4th Quarter Update
Whiteford Wealth Management, Inc.
404 Broadway Street, South Haven, MI 49090
Tel: (269) 637-4400 Fax: (269) 637-4407
January 3, 2017
Welcome to Whiteford Wealth Management’s Fourth Quarter 2016 Update! This past quarter was a particularly eventful one so we will spend a great deal of our time today discussing our thoughts on what has happened and where we think the markets are going to be heading; however, let’s first begin by talking Year-End numbers.
Name of Index Dec. 31, 2015 (close) Jan. 3, 2017 (close) Percentage Change
Dow Jones Ind. Avg. 17,425.03 19,881.76 14.10%
NASDAQ (IXIC) 5,007.41 5,429.08 8.42%
S&P 500 2,043.94 2,257.44 10.45%
CBOE 10-Yr (^TNX) 2.269% 2.45% 7.98%
Like always, please be advised that the percentage change in yields do not necessarily represent a similar decline in value, it only serves to show you that a substantial change in interest rates has occurred—although it does in fact affect the values of outstanding bonds. Also, many stocks of the DJIA and the S&P500 have dividends which are not included in the NAV’s percentage change on the associated index.
As illustrated in the next chart, we had a great year when considering YTD lows.
Name of Index Feb. 11, 2016 (close) Jan. 3, 2016 (close) Percentage Change
DJIA 15,660.18 19,881.76 26.96%
NASDAQ 4,266.84 5,429.08 27.24%
S&P 500 1,829.08 2,257.44 23.42%
10-Year T-Bond 1.644% 2.45% 49.03%
Lastly, let’s compare these figures to our foreign counterparts around the globe. We’ll do so by comparing the major indexes of Germany, China, UK, & Japan.
Name of Index Dec. 31, 2015 (close) Jan. 3, 2016 (close) Percentage Change
DAX (Germany) 10,743.01 11,598.33 (Jan. 2) 7.96%
SSE Comp. (China) 3,539.18 3,135.92 -11.39%
FTSE 100 (UK) 6,242.32 7,177.89 14.99%
Nikkei 225 (Japan) 19,033.71 19,594.16 (Jan. 4) 2.94%
German Bund (DE10Y:DE) 0.635% 0.31% -51.18%
Like before, the percentage change in Bund value is not necessarily reflective of a similar change in value, but, currently, if you loan the German government $100,000 for 10 years, they are still charging you to hold onto your money. We still think that the European landscape is economically too risky for a very large apportionment of any of our clients’ savings because of what these rates imply.
Source: Google Finance
Please also look to the following website for MCSI data on all countries listed (click the country tab about 1/3-way down). Look at the YTD and the rolling 1, 5, and 10 year periods.
Throughout the past year, we routinely discussed the fact that there was really only one place to invest in the world when it came to regional investing. Now, not only has our answer not changed, but for reasons that we will discuss later, we feel even more confident about this decision. When it comes to investing—especially pertaining to equities—one economic region in the world has made sense and outperformed the rest: North America. The absolute best performing region YTD has been the Pacific Region (excluding Japan) but we have only advocated small amounts of exposure to that region, as we feel that there has been quite a bit of unnecessary risk associated with investing there and we feel that this risk has been elevated because of the value growth that has been sustained over the past year.
Because we seek to mitigate risk on behalf of our clients to the greatest extent without ignoring the need for appreciation, we have felt and continue to feel that the US is the most prudent place to store our wealth for the near-term future.
The U.S. Presidential Election
We will be taking a different approach in this quarterly update. Instead of having several key areas of discussion that function more independently of one another, we will be taking each area and placing it against the backdrop of President-Elect Donald J. Trump. In this way, we can attempt to convey our thoughts about what the next four years will hold for each facet of the American economy and the global economy. These facets will be:
1. Large-Cap Dividend Paying Stocks
2. International Markets
3. Real Estate Investment Trusts and the Real Estate Markets
4. Bond Markets, Both Domestic and International
5. Taxes, Both Corporate and Individual
6. Overall Macroeconomic Trends
First, let’s begin by first quoting our last quarterly update as it pertains to the his election.
