Creating a Portfolio for the Long Run

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Many of us are told at a young age to save money and invest it for the long run so compound interest can do its magic.  It is not hard to set up a systematic withdrawal plan from your bank account to your investment account, or to invest in your company retirement plan.  The hard part is to know WHAT to invest your hard-earned money in.

Most financial advisors, as a rule, recommend a portfolio weighted heavily in stocks and little in bonds when you are young.  As you get older, you shift more and more of your aggressive stock positions into bonds.  When you enter retirement most of your portfolio is in less volatile bonds.  Simple! Enjoy the roller coaster ride…see you in forty years.  The problem with this formula is that it doesn’t prepare an investor for market volatility.  The recent high market volatility indicates that the daily price movement in the stock and bond markets can change dramatically, in a good or bad way (see below).  Until you have experienced a sudden drop in your financial portfolio, your roller-coaster ride will feel fun and exciting as it goes higher and higher.

At Spectrum we believe in order to have a steady and profitable portfolio for the long run you need three things. Your portfolio should be actively managed with an experienced investment team, it needs to be diversified and it must fit your own risk profile.

At Spectrum, no two client portfolios are alike.  Our client services team takes the time to make sure we understand the specific short and long-term goals of a client and how much risk a client is willing to take.  We have young clients who are very conservative and some older clients that are very aggressive.  We realize that there is no “normal/average” client.  Some investors can handle seeing their portfolios drop 10-15% in a short period of time.  Others get very nervous if their portfolio drops 5%.  Many buy/hold investors watched the S&P 500 fall over 50% in the last bear market almost 12 years ago.  As recently as five months ago the S&P 500 lost over one-third of its value in less than five weeks! Once we know what level of risk a client is willing to take, we can diversify the portfolio accordingly.

Based on our evaluation, a client is then diversified among our actively managed funds.  A mix of all three mutual funds offered at Spectrum gives a client the ability to invest in almost every sector of the market while our investment team manages the daily risk of each fund.  Unlike the “buy/hold” strategy that most advisors implement, our fund managers can adjust exposure to the market daily.  When the market is rising, our exposure to the market increases.  When the market falls, as it did abruptly in March of this year, our investment team can reduce exposure to the market.

Our client services team also understands that long term goals for clients and market environments can change over time.  A wedding, birth of a child, home or auto purchase, retirement and death in a family are just some life events that may lead to a change in client portfolio allocations.  Client portfolios are always monitored and can be adjusted at any time.  When you call our office, you can feel confident in knowing you are speaking with someone you know and that knows you personally and professionally.

We encourage you to give us a call and learn more about Spectrum and what we offer.  We are different than most investment companies.  You can call and speak with someone on our Client Services team toll-free at 1-888-463-7600.

Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund Hits 5 Year Anniversary with a bang!

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Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund (SAPEX) celebrated its 5-year anniversary on 6/1/2020, and completed the second quarter of 2020 with its best quarter ever, up 16.60%. Year-to-date through the end of the second quarter, SAPEX was up 1.42%, putting it well ahead of the broad-based New York Stock Exchange Composite Index (NYSE) still down  -13.36%. With these exciting milestones just passed, now it a great time to highlight this unique fund. What is the Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund (SAPEX) all about? Officially, SAPEX’s objective listed in its prospectus is, “long term capital appreciation”. Another way to put that is the objective is to provide an actively managed equity mutual fund that seeks long-term capital appreciation and a strategy that pursues positive alpha (excess return over a benchmark) while managing return volatility (price variability). A succinct bottom-line is the Fund strives to simply make more and lose less. That seems to be at the heart of what most investors are looking for, especially when it relates to the stock market.

Data:  Bloomberg L.P.

The Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund (SAPEX) has always centered around tactical adjustments to risk while seeking timely buying opportunities. Even though the Fund primarily holds equity investments, there is a sleeve dedicated to bonds for defensive measures. The exposure chart above shows SAPEX’s nature of quick adjustments. From its 6/1/2015 inception to the end of 2018, SAPEX had a total return of 10.28% versus the 12.54% total return of the NYSE. This underscores the difficulty of beating a benchmark even with active management. During this period, however, SAPEX was much less volatile, having a Beta of 0.69 versus the index. Equity exposure changes have been more rapid and wider over the last year in an attempt to capture more return and offset risk. Since then, SAPEX’s Beta over the trailing twelve months (6/30/19-6/30/20) was only 0.76, a marginal increase, even as it began to outperform the NYSE stock index for that time period.

In addition to the 5-year anniversary milestone, the Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund has been able to celebrate along the way. As mentioned, comparison to a benchmark while managing risk can prove challenging. Comparing to an index has its place but investors should compare possible fund choices to each other within defined categories. For the 2018 year, SAPEX was given a Refinitiv Lipper Award at the 2019 awards ceremony for being the “Best Fund Over 3 Years: Absolute Return Funds”. Go back to the noted statistic and the chart- SAPEX modestly underperformed the NYSE stock index during the period. Many investors were likely disappointed with their equity mutual funds during that time. This shows how difficult it is for mutual funds, as a whole, to hit the mark but SAPEX was beginning to show separation from its competitors as a prime choice in one’s portfolio. After 2019, the Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund posted a repeat, once again winning an award for the 3-year Best Absolute Fund.

SAPEX is also tracked by Morningstar and as of the end of 6/30/2020 had a five star rating out of 215 funds for 3-years and a five star rating out of 171 funds for 5-years. We started recording Morningstar’s trailing 3-year performance ranking when the 3-year anniversary was reached.

