Should Stock Investors Sell Now?

Should stock investors sell now? It’s been a good year for stocks — for the year-to-date period ending September 30, 2016, the Standard & Poors 500 has returned 7.84% despite the year’s rocky start in January and early February. But has performance been too good?

fixed-income-investment-strategies-1_1-800X800Seven-and-a-half years into the bull market, valuations are high and there may be little upside in stocks between now and year-end. Volatility has started to increase modestly in recent weeks after a summer period that saw unusually low volatility in the equity markets. So, we may be due for a pullback.

Add to that, October has sometimes been a month characterized by high volatility, especially during an important Presidential election. These factors beg the question: should you sell now? Certainly taking some profits or rebalancing portfolios according to your regular plan is prudent. But in this commentary I lay out reasons why making more dramatic changes in your investment allocation may not be the best move.

Are Stocks Too Expensive?
 Some investors think stocks are expensive. In fact, the LPL Financial Research department explained in a research note last month that the S&P 500 price-to-earnings ratio (PE) using the median calculation is more than 50% above its long-term average. Traditional market cap weighted valuations are also high — the current PE of 18 (trailing four quarters) is above the average of 15.2 going back to 1950, and even above the higher post-1980 average of 16.4.

But are high valuations a reason to sell? Not necessarily! Valuations have not been good predictors of stock market performance over the subsequent year, according to the LPL Financial research note. Other credible investment research has reached similar conclusions.

The correlation between the S&P 500’s PE and the index’s return over the following year, at -0.31, is relatively low (based on 45 years of data). Stocks can stay overvalued longer than we might think they should, so I instead recommend focusing more on macroeconomic fundamentals, and technical factors, not valuations, for indications of an impending market correction or bear market.

Valuations were a reason to sell during the tech bubble, but it was hard to tell when. The one-year return for the S&P 500 from March 31, 2000, at a PE of 28.2, was -21.7%. But valuations were high well before that, suggesting that even at extremes, predicting market direction using valuations is an inexact science at best. Starting in June 1997, with the S&P 500’s PE over 20, the S&P 500 produced gains of 30.2% and 22.8% over the two subsequent 12-month periods.

The relationship between stock market performance and valuation gets much stronger when looking at longer time periods. Once again, a recent report from LPL Financial Research showed that, when plotting PE against stock returns over the subsequent 10-year period, the correlation (negative) is quite strong. 

file0001033439999LPL Research found that, as PEs rise, subsequent returns are lower; and vice versa. Eyeballing the two charts it is easy to see the difference, but we can put numbers on it. The correlation between PE and returns over the next 10 years is -0.87, a much closer relationship than PEs and one-year returns at -0.31 (-1 is perfect negative correlation and 0 equates to no correlation).

More Reasons To Hold Your Current Equity Allocation
Valuations may not be good reasons to sell, but are there, in fact, reasons to consider buying here? In spite of the solid returns so far this year, further equity market gains would not be shocking given the following factors:

Odds For Recession May Be Low
Many market experts, including  LPL Financial, JP Morgan Asset Management, and others continue to see the odds of recession over the next 12–18 months as being in the 20% range based on leading indicators and few signs of excesses in the economy that might lead to major imbalances. If a recession is more than a year away, based on data back to 1950, the odds are over 80% that the S&P 500 delivers a positive annual return.

Favorable Monetary Policy and Low Interest Rates
If the economy weakens further, the Federal Reserve (Fed) may deliver additional stimulus. The Fed could state its intentions to maintain low interest rates for longer, or potentially initiate another round of quantitative easing, i.e., more bond purchases. Investors may understandably not like the idea of primarily relying on Federal Reserve Bank policies to prop up stocks, but the fact remains that markets have responded to them. Furthermore, low bond yields (also a result of Fed policy) continue to enhance the appeal of stocks.

A Rebound in Corporate Earnings
Future earnings estimates have tended to run high historically and are almost always subject to change. However, the economic data, along with stability in oil and the U.S. dollar,  suggest an earnings rebound may be quite achievable. Current earnings growth expectations based on Thomson Reuters consensus data for the fourth quarter of 2016 and first and second quarters of 2017 are +8%, +15%, and +13%. Remember, markets tend to look about six months ahead.