“Donald Trump’s potential win must be compared logically to that of last quarter’s Brexit vote over in the United Kingdom. “Wall Street” heavily favored a “stay” vote and even forecast it up until the night of the vote. It wanted more certainty in the post-election world and a “stay” vote would have done just that. However, the opposite occurred. Despite a 15% drop in the Pound Sterling/USD and freefall in the US market in the immediate aftermath of the unexpected vote, there was a near total breakeven, at least in the US, after only about 48 hours. Just 72 hours after the vote, the US market was once again in the green from the highly publicized political event. We tend to think that the same would happen in this country. Historically speaking, there are very few political trends that aid the large caps of domestic enterprise more than the trend of nationalism. Notice the YTD FTSE 100 Index returns for this year. We are seeing it in the UK and we might very well see it here in this country in about a month’s time.”
Well we all know that it did not take a month for the markets to rejoice in Trump’s election. In fact, while the DOW Futures were down nearly 800 points the night of the election, within just one hour after the next day’s opening the market was in the black. Since that point, there has been a gradual ascension in the Index’s price to the levels that we now see today. We predicted the overall movements and we will never complain if our conservative estimates are blown away.
1. Large-Cap Dividend Paying Stocks
Since 2013 we have been pundits of this type of asset. In fact, the majority of our clients’ money has been in this asset category since that time. Under the overregulated demagoguery of the previous administration, we had little choice once the mid and small caps recovered from 2008-9 lows and struggled to fend off these regulations. The risk/return just hasn’t seemed as enticing as it had in years past. Well, we are keeping a watchful eye on these companies more than ever now; however, because of the next few subtopics below, we feel strongly that the large-caps will be the greatest beneficiaries in the next two years from what we hope that our next president will bring: deregulation and alleviations of the current tax rates.
Read the transcript of the speech given at the New York Economic Forum in Sept. of 2016: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/trump-delivers-speech-on-jobs-at-new-york-economic-club
2. International Markets
There is over $2.5 Trillion currently held by US companies overseas. Source: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/20/us-companies-are-hoarding-2-and-a-half-trillion-dollars-in-cash-overseas.html . This number is current as of September of 2016. We will likely see an uptick from there when the new calculations come out in the coming weeks. This money has been doing a plethora of things but more so than any other in our opinion, it has been spurring an international economy that still hasn’t recovered much since 2011. Sure, there have been pockets that we have attempted—and many times successfully—to take advantage of, but the fact remains that this money is at risk of coming back to the US markets under potential changes to the repatriation tax, which is explained further below. Should this nearly $3 Trillion leave the international markets, even in part, there could be drastic shockwaves created throughout the entire globe. This is issue number one with the foreign markets going forward.
Number two is a struggling European economic landscape. This is held self-evident by the interest rates that are being held at less than or slightly above 0% by the European Central Bank, or ECB. Source: https://www.ecb.europa.eu/stats/monetary/rates/html/index.en.html .
As you can see, the interest rates have actually come down even further during the past several years. We feel that this is the ECB’s last ditch effort, per se, to spur a relatively weak European economy. Imagine, what would you do if you can build a factory with someone else’s money and pay 0% interest? It seems as if most readers would build that factory given the fact that there is a market for what that factory produced, right? Well, in Europe, there is still very little going on in the way of investment because people are so uncertain about the entire continent’s future. Even extraordinarily low interest rates have to constantly be slashed in an effort to find “the sweet spot” for investors to actually invest into the economy. There is one group of companies, however, that are taking advantage of these rates: large-cap dividend paying stocks. Again, much of the European investment that is going on is financed by American companies’ money and it is their shareholders that are reaping the benefits. The EURO is trading near parity for the first time ever—parity is when $1USD = 1 EURO—and the GBP (Great Britain Pound) is not fairing too much better against the USD with a rate of around $1.25/GBP. Not only are US companies borrowing money at about 0%, but they are also purchasing those assets for what they could have only dreamed of in years past.
