Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: April 2014

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

The full quarter returns masked the volatility risk assets experienced during the first three months of the year. Markets were able to shrug off geopolitical risks stemming from Russia and the Ukraine, fears of slowing economic growth in the U.S. and China, and a transition in Federal Reserve leadership. In a reversal of what we experienced in 2013, fixed income, commodities and REITs led global equities.

The U.S. equity market recovered from the mild drawdown in January to end the quarter with a modest gain. S&P sector performance was all over the map, with utilities (+10.1%) and healthcare (+5.8%) outperforming and consumer discretionary (-2.9%) and industrials (+0.1%) lagging. U.S. equity market leadership shifted in March. The higher growth-Magnotta_Market_Update_4.10.14momentum stocks that were top performers in 2013, particularly biotech and internet companies, sold off meaningfully while value-oriented and dividend-paying companies posted gains. Leadership by market capitalization also shifted as small caps fell behind large caps.

International developed equities lagged the U.S. markets for the quarter; however, emerging market equities were also the beneficiary of a shift in investor sentiment in March. The asset class gained more than 5% in the final week to end the quarter relatively flat (-0.4%). Performance has been very mixed, with a strong rebound in Latin America, but with Russia and China still weak. This variation in performance and fundamentals argues for active management in the asset class. Valuations in emerging markets have become more attractive relative to developed markets, but risks remain which call into question the sustainability of the rally.

After posting a negative return in 2013, fixed income rallied in the first quarter. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell 35 basis points to end the quarter at 2.69% as fears of higher growth and inflation did not materialize. After the initial decline from the 3% level in January, the 10-year note spent the remainder of the quarter within a tight range. All fixed income sectors were positive for the quarter, with credit leading. Both investment-grade and high-yield credit spreads continued to grind tighter throughout the quarter. Within the U.S. credit sector, fundamentals are solid and the supply/demand dynamic is favorable, but valuations are elevated, especially in the investment grade space. We favor an actively managed best ideas strategy in high yield today, rather than broad market exposure.

While we believe that the long-term bias is for interest rates to move higher, the move will be protracted. Fixed income still plays an important role in portfolios as protection against equity market volatility. 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.

Magnotta_Market_Update_4.10.14_2We approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we begin the second quarter, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed tapering asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near zero until 2015. In addition, the ECB stands ready to provide support if necessary, and the Bank of Japan continues its aggressive monetary easing program.
  • Global growth stable: U.S. economic growth has been slow and steady. While the weather appears to have had a negative impact on growth during the first quarter, we still see pent-up demand in cyclical sectors like housing and capital goods. 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 we have continued to add jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7%.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing just +1.1% over the last 12 months and core CPI running at +1.6%, inflation is below the Fed’s 2% target. Inflation expectations are also tame, providing the Fed flexibility to remain accommodative.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets with cash that could be reinvested, used for acquisitions, or returned to shareholders. Corporate profits remain at high levels, and margins have been resilient.
  • Less drag from Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there has been some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year. Congress agreed to both a budget and the extension of the debt ceiling. The deficit has also shown improvement in the short term.
  • Equity fund flows turned positive: Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.

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

  • Fed tapering/tightening: If the Fed continues at its current pace, quantitative easing should end in the fourth quarter. Historically, risk assets have reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, this withdrawal is more gradual, and the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time. Should economic growth and inflation pick up, market participants may become more concerned about the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike.
  • 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.
  • Emerging markets: Slower growth and capital outflows could continue to weigh on emerging markets. While growth in China is slowing, there is not yet evidence of a hard landing.
  • Geopolitical Risks: The events surrounding Russia and Ukraine are further evidence that geopolitical risks cannot be ignored.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the continued withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Economic data will be watched closely for signs that could lead to tighter monetary policy earlier than expected. Valuations have certainly moved higher, but are not overly rich relative to history, and may even be reasonable when considering the level of interest rates and inflation. Credit conditions still provide a positive backdrop for the markets.

Magnotta_Market_Update_4.10.14_3

Source: Brinker Capital

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.

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

Simple is Better

Jeff RauppJeff Raupp, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. ~Steve Jobs

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. ~Albert Einstein

As an aspiring young basketball player in my pre-teens, I was fortunate enough to have my dad coach my township basketball team. When watching him draw up and teach a play for our team to execute, I decided I, too, could design a play for us. I guess I had always been a bit of an analytic. I went home and proceeded to design what might have been the most complex play ever developed, involving multiple players setting multiple picks, variations depending on how the defense reacted, and multiple passes that required each player’s timing to be nothing less than perfect. I proudly showed it to my dad. He appropriately praised me for the effort and then, to my dismay, declined to implement it Play Callingat the next practice. Naturally, I bothered him incessantly about it, as only kids can do, until he finally sat me down and walked through the play. He pointed out that while on paper the play looked great, if the execution or timing was even slightly off for any of the players, the entire thing broke down. As a team, we were still grappling with the idea of executing a simple pick and roll, so a play this complex was destined for failure. For our basketball team, simple was better.

