Ep68: The Fiscal Stimulus and The Output Gap – A Messy Art Form

About This Episode

Patti meets with her Chief Planning Officer, Eric Fuhrman, to discuss the recent fiscal stimulus packages and the effect they have on the nation’s output gap. To understand the relationship between the two, they first define the concepts and then give historical perspective. Many Americans are asking the question, “Why does the government spend huge sums of money during economic crises?” Patti and Eric answer this question and delve into the nuances of how the government determines exactly how much to spend. They also explain why this practice has been so effective for our economy – contrary to some public reaction that may be heightened when discussing figures of this magnitude.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody, welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Today, we’re going to be talking about a really fun, entertaining concept. It’s called the fiscal stimulus!

We’re going to be talking about it with none other than the professor, Eric Fuhrman, Chief Planning Officer here at Key Financial. We’re going to be doing something different this week. We’re going to let all of you see how this sausage is actually made. Because we’re talking about something like the fiscal stimulus, it’s a messy art form, right?

We’ve prepared, and always prepare, lots of charts and graphs and things of that nature. When you’re talking about something like this, sometimes it’s just easier for you to look at the picture for you to be able to see what in the world we’re talking about.

Welcome to the show, and Eric, most of all, welcome to the show for you as well.

Eric Fuhrman: Thanks so much, Patti. Great to be back as always. I love being in podcast studio with you talking about all these different concepts. I was thinking, we should come up with a name for you.

I’ve been given this term of “the professor” which is great. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, that’s a more flattering term. Maybe we should think about coming up with one for you.

Patti: Good luck with that one. That’s all I could say.

Eric: All I would say is we won’t do it here because then you have to tune into next week’s show to figure out what we’re going to come up with.

Patti: There you go. That’s a deal. That is a deal.

All right. We’re talking about the fiscal stimulus and this art form. What we thought would be helpful is for us to attack these three ways.

Number one, we’re going to go back in history and give you a historical perspective of what got us to where we are today. Then, we’re going to be talking about this thing in terms of this output gap which is what theoretically the policymakers are targeting, and why deficit spending tends to work over time. At least we hope it does, right?

Then, we’re going to be talking about where in the world do they come up with the number. $1.9 trillion. It’s not $2 trillion, it’s not $1 trillion. It’s $1.9. Where in the world do they come up with that number? Eric, thank you so much. Welcome to the show.

Eric: Thank you, Patti.

Patti: Yes. First, let’s go into that history lesson. We have been, as a nation, through a lot of different crises dating back to the early 1900s, but something has shifted. There’s been a paradigm shift in terms of how our government leaders deal with crises.

Why don’t you take us way, way back and bring us forward to help us understand why they’re making some of the decisions they’re making today?

Eric: Yeah, no problem at all. You can trace the origins of, and I love the way you phrased it, this paradigm shift in government policy to the Great Depression.

You have to understand how policy was conducted prior to the Great Depression, and in response to it, to understand where we are today. The response that occurred there still resides with us today, some, gosh, 90 years later.

I think you have to start with Herbert Hoover. His campaign slogan when he was elected was this idea of rugged individualism. As Americans, that message resonates with everybody, because we have always…It’s part of our DNA to think that we are individuals, a belief in small government and not intrusive interference from a government body, and so forth.

He was elected on this campaign, but what happened is, the Great Depression, the stock market crash occurred about seven, eight months into his presidency. As the crisis worsened, his ardent embrace of this promise, a rugged individualism, was antithetical to the notion that any government stimulus would be used to solve the problem

The prevailing fiscal orthodoxy at that time was that the market was self-correcting. That the government didn’t entertain ideas of activist policies of interfering in economics because the market would solve everything, and this invisible hand would come through and everything would correct.

The government policy up to the Great Depression was all about balanced budgets. The idea was that, with a balanced budget, that would instill confidence among consumers and businesses and markets, and that encourages investment. Ultimately, it is investment that sustains but also provides the foundation for economic growth.

Again, that was the prevailing orthodoxy, but what happened is when the Great Depression occurred, Hoover was…Not that he didn’t do anything. He instituted many policies and tried to work with businesses and so forth, but he was against the idea of providing direct aid to families.

His view, no government had ever done this before, and to provide direct aid was going to be ruinous to the morale and initiative of the country and edges closer to socialism.

He rejected growing calls for the government to intervene. Roundabout that time, the next election cycle, Franklin Roosevelt, his platform was based on the three Rs, providing relief, direct aid to families, recovery through government spending, and reform through the development of social safety nets, which we have today.

He won in a landslide over Hoover. Basically, he started unveiling these policies, which were completely different, as you said, a paradigm shift to what existed beforehand.

A lot of these policies were based on the teachings of John Maynard Keynes, who was a British economist during this period of time that advocated activist, what we call countercyclical government policies, where the government intervenes as a means to basically solve prolonged unemployment and so forth.

That’s where all of this came about that still exists very much in today’s fiscal policy.

Patti: I was fascinated during the break when we were talking about Roosevelt’s propensity to issue executive orders. I was blown away by the number of executive orders that Roosevelt was doing on a year-by-year basis. Nothing close to what leaders do today. Want to give everybody a feel?

Eric: I thought this is so fascinating when we were doing the research and the preparation for this podcast. Because you watch the nightly news today, they make such a big deal about executive orders being issued by presidents because this is a way that they can enact policies without getting the approval of Congress.

Whether or not they’re constitutional or not takes time to determine. If you look over, say, the recent three or four presidents that have been in office in our lifetime, 2 to 400 over their entire presidency, depending on whether they served two or three terms, is normal, so about 30 or so, 40 a year.

Roosevelt is the all-time leader. He was elected to three terms in office. 3,712 executive orders, an average of a little bit more than over 300 per year.

Patti: Wow.

Eric: If you think today that they’re abusing the executive powers, think about what they thought about Roosevelt in that day and age when he issued over 3,700 executive orders. Yeah, an interesting little tidbit that came out of the research.

Patti: The New Deal definitely went through the normal channels, right? It was Congress and the Senate all approved and said OK, we’re going to do this thing.

Eric: Yep. This is where, again, they started providing direct aid to families. Social Security was part of this, 1935 or 1937, I think, is when that came about, the modern-day Social Security system. It took a lot to get that, but there was significant economic improvement from 1933 through 1936.

He was elected again on a very strong recovery. He served three terms, which nobody can do nowadays.

The policies did work, and that gave them a lot of validity that this notion of deficit spending, the government doing the opposite of what individuals, you and I, households are doing, is a way to not eliminate the business cycle but reduce the amplitude of the business cycle.

Patti: Let’s get into that a little bit. Let’s go back and help everybody understand what that’s all about. We’ve talked about this before. Your spending is my income. My spending is your income. That’s the way a consumer-based society works. When there’s a crisis that occurs, what do we do? We all pull back.

We did this with COVID. Certainly, people stop spending money. Unfortunately, when we stop spending money, that means that somebody’s not earning money. Unemployment, skyrockets, GDP plummets, and we languish. We run the risk of going into certainly a recession, but a severe recession and maybe in even a depression.

The goal here for government is to step in where the consumer stepped out. To your point, to reduce the amplitude and the severity of the economic outcome of the crisis and to smooth things over until the consumer can start feeling confident again. More secure jobs, jobs start to improve, people get employed again, and we go back to a growing economy.

That to me is the most important. Always remember that someone else’s spending is your income. When that stops, something else has to happen. Otherwise, we could eventually get back into another depression. That’s how that happened.

Eric: Income and aggregate falls when everybody pulls back. But what you’re showing, and I think we’ll probably put up a chart for our viewers, is this wonderful, very simple way to look at an economy, which is called the circular flow model. Where basically, firms and households just continue to spend in the cycle.

We spend to give money to businesses, businesses then spend through paying wages and buying goods and services, which then provides money back to households, and it just continues in this circular format.

Patti: It provides velocity as well, because, that business can use that income to help even more people as a result of our spending. I think that that’s helped. A lot of economies are certainly recover in the more modern economy, in a more significant way.

OK, fine and dandy. $1.9 trillion, let’s just put it in there. Where’s the government going to get all this cash? I mean, we’ve talked about it before, Eric and let’s face it. When Obama was president, he issued an $800 billion stimulus package and everyone was freaking out.

Eric: I remember. That number, at the time, it was so astounding. So astoundingly large to think about $700 billion or $800 billion. This is a magnitude of order above and beyond that, it’s almost hard to wrap your mind around.

Patti: Over and above the $1.9 that we did last year, right? So where is the government getting this cash? Let’s just go, professor, and give everybody a quick lesson in terms of this concept of printing money.

Eric: When the government needs to pay its bills, how does it do that? It can raise taxes, which would be a horrible idea.

Patti: By the way, paying its bills includes supporting families, etc. That’s the government’s bills.

Eric: Exactly.

Patti: Unemployment, insurance, things of that nature.

Eric: Exactly, right. So one way is they could raise taxes, but Hoover already proved in 1931, what did Hoover do in the face of the Great Depression? He wanted to balance the budget by increasing taxes and cutting spending, that only ended up worsening the crisis.

Today, when the government runs a deficit, what they do is they ask the Treasury Department to sell bonds to investors. Now, there’s this idea that somehow the government just prints up the amount of money that they need. The United States doesn’t work like that. That’s not how it pays its bills.

If you look at, let’s say, the Federal Reserve puts out what’s called the Z.1 report, there are trillions, and trillions, and trillions of dollars in savings locked up in the financial system. These are bank deposits, money market funds investments, so when the government needs to pay their bills, what they do is they issue bonds to investors.

There’s a wonderful intersection, because when there’s a crisis, what do we just naturally want? What does our brain say?

Patti: The safest thing there is, which is treasury bonds. We want that safety and security that only a treasury bond can provide.

Eric: That’s right. The US government is the sole issuer of the risk free asset in the entire world, which is US government treasury bonds. So what they do, they sell bonds. All that money that is locked, that savings that is locked in the financial system, the government sells bonds, they get the cash, and then what does the government do?

They spend it and that creates income. Income for households and businesses through aid and direct purchases, transfer payments, and so forth.

Patti: Yep. Again, just to nail this shot, the treasury bonds, OK, who owns the treasury bonds? When we talk about “they”, always remember, we are they. We are a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

So when the government issues those bonds, and we buy them, whether it be outright or via a mutual fund, or a pension is…They tend to buy a lot of treasury bonds. We own the security. We own that. That’s part of our net worth. I found it interesting, and we didn’t talk about this, Eric. Larry Kudlow was on one of the channels a couple of weeks ago…

Eric: These guys don’t show it now I hear.

Patti: I know.

Eric: They didn’t take long, from on the government payroll, back to the private life on TV.

Patti: Absolutely. Good old advertising, works every time, right?

Eric: That’s right. He set himself up nice.

Patti: Yeah, and you know what? He was talking about how wealthy our nation is. The household net worth alone is $122 trillion. That doesn’t even include how wealthy our government is. Because our government again, our government is us because we are the nation of the people, by the people, for the people. So we own these assets also, but think about what the government owns.

They own all of those oil fields, real estate, tons, a lot of assets, is also part of our net worth. I’ve never seen anybody do a study and this is something that I’d love for us to do. How wealthy when you put the two of them together? I mean, I’ve heard that the oil fields alone are worth…Estimated to be $116 trillion alone.

Then you think about the real estate, you know guys, we own the White House. I think that’s a pretty valuable piece of real estate. What do you think?

Eric: I don’t know what it’s worth, but who knows?

Patti: Yeah. So, OK, I get that. So they issue the treasury bonds, I buy a treasury, they have the cash, they spend it. So basically, the federal government is providing a bridge for our economy, to replace the spending that we’re not doing temporarily. Again, just to get us through.

What is interesting to me is how they go about spending, how they choose to direct those funds, we’ll get into that in a minute. Let’s now talk about this thing called the output gap. All right? Why don’t you define it and then I’ll walk people through the potential versus the actual.

Eric: The output gap. Now, I don’t know about you, but I had this weird…As we were going through this and developing ideas. We started looking into the output gap and this concept of multipliers and what they call marginal propensity to consume, which we’re going to get into a minute.

I actually sat there and thought back to economics class, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I am actually going to use this, I can’t believe it.” Here it is, I thought I would never ever need this in my entire life and here we are, so there is a use it, believe it or not. Any people still in school listening, pay attention because you never know when you’re going to need something from class.

Patti: You got it.

Eric: So the output gap is you define it. When policymakers are trying to determine if stimulus is needed, and how much, they have to determine what’s called the output gap. The Congressional Budget Office or the CBO, they make calculations of what they call potential GDP.

This is a theoretical construct. It can’t be observed in reality, but potential GDP is really an estimate of how much output can be produced sustainably without creating inflation.

If we employ all of the available people out there who could participate in the labor force, how productive they are, this is an idea of the maximum output that we can sustainably produce, and then there is what we’re actually producing, and if we are below potential, you have an output gap. Pretty simple.

Patti: There’s your gap. Basically, folks, when you think about the output gap and the potential, think about it like the safe speed limit. You’ve got the safe speed limit. If you go too far below it, then we’ve got a lot of idle workers, idle factories. We’re not producing to the level that we probably can.

If we go too fast, then we’re going much faster over the speed limit, and that could cause other problems. Think about it in terms of the safe speed limit, and, as Eric said, it’s kind of…Well, these people are smart, but it can change quickly.

Eric: The important point here, which you and I see every day, which is when there’s an output gap, there is a real human cost to that. That means people are unnecessarily unemployed or underemployed. There is a human toll that is taken when you have a negative output, that gap that has real consequences.

People let go from jobs and trying to figure out how to plan and what to do. We see the result of that when we go through these periods. It’s very heartbreaking sometimes

Patti: It is heartbreaking. It is very real and very raw. It comes in the form of long lines, people going to food banks. Literally, people who used to work at the food bank are now in line, because they need the food themselves. These things have never happened to a lot of people before.

We’ll put this in the show notes, and we’ll put it on the video where you guys see the output gap, the graph that we’ve put together for you, you can understand very quickly why policymakers were as worried as they were and realized they needed to act really fast.

Again, it’s a moving target. It’s important to recognize that it is a moving target especially since the economy moves very quickly. You don’t kind of know until after the fact even that a recession is occurring. Certainly, it’s not declared over until months after a recession is officially over.

As we said, it is a messy art form. While it’s effective over time, it’s one that needs to be monitored. We have to be cognizant of the unintended consequences of some of the policies that are coming out.

Eric: Yes. What’s so interesting, what you talk about, is this idea of a moving target because. The Congressional Budget Office uses very complicated statistical models run by PhDs, very smart people, but you’re trying to forecast something in the future that is ultimately unknowable.

When you and I looked at the revisions of the output gap because the CBO will produce revisions as time passes. If you look at, say, last fall, if you think about where did the $1.9 trillion come from, keep in mind that they don’t write a bill in a week. This is months in the making.

When the CBO came out in October, the output gap was huge for 2021 and beyond.

