Why It's Time to Revisit Your Stock and Bond Allocations
Most clients I have met with recently show surprise when I tell them the first half of the year was a good one for investors. As one client said, "How is that possible with all the problems in the world?" She ticked off the unrest in the Middle East, ISIS, our strained relations with Russia, the instability of North Korea, not to mention the tweeting antics of President Trump and Congress's inability to fix health care or provide tax relief. To her, all these appear to be good reasons for markets to be going down, not up.
Her response isn’t unusual. Most people mistakenly assume that markets rise when there is good news and do poorly when there is turmoil and pessimism. Actually, it’s often the opposite.
The U.S. stock market has more than tripled in value during the runup that started in March 2009, when the world as we knew it seemed to be ending. The most recent quarter somehow managed to accelerate the upward trend. We have just experienced the third-best first half, in terms of U.S. market returns, of the 2000s.
Still, as good as markets were to investors, economic growth was admittedly meager in the first quarter. The U.S. GDP grew just 1.4% from the beginning of January to the end of March.
The S&P 500 index of large company stocks gained 2.41% for the quarter and is up 8.08% in the first half of 2017. International stocks are finally delivering better returns to our portfolios than US stocks. The broad-based EAFE index of companies in developed foreign economies gained 5.03% in the recent quarter and is now up 11.83% for the first half of calendar 2017.
Real estate, as measured by the Wilshire U.S. REIT index, gained 1.78% during the year’s second quarter, posting a meager 1.82% rise for the year so far.
The energy sector, which was a big winner last year, has dragged down returns in 2017. The S&P GSCI index, which measures commodities returns, lost 7.25% for the quarter and is now down 11.94% for the year, due in part to a 20.43% drop in the S&P petroleum index. This proves once again the value of diversification. Just when you start to question the value of holding a certain investment or wonder why the entire portfolio isn’t crowded into one that is outperforming, the tide turns. If only this were predictable.
In the bond markets, longer-term Treasury rates haven’t budged, despite what you might have heard about the Fed raising interest rates. The coupon rates on 10-year Treasury bonds have dropped a bit to stand at 2.30% a year, while 30-year government bond yields have dropped in the last three months from 3.01% to 2.83%.
Some good news: the unemployment rate is at a near-record low of 4.7%, and wages grew at a 2.9% rate in December, the best increase since 2009. The underemployment rate, which combines the unemployment rate with part-time workers who would like to work full-time, has fallen to 9.2%, its lowest rate since 2008.
The current bull market is aging, however. The runup has lasted far longer than anybody would have expected after the 2008 crisis. Inevitably, although it's impossible to predict exactly when, we are approaching a period when stock prices will go down. It is always good to remember that the stocks in your portfolio will eventually plunge by more than 20% (which is the definition of a bear market). This might be a good time to revisit your stock and bond allocations and be sure you are diversified into five or more asset classes.
Solving Your Biggest Client Issue May Be at Your Fingertips
Written by: Shileen Weber
When the American Funds’ Capital Group asked 400 advisors last year to name the biggest issues they face in their businesses, it wasn’t the DOL, market uncertainty or the economy that sat in the center of the idea cloud of answers.
It was client issues.
At a time when regulatory concerns and market turbulence would seem to be at all-time highs, the advisors who answered the survey were most concerned about servicing their clients as well as ways to find new ones and grow their businesses.
It’s one of the ironies of the business, that the things most people find so hard to manage – creating financial plans, managing assets and staying ahead of events – are what advisors find to be the easiest parts of the business. Marketing - the business of selling themselves – can be the area advisors find the hardest elements to master.
In this age of instant communication, it can be even more intimidating to market your practice, especially to younger clients for whom many traditional methods like newsletters, postcards and phone calls don’t work anymore. For them, email is the preferred way to get information, and, if it’s important, they are more likely to respond to texts, not phone calls.
But, it doesn’t have to be that hard. The digital age gives you access to ideas and content of all kinds you can use to touch your clients in a way that positions you as a valuable resource. The key is to keep it simple, stick to some basics and create consistent outreach that clients and potential clients are interested in and will appreciate you sharing with them.
Here is a common-sense approach you can take that will not require you to hire an expensive agency or take valuable time away from managing your clients’ assets and running your business.
Content is King
Create a content calendar for the year: Think about reasons to touch a client 13 times during the year – that can be once a month and on their birthday. (The common rule of sales is that it takes at least 7-13 touches to make a connection.) The number is limited and keeps you from inundating the clients who likely already feel inundated with content. You can take the seasonal approach – tax planning in the fall, January for account review content, college financing in the spring – and supplement it with topical events during the year. Creating a calendar will help you stick to a plan. Here’s one resource for a content calendar.
Review what content is already available to you: Basically, this means finding the resources you already have and determining what pieces will be most valuable to your clients. Start first by checking out content your broker-dealer already generates that you can personalize. Many firms have economists who write regularly about the market. That’s content you can pass along to keep clients up-to-date they would not have access to anywhere else. In addition to your broker-dealer, mutual funds, your clearing firm, and money managers are all excellent sources of informative and even analytical content.
Personalize the content you use: Add your name, the client’s name or some way to avoid making it feel like canned content that you are using just to check the outreach box. See what capabilities your email program may have to help you.
The birthday strategy: One advisor used clients’ birthdays in a new way. Instead of the card or lunch date, the advisor asked the client’s spouse for a list of friends he could invite to a birthday lunch and made it a memorable event that was also a soft approach to getting referrals.
Become a curator of good content: What your review will show you is that you don’t have to generate the content yourself. You can point clients to pieces you find insightful. You are likely already doing this every day just to keep yourself informed. The next step is to compile it and send out the very best pieces to your clients, again, with a note with your own thoughts about why you found it valuable.
Find out what is working and do more of it: Use your client interactions, in-person and online, to find out what types of content clients liked and any they didn’t. You can use tracking on your emails to see how many were opened as a measurement tool, but the personal interactions tend to provide more insight than raw data.
Be disciplined about your execution: Get help from an office assistant or schedule the time each month to do the content development and outreach. As any good strategy, if you make it a habit, it won’t seem so hard.
Most importantly, be yourself and be personal: You may want to regularly get personal by talking about your family and hobbies. The ultimate is if you can provide content that is personal to your clients, not just about their investments – they get that from their statements, apps and online portals. Think alma maters, hobbies, children and parents.
Of course, as a disclaimer, you have to make sure all content and communications are complying with regulations and the rules of your own broker-dealer.
The process of creating a plan will get you thinking about your clients in a new way. That exercise alone can re-energize your business and get you seeing marketing opportunities in places you may never have seen them before.
Shileen Weber is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at GWG Holdings. She was previously Director of Online Strategy and Client Experience at RBC Wealth Management, where they placed first in two JD Power and Associates U.S. Full Service Investor Satisfaction Study (2011 and 2013).
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