Will it be a “bearish” summer?

June 15, 2012

Lately, the weaker-than-expected economic data globally and the deepening of the European sovereign debt crisis have prompted market observers to sound the warning bells for a bear market. Some are comparing the current downdraft to what happened in 2010 and 2011, implying much further downside. Others—including international policy makers—have compared the current environment to the summer of 2008, likening the fall of Lehman Brothers to a Greek exit from the eurozone and emphasizing the unknowable “unknowns” and the spillover effects that could follow such an exit.

It seems as though a bearish sentiment has become increasingly pervasive. The American Association of Individual Investors’ sentiment survey has shown a significant increase in bearish sentiment in recent weeks. From our perspective, this level of bearishness is in sharp contrast to the year-to-date total return of 2.6% in U.S. equities! So the question is…whether such bearishness is warranted.

We are highly skeptical of the “doom-and-gloomers” or any forecaster with a strong view of how markets will perform in the near future. Markets and the events that shock markets are nearly impossible to predict on a consistent basis. A broader review of the economic data seems to indicate that while the U.S. economy might be in another “soft patch,” there is still meaningfully positive growth and that growth is likely to continue.

The media is focusing on Europe as the potential catalyst to knock the United States off its path of positive growth; we view this as unlikely. While peripheral Europe has serious solvency and liquidity issues, core Europe is growing and is not in recession, which gives Germany and France room to act to stabilize the economy. Political actions are almost as difficult to predict as the markets; however, the cost of a eurozone breakup would be much greater than the cost of a bailout to the core European countries. So if core Europe acts rationally, it’s difficult to imagine that the European Union would break up, even if it means large additional bailouts or, more likely, major structural reform.

Furthermore, Greece is relatively insignificant. A Greek exit could send a troubling message and start the game of “who’s next,” but on its own, it is a non-event. And, we believe that a Greek exit is unlikely. Returning to the Drachma doesn’t solve any of Greece’s problems; in fact, it enhances them by leading to potential hyperinflation and restrictive capital controls, making an exit even more unlikely. 

So while it might feel reminiscent of the summers of 2008, 2010 and 2011, it’s the summer of 2012. The situation today is materially different from those of previous years. The United States is growing, core Europe is creatively (if too slowly) dealing with the problems of the peripheral countries, and central banks around the world are working to coordinate and promote growth. Overall, the data indicates a heightened level of concern, but nothing that should distract us from staying focused on the long term.

Wealth Enhancement Group

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Perspective: JPMorgan’s big losses

May 15, 2012

JPMorgan Chase’s surprise $2 Billion loss is exactly what’s not supposed to happen anymore, but we are not surprised. Before 2008, big Wall Street banks had a great deal going with the American people. If the banks bet big and won, their employees were paid handsomely; if they bet big and lost, well then, American taxpayers were on the hook. The Volcker Rule, part of the sweeping Dodd-Frank bank reform measures that were passed in response to the financial crisis, was supposed to change that by taking the ability to make big, short-term bets on risky assets away from banks that are considered “too big to fail” and, therefore, implicitly backed by taxpayer money. However, the Volcker Rule won’t take effect for another two years, and this recent blunder by JPMorgan will be additional ammunition for bank critics who want to impose more regulation.

These big bets, though, tend to be really profitable. The highly skilled traders that banks can attract, coupled with their knowledge of the markets and technological prowess, means that banks’ trading desks can win more often than Main Street investors. Given that greed tends to rule (and greed is not always bad), it’s no surprise to us that JPMorgan found its way back into the business of betting its own money in a big way. These bets have been very profitable and, up until the surprise announcement, had been almost a bragging point for JPMorgan’s revered CEO Jamie Dimon.

But there is no return without risk, and the risk finally caught up with them. Dimon attributes the loss to “many errors, sloppiness and bad judgment.” He makes it sound as though taking risk doesn’t always lead to some unexpected losses, and if they could have had “more control” over the risk they were taking, the losses wouldn’t have occurred. That’s just not true. The lesson here is that when big bets are taken, both big gains and big losses are possible, regardless of how good you are at managing risk.

 

Wealth Enhancement Group

 

The opinion voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial advisory prior to investing.

The Importance of Diversification

February 7, 2012

From year to year the best-performing asset classes can change dramatically. Diversifying investments into different asset classes helps you take advantage of economic cycles, reduce portfolio volatility, and increase the likelihood of consistent returns.

Investment principles

At Wealth Enhancement Group we believe

  • clients need a diversified portfolio to reduce overall risk
  • active investment managers can add value to a portfolio
  • tactical allocation can add value over the long term because economies and markets change
  • investors who want growth should be exposed to broad asset classes, including U.S. markets, international markets and emerging markets

As part of our investment philosophy at Wealth Enhancement Group, we look beyond a single year. We manage for both risk and long-term returns for our clients and we believe that, over time, diversified strategies and portfolios will help you get better returns.

Benchmarks

But it’s easy for an investor to look at a single year and focus on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which tracks 30 large-cap stocks, or on the Standard & Poor’s 500, which tracks 500 mid- and large-cap stocks, and wonder why his/her total portfolio didn’t do as well as those two indices. That’s what happened in 2011, a year marked by market volatility and uncertainty, where investments in other parts of the world performed less well than U.S. investments.

The key is that we use other indices for non-U.S. asset classes, and the active managers we measure performed well within their asset classes.

Looking toward 2012

It’s natural to think that if global economic growth is going to be weak, then investors should avoid stocks. There may, however, still be attractive returns from U.S. stocks, particularly small-caps, and from emerging market equities.

