February 2017 market and economic review and outlook

magnotta_headshot_2016Amy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager

Markets were off to a good start in 2017 as risk assets posted modest gains for the month. After taking a brief pause from the post-election fourth quarter rally, risk assets continued to climb at a more tempered pace, with returns driven more by healthy fundamentals than post-election hype. Economic data leaned positive and a solid earnings reporting season helped bolster consumer confidence. Inflation risk continued to increase with rising wages and stabilization of commodity prices and will likely continue to rise as the new political administration begins implementing its pro-growth policies.

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The S&P 500 was up 1.9% for the month. Cyclicals outperformed more defensive sectors with both materials and information technology up over 4%. Energy was down -3.6%, a reversal from the sector’s strong returns in 2016. Telecom was down -2.5% as income-focused stocks continue to experience pressure from the rise in interest rates. Growth outperformed value and mid cap led small and large cap equities.

International equities were up 3.6% in January. Economic data in the European Union pointed to signs of a modest recovery as GDP growth rose and unemployment fell. Progress, however, remains uneven amongst countries, creating headwinds for the European Central Bank to implement future effective monetary policy. Likewise Japan saw beginning signs of an economic recovery but no indication was given that the Bank of Japan is ready to start tapering it’s accommodate monetary policy. Emerging markets were up 5.5%, outperforming developed international markets. After experiencing a drawdown in the fourth quarter last year, the asset class rallied due in part to stabilization of commodity prices.

Fixed income was slightly positive with the Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Index up 0.2% and Bloomberg Barclays Municipal Bond up 0.7%. The 10 year Treasury yield ended at 2.46%, relatively unchanged from the start of the month, but down from the 2.59% peak in mid-December of last year. High yield was the best performing sector, up 1.5%, as spreads slightly contracted. Going forward we expect fixed income returns to remain muted as the Fed continues with its interest normalization efforts.

The Brinker Capital investment team remains positive on risk assets over the intermediate term, although we acknowledge we are in the later innings of the bull market and the second half of the business cycle. While our macro outlook is biased in favor of the positives and recession is not our base case, especially considering the potential of reflationary policies from the new administration, the risks must not be ignored:

  • Reflationary fiscal policies: With the new administration and an all‐Republican government, we expect fiscal policy expansion in 2017, including tax cuts, repatriation of foreign sourced profits, increased infrastructure and defense spending, and a more benign regulatory environment.
  • Global growth improving: U.S. economic growth is ticking higher and there are signs growth outside of the U.S., in both developed and emerging markets, are improving.
  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: The Federal Reserve is taking a careful approach to policy normalization. ECB and Bank of Japan balance sheets expanded in 2016 and central banks remain supportive of growth.

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

  • Administration unknowns: While the upcoming administration’s policies are currently being viewed favorably, uncertainties remain. The market may be too optimistic that all of the pro‐growth policies anticipated will come to fruition. We are unsure how Trump’s trade policies will develop, and there is the possibility for geopolitical missteps.
  • Risk of policy mistake: The Federal Reserve has begun to slowly normalize monetary policy, but the future path of rates is still unclear. Should inflation move significantly higher, there is also the risk that the Fed falls behind the curve. The ECB and the Bank of Japan could also disappoint market participants, bringing the credibility of central banks into question.

The technical backdrop of the market is favorable, credit conditions are supportive, and we have started to see some acceleration in economic growth. So far Trump’s policies are being seen as pro‐growth, and investor confidence has improved. We expect higher
volatility to continue as we digest the onset of the Trump administration and the actions of central banks, but our view on risk assets remains positive over the intermediate term. Higher volatility can lead to attractive pockets of opportunity we can take
advantage of as active managers.

A PDF version of Amy’s commentary is available to download from the Brinker Capital Resource Center. Find it here >>

Source: Brinker Capital. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. Indices are unmanaged and an investor cannot invest directly in an index. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting.