The Fund received a 5-Star Overall Morningstar Rating as of 6/30/2020. Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund (SAPEX) was rated against the following numbers of U.S Tactical Allocation funds over the following periods: 215 funds in the last 3 years, and 171 funds in the last 5 years. With respect to these Tactical Allocation funds, Spectrum Advisors Preferred Fund received a 5-Star rating overall and a 5-Star rating for 3 years and a 5-Star rating for 5 years. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Near the upper left of the table, SAPEX’s performance was in the top 2 percentile out of 259 funds in Morningstar’s Multialternative category. Through 6/30/2019, SAPEX remained, at worse, in the top 7 percentile. From 7/31/2019 to present, Morningstar has SAPEX in the Tactical Allocation category. Since then, SAPEX has been at least in the top 5 percentile. With June of this year being its first month after its 5-year anniversary, SAPEX now has a trailing 5-year performance ranking — in the top 6 percentile.

More than five years ago, Ralph Doudera challenged the Investment Services team to design an equity focused fund that would allow him or its investors to sit back and “sip a Starbucks coffee” during the bull markets and then have it, to varying degrees, take defensive measures during bear markets. Becoming overly conservative was found to hinder performance. Allowing for more volatility and drawdowns during garden variety corrections but incrementally increasing the use of defensive tactics as bearish market action has allowed SAPEX to post a return since inception (6/1/2015-6/30/20) of 42.77% or 7.25% annualized versus a total return by the broad stock market, the New York Stock Exchange Composite Index (NYSE) of 22.37% or 4.05% annualized.

Disclosures

The performance data quoted represents past performance. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investment return and principal value will fluctuate, so that shares, when redeemed, may by worth more or less than their original cost. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance data quoted and assumes the reimbursement of any dividend and/or capital gains distributions. To obtain performance data current to most recent month-end, please call toll free 1-888-572-8868.

© 2020 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. The information contained herein: (1) is proprietary to Morningstar; (2) may not be copied or distributed; and (3) is not warranted to be accurate, complete or timely. Neither Morningstar nor its content providers are responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The Morningstar RatingTM for funds, or “star rating”, is calculated for managed products (including mutual funds, variable annuity and variable life subaccounts, exchange-traded funds, closed-end funds, and separate accounts) with at least a three-year history. Exchange-traded funds and open-ended mutual funds are considered a single population for comparative purposes. It is calculated based on a Morningstar Risk-Adjusted Return measure that accounts for variation in a managed product’s monthly excess performance, placing more emphasis on downward variations and rewarding consistent performance. The top 10% of products in each product category receive 5 stars, the next 22.5% receive 4 stars, the next 35% receive 3 stars, the next 22.5% receive 2 stars, and the bottom 10% receive 1 star. The Overall Morningstar Rating for a managed product is derived from a weighted average of the performance figures associated with its three-, five-, and 10-year (if applicable) Morningstar Rating metrics. The weights are: 100% three-year rating for 36-59 months of total returns, 60% five-year rating/40% three-year rating for 60-119 months of total returns, and 50% 10-year rating/30% five-year rating/20% three-year rating for 120 or more months of total returns. While the 10-year overall star rating formula seems to give the most weight to the 10-year period, the most recent three-year period actually has the greatest impact because it is included in all three rating periods. Morningstar Rating is for the Service share class only; other classes may have different performance characteristics.

The Lipper Fund Awards, granted annually, highlight funds and fund companies that have excelled in delivering consistently strong risk-adjusted performance relative to their peers. The Lipper Fund Awards are based on the Lipper Leader for Consistent Return rating, which is a risk-adjusted performance measure calculated over 36, 60 and 120 months. The fund with the highest Lipper Leader for Consistent Return (Effective Return) value in each eligible classification wins the Lipper Fund Award.

The currency for the calculation corresponds to the currency of the country for which the awards are calculated and relies on monthly data. Classification averages are calculated with all eligible share classes for each eligible classification. For more information, see lipperfundawards.com. Although Lipper makes reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained herein, the accuracy is not guaranteed by Lipper.

Lipper Leaders fund ratings do not constitute and are not intended to constitute investment advice or an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any security of any entity in any jurisdiction. As a result, you should not make an investment decision on the basis of this information. Rather, you should use the Lipper ratings for informational purposes only. In addition, Lipper will not be liable for any loss or damage resulting from information obtained from Lipper or any of its affiliates.

Beta: a statistic that measures volatility of the fund, as compared to that of the overall market. The market’s beta is set at 1; a higher beta than 1 is considered to be more volatile than the market, while a beta lower than 1 is considered to be less volatile.

Consider these risks before investing: Bond risk, derivatives risk, equity risk, inverse ETF risk, junk bond risk, leverage risk, management risk, market risk, mutual fund and ETF risk, short position risk, small and medium capitalization risk, and turnover risk. There is no guarantee the fund will achieve its investment objective. You can lose money by investing in the fund. Please carefully review the prospectus for detailed information about these risks.

New York Stock Exchange Composite Index (NYSE) measures the performance of all stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It includes more than 1,900 stocks, of which over 1,500 are U.S. companies. Its breadth therefore makes it a much better indicator of market performance than narrow indexes that have far fewer components. The weights of the index constituents are calculated on the basis of their free-float market capitalization. The index itself is calculated on the basis of price return and total return, which includes dividends.