Years later, I have found this lesson to be applicable in so many cases, particularly in investing. When you think of all the factors that can affect returns—economic factors, geopolitical issues, company specific factors, investor sentiment, government regulation, etc.—the tendency is to think that to be successful in such a complex environment you need to come up with a complex solution. Like my basketball play, complex investment solutions can often look great on paper, but fail to deliver.

I’ve interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of investment managers covering any asset class you can imagine. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that if I can’t walk out of that interview with a good understanding of the key factors that will make their product successful and how that will help me, I’m better off passing on the strategy.

An instance that stands out to me is the time I visited a manager where we discussed an immensely elaborate strategy that tracked hundreds of factors to find securities that they believed were attractive. We visited the floor where the portfolio was managed by computing firepower and a collection of PhDs that rivaled NASA. You really couldn’t help but be impressed by the speed at which their systems could make decisions on new data and execute trades, and the algorithms they used to optimize their inputs used just about every letter in the Greek alphabet.

Raupp_Simple_3.28.14_1The conversation then went towards discussing how all of this translates to performance and it hit me—all of this firepower didn’t produce a result that I couldn’t get elsewhere from cheaper, less-complex strategies. So while I could appreciate all the work that went into putting the strategy together, I had a hard time seeing how the end results helped our investors. I felt that in creating an intellectually impressive structure, the firm had lost sight of the bottom line—delivering results to their investors.

This isn’t to say that all complex investment strategies aren’t worthwhile. We use many in our portfolios and over the years they’ve added significant value. We spend a lot of time analyzing the types of trades and opportunities that these managers look for and use. But I’ve found that if I can’t step back and articulate why I’d use a strategy in three or four bullet points, I’m better off walking away.

Most of the time you’re better off with the simple pick and roll.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Implementing Technology

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

You don’t necessarily need the most cutting-edge technology to get to the top of your game. According to a recent study, you can start by leveraging the technology you already have.

Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services’ 2013 RIA Benchmarking Study reveals that high-performing firms—those in the top quartile for growth, profitability and productivity—focused on smart technology and adoption, not getting the latest and greatest. These high-performing firms focus on optimizing their technology in three areas: portfolio management, service, and client reporting.

Here are ten steps you can take to make sure you get the most from your technology.

  1. Make adoption a priority. Commit putting in the time and effort to learn how best to maximize all of the system’s features. If you can’t do it yourself, make someone else in your office accountable.
  2. Plan. Learning a new software program is like learning a new language. It’s hard to know where to start. Your technology provider should be able to give you an implementation guide to show you the steps to follow, and milestones to hit.
  3. Set aside time. If you don’t carve out time on your schedule, it isn’t going to happen.
  4. Network. There are relatively few programs out there that haven’t already been tried and tested by others in similar positions as yours. Talk to everyone you know who has gone through the implementation process and find out what they did and what they wished they had done better.
  5. Gather resources. Request an inventory of the training your technology provider makes available. Once you know what they have for support materials, you can choose the format that best matches your learning style.
  6. Optimize Your TechnologyGet names and numbers. You need to have key information handy in a few different areas. Know the software name, version number, and license holder so that when you call or go online for help you can be sure you are asking about the right program. Also know the names and numbers of customer support persons at your technology provider.
  7. Troll the internet. Use social media find online user groups or other social media sites that could provide helpful implementation hints. For example, there may be a LinkedIn User Group already established for the purposes of optimizing your software.
  8. Monitor progress. Perform periodic self-checks to monitor your progress towards the goals set in your implementation plan.
  9. Celebrate incremental success. Even if you haven’t learned everything there is to know, make note of how the technology improves your efficiency. Success is a powerful motivator and will prompt you to plow through your learning curve.
  10. Provide feedback. Software engineers constantly strive to innovate. If there is something you don’t like about your program or would like to see handled differently, let them know. You may just have a function named after you in the next version!