Fourth Quarter Rally?
The S&P 500 has historically performed well during the fourth quarter with an average gain of over 4% (versus a 2.1% average for all quarters), with gains 79% of the time going back to 1950. Fourth quarters of election years are no better than an average quarter, but excluding 2008, the average fourth quarter gain during an election year is 3.6% and the S&P 500 is higher 87% of those quarters. We continue to believe that markets should welcome greater clarity on the potential election outcome when it arrives.

Conclusion
Valuations and seasonality do not appear to be good reasons to sell stocks right now. In fact, a number of factors I have discussed here suggest stocks do offer the potential for growth between now and year end. Although it is also possible that future gains may be limited, don’t be surprised to greater volatility and consider using temporary equity weakness to buy at lower prices.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful. Investing in stock includes numerous specific risks including: the fluctuation of dividend, loss of principal, and potential liquidity of the investment in a falling market.

Because of its narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies. All investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Correlation ranges between -1 and +1. Perfect positive correlation (a correlation co-efficient of +1) implies that as one security moves, either up or down, the other security will move in lockstep, in the same direction. Alternatively, perfect negative correlation means that if one security moves in either direction the securitythat is perfectly negatively correlated will move in the opposite direction. If the correlation is 0, the movements of the securities are said to have no correlation;they are completely random.

The PE ratio (price-to-earnings ratio) is a measure of the price paid for a share relative to the annual net income or profit earned by the firm per share. It is a financial ratio used for valuation: a higher PE ratio means that investors are paying more for each unit of net income, so the stock is more expensive compared to one with lower PE ratio

INDEX DESCRIPTIONS
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

 This research material has been prepared by LPL Financial LLC.

 

Beyond Politics: What Does the Election Mean for Your Investments?

As the recent Democratic and Republican political conventions are in the rear view mirror, the presidential election season will now move into high gear! The “hype” on everyone’s minds right now is, of course, whether Donald or Hillary should win the election, and that cannot be ignored. If this post was an actual debate and I were behind the podium, the question you might ask is: How will this election affect the markets?

donald-hillary-800In previous communications, I have consistently emphasized the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective. Investors must keep their emotions in check and strive to block out the hype – the noise that can distract any of us from moving toward the attainment of your long-term financial goals.

The elections can sometimes bring out the more emotional side of our personalities, especially during a presidential election year which can cause excitement or despair, depending on your side of the aisle. I have even heard people complain that if a certain candidate wins, “The markets are doomed and so are my investments!”

Although every citizen is certainly entitled to their political beliefs, I think it might likely be very unwise to allow your political passions to drive your investment choices. It’s not about election years, or even political parties – but about investing for the long run. Nonetheless, there are some historical election year patterns that may be worth watching. Here are a few to consider, according to the 2016 Mid Year Outlook recently published by the investment research department at LPL Financial:

file0001935255693The Economic Factor: Income Growth
Income growth is one way to gauge the impact of the economy on election results, as this measure captures the impact of several key factors, including the unemployment rate, inflation, and wage growth. In the year leading up to the election, inflation adjusted, after-tax income growth of about 3% to 4% appears to be the threshold for the incumbent party to win. As of June 30th, this measure is currently growing in the 3% to 3.5% range, suggesting that the incumbent Democratic Party has a good chance of winning just over 50% of the two-party vote in November’s election.

Stock Market Performance Under Different Parties
The often spoken market mantra that “gridlock is good” suggests that a split Congress, or a President from the party opposite the one in control of both houses of Congress, would be better for markets. The downside, however, is that gridlock could limit policy action at a time when many policy experts think changes are needed on several fronts including taxes, entitlement reform, immigration, security, and others.

Historically, the combination of a Democratic President and split Congress has been best for markets, though it has occurred infrequently, with an average gain of 10.4% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. A Republican sweep of the White House and Congress, on the other hand, has also been positive for stocks as well, with an average gain for the Dow of 7%. Election years have been strong for stocks, excluding the anomaly in 2008, the worst year of the Great Recession. Election year gains have averaged close to 10% and positive returns have occurred in a solid 87% of election years.

