Investment Insights Podcast – February 28, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 27, 2014) we are back to the traditional format of what we like, what we don’t like, and what we’re doing about it:

  • What we like: ISI Homebuilding Survey surged this week, increasing odds that the overall economy will improve as the cold weather improves
  • What we don’t like: Investors don’t know if the recent slowdown is due to the cold weather or if there’s something greater at work beyond that
  • What we are doing about it: No major changes; view remains that markets will grind upwards all year long

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.

Why Some Fizzle, While Others Go Viral

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

Have you ever wondered why a silly email gets passed around the office, yet you can’t get a client to forward an interesting article you wrote to a colleague? Does it frustrate you that sports fails get millions of views, yet you’ve only had two people view your LinkedIn profile in the last 20 days? Ever wonder why your tweets don’t get favored, shared or retweeted?

The New Yorker’s recent article, “The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate You,” takes a stab at solving these mysteries.

The article, which cites studies conducted by two Wharton professors, reveals the common characteristics of widely shared stories. These stories or messages typically evoke an emotion from the reader, with happy pieces faring better than sad. They also create a social currency and make the viewer feel “in the know.”

Shareable stories also typically have memory-inducing triggers. They are easy to pass along because they can be found and retrieved.

Gone ViralThe final predictor of whether a story will go viral is the quality of the content itself. The Holderness family rivaled Santa himself in spreading holiday greetings because their “Christmas Jammies” YouTube video was so well done. Otherwise, over 13 million people would not have invested the 218 seconds to watch.

So before you make your next LinkedIn post or tweet something on Twitter, make sure the content you are providing is relatable to your followers and will elicit a response. Then you can begin the journey of becoming a social media influencer and setting yourself a part from the crowd.

Investment Insights Podcast – February 24, 2014

Investment Insights PodcastBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 20, 2014), we deviate from the traditional what we like, we don’t like, and what we’re doing about it format.

We currently find ourselves in an environment with remarkably stable prices as measured by inflation. A period that matches some of the same sentiments echoed by Warren Buffet in his 1980 Berkshire Hathaway annual report.

Often we hear bad things about emerging markets, Congress, Fed policy, etc., but we may be missing the forest for the trees. The 1970s, a period when prices were rising quickly and investors struggled to keep pace, offers an interesting perspective on today’s environment.

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.

When in Doubt, Blame the Weather

Ryan Dressel Ryan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

The 2013-2014 winter has been nothing short of a worse-case scenario for the eastern half of the U.S. In Chicago, temperatures fell below zero an astounding 22 times (the Chicago record for a winter is 25), and let’s not forget the combined 67 inches of snow. In Atlanta, the city literally came to a halt during what became known as “Icepocalypse.” In Philadelphia, we’ve seen a total of 58 inches of snow (third highest on record) including 11 different snow storms dropping one inch or more.[1]

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Those three locales give you a pretty good idea of just how wide spread the wrath of winter is this year. While it is difficult to measure the exact impact of the weather on the economy, we can conclude that economic activity will certainly lag in January, February and March. Despite the fact that most economic indices account for seasonal effects, they do not account for outlier years like this one. Weather has been blamed for poor economic reports ranging from job growth, to new housing starts, to manufacturing—but is it justified?

A 2010 study by the American Meteorological Society determined which U.S. states are most sensitive to extreme weather variability as it relates to economic output.[2]

Dressel_Weather_2.21.14_1The research concluded that the location with the most sensitive industries had the largest total economic effect. For example, agriculture is the most sensitive on an absolute basis, but the fact that agriculture makes up such a small percentage of most states’ Gross State Product (GSP) means that extreme weather has a small total effect on sensitivity. Conversely, manufacturing, financial services, and real estate have a large relative sensitivity because of their GSP impact. As you can see on the map, the states where these industries have a significant economic impact, translates in higher sensitivity to extreme weather.

The severity of winter in the states colored red and yellow justifies the weather-related hype, while the ones in blue can be ignored for economic purposes. If you include the effects of the Government shutdown, we’ve had four consecutive months of cloudy data that we can’t put into clear context!

