• 05/20/2020

    “When this old world starts to getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face.
    I climb way up to the top of the stairs, and all my cares just drift into space.
    On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be, and there the world below can’t bother me”.

    Up on the Roof
    Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King
    Recorded in 1962 by the Drifters

    Dear Clients,

    Financial markets are reacting daily to any news on the virus front. This week there was good news that a biopharmaceutical company has had some very positive success in initial trials for their vaccine. They will be moving on to further trials. Markets opened significantly higher. As we have all recently lived through, however, any negative news will just as likely have sellers heading for the exits. Either way, long-term investors need to take any news in stride in the short-term.

    The volatility index (VIX), which measures implied volatility in the futures markets, has declined precipitously over the past few weeks. This is reflecting a more normalized pattern of trading. Usually when this index is high, price volatility spikes, and markets come under considerable pressure. Returning to less volatility is a good sign for the average investor. Markets are now beginning to turn attention to how the country opens back up economically, and, importantly, how the virus reacts.

    It has certainly been a see-saw ride over the past couple months. In March, the S&P 500 index experienced its fastest drop in history of 30% from a record high. Markets, like a pendulum, always seem to overcorrect to the upside as well as the downside. The S&P 500 index has since sprinted back up over 35%. Currently, the index is only down around 8% year-to-date and actually up over 3% over the past twelve months. No one really knows where markets will go in the short-run. Here is a quote from a veteran market pundit that pretty much sums up where traders are at the moment. “What’s clear, though, is that anyone buttressing a positive case by claiming “everyone is bearish” and those calling for deep downside on the notion that “everyone is too bullish” are equally unreliable at the moment.” I’m heading out to my office roof deck now.

    Continue to stay well and centered,

    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 05/13/2020

    Dear Clients,

    As most of you know, I’m originally from Boston and worked there for over twenty years before moving our family to Minnesota. During that time, I enjoyed season tickets to the Boston Pops Orchestra. The highlight each year was their Holiday Concert. For a short period, I got to know Grant Llewellyn, who was a conductor at the time. He is now the conductor of the North Carolina Symphony. Anyway…..below is a video I wanted to share with you. It put a smile on my face. I thought maybe the same for you. Sit back, turn it up loud, and enjoy these fabulous musicians. It will only take eight minutes out of your day. You can click to skip the intro. advertising.

    Keep the faith,
    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 05/06/2020

    Dear Clients,

    We are on week #9 of our updates. Two months have gone by rather quickly in some ways and yet it seems hard to remember what life was like before our social distancing and stay-at-home directives.

    Much has transpired in the markets over the past few months. Let’s take a look under the hood of the equity markets to see where we’ve been and where we stand at the moment. Here is the S&P 500 index scorecard by month, including the reinvestment of dividends.

    January (.04%) February (8.23%) March (12.35%) April +12.82%

    Year-to-date, through April, the S&P 500 index is down 9.29%. Monday, March 23rd marked the low point when it was down 30% for the year. Speculators who sold around that date will have a very difficult time recapturing these lost gains. Unless we revisit the lows.

    Something to consider. In 2019, the S&P 500 index was up over 31%, quite unexpected. Most market analysts had a number closer to 8% – 10%, considering the bull market had already run for over a decade. Corporate earnings seemed more in line with these estimates. If one stepped back from the current decline and took a more macro, and frankly, more reasonable, approach, they would notice that the S&P 500 index is up over 18% over the past 16 months, since 12/31/18. That’s a pretty healthy return, even in light of the recent volatility and decline.

    Market participants need to realize a few things when it comes to trying to understand the equity markets. First, there is an old saying, markets take the stairs up and the elevator down. And that is why we react so emotionally when times get tough. We get used to a steady climb only to have the rug get pulled out from under us. And usually very quickly. To make matters worse, humans react twice as emotional to a loss than a gain.

    Secondly, there usually is a disconnect between the equity markets and the underlying economy. Markets tend to look 9-12 months into the future and discount projected values to the present. That is why we can experience markets running to the upside when current headlines seem rather negative. There is an anticipation by investors that times will get better.

    The eternal optimist in me asks that you not stress about the markets. Corrections of between 10% – 20% happen in “normal” times. In terms of the markets, we’ll get through this. It will be a bit choppy but as Warren Buffett just said at his annual shareholder meeting………..

