases, U.S. equity markets delivered solid returns, with the S&P 500 gaining +2.1%. In the equity markets, high dividend oriented sectors (utilities, telecom, staples) delivered negative returns, as did interest rate sensitive sectors like REITs and MLPs. International equity markets declined in May and were negatively impacted by a stronger U.S. dollar. Emerging markets continue to lag developed international markets.

Interest rates moved higher in May, attempting to return to more normal levels. In the U.S., both the 10-year Treasury note and 30-year bond climbed over 40 basis points resulting in negative returns for all major income sectors. Year to date, U.S. fixed income markets (Barclays Aggregate Index) have declined -0.9% while U.S. equity markets (S&P 500) have gained over 14%.

06.07.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_1The fear of the Fed tapering its stimulus as early as September has continued to weigh on investors as we move into June. While equity market indexes are just 3% off the recent highs, we’re experiencing more volatility. The last two occasions when the Fed has attempted to pare stimulus, the equity markets experienced double-digit declines. However, if the Fed does follow through with reducing the amount of asset purchases, it will do so in the context of an improving economy. More recent economic data has been mediocre, the recovery in employment will continue to be slow, and inflation is falling and now well below the Fed’s target. Market participants will be focusing on every data point in an effort to predict the Fed’s actions.

Interest rates have come down slightly from recent highs, but the 10-year note remains above 2%. We expect to see more bond market volatility as interest rates attempt to return to more normal levels. However, with growth still sluggish and inflation low, we expect interest rates to remain range-bound over the intermediate term.

We continue to approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we move through the second quarter. A number of factors should continue to support the economy and markets for the remainder of the year:

  • 06.07.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_2Global Monetary Policy Accommodation: The Fed remains accommodative (even if they scale back on asset purchases), the ECB has pledged to support the euro, and now the Bank of Japan is embracing an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation. This liquidity has helped to boost markets.
  • Housing Market Improvement: An improvement in housing, typically a consumer’s largest asset, is a boost to net worth and, as a result, consumer confidence. However, a significant move higher in mortgage rates, which are now above 4%, could jeopardize the recovery.
  • U.S. Companies Remain in Solid Shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash that could be reinvested or returned to shareholders. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
  • Equity Fund Flows Turn Positive: Equity mutual fund flows turned positive in 2013, and while muted compared to flows into fixed income funds, remain a tailwind after several years of outflows. Investors experiencing losses on their fixed income portfolios could also be a driver of flows to equity funds.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Europe: The risk of policy error in Europe still exists. While the ECB is willing to act as a lender of last resort, the region has still not addressed its debt and growth problems.
  • Sluggish Global Growth: Europe is in recession while Japan is using unconventional measures to create growth. China is showing signs of slowing further, as is Brazil.
  • U.S. Fiscal Drag: While we achieved some certainty on fiscal issues earlier this year, drag from higher taxes and the sequester will weigh on personal incomes and growth this year.

06.07.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_4Because of massive government intervention in the global financial markets, we will continue to be susceptible to event risk. Instead of taking a strong position on the direction of the markets, we continue to seek high conviction opportunities and strategies within asset classes. Some areas of opportunity currently include:

  • Domestic Equity: dividend growers, housing related plays
  • International Equity: Japan, small & micro-cap emerging markets, frontier markets
  • Fixed Income: non-Agency mortgage backed securities, emerging market corporates, global high yield, short duration strategies
  • Real Assets: REIT Preferreds
  • Absolute Return: relative value, long/short credit
  • Private Equity: company specific opportunities


News Out of Japan

Andy RosenbergerAndrew Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The recent sell-off in Japan has many investors concerned that “Abenomics” may be little more than smoke and mirrors than the start of a cyclical, or even more importantly secular, rally. While the Japanese equity market can be volatile, especially given the monstrous 80%+ rally since November of last year, continuing macroeconomic evidence does suggest that the economy is improving. ISI Research has done a nice job tracking the macro data out of Japan. In one of their recent pieces, they make the argument that during the last week of May, 14 out of 17 data points showed signs of the economy improving. See chart below.

Signs of Strength Signs of Weakness
1. Construction Orders 1. DPI Per Household
2. Employment 2. Household Expenditures
3. Housing Starts 3. Dept. Store Sales
4. Industrial Production
5. Insured Employees
6. Job Ratio
7. Job Offers Ratio
8. Mffg PMI
9. Public Works Starts
10. Retail Sales
11. Retail Stores
12. Small Business Confidence
13. Vehicle Exports
14. Vehicle Production  Source: ISI Research

Moreover, their proprietary Economic Diffusion Index has climbed to record territory. The recent pullback in the market can be a hard pill to swallow for those just waking up to the Japanese story. Yet, we must also consider that a 15% pullback in the context of a nearly 85% run in the equity market still leaves markets up 57% from where it was just six months ago.