RisinginterestratesiStock_000078549611_MediumThe election year pattern for stocks suggests volatility may persist through the summer months until markets have more clarity on the candidates and their platforms. Once that clarity arrives, often before the election itself, stocks have typically staged a late-year rally. The path of bond yields during a presidential election year is very similar to the historical pattern for any given year.

The seasonal tendency is for yields to decline starting in late October through November; but during election years, the tendency has been for an increase in Treasury yields. Taking these historical patterns into consideration, and given the current environment, suggests that we will remain in a similar policy and stock environment as we’ve seen in recent years.

A Winning Platform
The road to long-term financial goals is filled with many potholes and road blocks. But the best election year “trade” might be to stick to your long-term investment strategy and remain focused on your investment aspirations. Over these past seven years, one of the best, but also most befuddling, bull markets in history may have made us feel like the financial markets are not functioning properly, and there’s a need to change something to “make investing great again.”

But even though a changing world presents important new challenges, staying focused on a good plan, and remaining patient may bring out the ways that “investing has always been great.” I think you have the winning platform already: invest early and often, stay diversified, and be patient through the ups and downs.

As always, if you have any questions, please email me at bill.pollak@lpl.com or call me at (925) 464-7057.

Spring Has Sprung: Will the Equity Market “Spring” Continue?

Spring has arrived here in the Bay Area and across most of the nation. Just as we have seen declining rainfall after the wintery “El Nino” conditions, the new season has recently brought a break from the significant volatility we experienced in the first two months of the year.

park practice 052 (1)However, although there is increased clarity on several issues that cast a cloud (was it the El Nino effect?) of uncertainty over financial markets in January and February, it would be unwise to forget that heightened volatility is likely not gone for good.

The first quarter of the year was historic. After being down more than 10% at its lows, the S&P 500 bounced back in March and finished the quarter positive. The S&P 500 hasn’t erased a 10% quarterly loss to finish positive since the Great Depression.

Experiencing market volatility like this is not easy; yet witnessing this kind of reversal reminds us of the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective. So, what changed between January and February and today to help calm markets?

The mid-winter market malaise largely revolved around the Federal Reserve (Fed), China, oil, corporate profits, and the U.S. dollar. Investors were likely concerned that the four 25 basis point (0.25%) rate hikes the Fed projected for 2016 would lead to a recession and exacerbate the imbalances emerging in the global economy.

These imbalances stemmed from a series of missteps by Chinese policymakers, the oversupply of oil, weak corporate profits, and unprecedented strength in the U.S. dollar. In the past couple of months, many of these issues have started to resolve.

2000px-US-FederalReserveSystem-Seal.svgAt its March policy meeting, the Fed changed its tune slightly from the December 2015 meeting and reduced its forecast for rate hikes this year from four to just two, citing concerns around global imbalances and economic growth. This more market-friendly projection helped to push the dollar lower and oil higher, alleviating some stress in global financial markets.

Meanwhile, China, which said or did all the wrong things managing its currency, economy, and financial markets during the second half of 2015 and again in early 2016, has mostly turned that around recently. The weaker dollar, soothing words from China, and the rebound in oil prices helped to renew a slightly more positive corporate profit outlook and sparked an impressive market rebound.

After the market dips, reversals, and dramatic shifts in investor sentiment, what can we expect as we look ahead? In my opinion, the second quarter of 2016-and the rest of the year-may look a lot like the first quarter, as many of the areas of concern we faced (such as Fed rate hikes, oil prices, earnings declines) remain in the background.

Although it is very possible that the heightened volatility throughout the rest of 2016 might continue, some investment management firms, including the LPL Financial Research department, think that the broad US equity market might deliver mid-single-digit returns in 2016 if the U.S. economic expansion continues. Only time will tell whether these prognostications will come true.

To help you maintain perspective and stay on track, please feel free to browse on the right my previous newsletters and a sample of the educational articles from the blog section of my website. And, as always, if you have questions or are seeking clarification about your current situation, please email me at bill.pollak@lpl.com or call me at (925) 464-7057.

