Columbus Wealth Management 2023 Q3 Newsletter
Thank you for reading our newsletter! For those of you joining for the first time, we post these newsletters at the start of each quarter to keep you updated on our firm, your portfolios, and other relevant issues. We will also include a current educational topic for our clients who want to understand what we are doing for them in more detail. For those of you who are not working with us, please reach out if you feel you could benefit from these strategies. We hope you enjoy, and as always, please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or feedback!
We’ve made major updates to the home page of our website! Check it out at www.cbuswm.com and we’d love to hear your feedback. More updates to the rest of the website are in the works. We are very appreciative of all of you who share your CWM experience with your friends and family so we can continue to grow. Please send our website along to those who are interested in learning more and/or want to book an introductory meeting!
Market Update & Investment Commentary
Data as of 09/30/2023 (unless stated otherwise)
The US Economy (and financial markets) have continued to show resilience through the third quarter with the S&P 500 posting a year-to-date return of 13.1%. The fixed income markets (as measured by the Bloomberg US Aggregate) are off by 1.2%.
On the equity side, we are seeing a significant dispersion between value stocks (up 1.8%) and growth stocks (up 25%) so far this year. Further, it’s estimated that the top 10 stocks (by weight) have contributed about 97% of the year-to-date return to the S&P 500 and now make up about 1/3 of the index. All this to say, we think this continues to make a strong case for diversification and active management in our portfolios so we can participate in market gains, but don’t become overconcentrated in those few stocks that are outpacing the rest of the market as we know that can expose our clients to excessive risk.
For fixed income, we know that rising rates can weigh on total returns, as the price of a bond will fall when rates increase since investors will expect to pay less for a bond with a fixed interest rate lower than that of newly issued bonds. We also know that the managers of our fixed income positions will use this opportunity to acquire new bonds at higher rates than what has been available in recent decades, which will continue to benefit our portfolios for years to come. Further, by maintaining duration in our portfolios in line with the benchmark, we can expect positive price returns when we do eventually see a drop in interest rates. We continue to focus on quality, with the vast majority of our fixed income portfolio concentrated in Treasuries, highly rated corporates, and Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities.
As for the economy, we’ve seen service-based industries show continued growth with manufacturing lagging behind. Overall, the strength of the labor market (and strong consumer spending as a result) has helped to keep the economy on track, along with resilient corporations who have managed to control costs and keep earnings at a healthy level. We saw a 2.4% year-over-year GDP growth in Q2 which is slightly above the trend growth of 2.0%. As we’ve seen in the decade leading up to the pandemic, a slow-growing economy with near maximum employment and low interest rates can be very good for equity markets. What remains to be seen is when the Federal Reserve will begin cutting rates, but right now the message is “higher for longer” since we are still a ways off from the Fed’s 2% inflation target (August Headline CPI was 3.7%) and the economy is showing continued resilience. Economists predict that inflation will continue to come down, perhaps close to the Fed’s target by this time next year. Much of the remaining “sticky” inflation comes from Transportation Services (ex-airfares), as the skyrocketing price of automobiles also increased the price of insurance, leasing, and repair. Now that we are seeing automobile inflation moderate, the inflation on these associated costs should moderate as well. We also recognize the economy is a bit fragile, and a spike in unemployment (and reduced consumer spending) could spark a recession and cause the Fed to pivot and begin cutting rates sooner than planned. For now, that seems to still be off in the distance as we continue to see payroll additions with each jobs report.
The prospect of a “soft landing” by the fed (combating high inflation by raising interest rates without triggering a recession) seem increasingly likely, for now. As such, we remain cautiously optimistic. We know there will eventually be a recession because markets and economies run in cycles, but we never know exactly when the recessions will start or stop. That’s why we always recommend remaining invested per the guidelines on your Investment Policy Statement, but also stress the importance of maintaining adequate cash reserves and other stable assets (bonds) to prevent unplanned liquidations of assets with greater volatility (stocks). We leave you with a new chart from J.P. Morgan’s “Guide to the Markets” which shows peak rates on Certificates of Deposit (CDs) during previous rate hiking cycles and subsequent 12-month total returns on stocks and bonds. In each case, forward returns on stocks and bonds exceed the rate on CDs, which helps us further support our recommendation to stay invested and not reduce long-term portfolio holdings in favor of cash/CDs when things get a bit tumultuous. As always, we remain available to you to discuss any concerns.
At Columbus Wealth Management, we work hard to keep your accounts and your personal information safe. We’ve developed a strong cybersecurity program and have invested heavily in technology with proven results. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve chosen to partner with Charles Schwab as our custodian because we believe they are the best in the business, with top-notch security being one of the many things they bring to the table for our clients. However, our cybersecurity program is even stronger when our clients are also well prepared during a time when attacks are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated. This quarter, we’ve decided to share a few tips with you that will hopefully help strengthen your “cybersecurity program” at home!
Keep us updated on changes to your situation. Things like address changes, email/phone number changes, and especially bank account changes are important for us to know about as soon as possible.
Expect us to call you to verify requested outgoing transfers from your Schwab accounts.
Use strong passwords (16+ characters, special characters, a combination of numbers and letters) that don’t contain easy-to-guess information like your name or address. Consider using a password manager to randomly generate passwords and keep them safe. Always log out of websites when you are done.
Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all your online accounts when possible, which dramatically reduces unauthorized access. This will require a code to be sent to you via text/email which must be used alongside your password to access accounts online. Never share the codes.
Be cautious of email. Hover over the sender’s address to make sure it isn’t spoofed. Don’t provide sensitive information over email or click on any links that appear questionable. When in doubt, visit the company’s official website directly or call the number listed on your statements.
Be careful when using public Wi-Fi. A Mobile Hotspot is a better choice, especially in busy locations like airports or coffee shops. Public Wi-Fi can be compromised and is a risk especially to older devices that haven’t received the latest updates.
Keep your devices (mobile phones, laptops, tablets, smart watches) updated and secure. Turn on automatic updates, use strong passwords and encryption when available. Never leave them in your car or other unsecured locations.
Use credit cards instead of debit cards or checks when possible. Credit cards can easily be cancelled when lost/stolen and when unauthorized use occurs. The issuing bank covers the charges when unauthorized use occurs, and you won’t be left waiting to recover funds that have already been withdrawn from your bank accounts.
Use identity monitoring services and consider freezing your credit to reduce the risk of new credit being opened in your name without your consent.
Lastly, use us as a resource! Matthew and Nick both led cybersecurity programs at two of the largest firms in town and work hard to stay updated on the latest issues. For those of you looking for more resources, we also recommend you visit Schwab’s Security Center here: https://www.schwab.com/schwabsafe