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John Hempton
Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP
Articles 

Wiping Your Financial Slate Clean

While I too remain optimistic, I understand there is no free lunch as it relates to financial markets

January 04, 2017 | About:

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 3, 2017).

The page on the calendar has turned, and we now have a new year, and will shortly have a new president, and new economic policies. Although there is nothing magical about starting a fresh, new year, the annual rites of passage also allow investors to start with a clean slate again and reflect on their personal financial situation. Before you reach a desired destination (i.e., retirement), it is always helpful to know where you have been and where are you currently. Achieving this goal requires filtering through a never-ending avalanche of real-time data flooding through our cell phones, computers, TVs, radios, and Facebook accounts. This may seem like a daunting challenge, but that’s where I come in!

Distinguishing the signals from the noise is tough and there was plenty of noise in 2016 – just like there is every year. Before the S&P 500 stock index registered a +9.5% return in 2016, fears of a China slowdown blanketed headlines last January (the S&P 500 fell -15% from its highs and small cap stocks dropped -26%), and the Brexit (British exit) referendum caused a brief 48-hour -6% hiccup in June. Oil was also in the news as prices hit a low of $26 a barrel early in the year, before more than doubling by year-end to $54 per barrel (still well below the high exceeding $100 in 2014). On the interest rate front, 10-Year Treasury rates bottomed at 1.34% in July, while trillions of dollars in global bonds were incomprehensibly paying negative interest rates. However, fears of inflation rocked bond prices lower (prices move inversely to yields) and pushed bond yields up to 2.45% today. Along these lines, the Federal Reserve has turned the tide on its near-0% interest rate policy as evidenced by its second rate hike in December.

Despite the abbreviated volatility caused by the aforementioned factors, it was the U.S. elections and surprise victory of President-elect Donald Trump that dominated the media airwaves for most of 2016, and is likely to continue as we enter 2017. In hindsight, the amazing Twitter-led, Trump triumph was confirmation of the sweeping global populism trend that has also replaced establishment leaders in the U.K., France, and Italy. There are many explanations for the pervasive rise in populism, but meager global economic growth, globalization, and automation via technology are all contributing factors.

The Trump Bump

Even though Trump has yet to accept the oath of Commander-in-Chief, recent investor optimism has been fueled by expectations of a Republican president passing numerous pro-growth policies and legislation through a Republican majority-controlled Congress. Here are some of the expected changes:

  • Corporate/individual tax cuts and reform
  • Healthcare reform (i.e., Obamacare)
  • Proposed $1 trillion in infrastructure spending
  • Repatriation tax holiday for multinational corporate profits
  • Regulatory relief (e.g., Dodd-Frank banking and EPA environmental reform)

The chart below summarizes the major events of 2016, including the year-end “Trump Bump”:

16-sp-sum

While I too remain optimistic, I understand there is no free lunch as it relates to financial markets (see also Half Trump Full). While tax cuts, infrastructure spending, and regulatory relief should positively contribute to economic growth, these benefits will have to be weighed against the likely costs of higher inflation, debt, and deficits.

Over the 25+ years I have been investing, the nature of the stock market and economy hasn’t changed. The emotions of fear and greed rule the day just as much today as they did a century ago. What has changed today is the pace, quality, and sheer volume of news. In the end, my experience has taught me that 99% of what you read, see or hear at the office is irrelevant as it relates to your retirement and investments. What ultimately drives asset prices higher or lower are the four key factors of corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (contrarian indicator) . As you can see from the chart below, corporate profits are at record levels and forecast to accelerate in 2017 (up +11.9%). In addition, valuations remain very reasonable, given how low interest rates are (albeit less low), and skeptical investor sentiment augurs well in the short-run.

16-eps

Source: FactSet

Regardless of your economic or political views, this year is bound to have plenty of ups and downs, as is always the case. With a clean slate and fresh turn to the calendar, now is a perfect time to organize your finances and position yourself for a better retirement and 2017.


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