Correlation and Portfolio Performance

Different types of investments are subject to different types of risk. On days when you notice that stock prices have fallen, for example, it would not be unusual to see a rally in the bond market.

arrows_sq_452689341Asset allocation refers to how an investor’s portfolio is divided among asset classes, which tend to perform differently under different market conditions. An appropriate mix of investments typically depends on the investor’s age, risk tolerance, and financial goals.

The concept of correlation often plays a role in constructing a well-diversified portfolio that strikes a balance between risk and return.

Math that matters
In the financial world, correlation is a statistical measure of how two securities perform relative to each other. Securities that are positively correlated will have prices that tend to move in the same direction. Securities that are negatively correlated will have prices that move in the opposite direction.

Working people in the officeA correlation coefficient, which is calculated using historical returns, measures the degree of correlation between two investments. A correlation of +1 represents a perfectly positive correlation, which means the investments always move together, in the same direction, and at a consistent scale.

A correlation of -1 means they have a perfectly negative correlation and will always move opposite one another. A correlation of zero means that the two investments are not correlated; the relationship between them is random.

In reality, perfectly positive correlation is rare, because distinct investments can be affected differently by the same conditions, even if they are similar securities in the same sector.

Correlations can change
While some types of securities exhibit general trends of correlation over time, it’s not uncommon for correlations to vary over shorter periods. In times of market volatility, for example, asset prices were more likely to be driven by common market shocks than by their respective underlying fundamentals.

fixed-income-investment-strategies-1_1-800X800During the flight to quality sparked by the financial crisis of 2008, riskier assets across a number of different classes exhibited unusually high correlation. As a result, correlations among some major asset classes have been more elevated than they were before the crisis. There has also been a rise in correlation between different financial markets in the global economy (See Note 1 Below).

For example, the correlation coefficient for U.S. stocks (represented by the S&P Composite Total Return index) and foreign stocks (represented by the MSCI EAFE GTR index) increased from 0.75 over the last 25 years to 0.89 over the last 10 years (See Note 2 Below).

Over the long run, a combination of investments that are loosely correlated may provide greater diversification, help manage portfolio risk, and smooth out investment returns. Tighter relationships among asset classes over the last decade may be a good reason for some investors to reassess their portfolio allocations.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that correlations may continue to fluctuate over time because of changing economic and market environments.

The performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any particular investment. Individuals cannot invest directly in an index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Asset allocation and diversification strategies do not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss; they are methods used to help manage investment risk.

Investing internationally carries additional risks such as differences in financial reporting, currency exchange risk, as well as economic and political risk unique to the specific country. This may result in greater share price volatility. When sold, investments may be worth more or less than their original cost.

1 International Monetary Fund, 2015

2 Thomson Reuters, 2015, for the period 12/31/1989 to 12/31/2014

Rates on the Rise: Strategies for Fixed-Income Investors

A long period of low yields has been challenging for many fixed-income investors, but owning bond investments in a rising interest-rate environment could become even trickier. When interest rates go up, the prices of existing bonds typically fall. Consequently, the Federal Reserve’s rate-setting decisions could affect the entire fixed-income market.

RisinginterestratesiStock_000078549611_MediumStill, bonds are a mainstay for conservative investors who prioritize the preservation of principal over returns, and for retirees in need of a predictable income stream. Although diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss, owning a diversified mix of bond types and maturities is one way to manage interest-rate and credit risk in your portfolio.

Consider duration
Overall, bonds with shorter maturities are less sensitive to interest-rate fluctuations than long-term bonds. A bond’s maturity is the length of time by which the principal and interest are scheduled to be repaid. A bond’s duration is a more specific measure of interest-rate sensitivity that takes cash flow (interest payments) into account.

For example, a five-year Treasury bond has a duration of less than five years, reflecting income payments that are received prior to maturity. A five-year corporate bond with a higher yield will have an even shorter duration, making it slightly less sensitive to interest-rate fluctuations. If interest rates increase 1%, a bond’s value is generally expected to drop by approximately the bond’s duration. Thus, a bond with a five-year duration could lose roughly 5% in value. (U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest.)

