Will Advisors Get to The Promised Land?

Sue Bergin,Sue Bergin@smbergin

The maturation of the baby-boomer generation turned into a bit of a “promised land” for advisors.  New products, services, specialties and strategies were devised better to serve this massive market.  Advisors, along with the rest of the financial services industry, eagerly waited the fees, commissions, and product sales that would naturally flow as boomers prepared for, and transitioned to, retirement.  Everyone was ready, but will those who were promised ever even reach the so-called promised land?

In an article (subscription required) published in Financial Planning, “Advisor Threat? Wave of New Online Services Incoming”, Charles Paikert reports the influx of venture capital and clients flocking to the online advisory space. Many of the services who have staked a claim on the promised land are getting clients before advisors even get in the door.  Financial Guard is an example of a service offered directly to individual investors/employees.  It provides advice and recommendations to employees on their 401(k) portfolios.

10.30.13_Bergin_PromisedLandWhile these services are arguably tapping into a segmented market, it is important to note the increase in their popularity.  However great the rise, it does not diminish the experience of working directly with a financial advisor. Let’s take a look at some of the applications and services with a presence in the online world:

  • SigFig, a mobile application that tracks, organizes, and makes recommendations on financial assets garnered $50 billion in assets managed in just nine months after the app launched.[1]
  • In February 2013, online investment company Betterment had amassed $135 million in assets under management, investing on behalf of 30,000 users.[2]
  • Online wealth management firm Personal Capital amassed $120 million in assets under management, 75% of which came in the first quarter of 2013.  The firm continues to add $20 million to its platform monthly.[3]
  • Jemstep, which provides recommendations on retirement goals, has attracted 10,000 users and tracks approximately $2 billion in assets.  It has only been up and running since January 2013.

These new entrants are a prime example of what late British author and psychologist Havelock Ellis had to say about the promised land—It always lies on the other side of the wilderness.


[1] TechCrunch, “Financial Planning App SigFig Crosses $50B in Assets Managed Though the Platform,” 1/14/13

[2] Pandodaily, “With 135 million in Assets Under Management Betterment Lures Two Key Hires Awa From Traditional Finance.”  2/12/13

[3] Pandodaily, “Wealth management isn’t for old farts anymore.  Personal Capital uses technology and design to spice up a boring topic.”  4/11/13

Investment Insights Podcast

Miller_PodcastForecasting the Six Asset Classes

Fresh off his Capital Markets Assumption Meeting, Bill Miller discusses the 12-month forecast for the six major asset classes.

While the overall observation is that Brinker Capital is bullish across the six asset classes, here is the forecast for the next 12 months:

  • U.S. Equities – 7%
  • International Equities – 8%
  • Fixed Income – near 0%
  • Real Assets – 2.5%
  • Absolute Return – 3%
  • Private Equity – 10%

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.


The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Demographic Changes Looming (Part Two)

10.17.13_BlogRyan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

Part two of a two-part blog series. Head here to read part one.

Urbanization
Another noticeable change has been the amount of people living in urban versus rural areas.  The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history.  For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns or cities.[1]  In 1970, 73.6% of the population lived in urban areas in the U.S., compared to 79% in 2012.  In China, the shift has been even greater; 51% of people live in urban areas today, compared to just 20.6% in 1982.  Other major nations have experienced similar degrees of urbanization (percentage of population living in urban areas below)[2]

10.17.13_Demographics_Part2

Cities provide numerous economic benefits and challenges; some of which include: entrepreneurialism, education opportunities, traffic congestion, pollution, and poverty to name a few.  Perhaps the biggest challenge as a result of this trend will be a spike in food, water and commodity prices, which are already high.[3][4]  Some Governments, scientists and environmentalists are already working on solutions to these problems (such as China’s plan for a massive new desalination plant[5]), but in many areas resources are limited and solutions are inefficient on a large scale.