Barclays Municipal Bond Index: A market-weighted index, maintained by Barclays Capital, used to represent the broad market for investment grade, tax-exempt bonds with a maturity of over one year. Such index will have different level of volatility than the actual investment portfolio. S&P 500: An index consisting of 500 stocks chosen for market size, liquidity and industry grouping, among other factors. The S&P 500 is designed to be a leading indicator of U.S. equities and is meant to reflect the risk/return characteristics of the large-cap universe. Companies included in the Index are selected by the S&P Index Committee, a team of analysts and economists at Standard & Poor’s. World Index Ex-U.S. includes both developed and emerging markets. Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate: A market capitalization-weighted index, maintained by Bloomberg Barclays, and is often used to represent investment grade bonds being traded in the United States.

Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

The road to interest rate normalization

lowmanLeigh Lowman, Investment Manager

“Lower for longer”; the motto heard repeatedly since the 2008 financial crisis may soon be irrelevant as interest rates have begun the much anticipated path of normalization. We believe interest rates are biased higher in the longer term as economic data leans positive, giving the green light for the Fed to resume its interest rate normalization efforts. As shown in the chart below, the recent December rate increase is likely the first in a series of hikes to occur over the next few years. However, the process of longer term rates moving higher will likely be prolonged and characterized in fits and starts, rather than linear, as the market adapts to the new normal.

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Source: FactSet, Federal Reserve, J.P. Morgan Asset Management. U.S. data are as of November 30, 2016. Market expectations are the federal funds rates priced into the fed futures market as of the date of the September 2016 FOMC meeting. *Forecasts of 17 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants are median estimates. **Last futures market expectation is for August 2019 due to data availability.

Many positive factors are currently present in the economy that point to a move toward interest rate normalization, including:

Stable U.S. economic growth – U.S. economic growth has been modest but steady.  The onset of the Trump administration will likely further stimulate the economy through reflationary fiscal policies including tax cuts, infrastructure spending and a more benign regulatory environment.

Supportive credit environment – Since the February 11, 2016 market bottom, high yield credit spreads contracted 431 basis points with most sector credit spreads now at or near one year market lows. Commodity prices have also stabilized.

Inflation expectations – Historically there has been a strong positive correlation between interest rates and inflation. Many of the anticipated policies of the Trump administration are inherently inflationary, and inflation expectations have increased accordingly. In addition, we believe we are in the second half of the business cycle, typically characterized by wage growth and increased capital expenditures, both of which eventually translate into higher prices.

Unemployment levels – The labor market has become stronger and is nearing full employment. Unemployment has dropped to a level last seen in 2007.

What does this mean for fixed income?

While a rising rate environment may suggest flat to even negative returns for some areas of fixed income, it still provides stability in the portfolio when equities sell off.  Historically, fixed income has had substantially less drawdown than equities. For example shown in the charts below, in the two days following the Brexit decision on June 23, 2016, equities sold off over 4% and fixed income was up sharply. Likewise fixed income provided an attractive safe haven during the market correction in the beginning of 2016. In an environment of rising rates, we expect fixed income to provide a good counter to equity volatility.

rate_chart_2_1-5-17

Source: FactSet

Although uncertainty remains on the timing and trajectory of interest rates changes, we believe interest rates are poised higher for the longer term. Brinker Capital is committed to helping investors navigate through a rising rate environment. All of our products are based on a multi-asset class investment philosophy, a proven method of achieving meaningful diversification

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start the New Year off right: Resolve to read more

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

Many New Year’s resolutions focus on developing healthy habits. An important one to keep is intellectual curiosity. In no particular order, below is a reading list for 2017. Some deal more directly with finance than others, but they each explore economic, sociopolitical, cultural and behavioral issues that are ultimately relevant to global markets.

  1. Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It. Wendell Potter & Nick Penniman, Bloomsbury Press, 2016.

Nation on the Take explores the evolution of lobbying in the United States and the increased role of money in politics following the Citizens United case of 2010. What is most satisfying about the book is the extent to which its authors manage to remain nonpartisan, calling out Republicans and Democrats alike. If your New Year’s resolution involves lowering your blood pressure, I advise against skipping over this suggestion.

  1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. D. Vance, Harper Collins Publishing, 2016.

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy details the disenchantment of Appalachia in a view that manages to be impartially critical but also remain in solidarity with the region. This book seems to be making its way onto every “essential reading” list, and deservedly so given its relevancy to the foundations of the new wave of populism that is still working its way across the globe.