Build a ladder
Bond laddering is a buy-and-hold strategy that could also help cushion the potential effects of rising rates. This process puts your money to work systematically, without trying to predict rate changes and time the market.

file0001084609609Buying individual bonds provides some certainty, because investors know how much they will earn if they hold a bond until maturity, unless the issuer defaults. A ladder is a portfolio of bonds with maturities that are spaced out at regular intervals over a certain number of years. When short-term bonds from the low rungs of the ladder mature, the funds are reinvested at the top end of the ladder.

As interest rates rise, investors may be able to increase their cash flow by capturing higher yields. A ladder may also help insulate bond portfolios from volatility, because higher yields on new bonds may help offset any paper losses on existing holdings.

Bond ladders may vary in size and structure, and could include different types of bonds depending on an investor’s time horizon, risk tolerance, and goals. Individual bonds are typically sold in minimum denominations of $1,000 to $5,000, so creating a bond ladder with a sufficient level of diversification might require a sizable investment.

Rise with rates
Adding a floating-rate component to a bond portfolio may also provide some protection against interest-rate risk. These investments (long offered by U.S. corporations) have interest payments that typically adjust based on prevailing short-term rates.

The U.S. Treasury started issuing floating-rate notes with two-year maturities in January 2014. Investors receive interest payments on a quarterly basis. Rates are tied to the most recent 13-week Treasury bill auction and reset weekly, so investors are paid more as interest rates rise and less as they fall.

Note: Bonds redeemed prior to maturity could be worth more or less than their original cost, and investments seeking to achieve higher yields also involve a higher degree of risk. Interest payments are taxed as ordinary income. Treasury bond interest is subject to federal income tax but exempt from state and local income taxes.

‘Tis the Season To Unwrap Your Crystal Ball!

It’s that time of year again! No, I am not referring to the Holidays which brings the hustle and bustle of gift buying, parties, and hopefully special time with family and friends. Those subjects could produce material for an interesting read, but there is another annual tradition which I have been thinking about.

file9821301453431I am referring to the scores of prognostications offered by many financial, investing and economic gurus. In a ritual as widely practiced as Holiday gatherings and New Year celebrations, we are hearing (or will soon hear) predictions about what 2016 “will” bring in the world of finance, including the direction and pace of economic growth, the path of interest rates, the outlook for oil prices (a hot topic!), and more!

Some of these pronouncements may sound convincing and could even be very well-reasoned. They will sometimes even come along with advice about the moves you can make to profit from those opinions or how to avoid losses. But I would caution anybody reading these missives to avoid making bold moves, no matter how compelling the prediction.

That’s because I have learned over the years to take these forecasts with a gigantic grain of salt. The business of making reliable forecasts about the sometimes arbitrary movements of the economy and financial markets is a very tough endeavor. As the late, great baseball icon and “philosopher” Yogi Berra once said, “Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future”!

That idea was recently underscored by research I have read from two prominent researchers at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the well-known international financial organization. In a study published in May, 2014, Prakash Loungani and Hites Ahir, two IMF researchers, studied forecasters’ ability to predict recessions.

This paper, along with previous research compiled by Loungani and other economists, showed that forecasters possess a “record of failure to predict recessions” which “is virtually unblemished.” Ouch!

IMG_1312Does this mean you should ignore all prognostications? Not necessarily! I do read commentaries from many economists and investment experts. Understanding different perspectives about the financial world, especially when there are differing views, can be helpful. They can provide a measure of context and awareness.

But it is important to remember they may not be useful as an infallible investment or financial manual for the next 12 months. The workings of the economy and financial markets are extremely complicated and dynamic, making it extraordinarily difficult to forecast their movements, especially over a relatively short timeframe like one year.

In fact, if a forecaster says they know exactly what’s going to happen next, you might want to view such opinions, based on the aforementioned research, with skepticism. Alternatively, forecasts which acknowledge the possibilities of different outcomes might actually help inform you about unexpected developments.

Regardless of the quality of the forecast and research, I think most individuals and families may likely be much better off by placing their primary focus on having a long-term financial plan and following a disciplined process in making financial and investment decisions.