As we move into 2012, we’ll continue to monitor the markets and make timely and appropriate allocation adjustments based on the global economic and political environment.

 

James Copenhaver, Director of Investment Management

 

 

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

International and emerging market investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and political instability.

 

 


The Whole Picture

October 20, 2009

Do you have the diversification you need to keep your portfolio on track even when the stock market falters? The first step is to sit down with your financial advisor to take a closer look at your holdings to make sure your portfolio is well enough diversified to stand the test of time.

Does your investment portfolio have the diversification you need to sail smoothly through the ups and downs of the market? True diversification means more than spreading your assets around to a handful of stocks. It means putting assets into a variety of different types of investments beyond the stock market.

The younger you are the more aggressive you can be. While no strategy assures success or protects against loss, a portfolio heavily weighted in stocks might make sense for investors in their 20s and 30s. But the closer you are to retirement, the more important it is to spread some of your money to other types of investments.

Make sure you have the diversification you need to keep your portfolio on track even when the stock market falters, The first step is to sit down with your financial advisor to take a closer look at your holdings to make sure your portfolio is well enough diversified to stand the test of time.


Diversification: The Foundation of Asset Allocation

January 21, 2009

Understanding Diversifiction with Asset Allocation Strategy

Before exploring just how you can put an asset allocation strategy to work to help you meet your investment goals, you should first understand how diversification — the process of helping reduce risk by investing in several different types of individual funds or securities — works hand in hand with asset allocation.

When you diversify your investments among more than one security, you help reduce what is known as “single-security risk,” or the risk that your investment will fluctuate widely in value with the price of one holding. Diversifying among several asset classes increases the chance that, if and when the return of one investment is falling, the return of another in your portfolio may be rising (though there are no guarantees). Neither asset allocation nor diversification guarantee against investment loss.

© LPL Financial, created by Standard & Poors

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services, a registered investment advisor.


Managing Risk with a Diversified Portfolio

December 22, 2008

Diversified Stock Portfolio

Diversification is a fundamental investment concept that most investors have no trouble understanding. If, for example, an investor owns equal dollar amounts of only two stocks, and one suffers a 50% loss, his or her portfolio has gone down in value by 25%. But if the investor owns ten stocks, and one drops by 50%, his or her portfolio has suffered only a 5% loss.

With a diversified stock portfolio, risk may be reduced because different stocks tend to rise and fall independently of each other. On a broader scale, combinations of different investment assets may help balance out each other’s fluctuations in price, lowering, though not eliminating, the overall risk.

Categorizing risk
The ultimate goal in a diversification strategy is to improve investment performance while managing risk. One way to categorize risk is to distinguish between unsystematic risk and systematic risk.

Unsystematic risk is risk that is specific to a company. Often, this risk involves some kind of dramatic event such as a strike, a fire or some natural disaster. A company’s slumping sales also fall within this category. Diversification among the stocks of many companies reduces unsystematic risk because, of course, it’s highly unlikely that every one of the unhappy events listed above will occur in all companies.

Conversely, some events can affect all companies at the same time. This systematic risk includes such occurrences as inflation, war and fluctuating interest rates—generally, those events that influence the entire economy. Of course, diversification cannot eliminate the likelihood of these events happening. Systematic risk accounts for most of the risk in a diversified portfolio.

A diversified stock portfolio: how much?
One way that academic researchers measure investment risk is by looking at stock price volatility. A classic 1968 study by J.L. Evans and S.H. Archer, “Diversification and the Reduction of Dispersion,” concluded that an investor who owned 15 randomly chosen stocks would have a portfolio no more risky than the market as a whole. This research confirmed earlier advice, coming from instinct and experience, that Benjamin Graham gave to investors in his 1949 book, The Intelligent Investor. Graham recommended owning from ten to 30 stocks to achieve proper diversification.

A study published in 2001 (“Have Individual Stocks Become More Volatile?” by John Campbell, Martin Lettau, Burton Malkiel and Yexiao Xu) suggests that those numbers may be too small. To replicate the risk of the market as a whole, according to the study, the “excess standard deviation” of portfolio returns needs to be brought down to 5%. In the 20 years ending in 1985, an investor could have achieved this goal by owning 20 stocks. But, in the period from 1986 through 1997, the professors concluded that one needed to own 50 stocks to reach the same result!

Choices in diversification
Of course, an investor who invests for income will diversify his or her holdings among different bonds. In this case diversification usually means owing long-, intermediate- and short-term government bonds. Other categories might include, when appropriate, municipal, corporate and, sometimes, high-yield (“junk”) bonds.

It is possible for an entire asset class to do poorly for an extended period of time (as we have seen in recent years). Therefore, it’s a common diversification strategy for investors to spread their money across asset classes—including, for example, stocks, bonds, cash instruments, and real estate—in their portfolios.

Finally, some investors may want to think in global terms. By investing outside of the U.S., investors are addressing the risk of extended bear markets at home. Global investing includes additional risks, however, such as currency fluctuations and political uncertainty.

May we offer our assistance?
Risk always will be a cause for concern. There’s always a fear of the unknown. Still, knowledge and experience can help improve the odds that you’ll achieve success as an investor in the long term.

We’ll be glad to help you develop a strategy that meets your specific needs as an investor. One designed and implemented to take only the risks with which you are most comfortable. We look forward to the opportunity to tell you more.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and are subject to availability and change in price. Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not ensure against market risk. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services, a registered investment advisor.

© 2006 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.
Any developments occurring after January 31, 2006, are not reflected in this article.