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Quarterly Client Letters

April 1, 2016

Dear Client: The major market measures posted the following mixed returns for the first quarter of 2016: Index YTD 2016 Dow Jones Industrial Average +1.49% S&P 500 +0.77% NASDAQ Composite -2.75%   The first quarter ended on a constructive note following some anxious volatility earlier in the quarter that saw the S&P 500 down over 10% year-to-date.  The concern seemed to center on the continuing health of the economy and whether it was beginning to slow toward a recession. As we stated in our last quarterly letter, we have confidence in the strength of our economy and do not think a recession is likely until at least 2018.  Our optimism is based in part on the following fundamentals: Private sector jobs have increased for 71 consecutive months. More jobs means more money circulating within the economy.  New claims for unemployment benefits have remained under 300,000 for 56 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch in more than forty years. Incomes are increasing while consumers continue to keep their debt ratios at low levels. This leaves room for future big-ticket spending and builds consumer confidence. Auto sales remain at or near record levels. Housing remains a bright spot for the economy with low interest rates helping to drive demand. There is also a continuing price recovery occurring in many regions of the country and with more people working and personal incomes rising, this looks to continue. Except for the energy sector, corporate profit margins are high, earnings continue to grow and balance sheets are loaded with cash which gives them flexibility to invest in greater efficiencies and make acquisitions. At the time... read more

January 1, 2016

Dear Client: Let us first wish you a Happy New Year!  We hope 2016 will be a healthy, fulfilling and prosperous year for you and your family. Since most of our clients have at least a portion of their investments in equities, now is a good time to review how the past year compares to the S&P 500 over the last decade:   2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 +15.79% +5.49% -37.00% +26.46% +15.06% +2.11% +16.00% +32.39% +13.68% +1.40%   From a return perspective, 2015 was a disappointing period for stocks.  The long term positives for stocks were offset by worries over the effects a Federal Reserve tightening might have on the United States economy, a drop in oil prices and a slowdown in China. While we are aware of these market concerns, they have not altered our long-term positive outlook on the markets and here is why: Federal Reserve tightening:  On December 16, 2015 the Federal Reserve raised its targeted Fed Funds rate by 0.25%. As we have stated previously, the Fed is very vested in the current economic recovery. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to build this recovery and are not going to jeopardize its durability with rate increases that are not supported by economic strength. Additionally, the Federal Reserve is not looking to slow an overheated economy, but to simply back out the highly accommodative emergency measures put in place in 2008. As such, they have stated that this is going to be a more gradual, slower tightening process than in previous cycles. Rates are currently so low that for at... read more

October 1, 2015

Dear Client: Year-to-date returns for the major stock indices through the third quarter of 2015 are as follows: Index YTD 2015 Dow Jones Industrial Average -8.63% S&P 500 -6.75% NASDAQ Composite -2.45% As we have stated in earlier letters, market pullbacks are a normal and healthy part of market growth.  Broad markets historically average three 5% pullbacks each year.  One out of every three 5% pullbacks develops into a 10% correction with one in ten becoming a full blown correction of 20% or more. Market pullbacks are never easy to accept, but the good news is we do not see the current situation developing into a major bear-market selloff.  Those are typically the result of a recession.  Realistically, there is little expectation of a recession at this time because the supporting fundamentals are solid and stable.  These economic fundamentals include: Private sector jobs have increased for 66 consecutive months. We continue to have a recovery in the housing and construction industries. Consumers have been steadily paying down debt and adding to their savings. Their debt ratios are back at reduced levels not seen since the 1980s which leaves room for an upswing in future big-ticket spending. Auto sales are near record levels and rising. Corporate profits, other than the energy sector, continue to grow and corporate balance sheets are loaded with cash which gives them flexibility. Here are the major issues that are currently weighing on the equity markets: Uncertainty over when the Federal Reserve will begin to raise interest rates. While the media has made a huge issue out of this, the timing of this event is only... read more

