Newsletter

Financial Planning is More Than Investing

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on July 23, 2021  /   Posted in Newsletter

When we talk about financial planning, I suspect many people default to thinking we’re only talking about investing. But at Strathmore Capital, we know from personal experience that it includes so much more. A recent story I heard about a friend of a friend makes it all too clear that while investing decisions matter, we can’t afford to ignore the other parts of our financial lives.

The story starts out simple enough. A successful man in his 30s remarried after a divorce. His new wife had been married before, too, and they both had children from those relationships. After three years together, things were going really well. They had no reason to think their life together wouldn’t continue as expected. Until it didn’t.

The woman who had the seizure never intended to slam her SUV into this young man’s car. It was a horrible accident that affected everyone involved. As difficult as it was to deal with losing a spouse, there was more to come for this young widow that made the situation even more painful and stressful.

After his first divorce, this young man changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy from his ex-wife to his mother. As they were going through his papers, his now-widow discovered two things:

1) His mother was still the beneficiary of his life insurance policy

2) He’d written a to-do list that included changing the policy to name his wife

It won’t surprise you to discover what happened next. Legally, the widow had no claim to the policy, and the mother wasn’t inclined to honor the wishes of her son. She justified the decision with an explanation that she’d expected her son to help her in old age.

So, at a time when the family needs to come together, this family was arguing over money. The blame came down to a to-do list with an important, but not obviously urgent, a task left undone. I’m willing to bet too many of us have at least one of those important things left undone in our lives. We tell ourselves we’ll get to it—eventually.

One of our jobs at Strathmore Capital is to close the gap between “done eventually” and “done now.” We make it a point to understand everything about your financial life. It’s our job to ensure things like changing a beneficiary don’t get left in a stack of papers on a desk.

The story I shared above has a little bit of a silver lining. The mother-in-law agreed to use some of the life insurance to pay the balance on the home mortgage. While it doesn’t solve all the widow’s immediate financial concerns, it will help as she attempts to launch a new business. But I think it’s a safe bet that this young woman will do everything in her power to never leave something so important lingering on a to-do list.

I hope this newsletter gives you a nudge to remember that we’re here to help you with more than investing. We’re also committed to making sure your financial intentions are respected and become a reality for you and your family. As always, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have questions.

Asking the Right Questions About Bitcoin

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on April 19, 2021  /   Posted in Newsletter

Many of us know the story of Dutch speculators in 17th-century Netherlands spending a lot of money on tulip bulbs. Prices spiked between December 1636 and February 1637 on the then-rare striped variety. This short-lived market boom affected some personal fortunes and undermined trust when buyers couldn’t come up with the money to complete the exchange.

In this instance, we’re looking at an example of a luxury good masquerading as an investment. But a quick trip through investing history reveals more than one smart investor lured into thinking they had the inside track on the hot new thing. In the 1800s, we see another example with the downfall of the South Sea Company, which managed to entangle Sir Isaac Newton and many other investors.

Newton’s story will sound familiar. He managed to get out before the bubble burst with a 100% profit. But within months, he bought shares at the top of the market before going on to lose more than $3 million. Again, we’re not short on stories, which leads to today’s current fascination with things like Bitcoin.

There are several well-done explainers, so I won’t wade into the deep end trying to explain what crypto assets[1] do or what they’re for. Instead, I think it’s valuable to understand what they represent in the big investment picture, while keeping a fundamental question in mind: does this fit into my overall investment strategy?

For example, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies purport to be currencies (i.e., a medium that may be exchanged for goods and services). Traditional currency markets can be tricky, even for experienced financial professionals, and they may not be suitable investments for your portfolio.  If traditional currencies wouldn’t be a good fit for your portfolio, what makes cryptocurrencies different?

There are also concerns regarding the impact that cryptocurrencies (particularly Bitcoin) may be having on the environment.  Before becoming available for purchase and sale, cryptocurrencies are initially created through a technical process called mining, which requires significant amounts of computing power.  A recent study noted that as of April 2020, China accounts for over 75% of Bitcoin mining activity, primarily due to cheaper electricity and large areas of undeveloped land.[2]  This same study also concluded that the energy consumption of global Bitcoin mining activity and its corresponding environmental impacts have become “a non-negligible issue.”  This poses a question of whether Bitcoin is compatible with environmental, sustainability, and governance (ESG) strategies.