  1. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia. Peter Pomerantsev, Public Affairs Publishing, 2015.

While Charles Clover’s more recent Black Wind, White Snow overtly concerns itself with the Kremlin as its sole subject, Nothing is True is a wide-ranging, colorful firsthand account of the backwards elements of Russia’s culture. A poll of a certain political party recently showed that 37 percent of respondents view Vladimir Putin favorably, versus just 10 percent in July 2014. As America’s attitude towards Russia evolves, this book is a warning to think twice before offering such a seal of approval—a stark illustration of just how diametrically opposed many Russian norms are relative to those of the U.S.

  1. The Crisis of Crowding: Quant Copycats, Ugly Models, and the New Crash Normal. Ludwig Chincarini, John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Chincarini’s The Crisis of Crowding could best be described as a mathematically detailed, focused version of Scott Patterson’s The Quants. The book analytically decomposes the 1998 collapse of Long-Term Capital Management and the 2008-09 Financial Crisis, exploring the common thread between them in that both resulted partly from incomplete pictures of risk in behaviorally erratic systems.

  1. Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat Casinos and Wall Street. William Poundstone, Hill and Wang, 2006.

Like the preceding choice on this list, Fortune’s Formula is a technical treatise of a subject that often gets “glossed over” despite its critical importance to markets. The author manages to explore the mathematically weighty Kelly criterion in a boiled-down, coherent, and practically applicable framework.

  1. Personal Benchmark: Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management. Chuck Widger and Daniel Crosby, John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Financial advisors do their clients a great service by educating them about investing best practices, but at times of volatility, logic is often thrown out the window. As the authors wrote in the book, “While investor awareness and education can be powerful, the very nature of stressful events is such that rational thinking and self-reliance are at their nadir when fear is at its peak.” The authors provide a framework for embedding good behavior into the investment process.

  1. The Laws of Wealth: Psychology and the Secret to Investing Success. Daniel Crosby, Harriman House, 2016.

And if you are looking for a list of rules to follow in the year to exercise good investing behavior, The Laws of Wealth helps keep you on the straight and narrow. The book provides clear, concise direction on what investors should think, ask and do.

Once you finish these books, more books can be found from the recommended lists by The Economist, Financial Times, and Bloomberg

Enjoy, and happy New Year!

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

 

Providing care without sacrificing goals

John_SolomonJohn SolomonExecutive Vice President, Wealth Advisory

In what should be peak earning years, many employees of American business owners encounter family situations that make it difficult to save for retirement at planned levels. As parents and grandparents live longer and medical and long-term care expenses continue to rise, millions of Americans are providing care to ensure elderly loved ones can remain at home.

The number of adult children who provide personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled in the last 15 years. Currently, 25% of adults, mostly Baby Boomers, provide some care to a parent.[1]

On average, most caregivers are women (66%) who are 49 years old, married and employed.[2]  Being a caregiver means attending appointments, providing hands-on support, and “checking-in” often during work hours, making it difficult to juggle those duties with the demands of a career. No matter how flexible the schedule, caretaking obligations can negatively affect earning power and ultimately impact an employee’s ability to save for retirement. A national study of women who provide care reveals the struggle of balancing care and career:

  • 33% decreased work hours to provide care
  • 29% passed up a job promotion, training or assignment
  • 22% took a leave of absence
  • 20% switched from full-time to part-time employment
  • 16% quit their jobs
  • 13% retired early

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In addition to impacting the ability to save, caregivers often have to tap their savings to pay for the care of their loved one. Co-payments, prescription costs, food, transportation services, home heath aides, and home modifications typically are among the expenses caregivers cover to the tune of around $5,000 a year.