    Never bet against America.

    Stay safe.

    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 04/29/2020

    Dear Clients,

    Something that has always fascinated me over the many years, working with families and their financial assets, is how near-term events, both positive and negative, can affect our long-term views. Many academic studies have shown that a person’s ability to envision the future is strongly influenced by their past. Simply stated, we seem to rely on our current and past experiences as a predictor of what the future may look like. And we make decisions, big and small, based on that perception.

    This behavior emerges both in good and bad financial markets. People tend to send more money into their accounts, to be invested, when the financial markets are rocking to the upside (buying high) and, conversely, ask to have positions unwound when markets correct (sell lower). It’s human nature. But that doesn’t make it an advisable, pragmatic, long-term investing strategy. By making emotionally driven decisions, an investor will miss out on reinvestment of dividends at lower prices (compounding is a very significant component to future growth of capital), as well as not knowing exactly when to step back up the plate. They remain in the on-deck circle far too long and, invariably, miss out once again.

    Although we are in a very uncertain period in our lives, and fear certainly can rule the day, what we do know is that we will get through this. We don’t know when, or for how long, we will remain in suspended animation. Nevertheless, we should make prudent, thoughtful decisions, financial and otherwise, based on a positive outcome. Assuredly, short-termism, uncertainty, and resultant fears will rear their ugly head to convince us otherwise. Just don’t let them win. Always bet on optimism.

    Stay safe and we’re here to help in any way.

    Jim


  • 04/22/2020

    Dear Clients,

    “When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” – Dr. Seuss

    One of the most frequently asked questions we get during trying times is…… “how much should I have in cash and equivalent securities to ride out a difficult market so I don’t have to sell equities?”

    Although the answer depends on a number of variables, let’s keep it simple and break it down into two groups; people that are still working and have at least a couple years before they retire and those that are in retirement drawing down their portfolios.

    If you are still working, a general rule of thumb is to keep 9-12 months of expenses in readily available money like cash, CD’s, treasuries, maybe even some high-quality shorter-term bonds. Let’s say monthly expenses are $8k. An individual then should have up to around $96k set aside. For those in retirement, the calculation should be a bit more conservative since they are drawing down their portfolios and not adding to them. A good benchmark is 18-24 months of liquid assets. Using this same example, then around $144k – $192k in safe, available cash and fixed income vehicles should be considered. While riding out a storm it is not advisable to sell assets, like stocks, where prices have declined dramatically.

    One of the hardest things to get our heads around while in the midst of a market correction is to envision a better day. Fear, our reaction to fight or flight due to uncertainty, plays such a large part. Needless to say, we should side with the great investor, Dr. Seuss. To take the high road and to have our difficult times enlighten and strengthen and not destroy or define us.

    Let us know if you need anything.

    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 04/15/2020

    Dear Clients,

    Over the past month or so I’ve hesitated to write about the financial markets, generally, due to the nature of the health crisis we face. It’s a balance to focus our energies and thoughts with the communities, families, and individuals most affected by this virus while at the same time add some narrative as to where the markets are currently priced and may be heading. Even though, at best, that’s a tough call when markets are considered “normal.”

    Caution it seems is at every turn. The good news is that our financial markets, though stressed to limits not seen since ‘08, have worked in a somewhat orderly fashion. The equity markets have performed fairly well (from a trading/liquidity perspective) in light of the tremendous volatility experienced. The fixed income markets, on the other hand, have had their moments over the past few weeks as credit seized up in certain riskier areas. The Federal Reserve Bank stepped in quickly, and backstopped with words and actions, these anomalies. Although still volatile, the markets are functioning much better.