Thirdly, China and the Pacific Region are the last issue that we would like to discuss in lieu of this topic. For the most part, we are fairly confident that the economy in this region of the world will continue to do well. But, there is one large, glaring problem that many news outlets simply don’t cover, though. That problem is that with the rise of geopolitical tensions, especially in the South China Sea, the risk of governmental seizure—or in the very least freezing—of assets controlled by foreign interests is supremely miscalculated. In our opinion, why chase a slightly better return when the risk of complete loss of investment (even if it is a wildly successful business) is there? We just don’t think that it is worth risking our clients’ hard-earned money in this manner.
3. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and the Real Estate Market
We have been a fan of the real estate market and have supported having client exposure to this crucial market for years. First though, let’s discuss the primary issue facing this industry going forward.
If interest rates rise too quickly, many REITs would have some serious issues going forward. For the most part, REITs, being private companies, typically borrow money utilizing floating rate debt. This is nearly always not by choice, but simply what many businesses must utilize in their search for appropriate ways in which they can borrow money and finance their purchases. Well, this interest expense could potentially rise too fast if the Federal Reserve chooses to raise the Fed Funds rate in such a manner, causing sizable regressions to the industry’s bottom line, possibly spelling lower-than-expected returns.
That being said, we do not see a steep increase in the Fed Funds rate occurring anytime soon. Any gradual changes to this pivotal rate will of course affect the great profits that this industry has seen since 2008, but a return to 2000 levels will surely still be very beneficial to our clients’ portfolios in our opinion. Remember, the historic prime interest rate average since 1913 has been roughly 5-6%. With prime rates still comfortably below 4% levels, we are simply not worried about this market but have certainly discontinued placing client money into it since the beginning of the year until we find out more about the course that the Fed Funds rate will take going forward.
Lastly in this subtopic, we want to talk about inflation. This is the metric that most analysts, in our opinion, have been improperly projecting going forward. However, we take solace in the fact that, should interest rates rise, inflation rates shall likely follow suit like they almost always have. We have been forecasting inflation rates to rise in the coming years, especially if amending the repatriation tax allows some of the $2.5-3 Trillion back into the country. This inflation undoubtedly will raise the cost of all hard assets that are in finite supply. Rest assured, if the interest rates will affect the interest expense of the real estate market, we feel that there will be subsequent price inflation of its underlying assets as well.
Source (Good example of what public REITs are doing with regard to interest rate risk): http://investor.fiveoaksinvestment.com/mobile.view?c=251672&v=202&d=3&id=aHR0cDovL2FwaS50ZW5rd2l6YXJkLmNvbS9maWxpbmcueG1sP2lwYWdlPTExMDgyNTI0JkRTRVE9MSZTRVE9NzcmU1FERVNDPVNFQ1RJT05fUEFHRSZleHA9JnN1YnNpZD01Nw%3D%3D
4. Bond Markets—Domestic & International
We have discussed the discrepancy between domestic and international interest rates many times in the past and have even done so in this quarterly update; so, we will only touch on its key points here.
Domestically, we feel that our bond market has been artificially propped up by foreign investment because why in the world would someone feel better about purchasing, say Spanish debt, if the coupon payments on the Spanish bond are less than the US Treasury’s and unemployment in that country is well into the double digits? What about a much more secure German Bund? Why then, would a prudent investor choose to take a 0.2% return instead of a 2.5% return by simply purchasing an allied country’s debt instead of his/her own country’s? Well, we have already begun to see the flow of international money begin to slow.