Wealth Inequality
Finally, the trend of wealth inequality in the United States is approaching an all-time high.  For perspective, in 1928 the top 1% of the population earned nearly 20% of all income.  The wealth gap was at its lowest in the 1960s and 1970s, but has been steadily widening since then.

Demographics_Part2

This trend has been made public in the U.S. as demonstrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2012.  Regardless of your opinion surrounding the subject, wealth inequality has created noticeable economic challenges.

Some of the nationwide problems associated with wealth inequality include deteriorating health,[6] the potential for corruption (in many different facets), and a relatively weaker middle class which has historically fueled the most economic growth in the U.S.

The income gap has been blamed on everything from computers, to immigration, to global competition, but simply stated there is no clear consensus regarding the cause.[7]  This needs to be kept in mind by investors, economists and especially politicians before we spend public dollars on initiatives that aren’t effective at reducing the problems previously mentioned.

These changing demographic trends will no doubt provide challenges, but can also present exciting opportunities for generations to come if they are properly prepared for.


[1] The United nations Population Fund.  http://www.unfpa.org/pds/urbanization.htm  May, 2007.

[2] Population Reference Bureau, 2012 World Population Data Sheet, 2012.

[4] New York Times Online.  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/world/22water.html?_r=0  Celia Dugger. August 22, 2006.

[5] China Daily.  http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-04/09/content_12298084.htm  Cheng Yingqi.  September 4, 2011.

[6] American Medical Association.  http://www.who.int/social_determinants/publications/health_in_an_unequal_world_marmott_lancet.pdf Michael Marmot.  December 9, 2006.

[7] The Great Divergence.  Timothy Noah,  2012

Investment Insights Podcast

Miller_PodcastWelcome to the Investment Insights Podcast. Every few weeks, we will post a brief audio recording from Brinker Capital’s Chief Investment Officer, Bill Miller.

Each podcast will touch on three basic points–what we like, what we don’t like, and what we are doing about it.

On this week’s podcast (recorded October 16, 2013):

  • What We Like — The deal in the Senate, raising the Debt Ceiling into February 2014.
  • What We Don’t Like — The potential residual impact
  • What We are Doing — Take off shorts and add to long positions

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

The views expressed above are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice.

Demographic Changes Looming (Part One)

10.17.13_BlogRyan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

This is part one in a two-part blog series.

In 2013, it seems the financial headlines have been dominated lately by policy changes of the Federal Reserve, dysfunction in Washington, China’s threat of a hard economic landing, or Europe’s ongoing sovereign debt crisis.  Lost in these headlines are some major demographic trends that are already under way, or are looming on the horizon over the next decade.  Many of these changes will have a profound impact on investors, governments and societies in the United States and abroad.

Aging Population

The world’s developed countries are aging quite quickly.  As of the most recent 2010 census, the median age in the U.S. is 37.1, compared to 28.2 in 1970.  This is actually fairly low in comparison to some of the world’s other developed nations.

10.17.13_Demographics_Part1

This is not a huge surprise as the baby boomer generation is reaching middle age.  It does, however, have some large implications that need to be watched closely by investors, companies and governments over the next decade.

What implications does this trend have for the U.S. and abroad?  For starters, an aging population will put a large strain on healthcare costs as the number of people who need access Medicare increases.  A study by Health Affairs cites aging population as a main driver of rising health care cost forecasts.  It projects national health care spending to grow at an average annual rate of 5.8% over the 2012 – 2022 period (currently near 4% in 2013).  By 2022 health care spending financed by federal, state, and local governments is projected to account for 49% of total national health expenditures and to reach a total of $2.4 trillion.[1]

Second, smaller subsequent generations (Gen X, Gen Y) will have to increase productivity to maintain the current low, single-digit GDP growth in the United States.  The responsibilities of the baby boomer generation upon retirement will naturally have to be absorbed by younger generations.  A 2013 study released by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) indicates that this trend is already occurring. It cites that there are more job openings created as a result of retirements today than in the 1990s.[2] The U.S. can fuel this productivity by increasing competitiveness in manufacturing, and using competitive advantages such as low energy costs and technological advancements.

