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Don’t Let the News Confuse (You)

We believe Ghandi was spot-on when he said:

And sometimes, it is important just to slow down, deliberately absorb things, and appreciate what you have. The United States’ latest conflict with Iran and surprise killing of Iranian Major General and second-in-command, Qassem Soleimani, has affected all of us in our personal and professional lives, and has caused a completely unsurprising deluge of bold headlines and provocative stories from the media:

What Stock Market Investors Need to Know About Intensifying U.S.-Iran Tensions

Here’s Why The Stock Market Hit Record New Highs After Trump’s Comments On Iran

Is the U.S. Headed For World War III? Here’s What Experts Say as Twitter Fears the Worst

The insidiousness of today’s 24/7 news cycle can steer even the most objective and rational investor wrong if they are not careful, and we believe there is a very simple lesson that needs to be internalized: You can pay attention and read the headlines, just don’t try to trade them, as smart investors ignore the news.

Even though circumstances may appear to be grave, we recognize how humor helps people cope with conflict, fear, and uncertainty And Gen Z didn’t let us down in the humor department, as the new short-form video app TikTok had 1.6 billion views of videos containing #WWIII and #WW3 hashtags, on top of an uncountable number of World War 3 memes published to the internet:

#WWIII Trends on Social Media Following Soleimani Killing

Perhaps a lighter and more appropriate approach to the media and endless news cycle is to find humor in it, especially in the predictions made by economic and financial talking heads, which never fail to make us laugh. Our recent fave is this worthless quote about what to expect in 2020:

A much more appropriate, salubrious, and blunt quote was made by Malcom Polley, president of Stewart Capital Advisors:

The chart below, which reviews the S&P 500’s performance after various crises since World War II, found that any recovery from a market drop often happened in far less than a year’s time. While what’s past is prologue, we feel the probability is quite high that the current situation in Iran and the Middle East will simply be the next Market Shock Event line item on this list, lending even further support to our “don’t panic” thesis.

Please do not misconstrue the message: these events are serious, important, and carry great geopolitical significance; however, when viewed from an investment and economic lens, they end up being temporary blips on the longer-term radar screen.

TPW Kids!

When the world is rushing by, and we are safe in our homes with our families, it is valuable to remember what is important. We are clearly biased, but the kids in our Towerpoint Wealth family are adorable, no??!!

Millie (7), Claire (4), James Keefe

Joe & Meg Eschleman, Henry (10)

Nathan, Baby Grayson (3 months), Jess

Happiness – Not Fake News

Credit to Carl Edwards at the Behavior | Gap.

Trending Today

In addition to showing appreciation for our families and chuckling through Gen Z internet memes, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past few weeks:

Lastly and as always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth, and encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, we are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, Lori, Nathan, Steve, Raquel, and James

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Room to Run – There’s Plenty in ’20!

Senescence – the process or condition of deterioration with age.

While logical and sensible when it comes to biology, it is extremely important to understand that senescence is completely irrelevant to economies and to the stock market. Economic expansions do not die from old age, they die from negative shocks. Or put more bluntly by Former Fed Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, “they get murdered,” usually by central banks like our Federal Reserve tightening the money supply and raising interest rates.

As we head into the new year and as is always the case, there are indicators supporting both sides of the “Will the U.S. economic expansion continue?” question. On the positive: Jobs have increased for 110 straight months (!)wages at every level are growing faster than inflation, and real manufacturing output is at all-time highs. On the negative: GDP growth has slowed to +1.9%the U.S. Treasury yield curve recently inverted (oftentimes a recessionary precursor), and the uncertainty created by U.S. trade disputes and tariffs.

Independent of these pros and cons, at Towerpoint Wealth we feel the most salient economic point heading into 2020 is that many analysts and investors continue to cling to the flawed thinking that expansions have to come to an end because of old age alone. Instead, we encourage you to let other people’s fears be your friend,know that senescence is nonsense when it comes to the economy, and invest with confidence knowing that monetary policy remains very loose and accommodative, both here in the U.S. and globally. Put differently:

TPW Celebrates the Holidays!The TPW family had a blast last week celebrating the holiday season together, first with a round of mini golf at Flatstick Pub, and then at a festive dinner at Echo & Rigin Sacramento’s new Downtown Commons (DOCO)!

We all feel very fortunate in the culture we have created here at Towerpoint Wealth, as not only our TPW team members, but also our valued clients, appreciate the care and the sincerity we put into our work – and also when we let our hair down a little and have fun together!

Mutual Fund Expenses – Not Fake News

Credit to Carl Edwards at the Behavior Gap.

Trending Today

In addition to holiday fun and the inevitability of human (but not economic) aging, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past few weeks:

Also, we wish you a Happy New Year! We sincerely value our relationships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous beginning to the Roaring ’20’s – a decade of opportunity and potential!

Lastly and as always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.


– Joseph, Jonathan, Lori, Nathan, Steve, Raquel, and James

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Get the Facts, Save on Tax

Benjamin Franklin sure nailed it when he said the only two certainties in the world are death and taxes. Paying income taxes has been a constant for almost 100 years for Americans, since the 16th Amendment to our Constitution was ratified in 1913. Back then, the top bracket was 7% and lowest bracket was 1%, and only 3% of the population was even subject to paying the “new” income tax!

16th Amendment Page 1 of 1

And while today’s current federal tax rates are not quite as low as they were in 1913, they remain historically very attractive:

Marginal

Independent of how much you may owe to Uncle Sam, virtually all of us are active participants in the “sport” of minimizing our obligation to the IRS (and here in California, the FTB as well), and the month of December is oftentimes a critical one when taking advantage of tax reduction opportunities before the calendar turns to the next tax year.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, the most sweeping federal tax legislation since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, changed many aspects of tax planning, as lower overall personal income tax rates and a much larger standard deduction justified the reduction of the mortgage interest and state income tax deductions, the elimination of personal exemptions, and the severe limitation of itemized deductions. So, while the passage of the TCJA may have reduced the overall breadth of tax minimization strategies available to most taxpayers, it certainly allowed for the door to remain open for proactive, creative, and opportunistic taxpayers.