The family caregiver trend will only gain steam as each generation’s life expectancy elongates. Here are helpful tips from for your employees that may be required to take care of their parents:

  • Establish an emergency savings account, pay off debt and maximize retirement savings opportunities before caregiving demands hinder your ability to do so.
  • Determine whether long-term care insurance is a viable option for your loved one.
  • Consider how you could approach siblings or other potential caregivers to discuss the emotional and financial realities of caregiving. Caregiving is a tremendous responsibility which has the potential of serving as a catalyst for family conflict in the absence of clear communication and understanding.
  • Make a commitment to continue to save for retirement through either a traditional or Roth IRA or a Simplified Employee Pension.
  • Put safeguards in place to help you resist the temptation to spend your 401(k) or IRA money to pay caregiving expenses.
  • Engage with legal counsel who can help in executing the necessary legal documents, such as a durable power of attorney, health care proxy, living will, or living trust.

For nearly 30 years, Brinker Capital has followed a disciplined multi-asset class approach to build portfolios that integrate an investor’s investment objectives and goals to ensure that their assets are effectively meeting their needs. Brinker Capital Wealth Advisory provides customized portfolios for business owners, individual investors, and institutions with assets of at least $2 million. An overview is available of the services provided by Brinker Capital Wealth Advisory. Find it here >>

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

[1] The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers. (June 2011). MetLife Mature Market Institute.

[2] Family Caregiver Alliance National Center on Caregiving. www.caregiver.org.

Happy Holidays from Brinker Capital

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer, Brinker Capital

I wanted to take a moment to wish all of our advisors, the clients they serve, our strategic partners, and all friends of Brinker Capital, a wonderful holiday season.

We are thankful for the many partnerships we have with you and the continued support you show us. We are looking forward to another year of commitment to taking great ideas and applying a strong discipline to provide better outcomes.

On behalf of Brinker Capital, Happy Holidays!

> Watch the video here


December 2016 market and economic review and outlook


magnotta_headshot_2016Amy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager

The dramatic market shifts in November were not for the fainthearted. Risk assets ended the month mixed with domestic assets posting strong positive returns and international assets generally negative. November began with risk assets in a steady downtrend but abruptly reversed in the aftermath of the Trump victory. Markets surged with the anticipation of Trump policy initiatives such as increased infrastructure spending, tax reform and less regulation. Expectations of increased economic growth coupled with rising commodity prices heightened fears of higher inflation and continue to fuel speculation of a Fed rate hike during the fourth quarter. As political and central bank policy continue to unfold, we expect heightened market volatility to continue. We remain positive on risk assets over the intermediate term, although we acknowledge we are in the later innings of the bull market and the second half of the business cycle.

Our macro outlook is biased in favor of the positives and recession is not our base case:

  • Reflationary fiscal policies: With the new administration and an all‐Republican government, we expect fiscal policy expansion in 2017, including tax cuts, repatriation of foreign sourced profits, and infrastructure spending, as well as a more benign regulatory environment.
  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: The Fed’s approach to tightening monetary policy has been patient. The Bank of Japan and the ECB remain supportive, and the Bank of England may need to join in response to the Brexit vote.
  • Stable U.S. growth and tame inflation: U.S. economic growth has been modest but steady, and the reflationary policies discussed above should boost economic activity. Wage growth, a big driver of inflation, has remained in check.
  • Constructive backdrop for U.S. consumer: The U.S. consumer should continue to benefit from lower oil prices and a stronger labor market.

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

  • Risk of policy mistake: In the U.S. the subsequent path of rates is uncertain and may not be in line with market expectations, which could lead to increased volatility. Should inflation expectations move significantly higher, there is also the risk that the Fed falls behind the curve. The ECB and the Bank of Japan could also disappoint market participants, bringing the credibility of central banks into question.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is weaker.
  • Risk of more protectionist trade policies: The new administration may impose tariffs and/or renegotiate trade agreements.

The technical backdrop of the market has improved, as have credit conditions, helped by the favorable macroeconomic environment. We have also seen some reacceleration in earnings growth. So far Trump’s policies are being seen as pro‐growth, and investor confidence has improved.

We expect higher volatility to continue as we digest the actions of central banks and the onset of the Trump administration; but our view on risk assets remains positive over the intermediate term. Higher volatility can lead to attractive pockets of opportunity we can take advantage of as active managers.