[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[2] U.S. Economic Sensitivity to Weather Variability. Jeffrey K. Lazo, Megan Lawson, Peter Larsen, Donald Waldman. December 28, 2010.

Tech Talk: Adding Value Through Technology

Brendan McConnellBrendan McConnell, Vice President, Business Administration

I recently participated on an advisor technology panel at the 2014 FSI OneVoice event in Washington, D.C. One of the topics of conversation highlighted the number of new technologies available and what technology an advisor should consider adopting. It starts with creating a solid technology foundation.

Financial services, not unlike most other industries, is a competitive landscape where it can be difficult to separate yourself from the pack, so to speak. There are a lot of skilled institutions and personnel promoting similar products and services. Embracing the right technology is one way to differentiate yourself. Adding technology to your practice can be disruptive, but a firm with the right appetite for change finds success in transforming the customer experience. Let’s look at a few tools and concepts you should start considering adding to your business.

Adopt a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
CRM systems are designed to help you manage your business more strategically and efficiently. They serve as the ecosystem where all relevant business data exists—from client contact information and account data, to prospect opportunities and service requests. Your CRM is the hub around which all other technology revolves. Most CRMs are now offered as cloud-based technology, giving you access anywhere on any mobile device and eliminating the need to support the technology infrastructure. The cloud delivery also makes CRM much more affordable. Use CRM systems to automate workflows and eliminate those time-consuming, manual procedures. Set up alerts so that you know when a new proposal is run or an account hits a specific threshold. Have emails proactively sent to your clients when a service case is completed or for an anniversary or birthday. Time is your most valued resource, add more of it through a properly implemented CRM system.

Adopt a CRM SystemIf you are currently using a CRM, your future technology choices should include an evaluation of integration with your system. Think of your CRM like a power strip that all other technology plugs into. This will provide you with a simplified infrastructure with one source and a single log in. If you are shopping for a CRM, take a look at your current core system, software, and platforms and find the CRM that will integrate best with your existing technology. If you follow this strategy it will eliminate the siloed technology approach, which often leads to inefficiencies.

Improve the Client Onboarding Process
As important as embracing technology is to your internal processes and procedures, it’s vital for enhancing the client experience. This is where you prove to the client that you add more value than simply serving their investment needs. A recent Fidelity RIA Benchmarking survey found that 77% of high-performing firms were focused on using technology to enhance the customer experience and satisfaction.

Client onboarding, for example, is an area worth the technological investment. Tools that allow for pre-population of forms, applications that allow secure, electronic signatures, using CRM data to customize templates—all of these enhancements create a unique and personal experience for the client. And we all know the adage “a happy customer is a loyal customer.” In addition, a paperless workflow technology can provide a tremendous amount of efficiency and process standardization that can help reduce resources required (time and money) and help eliminate mistakes.

Customization is KeyProvide Customizable Client Reports
What about the ongoing servicing of existing clients? Client reporting, much like the onboarding process, helps enhance and maintain successful relationships. Each one of your clients has an investing objective that is personal to them. You need to be able to provide them with a custom report that shows how they are measuring against their goals rather than trying to fit them into a predefined template. The one-size-fits-all model is no longer going to meet your clients’ expectations for the evolving world of goals-based investing.

The driver behind successful adoption of technology for any practice is internal participation. You must have buy-in within your organization or practice. Whether a one-man show or a team of 20, everyone has to commit in order to maintain a culture of innovation. With proper adoption of technology, enhanced client experience and satisfaction will be within reach.

Everyone’s Unique

Jeff Raupp Jeff Raupp, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

Whenever I go to the bowling alley it strikes me how unique people are. And no, it’s not because of the multi-colored shoes or even the matching team jackets complete with catchy names like “Pin Pals” or “Medina Sod” sewn on the back. It’s because of the bowling balls.

Every time I head to the lanes, I can bank on spending at least ten minutes trying to find a ball that works for me. You have the heavy balls with the tiny finger holes and the huge thumb, the balls with the finger holes on the other side of the ball away from the thumb, and the ones where it seems like someone was playing around and drilled three random holes. Half of the time I find myself weighing the embarrassment of using a purple or pink ball that feels okay versus a more masculine black or red ball that weighs a ton but can only fit my pinkie. I’m always left thinking, “Where’s the guy or gal that this ball actually fits?”