Between end-of-year IRA required minimum distributions (RMDs), cash and non-cash charitable giving strategies, Roth IRA conversion opportunities, mutual fund capital gains distributions, tax loss harvesting, IRA qualified charitable distributions (QCDs), “bunching” itemized deductions, maximizing end-of-year 401(k) contributions, as well as a myriad of other opportunities and strategies (please take a few minutes to click on the tiles found under the Towerpoint Wealth Tax Information section below), there will always be many potential tax minimization ideas worth considering, many of which come more into focus in December.

We encourage you to call or email us, and specifically, our own esteemed in-house CPA and Director of Tax (and Financial Planning), Steve Pitchford. Steve is an absolute maven when it comes to understanding and applying these tax reduction and minimization strategies and ideas, and because you are receiving this newsletter, you officially have objective and no-strings-attached access to him and his expertise!

In summary, understanding we can never completely eliminate our obligation to the IRS and other taxing authorities, at Towerpoint Wealth we continue to firmly believe in the importance of tax planning. And in the interests of reducing and minimizing the “necessary evil” of income taxes, we appreciate that proactive tax planning is a central component of any sound wealth management plan, and is a hugely important consideration when working to grow, and protect, one’s net worth and assets.

TPW Running Strong!


26.2!!!!!!!

A HUGE congratulations to our Director of Research and Analytics, Nathan Billigmeier, who last weekend completed the “Fastest Course in the West” – theCalifornia International Marathon!!

Nate At The Finish Line


Napkin Finance Tax Time

Credit to Napkin Finance. Click HERE for taxation details.

Trending Today

In addition to the discipline needed when engaging in end of year tax planning and/or distance running, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past few weeks

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, Lori, Nathan, Steve, Raquel, and James

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Unlock Your Concentrated Stock

A number of clients earlier this month asked “Where was Trending Today?” We did not release our bi-weekly eNewsletter due to the time commitment associated with our attendance at Charles Schwab’s big IMPACT conference, but are pleased to be back in the saddle with the following important and useful items:

New Concentrated Stock White Paper Published by TPW

Our Director of Tax and Financial Planning, Steve Pitchford, recently completed a white paper for our clients and colleagues, assembling a thorough and comprehensive analysis detailing five effective strategies to help manage the inherent risks and tax consequences associated with owning a concentrated stock position.

If you have accrued a concentrated stock holding (which we define as any investment that represents more than 10% of your overall portfolio), this is a must-read.

Click HERE, or on the first story tile below, to open and review the report.

Eschleman, LaTurner Attend 29th Annual Schwab IMPACT 2019 Conference

It was truly an amazing four days at the 29th annual SchwabIMPACT conference for our President, Joseph Eschleman, and Partner, Wealth Advisor, Jonathan LaTurner.

Joseph and Jon were working to keep their professional saws sharp while soaking in practice management, investing, economic, market, and digital themes at the IMPACT conference. While there, they also enjoyed the company of many innovative and brilliant people (Charles SchwabTim McGrawNicholas BurnsJohn Meacham, and Liz Ann Sonders, to name just a few) and organizations. They even met living legend Keith Hernandez, arguably the best defensive first baseman in MLB history!


The obvious goal of Joseph and Jon’s attendance at IMPACT was continued professional growth and improvement as financial advisors, with the singular focus of helping each client of Towerpoint Wealth efficiently grow and protect their wealth, in the interests of gaining complete financial peace of mind, and, put more simply, to be happy.

Curious about the speakers, information, and content Jon and Joe were immersed in while at IMPACT? Click HERE to see a full agenda for the conference.

Charles Schwab Set to Acquire TD Ameritrade

There is BIG news in the wealth management industry, with potentially BIG benefits for Towerpoint Wealth clients!

As we have trumpeted in the past, we could not be more pleased to be partnered with Charles Schwab as our firm’s primary custodian, and on Thursday, they announced their intent to enact a $26 billion acquisition of TD Ameritrade.

If the deal is approved, it could lead to improved technology and even LOWER fees and investment expenses for our clients. If finalized, it would also cement Schwab’s position as the largest RIA custodian in the industry (by far), holding more than $5 trillion in total assets, with more than half of the assets managed by registered investment advisors like Towerpoint Wealth.


Undoubtedly, it would be a transformative shift in the wealth management landscape. Stay tuned, as we will assuredly be letting clients know about developments as they occur.

TPW CYBERSECURITY UPGRADE – Multi-Factor Authentication Added to Black Diamond

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security enhancement that requires a user to present two pieces of evidence (your credentials) when logging into an account.

We have added MFA into the user experience for the Black Diamond (BD) all-in-one “personal financial dashboard” utilized by Towerpoint Wealth private clients. As most of you are aware, BD allows you to be able to monitor all of your accounts, assets, and liabilities within one singular headache-free platform and online portal, and incorporating MFA into the login process provides clients an important cybersecurity safeguard and additional layer of online protection.

Ever Wondered if You Should Buy or Lease a Car?

Credit to Napkin Finance. Click HERE for buy or lease details.

Trending Today

In addition to corporate acquisitions and mega-conferences, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past two weeks:

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, and the entire Towerpoint Wealth team

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Attrition of the Commission

In a matter of a few days, the brokerage industry went from charging customers for making trades to giving them away like tchotchkes at a trade show.