Unlike traditional stocks, Bitcoin and other crypto assets require a digital wallet in order to be held.  As of today, you cannot directly hold Bitcoin in a typical brokerage account (although there are services that attempt to streamline the process, a digital wallet is still required).  The “account number” for a digital wallet is usually delivered in the form of a set of cryptographic keys, which are lengthy, alphanumeric sequences that must be managed and safeguarded, lest the wallet be compromised or access to it be lost.

Additionally, as with virtually all investments, investing in Bitcoin carries its own risks.  Crypto assets are generally considered quite volatile, and Bitcoin is no exception.  Figure 1 below shows the 60-day volatility of Bitcoin over the course of its lifetime.  For comparison, Figure 2 shows the GARCH volatility estimate[3] for the US dollar from April 1, 2007 through March 31, 2021.[4]  Over this time period, the dollar’s volatility reached an apex of 18.26% on December 19, 2008.  Meanwhile, Bitcoin’s volatility has routinely crossed 10%, stretching beyond 20, 60, and even 100% over its lifetime.  Do other investments in your portfolio experience similar volatility?  Should they?

Bitcoin 60-day price volatility, shown over the lifetime of Bitcoin.

Figure 1: Bitcoin 60-day price volatility, shown over the lifetime of Bitcoin.  The red line is the BTC/USD price volatility, while the blue line is the Bitcoin price in USD.

Source: https://charts.woobull.com/bitcoin-volatility/

USD Index GARCH volatility, shown from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2021.

Figure 2: USD Index GARCH volatility, shown from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2021.

Source: https://vlab.stern.nyu.edu/analysis/VOL.DXY%3AFOREX-R.GARCH

To be clear, this newsletter isn’t an argument against crypto assets, blockchain, or other new financial technologies.   Instead, it’s a reminder that history is littered with people who thought they’d found the next big opportunity only to discover the tradeoffs or losses were much greater than expected. Now, Bitcoin, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and other financial tools sit in the spotlight.  In fact, several prominent financial news channels have begun listing the price of Bitcoin alongside mainstream indices, such as the Dow and S&P 500.  However, when it comes to evaluating Bitcoin as an investment opportunity, there are far more moving parts than its recent popularity and prominence.

The point remains that no matter the investment decision, we still need to ask the right questions and make decisions based on what will get us closer to our financial goals. Of course, for most of us, these decisions will never make headlines or encourage people to call us financial geniuses. But they will get us closer to what we’ve decided matters most to us.

[1] Cryptocurrencies are only one class of crypto product out there.  There are also security tokens, utility tokens, and tokenized assets, to name a few.

[2] Policy assessments for the carbon emission flows and sustainability of Bitcoin blockchain operation in China, Jiang et al., available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-22256-3.pdf.

[3] The generalized autoregressive conditional heteroskedasticity (GARCH) process is a broadly accepted method of estimating volatility in financial markets.

[4] This time period is intended to track the lifetime of Bitcoin, but it was extended to 2007 in order to illustrate the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 on the US dollar’s volatility.

The commentary, analysis, opinions, advice, and recommendations represent those of Strathmore Capital Advisors, Inc. (“Strathmore”) and are subject to change at any time without notice. The opinions referenced are as of the date of publication and are subject to change to due changes in the market or economic conditions and may not necessarily come to pass.  Strathmore reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies based on changing market dynamics or client needs.

This document may contain certain information that constitutes “forward-looking statements” which can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “may,” “expect,” “will,” “hope,” “forecast,” “intend,” “target,” “believe,” and/or comparable terminology. No assurance, representation, or warranty is made by any person that any of Strathmore’s assumptions, expectations, objectives, and/or goals will be achieved. There is no guarantee of the future performance of any Strathmore portfolio. This material is for information use only and should not be considered financial advice. The data presented has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable; however, their accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed. We make no warranties and bear no liability for your use of this information.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments are subject to risk, and any of Strathmore’s investment strategies may lose money.  Diversification does not eliminate the risk of experiencing investment losses.

Strathmore is a registered investment adviser under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.  Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about Strathmore, including fees, can be found in Strathmore’s ADV Part 2, which is available free of charge.

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Asking the Right Financial Questions

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on January 27, 2021  /   Posted in Newsletter

Any time we experience a significant event in the U.S., I often hear the question, “How will the markets react?” At these moments, the talking heads will go on TV and attempt to reassure investors that they have access to the investing Magic 8 Ball. They know how the markets will react, and they’re more than happy to tell you about it.

The problem is that the talking heads and the financial press aren’t asking the right question. We already know how the market will react. At some point, they’ll go up. At some point, they’ll go down. That’s how markets work. Attempting to predict what the markets will do next ignores investing fundamentals people like Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, and John Bogle have tried to pound into investors’ heads for decades.

The questions that matter are your questions. How much can you reasonably save in a year? How close are you to retiring? How do you want to use your money? Do you have others dependent on you for their financial security? All these questions share a common theme: It’s about you.

They also get to the heart of what matters most to individual investors. And yet, the financial press prefers to talk about an unknowable future that can’t be forecasted. Because markets can’t be predicted, it gives each round of “experts” more opportunities to pontificate. That’s why there’s a big difference between someone who tries to predict the markets to earn a headline and what we do at Strathmore Capitol to help you and your family. In fact, I think it’s fair to say it’s the exact opposite, and I hope it’s a philosophy that comes through every time we discuss your investment strategy.

The questions we care about answering are your questions. We use those answers to ensure we provide investment advice that fits your needs. The big question of the day for us isn’t what the markets might do next week but whether we’ve answered your questions in a way that helps you feel confident about reaching your goals.

There’s a reason that investing disclosures must include the line, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” No matter how good someone thinks they are about predicting what the market will do, there are no guarantees. But that hard truth doesn’t fit neatly in a headline. That’s why it’s so frustrating to hear people focus on questions that go beyond things investors can control.

As advisors, we want you to ask questions. But the right questions will have nothing to do with something so superficial as, “How will the markets react?” Instead, we’ll work with you to ask the questions that help secure your financial future.

With the start of a new year, I also want to wish you and yours a safe and healthy 2021. The last year has been a difficult one for us all. But I’m confident we’ll see good things happen during the next 12 months, and I look forward to answering your questions.

The Election Matters Little to Your Portfolio

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on October 10, 2020  /   Posted in Newsletter

It’s only October, and I suspect we know that 2020 will appear in history books for many reasons. From a global pandemic to our 2020 election, we’ve seen story after story flood our timelines and try to snag our attention. Today, I want to focus on a question we’re hearing more often at Strathmore Capital Advisors: “How will the presidential election affect the stock markets?”

I understand why this question is top of mind for many of you. You’ve worked hard, set goals, and made it a point to create a financial plan. The uncertainty of a presidential election can feel like it will undermine your efforts. But here’s the critical point I want to leave with you today.

The noise about this election has been loud and never-ending for months now. However, who we elect as president is just one of many, many factors that contribute to what we see happening in the market. So, while the talking heads continue to suggest that everything hangs in the balance with this election, the connection between the outcome and the stock markets is weak at best.

History tells us something much different. Consider the length of a U.S. president’s term. At four years (or eight years over two terms), we’re talking about a small window of time. The ability of any individual president to affect the long-term direction of the markets remains questionable.

For instance, if we go clear back to President Truman, we see a steady uptick in the value of stocks across both Republican and Democratic presidencies. Of course, we’ve seen markets wiggle and jump around since 1945, including several recessions and market corrections. But that movement creates the very value we’re trying to capture by investing in stocks.

The key point remains: We have no reason to think that who wins the election this year will matter more to the markets than the winner of any prior election.

I know that 2020 has proven a challenge for us all. But for this issue, I believe the more important point remains. A successful financial plan depends in large part on things within our direct control. We can’t predict what the markets will do or how people will vote. We can control how much we save, how much we invest, where we invest, and how we behave. All those factors matter so much more in the long-term than what happens in November.

That said, I do encourage you to vote. We’re very blessed to live in a country that guarantees the right of its citizens to select its elected leaders. But as you cast your vote, please know that the outcome will remain only one of many factors that we’ll weigh in the future to help you make the best financial decisions possible.

Picking Winners and Losers

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on September 10, 2020  /   Posted in Newsletter

Our world looks a lot different than it did seven months ago. Some of those changes are probably temporary. But other changes may prove more long-term or even permanent. One of those changes that sticks out is the work-from-home (WFH) trend.

This movement isn’t new to our current situation, but the widespread adoption, for at least the short-term, happened faster than expected. Some companies are talking about bringing workers back to the office during 2021, but other companies are making big structural changes. For instance, Pinterest paid $89.5 million to cancel the lease on its new San Francisco office.

Pause for a moment and consider that a company considered it more cost-effective to spend almost $90 million to leave an office space. Other companies, including Apple, Facebook, and Twitter, plan to continue offering WFH options for employees even after social distancing needs come to an end.

So, why should this matter to you? It’s a classic example of the domino effect. When one big trend starts to take hold in the economy, it affects other areas of the economy, too. Changes in how and where people work have affected and will continue to affect the different industries. For example, travel (airlines, hotels, rental cars), food (restaurants, grocery stores), clothing (business attire, casual wear), and digital services (video conferencing, internet providers) are just a few of the industries that will experience both positive and negative outcomes.

When we see a systemic change like this one (42% of the U.S. labor force now works remotely), how on Earth could anyone predict the winners and losers? The short answer: You can’t. That’s why Strathmore Capital’s investing strategy focuses on owning a broad and diversified portfolio of the global markets.

We don’t know yet how much business travel will return to “normal” or if people will continue to do more video conferencing. We don’t know how quickly restaurants will return to full, in-house dining. Plus, if fewer people are working in offices, what will happen to the business lunch?

There are hundreds of other examples of what might happen, but you get the idea. There’s a lot we don’t know about what the future holds, and WFH is just one of those variables. But utilizing a disciplined, long-term investment strategy means you don’t have to guess how any single variable will affect your portfolio. It leaves you with more time to focus on the goals that matter most to you.

Please know that no matter what trends may hit the headlines next, we’re here to help answer your questions and make sure your portfolio continues to match your goals. At Strathmore Capital, we’re committed to helping you navigate both the ups and downs that come our way.

There is value in having a financial plan and working with a close-knit team to stay on track. Please let us know if someone you know might enjoy speaking with the professionals at Strathmore Capital Advisors.

Don’t Overreact to the Movements

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on July 10, 2020  /   Posted in Newsletter

With the first half of 2020 behind us, it seems like a good time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we think things might go. The goal isn’t to armchair quarterback what’s happened or consult a crystal ball to determine what might happen next. Instead, I want to focus on two things:

1) Why an investment philosophy matters

2) What we can control

Let’s pretend for a moment that your “strategy” for investing in 2020 relied only on news reports. Think about how you would have reacted to the following:

  • In six months, we’ve seen three of the worst 25 losses and two of the largest 25 gains for the S&P 500.1
  • In 16 trading days, the S&P 500 plummeted 20% from its peak, creating the fastest bear market in history.  It took only 3 more trading days for the S&P 500 to plummet 30%.2
  • There have been 35 daily gains or losses of 3% or more this year.  Over the past 5 years, there have been just 11 moves of 3% or more in total.3
  • From 2015-2019, we didn’t experience a single daily gain of 4% or more. In 2020, we’ve already seen it eight times, with five of the days hitting 6% or higher.4

See the problem? With all that conflicting information, making investment decisions becomes really difficult. That’s why we’re such big supporters of investing based on long-term prospects and protecting portfolios with easy-to-understand strategies, like avoiding unnecessary fees and expenses. It’s not fancy. It won’t make big headlines. But it will, over time generate results.

This leads to the second point. We don’t know what the rest of the year holds. We have zero control over what the markets will do next or what might happen in the world. But we can control what we do.

It starts with remembering that you’ve adopted a financial plan for the very purpose of helping you deal, both emotionally and strategically, with the ups and downs in the market. Even if we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic, investors will still have to deal with the widespread civil unrest and a presidential election cycle. The fact remains that markets move, and sometimes, they’ll move over little things just as fast as big ones.

Our goal is to not overreact to those movements. That goal becomes much easier when we have the foundation of a proven investment philosophy combined with a willingness to focus on what we can control.

We can’t afford to get distracted, and that’s why at Strathmore we’re always available to chat. Sometimes, a quick conversation is all it takes to get refocused.

We look forward to speaking with you sometime soon.

Take care and stay safe. We’re here for you if you need us.

Best Regards,

John Charles Kernodle
President/CCO

 

Ben Carlson, “Is This The Most Volatile Year Ever?”, A Wealth of Common Sense, June 12, 2020
Beth Kindig, “Algorithms sped up selling, leading to the fastest bear market in stock market history”, Market Watch, March 26, 2020
Ben Carlson, “The 2020 Stock Market By the Numbers”, A Wealth of Common Sense, June 7, 2020
Ben Carlson, “The 2020 Stock Market By the Numbers”, A Wealth of Common Sense, June 7, 2020

Good Fundamentals

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on April 22, 2020  /   Posted in Newsletter

When we rang in the New Year almost four months ago, I doubt anyone could have predicted the current situation. As we get used to things like picking up groceries curbside and keeping six feet between us and the next person, I think it’s important to address the elephant in the room.

When will things go back to “normal?”

It’s essential to recognize that our new normal probably won’t look the same as the old normal. That’s true for every crisis that’s touched our country (see the changes made since September 11, 2001, and the Great Recession of 2008-09). But I believe we can count on the fundamentals providing us with a path forward.

Those fundamentals include people wanting to work, wanting to build businesses, and wanting to provide for their families. All these activities lead to the exchange of goods and services between individuals and companies. This activity creates the necessary value to justify investment for today and into the future. That investment builds a foundation for a diverse and robust economy.

When you talk to any of us at Strathmore, you won’t hear us panic about recent events or the decline in the financial markets. Instead, we’ll focus on a) your financial goals, b) our long-term plan for the achievement of your goals, and c) your portfolio as the long-term funding for that plan.

It’s this long-term approach that allows us to remain calm and optimistic about the future.  We understand that each crisis that preceded the coronavirus pandemic got resolved, economic activity began growing again, and the value of a globally diversified portfolio resumed its long-term upward trend.

That’s why we believe it’s so critical to understand the fundamentals. While the world around us will change, those fundamentals will be our guide. We are a nation that will come back from the extremes of today to shape our new normal into something better.

The same holds true for our markets and investments. This, too, shall pass.

We don’t know the day, the week, or even the month. But we do know that the fundamentals haven’t failed us before, and we have every reason to believe they’ll pull us through to the other side.

Just like before, we’re here to listen and to answer your questions.  We welcome all questions and value any opportunity to speak with our clients. Stay safe and my best to you and your family during a difficult time.

We’re Here to Help

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on March 19, 2020  /   Posted in Newsletter

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic continues to change our community, state, nation, and world on a daily basis. Part of our compliance program here at Strathmore Capital Advisors involves us being prepared to provide our services under less than normal circumstances.

The key goal of our Disaster Recovery Protocol (DRP) is to make certain our business is not interrupted due to an emergency that would force our office to close for a period of time. We have tested our DRP and are confident in our capabilities to execute our plan and continue to provide service as usual.  In addition, we have made the decision to cancel all face-to-face meetings until further notice. However, we are available for meetings via telecommunications.

We will continue to be available to answer any questions that you may have.  We are committed to maintaining a seamless level of service through this disruption. Please refer to the contact information at the bottom of this correspondence if you have any questions or would like to arrange a meeting.

We look forward to meeting with everyone again as soon as possible.  Please stay safe and take care of your families, friends, and community during these extraordinary times.

What We’re Seeing in the Market

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on March 02, 2020  /   Posted in Newsletter

It’s been a difficult week in the market. We saw the biggest, one-week sell-off since 2008. The elephant in the room is the Wuhan coronavirus. But somewhere on the periphery sits the reality that the market probably needed an excuse to cool off from its epic run of 2019.

We don’t claim to have any idea how far this outbreak will spread, nor how many lives it will claim, before it is brought under control. We are reasonably certain that many (or perhaps most) of the world’s leading virologists and epidemiologists are working on it. It’s our opinion, but we believe that their efforts will ultimately succeed.

If we go back in time to similar outbreaks in this century, it’s a reasonable opinion. Just consider the following:

  • SARS in 2003-04, also originating in China
  • The bird flu epidemic in 2005-2006
  • In 2009, a new strain of swine flu
  • The Ebola outbreak in the autumn of 2014
  • The mosquito-borne Zika virus outbreak in 2016-17

On the first day of the SARS epidemic, the S&P 500 closed at 855.70. Seventeen years and six epidemics later (including the current one), the S&P 500 closed at 2,954.22 on Friday, an increase close to 3.5 times higher. I’m confident that you see where we’re going with this and why we consistently discuss developing a plan and asset allocation model that will allow us to remain consistent through any market environment.

What’s an Investor to Do?

Posted by John Charles Kernodle on February 04, 2020  /   Posted in Newsletter

Let’s play a game. The rules are simple. I’m going to share three headlines, and you guess when these news stories appeared.

1) “The Stock Market’s Dangers Are Easier to See Now”
2) “American Exceptionalism May Be Ending — At Least in Stocks”
3) “Dow Tumbles Nearly 800 Points as Trade Jitters Return”

Here’s a hint. It wasn’t 2008.

No, it was a lot more recent. In fact, all three of these headlines appeared the first week of December 2018. At the time, the pessimism around the market and the general economy made it seem we were on the verge of another recession. The “smart bet” seemed to be cash out, stuff the money under the mattress, and hunker down until the worst passes.

Except all that pessimism came to naught. Instead, it was another year of double-digit returns for the U.S. stock market.

What’s an investor to do?

For years now, we’ve made it our mission at Strathmore Capital to help answer that question. The answer isn’t exciting enough to make headlines. In fact, it’s so simple, some folks don’t believe it can work. It’s only three steps.

1) Identify your financial goals through a well-constructed financial plan
2) Invest in a diversified portfolio that fits your goals
3) Stay disciplined

None of the steps are that complicated. They do require focus, a willingness to ask questions, and a commitment to follow through—even when the headlines suggest the end is nigh. Ultimately, we’re the buffer against the noise. Of course, we love helping folks figure out #1 and #2, but time after time, #3 seems to be where we help people most often.

When financial advisors first start out, I suspect many of us think it’s all about the numbers. Get the mix of investments right, and the bottom line will take care of itself. But a week, a month, maybe even a year, goes by and the phone rings. The anxious voice on the other end wants to know if the talking head on CNBC is right and a bear market is just around the corner.

That first phone call won’t be the last. Something will happen, either personally or in the larger world, and the very human response will be to DO SOMETHING. But if folks have clear goals and a low-cost, diversified portfolio in place, one of the hardest things we help our clients do is…nothing.

A year ago, it seemed so logical, so rational, to step away from the stock market. All the signs (at least the ones highlighted in the news) seemed to point to one, obvious outcome. You were ignoring the “facts” if you didn’t understand that the U.S. was a headed to a recession.

Here’s a fact that history seems to confirm. Attempting to guess what the market will do next is a fast track to frustration and unhappiness. I can’t (and won’t) attempt to predict what will happen during 2020. But I do know that for 15 years we’ve helped dozens of folks reach their financial goals by putting our clients first and choosing to think about wealth differently. That’s an outcome I’ll put up against any headline.

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