S&P TR 500 Index is a capitalization weighted index of 500 stocks representing all major domestic industry groups. The S&P 500 TR assumes the reinvestment of dividends and capital gains. It is not possible to directly invest in any index.

*60/40 NYSE Composite/Barclays U.S. AGG. Bond Index: This benchmark gives 60% weight to the NYSE Composite Index and 40% weight to the Barclays U.S. Agg. Bond Index. The NYSE Composite Index (NYA) measures the performance of all stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It includes more than 1,900 stocks, of which over 1,500 are U.S. companies. Its breadth therefore makes it a much better indicator of market performance than narrow indexes that have far fewer components. The weights of the index constituents are calculated on the basis of their free-float market capitalization. The index itself is calculated on the basis of price return and total return, which includes dividends. The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index measures the underlying index and performance of the total U.S. investment grade bond market. It is a market value-weighted index that tracks the daily price, coupon, pay-downs, and total return performance of fixed-rate, publicly placed, dollar-denominated, and non-convertible investment grade debt issues with at least $250 million per amount outstanding and with at least one year to final maturity.

Request a prospectus or a summary prospectus from your financial representative or by calling Gemini Fund Services at 855- 582-8006 or access www.thespectrumfunds.com. These prospectuses include investment objectives, risks, fees, expenses, and other information that you should read and consider carefully before investing. Gemini Fund Services serves as transfer agent to the Fund and is not affiliated with the advisor, subadvisor or distributor.

The Fed: Its History & Connection to the Markets Pt 1

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Over the last several market days, there was an increase in volatility and selloff in the equity markets. June 11th the Dow had its biggest one-day loss since March. This came one day after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and the rest of the board concluded their two-day meeting and held a post-meeting press conference. In his press conference Powell announced that interest rates were left unchanged and near zero, unemployment was at an all-time high, and he projected a very slow economic recovery from this “pandemic-induced” recession. So, what is the Fed’s connection to the markets and economy, and what type of impact can they have? It is always best to start with why the Federal Reserve System was created and for what purpose. This blog will briefly cover the history of America’s central banking system, its structure and its overall purposes.

After the revolutionary war, Alexander Hamilton led several attempts at forming a central bank for the United States, but each attempt failed. Up until 1913, the United States was plagued with frequent financial pandemics, liquidity issues and high rates of bank failures. As a new country with these issues, the U.S. economy became a risky place for capital to be invested both for international and domestic investors. This lack of trust in the banking system was stunting America’s growth in its agriculture and industry. It was finally at the demand of J.P. Morgan, after the panic of 1907, that he pressured the government into acting on a central bank plan. J.P. Morgan, a wealthy financier, had bailed out the federal government several times up to that point. One instance was in 1895 by providing $65 million in gold, and another in 1907 when he convinced other bankers to provided capital and restore liquidity to desperate markets. That was after Morgan had already bailed out several trust companies, a leading brokerage house, New York City and the New York Stock Exchange.

Thus, on December 23, 1913 Congress passed, and President Woodrow Wilson signed, the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. The Federal Reserve website (www.federalreserve.gov) states this, “The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established the Federal Reserve System as the central bank of the United States to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.” The Federal Reserve, or commonly referred to as the Fed, has the purpose of managing the nation’s monetary policy by manipulating the money supply and interest rates. This was to smooth out the booms and busts of normal economic cycles. Determined to not have one central bank, the Federal Reserve Act purposely established three entities:

  1. A central governing board
  2. A decentralized operating structure of 12 reserve banks
  3. A combination of public and private characteristics (Federal Open Market Committee)

The Federal Reserve board initially consisted of seven members: the Secretary of Treasury and Comptroller of the Currency, and then five others appointed by the US President and confirmed by the Senate. Of those five appointed members, the President would designate one as “governor” and one as “vice governor”. The active executor of the Fed would be the governor. The board leadership structure has gone through several changes to morph into what we are familiar with today which is a Chair, a Vice Chair, and Vice Chair for Supervision and then 4 other board seats, making a total of 7 possible positions. Each are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. Each member serves a 14-year term, with one term beginning every two years on the 1st of February on even numbered years. The following are the current Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System:

  • Chair: Jerome H. Powell
  • Vice Chair: Richard H. Clarida
  • Vice Chair for Supervision: Randal Quarles
  • Michelle W. Bowman
  • Lael Brainard
  • Vacant Position
  • Vacant Position

The Act established 12 Federal Reserve banks instead of relying on one “central bank” and they were based on a geographic division of the United States. In 1913, these boundaries were based on the biggest trade regions and their related economic needs. The 12 bank districts are: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. These banks operate independently but under the greater supervision of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Each bank has a nine-member board of directors and is responsible for gathering data on the economies and businesses of its local communities. This information is used to influence decisions made by the Board of Governors and the other entities of the system.

The Fed is in its 10th edition of The Federal Reserve System Purposes & Functions which details the structure, responsibilities and aims of the U.S. central banking system. The Fed performs five functions to promote the operation of the U.S. economy:

  1. Conducts the nation’s monetary policy to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the U.S. economy
  2. Promotes the stability of the financial system and seeks to minimize and contain systemic risks through active monitoring and engagement in the U.S. and abroad
  3. Promotes the safety and soundness of individual financial institutions and monitors their impact on the financial system as a whole
  4. Fosters payment and settlement system safety and efficiency through services to the banking industry and the U.S. government that facilitates U.S.-dollar transactions and payments
  5. Promotes consumer protection and community development through consumer-focused supervision and examination, research and analysis of emerging consumer issues and trends, community economic development activities, and the administration of consumer laws and regulations.