The app-based brokerage firm Robinhood was “a pioneer” of free trading when it launched to the public in 2014, but things have significantly changed within the past month, and they are no longer alone. Major shockwaves reverberated throughout the brokerage industry as five of the most well-known online brokers also jumped on the zero-commission bandwagon: Interactive Brokers (announced 9/26), Charles Schwab and T.D. Ameritrade (both announced 10/1), E-Trade (10/2), and Fidelity (10/10).

However, we all should recognize that on Wall Street, there is oftentimes more to the story than meets the eye, and if revenue disappears in one area, it tends to show up somewhere else. While trading may now be “democratized” as commission-free transactions become the norm, ‘free‘ does not always mean ‘free‘ – especially on Wall Street. Remembering that brokerage firms are for-profit businesses, and aside from trading commissions, which appear now have gone the way of the dodo, revenue is still being generated in a variety of other ways, including:

  1. Rebates collected for directing client orders, or the payment for order flow, which can be used by other market participants to arbitrage activity around short-term trades
  2. Clients leverage their accounts and borrow money (paying interest to do so) to trade on margin
  3. Most importantly and most profitably for brokerages, interest income they earn on uninvested cash held in client accounts:

At Towerpoint Wealth, we believe that none of these less-transparent revenue streams are as potentially problematic for investors as the possibility of bad investor behavior that free trading can elicit. Commission-free short-term trading based on investor overconfidence is not a successful recipe for longer-term net worth protection and growth, and creates a much higher likelihood that the “behavior gap” occurs – the difference between investment return and investor return:

Put differently, as only the venerable Warren Buffett can put it:

New Additions to the Towerpoint Wealth Family

* Welcome aboard, James! *

We are extremely pleased to announce the hiring of our new Director of Client Experience, James H. Keefe. James brings more than seven years of wealth management experience to the Towerpoint Wealth family, is a graduate of Providence College, and prior to entering the world of finance spent three years teaching and coaching at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, MA.

Click HERE to read more about James and his new role at TPW, and be sure to ask him about being the middle child in a family of eleven!

* It’s a boy! *

A HUGE congratulations to our Director of Research and Analytics, Nathan Billigmeier, and his beautiful wife, Jessica Billigmeier!!!

Grayson Brady Billigmeier was born October 9, weighing in at 7lbs, 8oz, and both Mom and Dad couldn’t be happier and, neither could big brother Ethan!

TPW CLIENT UPDATE – Saving Money with New Zero Commission Policy

As discussed above, our custodian, Charles Schwab, recently transitioned to a commission-free policy for all online equity, exchanged-traded fund, and option trades. Previously, clients of Towerpoint Wealth paid $4.95 per transaction.

While these small commissions were never part of our professional compensation at Towerpoint Wealth, they instead were simply a cost of our decision to partner with “Chuck” to custody our clients’ accounts and investments. Cost Consciousness will always be one of our six Core Investment Principles, and we are excited that Schwab has eliminated this small but pesky layer of expense for the benefit of our clients.

Napkin Finance: Inflation

Credit to Napkin Finance. Click HERE for inflation details.

Trending Today

In addition to our Towerpoint Wealth family expansion and the industry-wide rethinking of commissions, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past two weeks:

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, and the entire Towerpoint Wealth team

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Outen the Lights!

In today’s modern society, it is hard to remember or even fathom that some people live their entire lives without the use of electricity. The Pennsylvania Dutch and one of the more amusing, and this week, apropos, calques from their dialect comes to mind: “Outen the lights.

This week, more than 1 million people in the greater San Francisco Bay Area who live in targeted high-wind and drought conditions had their lights “outened” by the embattled utility PG&E.

While it is difficult to argue that the economic and social costs of another major wildfire outweigh the costs of a planned power outage, planned outages like this cost more than money. Not having electricity is more than an inconvenience – it creates its own new set of safety and health issues, and many have justifiably questioned how the tech center of the universe and the world’s fifth largest economy does not have a better preventative solution.

While the shutoffs helped to protect customers from potential wildfires caused from downed power lines – and also PG&E from new wildfire liabilities – it effectively shut down any public support for the company. In addition to the turmoil surrounding its electricity shutdown, PG&E’s stock plummeted 28% on Wednesday due in part to the bankruptcy judge covering PG&E’s restructuring case allowing for the consideration of alternative restructuring plans for PG&E, plans that would potentially result in a complete loss of value for current PG&E shareholders.

So, putting aside the immensely important societal consequences, there is an important economic lesson to be learned here as well: Owning a concentrated position in any one stock is dangerous and risky, and even blue chip stocks, like PG&E, can and oftentimes do suffer unexpected and precipitous declines.

However, and not surprisingly, emotions, overconfidence, and taxes can get in the way of making intelligent, objective decisions when owning a heavy concentration of stock in just one company, and common questions almost always arise:

  1. Should I continue to just hold it?
  2. Should I sell all of it? Some of it? When?
  3. Should/how can I hedge it?
  4. What if the price goes up? What if it moves down?
  5. How can I at least begin to unwind it?

All very important questions, the answers to which can have a hugely important impact on your shorter- and longer-term financial health and independence, and questions we regularly help clients answer here at Towerpoint Wealth. While we have not been blessed with a crystal ball (at least not with one that actually works!) and cannot predict the future, we do have the expertise, experience, and tools to help you assemble an intelligent and well-thought-out plan, and also, behaviorally, be disciplined and objective in executing on it.

Get started by clicking the Own a Concentrated Stock Position? story found below, and follow up by calling or emailing us to discuss your circumstances further. Unlike employees who work for any of the major Wall Street firms, we have a legal fiduciary obligation to you, and look forward to helping you make well-thought-out and smart decisions.

