Letters to Our Clients
“Economic laws cannot be depended upon if we disregard psychology, etc.”
Alma Volker scribbled the note, quoted above, in the margin of a 1911 economics textbook, Outlines of Economics, written by Vassar College Professor Herbert Elmer Mills. Later her son, Paul Volker, who has served six presidents over his long career in public service, shared his regret of never discussing economics with his Mom in his recent book Keeping At It.
Old Big Red sprung a leak a while back. Many of you are familiar with Big Red, but there are a few of you who might need an introduction. Big Red is my 18-year-old Chevy Silverado 2500 HD. I realize this may not be the type of vehicle driven by the majority of bankers, money managers, financial advisors, or brokers, but for me he is comfortable, and for the most part very reliable. Besides, I grew up in farm country and quickly learned the value of a pickup.
In today’s world, where politics take up the majority of news cycles and there is an ongoing war of words between the two major political parties, I decided for this letter to replace our often used phrase “conservative investor” with “cautious investor.” I believe this is a good description for the majority of affluent investors, those who have accumulated a larger sum of money through savings and investments over the years. For this majority, the preservation of wealth is a priority. However, these investors are also looking to increase their wealth. The primary method for meeting this dual desire is asset allocation.
The boring truth of financial analysis and portfolio management is that the majority of our days are spent visiting with clients, reading, reading, reading, and when required, making decisions. Years ago it would have included quite a bit of time on a calculator, but thanks to the low cost of computers and software, most of the number crunching can now be completed with the push of button.
The first time we meet with an individual or couple to begin discussing their investment needs, more often than not they will say something along the lines of, “we should understand this stuff better, but we don't." People across the board, regardless of age, amount of savings, or professional expertise, are embarrassed that they aren’t also investment experts. This is despite the fact that unless you've gone to college for it, you likely received no teaching on the subject in school. If you are lucky enough to be employed by a company that offers retirement benefits, what should be an educational workshop or handout introducing you to their plan instead ends up being a confusing, and often times worrisome, reminder that you weren’t taught any of this stuff in school.
What we can learn about the current state of our economy by traveling and visiting with others outside of our home turf is amazing. For many of us in the investment business, our view of the economy is easily warped by statistical reports and interpretations prepared by professional economists. Even when we do leave our home turf, we often end up somewhere visiting with other individuals who see society through our same set of rose colored glasses. Yet we know the 325 million citizens of the US, from the rich to the poor and all those in-between, are the ones who produce the wealth of this nation.
Getting out and listening to others’ life stories can teach us more about our economy than graphs, statistics and opinions. It can also add to our faith that there is a positive future for all. So I want to share with you the stories of a paint salesman, a widow on disability, a valet, and a veteran.
Kendall J. Anderson, CFA