This approach might actually offer more long-term promise than placing too much emphasis on short-term forecasts which appear to be unreliable, no matter how credible the source.

To help provide context and perspective, this month’s blogs provide information about the recent interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve Bank as well as guidance about potential year-end tax moves:

Federal Reserve Bank Rate Hike: What Does It Mean?

Should You Worry About a Federal Reserve Interest Rate Hike?

2015 Year end Tax Planning Basics

As always, if you have any questions about your situation, I encourage you to email me at bill.pollak@lpl.com or at (925) 464-7057.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Federal Reserve Rate Hike: What Does it Mean?

The events of the past week bring one word to mind: finally. Last Wednesday, the Federal Reserve (Fed) finally raised the target for the federal funds rate by 0.25%. By raising this key overnight borrowing rate, the Fed raised interest rates for the first time in nine years—an event that has been receiving a great deal of attention recently. Surrounding the past several Fed meetings, there has been much talk of “will they” or “won’t they.” Leading up to this meeting, the Fed implied it would raise rates, and the market was expecting it.

file000821289525However, until the announcement was made today, a degree of uncertainty remained. So, what does this really mean? It means the potential for key rates to tick up, such as mortgage or credit card rates. Most bonds have “priced in the hike,” but some could still feel a slight negative impact. However, overall, we should take this as a positive sign. We have not experienced a rate hike in nine years, and, perhaps more importantly, we have not had rates above the 0–25 basis point range (0–0.25%) since late 2008.

The Fed said it would only raise rates if the economic data signaled a healthy economy. We have seen strong numbers posted over the past few months, and the Fed affirmed today it believes this trend should continue. To sum up, the Fed has raised rates because it believes the economy is strong and likely to continue to grow without the added support of near zero interest rates.

For the market, this is potentially a positive event. Yet, rate hikes also reaffirm that we are in the mid-to-late stage of the economic cycle. In this part of the cycle, we can expect additional market volatility. We especially anticipate it in the coming weeks and months, as investors become comfortable with the “new routine” for U.S. monetary policy.

Although we have just experienced the first raise, many will immediately start thinking about what’s next. The debate will continue regarding how fast the Fed will raise rates, how far it will raise them, and when it will stop. Today, the Fed’s own projections put the fed funds rate at 140 basis points (1.4%) a year from now, while the fed funds futures market puts the fed funds rate at just 80 basis points (0.80%) by year-end 2016.

arrowThis difference implies a gap between what the Fed says it will do and what the market thinks the Fed will do. How this gap is resolved will play a key role in the future direction of financial markets, particularly fixed income markets. Luckily, Fed Chair Janet Yellen is aware that markets will continue to debate what may lie ahead. Her comments during the post-meeting press conference suggest the Fed will continue to proceed cautiously, taking into consideration the impact of rising rates on consumer spending, the housing market, business capital spending, the value of the dollar, and overseas economies and financial markets.

A slow path for further increases will give the economy and markets time to adjust to the changes. It has been a long time since we last saw the Fed hike rates. It does feel unusual, but also positive, and hopefully this change is well worth the wait. It means that we are returning to a more typical economic environment, which is a welcome change from the atypical environment we have lived in since the Great Recession.

And even though this is a big change in Fed policy, what shouldn’t change is our commitment to the long-term investment plan that is ultimately our blueprint for success. As always, if you have any questions, I encourage you to email me at bill.pollak@lpl.com or at (925) 464-7057.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing.

Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted.

Investing in stock includes numerous specific risks including: the fluctuation of dividend, loss of principal, and potential liquidity of the investment in a falling market.
Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond and bond mutual fund values and yields will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

This research material has been prepared by LPL Financial.

Securities offered through LPL Financial. Member FINRA/SIPC.

Tracking #1-449334 (Exp. 12/16)

Back to School and Snore Your Way to Investment Success

I hope you are enjoying these last days of summer and that you have had the chance to take a great vacation! For me, the past few weeks has brought another “Back to School” season for the family. But this time around, the school year’s start is much different!

back-to-schoolInstead of attending more high school, my twin sons, Daniel and Benjamin, are now going “Off to School” to start their freshman years at the University of California, Davis and at the University of Illinois, respectively.