Patti: I will tell you, Eric, it was exactly $1.850 trillion over a two year period of time. That’s what they were projecting. So, “Voila.” Now I get it. $1.9. They’re going to inject $1.9 to fix the $1.8 gap and here we are. Fast forward, what’s the latest revision of the output?

Eric: Wait. Are you saying there’s a problem?

Patti: No. No problem, whatsoever. All right, good.

Eric: That’s what was so astounding. For us, because we operate in the financial markets, it was very encouraging news that the output gap had incredibly shrunk. It went from, what, for two years, from $1.8 trillion to $600 billion.

Patti: Right.

Eric: That’s wonderful as an investor because that shows great signs of improvement.

Patti: I can’t help but wonder if that has something to do with the $1.9 trillion that was passed last year because, as we all know, it takes a while for it to get into the system. It doesn’t happen overnight. Here we are, February. The gap is much smaller, but what just got passed?

Eric: It’s hard to even say, I’m sorry. $1.9 trillion with a “t” to solve a problem that has now become $600 billion.

Patti: Again, to Eric’s point, it’s not to take away from the people who are still struggling. There are people who are still struggling.

What was different with this particular package was that it seems to be aimed at the families who are still struggling. The people who remain unemployed, the families with young children. Some of these things are directly targeted to those people to give help right away.

Those people can’t wait for three or six months for it to work its way into the system when they can get their new job and start working again and earning money and bringing food into the family. They need money now.

When we talk about this, we talk about it within that framework and understanding that this is really important. This is what our government is for. I will tell you that I’m happy that it got passed. Yet, at the same point, we have to be aware of what could happen on the other side.

Eric: What’s interesting is now we might venture a little bit more into the theoretical angle of stimulus, but it’s this idea of multipliers. It is not to say necessarily that 1.9 trillion is more than you need.

It could be exactly right. It might actually be not enough. It depends on this Keynesian concept that was espoused back in the 1930s of marginal propensity to consume. If the government spends one dollar of stimulus, that’s great. You and I as individuals, we have choices. We might spend it, but we could also save it. We might use it to pay down debts.

When policymakers put these together, they are dependent or hopeful that the money will be spent. Because if you save or invest, that money is not creating income for somebody else in this circular flow between households and businesses.

It’s this marginal propensity. What is the multiple? If I spend a dollar, how much of that actually gets spent? Sometimes it’s more than a dollar, sometimes it’s less. It depends on who you give it to.

Patti: Eric, I want to frame something because I never want to assume that our listeners know this stuff. When we invest, let’s take that concept of investing, investing into the stock market. Let’s say that you’re buying Amazon stock. You all need to know that that’s not helping Amazon. Amazon is not getting that growth.

There is an indirect benefit that Amazon might get, but they don’t get that money. It’s not like if their stock doubles in price that they’re given that money so that they can hire more people. Again, to Eric’s point, we either spend the money, save and invest it, or we pay down debts.

You can begin to understand why policymakers may target particular families, people who really, A, need it, lower income people, people who may be out of work, and, B, the people who are more likely to spend it because that’s what’s going to improve the economy.

Saving, investing, and paying down debt doesn’t do anything for the economy. That’s what a policymaker needs to focus on.

The idea of the multiplier, to me, brings it all home in a way that OK, now I get it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all this money sloshing around is going to lead to ridiculous amounts of inflation because, to be honest with you, not everybody’s going to spend it.

For every dollar, depending on where it’s targeted, you might get a multiplier of 0.6, for example, or 0.4. It has less of an impact. It still has an impact but not quite as much as you might think.

Eric: Absolutely right. The question is you want to direct the spending policies to people that have a high likelihood of spending it. That would be, for example, increasing unemployment benefits.

Even with these direct stimulus checks, they are putting an income limitation on it. It’s not going to people at the higher levels of the income scale who are probably more apt to save it.

If you take the current package that’s been out there, it’s 1.9 trillion. When you break it apart, something like roughly 50 percent of it goes to direct aid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. Another 40 percent, I believe, goes to states.

Those are things that are likely to have high multipliers because people in need or state governments don’t have an incentive to save, so they’re likely to spend the money. There’s likely to be a high return on those dollars that are flowing into those different entities.

There is a intelligent design behind it. The question, because things have improved so much, would be is it enough, or isn’t it enough? Consensus views on that, they’re…

Patti: All over the map.

Eric: Yeah. I should say professional forecasters are all over the map on that.

Patti: Let’s keep it real. What are the risks? What are the risks of an undershoot? What are the risks of an overshoot? I think about what they did during the financial crisis.

We’ve talked about this before. Every time we have one of these things, our leaders learn. What they learned from the 2008 crisis is that the stimulus was good, but it took too long for it to be effective. The economic recovery was quite lethargic.

Unemployment, we didn’t get to follow employment for many, many years. The economy never really got up to that juicy three percent average GDP that is the target.

The one thing that they’re trying to avoid is having that story repeat itself, so they’re flushing the economy with trillions of dollars. What’s the risk of an overshoot? How are we going to know it? If it does happen, Eric, what in the world are going to do?

Eric: I don’t know if we can bring up that slide of the output gap here for this. You make a great point, which is they had massive stimulus, but look how long it took. It took almost 10 years from the financial crisis until we finally got back to potential. It took that long that we were underperforming.

The lesson, as you correctly point out, is that policymakers would much rather favor an overshoot and to try and flood as much into the system as quickly so that the recovery is much faster. We don’t have this very long, drawn out period.

You’re right. If they overshoot, and they overshoot dramatically, what’s the outcome? Most people would worry about inflation. That would be the big outcome.

It seems like the Federal Reserve is communicated. They are more than willing to allow inflation to be above target for some period of time. They’ve got new guidance on that. They seem confident that they have the tools to rein an inflation if it becomes a problem.

Patti: The new target, for those of us who have been around for a little while, is above two percent. I will tell you that when I first started over 30 years ago, the thought of a two percent inflation rate was like Nirvana.

It was riding at six percent, seven percent. Our mortgages were much higher, etc. That’s a very low inflation rate. That’s what our leadership has determined that is very sustainable. Let’s pull this together. By the way, we can talk about the Federal Reserve and all the tools they have to dampen the inflation.

Eric: I might refer our listeners back to the wonderful podcast we did last year, part one and two on the national debt. There’s a lot of parallels between this and that.

Patti: You know what we should do also? I’m going to do this. I’m going to commit to this. Let’s take our papers, the work that we did to prepare for those podcasts because we weren’t filming at that time.

We’re going to put those on the website. There, you’re going to see how the story unfolded, all of the graphs and charts, and the things that we did, and the research that we did over the summer.

I will try you, I was taking a course from Professor Fuhrman. I might have thrown in a point or two. It was interesting stuff to the extent that you want to understand this. At the end of the day, we just want to share the information in a way that, hopefully, you can understand it and give you confidence that while it is messy, they’re figuring things out.

Number one, we have the benefit of a rich history. Boy, do we ever. We’ve been through a lot on this nation. Little by little, slowly but surely, we seem to be getting out of these crises. It’s not that we don’t have them. It’s just that we know what to do when it happens.

We learned how deficit spending is used, and how it’s used, and why it’s used to bridge the gap so that the depth of the crisis isn’t nearly as deep as it would be normally.

Last but not least, we learned about the output gap and where our leaders come up with this magic number of $1.9 trillion, and how they think about who’s going to receive that, and how that’s going to come into the economy.

Eric: Maybe a good way to bring it to closure that you and I were talking about is that now, we’re starting to see economic estimates of what the growth forecasts is going to look like, not only for this year but next year. It’s eye popping in terms of numbers. This fiscal stimulus has a lot to do with that when we think about our near term outlook over the next one to three years.

Patti: We talked before about Ben Bernanke’s 60 minutes broadcast. At that point, he talked about the fact that he was beginning to see green shoots coming out of the ground. Let me tell you something. This is bamboo. This is growing like crazy. Estimates are close to six percent GDP for this year alone.

It actually trends down. It’ll be very interesting. I know we’re nerding out on you, by the way. I apologize for that. It’s comforting. I like to read and understand this because it makes me feel more confident in our leadership. We’re going to figure it out. That’s the way these things tend to work.

Eric: Nerding out is OK. My favorite times at Key Financial is when you nerd out.

Patti: Totally. Eric, one thing that we have to remember also is that we’re all doing this. They’re all doing this. We’re having all this stimulus in the midst of something that never happened before. That is six foot social distancing. We’re not able to go out there and spend the money that we normally would. What does that look like?

Eric: There is a well established history where academics can go back and figure out how effective stimulus was after the fact. You never had to it when social distancing was there.

Part of me thinks that, yes, the package seems larger than the problem, but you’ve never had an issue with social distancing. How effective can it be in an environment like we’ve never ever seen before? We’ll learn a lot. I know that much.

Patti: Hey guys, I’m still Latina. There is no alternative. People are saving it and investing it. That has something to do with why the market has been going up as well. Not everything. There are real, fundamental reasons, but there’s no other alternative.

Anyway, fun as always, Professor. Thank you so much for all the research and the back and forth you and I did over the weekend. I appreciate that, and I appreciate you.

These podcasts don’t happen unless you are tuning in, and you are listening. We are hearing so much from you. I’m so grateful that you make us feel as if this is worthwhile, that it’s making a difference in your lives. Honestly, that’s what it’s all about.

I’m Patti Brennan, Key Financial. Eric Fuhrman. Thank you, Professor. I hope…Go ahead.

Eric: Highlight of my day.

Patti: Highlight of your day. Now we going to get back to work. I hope you all have a terrific day. Take care now. Bye Bye.

Ep67: Sustainable Investing and Government Policies presented by Shroders

About This Episode

In part two of this two-part episode, Patti continues her conversation with Sarah Bratton Hughes, the Head of Sustainability at North America for Shroders. They delve deeper into how governments can influence investor and consumer behavior by imposing new laws and tax policies. With recent Presidential actions, the United States is positioning itself in a leadership role and will most likely influence a significant increase in global climate action. Various industries and markets around the world are evaluating everything from their labor practices to their environmental impacts, to make sure strong governance is in place that will result in more positive environmental or social policies. Investors are looking to maximize long-term returns by understanding which industries and markets are compliant or moving towards sustainable practices.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

By popular demand, we have Sarah Bratton Hughes back with us. Now before we get started, I want you all to know that Sarah is the mother of a five-and-a-half-year-old. Today is the early day of school. Before we started Sarah said, “You know Patti, I hope that my son stays out and doesn’t interrupt us, but just so you know, in case he does, I tried to keep him out but he might interrupt us.”

I will tell you all who are listening to this, I said, “Sarah, you’re talking to the mother of four children. Believe me, I get it.”

I can’t tell you the number of times I was talking with clients, and I would literally have that panic look on my face like, “No, no, don’t say anything.” I would put my finger up to my mouth, “No, no, be quiet, be quiet, be quiet.” The kids would tiptoe and etc. Hey, if your son needs to come in, if you want to put on your mom hat, by all means, have at it.

In the meantime, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sarah Bratton Hughes: Thanks, Patti. Thank you for having me.

Patti: What’s your son’s name?

Sarah: AJ, Andrew James.

Patti: AJ, OK. AJ, listen up to your mom because we have America listening to her today. Be forewarned, she is the expert, and you got to listen to her also. Let’s start out. Let’s start, pick up where we left off in the last broadcast. It was really interesting.

We were talking a lot about policy, and how governments can influence behavior whether by imposing new laws or tax policy, etc. What would you refer to in terms of the factors? I understand this term float around ESG factors referred to as non-financial factors. How do you think about those when you’re selecting securities? What’s the data that goes around all of that?

Sarah: Sure. The first thing I think about is that you often hear as ESG factors as being referred to as non-financial factors. I actually think that’s a mess. ESG factors are pre-financial factors. Why do I think that? Let’s just take the S&P 500. In 1975 just 13 percent of the S&P 500 was in intangibles.

If you think about intangibles as human capital, R&D, basically all those things that you can’t touch, like your plants, your products.

At the time, the S&P was 13 percent of that market value was in the intangibles. Today, that number is 90 percent of the S&P is now in intangible. That’s in people, that’s in R&D, that’s in patents. It’s in all of these intangibles that are hard to put a hard market value on.

Also, what is important, and we saw this in the construct of a lot of people trying to understand how financially material sustainability or ESG factors were. If you look at your same S&P 500, and you look at the 10 K, so these are the official filings that companies placed with the SEC that talk about the risks to their business model, the top 100 companies…

We looked at the top 100 companies within the S&P 500 of them, all of them have at least one ESG risk in their 10 K. Most of them have multiple. What’s that saying to me is that if these factors are important enough for companies to file as risks with their regulators, they’re important enough for us as investors to be taking into an account when we’re making investment decisions.

We look at a number of factors, and we actually focus on the stakeholder model. Rather than breaking it down simply into E, S, or G, we’re focused on how a company is managing all of its stakeholders, all of its material stakeholders, because to us that’s key to how not only will they survive in the future, but how they’ll thrive in the future.

We’re looking at it holistically from a stakeholder perspective how a company is treating its customers, its employees, the environment, regulators, communities, and also just as important shareholders. Us, as shareholders, we’re a stakeholder as well. We focus on it much more from a materiality perspective. I’ll use Schroders for an example.

Schroders, we’re an asset management firm. First and foremost, we have to be the leader at maximizing risk-adjusted returns for our clients. Our customers are a very large stakeholder. We’re a service industry. Our employees, there’s a lot of human capital that goes into our roles here. They’re a very important stakeholder.

The third very important stakeholder is we operate in 32 companies around the world. The global regulators are definitely important stakeholders to us. Very different if you’re looking at somebody like an airline, who’ll be focused on customers, regulators, but the environment, a large stakeholder with there.

We’re focused on understanding the material stakeholders per industry, per jurisdiction that a company is operating. Then we’re using both traditional data but non-traditional data to help us assess how companies are managing those stakeholders over time.

One of my favorite stories about what we do in terms of using non-traditional data is we’ll often look at companies’ Glassdoor or their local equivalent scores. Before everybody rolls their eyes at me, we will never trade off the Glassdoor score.

We know that most people that go to Glassdoor to write reviews are employees that perhaps aren’t the happiest, but that’s, as investors, what we want to understand and what we want to find out.

Most managements that come in and speak to us are only telling us about 30 percent about what’s happening in their company. Very rarely do we have a management team come in and say that they have a poor corporate culture or their employees are unhappy working there.

For us, we had an Indian bank in one of our portfolios. We found that their Glassdoor equivalent two branches were flying to us for having aggressive sales tactics, a high-pressure environment, and a poor work-life balance.

Many of you on this podcast will automatically start thinking of a big US similar bank that had a similar problem. It resulted in fake accounts and significant reputational as well as litigation costs for that company. That was the first thing that went off in our head.

We decided to engage with the management team on that holding and what we were focused on was understanding what policies and procedures they had in place and what they were doing to ensure that they wouldn’t have a similar type of scandal.