Understanding why the Federal Reserve System was created and for what purpose, establishes a framework to further understand how the Fed and their monetary policy affects the behavior of the markets. No matter the investment style or philosophy (active vs. passive management, technical analysis vs. fundamental analysis) what the Fed decides to do in regards to money supply and interest rates does in fact influence buy and sell decisions for both retail and institutional investors. However, instead of skimming the minutes of Fed meetings or staying glued to a post-meeting press conference or senate hearing, we prioritize the analysis of price movement rather than the underlying fundamentals of a security or economic numbers. It is our belief that what is happening both in the economy and with a particular company (if stock) or a company’s debt (if bond) is all reflected and priced into the security, index, market, etc. By placing our priority on analyzing price trends, we are able to be active traders on what is currently happening. This allows us to manage risk for our clients and shareholders.

Active Portfolio Management In Spite of Covid-19

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Breaking News: Over 270,000 viral deaths globally (over 75,000 in the United States) and it is still spreading.  Global economies have been almost completely shut down.  Airlines shut down.  Entire cities turn in to ghost towns.  Stay in your homes. No eggs, meat or toilet paper anywhere.  Oil is free.

At first this sounds like the backdrop to a new novel written by Stephen King.  But this is the current reality and it could be here for some time to come.  To think that only three months ago the stock market was hitting new all-time highs and everyone who wanted a job had one.  Kids were all in school learning.  Sports fans were happy.  Graduations, weddings and vacations were being planned.  All was well with the world!
On March 9, 2009, the last Bear Market ended.  The ensuing Bull Market lasted eleven years, the longest ever recorded.  There is always a catalyst that pushes the stock market over the edge.  Everyone has read about the Great Depression, the 73-74 bear market and the Crash of 87’.  It was the dot-com bubble in 2000, the real estate bubble/bank-auto bailout in 2007-2008 and now the coronavirus pandemic/oil crisis in 2020.

Not since World War II has there been such a global event that has affected how all 7.8 billion humans on this planet live their daily lives.  During this stressful period, the last thing investors need to worry about is the health of their investment portfolios.  Many investors saw 20-60% drawdowns in Q1 2020.  Many large-cap companies like Delta Air Lines, Boeing, Carnival and Occidental Petroleum are down 60%+ YTD (through 5/5/20).

At Spectrum Financial our client portfolios are actively managed, every day, all day long.  We allocate client money based on their individual risk level, time horizon and personal goals.  One of the services Spectrum offers is our AssetMaxx℠ program.  It provides access to three distinct actively managed funds for portfolio design. These funds can adjust exposure to the markets based on current environments. At times, these funds may be invested 100% in cash or cash equivalents. Spectrum clients have historically benefited from active management in managing risk.  This current environment is no different.  In the 1st quarter this year the Spectrum Low Volatility fund (SVARX) was up 1.60%, the Hundredfold Select Alternative fund (SFHYX) was up 4.40% and the Spectrum Advisors Preferred fund (SAPEX) was down 13.02%. The S&P 500 TR Index was down 19.60% and the Barclays High Yield VL Index was down 12.32% during the same period. Standard performance data can be reviewed at https://investspectrum.com/AssetMaxx.cshtml under our AssetMaxx℠ Service, or at each Fund’s website, http://thespectrumfunds.com or http://hundredfoldselect.com/ .

Markets do not like uncertainty.  With the ongoing Russia/Saudia Arabia oil feud, the aggressive behavior of Iran and North Korea, the trade war with China and the Coronavirus pandemic, there are plenty of elephants in the room to keep this market nervous and volatile in the short-term.  We don’t know when the storm will be over, but our active management helps clients feel secure as we control exposure in this volatile market.

For over 20 years I have worked with Ralph Doudera, the CEO and head Portfolio Manager of Spectrum Financial, Inc.  One of my favorite quotes that he has repeated over the years is “I want to sleep good at night, and I want our clients to sleep good as well.”  Have you been sleeping good lately?

We encourage you to call and speak with our Client Services team at 888-463-7600 to learn in more detail the programs we offer here.  You can also go to our website www.investspectrum.com to learn more about our company, the team and timely updates about the actively managed funds used in our AssetMaxx℠ program.

The Future of Blockchain

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Blockchain is a public record of transactions, known as a ledger, that is recorded and duplicated across a distributed computer network secured using cryptography. In the case of Bitcoin (one of the most well-known blockchain-based currencies), every time a Bitcoin transaction takes place, it’s recorded in the ledger for all to see. While the ledger is public (typically in blockchains), the data is anonymous and encrypted.

“blockchain: A public, permanent, append only ledger for storing and verifying transactions”

In an active blockchain, there are often thousands of machines around the world owned by different people participating in the blockchain at any given time; each node serves as a redundant copy of the ledger. To add new transactions to the ledger requires consensus among the majority of participants at any given time. The goal: to make it very difficult and expensive for hackers to maliciously alter the blockchain.

“There is potential for Blockchain to be utilized in every industry”

Keeping a record of financial transactions isn’t the only use of blockchain technology. There are endless potential future uses for utilizing blockchain technology. For example, Kodak has launched a Blockchain-Enabled Document Management System to keep a public ledger to verify the author of photographs for copyright purposes. Kodak claims that the blockchain platform will lead to 20-40% cost savings through automated workflows and decreased human management of content, information, and documents.