Also domestically, the Federal Reserve has clearly indicated that it will work to move the prime rate north from where it is today. That being said, the price of a, say 2%, bond will surely be worth less if the current going rate is 2.5%. Well if the Treasury 10-Yr notes go to 5% in the next ten years or so, what will the value of a 2.5% bond be? We most certainly feel that it will be adversely affected by such a rate movement, so because of the artificially propped up bond prices because of international pressures and those pressures by our own domestic sources, we simply feel that, in the interest of our clients’ financial longevity, betting on bond prices going higher seems rather foolish. This is especially evident by the fact that current large-cap dividend paying stocks are still issuing income in the form of dividends at roughly 2-2.5% so our choice seems even clearer.
5. Individual & Corporate Tax Rates
While many of us would love to see individual tax rates either (1) go down, (2) get simplified, or both, we simply do not see a great chance of drastic changes happening in the next couple of years. The highest individual tax rates as recent as the 1980s were nearly double today’s so our country’s recent history since WWII does not look favorably on their reduction. However, what we do see is a minor simplification of the individual tax code—not much is changing for most of our clients—and a reduction in corporate tax rates with a reduction in the repatriation tax. Both of the latter should spell great news for us and our clients.
First, let’s talk about what the repatriation tax is by giving a mock example. Company XYZ is a US-based company that makes tractors. This company chooses to open up a new factory in Mexico with $100M. Every year XYZ pays income taxes in Mexico and these payments are honored by the US Gov’t since a tax treaty exists between our two countries—we do the same for Mexican corporations. Well, after about ten years or so, the $100M investment has, with reinvestment, turned into a $500M investment and XYZ wants to bring some of the profits back to the US. Remember, the $500M is *all after-tax money*. However, they then discover that any money that XYZ chooses to bring onto US land from its foreign factory will be taxed, again, at a 35% rate. So, XYZ chooses to not bring any of the money into the US and instead continually invest in the Mexican economy because XYZ feels that it is better to achieve a 5% ROI (return on investment) in Mexico than it is to pay 35% in taxes and then achieve a 10% ROI on what’s left in the US. In fact, it would take five years for a 15% return—three times the Mexican factory’s return—for the move to make sense. Well, this also involves a serious amount of variables so most companies simply refuse to repatriate.
So who stands to benefit most from reducing the repatriation tax? The shareholders of US companies that have been operating overseas for many years—not just a few years—and have accumulated large sums of after-tax money that has been trapped outside of the country since the late 1980s when the tax was first created. These are the large-cap dividend paying companies that we are heavily invested in.
Secondly, the corporate tax rate of the UK was just lowered from 20% to 17%. Corporations operating in the UK now pay less than half—less than half!—of what their American counterparts pay in taxes. Here is a link to some of the corporate tax rates around the world to see exactly how the US stacks up: http://taxfoundation.org/article/corporate-income-tax-rates-around-world-2016 . There is only one independent country in the world that has a higher corporate income tax rate than the US: the UAE (United Arab Emirates). Whether or not we feel that this rate is too high or too low, it is apparent that the President-Elect wishes to lower it drastically. Should he choose a target rate closer to that of the UK, US corporations would surely stand to benefit, and we feel that the largest ones will benefit first.
6. Overall Macroeconomic Trends
We have touched on a number of topics in this update. However, there are some issues that are less tangible. We covered one issue briefly during the last update and we would like to draw more attention to it here.
Arguably, for the last several decades this country and many of the US’s international counterparts have been moving towards a more globalized world. The breaking down of trade barriers and protectionist policy have brought international poverty rates to new all-time lows as of 2015 (2016 still not yet available but we look to be surpassing forecasts). Source: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/has-the-world-overlooked-a-major-achievement/ .