This particular Indian bank on a Friday night in India got on their CFO, the CEO, their head of HR, as well as the two branch managers within the two branches that were having the largest problem.

We were satisfied, from an investment perspective, that there wasn’t that risk there in terms of the scandal, so we continued to hold the position and monitor. That’s just an example of how we’re using both traditional and untraditional data to help us look at some of these factors that wouldn’t traditionally show up on a balance sheet or an income statement.

Patti: That’s so interesting, Sarah, because you and I both know the name of that bank here in the United States. It’s very interesting. I got to tell you, I’m very impressed because if you were with a different firm, a different firm might just say, “We’re going to sell this. We don’t want this. We don’t want to own a bank where this could happen all over again.”

Instead, what I’m hearing is that you chose to engage with senior management and help them to begin to change that culture and make sure that they address that issue so that they could continue to grow and take care of their employees, and reduce that high-stress culture and the domino effect that often occurs in terms of their business practices.

I’m just impressed. I wouldn’t have thought, but perhaps I should’ve known better because I know Schroders. You guys operate at a whole different level in terms of…Not so much activism. Again, what I’m hearing is that you just wanted to understand, give them the feedback that you had learned, and get a sense of how they might respond.

Awareness is the first step in any problem and pointing it out. Clearly, senior management was receptive to that feedback. They may not have appreciated it. They may have been maybe a little surprised. Calling them out on it, kudos to them because they did something about it too.

Sarah: Yes, definitely. I would say we’re active owners who are not activists, particularly in the traditional sense of the word. It’s about engaging and really unlocking that long-term value for our clients.

Patti: Let’s do a pivot here. I’m really curious of what you think about some of the more important policies that were just enacted by President Biden. There are a lot of stuff that happened very quickly once he got into office. What are your thoughts about all of that?

Sarah: I think particularly regarding the flurry of executive orders we saw on day one, there was a lot packed in there, and there was a lot packed in there from a sustainability perspective. A lot of it, not as surprising, at least, from my seat.

There’s two reasons for that. One, that the Biden Harris campaign did have a campaign that was much more focused around equality, whether that’s an environmental, justice, or individual equality. You had that focus within their campaign. Then, what his actions before he took office, really proved that it was not just rhetoric.

You saw him named John Kerry as climate czar to the National Security Council. The first time you’ve ever had anybody on climate focused on that. You saw Gina McCarthy heading the EPA, a fellow graduate of Fontbonne Academy out of Milton in Mass, so Go Ducks. I would like to highlight that.

You saw Brian Deese, who was the former head of sustainable investing at BlackRock. He’s part of his National Economic Council. I always say actions speak louder than words, and his actions were actually speaking just as loud, if not louder, than some of his campaign promises.

Patti: If I may, let me talk about the elephant in the room because I think that a lot of people were surprised on him closing down the Keystone Pipeline. It was cold turkey. Did that surprise you?

I don’t know, maybe he did campaign on that. I don’t recall, but I think the fact that that happened so quickly after him getting into office surprised some people. Then what’s the message that he is sending with that action?

Sarah: I think with that action combined with his other executive orders, he is sending a message that he wants the US to be a leader on climate action. I don’t think I was surprised about the Keystone Pipeline because of the amount of climate that they had focused on, or climate promises that Biden had made throughout his campaign.

Harris actually didn’t make a lot of headlines, but four days before she was announced as the VP nominee in the summer, she had co-sponsored a bill with an OC really focused on climate change, and both climate as well as economic justice.

What I would say, and we had touched on this a little bit in our last podcast, on the White House site, you can go in and read about each one of these executive orders.

For those in the US, I think a lot of concern about is, “OK, you’re shutting down our pipelines, but what about a lot of big emitters that are not here? There’s a lot of other countries in the world who are larger emitters, aren’t doing anything about it. They’re going to have the economic advantage because their costs are going to be lower.”

What I think should give comfort to those who are very concerned, not only about what’s happening in terms of emission within our own borders, but also outside of our borders and particularly around the argument that if we go all-in on green, there are other nations in the world that would continue to use fossil fuels, and it will be more economically favorable for them.

What is important to understand within the revoking of the permit for the Keystone Pipeline is that there was clear acknowledgment that most greenhouse gas emissions originate beyond our borders. That the US is prepared to utilize vigorous climate leadership in order to have a significant increase in that global climate action.

You now have the US alongside the EU, particularly putting their flags in the ground on being climate leaders.

Patti: That’s really interesting, and that was their way of sending that message. When they do that, they are acknowledging that maybe temporarily, it’s going to be painful. I thought the point that you brought up in the last podcast was – for me, it was a real epiphany – that actually some of the green technology is more economic than fossil fuels. That to me was incredibly helpful.

Sometimes you do have to take away the candy jar and make it cold turkey which is what that felt like. You shut down the Keystone Pipeline. All of those jobs are lost. Again, I’m playing the other side of it, couldn’t we wean down off of that?

I think it’s important for listeners to understand that the pipeline was being built. Why build something that you don’t want to encourage Americans to be using, the fuels that are going to be flowing through those pipelines?

Let’s stop that. Let’s stop investing in that. Put that money towards other things that, frankly, short-term pain, but long-term gain, are actually more economical than using fossil fuels. Do I have that right?

Sarah: Yes. I’m going to say something that is pretty controversial amongst my peers in the sustainable investing universe is that, and I’ve said it before…

Patti: Go for it. Go for it, Sarah. I’ll…

Sarah: I hate the term ESG investing. Many people say, “Why do you hate that term?” It’s because it elicits an emotional reaction from people.

Half the people in the room are super excited and want to hear what I say. Half the people are in the room rolling their eyes and thinking that I’m out hugging trees and saving the world.

When you take it out of that ESG investing, and you talk about it in terms of the long term sustainability of a company’s business model, the durability of cash flows, and returns over time, then you’re speaking everybody’s language. That’s really what sustainable investing is. Yes, it’s a different way of hitting the home the same point that you had just said, Patti.

Patti: Sarah, just for our listeners, can you define what E stands for, what S stands for, and what G stands for?

Sarah: Sure. E stands for environmental and probably the most controversial from a US construct, the least controversial from a European’s construct, [laughs] is on environmental and how you’re taking accounts, the externalities that you create on the environment within your investment process.

S stands for social. You’ll be looking across…And social is a very broad bucket. It can withstand everything from cybersecurity to diversity, to human capital management labor. What labor is used throughout your supply chain. Very broad bucket on social.

G. Somebody else referred to this, but I love this phrase is, “G is governance.” That’s the mother of E&S. That’s having the strong governance in place that’s going to result in more positive environmental or social policies.

I always say I don’t love the term ESG investing enough for that ET, because many people think it’s sacrificing return at all costs to have a greener environment.

Sustainable investing is quite the opposite. It is understanding and analyzing the externalities that your investments create and understanding how they could impact their value over time. I’m looking to maximize long term return.

Patti: It’s interesting because your visceral reaction to ESG is like my visceral reaction to the word budget.

People just don’t like the word budget. It’s got a negative connotation and it makes people feel like they are giving something up, that there’s sacrifice.

We call it defining what your cash flow needs are. It’s not a budget. You’re not giving anything up. You’re defining what you would like to have coming in on a monthly basis and how that is going to be used. That is so interesting how it also relates to ESG.

I see that also. You do get the rolling of the eyes and tree-hugging kind of response, and then you’ve got people who are passionate about it. The sustainability argument or the focus on sustainability, that is what it truly is all about.

Here’s a question. We’ve seen sustainability, ESG, whatever you want to call it. That has become a greater focus in markets. Frankly, a lot of those companies and markets have already risen sharply. Do you think that it’s too late to invest in those industries that are focused on ESG and sustainability, or do you think that there’s some runway left?

Sarah: I think there’s a massive amount of runway left for more than a few different reasons. I would say maybe at the tails, you have some industries that have been priced to perfection. You’ve had some industries where a baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. Actually, where you have the ability to make a lot of money is on this 90 percent in the middle.

From a policy perspective, there’s a lot coming down the pipeline very quick and furiously that are going to or has the ability to shift valuations within your portfolio very quickly. We are seeing increasing calls for costs of carbon globally. 25 percent of the world’s carbon is now being priced.

Even China is going to begin pricing carbon – albeit not what we think it should be even be close to – but they’re going to be putting a price on carbon.

What we’ve seen in the executive orders that was actually buried in one executive order – I pulled it out as its own for our investors here at Schroders – is the Biden administration has started a committee to look at the social cost of carbon, the social cost of nitrous oxide, and the social cost of methane to estimate and monetize the damages associated with the incremental increases of greenhouse gas emissions.

They’re asking for interim recommendations very shortly, early in the summer, and then final recommendations by January, 2020. It’s not just here or what we’ve seen happen north of the border, north of us. Canada has actually come out and put a price of carbon to reach to $170 a ton by 2030, one of the most significant prices out there on the market.

What we’re seeing is pockets of this carbon pricing coming up. If that happens, we’re in for a hockey stick type transition across a number of industries, my own industry, the asset management industry, is not avoided at that. If you look at Scope 1 and 2 emission, so those are direct emissions. You’ll see that asset management is nowhere on the chart at all.

We work in offices, the most emissions that we have from a direct perspective is flying around on airplanes to visit our clients. However, if you look at downstream Scope 3, so that’s the emissions within our supply chain. That’s the emissions in our investments, that’s where 97 percent of emissions live from an asset management perspective.

The industry itself actually moves up to third, right behind our oil and gas industry. You’re going to see industries that you would probably not associate as high carbon-intensive industries. They’re going to be exponentially impacted. I also think from a theme perspective, it’s constantly ever-evolving and ever-changing.

That’s what’s interesting about sustainable investing. One of my favorite themes that I’m doing a lot of work on right now has nothing to do with the environment, it has to do with this concept of quality jobs.

What the concept of quality jobs is how you deliver a double bottom line return, how do you invest in your employees, and treat them as assets, instead of treating them like a liability line that has historically happened here in the US, as investors have looked at companies how to minimize costs, all too often it happens at the employee line?

Well, you can only cut costs on your employees so long before it comes back to you in terms of turnover, in terms of poor service, in terms of disengaged employees, costing you market share and market value over time. Concepts like these that are maybe not their traditional sustainability concepts that people think about everybody flocks to the environment and climate.

You’re going to see other concepts coming out that there’s going to be significant tailwinds from the somatic perspective on how you invest in them. There’s also significant value to be unlocked as well when you’re really challenging some of these traditional norms.

Patti: That is so interesting. I love that theme, quality jobs. When you elevate an employee, when you elevate another human being, it’s got a multiplier effect that I don’t know that many companies take the time to measure that. From my perspective, it’s powerful, absolutely powerful.

Sarah, I can’t thank you enough for joining us today. This was fascinating. I can’t thank AJ enough for listening to his mom and letting her bring all of her brilliance out to us and all of our listeners. Thank you both for joining us today. It was fascinating. This is the beginning of hearing from you and Schroders on this topic. When I think about sustainability, I think of Schroders, so I’m so grateful. I can’t thank you enough.

I’m grateful to Schroders for taking us up on the invitation to join us today. Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah: Great, thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Patti: Thanks to all of you for joining us again. It’s been wonderful to invite you into our office in this manner through the podcasts. Thank you so much for your feedback. If you ever have any questions either based on this topic or any topic, please feel free to go to our website at keyfinancialinc.com. Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Ep66: Sustainable Investing: Pro Tips from Sarah Bratton Hughes of Shroders

About This Episode

There has been a shift in thinking when it comes to socially responsible investing – and it’s not only an important issue with millennials! In today’s episode, Patti is joined by Sarah Bratton Hughes, the Head of Sustainability at North America for Shroders. Sarah defines the three categories of sustainable investing and explains what changes she is seeing in the global markets as a result of investors and corporations looking to make socially responsible decisions. As nations around the world shift to clean energy and technologies, institutional investors and asset managers are answering the new demand for these investment products. In the first of a two-part series, Patti and Sarah identify the opportunities now available to maximize returns on these investments and also the environmental benefits that come as a result.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow and use your assets to live your very best lives. We are so excited to have Sarah Bratton Hughes with us.

Sarah’s with Schroders, and she is Head of Sustainability for Schroders. This lady knows everything there is about socially responsible investing, or what is often referred to as ESG or SRI or SDG. Lots of different names, and frankly, they mean different things depending on what you’re looking for.

Sarah, thanks so much for joining us today.

Sarah Bratton Hughes: Thanks, Patti. Thank you for having me.

Patti: I just threw out a whole bunch of acronyms. When we think about socially responsible investing, especially over the last year or so, we saw a lot of emotion as it relates to equality. Whether it be gender equality, climate change, clean water, lots of different things that people feel very passionate about.

It’s wonderful because here we are in America, and we can voice our opinions and our thoughts. I can’t think of a better way to do that than also put your money where you feel things need to change. What do you think about that?

Sarah: Yes, I definitely agree. One of the most challenging parts about being in the field of sustainable investing is sometimes the alphabet soup of acronyms that are referred to when we’re talking about this.

I think about it across a spectrum. My preferred term is sustainable investing, focusing on that all-encompassing stakeholder approach, in which a company’s sustainability practices are paramount to the investment decision.

Yes, ESG analysis forms the cornerstone of that investment process. If we think across the entire spectrum with often known as sustainable investing, down one end you have what I would consider integration. That’s where you’re looking to obtain the financial benefits of systematically incorporating sustainability as part of your investment process.

If you move over to the right, you have more somatic investing. Sometimes how it’s termed is SDG investing, investments that are targeting solutions for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

If you move one notch over to the right, I would then consider much more socially responsible or values-based investing or sometimes also called screened investing, where you’re screening out certain industries that you don’t want to have, from a value perspective, exposure to in your portfolio.

You can remove it or even further to the right where you have impact investing, where your targeting impact is crucial, alongside the return and then finally all the way over on the far this part of the right-hand spectrum is philanthropy where you’re investing and expecting no return, whatsoever.

There is a broad spectrum when it comes to sustainable investing. Interestingly, I like to also say, just to add another acronym and here, is focused on the ABCs. I think this is also a great way to organize it when you’re thinking about the whole spectrum of sustainable investing, and this was developed by the impact management project.

It puts sustainable investing into three categories. A, that’s avoid, so that’s the do no harm. That’s when you will have some of these value-based strategies, where you will screen out certain industries. You’re looking to manage your sustainability exposure from a risk perspective.

You move over to B, and that’s for benefits. You’re looking to benefit your return alongside benefits that have been stakeholders.

Within B, those who go broad-based sustainable solutions as well as your integrated funds that are systematically incorporating sustainability as part of their investment process. Where the market is moving right now is away from some of those broad-based sustainable or ESG strategies and moving into the C bucket.

That’s contributing to the solution. That’s where you’re finding somatic and impact products that people are looking to allocate the funds that are focused on climate change, energy transition, diversity.

You’re seeing a lot of funds continuing to grow here. You’re seeing a lot of assets go here. Quite candidly, you’re seeing a lot of innovation for different solutions that people are looking to target in the C category.