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Housing Recovery: Slow but Sustainable

Sheila BonitzSheila Bonitz, Vice President of Investment Management,
Brinker Capital

As we enter into the busiest selling season of the housing market (March – June), we are seeing signs of improvement within the housing industry as a whole. While many believe that the housing market is sustainable, it has not been a “V-shaped” recovery. Instead, it may be a long, slow road as the effects of the 2008 housing crisis are still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Positive signs for the housing industry:

U.S. Consumer Confidence

Source: FactSet

  • Mortgage delinquency rates are trending down, which is a positive for the economy.
  • Home prices are firming and increasing in some areas. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index increased +13% over the last 12 months.
  • Overall consumer confidence is increasing, and potential homebuyers are feeling better about buying a home.
  • Pent-up demand–we are well below the average of household formation since the 2008 crisis. Kids are living on the couch versus moving out.

What is different with this recovery?
Developers are much more strategic than what they were in 2006/2007. They are making purposeful, strategic decisions and are concentrating. Developers are focused on the A-market where the focus is on move-up buyers that are less sensitive to price and who have acceptable credit scores. Within the A-market, developers have flexibility with the price of the home. Slightly higher prices help to drive steady volume, which helps control inventory levels and provides steady work for the construction crews. The slightly higher home prices also give a lift to the developers’ operating margins.

Credit is still tight. The average FICO score for approved mortgage loans is 737, well above the 690 average we saw in the 2004-2007 period.

Potential homebuyers enter the housing market cautiously. With home prices on the rise again, they have concerns that their newly-purchased home value may fall sharply. 2008 clearly showed the world that there is no guarantee of generating a profit on the investment of a home. That being said, with interest rates at historic lows and with the cost of buying more advantageous than renting, we will see more people tiptoe their way back into the housing market.

Things to watch:

Mortgage Delinquency Rates

Source: FactSet

  • Does credit remain tight? Currently credit is tight. Wells Fargo* announced on 2/26/14 that they dropped their FICO minimum on FHA Loans to 600; Will other lenders follow Wells Fargo’s lead in lowering FICO minimums? If they do, we may see an increase in potential homebuyers.
  • Mortgage delinquency rates. Do they continue to trend down? If so, banks may be willing to lend.
  • Interest rate increase – gradual or sharp? The Housing market can absorb gradual interest rate increases, however; if we see another sharp increase like we did last summer, it will definitely have a negative impact on the housing market as a sharp increase in interest rates creates concern among potential homebuyers.
  • Monthly jobs report is trending up. As employment increases, the perceived pent-up demand will gradually bring more homebuyers to the market.
  • Supply. Housing supply has been low. Will there be an increase in supply for the spring selling season? Will it be met with increased demand to keep prices up?

Source: “Wells Fargo Lowers Credit Scores for FHA Loans,” National Mortgage News (Feb. 6, 2014)

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

Safeguarding the Family Enterprise: Children and Wealth

Tom WilsonTom Wilson, Managing Director, Private Client Group &
Senior Investment Manager

A blog in a continuing series on the safeguarding of the family enterprise.

There is a Chinese proverb that goes, “Wealth does not pass three generations.”  This fits the notion that when significant wealth is created by the first generation of a family, the second generation gets to enjoy it, but the third generation, which was so far removed from the work ethic of the first generation, squanders it.

The conversation of wealth is often missed between parents and children.  For wealthy parents, discussing money with children can be a daunting task.  When is the best age to discuss the subject?  How much is too much information?  What if I want to give my money away to charity?  The stress surrounding these questions can often prevent these conversations from taking place.

Safguarding the Family EnterpriseWhile these questions, and others, are difficult to bring up, they are essential.  They will provide the context to determine the balance between providing enough money so that the children can pursue their dreams without a concern for their finances, and not providing so much of an inheritance that a feeling of entitlement or loss of self-purpose develops.  Warren Buffet said it best when he noted that he wanted to leave enough money for his heirs so they can do anything, but not so much money that they can do nothing.

A Wall Street Journal article on the subject gave several suggestions on how to speak with kids about generational wealth.  A favorite was the example of a pre-teen son who approached his mother and asked, “Are we rich?”  The mother replied, “Your father and I are. But you are not.”

A holistic approach to wealth management can go beyond asset allocation and financial planning.  Make sure you participate in the educating of children around family wealth.

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.

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.

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.

Investment Insights Podcast – January 31, 2014

Investment Insights PodcastBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded January 30, 2014):

  • What we like: Acceleration in the sales for companies; Pick-up in housing survey data; States building surplus; Global synchronized recovery.
  • What we don’t like: Emerging markets uncertainty; Investor sentiment too high
  • What we are doing about it: Hedging appropriately in tactical and strategic portfolios; Hedging against emerging market risks; Underlying currents strong.

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.