Raupp_Everyones_Unique_2.14.14But at the end of the day, I find that if I find the right ball, where my hand feels comfortable and the weight is just right, I have a much better game.

In the same way, how to best save toward your life goals is unique to each investor. Even in the scenario where two investors have the same age, same investable assets and generally the same goals, the portfolio that helps them achieve those goals may be decidedly different between them. Investor emotion can play a huge role in the success or failure of an investment plan, and keeping those emotions in check is vital. There is nothing more damaging to the potential for an investor to meet their goals than an emotional decision to deviate from their long-term strategy due to market conditions.

Fortunately, there’s often more than one way to reach a particular goal. There are strategies that focus on total return versus ones that focus on generating income. Strategies that are more market oriented versus those that look to produce a certain level of return regardless of the markets. And there are tactical strategies and strategic strategies. For any investor’s personal goal(s), several of these, or a combination of these, might provide the necessary investment returns to get you there.

Raupp_Everyones_Unique_2.14.14_1Here’s where the emotions can come into play—if you don’t feel comfortable along the way, your emotions can take over the driver’s wheel, and your investor returns can fall short of your goal. In 2008-2009, many investors panicked, fled the markets, and decided to go to cash near the market bottom; but they missed much of the huge market rebound that followed. While in many cases the investors pre-recession strategy was sound and ultimately would have worked to reach their goals, their irrational decision during a period of volatility made it a tougher road.

Unfortunately, you don’t have the benefit of rolling a few gutter balls while you’re trying to find the right portfolio. That’s why working with an expert to find an investment strategy that can get you to your goals, and that matches your personality and risk profile, is vital to success.

Good bowlers show up at the alley with their own fitted ball and rightly-sized shoes. Good investors put their assets in a strategy fitted to their goals.

Investment Insights Podcast – February 12, 2014

Investment Insights PodcastBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 11, 2014, prior to Janet Yellen’s first public statements since being sworn in):

  • What we like: Emerging markets have quieted down; Improvement in the equity markets around the world, including the U.S.
  • What we don’t like: Questions on how fast the global economies are growing
  • What we are doing about it: We are hedged, but looking to remove hedges; tactical approach to Janet Yellen’s comments

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.

Trust, but Verify

John CoyneJohn Coyne, Vice Chairman

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the 2014 FSI OneVoice conference in Washington, D.C. on a panel centered on issues related to both liquid and traditional alternative investments.  Our nation’s capital proved to be a great venue for the discussion as it called to mind the signature quote that Ronald Reagan used in his discussions with the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify.”

As the former chief compliance officer here at Brinker Capital, I was impressed by the thoroughness of the due diligence process outlined by the audience of compliance gatekeepers during their discussions about the products circulating through their companies in both the liquid and illiquid space.  It was clear that while they maintain excellent relationships with their product sponsor partners (no, they do not treat them like the evil empire), they have really elevated their game, particularly in understanding the advisor/investor motivations in determining the appropriateness of a particular investment.  It is clear that many eyes are on the investment decision as it winds its way through the Broker/Dealer pipeline.

Financial Services InstituteFSI is providing the type of farsighted stewardship that recognizes that the product manufacturers, custodians, Broker/Dealer’s and the advisors must have a common communion around the needs of the client.  Events like the OneVoice conference demonstrate that their fostering and encouragement of an effective dialogue among all these parties creates the best potential for success.

Taking care of the client…the Gipper would be proud.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: February 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After such a strong move higher in 2013, U.S. equity markets took a breather in January as the S&P 500 Index fell -3.5%. Volatility returned to the markets as concerns over the impact of Fed tapering and emerging economies weighed on investors. Investor sentiment, a contrarian indicator, had also climbed to extreme optimism levels, leaving the equity markets ripe for a short-term pullback.

In U.S. equity markets, the utilities (+3%) and healthcare (+1%) sectors delivered gains, while energy and consumer discretionary each declined -6%. Mid caps led both small and large caps in January, helped by the strong performance of REITs. Fourth quarter 2013 earnings season has been decent so far. Of the one-third of S&P 500 companies reporting, 73% have beat expectations.