Patti: That’s interesting. What does C stand for?

Sarah: Contribute.

Patti: Contribute.

Sarah: A is avoid. B is benefit. C is contribute, so contributing to the solution.

Patti: That’s phenomenal. When I think about sustainability, that speaks to me, Sarah. Honestly, what we do was very similar as it relates to people and families. We want to make sure that their assets can sustain them for the rest of their lives.

It feels like this longevity is a part of it, that we want the earth to be here for a very, very long time, and I think it’s terrific. I think that the fact that the market seems to be moving more towards that C. Let’s focus on the solutions, and really fund those potential solutions.

Before we got on live like this, we were talking about this whole concept of carbon capture. Does it make sense to really focus on the nasty stuff that our cars emit, and capture it in the atmosphere? Would that be a solution rather than having us lose thousands of jobs because we’re closing down a pipeline?

It’s a different way of solving that problem. I speak, you’re the expert. I don’t know that anybody is truly the expert on these things, in terms of where we are, as it relates to that technology and the practicality of its application. What are your thoughts?

Sarah: I think what is first and foremost as I say, there’s…Many people often think of what kind of jobs are going to be lost? I always point to the great state of Texas, because everybody looks at them as our large oil-producing state.

Actually what’s going on behind the scenes in Texas is really phenomenal. They’re our largest producer of renewable power out of all the states in the US right now. You are seeing a transition occur within the economy. It’s also a very…I’ll use the term “Just transition.”

Thinking about…there are many people. It’s the same topic for something like coal. What you see happening – particularly around the utilities that are shuttering down these coal plants – they’re very conscious that they are in many towns, the economy there.

They’re providing job training, they are providing education, to ensure that that economy continues to thrive in the future. I think that it’s not just as simple as shutting some of this down, as it relates to carbon capture storage. I think that’s a really interesting technology.

It is something that is continuing to grow. What I’m really watching is how politicians and how countries are embracing it from a policy perspective. Over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in areas that have made Net Zero commitment. That is almost no different here in the US.

One third of Americans live in communities that have made Net Zero or decarbonization commitments. Key to that will be the growth of hydrogen power, and key to the production of green hydrogen is carbon capture storage, as well as the production of electrolyzers.

What’s really important, what’s really interesting, where this gets really interesting from an investment perspective as you’re looking as you said, you like to do with your families, it’s first that preserve, and then the growth.

From an investment perspective, you’re seeing this massive shift and this growth into these technologies that are going to allow us to meet these Net Zero commitments that we’re seeing pop up, not only in countries around the world but also with both asset managers as well as some of the leading institutional investors we have here in the US as well.

Patti: When you talk about Net Zero, basically, what I’m hearing is that the goal here is not to make things worse. The fact is if we continue doing everything we’re currently doing, our children and grandchildren – and maybe even ourselves – are going to be in deep trouble, that we’re already seeing the impact of these choices that we’ve made.

Net Zero would…OK, it is what it is. Let’s just not make it worse. What do you think about the idea of 50 percent? What about the other 50 percent, because we’re all part of that same atmosphere? Why should we take the economic risk of changing the source of our energy when other nations don’t care, that they’re not going to do it? What are your thoughts on that?

Sarah: A couple of different thoughts on that. What we’ve seen happen, we’ve seen significant policy happening out of Europe. We are seeing significant indications of policy coming out here in the US.

There’s also talk not just only on Net Zero but there was this wonderful 660-page report issued by the UK on biodiversity this morning that also spoke of the concept of border tax and implementing tax on some of these economies that are heavy pollutants and not making that transition to Net-Zero.

What I think is really important, just to take a step back because I think policy is the third leg of the stool. We’re two-thirds of the way there already in terms of not just taking it broader than green transition and green solution but all of sustainable investing.

Hitting on a lot of the themes that you’ve touched on early on in the podcast, Patti, is that we have, from an economic standpoint, in many cases green energy and renewable energy is a lot more economical than legacy fossil fuel. That economics is really going to drive the transition.

It was a signal to the market and a signal here in the US when in October you saw NextEra overtake Exxon Mobile in terms of market share. NextEra is our largest producer of renewable energy here in the US. They took over Exxon in terms of market share on the S&P 500.

To me, that was a signal of where the future was and where the future is going, and much so from an economic standpoint. I don’t think any of us five years ago could ever have imagined that, and maybe not even three years ago, any of us in mainstream population.

The other bit is you’re seeing this end-consumer demand and that end consumer demand significantly start to rise. Schroders does a Global Investor Survey every year. There’s two things I would like to highlight.

In 2019, we saw this massive shift. Historically, it had always been, “Oh, the millennials and the women, they’re the ones that really care about sustainable investing.”

Actually, in 2019, we saw a shift where Gen X started leading the pack. They were more focused on sustainable investing than any other generation. We saw not only a continuation of that in 2020, but we also saw a broadening out across all levels of generations caring about sustainable investing, including baby boomers.

The other bit is that there was a real shift this year how people thought about sustainable and ESG investing, and it was on the return perspective. Historically, I had gotten a lot of push back from investors saying, “I don’t want to sacrifice return to invest sustainably.” That’s really not the case at all.

However, I do think today’s sustainable investing did get its first test in the early innings of the COVID crisis. It really proved itself to no longer just be a bull market luxury.

What we saw in our Global Investor Survey is that 55 percent of Americans now feel like if they don’t invest sustainably, they’ll miss out on performance. This was a real mind shift from what we had seen happen historically. Actually, this is a real mind shift or divergence from the rest of the world.

The rest of the world often thinks about sustainable investing from a beta or a risk perspective, where Americans are really focused on that alpha perspective. We are seeing a significant amount of capital that is going to have to move to meet both the goals of Paris as well as the UN Sustainable Development goals.

We’re seeing a massive amount of shift of capital in motion. I think that there is a real opportunity not only to maximize return but to maximize return and leave society a better place.

Patti: It’s fascinating to hear those stats because we’re seeing this in our own firm. People are talking about sustainable investing more and more. What I find fascinating is your point. Clean energy, for example, is actually more economic than investing in companies that focus on fossil fuels.

I can’t help but wonder what those companies are doing, the Exxons of the world, in order to catch up. Are they going to be the next Kodak, for example, that didn’t believe the writing on the wall and will become the next company that’s the has been, or is this just a temporary glitch?

Based on what I’m hearing is that you are saying that, 10 years ago, it was expensive to focus on clean energy, green, etc., where the cost to provide that has come down significantly. From an economic perspective, it can be a great investment as well.

Sarah: Exactly.

Patti: From your perspective, when you think about your clients because I know Schroders has such an influence not only here in the US but globally.

What I’ve understood is that Europe, for example, they almost don’t even categorize things as ESG anymore because they believe that every company should be focusing on that. Is that an accurate statement?

Sarah: Yes. I would say that in terms of Europe, or at least in terms of Northern Europe, ESG has become a hygiene factor. What do I mean by that is that it’s something that everybody is doing.

It is part of the entire investment value chain from the corporates to the investors to the end clients to plan participants. It is something that they’re clearly paying attention to.

Some of that is driven by, historically, Northern Europe, particularly the Nordics being a lead in the field of sustainable investing. Other bits of that is being driven by EU’s sustainable finance policy, where the EU has come out and not only put their flag in the ground to be the leader from a policy perspective around sustainable investing globally.

They’ve also developed a taxonomy that is actively looking to drive capital away from “brown or dirty industry” into green industry. They are trying to not only influence policy but also influence how capital is being driven. It’s not just the EU. We’re seeing pockets of regulation pop up globally.

Interestingly, if you looked at what had occurred in the form of regulation in 2017, there were just over 100 bits of policy or regulation around sustainable investing.

By 2019, it had exploded to around 250 global policies or regulations around sustainable investing by governments. I would say most of them because we were in a bit of a different scenario here in the US. We’re very supportive around sustainable investing.

Just to touch on, something we were talking before the podcast, Patti, is that we’re continuing to see that grow. We’re particularly continuing to see that grow around climate, as we think about and as we hear continuations of carbon prices and how they’re going to be potentially implemented at global levels.

Patti: You know what Sarah? I think that is a great tee-up for our next podcast. What do you say you and I come back on and talk a little bit about – or maybe, a lot – our new leadership here in America and some pretty dramatic initiatives in President Biden’s first week of office.

I’d be interested in learning what you think about that and where you think that could drive the United States, as well as the rest of the world.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Sarah. This is phenomenal. I can’t tell you how amazing you are at these different topics. I would not doubt for a moment that you read that 662-page paper this morning before our podcast even started.

Thank you for doing your homework. I so look forward to bringing you back on because I’m interested in learning a little bit of what’s going on behind the scenes down in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sarah: Great. Thank you for having me.

Patti: By the way, thank you for joining us as well, all of you who continue to tune in week after week, month after month. Boy, the feedback that you’ve been giving us is phenomenal. I’m so grateful.

It’s because of your feedback that we get to bring on incredible people like Sarah to talk about issues that are important to all of you, so keep coming back.

Thank you so much for joining us. If you have any questions, go to our website, keyfinancialinc.com. Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. I hope you guys have a great, healthy day.

Ep65: Top Issues Affecting America’s Economic Recovery

About This Episode

America is two months into a new year and one month into a new Presidency. Many ideas were proposed during the campaign and some have already been put in action. Patti and her Chief Investment Officer, Brad Everett, focus on three specific areas that will be instrumental in determining our nation’s economic recovery. The expediency of the COVID vaccine rollout plays a major role in a “return to normalcy”. It affects the unemployment rate, the need for additional stimulus and the survival of small businesses. From estate planning opportunities and tax saving strategies to inflation – Patti and Brad discuss the implications that all of these have on financial planning and the success of portfolio performance.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show,” whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me today is Brad Everett. Brad is our Chief Investment Officer here at Key Financial. Thank you so much, Brad, for joining us again for the show.

Brad Everett: Hi, Patti. Thanks for having me.

Patti: Absolutely. This is going to be a really cool opportunity for you and I to say OK. We had a conversation a few months back, and we talked about what we thought was going to happen. Now we get to say what really did happen and be accountable to everybody listening and taking their time to listen to our show and, “OK, what do we think now going forward from here?” Right?

Brad: Yeah, exactly, right.

Patti: We’re going to talk about the themes that everybody has been talking about at nausea. We’re going to talk about COVID, we’ll talk about the election and the resolution of the election, and maybe a little bit about the Federal Reserve.

Most importantly, Brad, let’s focus on what does it really mean for everybody listening today, and what should they be thinking about, and what should listeners be thinking about?

Let’s start off COVID. I heard one person say that the only time, the only way that we’re going to get a true recovery is when everybody gets a shot in the arm. That really comes down to the vaccine.

Brad: This isn’t something we’ve talked about, is it?

Patti: No, not at all. Not at all. What has happened though, since the last time we talked is that the vaccine was a concept. We were hoping. Now we know we have it, and it has been released. It’s been clunky in terms of getting it into the arms of Americans. Yeah, it’s here.

Let’s translate that into what does this recovery really look like, and what does that mean for the market?

Brad: This seems like a race. You had the vaccines out. You know what it is. You know what to expect from it. It’s just the matter of “Can you get it out fast enough if you feel confident that it was going to be wide dissemination by the third quarter?” Just as an example.

Can the economy, can the Congress put together stimulus package that would keep us afloat till then and avoid any major damage until then?

Patti: Yeah, because that’s a really important point. Just because there’s a vaccine doesn’t mean that people aren’t still suffering. There are a lot of Americans, there are a lot of businesses that are still out of business. They are not back up and running. There are a lot of Americans who are still out of work.

That has important ramifications, not just for the next three months or even the next nine months, but longer term because companies are probably going to be making decisions that if we hadn’t had this, they may not have been in a position to have to make, or, perhaps, the opportunity to make.

Brad: Right.

Patti: We’ve talked about that. You and I were talking, and I talked about it a little bit with Liz Young previously, and this concept of hysteresis. Tell us what that really means.

Brad: I had heard the word before, but I knew it as a physics word, a word from science. I guess economists have taken it over at some point.

Patti: They steal everything, don’t they?

Brad: Yeah, it seems like it. I think what we’re trying to avoid with a stimulus is the idea of hysteresis. You don’t want the trough to be so low that you never recover. The world is entirely different when it does recover.

You can think of hysteresis as the idea of a dynamic of a paperclip rather than a rubber band. In most cases, something goes wrong in the economy, everything snaps back like a rubber band. You stretch a rubber band, it comes back to the way it was fairly easily.

Patti: OK, Brad. Let’s visually do this. Here’s the rubber band.

Brad: You have a rubber band here?

Patti: I do. I absolutely I got my visuals. I got that. There’s a rubber band. It stretches, stretches, stretches, but when things calm down, it goes back to its original shape.

Brad: In most cases, that’s what happens any time there’s a temporary economic shock. That’s not uncommon. I think what you’re trying avoid here is a paperclip. If you bend a paperclip, it’s not going to go back in place.

Patti: OK, Vanna White, look out. Here I am. There’s the paperclip. I just bend it around and it stayed there. How do we compare that to the economy and the decisions that are being made?

Brad: Hysteresis is this idea that the effects of some kind of a shock will persist long after the causes of that shock are gone. The issues that we think are causing economic troubles now have since been rectified, but we still have problems that aren’t temporary anymore. They’ve become permanent.

I can give you a couple of examples. Massive unemployment several months ago, to an employer the decision to rehire an employee is a much different decision than retaining an employee. It’s much easier, once you’ve already laid somebody off, to make the decision now do we have to rehire that person? Can we replace them with technology?

Maybe we just don’t rehire anybody at all. Maybe we can get a smaller office if we don’t have this many employees. It becomes much harder to rehire someone once they’ve already been let go.

Another example, think of the work from home idea. Companies have been investing significant amounts of money in digital tools to make this possible for the last year. It’s become an accepted way of managing employees. Managers are comfortable now managing people that don’t come to the office. That’s fine.

Is it really a leap, then, to say, “Why do I need to hire this kid that lives in the middle of Westchester, when I can hire somebody overseas for a quarter of the price? There’s no difference to me. We’ve got the technology. That five‑mile difference makes no difference at all.”

Patti: It is interesting, because then it opens up a world of talent, no pun intended. It can be very interesting what this is going to look like. Be careful what we ask for. We might just get it.

Brad: Yeah, and I think that the more vague thing is, what is the effect of general pessimism long‑term? Does the pandemic change the way you think about and relate to the future? Is the world perceived to be too volatile? This pessimism, then, can become self‑fulfilling. Then, demand changes forever.

Patti: I think that is one of the biggest reasons why the Federal Reserve and the Treasury were so aggressive. They were worried about that, because it does become a self‑fulfilling prophecy. People stop spending. They have this money in the bank.

I don’t know about you, but I have a certain comfort level with a certain amount of money in the bank. When we weren’t doing anything during COVID, that balance grew. I’m comfortable with this new balance.