Blockchain is also having a big impact in the financial sector. PNC Financial Services, one of the top ten banks in the United States has been utilizing RippleNet since 2016 to use its blockchain solution for cross border payments and settlements. PNC is a leader in fintech with strategic relationships with RippleNet, investments in artificial intelligence solutions, and has been recognized by Forbes as a top blockchain company. The financial sector is achieving the following benefits utilizing blockchain payments.

– Faster transactions
– Lower fees
– Reduction of fraud
– Use of Smart contracts
– Transparency
A smart contract isn’t unlike its paper predecessor. It helps you exchange property, services, and currency. But unlike that hardly enforceable paper stack paper clipped together on your desk, this contract is a self-executing document enforced by blockchain.  When the first condition is triggered, the funds are released automatically.  Many blockchains support smart contracts.  The Ethereum blockchain serves as a “global computer” that anyone can rent time on to perform complex computations.  Ethereum is a global, open-source platform for decentralized applications.  Use of this computing platform, which is kind of like a decentralized supercomputer, is paid for in Ether, which is a solution to the issue of payment.  This is the fuel that keeps apps and developers on the Ethereum blockchain.

Blockchain technology has been viewed as a way to create secure digital identities in a decentralized way, where the ownership of your online identity isn’t controlled by one entity. Recently, Microsoft announced its support of blockchain-based identity systems, such as the one used by the ID2020 Alliance.

Other proposed uses of blockchain technology include storing medical records securely.  This method could prove beneficial in verifying and protecting patients’ data while making records readily accessible.  A trial by MIT Media Lab and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that blockchain works extremely well in terms of tracking test results, treatments, and prescriptions for inpatients and outpatients over 6 months.

Cyberattacks are considered to be the fastest growing crime in the US, and they are increasing in size and frequency. There are 400 new threats every minute, and up to 70 percent of emerging attacks going undetected by signature-based antivirus.  Blockchain could be utilized in protecting computers from ransomware and other breaches.  This could be in preventing distributed denial of service (DdoS) attacks by verifying traffic, validating attachments, and approving updates.  Antivirus companies are revealing plans to create the first decentralized marketplace for threat intelligence.

There is potential for Blockchain to be utilized in every industry.  This includes food delivery, legal contracts, insurance providers, and even our education system.   Even the United States Postal Service is considering utilizing it for tracking and transaction processing.  These are exciting times for this new technology.  Ill go out on a limb and say the blockchain may invoke a paradigm shift on the future of verification.

Measuring Fear: A logical assessment of COVID-19 and its effects on the financial markets

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Blogs about the coronavirus are dominating digital media and for good reason.  The virus is clearly impacting us at a quickening pace.  A clear impact is fear.  Case numbers and death tolls are shown on television and internet news seemingly all throughout the day.  Fear manifests itself in many ways.  Early signs have been through decreased travel, primarily air flight and cruise ships.  We are starting to see public gatherings such as sporting events being canceled or modified.

Fear, no matter what the source, plays an important role in the financial markets.

As we step back and gather clues, a logical path would be to look at what the financial markets did during prior times when there were threats of a worldwide pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, I have seen information like this in table and chart form (see below).  This information may give some degree of comfort, implying the historical tendency suggests very high odds of a gain in the intermediate term.  But what about the time in between day 0 and the six months out?

Markets have experienced unprecedented movements that have not been seen but just a few times in the last 100 years.  Is it logical to embrace the indication from a table or similar statistics of prior outbreaks?

Not just quantify it but to gauge its movement. The point is to move beyond interpretation of headlines and to focus more on interpreting human behavior.

A relatively recent period of a sharp decline from new highs was Q3 2018, followed by the rebound in Q1 2019.  Sure, this is not related to a previous virus, but the example shows a moving gauge of fear.  The VIX Index is commonly called the “Fear Index” for good reason.  In the chart below, the VIX itself is not displayed, but rather, a momentum indicator of the VIX. A momentum indicator measures the speed of price changes. Measuring the momentum (or speed of price change) of the VIX allows us to track that acceleration or deceleration of fear.  Even with the VIX smoothed by the indicator, it still has some gyrations.  If we follow the general direction and the overall zones, such as Fear Dominant or Calm Dominant, then we can get a better handle on the connection to the movement in the stock market.

Created with TradeStation. © TradeStation Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved

From May to October 2018, the Momentum of VIX was dominated by calm, allowing for the S&P 500 to trend higher.  Naturally, fear crept higher as the rally became older.  In early October, the Momentum of VIX moved out of the middle neutral zone and into the Fear Dominant Zone. At that moment in October, I’m sure some questions were asked that are being asked today such as, “What about precedents?” And, “How long should this last?”

The bottom-line question for today is, “How long is the crisis going to last?” and that question may have two basic answers.

The first may be related to the headlines and the second related to the stock market sell-off.  The two are not necessarily tied together.  Headlines may still be scary to the public but if some underlying forces are changing investor perceptions, then the stock market has a higher probability of improving.  In the chart above, the sharp drop in the Momentum of VIX at the very beginning of 2019 was enough to cause it to reach the Calm Dominant zone.  If the charts and tables in October 2018 stated the market would be higher six months later, then, yes, they would have been right.  However, this example shows the ongoing warning of the selling pressure for several months until the climate of fear changed.