Third, an increased focus will be put on fixed income and absolute return investment strategies, especially if the U.S is entering a rising interest-rate environment as many economists believe.  As populations age, their risk tolerance will naturally decrease as people need to plan for their years in retirement.  In 2012, only 7% of households aged 65 or older were willing to take above-average or substantial investment risk, compared to 25% of households in which the household head was between 35-49 years old.  Despite a growing life expectancy, the retirement age is still 65. This has major causes for concern for social security, capital gains tax policies, and corporate pension plans.  Subsequent generations will need to place an increased importance on individual retirement saving should the program terms change, or disappear altogether.

Part two of this blog will look at two additional trends of urbanization and wealth inequality.


[1] Health Affairs.  National Health Expenditure Projections, 2012 – 22: Slow Growth Until Coverage Expands and Economy Improves. September 18, 2013.

[2] Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
http://cew.georgetown.edu/failuretolaunch/. September 30, 2013.

Social Media Strategies: Yield to Client Preferences

Sue Bergin@SueBergin

Every investor has his or her unique communication and learning style.  Some prefer face-to-face meetings, while a quick text message will suffice for others.  Some investors are highly analytical and need to understand the data behind their investment philosophy while others take a “just give me the bottom line” approach.

Most successful advisors have become adept at assessing the communication and learning styles of their clients and adapting accordingly.  When it comes to a social media strategy, advisors should use a similar approach.

10.15.13_Men are From LinkedInAccording to the recent survey[1] sponsored by MassMutual and conducted by Brightwork Partners, “women are from Facebook, men are from LinkedIn,” various demographic groups are congregating around their social media channel of choice.  Consider these stats:

  • 70% of women routinely use Facebook vs. 59% of men
  • 57% of survey respondents over the age of 50 use Facebook
  • 32% of men use LinkedIn, compared to 15% of women
  • 17% of men versus 10% of women rely on Twitter as an information source
  • 36% of LinkedIn users have household incomes that exceed $100,000
  • 15% of LinkedIn users have household incomes of $50,000 or less
  • Survey respondents in their 30s are 14% more likely to use social media for retirement and investment education than their older counterparts
  • 80% of Pinterest’s 70 million users are women[2]

MassMutual’s study is the latest in a line of research that demonstrates the role social media can play in educating clients.  From a tactical perspective, it is helpful to note that a Tweet, Facebook post, LinkedIn message or Pinterest post will reach only the audience following that channel.

From a practical standpoint, you may want to synchronize your social media messages.  So, for example, if you sync your Twitter and LinkedIn files, LinkedIn contacts will see your Twitter updates and vice versa.  Keep in mind that some content is more appropriate for certain channels over others.  For example, tweets can only accommodate 140 characters but Facebook posts may be more extensive. Pinterest is most appropriate for visual content, like the inspiring image below originally pinned by ForexRin.

10.15.13_Men are From LinkedIn_1In the end, social media is about listening and engaging with your clients.  Services like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and GoGoStat can help monitor and track your social media engagement so that you will know which channels are most valuable to your practice.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: October 2013

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

Developed market equities have had an impressive run so far in 2013, while fixed income, emerging markets and commodities have lagged. After telegraphing a tapering of asset purchases, the Fed surprised investors on September 18 with a decision to keep the quantitative easing program in place, wanting to see greater clarity on economic growth and a waning of fiscal policy uncertainty before reducing the level of asset purchases.

Asset prices moved immediately higher in response to the Fed’s decision; however that served to be the high-water mark for equities for the quarter.  Then concern over U.S. fiscal policy surfaced and has weighed on markets over the last few weeks. Unlike in previous years, deals to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government will result in limited fiscal drag; however, the headlines will serve to increase market volatility over the short term.