TPW CLIENT UPDATE – Black Diamond Client Portal

Black Diamond provides an all-in-one portal for Towerpoint Wealth private clients, who are able to monitor ALL of their accounts, assets, and liabilities within one singular headache-free platform and secure online portal. Clients enjoy daily aggregated net-worth reporting and viewing, leveraging Black Diamond’s technology to centralize their financial affairs by connecting to over 800 custodians for real-time data flows.

Click HERE to log in.

The Black Diamond investor platform automatically adapts to the device being used for optimal viewing, on a smart phone, tablet, or desktop, offering Towerpoint Wealth clients greater convenience through anytime, anywhere easy access to all of their financial data, and to their complete wealth picture.

Napkin Finance: Financial Advisors

Credit to Napkin Finance. Click HERE for details.

Wealth + Health: The Ultimate Wellness Prescription – TPW’s Fall, 2019 Client Appreciation Event

We were fortunate to have 45 clients, colleagues, and friends join us for the Wealth+Health: The Ultimate Wellness Prescription client appreciation event we hosted last week at Shasta Smith’s amazing and unique venue in Sacramento, The Vintage Monkey.

We are proud to have brought together such an amazing group of people to not only socialize and mingle, but also to listen to and synthesize the important message that Dr. Bill Lloyd delivered during his presentation. Marrying the inseparable lifelong connection between financial and physical wellness, Dr. Lloyd discussed the key concepts of 1.) awareness, 2.) connection, 3.) resources, 4.) preparation, and 5.) trust, and their pertinence when navigating the most effective and comprehensive approach to growing older.

Client education (and fraternization!) will always be a central philosophy of the Towerpoint Wealth experience, as we relish opportunities to assemble fun and educational events that help to both enrich and educate our clients and friends on a myriad of different themes, subjects, and current issues.

Click HERE to see a few additional photos!

Trending Today

In addition to mingling and motorcycles, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past two weeks:

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, and the entire Towerpoint Wealth team

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Your Emotion Is Creating A Commotion

Wealth doesn’t come from managing money. Almost without fail, wealth comes from managing the emotions behind the money.

Unquestionably, emotions hold an important (even essential) place in everyday life, and evolution has hard-wired them into our brain. As human beings, we get angry and fearful, we get joyful and sad, and we also can become greedy. Each of these emotions is innate and universal, and all are designed to ensure we demonstrate behavior with a high “survival value.”

However, emotions can both connect and disconnect us, and what produces this high survival value in normal settings can quickly become our enemy when managing money and wealth.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, rational and considerate thought can often take a back seat to immediate judging and reactionary decision-making. When dealing with our finances, it can be extremely difficult to consistently make objective financial decisions, especially when we are innately wired to be fearful and greedy.

Recognizing our emotional financial weakness is important, as is working to overcome it. The word “disciplined” is one we oftentimes use when describing the planning and work we do with our clients at Towerpoint Wealth, and as many industry veterans will tell you, both “regular” retail investors and bigger institutional investors too often deviate from a well thought out plan. Instead, they oftentimes fall prey to making decisions based on “gut feeling,” or said differently, based on their inherent emotional biases.

We know our clients at Towerpoint Wealth expect both professional stewardship and behavioral coaching from us as we act as their legal fiduciaryThe importance of having a defined process when establishing a comprehensive wealth management methodology and plan, and then having the discipline to consistently follow it (most often during times of euphoria and panic), will have a huge influence over an investor’s longer-term success in building and protecting their net worth. Concurrently, this strongly enhances one’s financial security and peace-of-mind, a virtually universal goal of investors. Helping to take emotions out of our financial planning and decision-making is essential. At Towerpoint Wealth, our goal with each of our clients is to recognize what is important, understand what we can control, and then focus our time, planning, and resources accordingly.

Put simply, we have your back.

TPW CLIENT UPDATE – Schwab Account Security Enhancement

In the ever-evolving environment of cybercrime, we continue to be vigilant when it comes to client data. That means investing in technology designed to protect our clients, while at the same time training our team to also be highly attentive.

Cybersecurity will always be one of our top priorities, and we recommend you take action right now to improve the protection of your accounts held at our custodian, Charles Schwab, by doing the following:

  1. Initiate two-step (“multi-factor”) verification. Enhanced authentication adds a layer of security to your Schwab login IDs and passwords. You can sign up for this security enhancement by logging in at schwab.com/Securitycenter and selecting ‘Manage Two-step Verification’
  2. Review the Protecting Your Identity, Data, and Assetspresentation found below

Towerpoint Wealth – First Annual Retreat A Hit!

The Towerpoint Wealth family enjoyed bonding at our first annual TPW Retreat last Friday and Saturday morning. We had breakfast together at Awful Annie’s in Auburn. We hiked the Donner Summit Abandoned Railroad train tunnels together. We convened at Steve Pitchford’s cabin to discuss the current and future state of affairs at Towerpoint Wealth together. We enjoyed dinner at Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee together, and breakfast together the next morning, prepared by our own partner and wealth advisor, Jonathan LaTurner.

Operative word – together! It was truly a fun, productive, and memorable 24 hours, and we all look forward to the second annual TPW Retreat next year.

Click HERE to see a few additional photos!

Trending Today

In addition to TPW family bonding, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past two weeks:

Lastly, please take three or four minutes to review the curated content found below, highlighted by:

  • President Joseph Eschleman attended the Amplifying Your Value workshop, learning best practices for articulating and communicating the value we bring to our clients and preferred network partners, and how we are differentiating ourselves, adding value to our clients lives, and continually enhancing our suite of wealth management services and client service objectives.
  • An interesting article discussing why the current level of U.S. Federal debt may not be as problematic as is commonly believed.
  • The Hopper app, which helps you save up to 40% by using advanced data science to predict the future of airfare and hotel prices.

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, and the entire Towerpoint Wealth team

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Passive is Becoming MASSIVE

Do you prefer active or passive?

In the world of investing, this continues to be a HUGE debate.