Earlier this week I started to have a few body aches and a low-grade fever, both very minor.  Regrettably, I went into the office before sunup to get some work done, thinking I’ll go home if my condition worsened.  As people came into the office and became aware of my condition, the growing fear was palpable.  I was urged to go to the doctor, but to call first.  I called a well-known walk-in clinic but was told they were not prepared to test for Covid19 and was instructed to go to the emergency room.  I did and was given a screening tests, including a chest x-ray by medical personnel in full protective body suits.  I learned the hospital reports the findings to the local health department and then to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for further instruction – to administer a rare Covid19 test or not.  Fortunately, it was determined I have a more common flu strain.  That said, I am writing this blog from quarantine – a self-quarantine but one advised by the doctors.  In the days since the emergency room visit, news on a local and federal level has intensified to where grocery shelves are being emptied even for seemingly random items.  I am seeing firsthand how the fear related to the headlines may get worse before getting better, but as a financial professional, I am monitoring the change in fear to get a better gauge on the impact to the financial markets.

Your Children and Inheritance

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You invested wisely for forty years, building your nest-egg. You are in retirement now and enjoying every minute of it. At some point you realize that you will be leaving some of your investments to charity, and in many cases, most to your children. Over the next 30 years trillions of dollars will transfer from the “Baby Boomer” generation to their children.

You would be surprised how many working adults haven’t prepared for their own retirement.

The average 401k balance for 60-69-year-old individuals is $195,500 and the median balance in this age group is only $62,000. This means that half of soon-to-be retirees have less than $62,000 in their 401k accounts. Generally, by age 60 you should have six times your current salary in savings and at normal retirement (age 67) eight times your salary.[i]

Whether it be for health reasons, an ended marriage, not profitable investment decisions or a slew of other reasons, many adult heirs aren’t prepared for retirement due to a lack of assets.

Over the past 25 years I’ve seen what happens to client assets when transferred to their beneficiaries. An adult child (or heir) inherits an investment portfolio and instead of investing the inheritance, every penny is spent. “I had to pay off my debt, I wanted a new car, or a new house”, says the adult child. While debt is important to pay down, and a new car or home is not a malicious want, the hard earned money you have saved and worked for can be gone so quickly when you may have wanted this wealth to have a different impact in your children’s and future generation’s lives.

While your children may be mature adults with their own families, having the conversation with them on how you would like their inherited wealth to be treated is important. Equally important is helping them become knowledgeable about investing. The most important thing you can do right now, if you haven’t done so already, is to have a conversation with your heirs about investing.  Let them know about your intentions of their eventual inheritance and the importance of continuing to invest what you have already invested over the years so they can have a comfortable retirement. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your heirs about your investments, we can help.

You have several options to transfer wealth, from setting up a trust, identifying who is a beneficiary and the percentage he/she receives on your qualified retirement account(s) and setting up a Transfer-on-Death (TOD) individual account. An inheritance, if handled correctly, can ensure your heirs a comfortable retirement in the future. This can give you much-needed peace of mind. At Spectrum Financial we encourage our clients to talk to their heirs about the importance of investing. We enjoy having conversations with children and even grandchildren of our clients, whether in person or on a phone call. Call us today at 888-463-7600 if you would like to learn more about how we can help your children or grandchildren start investing today and be prepared to handle an inheritance in the future.

[i] Investopedia. What’s the Average 401(k) Balance by Age? See how your savings stack up. By Tim Parker, November 21, 2019.

What is a 401(k) and Should I have One?

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A 401(k) plan is a tax-advantaged retirement savings account that can only be accessed through a company that offers them to their employees. A 401(k) is a tax qualified, defined contribution plan defined in subsection 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code (hence the name). You should definitely take advantage of a 401(k) if your company offers one with matching benefits.

Let’s get some definitions and facts straight:

As mentioned above, a 401(k) is ‘tax qualified’ or ‘tax-advantaged’. What does ‘tax-qualified’ mean? It means that there is some tax benefit involved.

It is also a ‘defined contribution plan’ meaning the ultimate account value depends on the total amount contributed, along with interest and capital gains from the plan’s investments.

The contributions to your 401(k) plan come from your paycheck and can come from your company if they have a contribution/ matching program. 403(b) and 457(b) are like a 401(K). You may have a 403(b) if you work for a non-profit or a 457(b) if you are a government employee.

Tax-Qualified: So what’s the tax benefit?

Your contributions to the plan are paid with pre-tax dollars, meaning they are taken ‘off the top’ of your gross salary, reducing your taxable earned income. Those pre-tax dollars get to grow tax deferred. Because of that deferral, taxes become due on the 401(k) funds once the distributions begin.

Bottom line: not only are you able to reduce your taxable income for the year, but your pre-tax dollars grow and experience compound interest tax-deferred!

When it comes time to take distributions from your 401(k) you pay taxes at that time. Speaking of distributions, you can withdrawal from your 401(k) without penalties when you turn 59 ½ . The April following the year you turn 70 ½  you are required to take a minimum distribution based on a formula.

What happens if I want to take money out before I am 59 ½ ? You can but there are several things to consider.

  1. First you will be subject to a 10% tax penalty.
  2. You will have to pay your normal income tax on the withdrawal on top of the 10% penalty.
  3. You may not be fully ‘vested’ with your plan. Vesting is a term used to refer to degree of ownership that a employee has in a 401(k). Think of it as what you are entitled to. The vested schedules are determined by the company. For example, you may have to work with the company for 5 years before you are 100% vested. Often times employers use vesting schedules to encourage employee retention.

All of these factors can significantly reduce your hard earned savings, so it is best to not withdrawal from your 401(k) prior to being 59 ½.

There are exceptions to the 10% penalty that include situations like disability or medical expenses greater than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. For a full list of the current exceptions this is a helpful link: irs.gov Keep in mind, the point of a 401(k) is retirement savings.

Roth 401(k) vs. Regular 401(k)

A Roth 401(k) is fairly new and was introduced in 2006. A Roth 401(k) is being offered more and more, with over half of all companies offering this type of 401(k). Whenever you see Roth think after tax dollars. 401(k) contributions are made with PRE-tax dollars. Roth 401(k) contributions are made with POST tax dollars. That means you pay the taxes on your contribution now, instead of when you withdrawal those funds.

The Roth 401(k) benefit is that you may be in a lower tax bracket throughout your contribution time than at the time of distribution when you pay the tax on a traditional 401(k).

You will still have to pay taxes on the ‘employer match’ part of your Roth 401(k) but you will not pay on the earnings/growth or contributions. Something to consider in regards to utilizing either a Roth 401(k) vs. the traditional 401(k) is the unknown of future tax brackets and tax percentages.

Rolling out your 401(k)

There are several instances that will call for a ‘roll-out’ of your 401(k). ‘Roll out’ or ‘rolling over’ just means to transfer and in this instance, you are ‘rolling out’ your 401(k) plan into a different type of account structure. In this blog we will cover rollouts due to changing companies or retiring.

If you change employers and had a 401(k) with your previous employer, you can rollout that 401(k) into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) Rollover with no tax penalties or change to tax structure. One of the best explanations of this process is to visualize a jar of money and a tiny sweater. The jar represents the money you have saved, and the sweater represents the tax structure or ‘account type’. Think of the sweater as tax protection! Once you are no longer an employee you can take your 401(k) distribution and transfer it directly into an IRA rollover to make sure you are not penalized or taxed. You basically take the jar, remove the 401(k) sweater, and put on the IRA rollover sweater quickly!

The IRS gives you 60 days or else it considers it a distribution and if you are under 59 ½ all the penalties and taxes will be due.

Once your 401(k) becomes an IRA rollover you have full control in how you manage those assets. The same process is involved when you retire. If you have any questions in regards to how to invest your IRA rollover, or to assist you in an IRA rollover you are more than welcome to give our office a call!

Final Thoughts

A 401(k) is a tax-qualified retirement savings plan offered through an employer and it should be part of your overall financial plan if your company offers one and matches employee contributions. Here are some final thoughts to keep in mind:

  • This is only a piece of your overall savings and financial plan, it shouldn’t be your only one!
  • Everything from your budget to your investment plan is highly personalized to your needs. What works for one person may not work for you yet.
  • Keep your 401(k) for retirement- do not withdrawal early!
  • If your company matches then you should definitely have a 401(k) plan. Contribute as much as you can up to your company match. Then utilize other retirement savings outside of the 401(k) if you would like to save more.
  • And finally, Spectrum is always here to help you answer any questions when it comes to your investments.

Spectrum does not hold itself out as experts in 401(k) and/or retirement matters.  This article is meant as an educational piece, so investors understand general concepts.  For specific details relating to your situation, please contact a CPA, attorney, or 401(k) specialist.

Factor Investing

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The stock market is often referred to as a single entity but is made up of many moving parts.  Looking beneath the surface at single and multi-factor indexes can help investors better understand trends that may not be as visible when looking at the major indexes.

Factor investing has been around for many years but has only become more mainstream recently as investors have been given easier access to more specialized investments.  This area has been evolving with the growing popularity of “multi-factor” investments.  First, let’s begin with defining single factor investments and then progress onto more complex multi factor methods.

Single Factor

People tend to gravitate toward organization and categorizing information in order to better understand attributes and possible outcomes.  As an example, consider this analogy between factor investing and cars. Cars with big V-8 engines tend to be fast and powerful while those with small four cylinders tend to be more fuel efficient and less performance oriented.  Such a conclusion may not always be the case but is a tendency.  Engine size is simply one “factor” when assessing an automobile.  Investors do this with stocks too.  The most widely recognized indexes are one factor, or “single factor”.  A single factor may also be characterized by a sector such as a semiconductor index or a gold stock index.

The S&P 500 Index may be diversified but it is simply the 500 largest companies.  This makes size or market capitalization the single factor.  Along the same lines, the Russell 2000 Index is a small-cap index.  In the chart below, there was a clear distinction between the performance of large caps versus small-caps during mid-2018 as small-caps led the way higher.  In 2019, large-cap stocks have been displaying overall leadership.  This illustrates how factors can help explain what has been driving returns, giving a deeper perspective than over generalizing movements in the stock market.  Investment choices have become more easily available to investors that attempt to give exposure to those factors.

Multi-Factor

Multi-factor investments are the natural progression after single factor ones.  Common multi-factors include value and growth.  At first glance, these individually may sound like single factors but to determine value or growth, many factors are combined.  For example, an index provider putting together a value or a growth index may use price-to-earnings ratios, price-to-book, or dividend yield among other criteria.  These are most often well-defined, quantifiable filters to find stocks to be included in the index.

If some of the factors already covered are combined, the stock market can be broken down to an even more granular level often called “style investing”.  Each size, small, mid, and large cap is then further separated into growth or value.  In the chart below large-cap value is being compared to small-cap growth.  During the first three quarters of 2018, value stocks were rather subdued while small-cap growth was rewarded.

