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The World Turned Upside Down

The amazing popularity of the musical Hamilton

has been a reminder of the legend that British bands played the music of “The World Turned Upside Down” as they surrendered at the siege of Yorktown in 1781 in the last major battle of the revolutionary war. Indeed, the world was turned upside down by the American victory and a new nation was born. Now, with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and signs of populism sweeping across Europe, many are asking whether our world has again been turned upside down and how political leaders will be reacting to this new force, the voice of the people and the future for democracy.

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Investing in a Complicated World

A conversation with Whitnell’s Chief Investment Officer on some of the major issues facing investors in 2017

Last January you described your outlook as being cautiously optimistic. Many are saying that the election of Donald Trump as President has ushered in a new set of uncertainties that affects the global economy and markets. With the policies he has espoused and all the uncertainties his election brings, are you still cautiously optimistic? First of all it is important to remember that we do not attempt to make forecasts. No one knows what the global economy will be like over the next twelve months and beyond, much less how markets might react to any outcome. These things are unknowable. Even so, considering how it possibly could change the investment environment, it will be important to monitor how the rhetoric of the President’s campaign is translated into the reality of the presidency. But yes, we are cautiously optimistic.

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Is Now the Most Difficult Time to Invest?

That is what many Wall Street strategists are saying,

but it’s always difficult. There is a mounting belief that global economies are getting worse, not better. But the facts differ. The principal ongoing concerns include: Europe’s recovery prospects after Brexit, the effectiveness of ECB’s monetary easing program, the deflationary price trend for commodities, the slowdown in China and emerging markets, slow U.S. growth, geopolitical and terrorism risks, and, last, but not least, the outcome of the U.S. elections. The IMF’s outlook just released projects this year’s global growth rate at 3.1% and next year at 3.4%. While some of these concerns in the market might happen, we know from experience that more bad things could happen in the future than will actually happen.

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Investing in a Post Brexit World

It is said that when the drafting of the American Declaration of Independence was completed, Thomas Jefferson was asked of its significance. He replied, “A great event has occurred, of which it is difficult to speak, but impossible to remain silent.” The same could be said of the surprising outcome of the June 23rd British referendum on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Contrary to the expectations of many, the leavers outnumbered those who voted to remain. This has provoked widespread speculation on whether Brexit is a “great” event, but it is certainly noteworthy. The future is always uncertain, and unknowable, but new questions now revolve around the impact of Brexit and its possible impact on global economies, currencies and markets, and the outlook for interest rates.

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Keeping the Right Focus

The Case for Confidence

There is widespread uncertainty about the outlook for the U.S. economy and the stock market reflecting concerns about China, Europe, the dollar and the decline in the price of crude oil. Investors have also had to assess the impact on the economy and markets of the actions by the European Central Bank that has been cutting rates while the U.S. Federal Reserve has taken the first step toward raising rates.

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What Now?

A conversation with Whitnell’ s Chief Investment Officer on some of the major issues facing investors in 2016

We know you don’t make forecasts, but in the past, you’ve described your outlook as being cautiously optimistic. With all the turmoil the global economy and markets experienced in 2015 and into the first days of 2016, is that still a reasonable expectation?

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Whitnell’s Perspective on the August Stock Market Decline

Given the financial press coverage of the recent stock market declines, we would like to take the opportunity to provide some context around the market volatility.

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Financial Markets at Mid 2015

Our perspective on the economy, Fed policy, and stocks and bonds

The U.S. economy got off to a sluggish start again in the first quarter under the weight of heavy snowfalls and disruptions at west coast ports with GDP contracting at a minus 0.2% rate. However, growth has revived in the second quarter as expansion in consumer spending has been led by growth in the housing sector. Housing starts and new and existing home sales have reached record levels since 2009. U.S. nonfarm employment has been steadily expanding with more than 12.4 million jobs having been created since the financial crisis and the unemployment rate has dropped from 10% to 5.3% over the last five years.

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State of Markets at First Quarter 2015

Our perspective on the economy, corporate profits, Fed policy, and stock prices

After a strong equity market last year some might have expected stock prices to decline in the first quarter, with news on the U.S. economy becoming much more negative than was expected.

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Coffee with Whitnell’s Chief Investment Officer

Comments on some of the major issues facing investors in the coming year 2015

U.S. GDP growth has been picking up, but some commentators are worried that inflation may be too low with the impact of lower oil prices and the drop in the consumer price index for December.

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Long-term Investing in a Short-term World

Markets around the world, especially in the Eurozone, sold off this week

following the warning by the IMF that there was a chance that the Eurozone economies could slide into its third recession since the financial crisis.

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Cross Currents at Mid-Year

The economy slumped in the first quarter with GDP falling 2.9%,

the biggest drop in five years. But that is old news and as we said in April (“Better Times Ahead”), the economy is now recovering from the weather-impacted quarter. With less fiscal drag, and gains in manufacturing, housing, consumer spending, oil production, and employment, indicators are pointing toward a stronger GDP in the just-ended second quarter and for the second half.

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Better Times Ahead

As we in the northern hemisphere begin to thaw out from the polar vortex winter,

the U.S. economy is gaining strength. Confidence is improving as incomes have increased with gains in employment leading to stronger consumer spending. GDP grew at just 1.9% in 2013, but is expected to be in the neighborhood of 3.0% in the current quarter.

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Coffee with Whitnell’s Chief Investment Officer

We know you don’t make forecasts, but what is your perspective for investment in 2014?

It’s complicated. I’m a bit more cautious, but also optimistic. There are some major problems out there, for which there seem to be no satisfactory solutions, but they seem to be manageable, and over time, markets tend to climb a wall of worries. Investors need to be more selective this year, but there are good opportunities.

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Risk Management in a Low Interest Rate World

Investing is essentially about asset allocation and risk management.

The objective of asset allocation is to develop an appropriate investment portfolio tailored to client specific investment objectives and the preservation and growth of capital on a real basis without assuming too much risk. The process has been exacerbated by the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy over the last five years that has pushed interest rates to their lowest levels since the 1950’s.

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Investment Strategy at Mid-Year

The tipping point for markets this summer was

undoubtedly Ben Bernanke’s press conference on June 19 after the latest FOMC meeting when he sought to clarify the Fed’s goals. It wasn’t so much what he said, but what everyone thought they heard, that caused turmoil in markets, as traders jumped to the conclusion that quantitative easing was ending sooner than expected. What he actually said was that, depending on a substantial improvement in the labor market and, as long as inflation remains quiescent, the Fed could start reducing the pace of its bond buying program later this year. When the economy is healthy enough, maybe by next summer, quantitative easing programs could be ended, reducing the stimulus by not tightening.

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The Analytical Approach to Asset Allocation

Everyone agrees that asset allocation is an integral part of the investment process,

but there are wide divisions on the methods to be employed, potential benefits and outcomes. In its most basic form, asset allocation describes how an investor splits up funds for investment into assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate, cash and other investment alternatives. History is replete with studies that have claimed that asset allocation alone accounts for a high percentage of portfolio returns, the level of risk, volatility of prices and variation of returns among portfolios.

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Investment Strategy 2013

Investors were preoccupied with politics in 2012

focusing on risks in Europe and the subsequent actions of the IMF and ECB, the U.S. elections and the fiscal cliff drama. Company earnings were also an area of concern as growth rates in the U.S. and around the world slowed significantly. The Fed and the ECB pursued easy monetary policies to buy time until their economies got better. A possible Greek exit and Spanish bankruptcy was feared until Mario Draghi said he would do everything possible to hold the euro together and Mrs. Merkel agreed. A year-end spill over the fiscal cliff in the U.S. was averted, but substantial headwinds still lie ahead. Taxes are increasing for most taxpayers and businesses, the debt ceiling limit looms at the end of February and cuts in spending need to be addressed by March. The market took these issues, which are well known, in stride and U.S. stock prices moved higher, but most of last year’s uncertainties remain and others will emerge.

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Stock Market Prospects

Can the stock market continue to go up

in the face of all the negative news and seemingly dismal prospects? Stocks got off to a strong start in the first quarter, advancing by 13%, only to experience a correction of 11% between April and June as investors worried that the European debt crisis was being badly managed. The market had a late summer rally sparked by ECB President Mario Draghi’s pledge on July 26 that “he will do whatever it takes” to save the euro. The ECB said it would undertake a bond-buying program without limitation that would avoid defaults and make it easier for troubled countries to issue new bonds. Europe is in a recession, but the ECB has averted a crisis flash point. The basic problems still remain, but this was encouraging news and markets have responded positively with higher bond and stock prices.

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Investment Perspectives at Mid-Year 2012

After a strong showing in the first quarter the market declined in April and May,

but recovered in June so that the S&P 500 is up by 5% for the year to date. Investors have had to deal with all the negative headlines about the problems in Europe, the U.S. hanging on the edge of recession, the slow-down in China, the ramifications of the health care bill, Dodd-Frank, the prospect of higher taxes, and the November elections. Fundamentals matter, but, as we have repeatedly said, over the short-term, expectations and investor sentiment drive markets.

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Opportunities for Profit in Volatile Markets

A strong first quarter for stocks provided welcome relief from last year’s volatility and lack of forward progress.

Stocks had one of the best opening quarters ever, climbing a wall of many worries, supported by improvement on the job front, overall stronger business activity, higher consumer spending and some gains in the confidence surveys.

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Investment Perspectives 2012

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see, que sera, sera.”

No one knows what the New Year will bring and even as the markets have continued to move higher, so far at least, optimism is not the consensus sentiment. Investors remain anxious about the outcome of the euro zone crisis, weak economic growth, the presidential election year in the U.S., and worrisome reports of dangerous geopolitical conflicts dominating the news.

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This Time It Really Is Different

It’s hard to ignore the headlines of the latest crisis

developing in the Euro zone and economic reports of a global economic slowdown that raise the specter of recession. Every morning and throughout the day we are bombarded with quotes from commentators who do their instant analysis and warn that the market is on a slippery slope that looks very much like the environment that led to the market crash in 2008.

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“It Will Fluctuate”

J. Pierpont Morgan’s reply, when asked what

the market will do, is regarded as the safest prediction. This year the market’s increased volatility has been driven by continuing worries about the possible contagion of the eurozone banking and debt crisis and concerns about the slowing global economy.

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The Case for Confidence

The market declined sharply in July with the

spectacle of Congressional bickering over raising the debt limit, the ECB floundering amidst a continuing sovereign debt crisis, and an array of weak macroeconomic reports heightening concerns of a recession. Equity markets had staged a steady recovery from the March 2009 low, reaching a peak in early May. Price declines continued in August, especially in Europe where many markets entered bear market territory. The S&P declined 18% from the July high until early August. Markets have been highly volatile, awaiting policy responses that offered hope of ending the malaise.

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A Market Correction

Investor confidence has been shaken

by four events over the last month that put financial markets in turmoil resulting in wild equity gyrations for stocks and bonds. On July 21st the European sovereign debt crisis flared up again and, in response, the European Central Bank drew upon the European Financial Stability Facility to do a second Greek bailout to avoid default. Further, faced with soaring interest rates, the ECB bought $32 billion of bonds to prop up markets in Italy and Spain. Worries about contagion for sovereign debt and banks spooked investors and traders and triggered a decline in global markets

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The Summer Doldrums

As we begin the third quarter global economies are not off to a good start.

U.S. economic data reports during the first half were mostly lower than was expected. Economic activity has been sluggish with little progress seen in housing, employment and manufacturing activity. The position we take on the prevailing gloomy outlook is that it was most likely impacted by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that upset global supply chains, and higher oil prices from the rumblings in the oil-rich Arab world. The outlook is more encouraging for the economy in the second half of this year. We think the positives continue to outweigh the negatives with low interest rates, continued monetary accommodation and not very serious threats of either inflation or deflation.

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Equity Risk and Return

Concerns over the outlook for the global economy have preoccupied investors over the last six weeks.

Stocks are down 6% from the April high and demand for bonds has pushed prices up and brought yields down to the lowest level for the year. After a 100% advance in stock prices since March 2009, this is a minor draw down and within the normal range of market volatility and the S&P 500 is still up slightly in 2011 for the year-to-date.

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DAVE PECKENPAUGH - view full bio

mia erickson

“Today’s investors have more options and education than ever before. But learning doesn’t necessarily create wisdom. I enjoy leading our investment committee to create unique solutions that the guys on TV simply miss.”