Yesterday, Morningstar released its semi-annual analysis of actively managed funds (those that have higher internal expenses and attempt to beat a corresponding index or benchmark) compared to passively-managed peers (those that have low internal expenses and seek simply to mirror a corresponding index or benchmark), and the results were compelling: Only 23% of actively-managed funds exceeded the average of their passive “opponents” over a ten year period ending June, 2019. Does this confirm Jack Bogle’s quote?

In other words, every dollar you save by not paying the higher fee an active money manager charges is an additional dollar in your pocket.

Like much in life, we feel this active vs. passive decision should not be a binary one for our clients, and instead believe there are many shades of gray to this question. Expenses (along with income taxes) are a “necessary evil” when investing to build and protect net worth, and we aggressively seek to manage and minimize these for our clients.

However, expenses are only one of a myriad of considerations when analyzing what type of investments are most economically beneficial to a disciplined, informed, and purposeful portfolio. While we maintain a fairly strong bias (supported by an abundance of empirical evidence) towards recommending our clients own lower cost passive investments, we also believe there may be pockets in a portfolio where the costs of active management are justified.

Confused yet? It is a lot to wrap one’s head around. Call or email us to discuss your circumstances further, and/or click HERE to learn more about the investment philosophy and strategy at Towerpoint Wealth.

Towerpoint Wealth – Eating Well!

The TPW team is always diligently working to ensure the peace of mind and comprehensive financial well-being of each of our clients, and we also recognize how important it is for our family to have fun together. And more often than not, having fun means having food!

The team was recently treated to some light, crispy, and DELICIOUS homemade lumpia, made by our Client Service Specialist, Raquel Jackson and her mother, Susan York. Rumor has it that Raquel’s two-year-old daughter, Daijah, also helped with the lumpia-making.

And earlier this week, the crew enjoyed a sugary snack – one of the most divine creations ever to come out of the confectionery field, an original Boston Cream Pie, shipped directly from the historic Omni Parker House in Boston!

In addition to the good eating that was happening at Towerpoint Wealth’s headquarters, a number of trending and notable events occurred over the past two weeks:

Lastly, please take three or four minutes to review the curated content found below, highlighted by:

  • Please RSVP and join us at The Vintage Monkey for our upcoming Wealth + Health – The Ultimate Wellness Prescription event, featuring Dr. Bill Lloyd, MD, FACS
  • Our newly-published August, 2019 Monthly Market Lookback, Against the Wind
  • An excellent commentary discussing upcoming changes to the Social Security system in 2020

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, and the entire Towerpoint Wealth team

Towerpoint Wealth No Comments

Against the Wind

“An Investment in Knowledge Pays the Best Interest” (Ben Franklin)

And I remember what she said to me
How she swore that it never would end
I remember how she held me oh so tight


Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

Against the wind
We were runnin’ against the wind
We were young and strong, we were runnin’
Against the wind…

(From “Against the Wind”, by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, 1980)

There is an old tongue-in-cheek market adage that says that portfolio managers are “never wrong, but sometimes they are early.” Well, in our case, that expression was flipped — We were exactly right, but late.

Back in July, we wrote the following:

…[W]e have entered a new phase of the market cycle, and we expect increased volatility and periodic bouts of investor panic as we move through the year, especially once the “dog days” of summer are over…

We then closed the July Commentary as follows:

[W]e expect a generally quiet period as we head into and through the heart of the summer. But while the risks may lie dormant due to general inattention, they certainly have not gone away. Enjoy the more relaxed market environment while you can – we suspect things will get “interesting” again once the summer months have passed…

So, we got “the call” correct but were “late” in expecting market volatility to stay subdued until after Labor Day. Instead, it exploded in late July and all the way through August.

August was a bad month for the equity markets (though an equally stupendous month for bonds). As we reach the final days of the month, US markets posted four consecutive weeks of negative performance and, depending on the market, were down between 3% and 7% for the month. To put this performance in better perspective, the YTD performances of all major equity markets are still positive (and the US markets in particular are still very positive). However, when looked at over the past twelve months, which includes the severe disruptions of Q4 2018, the heavy declines in May 2019, and the current downdraft of the past few weeks, we see a very different picture.

Over the past twelve months, every major global equity market has posted a flat-to-negative performance and, in the cases of the EAFE, EM, and US Small Cap markets, fairly severe negative performance. We believe it is safe to say that market volatility is once again alive and well.

Conversely, US Treasuries are on absolute tear, driven by a “flight to quality” and the fact that they still offer a positive (albeit small) yield, in comparison to the $17 trillion in negative yielding global debt. As we approach the end of the month, the 10+ year US Treasury index is flirting with a 10% return in August alone, and is up close to 22% for the year.

What is going on? For most of the past year, we have encouraged investors to focus on market signals versus market noise and, after a very “noisy” August, that advice still holds. We believe the drivers of recent market volatility fall into four broad categories:

  1. Trade tensions: The on-again / off-again trade negotiations between the US and China – now very off-again following a recent incredible “tweet rant” by President Trump – is beginning to have tangibly negative global economic effects. We remain reasonably optimistic that both sides will calm down and eventually settle, but it will take far longer than originally anticipated, and it may get worse before it gets better.
  2. Geopolitical anxiety: The most important issue on the geopolitical horizon remains uncertainty over “Brexit”. Upon becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson promised to bring “Brexit” to a successful conclusion, but it is not clear how he plans to – or can – pull that off. A “hard” exit – one where the UK simply leaves the European Union with no specific agreements in place regarding trade, immigration, labor mobility, and the issues regarding the internal Irish border (i.e., between Northern Ireland (part of the UK, and so “exiting”), and the Republic of Ireland (which will remain in the EU) – will have significant effects on the UK and European economies.