A PDF version of Amy’s commentary is available to download from the Brinker Capital Resource Center. Find it here >>

Source: Brinker Capital. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. Indices are unmanaged and an investor cannot invest directly in an index. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Odyssey

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFA, CFP, Investment Analyst

In Homer’s Odyssey there is a memorable section where Odysseus and his crew must shutterstock_369235274sail past the island of the lovely Sirens. He has been warned to plug his crew’s ears with wax so that they will not be susceptible to the Sirens’ call. However, wishing to hear the Sirens’ calls for himself, he orders his men to tie him to the mast of the ship and ignore his future orders until they are clear of the island.

The need to stay the course and to ignore distractions are relevant to many facets of life, but I find special meaning related to long-term investing. When people think of investment risk they normally focus on the volatility seen in recent investment returns. However, the returns of a random month, quarter or even a year has an overrated impact on an account’s growth over a 10+ year horizon.

Tolerance for this volatility/risk typically has more to do with investor psychological make-up than the mathematical impact of these short-term returns on much longer term account performance. For me, this volatility and other market noise represent the Sirens that threaten to take investors off course. Two investors who are the same in every other way and invest in the same portfolio, will have a different investment experience based on how often they look at their account and how they feel about what they see.

In other words, similar to Odysseus’ crew, the journey can be made less stressful and easier by turning off the noise. While feelings and emotions are important considerations, as lost sleep and stress meaningfully impact a person’s well-being, a better course is set by focusing on more objective investment risks. Among the most relevant objective risks for investors is shortfall risk.

Shortfall risk

Most investors invest to fulfill a future goal/need years in the future. Shortfall risk is simply the risk that the money allocated and invested to this future goal/need proves to be inadequate to pay for it when the time comes. This risk is very real and goes well beyond how an investor feels about it. If an investor needs $100,000 a year in retirement but finds that due to insufficient account growth he or she can only sustainably take out $80,000 a year from his or her portfolio at retirement, the math will simply not work. No solace is offered by the smooth but inadequate investment journey of an overly conservative allocation when the investment goal is not achieved.

Addressing volatility

The challenge is often to achieve the long-term returns that can meet account balance requirements, volatility must be taken on. While Odysseus could have taken a long detour around the island of the lovey Sirens, his goal of getting home in a timely fashion would not have been met (and for those who know the story, he had a deadline). Similarly, an investor could ensure a very smooth investment journey by investing in a portfolio dominated by short-term bonds, but could find investment account growth inadequate to meet the goal of the investment. The good news is that if investors can find a way to plug their ears to the noise, they can get the longer-term returns they need and minimize the stress of the volatility along the way.

Multi-asset class goals-based investing is one way to have the investor take a longer view on his or her investing to see past the present sirens of volatility and recent returns to the goal at the end of the investing horizon. Without the ability to take the long-run prospective, we are like Odysseus hearing the Sirens call. Without an advisor to keep the ship on course, the journey is potentially doomed. Investing is only successful if the investor can stay the course and stay invested. The importance of keeping the investor from letting the heart rule the head is one of the most important roles of the investment advisor.

Brinker Capital understands that investing for the long-term can be daunting. That’s why we are focused on providing multi-asset class investment solutions that help investors manage the emotions of investing to achieve their unique financial goals.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Give thought to how you give this holiday season

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

The holidays represent a time when many Americans express love and affection with gifts. Gift giving serves many purposes in our society. It helps define relationships, express feelings, show appreciation, smooth a disagreement, share good fortune, and strengthen bonds. While the joy of giving is undeniable, excessive spending could put your financial goals in jeopardy and ultimately stand in the way of happiness.

The American Research Group projects that the average person will spend $929 on gifts this holiday season. To put this amount in perspective, consider the following:

  • Last year, the average consumer spent $882, so this year consumers believe they will spend on average $47 more than last.
  • The last time consumers spending exceeded $900 was in 2006.
  • We’ve had a somewhat steady climb in spending since 2009 when the average person spent $417.
  • Gift spending peaked in 2001 when the average person spent $1,052 on holiday gifts.

live-simplyAs with any benchmark, the amount of money “the average person” spends on holiday gifts should bear little relevance on your spending. Whether you spend more or less than this projection is a personal choice that is best made with intention and with your own financial situation and goals in mind. These common holiday spending triggers, however, could get in the way of mindfulness and prompt you to spend more than intended.

