Words to Live By – Change

A major part of my job is helping people reach their financial goals in life. Over the course of my career, I’ve found that while things like planning, saving and investing are crucial, they’re not as important as qualities like perseverance, hard work, gratitude, and adaptability.

Sometimes, whenever the road to our goals seems long or daunting, it’s helpful to look for inspiration. So, lately, I’ve started sharing a few quotes that have inspired me in my own personal journey. I call them Words to Live By, and I hope they’ll help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Last month, we looked at the quality of perseverance. This month let’s look at an underrated quality: Adaptability and the willingness to change.

Words to Live By #2
“There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus

Have you ever worked toward a goal only to find the process isn’t quite what you thought it would be? It’s a tale as old as time. It happens when someone starts hitting the gym after years of staying away. When someone returns to school to finish their degree. When someone starts saving for that special trip they’ve always dreamed of. When someone wants to finally write that novel kicking about in the back of their head. And when it happens, people’s responses are often the same:
“It’s harder than I thought.”
“I just don’t have time.”
“I don’t want to do it that way.”
“This isn’t how I thought it would be.”
I’ve certainly thought these things on many occasions. When I do, I remind myself of this quote by Maya Angelou:
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

The fact is, achievement doesn’t take place in a vacuum. It happens in the real world, and the world changes constantly. New obstacles and challenges will constantly present themselves. New demands on your time will constantly arise. The things that used to work for you before don’t work anymore. The skills you’ve long had, or the knowledge you’ve long possessed, may not be enough.
That’s why adaptability and a willingness to change are crucial if you want to reach your goals. To put it simply, the people most able and willing to change are the people most likely to be successful.

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
– Jimmy Dean

When working toward your goals, accept and welcome the fact you may have to change:
• Your habits.
• Your expectations.
• Your schedule.
• Your mindset.
• Your work ethic.
• Your comfort zones.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
– Stephen Hawking

Change may be difficult. Sometimes, it can even be downright unpleasant. But if the goals you’ve set for yourself are truly what you want the most, then it’s absolutely worth it.

“You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.”
– Jim Rohm

As time passes, the world will change. As the world changes, our lives will change. And as our lives change, so too will the road we must take to reach our goals. When that happens, embrace it. Don’t get stuck in the past. Or, as the great Will Rogers once said:

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”
Good luck!

How rising interest rates are affecting the markets

It’s October, which means autumn is upon us. But this year, it’s not just the leaves that are falling. The markets have been falling, too. On Wednesday, October 10, the Dow slid more than 800 points. The S&P 500 fell for the fifth straight day. And the tech-heavy NASDAQ was hit hardest of all, dropping more than 4%.1 Both the Dow and the S&P continued sliding on Thursday, too.2

It sounds dramatic, but it’s not necessarily cause for alarm. Still, whenever market volatility rears its head, it’s useful to understand why. That’s because the more we understand the why, the less cause we have to fear it.

Before I delve into why, however, let me ask you a question. Do you remember the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur? In the story, Theseus descends into a bewildering labyrinth to fight the half-man, half-bull Minotaur. But to find his way back, Theseus first ties one end of a ball of string to the entrance. Then, after slaying the beast, he follows the unwound string all the way back to the surface.

The reason I mention this story is because sometimes, navigating the markets can feel like wandering through an impenetrable labyrinth. There are so many headlines and narratives, each with their own twists and turns. The good news is that it’s possible to pick up a thread and follow it all the way back to its source, just like Theseus.

A ten-year journey
In this case, follow the thread back to the end of 2008. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Barack Obama had just been elected president. The academic paper that would lead to the creation of bitcoin had just been published. And people were just beginning to realize how bad the Great Recession would become.
To combat this, the Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate to almost zero.3 This is the interest rate that banks pay each other for overnight loans. Their reasoning was simple. By reducing the federal funds rate, banks could afford to lower their own interest rates to customers. Lower interest rates, of course, make it cheaper for businesses and individuals to borrow money, which spurs more investing and spending. This, in turn, could help revive America’s slumping economy. And with millions of jobs lost during the Great Recession, the economy needed all the help it could get.

Rates remained in the basement for years afterwards as the economy embarked on a long, slow healing process. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that the Fed finally raised rates at all.4

Now follow the string forward to 2018
The Fed has started lifting interest rates at a slightly faster pace in 2018. Recently, on September 26, the central bank announced they would raise the federal funds rate to a new range of 2.0 to 2.25%.5 Officials also suggested they might boost rates once more before the end of the year. It’s the third increase in 2018, and the eighth overall since 2015.

Why are interest rates going up? Because the economy is in a much stronger place!
Unfortunately, with that strength comes the risk of inflation. Inflation is the rate at which prices rise and purchasing power falls. For example, if the rate of inflation is 3%, then a candy bar that costs a dollar one year will cost $1.03 the next. It’s essentially the measure of how valuable your money is. And if inflation goes too high, it can make even basic living costs very expensive.