Something you said was also fascinating as it relates to that paperclip idea. I think about movie theaters, for example. We stopped going to movie theaters. What impact is that going to have? Is that more of a paperclip type of outcome? Are people ever going to go back to movie theaters, since we all have Netflix and Disney+ and these other alternatives, which are more convenient?

Brad: I think, if 12 months ago, you had the foresight to invest in a nice television and surround sound system, maybe you’d never go back to the movies again. It’s that decisions over millions and millions of consumers that dictate where the economy heads.

Patti: Let’s take this one step further. The next issue is the election. We now have resolution. It turned out a little bit different than I think you and I thought it might, in terms of a divided government with the Senate. It’s not necessarily as people might think. It wasn’t this big blue wave, for example.

Brad: No. I actually heard the term “a blue ripple.” It was a blue ripple.

Patti: Right, so it’s more of a ripple. What that really means is that, granted, there may be…I wouldn’t even say a majority of Democrats in public service, in the office, that can vote on certain things. There’s a slight advantage. It’s just slight.

To your point earlier, we were talking about this, and you brought up the concept of the Independents. There’s two Independents, right?

Brad: Yeah, I think so. The way they count that, to say that it’s 50 to 50 is based on the idea of the caucus. It’s actually 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two Independents. Those Independents just happen to caucus with the Democrats. That’s a very informal organization.

That doesn’t bind them to anything at all. It just says, “60 percent of the time, we’re going to be thinking of the same kinds of things, so let’s spend more time together thinking about these.” They’re just informal meeting groups where they talk about common interests. “What are we trying to accomplish? How are we going to do it?”

It’s really 50 to 48 to 2, not 50 to 50, I think.

Patti: That is very different. I know one of those Independents, they really are independent. They are independent thinkers. That’s why they are registered that way. To think that there’s going to be massive legislation that’s going to change capitalism, as we know, is probably not realistic.

Brad: Absolutely. I’ve heard that rule of thumb that if you had 60, 60 is the number where you can force through whatever you want. Anything shy of that, you’re really, really nitpicking votes one way or another. You get one Democrat that doesn’t agree with one part of the language and your bill doesn’t go through anymore. It’s that simple.

Patti: We were talking about Angus King from Maine. He’s one of the independents. He was on “60 Minutes” this weekend. I just found him to be so interesting to listen to, ironically, because he was talking about listening. Of course, he was talking about the January 6th event. His point was that we can never condone that behavior.

At the same point, we have to understand that there’s a lot of people in America who have strong feelings about certain things. It’s important that no matter where we are, we have to engage more in this concept – He used the term that I loved – eloquent listening.

To really take the time to understand why they felt, not necessarily them but people, why they feel so strongly about something, that’s the role of our politicians. Together, they listen to the people in their community and people in their state. They go and do that brainstorming together and really talk it through, because it seems to me that the issues that are out there are really complicated.

I will tell you, I’m pretty well read, I’m pretty smart, what have you, but I really don’t understand everything. The fact that Jeff Bezos from Amazon, Jamie Dimon from JPMorgan, and Warren Buffett from Berkshire, all got together three years ago to solve this healthcare issue.

They’re going to reduce the cost for healthcare. They put together this company. Within three years, it has disbanded. They couldn’t figure it out. It just tells me that these things are a lot more complicated.

To really understand that going in, and we all may have our opinions, I don’t know, I’ve always gone into these things with a lot of humility and understanding that I really may not know everything about a particular issue. I have feelings, but I may not know absolutely everything that we need to consider.

Brad: It almost seems like his take on the whole thing was to get away from this idea that politics is just a zero‑sum game. You’ve got to believe that there’s more than two types of people in this country. There’s not just Republicans and Democrats. These issues are not just completely binary. It’s way more complicated.

He was just saying you have to listen. The reason that you came to the decisions you made are cultural or economic. They’re all these things. It’s like what you learned from your parents, the experiences you’ve had growing up. It can’t just be that simple as one side wins and the other side loses.

It’s like a step [indecipherable 13:45] in a horoscope. If you’re a Cancer, that means you fall in 1 of 12 personality types that dictate every action. Republicans and Democrats is way worse.

Patti: Exactly. That’s a great comparison. Being a Taurus, I can totally relate.

Brad: Defines every single thing you think and do. Your lucky numbers for the day.

Patti: Let’s translate that from a financial planning perspective because, again, we haven’t had a blue wave. It’s been more of a ripple. Maybe it’s a little bit more even, if you will. What people were really worried about is, “OK, what happens if there is this blue wave across the board? What does it mean from a tax perspective, a spending perspective?” On and on and on.

Brad: An election like this is fascinating to me, the brilliance of a democracy. This is the brilliance of a group of 300 million people making a decision rather than one because if you pull apart the pieces, it telegraphs what people really wanted. You learn from the election, one, we’re very much a 50/50 country. We’re very close. It’s not 60/40. It’s not 55/45. It’s 50/50.

You almost think there’s an exhaustion. The Republican Party wasn’t voted out of power. I don’t think of it as being the Republicans were voted out of power. A person that was a representative of that party was voted out of power.

Again, this is just me, but it’s almost like voters didn’t necessarily like that person as the representative. Maybe they didn’t dislike his policy so much, because he kept all the Republicans in Congress there. The Republicans gained seats in the House. Again, it’s still no overwhelming majority in the Senate.

A lot of those things will continue. It’s not like Biden was elected with such an overwhelming plurality that he can just do whatever he wants. You start with that. You start with this idea that there’s a lot of moderates in power right now.

There’s just no overwhelming majority. There’s probably a list of things that Biden will have an easier time getting through and a list of things that probably just aren’t likely based from what you heard during the campaign. These are things that he’s thrown out there as possibilities. Some of them will probably get through. Some of them won’t.

Patti: You’ve brought this idea of this power and the rising to power. What I’ve learned, more than anything, is the fact that, really, there are a lot of people who are very, very moderate. If I’ve heard anything, I’ve heard time and time again that the people who are “Republican” really liked his policies, Trump’s policies. They liked the impact that the policies had.

Everybody’s got their opinions and that kind of stuff. The impact of social media, let’s face it, it’s the people who are the most extreme, they’re the loudest people. They’re the ones that are all over social media. Moderates aren’t on social media. I’m not on social media. Are you on social media?

Brad: No. Not talking about politics, for sure.

Patti: No. Perhaps this perception that there’s this real wave of extremism, yeah, it’s out there and we certainly saw evidence of that on January 6th, but it’s probably not the majority. It’s probably not the majority of the people that are representing all of us.

With that in mind, the hope would be is that they take that and really take the opportunity to do that brainstorming together, the debate, the pros and cons of any policies that they want to think about going forward. Those policies would include tax law.

Brad: That’s, again, something that’s more would affect what people who want to listen to us talk about financial planning topics.

Patti: We’re all about talking about the things that are going to affect the people that are going to want to listen to us.

Let’s get to the bottom line. What should people listening think about depending on their situation? Income taxes.

Brad: Again, we think through like what’s likely, what’s not likely. I don’t think it’s a terrible stretch to think that you could raise the highest marginal bracket, a percent or two. Maybe 39.6 was suggested. I don’t know that that’s farfetched or tough to pass.

Patti: Brad, just for the record, do we think that is going to cripple the economy?

Brad: No, I wouldn’t think so.

Patti: OK.

Brad: We’ve had marginal tax rates far higher than that and managed to plug along. People still want to invest and make money, believe it or not, even at higher tax rates than that.

Patti: I remember when Clinton was in office, the capital gains rate was 28 percent for everybody.

Brad: Yeah. People still…

Patti: People still invested, and the market, by the way, did really well. Basically, what I’m understanding with everything that we’ve read is that Biden’s proposal would target people earning over $400,000.

Brad: Yeah. It sounds like it’s really that’s the focus, just the very highest of income brackets.

Patti: The ordinary tax rate’s going to go up. What about capital gains?

Brad: That’s an interesting one. There’s been some talk about increasing the capital gains rate. I would probably put this under the list of things that’s not likely to happen would be actually removing the qualified status of dividends.

Again, I think businesses have shown that they can react to that. Before qualified dividends were a thing, they just didn’t pay very much in dividends.

Patti: In English, guys, what that means is that a dividend paid by a company is taxed at 15 percent. It is not included as ordinary income tax at a much higher rate.

Brad: Because it was already being taxed at the corporate level.

Patti: Yeah, and it’s double taxation because the company’s already paid taxes on that dividend, and you’re going to pay taxes on it as well? The answer is yes. They reduced the amount that you have to pay to 15 percent.

Brad: You’d probably find enough people that disagree with that idea. Corporate taxes, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody say that a corporate tax of 21 percent is sustainable. If that changed to 25, everybody will be like, “Yeah,” probably figured that was happening.

Patti: When it was passed, everybody knew this is going to last as long as it can last. Hopefully, we’ll get re‑elected, and then we can figure it out from there.”

Brad: I guess I would probably defer to your expertise on this, but I think in terms of estate taxes and things like that, I mean…

Patti: Let’s talk about that. On the estate tax front, we already know that effective 2026, this wonderful credit exemption of $11.7 million per person is going away. It’s going to go. It will be cut in half.

That’s already low, folks. Nothing has to happen for that to happen, if you will. A family can leave $23 million, plus or minus, to the next generation, and there is no Federal estate tax. The access over that amount would be taxed at 40 percent.

What Biden was proposing was he wanted to take that $11.7 million down to $3.5 million. That is a dramatic difference. When we talk about your estate, we’re talking about everything, not just your portfolio. We’re talking about your home, your vacation home, the value of your life insurance.

If you have a business, a small business or a large business, that’s included in your taxable estate.

I just saw an article on someone who died recently. The IRS was coming back at the stay because they didn’t agree with the value of the business. They’re literally doubling the amount of the estate tax that the family has to pay, but the business is really an ongoing entity.

Where are they going to come up with that money?

All of a sudden, a fire sale happens, because they have to sell the business in order to pay the tax.

That’s the problem. That’s the issue that we have as it relates to this Federal estate tax.

It’s a liquidity issue. The thing that caused the problem, how are we going to solve it? You have to sell, and everybody knows you have to sell, so they’re not going to give tough dollar. No way. No way.

Well, the IRS might think it’s valuable. The market says, “Well, that’s fine, but we don’t agree. We’re going to give you $0.60 on the dollar.” Not enough.

Let’s say you get $0.60 on the dollar, Biden’s tax is going to be $0.45, so the family ends up with $0.15?

Brad: Yeah.

Patti: Pretty crazy. That happens with businesses, small and large, as well as farms. Farms really get hit hard within estate tax. There’s other entities, but that’s something to think about.

Most of the people who are listening today, you may not be a farmer. If you are, heads up. Be aware. Do something about it.

Brad: What’s involved in changing that? Would that be for whoever is President in 2026 to extend or change or restart…?

Patti: Congress will take it up before then. If it stayed the way it is, which I’m not sure it will, but if it stayed the way it is, it becomes law in 2026. They must take proactive action to extend it.

Brad: You’d need a little more planning. You guys can’t wait until December 2025 to figure this out.

Patti: Absolutely, and I think it’s important for those people who are listening that you also can’t wait until then. By the way, there’s some really cool things that you can do to lock in this $23 million. It’s one of these things, if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it, so let’s use it.

That credit is available, yes, when you pass away, but it’s also available when you’re alive. I’m not going to get into the weeds today, but there’s things called spousal lifetime access trusts, for example.

If, by any stretch of the imagination – and there is a lot of imagination in this – if by the stretch of the imagination we were in the situation I could take $11.7 million and stick it into a trust for Ed, my husband. I’ve used up my credit exemption, because the end beneficiaries are going to be my four children, but it’s a spousal lifetime access trust.

Ed has access to the income and the principal, whatever he might need while he’s alive. Whatever’s left in that trust will go to the kids tax‑free, even if that exemption goes back down to $3.5 million. It’s a cool tool to, like I said earlier, use it before you lose it.

Brad: It’s based on the amount at the time, not what it grows to.

Patti: Which is even better, because guess what. If Ed can finally go on a budget, which is heresy to Ed Brennan. I’m not kidding there. He engages in retail therapy literally on a daily basis. That being said, I will be working for the rest of my life.

Now, all kidding aside, if he left that trust alone, 11.7, and if it grew at seven percent, seven percent, money doubles every 10 years. 11.7 becomes 23, becomes 45 or 50 million dollars. We have left, in this fantasy land that we’re talking about, [laughs] 50 million dollars to the kids, and there is no federal estate tax. Zippo. That’s pretty cool.

Now again, not for everybody. It may be overkill for most people, but there are tools out there that can be used. There’s caveats to this, strings attached. You’ve got to know what you’re getting into, but there’s five examples of other things that you can do to take advantage of the estate tax law that we have today.

It will be important for everybody to be aware of. You’d be surprised how quickly it can sneak up on someone. I’ll tell you, Brad, it’s one of those problems that you want to have. You kind of want to have this.

Brad: Yeah. Not the worst thing, I guess.

Patti: Exactly, and if you can be proactive about it and preserve it, that’s what we’re all about. If you want to preserve, grow, and use your assets, that’s the way to do it. The estate taxes – it’s a long explanation that could be vulnerable.

They’re also talking about removing this step‑up in cost basis. That’s an important thing to keep on the lookout for. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If we lose that wonderful little loophole, everybody listening needs to be aware of that.

That’s got some important planning under current law, lots of great things to think about, because we still have it. If we lose it, again, very important considerations.

I know I’m being vague here, but we’re not going to give advice or tell people what to do. It’s all based on their situation and whether or not it’s even a problem for them. Let’s not solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Just keep aware of what they’re thinking and what they’re talking about.

Next topic – Federal Reserve.

Brad: Yeah. I think the Fed’s been doing the same thing they’ve been doing. I think they’ve made their plans known that they’re probably going to keep doing the same thing they’ve been doing.

Knowing their mandate, it’s funny. I don’t think the Fed’s so mysterious. They have two major goals. One of them is to keep inflation around two percent. As long as it’s below that…I think since 2012 it’s poked up above two twice. It’s consistently below that, so interest rates I would assume would stay low until that becomes a problem.

Patti: Yeah. They telegraph that – lower for longer. Jerome Powell has pretty much said, “We’re not even thinking about increasing interest rates.” That’s clear, and it has had a ripple effect or domino effect in different sectors, like real estate.

Brad: Yeah. Low-interest rates affect every kind of investment differently. Real estate’s an interesting one. Normally, in most cases, you would think that’s good for real estate. You can buy a lot more house if the interest rate’s three percent instead of seven, so that would cause values to go up.

Home ownership’s a lot different than commercial real estate. You have to consider what the property’s used for. If you’re talking about office space or retail space or malls and things like that, it’s hard to value real estate if you don’t know what the cash flows are going to be. There’ll probably be a little bit of a lag there before real estate becomes too appealing again.

Patti: We’re back to the rubber band and the paperclip thing again.