I admire the dedication they have shown over the years and especially how they gracefully navigated the very competitive college admissions environment during their Senior year! As I reflected on their hard work in recent weeks, their journey has reminded me that learning is an on-going process that takes place inside and outside the classroom.

This idea is certainly applicable to just about everything in our lives, even personal finance and investments. And the financial world sometimes provides ample opportunity to “test” how well we have learned our lessons!

Recent conditions in the investment markets, for example, might be providing investors with the equivalent of a mid-term exam! During 2015, returns in the broad US stock and bond markets have struggled at times to produce positive returns.

And in recent days, of course, global equity markets have been much more volatile, temporarily serving up a 10% correction before rebounding and paring some of the losses. The past few weeks have certainly been very different from the tame price fluctuations of the past few years.

roller-coasterThere is also no shortage of economic uncertainty around the world. Investors are trying to digest a potential rise in US interest rates later this year, the rapid decline in oil prices, increasing volatility in the Chinese stock market, and other economic and political worries.

So, the weeks or months ahead might test the resolve of many investors. The “exam” may not be multiple choice, but such a period might be a good assessment of whether one is truly a long-term investor.

Staying the “course” with your investment plan might increase the odds of long-term investment success. If the markets move back into correction territory, and you stick with your plan, you will have “aced” your investment midterm and will be on your way to the coveted diploma!

On the other hand, you could try to predict short-term market movements, sell before another possible market decline and then buy back in at lower prices. But objective studies of market timing have shown that they might not be successful over a reasonable period of time and that they could potentially lead to less optimal returns.

Even the world’s greatest investors cannot reliably forecast short-term market movements, and they happily admit this fact. Here are a few opinions on the subject from some of the best investment “professors” of our time:

file000986451810Warren Buffett, known for holding stocks like Wells Fargo Bank and Coca Cola for decades, once wrote, “We continue to make more money when snoring than when active.” Peter Lynch, one of the most highly regarded mutual fund managers of his era, said, “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves”.

The logic behind not trying to time the financial markets is compelling. Still, I recognize that it can be difficult to stay on track. To help you through these volatile times, I want to continue my practice of providing relevant financial education articles and to inspire you to make sound financial decisions! Here are a few that might help you navigate the challenging moments:

Should You Worry About China Stock Market Volatility: Many investors are wondering whether China’s stock market volatility might slow down China’s economy and eventually global growth prospects. Should you make any portfolio changes? Read more…

Five Steps to Tame Financial Stress: Studies show that most of us get stressed about money some of the time. Here are some tips that can help you through those tough moments! Read more…

Can You Count on Dividends for Reliable Income? With fixed income investments offering low yields, it is tempting to think about using dividend paying stocks as a substitute for bonds. Here are some issues to consider before you take the plunge. Read more…

Finally, use this blog as a reminder to reflect on your own situation. If you are uncomfortable with the recent market volatility, or are unsure whether your investments are aligned to your long-term financial goals, please email bill.pollak@lpl.com or call me at (925) 464-7057. I would be happy to help!

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. Investing involves risk including potential loss of principal.

Should You Worry about China’s Stock Market Volatility?

The volatility of the Chinese stock market has been viewed by U.S. investors with a mixture of concern and fascination. As of August 4, the Shanghai market is still up 16% year to date even after a nearly 30% decline from its June 12 peak. This roller coaster ride has received a great deal of attention; however, the research department at LPL Financial and some other investment firms believe that the impact on China’s economy will be limited.

Shanghai 323Until recently, the Chinese stock market was walled off from the global financial market. Chinese investors could only invest in “A-shares” traded in Shanghai or Shenzhen, and non-mainland investors were not allowed to buy shares in these markets. Though there are now options for non-mainland investors, these investors represent less than 2% of the Chinese stock market.

The link between China’s economy and its stock market is not as strong as it is for the U.S. Chinese investors prefer to hold cash and real estate relative to stocks; only 9% of Chinese household wealth is invested in the stock market, compared with nearly 30% in the U.S.