U.S. equity markets led international markets in January, helped by a stronger currency. Performance within developed markets was mixed, with peripheral Europe outperforming (Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal), while Australia, France and Germany lagged.

Emerging markets equities significantly lagged developed markets in January, as the impact of Fed tapering, slower economic growth and higher inflation weighed on their economies. Countries with large current account deficits have seen their currencies weaken significantly. Latin America saw significant declines, with Argentina down -24%, Chile down -12% and Brazil down -11%. Asia fared slightly better, with the region down less than -5%. Emerging Europe was dragged lower with double-digit losses in Turkey.

Fixed income had a solid month of performance as interest rates fell across the yield curve. The 10-year Treasury note is now trading around 2.6%, 40 basis points lower than where it started the year. The Barclays Aggregate Index gained +1.5% in January, its best monthly return since July 2011. All major sectors were in positive territory for the month; however, higher-quality corporates led high yield. Municipal bonds edged out taxable bonds and continue to benefit from improving fundamentals.

We believe that the bias is for interest rates to move higher, but it will likely be choppy. Rising longer-term interest rates in the context of stronger economic growth and low inflation is a satisfactory outcome. Despite rising rates, fixed income still plays a role in portfolios, as a hedge to equity-oriented assets if we see weaker economic growth or major macro risks as experienced in January. Our fixed income positioning in portfolios, which includes an emphasis on yield advantaged, shorter duration and low volatility absolute return strategies, is designed to successfully navigate a rising or stable interest rate environment.

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 into 2014, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed beginning to taper asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near zero until 2015. In addition, the ECB stands ready to provide support, and the Bank of Japan has embraced an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation.
  • Global growth strengthening: U.S. economic growth has been slow and steady, but momentum picked up in the second half of 2013. Outside of the U.S., growth has not been very robust, but it is still positive.
  • Labor market progress: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but stable. Monthly payroll gains have averaged more than 200,000, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 7%.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing +1.5% over the last 12 months, inflation in the U.S. is running below the Fed’s target.
  • Increase in Household Net Worth: Household net worth rose to a new high in the third quarter, helped by both financial and real estate assets. Rising net worth is a positive for consumer confidence and future consumption.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets with cash that could be reinvested, returned to shareholders, or used for acquisitions. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
  • Equity fund flows turned positive: Equity mutual funds have experienced inflows over the last three months while fixed income funds have experienced significant outflows, a reversal of the pattern of the last five years. Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.
  • Some movement on fiscal policy: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there seems to be some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth next year. All parties in Washington were able to agree on a two-year budget agreement, averting another government shutdown. However, the debt ceiling still needs to be addressed.

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

  • Fed Tapering: The Fed will begin reducing the amount of their asset purchases in January, and if they taper an additional $10 billion at each meeting, QE should end in the fall. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time and the withdrawal is more gradual. The reaction of emerging markets to Fed tapering is cause for concern and will contribute to higher market volatility.
  • Significantly higher interest rates: Rates moving significantly higher from current levels could stifle the economic recovery. Should mortgage rates move higher, it could jeopardize the recovery in the housing market.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the slow withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Valuations have certainly moved higher, but are not overly rich relative to history. There are even pockets of attractive valuations, such as emerging markets. We are not surprised that we have experienced a pull-back in equity markets to start the year as investor sentiment was elevated and it had been an extended period of time since we last experienced a correction. However, we expect it to be more short-term in nature and maintain a positive view on equities for the year.

Magnotta_Market_Update_2.7.14

We feel that our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high-conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.

Asset Class ReturnsAsset Class Returns

Data points above compiled from FactSet, Standard & Poor’s, MSCI, and Barclays. Asset Class Returns data compiled from FactSet and Red Rocks Capital. The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change

Investment Insights Podcast – February 7, 2014

Investment Insights PodcastBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 6, 2014):

  • What we like: Stability in emerging market currencies; European Central Bank fighting deflation
  • What we don’t like: Hypersensitivity to growth metrics
  • What we are doing about it: Letting natural hedging between asset classes manage volatility; remaining neutral in other portfolios; looking for a good employment number

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.