July 1, 2015

Dear Client: Returns for the major stock indices for the first half of 2015 are as follows:   Index YTD 2015 Dow Jones Industrial Average -1.14% S&P 500 +0.20% NASDAQ Composite +5.30%     Year-to-date, the driving market forces for stocks and bonds have included both temporary and ongoing issues.  The temporary issues hit largely in the first quarter of 2015, including an unusually cold and snowy winter for major portions of the country and a West Coast port strike delaying the normal flow of many goods.  Like 2014, when harsh weather temporarily held the economy back, we expect forthcoming economic reports will show growth lost in the first quarter will be recovered in the second and third quarters of this year.  The West Coast port strike ended in mid-March and we expect its limiting effects are also being recovered. Ongoing market driving forces include: Anticipation of Federal Reserve rate increases: Like many economists, we are expecting the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates later in 2015. This will be the first Fed rate increase in nine years. The timing of this increase is uncertain, but it is likely to happen this fall. While the media and many market followers continue to sensationalize the timing and importance of this Fed change, we believe the move is more symbolic. With the Fed currently targeting near-zero short term interest rates and saying the timing of rate increases will be determined by economic strength, our view is any rate increase in 2015 is cause for optimism.  We feel a rate increase will be signaling the Fed believes the economy is finally strong... read more

April 1, 2015

Dear Client: For the first quarter of 2015, the major indices had the following returns: Index First Qtr 2015 Dow Jones Industrial Average -0.26% S&P 500 +0.44% NASDAQ Composite +3.48% The start of 2015 seemed to be a near repeat version of 2014 where harsh winter weather during the first quarter and anticipated Federal Reserve action shaped the tone of the equity markets. This year, record snowfalls in the east and the coldest February temperatures on record for most Americans since 1979 likely had a negative, but temporary, effect on the economy. Combined with the port strike on the west coast, it is likely the first quarter GDP growth rate will later be reported at a rather tepid level. On the Federal Reserve front, last year at this time the Fed was posturing for an anticipated tapering and eventual halt of quantitative easing, one of its key economic support tools. Many market forecasters at that time anticipated such Fed action would mark the top for the equity markets. This year, the Fed is preparing to raise short-term interest rates for the first time in eleven years, and again, many are pessimistic about the long-term effect on stocks. The good news is we have seen this before and recall how similar circumstances in early 2014 eventually gave way to a 13.68% total return on the S&P 500 in 2014. Like last year, we expect GDP growth rates to bounce back later in the year after a weak first quarter. Likewise, last year’s dreaded Fed action eventually played out to be a non-event due in part to the growing strength in... read more

January 1, 2015

Dear Client: Happy New Year! We hope 2015 will be a healthy, fulfilling and prosperous year for you and your family. Since most of our clients have at least a portion of their investments in equities, now is a good time to review how the past year compares to the S&P 500 over the decade: 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 +4.91% +15.79% +5.49% -37.00% +26.46% +15.06% +2.11% +16.00% +32.39% +13.68% The long-term historical return for large company stocks, similar to those in the S&P 500, is around 10%, so 2014 was an above average return year. However, as those who follow the markets day-to-day know, 2014 was a year of volatility where both significant market gains and losses came over short periods of time, sometimes in just a matter of a few days. This reminded us of two closely related market idioms: Time in the market is more valuable than timing the market. While this is a very old market theme, it served those who practiced it in 2014 well, where volatile markets at times were giving up year-to-date returns of more than 5%, only to quickly gain them back, and significantly more. Market pullbacks are a healthy part of market growth. Broad markets historically average two 5% pullbacks and one correction of at least 10% each year. A focus on just 5% pullbacks shows only 1 out of 3 develops into a 10% correction and only 1 in 10 becomes a correction of 20% or more. We offer this data as a way of saying that market pullbacks, even in healthy, advancing economic... read more