Brad: Yeah. We just don’t know. Office buildings could remain empty for a long time.

Patti: What other areas? We talk about the impact of the vaccine, and the market, and this concept of rear‑view mirror investing – growth, growth, growth. We were talking earlier. I thought it was incredible, your number, in terms of the difference in performance between growth and value. Why don’t you share that?

Brad: For the year of 2020, all you see is the S&P. You hear that number every night, but they don’t break it apart. The value portion of that, the half, was only up 2.8 percent. That’s largely because of dividends. I think the actual total return is 2.8. I think the dividend yield is probably 2.3 or 4. The growth, though, is up 38.5 percent. There’s a wide disparity there.

Patti: I cannot remember a time when there was such a wide gap between growth and value. It’s been that way for a lot of years. Last five years, growth has significantly out‑performed value year after year after year.

Brad: Depending on how you define it, I think it never has been this overvalued relative to value. Rob Arnott was on Bloomberg this morning, and he made the comment…Let me take a step back. Usually, the comparison we use is price‑to‑earnings. That, even by itself, only 11 percent of time has the disparity been as great as it is.

It’s already pretty far away from normal, but Rob Arnott said, if you use the comparison of price‑to‑book value, it’s the highest it’s ever been. Growth is now 12 times more valuable on a price‑to‑book basis than value.

Patti: When we say more valuable, what we’re talking about is the value of the companies that represent that index. Just because something has that as the value, it’s based on the price per share. The price per share can get out of whack. People’s opinions, in terms of what the value of that stock, tends to go further than anybody thinks it might, like a Tesla or an Amazon, an Apple, etc.

There’s usually the argument, “This time is different. Look at that company. We’re never going to go back. The paper clip is going to stay that way, and that company is just going to continue to make money hand over fist. That’s the future. That’s why that company needs to be at that value. In fact, we’re not even giving it fair value for the future, so I’m going to buy more of it.”

It becomes, again, another self‑fulfilling prophecy. It’s a momentum market. It goes up because it’s been going up, so it continues to grow.

In the meantime, you’ve got these other companies that are paying their dividends, making their money. They’re unloved companies, just because they’re not as sexy. They may not have that. Included in those are the banks, for example, and energy companies. We’re not going to stop using gasoline and oil. We’re not going to stop using the banks.

They got hit hard last year. They did not perform nearly as well until that magic moment, folks, in November, when Pfizer’s vaccine got approved and then Moderna’s. All of a sudden, it was like clockwork. It was like a dime. I don’t know that I would have thought that banks would have skyrocketed as a result of a vaccine, but they did.

When I say skyrocketed, their stocks started to grow. They got to the point, if you look from September to the end of the year, value out‑performed growth. A lot of people don’t know that, because we only look at from January to December.

Take a look from September 30th to the end of the year. Look at value and value companies, dividend‑paying companies, really good companies. Compare them to some of the companies that we’ve all been talking about – the Apples, the Amazons, the Googles, etc. You might be surprised.

Here’s a question. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you’re a CFA. You’ve got all of the letters after your name. You are a brilliant Chief Investment Officer. In all of the things that you know and have read and have learned, how different is that in terms of when you’re coming out of a recession?

We’re still in the recession. We know that the market is a leading indicator, so it’s forward‑looking. You look at the pockets of the market, and what tends to come out of a recession – businesses, companies, markets – what areas of the market tend to come out faster?

Brad: The only thing I really know is that I don’t know anything.

Patti: You and me both, which is why we’re probably effective, to be honest with you. We don’t assume that we know.

Brad: To answer your question, I think a lot of times out of a recession, value tends to come out of a recession pretty well. Small‑cap value has been a place that’s been beaten down for the last decade. Not beaten down, but relative to large‑cap growth, for example. That’s had a great year, and especially a great last six months.

There’s a couple things. Part of what makes these companies slingshot out of a recession is probably not the fact that it’s the end of a recession, but the fact that low-interest rates tend to be there when you’re coming out of a recession.

The thing that fueled the exit from a recession…Would we exit a recession at very high-interest rates and see the same thing? Probably not, but I think a lot of the companies that’s slingshot out of recessions are companies that you’d expect to do well anytime rates are very low.

Patti: That’s a really good point. When rates are really low, those companies are refinancing. Just like we’re financing our mortgages, they’re refinancing as well.

Small companies are nimbler. They are smaller. They see the impact of something like that faster. Their cash flows are benefiting, and quickly.

Brad: I tried to think of a distinction between a short‑duration asset and a long‑duration asset, so you think of a company like Johnson & Johnson. It’s not Netflix. They’re not innovative like Netflix is. They have a huge portfolio of products, many of which operate under patents.

To a large degree, you can predict their cash flows for a very long period of time. Netflix, I don’t know how anybody can do that. Google, I don’t know how you do that, but a company like Johnson & Johnson or Procter & Gamble who’s got a thousand products in your grocery store, you can predict their cash flows for long time.

A lot of analysts would use a discounted cash‑flow analysis to try to value those. Interest rates being low makes that stream of cash flows at the end much more valuable.

They get rewarded almost for having longer, less volatile, predictable income streams than a very high‑growth company that you would hope to make your return very soon because you have no idea what’s going to happen later.

Patti: This idea of the cash flows, we also want to keep in mind that the value of a company…The only way a company grows is if their profits grow, their revenue grows. It’s the growth of the cash flow that is also really important.

If, all of a sudden, you go from paying six percent interest down to three percent, you’ve instantly got growth of your cash flow. That’s really how to boil it down into simple things.

Brad, let’s wrap this up. In terms of where we see the opportunities, we’ve talked about COVID, light at the end of the tunnel.

Election, there has been resolution, may not be as much clarity in terms of what laws are going to change, the impact. The impact of spending, stimulus, things of that nature, but it’s probably likely we’re going to see a third stimulus. Is that safe to say?

Brad: Yeah, I think there’s effort behind that, for sure.

Patti: I think that everybody recognizes that we need to keep people afloat until we get that herd immunity. There are a lot of people who are not afloat right now. Yes, the $900 billion was a good band‑aid, but it probably wasn’t enough to get us to that third quarter. So, that is probable.

Brad: I think both parties agree that it’s something to do. It’s just the details.

Patti: Exactly. Then, we’ve got the Federal Reserve. We have a good feel for what the Fed’s going to do and the opportunities that that could present. I think that everybody listening today…I don’t like to “should” on people, but I would take this opportunity to recognize where we are today and this new environment that we now have.

It is very different than it was in October, so please take the opportunity from a financial planning perspective. Look at your tax situation. Look at your estate, your wills, your trusts. What is relevant in your personal situation?

Then, drill down to your portfolio and your personal cash flow. Things are different. Some of you may be fully‑employed and be doing great, and things are seamless. Some of you may not. What implication does that have in your future financial planning?

Then, really drilling down in terms of the asset allocation in the portfolio itself, do you have the asset allocation and the weightings in such a way that you’re comfortable in this new world, in this new environment?

Again, with the understanding that Brad nor I know for sure what’s going to happen in the future, my recommendation is to go out and be gardeners. You want something blooming all the time. Diversification is the only…We don’t have any free lunches, but it is an important concept that you really want to stick with.

Yes, there are going to be periods of time when your international funds or your small‑cap value funds, just like Brad was talking about, they are just sucking wind and not doing anything. You might be thinking, “Why in the world should I continue to hold onto this thing? It hasn’t done anything for five years.” Then, boom. The second half of 2020 happens, and it goes through the roof.

That’s why you want something blooming all the time. That math helps to accumulate your wealth, because you have something that’s doing well. Sometimes, you can’t – I mean, Brad, you’re the expert in this with your background – you want to something that’s not doing so hard, right?

Brad: It’d be nice if everything could go up all the time, but this is not practical. I think you can’t…I just think of it like a flow of funds for money to go into something and make that asset go up. It has to be coming from somewhere else.

It’s an impossible idea to think that everything is going to always go up, but it’s the way the market seem to work.

Patti: OK, folks, so here’s the deal. It’s January. On that big, on this New Year’s resolutions, and yet I do think it’s a great opportunity for you to take a look at what you’ve been doing, get rid of that rear‑view mirror, and say, “Where do I want to be a year from now, five years from now, and long into the future?”

Try to make the best decisions for you and your family. That’s the key. Chances are there’re going to be different decisions than what you’ve done in the past.

Brad, thank you so much for joining me. It’s always fun doing this with you. You prepare, you read, you’re just amazing. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Feel free to go to our website, keyfinancialinc.com. Write in some questions, let us know if you’d like to hear from us. We’re here to help you, we’re here to help your families.

Thank you so much for joining us today. I am Patti Brennan, and we’ll see you in a couple of weeks. Take care.

Ep64: The Next 900 Days: A Conversation with Liz Young, BNY Mellon

About This Episode

In part two of a two-part series with Liz Young, CFA and Director of Market Strategy at BNY Mellon Investment Management, Patti questions what the next 900 days look like for the markets – both nationally and globally. Liz, a frequent CNBC Contributor, shares her economic outlook and reveals some important principles investors should be considering. As the strength of the US dollar weakens, there are specific strategies that Patti and Liz discuss as paramount to portfolio success. There is also a new young class of investors that will be making an impact on the markets. Listen and learn how the political environment impacts their decisions as well as the regulations that could result. There will be shifts in leadership of companies, corporation communication and corporate spending. It’s time to pay attention and Patti explains why!


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me again today is Liz Young. Liz is a Director of Market Strategy for BNY Mellon. We are so lucky to have Liz with us today. If you haven’t listened to the prior podcast, turn this off right away. Listen to the podcast that we just released so that you can get a feel for how amazing she is and how bright she is and what she thinks in terms of what to expect the first 90 days of this year.

Then today, what we’re going to cover is, what do we expect for the next 900 days? Liz, thank you so much for joining us.

Liz Young: Glad to be here again. I don’t get to be president on this one, though, do I?

Patti: As far as I’m concerned, you’re in. I think you’re amazing.

Liz: I think I just want the job for 90 days. I don’t think I want it for 900. Just a brief appearance in the White House is fine for me.

Patti: That’s all we really need, Liz. You can tee it up. Then, all the things that you talked about in the prior podcast, you’re going to fix everything. Then from there, the economy will take care of itself.

Liz: Right. Perfect.

Patti: We talked about short term versus long term. Now, let’s talk about something that is sometimes painful, and that is this concept of diversification. When we’re managing portfolios to make them work for a client’s financial plan, part of that involves diversifying their assets.

I will tell you, Liz. It’s been hard over the last five years because the S&P 500 has been the only game in town, or I should say the best game in town. Again, we are not rearview‑mirror investing. We understand that that is the way that it was, but let’s look forward together and think about, “Diversification is a principle that works over time, maybe not every time, but it does work over time.”

Looking forward to the next 90 days – and I’m going to interject a concept or a thought – especially as it relates to where we are with the dollar and currency. Especially also as it relates to international investing, which is, frankly, the area that hasn’t done nearly as well as the US stock market.

What do you think about the value of the dollar, the currency? What kind of an impact does that have for that part of a person’s portfolio?

Liz: Let’s take a step back and do a quick lesson on diversification. I realize that it’s been used as a term “deworsification” too with clients because there are asset classes that seem to work against them all the time, or maybe they act like a drag on the portfolio, or as you pointed out, the S&P 500 has outperformed everything else, why do I bother with anything other than the S&P 500?

First and foremost, diversification is the combination of a number of different asset classes, and the intention is that those asset classes do not behave like one another, which means when one is up, there’s going to be another that’s down.

That is exactly how it’s supposed to work. A lot of times when clients are using certain types of assets, and I’m thinking about things like alternatives or fixed income, and they’re looking at them and expecting them to perform well at the same time that their equity portfolio performs well, they end up disappointed.

What I would call that is user error. If you’re using certain parts of your portfolio to perform well in up, down and sideways markets, please let me know what parts of the portfolio can do that because [laughs] there’s not a lot of asset classes that can do everything.

Diversification is meant to have some cylinders hitting while other cylinders aren’t. That’s rule number one. To your point about the dollar and international investing, first, looking at the strength or weakness of the dollar is something that I like to usually compare to, we talk about the VIX index a lot, so the volatility index, as the fear index.

I actually think it’s the dollar that’s the fear index because the US dollar is looked at around the globe as the reserve currency, as the safe-haven currency, and any time there is global fear, you’re going to see strength in the dollar because there’s more appetite for the dollar, and there’s more appetite for liquidity in the dollar.

As the dollar has weakened over the last six months, that’s much more an indication of fear subsiding around the globe than it is of anything else. You could argue that there’s some headwinds on the dollar, things like the trade deficit, the budget deficit in the US.

Yes, that’s true, but that’s more of a longer-term force and something that I would call a strategic force, not a tactical short term force that’s going to cause a three‑to‑six month pull back. Looking at the weakness that has already happened in the dollar, into 2021 we do expect it to either stay in that weak range, I would say at best, stay in that weak range if not get weaker.

Especially with a blue wave in Washington. As the dollar weakens, and as it’s already weakened, what that does is it creates a tailwind for international investing, and specifically for European equities and Asian emerging markets. That’s both debt and equity.

When you look at emerging markets and Europe, they’re actually very intertwined. The European consumer buys a lot of stuff from emerging markets. As that European consumer comes back in this global recovery, emerging markets benefit from that.

Then you have to think about the entire supply chain, all the stuff that European consumers buy from emerging markets have to be moved from emerging markets back to Europe. You’re going to have trucks. You’re going to have trains. You’re going to have planes that carry everything. That’s the transportation sector.

There’s all sorts of opportunities wrapped up into that theme, and the weakness of the dollar just further accentuates the attractiveness of international investing. The fact that the S&P has done so well makes the valuations on the S&P a little bit less attractive as compared to European equities and emerging market equities.

Patti: That’s really interesting. Let’s go back to the weakening of the dollar. How weak is weak? How much did it decline, and was that relative…was that a lot? Relative to other periods?

Liz: You wouldn’t expect something like the US dollar to have a ton of volatility in it because it’s the US dollar. We’re talking about the most influential and important currency around the globe, and many things are denominated in dollars.

Many global commodities are denominated in dollars. Obviously, the circulation of dollars is influential in all central bank operations. You wouldn’t expect it to have big moves, but I believe over 2020, it fell somewhere between 11 and 14 percent. I’m not sure what the exact number was at the end of the year.

That is a pretty big move, but you also have to remember that it rose a lot because of all the fear that happened in the beginning of the year. When you saw what happened in March, the dollar saw a lot of strength because that pandemic was globally reaching.

It wasn’t something where if we look back on the financial crisis, that began in the US. We started it, right? Then the rest of the world, unfortunately, caught it. This was something that was a global pandemic that hit us all. It was a completely exogenous shock, meaning it wasn’t due to excessive risk-taking in financial markets.

It wasn’t due to one particular region doing something wrong economically. It was completely exogenous, external, out of our control. Had nothing to do with the economy or the markets, but absolutely affected all economies and markets and actually almost exactly the same time, maybe within 30 days depending on the spread but almost exactly the same time.