Factor investing has adopted very specific characteristics beyond the historically common size or styles.  Categorizing stocks down to attributes can yield an interesting perspective.  Some examples are high and low volatility, value, momentum, and quality.  These tend to be multi-factor as it can take a combination of numerous filters to find stocks with the targeted characteristic.

A momentum factor index or investment may use the performance return of multiple time frames and may be absolute returns, or the stocks return, relative to a benchmark. Some index companies define momentum as positive earnings momentum (growth factor). Quality factor investments may include formulas that filter for companies with low debt, stable earnings growth, and measures of profitability.  The recipe for making a multi-factor index it generally transparent and can be found in documentation released by the indexing company.

Having factor-based investment choices allows investors to be positioned to possibly take advantage of various economic or technical conditions.

  • Quality and lower volatility factors may take on defensive characteristics during times of stress in the markets.
  • Momentum and higher beta factors may take advantage of bull market rallies when higher risk is being rewarded.

Active portfolio managers may use rotation methods, moving between various factor investments as conditions change.  In the chart below, the black lined Relative Strength, displays the performance of the high beta factor to the low volatility factor.  A rising black line conveys leadership by the high beta index and a falling line shows leadership period by the lower volatility index.  Technical analysis methods can be applied to the Relative Strength line in order to better define the trend of leadership and its transitions.

Uncovering the idiosyncrasies of the stock and bond market in order to invest strategically has always been an obsessive compassion of the portfolio management team at Spectrum Financial. The team uses several disciplines and factors when constructing portfolios and making investment decisions for its clients.

Navigating the Wild Wi-Fi West

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Ahh……. traveling through the countryside again.     I’m thrifty, and don’t have unlimited cell service.  I don’t want to use up all my cell phone data out here downloading movies for my kin.    That’s fine, free public wireless Wi-Fi networks are everywhere.    Everyone likes to get online for free.  But what does “free” often mean. There are a lot of security issues with public Wi-Fi.  I like to think of them as the wild-wild west.  This blog will go over the big dangerous amidst many public Wi-Fi spots and how to navigate them.

Malicious Hotspots

Howdy partner, welcome to free Wi-Fi.   So, you’re having dinner at the Texas Steakhouse.  Is the free public Wi-Fi really offered by the diner, or supplied by the guy renting an apartment next door?  Perhaps someone nearby setup a rogue network to entice people to connect and snoop on your web browsing.  It’s a good practice to ask an employee, or the front desk what the name of their Wi-Fi is before just jumping on the first network you find.  A legitimate Wi-Fi network will be less dangerous then a malicious hotspot that is anonymously owned.  You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot, so to speak…

Wi-Fi sniffing

Just because you found the restaurant’s Wi-Fi network doesn’t make it safe either.  One of the tools that hackers are using on public networks is the Pineapple Wi-Fi device.  Originally developed for penetration and security testing, they can be repurposed for Man-in-the-middle attacks.  After determining what websites you access, the device can thoroughly mimic preferred networks.  All your information is then routed through the device. You may think you’re sending information to a HTTPS website, but it’s actually a spoofed website that the device created.  What’s worse is the Pineapple can save user session and cookie information and continue masquerading as your device, long after your gone.  You may need to call the local Sheriff on this network. 

How do you protect yourself?

When you connect be sure you select the Public network option when connecting to public Wi-Fi, keep your computer up to date, and leave your firewall enabled.  These options will protect your computer or device from being breached. 


When you leave a public Wi-Fi, be sure to delete, or “forget” the network in your phone or laptop.  This will keep your device from automatically reconnecting to a similar rogue network at another location.

Cautious browsing

So, we have learned how to protect your device, but what about protecting your online browsing transactions.  Limiting your internet searches to informational websites that don’t pass sensitive credentials is the best practice.  Logging into your online bank, even though an installed App should be avoided.  What about credit card purchases?  Just say no!  Ok, I just want to send an email.  Unless your email is encrypted (most isn’t) even email shouldn’t be checked on public Wi-Fi.  Do your email servers authenticate exclusively with secure HTTPS?  If you’re not 100% sure, don’t chance it.  So, what about Netflix, you like watching movies don’t you?  It depends….   If you can set your online accounts up with different passwords, in the event you are hacked they will only get onto that one site.  Not too much at risk with a compromised Netflix account if your passwords are all unique.  Plus, I get an email when another device logs on my account, so you know you can cut them off at the pass!

VPN – Circle the Wagons

What if you really need to get some work done, cellular service is not available and public Wi-Fi is your only option?  Well that’s when you need to invest in a VPN service.  A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that allows you to create a secure connection over a less-secure network between your computer and the internet. This is beneficial because it guarantees an appropriate level of security and privacy to the connected systems. This is extremely useful when your Wi-Fi infrastructure may not support it.  It’s like sitting inside a protective circled wagon.

If your company can setup a VPN for you that would be the best option.  The next best would be a paid VPN service that’s based in the United States.  Most of these run under $10 per month.  Though there are many good ones outside of the States.    The following VPN Services have been highly rated by CNET for 2019. 

ExpressVPN
IPVanishVPN
Norton Secure VPN
Private Internet Access VPN

So, chock up and stay away from those free VPN services.  Because as we just learned from this blog, nothing in life is “free”.  Now head ’em up, and move ’em out

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