    The equity market, as benchmarked by the S&P 500 index, is down around 18% year-to-date. Where we go from here is really anyone’s guess. It is important to remember, and emphasize, that this is a health crisis first and foremost. We can argue that stocks were overvalued prior. Nevertheless, the financial shock experienced was principally due to a virus and the extreme uncertainty it presents. Typically, markets off major corrections like these rebound quickly to retrench about 50% of its lost value. And that is what we are seeing now. Equities were off around 38% from the high and now are trading around half that loss. The remaining loss is where the hard work begins and it can take quite a while to regain. In this particular case, the markets will react to positive news on any treatment and/or, especially, a vaccine. In my opinion that will be the only true, sustainable catalyst that moves the markets higher in the near-term.
    While we wait and make good use of the time we have, it is important that we take care of our mental health as much as our financial health. The markets, outside of our allocation decisions, are out of anyone’s control. And they will come back. It’s our mental health that we can control. Maybe spend more time on repairing and/or strengthening relationships, listening a bit more closely to others with differing opinions, and planning, in some way, to help those around us that will certainly need it in the months ahead. If we do these simple things then all the hardship may have been worth it.

    Keep the faith,

    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 04/08/2020

    Dear Clients,

    Our office hours through the month of April are:

    Monday and Wednesday – 8:30 am – 3:00 pm

    Tuesday and Thursday – office closed. Working remotely.

    Friday – 8:30 am – Noon

    We will reevaluate again at the beginning of May. Also, please note that our office (and the Stock Markets) will be completely closed this Friday, April 10.

    As many of you are aware, we modeled our business after two titans in the industry; John Bogle, Vanguard Group founder and Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, CEO and founder. Here is a link to a recent article that articulates how we view investing at this time as well.

    https://www.marketwatch.com/amp/story/guid/6798179E-69EF-11EA-AFE6-3B7F98D26610

    I thought that I would highlight two hypothetical conversations to further illustrate how fear and long-term investing do not partner very well.

    1) A fifty-five year-old fellow is anticipating retiring at age sixty-two, seven years from now. His retirement portfolio is balanced and is down around 14% this year. He is considering stopping his 401(k) contributions into equities and he’s also thinking he’d like to lower his overall equity exposure from 65% to 35%. He’s concerned about having enough money for retirement. I tell him that now would not be the time to stop monthly 401(k) contributions into equities but actually a more advantageous time to buy since prices are down substantially from just a few months back. Secondly, and I hear this quite often, he says, “But I need to lower my equity exposure since I’ll be retiring in seven years.” I remind him that retirement is only a date. Simply that, a point in time. I then remind him that he needs to plan not just for the date he officially retires at but for all the years while in retirement. His investment time horizon is really around thirty years, not seven. And, he needs the money to grow to support his life style. He also only plans to withdraw 3% of his portfolio at sixty-two. I tell him to stay the course as hard as the short-term is and not make any big decisions during a market correction.

    2) The second conversation is with a young lady. She mentions right away how she has lost $75k this year due to the stock market. She also recently just bought a house for $500k. I ask her what the value of her home is now, if she could sell it. She says probably at least 10% lower or $450k. I then ask her if she feels that she has lost that value. Her response, “of course not because I’ll only lose it if I sell.” Investors react differently with their stock ownership versus other assets. The simple reason is that we can now trade our accounts while sitting at home, on our couches, and in our pajamas. Within a few minutes we can sell everything in sight and, even better, at no trading costs anymore. But at such opportunity cost, since study after study have shown the average retail investor will lose trying to time the market. It’s been said, and bears repeating, that it’s not timing the market, it is time in the market.

    Continue to stay-at-home, social distance, and think long-term. We will get through this together. And the sun will shine ever brighter.

    Jim


  • 04/02/2020

    Dear Client,

    Our company has been operating very well given the circumstances. We each come into the office at various times and are working from home while responding to your needs like we always have.

    On that note, it is important that I mention what some of you may be thinking. Stillwater Investment Management is open for business and financially not under the pressure that a lot of other small businesses face today. We have no debt, bill our clients in arrears so everyday accruing revenue, low fixed costs, and have one of the most solid balance sheets in our industry. As the CEO, I have taken great pride over the years building an incredible practice, the right way, with some of the best people our industry has to offer. The markets would have to go down substantially from here, and stay down for many, many years, before we would have any issues. With all the concerns we have on our plates at the moment, this is not one of them.

    Something to ponder. Here is a statement from Warren Buffett a few years back from an annual Berkshire meeting:

    “Imagine yourself back on March 11, 1942. I’d like you to imagine that at that time you had invested $10,000 to hold a piece of American business and never looked at another stock quote. You’d have $51 million (now) and you wouldn’t have had to do anything. All you had to do was figure that America was going to do well over time, that we would overcome the current difficulties. It’s just remarkable to me that we have operated in this country with the greatest tailwind at our back.”