    But “Brexit” is by no means the only geopolitical issue facing investors. The growing tension between Hong Kong and China, North Korea’s apparent “ramp up” in its nuclear activities (including the possible launch of a submarine capable of launching nuclear weapons), India and Pakistan’s perpetual and recently escalated animosity over the Kashmir Province, and the escalating tension between the US, Europe, and Iran are all contributing to increased investor anxiety.
  3. Investor Sentiment: Our office has a TV turned on all day to one of the “financial news” networks. Over the past several weeks, especially since Congress is in recess and, therefore, the circus that passes for our government is quiet (ex-President Trump), it has been almost non-stop “doom and gloom” headlines and stories, especially with respect to the yield curve and the Fed. With respect to the latter, it certainly did not help when President Trump wondered in a tweet if the Fed or China represented the bigger threat to America (?!). Faced with a declining stock market and 24/7 fear-mongering, it is no wonder that investor optimism is beginning to wane. The danger is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy – if enough investors get scared enough to significantly “de-risk” their portfolios, it could initiate a fairly vicious downturn.
  4. The Summer Doldrums: We stick to our advice that investors should not overreact to summertime market volatility. Trading volume tends to be lower and therefore volatility can be magnified. We are not suggesting that investors should not be paying attention, but simply that what we’ve witnessed over the past several weeks may not be entirely representative of broad market sentiment. What we do suggest, however, is that if volatility spiked up so significantly in August, we may be in for a rough September and fourth quarter, when market professionals are fully back and focused.

So, there is plenty of noise right now that is most definitely spooking investors.

However

At the risk of being repetitive, let us examine the underlying market fundamentals (signals):

  1. The trends that have been in place for many months continue relatively unabated. The global economy is still growing, though decidedly slowing down, especially in manufacturing (most non-US PMI readings are at or below the “expansionary” 50 level and, according to the IHS Market estimate, the US is likely to fall below 50 in August – the first time it has done so since September 2009);
  2. With the S&P 500 earnings season effectively complete, both earnings and revenue growth is slightly positive year-over-year, though at a lower growth rate than recent comparable periods;
  3. Inflation is non-existent, despite a full-employment economy and increasing wage growth;
  4. Interest rates are as low as they have been in years, with no signs of rising anytime soon;
  5. Global central banks remains completely synchronized on easy money policies

We don’t agree with some of the current monetary and economic policy decisions – they are far too invasive for our free-market capitalist tastes. But, undeniably, they are attempting to “goose” the economy and the markets, and we ignore that at our own peril.

With that as a backdrop, looking out over the current economic and investment landscapes, here is what we see.

The Current Economic Landscape

The global economy is still expanding, though slowly:

  • Through the end of August, the current estimate of US Q2 GDP is 1.8%, positive but low. Early estimates for Q3 and Q4 growth are 2.0% and 1.9%, respectively, and growth for all of 2019 is estimated to be 1.8% – not recessionary, but clearly slowing (source: The Wall Street Journal);
  • US growth estimates for 2020 are also roughly 1.8% (source: The Wall Street Journal);
  • Continuing trade tensions and additional monetary stimulus could change the economic outlook for the US over the course of the year. Trade talks between the US and China show no real signs of progress and, in fact, the rhetoric and tariff “wars” continue to escalate, to the detriment of both countries. There is tangible negative economic effects from the ongoing stalemate, especially in China and in the American Midwest. President Trump has little chance of reelection if he cannot maintain the upper Midwest and Pennsylvania;
  • Although there has been no formal fiscal stimulus out of Washington, the agreed upon increase in the debt ceiling and the increase of both domestic and military spending caps will have a stimulative economic effect (at the expense of exploding national debts and deficits, but NO ONE in Washington cares about deficits right now– our children will curse us one day);
  • As expected, the Fed cut rates by 25 bps at the end of July and the market consensus is that there will be additional cuts of 25 bps in September and then again in December. We maintain our contrarian view on these cuts – they are not needed – the economy is still expanding, employment is strong, and inflation is slowly rising – why “shoot the bullets” of additional rate cuts when the economy and inflation don’t seem to need it? President Trump is “demanding” lower rates and a weaker dollar ahead of next year’s election. We could not disagree more with his attempted interference into Fed policy. The last time that happened – when Fed Chair Arthur Burns “folded” to President Richard Nixon back in the late 1960s-early 1970s, things ended very badly for the US (14-15% inflation and 20% short- term interest rates, anyone?);
  • The market sell-off of the past 3-4 weeks does not change our concern that the risk profile of the market is very asymmetrical right now – in the wrong direction. We wrote back in July that “the market seems to have fully priced in a lot of positive assumptions about trade and interest rates. If something else happens (as is always a possibility), we fear the market may react quite negatively”. Well, we were right, though President Trump’s “tweets” had more to do with the sell-off than we could have anticipated;
  • Both the US manufacturing (51.2) and services (53.7) sectors remained in expansionary mode in July (any reading above 50 is considered expansionary), but both slipped versus prior months, suggesting a slowing economy, (source: The Institute for Supply Management);
  • The IHS Markit estimate for August suggests a decline in the PMI (manufacturing index) down to below 50 (49.9) – a 118-month low. The IHS Markit estimate for the August NMI (services index) is barely above expansionary (50.9) (source: IHS Markit);
  • Inflation remains muted (US CPI was just 1.8% year-over-year in July), and remains below the target rate of 2% set by the Fed. In a world where there is more than $17 trillion in negative yielding debt (both sovereign and corporate), there seems to be an insatiable demand for US Treasury paper, even at rates as low as they have been in several years – the 10-year US Treasury rate closed out August at a level of ~1.50% (source TradingEconomics);
  • The employment picture in the US remains robust, and wages ticked up 5.2% year- over- year in July. The unemployment rate is at a remarkable 3.7% – historically, 5% has been considered the nation’s “full employment” level (sources: The St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and TradingEconomics);
  • With the Q2 earnings season more or less complete, the overall picture is positive but showing signs of deceleration. The earnings growth rate was roughly +0.5% year- over-year, on roughly 4.7% higher revenues. 76% of reported companies beat their earnings expectations, but only 57% beat their revenue expectations, suggesting that financial engineering (primarily stock buybacks) is alive and well (source: Zachs Earnings Outlook, August 22, 2019);
  • More troubling is the general decline in corporate capital expenditures, suggesting CEOs are worried about trade tensions and the potential for continued economic expansion, and withholding capital investment accordingly;
  • The primary threats to continued economic expansion are trade “wars”, the tension between Hong Kong and China, signs of renewed nuclear aggression by North Korea, the looming threat of a “hard Brexit” and escalating tensions in the Middle East;
  • With manageable inflation, signs of a decelerating economy, and insatiable “flight to quality” investor demand for US Treasuries, there is no upward pressure on interest rates and, in fact, rates have fallen to multi-year lows;
  • The yield curve remains very flat. Much has been made of the recent “inversion” of the 10-year / 2-year yield curve spread, but we hold a contrarian view here. The curve inverted temporarily (a matter of days) and by an insignificant amount (less than 10 bps). We just don’t see any reason to panic.
  • We think the inversion has more to do with demand at the long end of the curve than with impending recession fears. It is true that an inverted curve has preceded each recession of the past generation, but it is also true that not every inverted yield curve was an accurate harbinger of eventual recession.
  • Furthermore, even if an inverted yield curve WAS suggesting an eventual recession, history indicates that we have 15-24 months to prepare. The primary risk that we see is one of a self- fulfilling prophesy – investors and consumers get so “spooked” by the non-stop negative news coverage that they begin to stop spending and “de-risk” their portfolios, leading to a vicious cycle downward. But we are not there yet;
  • As we reach the end of August, the yield curve is completely flat – the difference between the yield on the 2-year and 10-year Treasury is essentially zero – both rates hover at around 1.50%, while the 30-year rate has dropped below the psychological barrier of 2.00% (source: YCharts);
  • The US dollar is behaving strangely. Over the past several weeks it has strengthened against the euro (due to weak European economic news, increasing political friction, and a decidedly dovish ECB) but weakened against the yen (a relative “flight to quality” plus a dovish tone to recent Fed pronouncements) (source: YCharts);
  • It seems apparent at this point that President Trump does not mind the see-saw nature of the US / China trade negotiations because he believes it keeps the pressure on the Fed to remain accommodative. He has been outspoken (inappropriately, in our view) in his desire for lower rates and a weaker dollar, which he believes will reduce our trade imbalances. In a recent tweet (released after Fed Chair Jerome Powell spoke “dovishly” at the annual Jackson Hole Economic Summit, but apparently not “dovishly” enough), President Trump publicly questioned whether Fed Chairman Powell or Chinese President Xi Jinpeng was a “bigger threat” to the US. With all due respect to the President, our response is, “Are you serious?”;
  • The Euro area reported a Q2 GDP growth rate of 1.2%. Germany, Europe’s most powerful economic engine, has slipped into economic contraction, though not quite recession. The slowing global economy (especially in Europe and China) is riding roughshod over Germany’s export-driven economy (source: TradingEconomics);
  • Manufacturing all across the Euro area continues to slip and remains in non- expansionary territory – 47 in August, the lowest reading since April 2013 and the seventh consecutive month of contractionary readings (source: IHS Markit and TradingEconomics);
  • The Euro area Services index remains slightly expansionary (53.4 in August, up from 53.2 in July) (source: TradingEconomics);
  • Euro area unemployment remained at 7.5% in July, and remains at its lowest level since 2008 (source: TradingEconomics);
  • Inflation is a non-issue in Europe (up 1.0% year-over-year in August, but remaining at its lowest level since November 2016), and the ECB under retiring President Draghi and incoming President Christine Lagarde has turned and will remain once again decidedly dovish. Deflation still represents the bigger risk at this point (source: TradingEconomics);
  • Japan’s GDP is back in positive territory (1.8% in Q2 2019 and 2.8% in Q1 2019), but remains sluggish and sensitive to changes in exchange rates. A strengthening yen (should it continue) will hurt Japanese exports, a critical factor in its economic activity (source: TradingEconomics);
  • China’s (official) GDP growth in Q2 2019 was 6.2% (annualized), the lowest reported growth rate since Q1 of 1992. Fairly massive fiscal and monetary stimulus has had some positive effect, but the Chinese economy has been hit much harder than the US economy during the on-again / off- again trade negotiations. The simple fact is that China needs the US more than the US needs China (though both sides lose in an extended or escalated trade war) (source: TradingEconomics);
  • The ongoing political tension between Hong Kong and mainland China is adding to the economic uncertainty. China has been, essentially, “boxed into a corner”. If it allows the Hong Kong protests and riots to continue, it will “lose face” on the national stage (though the residents of Hong Kong are completely in the right with respect to their protestations). If it intervenes militarily, it will become a global pariah, even if the US continues to evade taking a strong position on the issue due to the ongoing trade negotiations;
  • The Chinese manufacturing index upticked back into expansionary mode in August, coming in at 50.4 (source: TradingEconomics).