That was global fear that took hold. When global fear takes hold, there’s really only asset that everybody’s going to want, and that’s the dollar. There was a ton of strength, and then as that fear let air out of the balloon and everybody took a step back, Armageddon wasn’t coming, maybe a depression wasn’t coming. Then you started to see a falloff in the dollar, but that’s not a bad thing.

I think that’s one of the things that I want people to remember, that a weaker dollar is not necessarily a bad thing for the US economy.

Patti: Very interesting, and really an important point also. When we look at the value of the dollar, we think about international investing. One of the other things that I’ve heard is that with this kind of stimulus, with this much money sloshing around, the value of our currency can also go down with that. Is that an accurate statement?

Liz: Yes, because when you think about all the money that’s sloshing around, so what we’ve done is we effectively put more dollars into circulation. The dollar that you’re holding in your hand, and there’s a stat.

I don’t want to quote it exactly because I’m not exactly sure what it is. I want to say it’s something like 70 or 80 percent of the dollars in circulation have been put into circulation in the last, I don’t know, 10 to 15 years or something.

As we print more and more dollars, the one that you’re holding in your hand becomes less valuable because there’s so many more out there. Then you’ve got basically what’s more money chasing the same amount of goods, which is deflationary by nature because all this kind of money flying around and everything that you had before is just worthless because there’s so much abundance of money.

What that does to the value of the dollar, obviously, is puts pressure on it. What happened in this pandemic in particular is that you’ve competing forces. Sometimes one force wins even if that doesn’t make economic sense.

The force that won that was driving strength in the dollar was fear as I mentioned before. As we move forward and as the economy gets healthier, what you might see is that all that spending and all that printing is actually putting pressure on the value of the dollar, which…

This is a completely separate conversation, but something that’s driving that cryptocurrency trade because people are looking at crypto and saying, “Is that a better store value than the US dollar now given the fact that we’ve just printed endless amounts of dollars?”

It’s going to change the way we think about what is currency, what is the strength of currency, what are the stores of value other than currency in this kind of strange, constant policy‑support environment.

Patti: It is so interesting that you bring up the competing forces. As the fear begins to decline, as people get more and more comfortable with that, is it safe to say that there’s some pent up demand and that we could go hog wild with all these extra dollars that we all have?

We know that the savings rate in the US broke a record last year. I think right now it’s about 13 percent, which is historically very, very high. We’ve got lots of money and savings, what happens when we are all back traveling and doing the things that we were doing pre‑COVID.

What could happen then? Is there an unintended consequence or a potential consequence that people need to be aware of?

Liz: Yes. First and foremost, I think it’s important to point out that we don’t all have a lot of money sitting around. This crisis has affected different levels of economic wealth in many, many different ways.

There is a large subset of the population and the economy that’s suffering quite a bit, and is not liquid and is still really pinching pennies. Then we’ve got food banks with the highest demand they’ve ever had.

There is definitely a part of the economy that continues to need that support.

Patti: Liz, can I just…

Liz: On the other end of it…

Patti: …can I just say one thing to you?

Liz: Sure.

Patti: This is why you should be president, because that was such a wonderful acknowledgment of what we hear in the media, what we hear and we read. I’m reading it too. Savings are going through the roof, etc., but, you’re absolutely right.

There are a lot of people out there who are not, don’t have a lot of money in savings who are still struggling. I think it’s important to acknowledge that. It’s important to acknowledge we’re not out of the woods yet, and we are a nation that is there to support the most vulnerable among all of us. Thank you for bringing that up. I think that’s wonderful. Thank you for saying that.

Liz: Sure. That’s the part of the economy that benefits the most from that fiscal support. A $600 check may not mean a lot to somebody who makes a million dollars a year, right? You’re not going to get one anyway. A $600 check to a family that’s struggling and trying to make ends meet and feed people every single night of the week is a lot of money. We have to keep that in mind.

Of the haves, we talked about the have nots. Of the haves, the savings rate did get really, really high. Understandably so. Not just because of fear, but also because we just had nowhere to go and nowhere to spend it.

Patti: Sure.

Liz: Nothing was open, so what are you going to buy? There was a period of time where there literally was no activity happening at all. That savings rate has come down slightly since the earlier part of 2020, but it’s still elevated again partially because there wasn’t really anywhere to spend it, or there wasn’t as much opportunity to spend it.

We do expect that as the recovery drags on and continues through this, that you’ll see a reduction in that savings rate around the globe. It’s going to be this reboot in activity and this reboot in demand. That’s a wonderful thing. I think there are some people that are still underestimating how strong that reboot is going to be.

One of the things that I want people to keep in mind is that what it could cause is inflationary forces, but they hopefully are transient. What I mean by that is as demand picks up again and as that savings rate falls and people start spending, it may happen very, very quickly. It may happen in a huge burst or a couple big bursts of that level. It’s the supply…

Patti: Kind of like the way it happened in terms of the way that we all pulled back. That was a sudden stop in economic activity. We were in our homes. We couldn’t spend the money.

Liz: Right, exactly. As it restarts, there’s probably some seasonality effects, right? People travel more in summer than they do at other times of the year. Anyway, but what could happen is as that demand comes back, if the supply chain isn’t ready to meet the demand, you’re going to see little bursts of inflation.

You might see some readings on the inflationary metrics, things like CPI, PCE. Those are the ones that get reported. You might see some readings that are above what we’re used to. Granted, we are used to some very, very low numbers, but you might see some numbers that are higher than that.

It could cause jitters in risk markets every once in a while. I just want people to be ready for that. Not that it’s something that’s going to cause a recession. Not that it’s something that’s detrimental or going to derail the recovery, but it could cause some jitters because we’re not accustomed to seeing that.

It could also cause some volatility in the yield curve or the treasury yield levels. As the treasury curve moves around and tries to find the right spot, maybe the Fed controls it and controls the volatility to some degree. But as it moves around, that could affect risk markets as well.

I think it’s something to just be on the lookout for. I think if we’re prepared to see that, it won’t be as scary as when it happens.

Patti: That is so good. Again, we’re just creating some reasonable expectations. Hopefully it doesn’t happen, but if it does, it’s nothing that we need to freak out about. Regulators, everybody’s aware that that’s a possibility.

Let’s continue this theme of Americans and social responsibility. Let’s talk a little bit and let’s end today with this idea of the socially responsible investing. It’s really beginning to get some legs, isn’t it?

Liz: It certainly is. Anybody who hasn’t been paying attention to it should listen up.

Patti: Yup. OK, we’re all yours Liz Young.

Liz: One of the things that we have talked about on my team as a theme for the next one to three years is the idea of ESG. That’s environmental, social, and governance. Frankly, it’s something that the US is behind on.

I think we get caught up in our own politics on this way too much. It becomes a very political conversation in the US. Whereas if you’ll look at what happens in Europe, it’s not a political conversation. They just accept it as reality.

There’ve been regulations put in place in regions like Europe that require companies to abide by certain metrics and have to meet certain codes in order to stay in business and in order to remain open. I think that that trend probably comes to the US sooner than later.

What could happen in the early days of that is that there are some corporations that are going to have to spend in order to keep up with the ESG theme, and in order to keep up with regulations that could come on an ESG perspective.

Now, this is not just environmental, I think that’s the one that we’re used to talking about and thinking about things like clean energy, and will companies be required to not dirty the environment, of course, but there’s also this huge force of social that has taken the world by storm, unfortunately, kind of a violent storm last year.

The social piece of that, and the idea that even the NASDAQ exchange is looking at requiring companies to have one female or one person of color on their boards. There is a social aspect of this, too.

That’s going to require companies to shift the way they do business, shift the way their leadership looks, shift the way that they communicate, and some of it is going to require spending. It could put pressure on corporate profits that are most exposed or most vulnerable to that in the short‑term.

That being said, the reason why I said if people haven’t thought about it, haven’t accepted it as a reality, it’s time to listen up is because the next generation that’s coming in as investors, and as consumers, and as the ones that we need in order to keep this economy moving is millennials. They are a huge generation.

They care a lot more about ESG than the baby boomers did. This is a theme that from an investor appetite standpoint, they want companies that are ESG compliant, they want responsible companies that they feel good about, they also want to work for companies that are ESG compliant and that they feel good about.

We have to think about that going forward, and that’s beyond one to three years. That’s a decade down the road as well, but it’s a trend, it’s a theme, it’s a force that is here to stay, it’s not going anywhere, and as the millennials enter the economy in a big way, it’s just going to get stronger.

Patti: Your point about ESG in the US versus say Europe is really interesting. I also understand that in Europe and in many international countries, there is no such thing as an ESG fund, because every corporation, every entity out there, if they’re going to remain in business has to be ESG.

This concept of segregating a part of the portfolio so that it is ESG isn’t as important on the international side as it may be on the US side. Where, to your point, we’re just beginning to focus on this. What’s your thought about that?

Liz: There are a few firms that do focus on investing solely on an ESG standpoint, and there are funds that will call themselves that. I do think that your point about…It starting to be a part of the investment process that’s accepted both internationally and in the US is probably where the world is headed.

There’s different ways to do it, though, and I don’t want to get too far into the nitty‑gritty of how you investors, an active investor or what we call the buy‑side.

You could do it as an initial screen, where you won’t even consider companies that are not ESG compliant, or you could do it as a backend screen and make sure that the governance is in line that there is no big red flags. Those are two very different approaches.

In the US, if you look back historically, and I was a due diligence analyst when some of this was still popular to do. It used to be what we call a negative screen. We would say something was ESG or whatever people wanted to call it, it was a negative screen.

What that means is you take a basket of securities, and you remove the ones that are in the industries that you don’t like. At that time, a lot of it was driven by Catholic Diocese. They removed firearms, they removed contraception, they removed a bunch of other things that they didn’t agree with.

Nowadays, it’s more of a positive screen. When you look at ESG from a positive perspective, you’re going out and saying, “We want companies that are driving this clean energy revolution. We want car companies that are driving that revolution. We want solar companies. We want wind companies.”

It’s positive in the sense that you’re purposely picking companies, or picking funds, or picking management teams that align with the values that you want to align with, rather than taking a basket of securities that’s pre‑canned and plucking out the ones you don’t want.

It’s a totally different approach, and I think that it’s where the future goes.

Patti: It’s an excellent, excellent point, and we started talking in our podcast together about the next 900 days. I think you’ve laid the groundwork for even longer that as we begin to pay attention and understand here in the US that that really is the future, and the companies that kind of, “OK, listen up, buck up,” it is time for you to pay attention to this as a corporation.

It is those companies that will be embraced by, again, millennials and people who may not be a millennial, but the general public, because they understand and we understand that that stuff really matters. Those corporations that can really gear their future with that as a core value within the company, hopefully, their business is going to prosper even more because of it.

Liz: That’s absolutely true, and prosper from different directions. As I mentioned before, it’s not just from an investment perspective, it’s where do people want to work, and where is your labor force going to come from? What’s your opportunity for gaining talent, retaining talent? What about your consumer base?

Do people want to buy your products? Not just do they want to buy your stuff, do they want to buy your stuff off the shelves, because it makes them feel good? Do they want to get their paychecks for you? Companies have to think about it on a lot of different levels.

Patti: Wonderful stuff, Liz. Thank you so much. You have been amazing over this podcast as well as the prior one. I just love your perspective. You’re very real. You understand where people are today and what they’re worried about.

The things that we’re all worried about are very real, so we need to listen and pay attention to that. What I also love about your approach is you’re very forward‑looking. Again, not just 90 days or even 900 days, but 5 and 10 years from now.

How is our nation? How is our market? How our companies…How’s the world being shaped, and by what? Liz Young, what a privilege it has been to have you as our guest today. You’re the market strategist for Bank of New York Mellon. My goodness, how lucky are they to have you.

Liz: Thank you.

Patti: So are we, by the way, so are we. This was a big deal. Thank you so much for joining me today. For all of you who are also listening, thank you for your time. Your time is valuable. Your feedback has been amazing for these podcasts. We want to keep it real and fresh.

I appreciate you taking the time to listen to us today. Again, as always, any questions? Go to our website, keyfinancialinc.com. Let us know how we can help you. Whether it be on future podcasts or for you and your family, we are in the business of being stewards of people’s wealth. That’s what we’re all about.

I think that these insights can help us to do that even better. Thank you so much. I’m Patti Brennan. We’ll talk to you again in the next podcast. Take care now.

Ep63: Liz Young from BNY Mellon Joins Patti – The First 90 Days of 2021

About This Episode

As we begin the first year in a new decade, investors and economists alike are busy with their forecasts. Patti recently had the pleasure of sitting with Liz Young, CFA and Director of Market Strategy at BNY Mellon Investment Management. Liz, a frequent CNBC Contributor, shares her economic outlook for the next 90 days both nationally and globally. In the first of two recorded episodes with Liz, Patti asks what investors should be focused on in the short-term. They identify the key trends to look for in a recovery as well as caution what industries will still struggle. This may be the episode to pay attention to if you are an investor that might have pulled back a bit in 2020 with all the uncertainty of the markets and the election.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the “Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best life.

Joining me today is Liz Young. I’m so excited to have Liz with us today. She’s the director of market strategy for BNY Mellon. Guys, we are so lucky to have Liz Young, you have no idea. This woman is all over the place. Everybody wants her on their show as their guest, and we get to have her today. Liz, welcome to the show.

Liz Young: Thank you. What an intro. I’m so excited to be here.

Patti: We’re excited to have you on. Thank you so much. Folks, here’s the way that I’d like to set this up. I’d like to break this up into short-term outlook as well as long term. Now, Liz, and I always talk. Liz, I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

We always talk about you got to think long-term, you got to think long term. Let’s face it, people don’t live in the long-term, especially given the media, the hype, and the 24/7 cable news networks. We’re getting inundated with things that we’re supposed to be thinking about. Let’s talk about the next 90 days. Liz, I’m going to put you on the spot, if it’s OK with you.

If you were president, President Liz Young, you’re going to make history today, what would you be doing for the next 90 days, for the first 90 days? Then we will segue into OK, let’s talk about the next 900 days. How’s that sound?

Liz: Sounds good to me.

Patti: Terrific. Given that we’ve had a tumultuous year. I can’t even say the word. It’s so bad.

So bad. Given what we’ve experienced and where we are today, what would you do if you were president? We can talk about policy. I’d actually be interested to learn, given your background –you’re amazing in terms of your background and what you know– how important policy is going to be as it relates to our clients and their money.

Given that backdrop, given COVID, the election, the outcome, possibility of increased taxes, etc, anything special from your perspective? I’m going to throw a couple more, debt, deficits, etc. Anything special that you’re optimistic about, concerned about, etc? What do you think over the next 90 days, in terms of what we could expect?

Liz: Sure. You made a great point to kick this off, that although we love to focus on the long term, and you hear a lot of investment pundits talk about long term investing, and your horizon is longer than 90 days. That’s all true. That’s all absolutely what I would preach as well. The reality of it is that clients look at their statements on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.