Most of the money in the Chinese stock market comes from a relatively small group of wealthy (by Chinese standards) investors. Looking historically, regardless of the performance of the equity market, there appears to be very limited correlation between consumer spending and stock prices.

We believe the recent decline in the Chinese stock prices is likely a reaction to a 60% rise in less than six months and the rapidly changing government policies. In April, the Chinese government limited margin lending before quickly reversing course as equities sold off sharply. It has worked to prop up stocks in July and August. These moves, including banning short selling and restricting trading, have been viewed as evidence of panic by policymakers.

While the slowing Chinese economy may be having some impact on the equity market, China’s overall economic outlook is largely unchanged. The small role the market plays in the economy is unlikely to have a material impact on economic growth.

The LPL Research Department and some other investment research organizations continue to recommend that investors who desire exposure to the Chinese market achieve it by investing in the so-called “H-share” market, shares of Chinese companies that trade in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong market has a more traditional regulatory structure and less intervention than the mainland Chinese market. This market has been less susceptible to wild swings and is more attractively valued than the “A-share” market based on price-to-earnings multiples. This fact does not eliminate the volatility inherent in any China-related investment, but it does offer investors a better risk-reward balance.

As always, if you have any questions, please email me at bill.pollak@lpl.com or call me at (925) 464-7057.

Definitions:
The P/E ratio (price-to-earnings ratio) is a measure of the price paid for a share relative to the annual net income or profit earned by the firm per share. It is a financial ratio used for valuation: a higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying more for each unit of net income, so the stock is more expensive compared to one with lower P/E ratio.

Short selling (also known as shorting or going short) is the practice of selling assets, usually securities, that have been borrowed from a third party (usually a broker) with the intention of buying identical assets back at a later date to return to the lender. The short seller hopes to profit from a decline in the price of the assets between the sale and the repurchase, as the seller will pay less to buy the assets than the seller received on selling them.

Margin debt is debt used to purchase securities within an investment account. Margin debt carries an interest rate, and the amount of margin debt will change daily as the value of the underlying securities changes.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. The economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted.

Investing in foreign and emerging markets securities involves special additional risks. These risks include, but are not limited to, currency risk, geopolitical risk, and risk associated with varying accounting standards. Investing in emerging markets may accentuate these risks.

This research material has been prepared by LPL Financial. Not FDIC/NCUA Insured | Not Bank/Credit Union Guaranteed | May Lose Value | Not Guaranteed by Any Government Agency | Not a Bank/Credit Union Deposit

Can You Count on Dividends as a Reliable Income Source?

Dividends can be an important source of income. However, there are several factors you should take into consideration if you’ll be relying on them to help pay the bills, especially if you are no longer earning income.

8-03-2An increasing dividend is generally regarded as a sign of a company’s health and stability, and most corporate boards are reluctant to cut them. However, dividends on common stock are by no means guaranteed; the board can decide to reduce or eliminate dividend payments at any time.

Investing in dividend-paying stocks isn’t as simple as just picking the highest yield; consider whether the company’s cash flow can sustain its dividend, and whether a high yield is simply a function of a drop in a stock’s share price.

Because a stock’s dividend yield is calculated by dividing the annual dividend by the current market price per share, a lower share value typically means a higher yield, assuming the dividend itself remains the same.

Also, dividends aren’t all alike. Dividends on preferred stock typically offer a fixed rate of return, and holders of preferred stock must be paid their promised dividend before holders of common stock are entitled to receive theirs. However, because their dividends are predetermined, preferred stocks typically behave somewhat like fixed-income investments.

For example, their market value is more likely to be affected by changing interest rates, and most preferred stocks have a provision allowing the company to call in its preferred shares at a set time or at a specified future date. If you have to surrender your preferred stock, you might have difficulty finding an equivalent income stream.

Finally, dividends from certain types of investments aren’t eligible for the special tax treatment generally available for qualified dividends, and a portion may be taxed as ordinary income.

Note: All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful. Investing in dividends is a long-term commitment. Investors should be prepared for periods when dividend payers drag down, not boost, an equity portfolio. A company’s dividend can fluctuate with earnings, which are influenced by economic, market, and political events.