Keeping up with others. If you try to match the amounts spent by colleagues, friends, family or peers, you could find yourself spending beyond your means and putting your financial goals in jeopardy.

Trying to be fair. A common cause of spend creep happens to create a sense of balance or fairness. When you overspend on one relative, you may be inclined to create equalization by matching the dollar value of gifts for others.

Just getting it done.  For some, holiday shopping is just another task in an already long list of things to accomplish by the end of the calendar year. It’s easy to overspend if you haven’t committed to a spending budget, decided who to buy for and what to get, and taken the time to seek out the best deals.

Autopilot. Sometimes we gift without considering whether the expenditure aligns with current realities. As families evolve, a discussion about how each member would like to celebrate the holidays may be worthwhile. For example, as your extended family grows, it may make sense to discuss a kids-only gift policy, put monetary limits on spending, or do a gift swap.

Self-purchases. Nearly sixty percent of holiday shoppers (58%) will buy for themselves and will spend on average of $139.61 doing so. This year’s projected self-spending is up 4% from 2015 and is at the second-highest level in National Retail Federation survey’s 13-year history.

The holidays only come once a year. Many people enter the holiday season as they would a free zone. They buy until they get to the end of their ever-growing list of recipients. They decorate until every square inch reflects the feeling of festivity in their heart. Unfortunately, many people do so without regard to the implications on short and mid-range financial goals and thus experience feelings of regret.

The act of gift giving has tremendous intrinsic and extrinsic value. A growing body of research suggests that the most important way in which money makes us happy is when we give it away. Gift giving at the expense of long-term financial goals, however, will bring anything but happiness.

Temptations beset all sides of the path to your financial dreams. During the holidays, temptations may take an altruistic form but still involve spending for today’s pleasures and forgetting about the Future You. This holiday season, give thought to how you give because the Future You is depending on your ability to be mindful, spot (over)spending triggers, and positively influence your ability to endure.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Trump’s free lunch: Avoiding a painful indigestion

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

The aphorism “there is no free lunch” is one of those handy phrases used ad-nauseam in Economics courses. The seductively tasty platter currently set in front of investors is a lightning-fast reallocation of assets towards stocks that should “clearly” benefit from a Donald Trump presidency. Often, however, it pays to be a skeptic. I’m not critiquing the efficacy of the policies themselves towards promoting Americans’ well-being; I’m talking about the need to unhurriedly assess the second-level investment implications of policy and whether they have already been discounted into asset prices.

The ascendancy of the Trump administration and the degree to which President-Elect Trump will remain wedded to his campaign rhetoric have a number of moving parts. Now may be an opportune time to patiently exercise what Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital calls “second-level thinking”:

First-level thinking says, “It’s a good company; let’s buy the stock.” Second-level thinking says, “It’s a good company, but everyone thinks it’s a great company, and it’s not. So the stock’s overrated and overpriced; let’s sell.”[1]

At Brinker Capital, we believe that second-level thinking is best nurtured by asking questions. Trump’s vision is to “transform America’s crumbling infrastructure into a golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth.” The number touted by greatagain.gov is $550 billion, and a recent paper by senior Trump advisors, Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, calls for spurring $1 trillion in privately-financed infrastructure investment over the next decade through use of tax credits.[2]  Buy infrastructure seems to be the screamingly obvious investment implication, but here are a few less obvious questions:

Is our infrastructure actually “crumbling?”

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructure a “D” in its 2013 report card.[3] But coming from a professional trade organization of civil engineers, that’s probably akin to asking the cows from the Chic-fil-A commercials whether they prefer beef or chicken. Policy analyst Mark Scribner calls this the “Great Infrastructure Myth” and notes that the number of structurally deficient bridges has been declining for over two decades while pavements have become smoother in aggregate.[4]  A recent piece by Deutsche Bank Research[5] argued that infrastructure spending in the U.S. is not, as commonly assumed, lacking:

  • When using infrastructure-specific price indices, the share of real government investment to output has been stable for much of the last three decades.
  • After taking into account compositional changes in private capex, business investment has also remained steady as a percent of output.