Historically, inflation goes up when interest rates are low. The Federal Reserve takes the risk of inflation very seriously. In fact, stabilizing inflation is one of the reasons the Fed was created in the first place. So, to prevent the economy from “overheating”, the Fed has slowly raised interest rates. This makes borrowing costlier and reduces spending, forcing the economy – and inflation – to grow at a slower rate.

Whew! Got all that? If so, congratulations! You’ve followed the string all the way back to the surface. We’ve finally reached the present day.

How higher interest rates affects the markets
There’s really no direct link between interest rates and the markets. The effect is more of the “ripple” variety. Despite this, higher interest rates tend to spook investors.
Remember, when the federal funds rate goes up, it costs more for banks to loan each other money. In response, banks raise their own interest rates. This makes borrowing more expensive for businesses and individuals, prompting them to cut back on spending. Less spending for businesses means less investment, less expansion – and less growth. And when investors think a company isn’t growing, they tend not to invest in that company. On the individual side, higher rates can also mean less disposable income for people to spend or invest.

There are other reasons why the markets are struggling. Falling bond prices (which are directly correlated with rising interest rates). Trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Like I said, the markets can be positively labyrinthine. But interest rates are one of the main drivers behind this sudden surge in volatility.
And now you know why.

So where do we go from here?
As important as interest rates are, they’re still just one thread. There are plenty of others that could cause the markets to rise or fall. For instance, a fresh bit of good economic news could transform this week’s fears into last week’s memories. And with the economy as strong as it is, would that really be a surprise?

This is why we don’t overreact whenever the markets lurch one way or the other. You see, when it comes to working toward your goals, we do everything possible not to fall into a labyrinth of twists, turns, and changes in direction. Instead, it’s better to keep things simple. To stay above ground. To follow our own path, not headlines or individual economic indicators.

In the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, Theseus was advised to “go forwards, always down, and never left or right” to reach his goal. The road to your goals isn’t quite so cut-and-dry. But the point is, Theseus had a plan. A strategy. And with the help of ball of string, he never deviated from it.

We also have a strategy: To diversify across a range of asset classes, choose fundamentally sound investments, and invest for the long term, not the short. And while you don’t have a ball of string, you have something even better: A team of experienced professionals dedicated to holding your hand while you work toward your goals.

It’s October. It’s a time for falling leaves, trick or treating, and an endless array of pumpkin flavored beverages. It’s not a time for stressing about the markets. So enjoy the season, remembering that here at Research Financial Strategies, we’ll keep watching Washington, Wall Street, and your portfolio. Every day, every week, every month, and every year. As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns. We’re always happy to talk to you! In the meantime, have a great month!

P.S. If you have any friends or family who are concerned about the markets, or don’t have a financial advisor to help them, please feel free to share this letter. Thanks!

1 “Dow falls 832 points in third-worst day by points ever,” CNN Business, October 10, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/10/investing/stock-market-today-techs-falling/index.html
2 “U.S. Stocks Seek Stability on Heels of Wednesday Rout,” The Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2018. https://www.wsj.com/articles/markets-tumble-across-asia-led-by-tech-as-growth-worries-dominate1539225820?mod=article_inline?mod=hp_lead_pos1
3 “Fed Cuts Key Rate to a Record Low,” The New York Times, December 16, 2008. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/business/economy/17fed.html
4 “Federal Reserve raises interest rates for second time in a decade,” The Washington Post, December 14, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/12/14/federal-reserve-expected-to-announce-higher-interest-ratestoday/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.af1a4b1da520
5 “Fed Raises Interest Rates, Signals One More Increase This Year,” The Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2018. https://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-raises-interest-rates-signals-one-more-increase-this-year-1537984955

Words to Live By #1 – Perseverance

A major part of my job – perhaps the most important part – is helping people reach their financial goals in life. Over the course of my career, I’ve discovered that while things like planning, saving, and investing are crucial, it’s equally important to look beyond the numbers. Achievement is about more than just spreadsheets or quarterly statements. It’s about perseverance. Hard work. Willingness to change. Gratitude. Teamwork.
Sometimes, whenever the road to our goals seems long or daunting, it’s good to follow the example of those who came before. So, over the next few months, I would like to share a few quotes that have inspired me in my own personal journey. I call it Words to Live By, and I hope they’ll move you as much as they’ve moved me.

Let’s start with:


What is perseverance?
“Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth.” – Julie Andrews “Perseverance is the secret of all triumphs.” – Victor Hugo

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a client work so hard at something, only to come up short. A degree. A promotion. A new job. An award. Retirement. You name it, I’ve seen it. What I can tell you is that the clients who then pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again – and who do it every time – are the same ones enjoying their achievements right now. What good does perseverance do?

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” – John Quincy Adams

In our lives, we will face almost constant obstacles. Financial hardship, poor health, unfortunate circumstances, even other people will stand in the way of who we want to be, where we want to go, and what we want to do.

A lot of people are going to try to do the same thing you want to do. You just have to decide if you’re one of the people who quits.” – Shea Serrano

The road to our goals will often seem treacherous. The obstacles will seem insurmountable, and the going unbearably slow. But if the destination is what we truly want, it will be worth the mileage. That’s why my favorite quite about perseverance comes from none other than Abraham Lincoln, who said:  “I may walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

As you progress towards your goals in life, always remember that the ability to keep walking, no matter how slowly, is what will get you there. It matters more than talent. It matters more than wealth. Those things can certainly make the road easier. But perseverance is what makes the distance shorter.