    We plan to mail your quarterly reports next week and will let you know if anything changes.

    Stay well.
    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 03/26/2020

    Dear Client,

    One positive that comes out of our social distancing and stay-at-home is that we get a chance to think a bit more.

    I was reminded recently of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where the father, Polonius, offers advice to his young son, Laertes, who is embarking on a journey from home for the first time. Among the many sage pieces of advice, Polonius conveys these that seem relevant today while we reevaluate our daily routines and the future.

    Listen to many people. Hear everyone’s opinion. Take the time to listen to everyone’s opinion, their hopes and dreams, their fears. We all have a story to tell. Take the time to hurt for the homeless when it rains outside for that will always be a gentle reminder of how fortunate you are. Always be kind.

    Don’t blurt out what you’re thinking. Don’t be quick to pick a fight, but once you’re in one hold your own. Have the courage of your own convictions. Stay with what you believe even if in the short-term it’s difficult. Never let anyone define you. You define you.

    Above all, be true to yourself. What is important to you? How can you use your considerable and unique skills to make a positive impact in the world?

    And one last very important point my friend Polonius forgot to mention. Always take the time to give back, to your family, your friends, your community, to those who have influenced you. And when you do never ask for anything in return. Do it because it’s right. The positive energy you expend will come back to you and those you love exponentially. It’s an unspoken law of the universe.

    And that’s where I’d like to end. Not about the price action of these unsettling financial markets or what I think about investing in technology stocks versus utilities, but rather about taking the time to give back. Our system of capitalism works like a three-legged stool: governments doing their part, corporations doing their part, and, most importantly, individuals doing their part.

    There will be individuals, families, and small businesses in our local communities that will need our help over the coming months due to no fault of their own. Think about how you can help. Whether by your considerable resources or your time.

    Remember that to have lived a full life, you must give something to someone who will never be able to repay you.

    Stay well.

    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 03/19/2020

    Dear Clients,

    We want to try to reach out to you every week with any news or updates we feel are important to pass along.

    Financial markets are obviously reacting to news everyday about the virus and its spread. This past week we experienced more panic selling, which can be interpreted in two ways. Either we are nearing a capitulation, and possibly somewhere around a bottom, or we are not quite there yet. Continue to expect very sharp swings, both to the upside and downside, as we move forward. Trying to time this market is not only difficult but nearly impossible. One day on the sidelines could end up costing an investor 10%, which only adds to more anxiety. To those of you who need funds over the next few months to year-end, we have tried to set aside cash and fixed income to accommodate these anticipated withdrawals. For those of you who don’t need to withdraw any money in the near future, as difficult as it is, try to remain focused on the longer-term. We have every reason to believe markets will begin to function in a more normal pattern.

    As to our office, we plan to be in every day until further notice. As part of our company disaster recovery plan, we are prepared to work remotely and have contingencies in place. We will let you know if/when that happens. You can call our office and leave a message. One of us will promptly call you back. We also will continue to have direct access to our custodians, Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade.

    Let us know if you need anything at this time. Remain calm and vigilant.

    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer


  • 03/12/20

    To Our Valued Clients,

    Given the current unprecedented and sharp market swings due to the coronavirus, as well as the precipitous drop in oil prices, we wanted to reach out to you.

    It is possible that, over the near-term, news surrounding the virus will get worse before it starts to get better. Expect financial markets to react accordingly with volatility and large daily price changes. Long-term investors, while certainly concerned, should not panic. If history can be a guide, once we see our way through this crisis, markets have a way of price correcting and snapping back. And sometimes very quickly.

    Our firm is here and prepared to help you through this difficult time. For those of you taking distributions, this is an important example of why we diversify and use fixed income as part of your portfolios. As we get through the next few months, these will be the source of funds so equities do not need to be sold until markets find equilibrium.

    For the past thirty-eight years, I have personally worked helping individuals and their families navigate some pretty difficult times. And every time, together, we came out on the other side just fine. I intend to keep that streak going.

    Let us know if you need anything. And take this time to reflect on what is truly important.

    All the best,
    Jim

    James K. Tonrey, Jr.
    Partner/Chief Executive Officer