There is one glaring drawback that many in the developed world are seeing with this trend, however. The fact is that with the trend of outsourcing to cheaper labor markets, many are left by the wayside in those countries which formerly produced the labor force for those industries. This is notwithstanding the many “pros” that come with cheaper goods, such as a higher quality of life for more people in those countries. Because some choose not to innovate, whether by their own choices or because of governmental and/or societal incentives, or are simply not able to do so, a perceived divide occurs between certain groups of people. This perception is covered more thoroughly in prior quarterly updates, but the prevailing point is not whether or not this divide actually exists—we neither support nor deny this claim here, it’s irrelevant—but, that many members of our society believe that it exists.
Well, these perceptions ultimately culminate in geopolitical strife between nations. This begins with protectionist policy-making, then transforms into policies which ally member states together forming several “teams” of trade partners, and ultimately goes into unfortunate conclusions. We are seeing elements of the first two quite frequently in recent years and luckily only minor physical disputes have occurred; however, it is something that we must all acknowledge is occurring. Trump’s win here in the US, the UK’s Brexit vote, the rise of Le Pen in France, Putin’s virtually unchecked power in Russia, Communist China strengthening controls over economic and social freedom in the region, Hungary’s Orban, Poland’s “Civic Platform”, Italy’s “Lega Nord”, Turkey’s Erdogan, the list continues into all corners of the developed world. Just like what was occurring at the beginning of the 20th Century, nationalism and populism are back in style.
Despite what the rise of nationalism and populism means for everything outside of financial matters is, while extraordinarily important to us, not the subject of our bringing attention to it in this update and you can draw your own conclusions. More importantly—when it comes to doing our job here at Whiteford Wealth Management, Inc.—is that history has seen this trend many times before. With the rise of these two ideologies, the largest corporations of the world—for whatever given point in time—were some of the largest beneficiaries of the resulting policies from supporting governmental bodies. This is what we feel compelled to draw attention to: regardless of our personal feelings about international politics, we are entrusted with our clients’ life’s savings so we will continue to advocate investing accordingly. Nationalism and populism are, objectively speaking, simply political trends that rise and fall throughout history and we will utilize that history to invest to the best of our abilities. Well, right now that means that we will continue to invest in assets that we feel have the most beneficial tailwinds and most amount of risk-mitigation given what we think: large-cap, dividend paying US stocks and a handful of their European counterparts.
The last quarter was quite an interesting time for us as investors. Regardless of your political opinions, take solace in the fact that the investment horizon looks quite promising during the President-Elect’s upcoming term. We recommend very little changes to our model portfolios at this time, but we are keeping a close eye on US small/mid-caps in the near future.
Our unofficial motto still stands: we don’t sell anything to our clients that we wouldn’t buy ourselves if we were in your financial/life situation. Much of the time that means that we own many of the same exact assets— usually in different allocations— as our clients. We eat what we cook. We attempt to find fund managers that have similar ideologies as us because nobody can correctly predict the market year after year. What we can do is attempt to analyze past trends and make the best possible decision out of those choices ahead of us. This update should appropriately convey our reasoning in those decisions.
Should this brief synopsis of our opinions—and these are purely opinions based on our own analysis of the data—stir any questions about the markets, about our service, or anything else for that matter, please feel free to reach out to us. It takes a great deal of trust to allow someone to manage your life’s savings. The fiduciary duty that we voluntarily assume because of our relationship is nothing compared to the ethical duty that we have to you and your family. It’s not something that we take lightly; so, until the next time we speak, we will be in the boat with you.
Thank you for your continued trust.
Kevin S. Whiteford
Whiteford Wealth Management, Inc.
Securities offered through Registered Representatives of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Whiteford Wealth Management, Inc. and Cambridge are not affiliated.
This letter is not meant to solicit the purchasing of any equities, bonds, mutual funds, or any investment of any kind. Any direct mention of any investment is meant purely as a reference point in the analysis of the issues discussed in this letter.
These are the opinions of Kevin S. Whiteford and not necessarily those of Cambridge, are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or acted upon as individualized investment advice. Indices mentioned are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Diversification and asset allocation strategies do not assure profit or protect against loss.