U.S. equity markets posted solid gains in the third quarter, led by small caps and growth-oriented companies.  High-yielding equities continue to lag. Developed international equity markets meaningfully outpaced U.S. markets in the quarter, with most countries generating double-digit returns.  As a result, the gap of outperformance for U.S. markets has narrowed for the year.  Emerging economies have been negatively impacted by the discussion of the Fed reducing liquidity, slower economic growth and weaker currencies.  While emerging markets equities rebounded in the third quarter, as a group they are still negative for the year with Brazil and India especially weak.

Interest rates continued their rise to start the quarter, with the 10-year Treasury note briefly hitting 3% in the beginning of September.  Rates then began to move lower, helped by an avoidance of conflict in Syria and the postponing of Fed tapering. All fixed income sectors were positive in the third quarter, led by high-yield credit.  Year to date through September, high yield has produced gains, while all other major fixed income sectors are negative. Outflows from taxable bond funds have slowed significantly in recent weeks, so the technical backdrop has improved somewhat.

We believe that interest rates have begun the process of normalization, and over the long term, the bias is for higher interest rates.  However, this process will be prolonged and likely characterized by fits and starts. The Fed will soon face the decision to taper asset purchases again later this year, with the earliest action in December.  Despite their decision to reduce or end asset purchases, the Fed has signaled short-term rates will be on hold for some time. Rising longer-term interest rates in the context of stronger economic growth and low inflation is a satisfactory outcome. Our fixed income allocation is well positioned with less interest-rate risk and a yield premium versus the broad market.

However, we continue to view a continued rapid rise in interest rates as one of the biggest threats to the U.S. economic recovery.  The recovery in the housing market, in both activity and prices, has been a positive contributor to growth this year.  Stable, and potentially rising, home prices help to boost consumer confidence and net worth, which impacts consumer spending in other areas of the economy.  Should mortgage rates move high enough to stall the housing market recovery, it would be a negative for economic growth.

We continue to approach our broad macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we move into the final months of the year, and a number of factors should continue to support the economy and markets.

  • Monetary policy remains accommodative: The Fed remains accommodative (even with the eventual end of asset purchases, short-term interest rates will remain low for the foreseeable future), the ECB stands ready to provide additional support if necessary, and the Bank of Japan is embracing an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation.
  • Global growth strengthening: U.S. economic growth has been sluggish, but steady.  The manufacturing and service PMIs remain solidly in expansion territory. Outside of the U.S. growth has not been very robust, but it is positive. China appears to have avoided a hard landing.
  • Labor market progress: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but stable. Initial jobless claims, a leading indicator, have declined to a new cycle low.
  • Housing market improvement: The improvement in home prices, typically a consumer’s largest asset, boosts net worth, and as a result, consumer confidence.  However, another move higher in mortgage rates 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.

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

  • Fiscal policy uncertainty: After Congress failed to agree on a continuing resolution to fund the government, we entered shutdown mode on October 1.  While the economic impact of a government shutdown is more limited, the failure to raise the debt ceiling (which will be reached on October 17) would have a more lasting impact. A default remains unlikely in our opinion, and there will be little fiscal drag as a result of a deal, but the debate does little to inspire confidence. The Fed continues to provide liquidity to offset the impact.
  • Fed mismanages exit: The Fed will soon have to face the decision of whether to scale back asset purchases, which could prompt further volatility in asset prices and interest rates. If the economy has not yet reached escape velocity when the Fed begins to scale back its asset purchases, risk assets could react negatively as they have in the past when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn.  The Fed will also be under new leadership next year, which could add to the uncertainty.  However, if the Fed does begin to slow asset purchases, it will be in the context of an improving economy.
  • Significantly higher interest rates: Rates moving significantly higher from here could stifle the economic recovery.
  • Europe: While the economic situation appears to be improving in Europe, the risk of policy error still exists.  The region has still not addressed its structural debt and growth problems; however, it seems leaders have realized that austerity alone will not solve its issues.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover despite the higher interest rate environment; however, we expect heightened volatility in the near term. Valuations in the U.S. equity market remain reasonable while valuations abroad look more attractive. We continue to emphasize high-conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.