Don’t Be Deceived By Mutual Funds

Best Mutual Funds? Since the bull market run started 9 years ago, how many mutual funds would you guess outperformed the stock market?

If you are thinking 500, 200 or even 20, you are very wrong.  In fact, not one single mutual fund has beaten the market since 2009.  After pondering that fact, does that make you want to change what you invest in?   Remember all those expensive, slickly produced TV and magazine ads boasting market beating ratings and top quartiles?  You know, the ones that show an incredibly good looking, but aging couple walking hand in hand into the sunset on a deserted beach?  They all are just so much bunk. The funds mentioned rarely quote performance beyond one or two short years.

Not too long ago, the New York Times studied the performance of 2,862 actively managed domestic stock mutual funds since 2009. It carried out a simple quantitative analysis, looking at how many managers stayed in the top performance quartile every year.

ZERO was their final conclusion.   It gets worse…. It is very rare for a mutual fund manager to stay in the top quartile for more than one year. All too often, last year’s hero is this year’s goat, usually because they made some extreme one-sided bet that turned out to be a flash in the pan.  The harsh lesson here is that investing with your foot on the gas pedal going 100 miles per hour and your eyes on the rearview mirror is certain to get you into a fatal crash.


“It is possible that any one of these mutual funds will beat the market over the long term,” … “Some of them will do that. But the problem is that we don’t know which of them will do that in advance.” And that, in a nutshell, is the kernel of the argument for buying index funds.

In their investigation, The NY Times did come across two mutual funds which did beat the S&P500 for five years.  These small cap energy funds more than average amounts of risk to achieve these numbers and have since lost most of their money.
The underlying causes for the pitiful underperformance are many and they highlight the reasons ETFs are coming on strong.  Mutual fund management fees are high and more buried costs are hidden in the fine print of the prospectus. The managemnt fees that are quoted are just the tip of the iceberg.

Any proven,  real talent soon flees the mutual fund industry, with all the real brains leaving to start their own hedge funds and investment advisory services. The inside joke among hedge fund managers is that employment at a mutual fund is proof positive that you are a lousy manager.

Let’s revisit those high dollar mutual fund TV ads. They cost tons of money to make.  All the production costs of the commercials are rolled up into those hidden fees you never really see unless you hunt through the prospectus.  These commercials and print ads are made at the expense of the fund investors thus yielding you a lower return on investment on your money. And those sexy performance numbers? They benefit from a huge survivor bias. If a mutual funds performance is substandard, it is at risk of being closed. As there is a impending desire to protect the other funds in the family. Trying to find mutual funds with standout records spanning 2 decades is near impossible. Like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

But since we are on a roll, its hard to imagine that the mutual fund industry as a a whole woefully underperforms the basic S&P500 averages. How could this be? Random picks from the stock pages of your local paper would probably create a better investment return than the majority of the mutual fund industry.

Two years ago, when he signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, President Barack Obama bragged that he’d dealt a crushing blow to the extravagant financial corruption that had caused the global economic crash in 2008. “These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” the president told an adoring crowd in downtown D.C. on July 21st, 2010. “In history.”

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This was supposed to be the big one. At 2,300 pages, the new law ostensibly rewrote the rules for Wall Street. It was going to put an end to predatory lending in the mortgage markets, crack down on hidden fees and penalties in credit contracts, and create a powerful new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to safeguard ordinary consumers. Big banks would be banned from gambling with taxpayer money, and a new set of rules would limit speculators from making the kind of crazy-ass bets that cause wild spikes in the price of food and energy. There would be no more AIGs, and the world would never again face a financial apocalypse when a bank like Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

Two years later, Dodd-Frank is groaning on its deathbed. From the moment it was signed into law, lobbyists and lawyers have fought regulators over every line in the rulemaking process. Congressmen and presidents may be able to get a law passed once in a while – but they can no longer make sure it stays passed.

With millions of dollars being spent on high paid Washington lobbyists, the mutual fund industry continues to complain about overregulation. Plus, don’t forget, that the costs of the lobbyists also come out of your fund performance as well.

This is why the overwhelming bulk of investors are better off investing in the lower cost ETFs that have become so popular with investors, diversifying holdings among a small number of major asset classes, and then rebalancing as needed to keep the winners in play.

Research Financial Strategies does not charge you with any of our overhead. I am not jacking up what you pay me based on what I spend. I don’t even sell your email address to another online marketer. Being an independent operation of a dozen or so people, I’ll tell you what I don’t have. I lack an investment banking department telling me I have to recommend a stock so we can get the management of their next stock and we don’t have any in-house mutual funds from which we profit more and are required to push.
You just need to pay me a low, flat fee. I don’t need any more.


For over 25 years, Research Financial Strategies has been serving families and businesses as their investment advisor. Let us put our money management expertise to work for you. Set up a consultation by either filing out our contact form or by calling us at 301-294-7500. We are here for you!