How much “leakage” is there to the transmission mechanism by which government spending boosts profits in the private sector?

Investors would be wise to examine the intended and realized consequences of President Obama’s $840 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of February 2009, much of which was directed towards infrastructure. Michael Grabell’s 2012 piece “How Not to Revive an Economy” provides a sobering look at what led President Obama to admit that “there’s no such thing” as a shovel-ready project.[6]

Which subsectors are winners of increased public spending on infrastructure?

Infrastructure is a blanket term that encompasses a large array of systems: energy, transit, ports, aviation, levees, dams, schools, roads, inland waterways, public parks, rail, bridges, drinking water, and waste treatment. Twelve of the 16 sectors reviewed on the ASCE’s 2013 report card received a grade of “C” or worse. Narrowing in on two subsectors, what evidence exists that Trump will favor oil and gas over renewable energy, for instance, and will he possess the means to undo the renewable energy investment tax credit (ITC) that was recently renewed in December 2015?

Okay, you’ve decided to buy an infrastructure fund. What’s under the hood?

There are 18 open-end funds focused on infrastructure and 15 ETFs with “infrastructure” in their name. Let’s say that you’ve set your sights on one of the larger ETFs in the group focused on income-generating infrastructure equities. By sector, utilities comprise 49% of the ETF, not uncommon for other members of the group. Is that an allocation you’re comfortable making? The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget projects that the Trump administration’s plans will increase the national debt by $5.3 trillion, to 105 percent of GDP by 2026.[7] Profligate deficits tend to have the effect of raising benchmark interest rates, and high-yielding utility stocks have traditionally been rate-sensitive instruments.

The investment world lends mythical status to the “contrarian” who takes out-of-favor positions. But standing out from the crowd is also possible simply through exercising patience and requiring a fully fleshed out view as precedent for making a judgment.

Our founder, Chuck Widger, provides timeless advice in his New York Times best selling book entitled, Personal Benchmark: Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management, that helps advisors and investors stay the course in times such as these:

What this boils down to is that advisors must develop and oversee the execution of an investment strategy that anticipates the inevitable potholes and stays the course of efficiently compounding the investment portfolio to create purchasing power. This requires both the management of the investment portfolio and the management of investor behavior. Skilled, experienced advisors know that one of their most important responsibilities is to help investors avoid making emotional decisions when volatility is high or when markets are irrationally exuberant.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. 

[1] Marks, Howard.  “It’s Not Easy.”  Oaktree Capital Management.  September 2015.

[2] Ross, Wilbur & Peter Navarro.  “Trump versus Clinton on Infrastructure.”  October 2016.  Specifically, the paper assumes projects are funded by debt and equity at a ratio of 5:1 and proposes to award a tax credit to the equity investor at 82% of the equity contribution or 13.7% of the project cost, and then tax the labor component of construction and the contractor’s pretax profits to bring the program towards revenue neutrality.

[3] American Society of Civil Engineers.  “2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.”  March 2013.

[4] Scribner, Marc.  “The Great Infrastructure Myth.”  Competitive Enterprise Institute.  November 2016.

[5] Tierney, John.  “America’s Fiscal Consensus—A Bridge Too Far.”  Deutsche Bank Research.  October 2016.

[6] Grabell, Michael.  “How Not To Revive an Economy.”  The New York Times.  February 2012.

[7] Committee for a Responsible Budget.  “Promises and Price Tags: An Update.”  September 22, 2016.

Veterans Day: A time to say thank you

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

Today we recognize those who have sacrificed careers, precious time with loved ones, and even their lives to answer our country’s call to service.

Please take a moment out of your busy day today to attend a Veterans Day event in your area or simply say thank you to those who are currently serving or have served in the military.

On this Veteran’s Day, we say thank you to our veterans at Brinker Capital—Chuck Widger, Tom Daley, Jimmy Dever, Lee Dolan, Jay O’Brien, Jim O’Hara, Jeff Raupp and Bill Talbot—and to everyone who has served and protected our country.

To be born free is an accident.
To live free is a privilege.
To die free is a responsibility.
–Brig. Gen. James Sehorn

If you’re looking for additional ways to get involved, click here for ideas.

Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor