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Top 10 Predictions for 2019

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Time again to take out my crystal ball (or magic eight-ball) and have some fun predicting what will happen next year. These predictions are in no particular order (and please remember that these are predictions of what I think will happen, not necessarily what I want to happen); click here to see how I did with my 2018 Top 10 Predictions.

I am honestly having a hard time finding a lot to be optimistic about, as I think 2019 will be very volatile and uncertain – politically, both here and abroad, economically and for the markets. There are not many people looking for compromise or bipartisanship, and I only see it getting worse. I hope that I am wrong!

10 – The Mueller investigation will conclude by the end of the first quarter. At least one Trump (not the President) will be indicted, and the real possibility of a constitutional crisis will emerge if the President pardons him (them). President Trump will not be indicted for collusion with Russia, but there will enough in the report (perhaps obstruction of justice or campaign finance violations or questionable actions concerning his businesses) to set the Democrats off and running toward impeachment even though he will not be indicted while in office. The Democrats have to be careful to act rationally and to continue to try to get legislation passed at the same time, or they will hurt themselves leading into 2020. Donald Trump will still be President at year-end.

9 – The only hope of getting any meaningful legislation done next year will occur early in the year before the Mueller investigation results become public. The most likely accomplishment would be an infrastructure bill, which would receive wide bipartisan support during the honeymoon period of Pelosi working with the Senate and the President. Once the report is completed/released, however, I think the rest of the year will be filled with partisan fighting, subpoenas, hearings, etc. I put the odds of even infrastructure legislation passing at less than 30%; the Democratic leadership distrusts the President and as more bad news links out about the Mueller probe the political pressure on them not to cooperate with the White House will increase.

8 – At least 15 Democrats, including Joe Biden, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, will announce their candidacies for President. There will be a few surprises as well, perhaps a few lesser known Governors, as well as Beto O’Rourke. Michael Bloomberg will decide not to run, and either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren will run as well, but not both. My money is on Sanders for now, as Warren has become too controversial and I think people are already kind of over her. And at least two Republicans will challenge Trump by year-end, although I think Jeff Flake will not be one of them.

7 – In what will make an already tumultuous political environment even worse, there will be an opening at the U.S. Supreme Court during the year. I am not going to speculate on how this opening will occur, but the hearings and ultimate confirmation (since the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate) will make the Kavanaugh hearings look like a walk in the park.

6 – Having just delayed the Brexit vote in the House of Commons, the May government will fall and there will be new elections. The Tory’s will keep power – barely – with a new Prime Minister, and a second referendum on leaving the EU will be called. (This is being published one day after the vote was postponed, so some of these events might become happen before the end of 2018.) This time, voters will decide to stay in the EU, and despite having egg on its face, this is actually the best outcome for the country. (I don’t honestly think the majority ever wanted to leave; this whole fiasco is the result of what can happen when you have an off-cycle issue-related election where turnout is low.) The Court ruling last week that the U.K. could stay without the approval of the other EU members paves the way for this outcome.

5 – Political upheaval in Europe will continue. Even though an ally has taken over as head of her party, Merkel’s influence and hold on power will continue to weaken throughout the year, and there will be elections held before year-end. While Macron has finally spoken and is trying to appease the demonstrators, I think the riots will continue into 2019. He will survive the year as President – barely – but his influence will be greatly diminished; he has become in effect a lame duck already. Italy will avoid a financial crisis, although its bond and stock markets will be more jittery than elsewhere on the Continent. In the Middle East, Netanyahu will lose a no-confidence vote in parliament over his financial dealings, and there will be new elections (which he will lose). There will be no Mideast progress toward peace as the Trump Administration will be occupied elsewhere, and at least one other country will leave OPEC. Relations with Saudi Arabia will continue to deteriorate as the Senate presses on the Khashoggi murder, but no arms deals will be canceled. As to China, the back and forth of a trade war, no trade war, will continue. Every time we will seem to take a step forward, we will take a step backward as was the case in 2018. Any deals will be short-lived.

4 – For financial services, it will be a tumultuous year, with Democrats taking over the House of Representatives. While there will be a lot of Committee meetings and talk about increasing regulations and making life tougher on the banks, no overreaching legislation will pass (since it would not make it through the Senate). But because of the chatter, there will be a lot of nervousness in the industry, and I expect fewer mergers and more firms taking a wait and see attitude. Bitcoin will continue to struggle and will eke out a small gain for the year. But many efforts to increase the number of Bitcoin investment vehicles, such as ETFs, will not move forward.

3 – The Fed will make good on its promise to slow the rate of interest rate increases, and I see two increases at the most during 2019, perhaps only one. The economy will begin to slow by mid-year, as corporate profits, while still impressive, will continue to decline from the record rates seen during the second half of 2018. Businesses will cut back on spending as the uneven economic policies of the Trump Administration continue. Real estate markets will continue to slow as well, as a slowing economy and continuing political uncertainty take their toll on people’s willingness to spend. But the economy will not turn negative in 2019 and there will be no recession.

2 – The market will continue the volatility seen in the fourth quarter of 2018. The market hates uncertainty, and everything I have predicted here points to more uncertainty. The highs will be high – as when there is a positive announcement on trade for example, and the lows will low – as when one administration official contradicts another. The market will be down about 5% for the year, with technology stocks doing slightly better than the market as a whole. International developed markets ex the U.S. will be down about 10% on average next year and emerging markets will be down even more. The yield curve will be slightly inverted by the end of the year.

1 – And turning to sports, I hope I will do better than I did in 2018! Clemson will win the NCAA Football National Championship, finally beating Alabama. The Rams will beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl after barely beating the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. Going with my heart here, Michigan will win the NCAA Basketball Championship (Duke would be my second choice), Tampa Bay will win the Stanley Cup, the Warriors will repeat again as NBA champions and the Red Sox will once again win the World Series.

How Did I Do? Review Of My Top 10 Predictions for 2018

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

I will unveil my Top 10 Predictions for 2019 soon, but for now, lets see how I did this year. Original text is following by my comments in bold.

10 – The Mueller investigation will continue throughout the year, and might not even finish before the year is over. Trump will not be indicted, however it is possible that one of his sons, or his son-in-law will be. If that indeed happens, Trump will issue a pardon(s), setting up a messy confrontation with Democrats. In other words, the turmoil surrounding the Trump Administration and the Russia investigation will continue unabated. As the year comes to a close, the Mueller investigation continues. Most of us thought it would end soon after the midterm elections, and it still might end any day as reports are that the final report is being written. And a Trump relative might still be indicted … so let’s say this is still up in the air and will certainly be on my 2019 predictions list.

9 – Despite making gains, the Democrats will fail to win the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, and Nancy Pelosi will be replaced as Minority Leader (this might actually not happen until early 2019 when the new Congress is seated, but its inevtibility will become apparent soon after the election). The Republicans will slightly increase their majority in the Senate. The map highly favors the Republicans (with more Democratic seats up), so even though the majority will increase, it will not seem like a victory because they will not win as many seats as they could have. Got this about half right but wish I had updated this mid-year because I saw the House going Democratic early in the year (easy to say now, right?). I also appear to be wrong about Pelosi because she seems to be holding on to her leadership position. The Republicans did gain in the Senate, but not by enough because 2020 is going to be very tough for them.

8 – The Republican party will continue to splinter, and the primary season will be very ugly with numerous in-party challenges. The Democrats will struglle internally as well, as the liberal wing (led by Warren and Sanders) will contiue to buck the rest of the party. This latter divide is another reason why the Democrats will be once again be the minority party in both Houses. No clear Democratic candidate for President will emerge, leaving both parties in dissaray at the end of the year. Political turmoil continues. Got this one mostly correct, as both parties are split and both are experiencing infighting. Who would have thought that the term “Democratic Socialist” would become so popular? There are reported to be up to 30+ Democrats who are going to run for President at this point, and there is no clear leader. And many say the Republican party as we know it is dead. So yes, I would say things are in turmoil.

7 – If tax reform doesn’t pass by the end of this year (which it probably will but just had not when this was posted), it will pass early next year, but no major infrastructure or other significant legislation will pass in 2018, as election year gridlock will begin earlier than usual. The Republicans will cite Democratic obstructionism as their election cry while the Democrats will highlight the lack of Republican legislative successes. Get ready for a fun Fall! Tax reform did pass early in the year, but I was right in that no other major legislation passed, including infrastructure. Pre-conditioning conditions and healthcare became one of the major campaign issues.

6 – Despite rampant speculation at the end of the upcoming Supreme Court term, Justice Stevens will not retire. Short of an unexpected death, Trump will be denied another Supreme Court nomination next year. Well, I sure missed this one, didn’t I? Stevens’ retirement and the subsequent fight over Kavanaugh was actually one of the biggest stories of the year. May have to revisit this one next year!

5 – On the international scene, there will be elections in the U.K as the May government will fall as negotiations over Brexit stall and get contentious (this prediction was written before the recent set back when Parliament bucked May and legistated that it must okay any final plan). Merkel will put together a coalition and remain as Chancellor in Germany. There will little to no progress on Middle East peace and Assad will remain in power in Syria. Tension with Russia will continue, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Russia get more involved in Venezuala, filling the void created by the current political vacuum. Kinda sort right, except about May, altough that may be coming soon, as the Parliament gets set to debate and vote on the Brexit deal which many people do not like. Merkel is still in power, but barely, and has already announced she will give up leadership of the Party. Little to no progress on anything in the Middle East once again. Broken record time.

4 – With ISIS lossing most of its land, there will continue to cause havok with lone wolf attacks across the globe; trucks/cars will continue to be the weapon of choice. While the odds of a second Arab Spring have increased with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it will not happen and the protests will dwindle over time. The odds are good that Trump will pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement when its recertifaction comes due, further alienating the U.S. from its allies (following the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the declaration to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem). The U.S. did pull out of the Iran deal, and the U.S. does continue to become more isolated internationally. There was no Arab Spring and the positive here, although I didn’t see it, is that ISIS attacks have slowed down, although they still remain a threat.

3 – For financial services, the biggest threat to stability is the current Bitcoin mania. Nothing was able to derail the market in 2017 – not North Korea, terrorism or Trump’s tweets. I have little doubt that the Bitcoin bubble will burst, the real question is if it will cause any large scale sytematic reactions. At this point, I am going to say that it won’t and that as people realize the dangers of Bitcoin and perhaps calls for regulation increase, and become closer to reality, cool heads will prevail and realize that it is an isolated incident and not part of a larger problem with the financial system. Luckily I was right in that the Bitcoin bubble did not burst nor did it cause major problems for the financial system, but it is trading significantly lower than it was and continues on this downtrend.

2 – Despite the political gridlock, given the positive trajectory of corporate profits, the market will continue to do well. However, there will be a correction of at least 10% at some point during the year, and while the major indices will end the year in positive territory, it will be single rather than double digit gains. Emerging and European markets will rise about the same as the U.S. markets. Technology will lag the overall market while financials will lead. There will only be 2 interest rate hikes – not 3. Mixed here, as we are unfortunately now seeing a second correction for the year, and it is not certain yet whether stocks will eke out gains for the year. If stocks end on a positive note, it will be very small. Technology and Financialsstocks have both lagged and there likely be four interest rates hikes. And emerging markets and European markets have lagged.

1 – And turning to sports, the Olympics in South Korea will go off withoug a hitch, despite the worries over current tensions with North Korea. Clemson will win the NCAA football national championship, beating Oklahoma. The Patriots will beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl. (I know – I probably just jinxed them!) Duke will win the NCAA basketball championship, Tampa Bay will win the Stanley Cup, the Warriors will repeat as NBA champions and the NY Yankees will win the World Series. Right on the Olympics, wrong on Clemson (damn Alabama!), wrong on the Super Bowl – boo Eagles, wrong on the NCAA and Stanley Cups. Thank goodness for the Warriors, because I missed baseball as well. Hope you didn’t bet on my predictions!

 

How Did I Do? A Review Of My Top 10 Predictions For 2017

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

I will unveil my Top 10 Predictions for 2018 soon, but for now, lets see how I did this year. Original text is following by my comments in bold.

10 – President Obama will not leave office quietly, issuing a number of Executive Orders and controversial pardons during his last few weeks in office (but not Hillary Clinton or Edward Snowden). While the Executive Orders may be quickly reversed once the President-Elect takes office, the pardons will anger Republicans and set a more negative tone as the political transition takes place. In addition, Democrats, still angry over how they feel Republicans have treated President Obama over the past eight years, particularly their obstructionism over filling the current Supreme Court opening, will try to make the confirmation of some of the more controversial Cabinet selections more difficult than is customarily the case. President Obama’s most controversial end-of-office action was commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, which did anger Republicans, but overall I would say he left office pretty quietly. Democrats did indeed make the confirmation process for President Trump’s cabinet the longest and most drawn out in history and many were only confirmed along party lines. All in all, I would say that this prediction was pretty accurate.

9 – Whether because of (10) above, or because of the fight Democrats are sure to put up when then President Trump nominates his choice to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy, the Republicans will finish what Harry Reid started – the nuclear option – and legislate away the need for 60 votes for Cabinet and judicial appointments, including the Supreme Court. This certainly happened, as the Republican Senate did invoke the nuclear option to ensure that Neil Gorsuch became a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Republicans finished what the Democrats started when last they were in the majority, and the Senate will never be the same again.

8 – As to foreign policy, given the hawkish nature of the proposed military side of the Cabinet, the Trump Administration will be more proactive in working to fight ISIS (whether with our allies or going it alone), but will not send in a large number of ground troops. This will be a subtle change and in many senses a continuation of the current policy. However, rather than give in to Putin as many fear, Trump will actually work better with Putin, particularly as it comes to fighting ISIS in the Middle East, and this partnership will be more effective than the current alliance. Unfortunately, this partnership will not extend to Syria, and Assad will remain in power. Assad remains in power, ISIS has lost most of the land that it had conquered (although they continue to inspire lone-wolf terrorists around the globe) with few if any more U.S. troops in harms way, but relations with Putin and Russia have been less than positive.

7 – As ISIS continues to lose ground in the Middle East (particularly in Iraq), they will continue to export violence to the West. There will be at least one major terrorist attack in Europe, and a continuation of lone wolf attacks around the world, including  in the U.S. Domestic non-ISIS terror will also become more common on both the left and the right in an increasingly divided U.S. All of this certainly happened, unfortunately – using trucks as terrorist weapons has become common throughout the world, and in the U.S. all you have to say is Las Vegas and NY.

6 – Political turmoil will continue in Europe. We may see another economic crisis in Greece, a slew of bank rescues in Italy to avoid a complete banking collapse and at least one far right party attaining power. Tensions between Turkey and the U.S. and EU will continue to grow as the post-coup arrests and crackdowns continue; the EU will end talks with Turkey over membership. The Turkish Lira will continue its downward spiral, turning Turkey to the East and stronger Sino-Russian ties. This all pretty much happened, although I don’t think the “turmoil” was as bad as I had anticipated – except perhaps as pertains to Turkey.

5 – Despite rejecting TPP (which Trump will do), relations with Japan and China will stabilize and there will not be a trade war. Trump will talk and negotiate tough, but stop short of doing anything to really escalate tensions. Relations with Taiwan will remain as is. Asian economic growth will eclipse that seen in Europe once again, and the trajectory of the militarization in the South China Sea will flatten out. Actions by the Philippines government will embolden China. Most of this also happened, but what I had not anticipated was the emergence of North Korea as the main headline and the tensions that currently exist. There have not been any trade wars, and a lot of Trump’s rhetoric has proved to be just that.

4 – The U.S. economy will grow slightly quicker than it has the past few years, and inflation will remain tame but rise slightly. The stock market will gain between  5% – 7%, continuing the current bull market, but there will be increased volatility which will follow the ups and the downs of the Trump Administration. The Fed will only raise interest rates two times during the year (25 basis points each time) as slowing growth in Europe and Asia, and perhaps some global destabilizing events, will offset some of the optimism in the U.S. The Fed will retain its overall dovish stance. The new administration will begin to realize the impact of rising interest rates on the national debt and will try to exert pressure on the Fed. Yellen will finish out her term and not resign during the year. I concede that there will probably be a third interest rate in December and that given the current trends the markets will be up more than I thought. But the overall theme of this prediction was correct except that volatility has remained very tame. The markets have basically ignored the gridlock in D.C. as well as many of the geo-political events that are taking place.

3 – The new administration will be able to enact an infrastructure spending bill and some tax reform, including repatriation of money back to the U.S., but the bills will be smaller than President-Elect Trump wants, and will be harder to enact due to resistance from both parties. The Republican Party will remain fractured, but has a vested interest in seeing Trump succeed. There will be changes made to Obamacare, but there will not be a full repeal, as Republicans need to make good on their promise to not have people lose existing coverage or the coverage of pre-existing conditions. There will be a major cyber event as well as an attack on the nation’s electric grid, resulting in increased spending to prevent such attacks in the future. Hmmm. Less progress than the little that I predicted. No infrastructure bill, tax reform may or may not pass this year or early next year and Obamacare continues with no repeal or even fixes. I would say the cyber events did occur – maybe not on the scale that I thought – but the Equifax breach was an eye opener for most of us.

For the financial services industry:

2 – The Fiduciary Rule will not be repealed and the first part of the law will go into effect in April. This issue has not even been on Trump’s mind or agenda. There will, however, likely be changes made to the law throughout the year, somewhat softening the law before its final implementation in January of 2018. There will be increasing talk of repealing Glass-Steagall, but nothing definitive will happen in 2017. The implementation of the Rule was delayed and delayed, so I missed this one. The phase-in is now scheduled to begin next June of 2019. Glass-Steagall was not really even raised as an issue – probably a victim to the gridlock and other issues that took center stage.

Because of increased volatility in the market, active management will regain some momentum in its on-going public relations battle with passive management. ETF growth will slow, and I give a 50% chance of some kind of flash crash caused by ETF trading. Mergers and acquisitions among B/Ds and money managers will be slightly above average, and the overall movement of advisors and RIAs will be below average because of uncertainty over the Trump Presidency. The volatility part of this prediction was wrong, so we didn’t hear that much about active v. passive (at least as compared to other years). There were a few smaller crashes, but nothing major. Movement of advisors was probably a little below expectations.

1 – Finally, some sports predictions: The doping scandal surrounding Russia will continue to increase, but FIFA will not move the 2018 World Cup which is scheduled to be held there. Alabama will repeat as National College Champions, beating Clemson (who will upset Ohio State in the semi-finals), the Dallas Cowboys will beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, Kentucky will win the NCAA tournament, the New York Rangers will win the Stanley Cup, the Golden State Warriors will reclaim the NBA Championship and the Boston Red Sox will upset the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. About 30/70 here. The World Cup was not moved. Clemson did upset Ohio State, but Alabama did not win the national championship. Missed the Super Bowl (should have stuck with my Pats!). Missed the Stanley Cup and World Series, but did get the NBA right. 

Top 10 Predictions For 2017

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Time again to take out my crystal ball (or magic eight-ball) and have a little fun predicting what will happen next year. These predictions are in no particular order (and please remember that these are predictions of what I think will happen, not necessarily what I want to happen; click here to see how I did with my 2016 Top 10 Predictions):

10 – President Obama will not leave office quietly, issuing a number of Executive Orders and controversial pardons during his last few weeks in office (but not Hillary Clinton or Edward Snowden). While the Executive Orders may be quickly reversed once the President-Elect takes office, the pardons will anger Republicans and set a more negative tone as the political transition takes place. In addition, Democrats, still angry over how they feel Republicans have treated President Obama over the past eight years, particularly their obstructionism over filling the current Supreme Court opening, will try to make the confirmation of some of the more controversial Cabinet selections more difficult than is customarily the case.

9 – Whether because of (10) above, or because of the fight Democrats are sure to put up when then President Trump nominates his choice to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy, the Republicans will finish what Harry Reid started – the nuclear option – and legislate away the need for 60 votes for Cabinet and judicial appointments, including the Supreme Court.

8 – As to foreign policy, given the hawkish nature of the proposed military side of the Cabinet, the Trump Administration will be more proactive in working to fight ISIS (whether with our allies or going it alone), but will not send in a large number of ground troops. This will be a subtle change and in many senses a continuation of the current policy. However, rather than give in to Putin as many fear, Trump will actually work better with Putin, particularly as it comes to fighting ISIS in the Middle East, and this partnership will be more effective than the current alliance. Unfortunately, this partnership will not extend to Syria, and Assad will remain in power.

7 – As ISIS continues to lose ground in the Middle East (particularly in Iraq), they will continue to export violence to the West. There will be at least one major terrorist attack in Europe, and a continuation of lone wolf attacks around the world, including  in the U.S. Domestic non-ISIS terror will also become more common on both the left and the right in an increasingly divided U.S.

6 – Political turmoil will continue in Europe. We may see another economic crisis in Greece, a slew of bank rescues in Italy to avoid a complete banking collapse and at least one far right party attaining power. Tensions between Turkey and the U.S. and EU will continue to grow as the post-coup arrests and crackdowns continue; the EU will end talks with Turkey over membership. The Turkish Lira will continue its downward spiral, turning Turkey to the East and stronger Sino-Russian ties.

5 – Despite rejecting TPP (which Trump will do), relations with Japan and China will stabilize and there will not be a trade war. Trump will talk and negotiate tough, but stop short of doing anything to really escalate tensions. Relations with Taiwan will remain as is. Asian economic growth will eclipse that seen in Europe once again, and the trajectory of the militarization in the South China Sea will flatten out. Actions by the Philippines government will embolden China.

4 – The U.S. economy will grow slightly quicker than it has the past few years, and inflation will remain tame but rise slightly. The stock market will gain between  5% – 7%, continuing the current bull market, but there will be increased volatility which will follow the ups and the downs of the Trump Administration. The Fed will only raise interest rates two times during the year (25 basis points each time) as slowing growth in Europe and Asia, and perhaps some global destabilizing events, will offset some of the optimism in the U.S. The Fed will retain its overall dovish stance. The new administration will begin to realize the impact of rising interest rates on the national debt and will try to exert pressure on the Fed. Yellen will finish out her term and not resign during the year.

3 – The new administration will be able to enact an infrastructure spending bill and some tax reform, including repatriation of money back to the U.S., but the bills will be smaller than President-Elect Trump wants, and will be harder to enact due to resistance from both parties. The Republican Party will remain fractured, but has a vested interest in seeing Trump succeed. There will be changes made to Obamacare, but there will not be a full repeal, as Republicans need to make good on their promise to not have people lose existing coverage or the coverage of pre-existing conditions. There will be a major cyber event as well as an attack on the nation’s electric grid, resulting in increased spending to prevent such attacks in the future.

For the financial services industry:

2 – The Fiduciary Rule will not be repealed and the first part of the law will go into effect in April. This issue has not even been on Trump’s mind or agenda. There will, however, likely be changes made to the law throughout the year, somewhat softening the law before its final implementation in January of 2018. There will be increasing talk of repealing Glass-Steagall, but nothing definitive will happen in 2017.

Because of increased volatility in the market, active management will regain some momentum in its on-going public relations battle with passive management. ETF growth will slow, and I give a 50% chance of some kind of flash crash caused by ETF trading. Mergers and acquisitions among B/Ds and money managers will be slightly above average, and the overall movement of advisors and RIAs will be below average because of uncertainty over the Trump Presidency.

1 – Finally, some sports predictions: The doping scandal surrounding Russia will continue to increase, but FIFA will not move the 2018 World Cup which is scheduled to be held there. Alabama will repeat as National College Champions, beating Clemson (who will upset Ohio State in the semi-finals), the Dallas Cowboys will beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, Kentucky will win the NCAA tournament, the New York Rangers will win the Stanley Cup, the Golden State Warriors will reclaim the NBA Championship and the Boston Red Sox will upset the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

AK In The News: For Advisors, Regional B/Ds Are The Goldilocks Model

Friday, January 30th, 2015

I was asked to write an opinion piece for Financial Advisor IQ (A Financial Times Service) on the relative merits of regional broker/dealers versus the competition – larger B/Ds as well as the independent or quasi-independents. Contact me if you would like a copy of the entire piece.

To summarize though, overall. regional B/Ds have done quite well since the financial crisis, helped by cheaper technology which has allowed them to compete with fewer resources.

To quote from the piece: “Key ways in which regional brokerages are positioning themselves as a happy medium between the wirehouse and RIA models include:

  • Access. Advisors who are large or even moderately large producers will probably have the ear of the decision-makers in the home office. They will be more important to these people than if they were large producers at a wirehouse or at an RIA using Charles Schwab’s or Fidelity’s investment platforms. They will have access to people when they need them and be on a first-name basis with key executives. They’ll also have better access to support staff. And advisors with friends in the back often receive service that has a personal touch.
  • Influence. As a result of their access, advisors can influence product and platform decisions. For example, large producers will likely be invited to serve on an advisory council, where their opinions will count more than those of their peers.
  • Freedom. Regional brokerages generally have fewer proprietary products than their larger counterparts do. Therefore, advisors are under less pressure to offer in-house products to clients, who often perceive a conflict of interest in such sales. This independence appeals to advisors attracted to the objectivity and fiduciary status associated with RIAs. Additionally, regional brokerages are not associated with banks, which reduces the pressure to cross-sell bank products.”

1Q15 Newsletter – Protecting Clients From Themselves – Is Now Available!

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Our first quarter Unlocking Real Value newsletter is now available!

The bull market in stocks continued its impressive run almost unabated last year, surprising many market pundits, while the economy showed relatively good strength. Weakness in the economies of the rest of the world, however, along with geopolitical uncertainty in Russia and the Middle East are warning signs for 2015.

Volatility has already begun to increase, and the year is off to a shaky start in the markets. The problem is not the volatility itself, but how people react to it. Many investors use volatility as an excuse to exit the market. The problem, however, is they have no clear plan on how or when to re-enter.

We have updated one of our most popular White Papers – Protecting Clients From Themselves. This is a great piece to show clients to keep them calm and invested as volatility increases.

Click here to see the newsletter. Click here to download the White Paper.

Please let us know if you have any questions. Have a great quarter!

Top 10 Predictions for 2015

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Time again to take out my crystal ball and have a little fun trying to guess what will happen next year. Here we go – these predictions are in no particular order:

10 – Hillary Clinton will announce her candidacy for the Presidency at long last. I am still not convinced that she really wants to run, but at this point I think the momentum is taking on a life of its own. However, I think she will be challenged by someone from the left of the party and her path to the nomination will not be easy as people thought a few short months ago. She will have to come-up with some new fresh ideas, and improve the effectiveness of her campaigning significantly.

Last week, I would have said that the challenge from the left would not have come from Elizabeth Warren. Now I am not so sure. Since I can’t stay on the fence, I predict that Elizabeth Warren will indeed eventually challenge Hillary. However, your politics aside, she has one glaring strike against her – she will be compared to Obama – a Senator with less than one term under her belt. Another candidate may emerge as well.

9 – Sticking with politics, but turning to the Republicans, I am surprised that Jeb has set-up an exploratory committee, but I would still not be surprised if he doesn’t actually run. As for the other Republicans, Christie will give it a shot, but he has an awful lot of baggage that will haunt him. Luckily, since the election is not next year, I don’t have to make the prediction of who will win yet.

8 – Political gridlock will continue in Congress to some extent, but I do believe that the Republicans will try for lots of small victories along the way as opposed to going for major pieces of legislation. The President has signaled a desire to fight since the mid-term elections, so I think the atmosphere will be bitter. But if the Republicans have any hope of winning back the White House they have to show that they can govern better than the last Congress.

7 – The President will actually continue to work better with the Republicans than the liberal wing of his own party. Bill Clinton faced similar changes and was able to rescue the last two years of his Presidency. However, I still think that given the President’s penchant for executive orders, these will all be minor victories as well and his status as a lame duck will be solidified in short order.

6 – The economy will continue to chug along with moderate growth, nothing spectacular but nothing terrible. The U.S. economy will continue to outperform the rest of the world. Europe will fall into a very short and shallow recession, and I think Japan will rebound now that the elections are behind them. Watch out for problems in the developing economies, in large part due to the drop in oil prices that we have seen.

5 – The biggest wildcard for the year is Russia – where the economic situation is deteriorating rapidly and sanctions are having a very major impact. The Ruble is in free fall, and the drop in oil prices is having a significant and negative impact. Continued turmoil in Russia could have a huge boil over effect in not only the rest of Europe, but the rest of the world as well. No one really knows how Putin will react and if these economic woes will make him more bellicose. But if any one thing can send the worlds markets and economies into chaos, it is Russia. Developments are worth keeping a close eye on.

4 – The Fed will raise interest rates by July of next year, but I think that they will do so in a measured way an more slowly than many currently believe – in part because of economic weakness around the world. Inflation remains under control, with the only thing that can really throw us a curve here is if wage growth picks up significantly (which I don’t see happening). The market will react negatively when rates do go up, but will rebound and regain all of the initial losses within six months (as is usually the case after Fed interest rate hikes).

3 – The stock market will have a below average year – and may in fact end down a little bit. There will probably be at least one 10% – 20% correction, either before or right after the interest rate increase. But corporate profits are still strong, and other economic positives will act as a floor on the market. But I see now compelling reason for a lot of upside in 2015.

For financial services specifically:

2 – Pundits will continue to focus on the growth of the RIA and independent channels, at the expense of the wirehouses and other traditional broker/dealers. But I see the continuation of the rebounds that the wirehouses have seen, and I think they will once again hold their own. There may be a few large mergers among the larger RIAs and perhaps one or two among the regional brokerage firms.

1 – The aforementioned Elizabeth Warren will continue to be a thorn in the side of banks and other financial services companies, and she will continue to fight anything or anyone that has a connection to Wall Street. While this may propel her into a run for President, I don’t see her having much impact on legislation, especially since the Republicans now control both houses of Congress.

Finally, a little sports. I see Alabama over Oregon in the National Championship Game and the Patriots over the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

Feel free to share your own thoughts!

What Clients Want

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Our last blog talked about the disconnect between clients and financial services professionals when it comes to the importance of ethics. Client views were obtained as part of a survey sponsored by the CFA Institute and entitled “The CFA Institute & Edelman Investor Trust Survey.”

The survey also asked respondents which of the following factors was the most important to them in selecting an investment manager (while the question in the survey related to investment managers specifically, but I would argue that the results are relevant to advisors and other industry participants as well):

  • Trusted to act in my best interest – 35%
  • Ability to achieve high returns – 17%
  • Commitment to ethical conduct – 17%
  • Recommended by someone I trust – 15%
  • Compliance with industry best practices – 8%
  • Amount/structure of fees – 7%

By more than 2 to 1, more respondents felt that the most important thing to them in picking an investment partner is that they feel that they can be trusted to act in their best interest. Returns were less important, and fees were at the bottom of the list.

These statistics reinforce the notion that trust is the most important thing in our industry (if you add the 17% who mentioned ethics, those two issues represent the most important thing to more than half of the respondents). Investment managers and others who fail to establish trust first – before they talk about what they do and how much they charge – are putting themselves behind with, on average, one out of every two prospects they will speak with.

This issue resonates with clients as well. While establishing trust and demonstrating ethical behavior is the key to getting clients, industry participants must reinforce this trust as the relationship matures in order to keep the client.

This issue reminds me of the old lesson that the best salespeople speak the least – they listen more than talk. I think the same goes here. The best advisors, consultants and money managers will allow their clients and prospects to talk – tell them what is important to them, what worries them, etc. – and only then will they talk. Listen and you shall prevail.

 

Don’t Apologize Goldman Sachs

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Greg Smith is the proverbial straw that broke this camels back!  Having endured constant criticism of the financial services industry and its participants since 2008, I have had enough. Goldman Sachs is not perfect. The industry is not perfect. But Greg Smith is an opportunist, and I wouldn’t waste a penny on his book or a minute more watching him on TV.

Yes I’m mad. As with everything in life, the truth of this situation probably lies somewhere in the middle. Goldman Sachs has made mistakes and employees probably talked about some of their clients behind their backs in less than flattering terms. But let’s be realistic – it happens in every industry and every company. Capitalism is not always pretty, and yes we need to have effective regulation – but the free enterprise system is the best one out there.

And Mr. Smith was probably a decent employee; if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have lasted a year in that environment. And we will never know if he did in fact ask for $1 million during the financial crisis and when others were being laid off (he didn’t answer that question when directly posed to him on 60 minutes).

What we do know is that he took his $500,000 a year in compensation for a number of years, don’t we? He was able to stomach the environment long enough to make some money. I guess he was able to put his disgust aside…..

I was upset when he first quit via a New York Times editorial – I thought then, as I do now, that it was grandstanding and self-serving. The release of his book is more of the same. I understand that American’s love gossip, and everyone loves to hate Wall Street and Goldman Sachs. But there is nothing earth-shattering in this book according to the reviews and interviews. It’s just part two of his plan to make himself more money.

I see nothing more than an opportunist here looking to take advantage of an anti-financial services environment to his own benefit. Period. Angry? Yes I’m angry. What gets lost again are all of the honest people. Goldman Sachs is not the enemy. Financial Services is not the enemy. Lets fix things – not try to make them worse and more divisive.

Mr. Smith – you have done yourself and the industry a disservice. I hope that your 15 minutes of fame is soon over for good.

A Look Back At My Top Ten 2011 Predictions – How Did I Do?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

As the year draws to and end, and before I release my predictions for 2012, I thought that it would be fun to look back on my predictions for this year. Here is the list with updated comments (which are in bold).

10 – Stocks will once again have a better year than the economy as a whole. I am “mildly optimistic” heading into 2011. The one thing that I have learned is that you can’t fight the market’s momentum. The market is essentially flat and the economy  remains weak with a few bright recent employment reports. Mild optimism was perhaps warranted, but not rewarded.

9 – Housing will continue to struggle in 2011 and unemployment will remain stubbornly high. The jobless recovery will continue, but there will not be another recession. This predication proved to be pretty accurate. We are pretty much where we were a year ago (wasted year?).

8- The much-talked-about municipal bond crisis may develop, but will not be as bad as the doomsayers predict. Increased municipal failings will not be surprising – but this will not be another crisis of the magnitude of the housing crisis. I was wrong here – this crisis never really developed even though a number of large bankruptcies occurred. 

7 – The bipartisan spirit of the lame duck Congress will end quickly – particularly over spending – and the gridlock predicted after the election will begin. This is not necessarily a bad thing for the markets – just the reality. Here I was correct – the political environment is worse today then it was a year ago. More on this in my 2012 predictions.

6 – The Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates (that will happen in 2012). Interest rates have not been increased and if anything, whatever inflation threat there was has abated.

5 – The crisis in the Euro zone will continue and the PIIGS will continue to give us heartburn – but the Germans will lead the EU to the rescue and the crisis will not negatively impact the US (maybe on particular days, but not overall). Kind or right – kind of wrong. The Euro crisis has gotten worse and the German leadership has been less than stellar. The jury is still out as to what the impact on the US will be – that again is more of a 2012 prediction at this point. But Europe = heartburn was certainly true!

As for the financial services industry:

4 – It will be another year of net advisor losses for the wirehouses. The allure of going independent coupled with continued negative press will be the straws that break the camels back and influence advisors to make the change. Yes and no – the trend toward independence continues but slowed more than I thought. However, this slowdown was do more to general inertia caused by economic uncertainty than by anything positive that the wirehouses did to make themselves more attractive. Few advisors are willing to make changes that will affect their clients when there is so much uncertainty already.

3 – UMAs will continue to grow at the expense of SMAs and ETFs will continue to grow at the expense of mutual funds, although ETFs will continue to fight negative press surrounding the plethora of derivative-type ETFs that are being developed. UMAs did continue to grow as did ETFs. The negative press about ETFs is still out there, although did quiet down somewhat during the year. Surprising was the growth of advisor-managed accounts – didn’t see that one coming!

2 – Fidelity will have at least one reorganization (not hard to predict based on past trends!) and Schwab will continue to grow its managed accounts AUM and surpass at least one, if not two warehouses. Of course Fidelity made news with changes in staff and strategy and Schwab continued to grow. 

1 – Consolidation among money management firms and RIAs will continue as firms continue to cut costs and search for synergies to help them distinguish themselves from the pack. Consolidation did continue, although slower than I thought – another symptom of a year in which economic and market uncertainty caused many people to sit on their hands and wait for the dust to clear.

All in all, I would say many of my predication were accurate. But the year was a frustrating one in that we find ourselves pretty much exactly where we were a year ago – the markets are pretty much at the same levels, the economy is growing at the same rate, unemployment remains high, etc. etc. etc.

I think 2012 is going to be a little more exciting – look for my new predictions next week!