Some areas of opportunity currently include:

  • Global Equity: Large-cap growth, dividend growers, Japan, frontier markets, international microcap
  • Fixed Income: MBS, global credit, short duration
  • Absolute Return: closed-end funds, relative value, long/short credit
  • Private Equity: company-specific opportunities

Asset Class Returns10.9.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook

The views expressed above are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice.

Stalemate

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

The ongoing dysfunction in Washington D.C. reached a fever pitch this week, as the failure of lawmakers to agree on a bill to fund the Federal Government resulted in the President ordering its first shutdown since 1995.  The inability of Congress to effectively legislate has led to the furlough of more than 800,000 Federal workers, and a shuttering of all non-essential services.  Although equity markets around the world have remained relatively sanguine about the current state of affairs inside the beltway, the looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department has declared to be no later than October 17, has heightened the stakes of the current impasse immeasurably, as a breach of this borrowing limit would have dire consequences not just for the United States, but for the global economy in aggregate.  It is the presence of this possibility that provides us with cautious optimism that a resolution might be forthcoming; as our belief is that the closure of the government and the subsequent pressure being applied by the electorate to end the stalemate has pulled forward the debt ceiling debate, which may result in a bargain that addresses both issues.  However, we intend to remain hyper-vigilant about the progress of these negotiations as we fully recognize the severity of the impact of a failure to honor our nation’s debts.

10.4.13_Preisser_Stalemate_1The current standoff has resulted from a multiplicity of factors, chief amongst which is a fundamental ideological difference between the parties over the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare”, which went into effect this week.  It is the vehemence of both sides in this debate combined with the extreme partisanship in the Capital that have made this situation particularly perilous.  Despite assertions to the contrary, the shuttering of the government comes at an exorbitant cost.  According to the New York Times, “ the research firm IHS Inc. estimates that the shutdown will cost the country $300 million a day in lost economic output…Moody’s Analytics estimated that a shutdown of three or four weeks would cut 1.4 percentage points from fourth-quarter economic growth and raise the unemployment rate.”  With consensus estimates for GDP currently at only 2.5% per annum, the present state of affairs, if not soon rectified will take an ever increasing toll on the nation’s economy.

Since 1970 there have been a total of 18 shutdowns of the Federal Government, including this most recent closure.  Although each situation was unique, what is common amongst them is that investors have, on average, approached them with relatively little trepidation.  According to Ned Davis Research, “during the six shutdowns that lasted more than five trading days, the S&P fell a median 1.7%.”In fact, optimism in the marketplace has tended to follow these periods of uncertainty.  Bloomberg News writes that, “the S&P has risen 11 percent on average in the 12 months following past government shutdowns, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on instances since 1976.  That compares with an average return of 9 percent over 12 months.”

Source: Ned Davis Research Group

Source: Ned Davis Research Group

There is one glaring difference between this year’s shuttering of the government and those of recent history, and that is the presence of the debt ceiling.  According to the New York Times, “the Treasury said last week that Congress had until Oct. 17 to raise the limit on how much the federal government could borrow or risk leaving the country on the precipice of default.”  Though we can look to the past as a guide to use to try and gauge the impact of a government shutdown, there is no way to accurately predict the effect of a failure of the United States government to fulfill its obligations, as this would be unprecedented. The need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling cannot be overstated, as the very sanctity of U.S. sovereign obligations depends upon it.  The importance of this faith to the global economy was captured by Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, “Financial markets have long treated U.S. bonds as the ultimate safe asset; the assumption that America will always honor its debts is the bedrock on which the world financial system rests.”