The Towerpoint Wealth Economic & Market Outlook:

  • The global economy shows a decided deceleration of growth, and ongoing trade tensions are having a tangible negative effect;
  • US economic growth, interest rates, inflation, and earnings all remain at least slightly expansionary. We are slowing down but not (yet) headed into recession;
  • Globally, inflation simply is not a problem, due to slow growth and stable input prices. As we reach the end of August, Brent Crude oil prices have once again dropped below $60 per barrel;
  • Global central bank policies remain “synchronized” around an easing theme. There will be no tightening of interest rates anytime soon;
  • The public credit markets continue to look expensive to us, with Investment Grade and High Yield credit spreads trading at extremely low levels not seen since 2014;
  • We remain concerned about high yield liquidity and refinancing risk and the growing level of “covenant lite” bank loans. Additionally, more than 50% of non-financial investment grade debt is rated BBB – the lowest investment grade level. If and when we head into the next recession, there could be a liquidity crisis if more than a modest amount of this debt falls into non- investment grade territory (source: FocusEconomics);
  • The global capital markets are “spooked” – pricing in historically falling yields, a decidedly slowing global economy, and afraid of “trade wars”. We think this is overblown. Please don’t mistake our thoughts – we think the market is over-priced relative to underlying fundamentals, specifically economic and earnings growth potential;
  • But we are not “at the brink of disaster”, especially here in the US. The economy is growing (albeit slowly), earnings are still positive, employment and consumption remain strong, interest rates are going to stay low for a long time, and inflation is not an issue.
  • President FDR’s famous comment comes to mind – “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”;
  • When we consider the fundamental drivers of market performance – economic growth, earnings, interest rates, inflation, and central bank policy – we remain generally optimistic, but we have entered a new phase of the market cycle, and we expect increased volatility and regular bouts of investor panic as we move through the year, especially now that summer is over – and the volatility began sooner than we expected – we thought we had until after Labor Day;
  • With that in mind, we maintain our belief that a heightened focus on quality, liquidity, and diversification is an appropriate course of action.

Barbeques are firing up as we semi-officially “end” summer. A friend of ours suggested the following paraphrase of the iconic Don Henley “Boys of Summer” song (changes added and emphasized):

I can see you
Your brown skin shining in the sun You got that hair slicked back

And those Wayfarers on, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong

After the low vol of summer is gone

No more white clothes, pools are closing, and our children return to school. Batten down the hatches…we suspect we are in for some stormy fall weather.

Warm Regards,
Joseph F. Eschleman, CIMA® President
Towerpoint Wealth, LLC

Disclosures: Towerpoint Wealth is a Registered Investment Advisor. This platform is solely for informational purposes. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Towerpoint Wealth and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital. No advice may be rendered by Towerpoint Wealth unless a client service agreement is in place. No portion of any content within this commentary is to be interpreted as a testimonial or endorsement of Towerpoint Wealth investment advisory services and it is not known whether any clients referenced herein approve of Towerpoint Wealth or its services; nor should it be assumed that any references to our clients are representative of all our clients’ experiences.

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Are We Stuck Like Andrew Luck?

Many of us who follow sports were very surprised when former No.1 draft pick Andrew Luck retired from the National Football League this past Saturday evening.

The reasons for Luck’s decision, which caught most of the sports world entirely off guard, centered around being stuck in a cycle of injury, pain, and rehab, and losing the enjoyment of playing football because of it. A telling quote from Luck:

“…the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle that I’ve been in.”

Luck’s dilemma draws a parallel to what many investors are dealing with today, an extremely unpleasant environment never historically seen before — that of negative interest rates. Or more simply put, an environment where when you invest money, you are immediately informed of how much you will lose!

So, if we said we wanted to borrow $100 from you, but will only pay you back $98 or $99 a year later, would you “lose the enjoyment” of investing and building wealth?

Don’t laugh — while it sounds absurd (to us at Towerpoint Wealth, downright offensive), increasingly this is now the global bond market. A rising share of government and corporate bonds are trading at negative interest yields — a financial twilight zone that took hold after the ’07-’08 financial crisis, and has accelerated on fears that a fragile global economy will be further damaged by the U.S.-China trade war.

A headline from a Business Insider article written almost three years ago sums up this new and perplexing environment:

Unlike Andrew Luck, who was simply able to extricate himself from his bad circumstances and rigors of being an NFL quarterback, most retail and institutional investors cannot just turn their backs on this perplexing investment environment. Investors have to find a home somewhere for their capital. So while a scenario in which interest rates in the U.S. turn negative is no longer unthinkable, it does not mean there are not ways to build wealth in this type of environment. Regardless of what may happen, at Towerpoint Wealth we stand ready to help you, and encourage you to call or email us to discuss your circumstances further.

Towerpoint Wealth at Schwab’s SOLUTIONS® conference

Our Director of Client Services, Lori Heppner, Client Service Specialist, Raquel Jackson, and Director of Research and Analytics, Nathan Billigmeier, spent a full day out of the office in San Francisco last week attending the 2019 Charles Schwab SOLUTIONS® conference.

In the interests of maximizing operational efficiencies, learning more about cybersecurity protection, as well as leveraging Schwab’s research, trading, and innovations in financial technology (FinTech) capabilities, Nate, Lori, and Raquel sharpened their professional saws and took a deep dive into SOLUTIONS®, learning more about how the myriad of Schwab’s tools and resources can help us better and more efficiently serve our clients at Towerpoint Wealth.

* Click the Solutions tile below to view the SOLUTIONS® agenda and session details *

In addition to the aforementioned interest rate and FinTech developments, a number of trending and notable events have occurred over the past two weeks:

Lastly, please take three or four minutes to review the curated content found below, highlighted by:

  • What might Andrew Luck do next, after his surprise retirement from the NFL? Click below to find out.
  • A well-written article discussing whether a recession in the United States will follow the now-inverted yield curve.
  • Have a dog? Pinched for time and unable to walk poor Fido? The Wag! app may be the perfect solution for you!

As always, we encourage you to reach out to us (info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place. We are here for you, and look forward to connecting with, helping, and being a direct, fully independent, and objective expert financial resource for you.

– Joseph, Jonathan, and the entire Towerpoint Wealth team