It’s not realistic to tell people that over the next market cycle, this is what you should think about, and try not to focus on the short term. It’s almost impossible today to not focus a little bit on the short term, or at least be swayed by it or battle those emotions on a daily basis.

That being said, thinking about if I were president, which is a thought I’ve never been able to consider before.

Patti: I think it’s so much fun.

Liz: I appreciate this opportunity. If I were president and I were looking at the US economy as the biggest player around the globe, and knowing that when the US sneezes, the world catches a cold. Maybe that’s not a good analogy to use in the pandemic. Either way, we are watched by every single region.

We set policy from a Federal Reserve standpoint for the US, but we also have to keep in mind, and Jerome Powell knows this well, that as soon as the Fed does something, a lot of other central banks tend to follow. There’s a lot to take into account.

If I were president today, and I was looking at where we are in this recovery or rebound phase, one of the things that I think you have to keep in mind is that there are parts of the economy that yes, are doing pretty well, and there are parts of the economy that optimistically, if you look forward, even 90 days, six months, you could imagine that they’re going to be close to back to normal.

There’s a lot of things that will reignite and have this flurry of activity as we get the vaccine deployed and as we get natural herd immunity that eventually comes over the course of the next few months. There are parts of the economy and certain metrics that are certainly not back to normal and will be a drag. One of those is the labor market.

That’s something that is moving trend wise in the right direction, but jobless claims and some of the things that we worry about with sticky unemployed persons, that’s still a concern. That’s something that the next president needs to consider.

If I were that person, I would still be focusing in the near term on the stimulus to get the economy and the labor market to the other side of this when we can start to rely a little bit more on fundamentals. What I mean by that is the parts of the economy like small businesses, and the intertwined nature of that.

Small businesses employ 50% of the labor market. If we can keep small businesses alive and afloat, we can keep a lot of the labor market alive and afloat. If we can keep small businesses solvent, we can keep more consumers solvent. That’s what I would be looking at first and foremost.

Patti: That is a really, really insightful answer. 50 percent of employment is with small businesses. The key here, and part of what that CARES Act was intended to do, and it sounds like we need to continue to focus on that, is to enable those businesses to survive. They have to survive. Keep people employed, so that we can keep this concept of commerce continuing to occur in our nation.

Liz: You can’t underestimate the power of sentiment, too. Small businesses are the fabric of American society. It’s the foundation and the bedrock of the American dream, and the idea that you can create and do whatever you want to here.

If we lose that dream, and if we lose that vision and the ability to do that, or if we get overwhelmed by the risks of doing that, some of the sentiment around it starts to die. Investor sentiment is a powerful force.

Patti: Isn’t it Bank of New York Mellon that has coined this term? I’m going to mess it up, Liz. It’s histrionics or histrio-something. It’s this concept of when something happens, a crisis happens, and the sentiment gets so negative that the reaction is almost worse than the thing that occurred in the first place. It’s what we do when that happens, we pull back. It becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s the issue with sentiment.

Liz: It is. One of the things that investors have worried about, and self-included, was that sentiment got quite a bit extended in November and December of 2020. We had the election behind us, which the lead-up to that election was probably more agonizing than the election itself. The election was behind us.

We started to get positive vaccine news every single Monday for about four Mondays following. There was this exuberance and absolute elation in the market about, “Oh, my gosh, this isn’t going to be forever. We’re not going to be in this place forever.” We pulled a lot of that positive sentiment forward into November and December.

Then you run the risk of if the timing is that far off, where the sentiment in the market is overheated, but we’re not actually out of the woods yet, and we haven’t actually started vaccinating, or we’re not actually at a place where the economy can restart, we’re still in shutdown in a lot of places.

Then there is a risk that we have a pullback only related to sentiment, where sentiment has to right-size itself to get back in line with where we actually are today.

Patti: It’s an example of the reality not meeting the expectations, and everybody is like, “OK, this is never going to end,” and the markets react accordingly.

Liz: That being said, one of the most important things that investors have to remember is that the market doesn’t reflect what’s happening exactly in this moment. The market is always a forward-looking mechanism. It’s looking out about 6 to 12 months into the future, and trying to decide, “Are things going to be better or worse than they are today?”

What the market is expecting right now, or at least the stock market is expecting right now, is that things are going to be much better six months from now than they are today. That’s one of the reasons why it’s this age-old debate when you go through a recession and you come out of it. Are the markets disconnected from the economy? Yes, they always are.

The market is looking forward. The economic data we get, at least the majority of it, is looking backward at what happened last week, last month, last quarter. They’re always going to have a disconnect. It’s that at the end of 2020 into the beginning of 2021, they were so disconnected. The magnitude of that disconnect started to be a little bit nerve-wracking.

So far, we’ve avoided catastrophe. Hopefully, we can make it until early spring when we feel a lot better about vaccine deployment, herd immunity, and the prospect of reopening that it won’t be a huge issue.

Patti: Let’s take that concept of the market being a forward-looking mechanism. For those of our listeners who may have been very concerned again during 2020 with the election coming up, and they were extremely conservative, maybe all in cash. Based on what you’ve said, are they too late to the party? Is it too late for them to get invested? Has that already been baked into the market?

The second part of that question would be based on what did so well last year. We always talk about this rearview mirror investing. There were pockets of the market that did extremely well and other areas that did not do well. What do you think about that concept, also?

Liz: Sure. The first part of the question, are people too late? No. The answer is no. Categorically no. Are you too late on catching the 45 percent outperformance of Fang stocks? Yes. Are you too late to get back in the market and benefit from the economic recovery that should ensue, starting probably in the second quarter and accelerating into the middle of the year? No, of course not.

There’s plenty still that we can look forward to. What I would say, though, is as you’re entering the market, or re-entering the market, first and foremost, I say this all the time to our clients, you must be present to win. If you’re not in the market now, it’s time.

It’s time to make sure that you’re allocating to the parts of the market and the parts of the economy that you would expect to either go back to normal and maybe they were under-loved like you pointed out in 2020. If you expect them to go back to normal or get back to their pre COVID levels, then you want to make sure you have some exposure there. You can catch that on the upside.

The other side of that is what we saw towards the end of the year last year is that there was this big shift from the stay at home trade into the reopen trade. Some people might be wondering, “OK, but what does that even mean?” We use those terms as if everybody understands it.

The stay at home trade was the trade for things that kept us connected at home, kept us entertained at home, kept children educated at home. Basically kept us sane within our four walls. That was communications, that was technology, that was some of those education stocks.

It was things like streaming services. Everything that we did once it was Friday night and all we did was move from the office to the living room. It kept us occupied. As we move into a more realistic version of an economic restart, you should expect things that we call cyclical stocks or cyclical sectors to come back into the forefront.

Those are things like infrastructure, energy, financials, consumer discretionary, as the consumer starts to reignite. Coupling that with the expectation that now we have a blue wave in Washington, that there’s going to be infrastructure spending that continues to drive that forward. Industrials benefit from that, materials benefit from that.

I’m thinking things like big heavy machinery that build bridges and roads. In order to build a road, you need cement. In order to build a house, you need copper, you need lumber. All of those things and parts of the economy that should reignite even further as we go forward.

Patti: That is interesting, President Young.

This is very insightful overview of what we might expect in the next 90 days. Again, we’re talking from an economic and a market perspective. We all know that the President of the United States is going to focus on a lot of issues. Social unrest, social issues, things of that nature. We’re focused on the economy and the market.

I think that what I heard was focusing on the labor market. That’s the most important thing. We know that the COVID vaccine is being rolled out. It was clunky initially. I think that that’s probably going to get figured out.

Hopefully, maybe not in 90 days, but certainly in the next six to nine months, we’re going to get to that point of herd immunity. For people who may not have been present, may not have been fully invested, it isn’t too late.

A thoughtful approach to what you’re looking for long term in the next 90 days would be a good idea. Is that basically what you’re saying?

Liz: Yeah. It’s almost as if you keep one eye open when you’re sleeping. Make sure that you’ve got your ear to the ground and you’re not oblivious to what’s happening on a daily basis. You’re also not letting it sway everything that you do and becoming too short term.

What happens when you become too short term as an investor is you try to chase trends, you try to call inflection points, and you start trying to time the market. I can say, if anybody had figured out how to time the market by now, most of us wouldn’t be employed in these professions.

Nobody’s good at it. Nobody is perfect at timing the market. Professional investors, non-professional investors, newbies, seasoned investors. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter how you were trained, nobody can perfectly time the market. There’s really no sense in trying.

What you have to focus on is, what are the themes long term that you think are going to help investors are going to help the economy? What do you really believe in as an investor as well? Don’t take your own personal opinion out of it.

There’s things that I would invest in because they mean something personal to me or they’re something that I use in my daily life. Maybe my mom wouldn’t invest in the same thing. That’s OK.

Patti: I love that last part. It’s all a whole different theme of socially responsible investing. That’s important to a lot of people. Let’s do this. I think we’ve got a good game plan for the next 90 days, thanks to President Liz Young.

Thanks to all of you. Join us for our next podcast, because Liz is going to stay with us. In that podcast, we’re going to focus on the next 900 days. Thank you so much for listening. Liz Young, thank you for joining me for this wonderful, wonderful overview.

Feel free to go to our website. If you have any questions, we’re happy to help. I want to make sure that these podcasts are informative and helpful to you. Go to the website. Let us know if there’s anything else that you’d like to learn about. Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Ep62: Why You Shouldn’t Budget!

About This Episode

Budgets, like diets, don’t often work! They are restrictive and not always designed to let you live your best life. Patti and her Chief Planning Officer, Eric Fuhrman, discuss some easy, less constrictive ways to save money and allocate it in a way that might help the listener reach their goals faster than ever imagined.


Patti Brennan: Hi everybody, welcome back to the Patti Brennan show. Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me today is Eric Fuhrman. Eric, you and I are going to be talking about that wonderful subject of budgeting, which, as you well know, having been with me for so many years, I just cannot stand the word budgets.

Eric Fuhrman: I know. Budgets, I think you say, are like diets. They are something that nobody ever wants to get in to or even think about.

Patti: Yeah, it sounds constricting. It sounds like, “Oh gee, I’m not going to be able to do the things that I really want to do.” It’s this feeling of tightness and constriction, and that’s not living your best life.

That’s what we’re all about. How do you live your best life? And yet we also have to be realistic that, “Hey, let’s face it. You got to find a way to create cash flow, excess cash flow, to be able to save for the things that are really important to you.” To me, that’s what this financial planning is all about, financial navigation as we call it.

To really figure out, what’s important to you, what you need to do between now and then in order to accumulate the assets that you need to accomplish that specific objective and how can you allocate it in a way that might help you to get there faster than you ever thought possible? Right?

Eric: Right. Absolutely. I think what’s so interesting from our perspective, or our vantage point, is that we get to see the ways that people track money, and those that are out there right now listening to the podcast, you’ll probably find yourself falling into one of these buckets that we discuss.

Usually, when somebody comes in for a meeting to talk about their finances and their goals, usually there is a complete and total absence of a budget. There’s the best guess approach, and then, there’s the budget that somebody brings in, which is usually multiple tabs in an Excel spreadsheet with lots of pretty colors, and different things like that.

Patti: I love the color-coding. It is just classic.

Eric: Oh, yeah. You can tell that somebody spends and hours and hours of their time going over and tracking every little expense and detail in penny.

Patti: If that makes that person feel better if that gives them a sense of control and comfort, then by all means, that is wonderful. The objective here is not to scrutinize how much you’re spending, it is to be able to identify areas where we can increase the savings, right?

Eric: Yep, absolutely. I think the common thread that we see and those different examples of how you might be budgeting your household finances, is that what those budgets merely provide is detail, or lack thereof.

They provide information of where the money is going, but the most critical element is that they are usually not attached to any kind of goal that bears any kind of resemblance to where somebody should be tracking in terms of wanting to retire early or something like that.

There’s just no connection between the budget and a purposeful goal that is being followed on a regular basis.

Patti: How often do we find, Eric, that if somebody doesn’t have those objectives identified. Let’s say that there’s a liquidity event. Let’s say that somebody exercises options, or gets an inheritance, or what have you. It sits in the checking account.

Because they don’t have the disciplined approach, they don’t have that thing that they want to accomplish at a particular date in the future, a lot of times that money just gets blown. It gets used in other areas just because it’s there.

We had a situation last week where somebody had a significant amount of money that they had received a year and a half ago. It was literally six figures. Yet, by the time they came in, it was about $25,000 was left from it.

Eric: It’s a shame.

Patti: When I ask them what they did, “Well, it went here, it went there. We actually built a pool.” Things of that nature. That’s great if that enhances the quality of life for them today. The problem is, is that they have three children. They don’t have money saved for college.

Eric: Exactly right. I think the common thing here that we see between somebody that has a budget, and somebody that has a successful plan is that there is either a behavior that’s being followed, a savings behavior that has been part of how they’ve operated for a very long time, or there is very well-defined process that’s automated to capture that savings and invest it on a regular basis. It’s not just haphazard, in terms of how it’s set up.

Patti: Exactly. Let’s you and I decide that we’re going to do something right now. Let’s just stop using that B word. From now on, for the rest of this podcast, you and I are just going to talk about defining what your monthly needs are. It’s all about cash flow.

It is what it is. Ultimately, you’re going to decide how you want to spend your money. It’s OK as long as it’s OK. If you don’t want to save that money, is it OK that the kids are going to have to go out and borrow money for college? It’s fine as long you’re OK with it.

Is it OK that you’re going to have to work until you’re 75 years old? If you’re not able to save a portion of what you earn today, that’s the practical reality.

Eric: What’s so important about what you’re highlighting there is it’s all about trade-offs. The decision is not necessarily good or bad. It just involves a trade-off. What’s so important is having an understanding of the domino effect of what those trade-offs can mean for later in life. It’s important since we’re no longer going to be using the B word anymore in this podcast. I’m going to try my best not to say it.

Patti: It’s a hard habit to break.

Eric: It is.

Patti: Believe me, I’ve broken about 20 years ago because I personally do not follow one.

Eric: Absolutely, but I think what’s important again a lot of people focus on the granular details of doing the B, right? What’s more important is to think about the big picture things.

You have to be able to see the forest through the trees here. Those big picture things are things like housing. What decision did you make on housing? What decision are you making in terms of automobiles, meaning, how much do you spend on them and how often do you purchase them?

Oftentimes we hear these, in my opinion, these silly examples of not drinking Starbucks in a day and how much money you can save. Now Starbucks is not cheap. Three bucks for a cup of coffee is pretty expensive. It’s about getting the big things right.

If you get the big decisions right in terms of getting into a house that you can afford and provides a lot of slack on savings and being smart about how you buy cars over your lifetime, you can drink as much Starbucks as you want. That’s not going to make a difference. It’s about getting the big things right first.

Patti: Agreed. I think that for those of you who are listening today, I also think that it’s OK if especially you’re trying to teach these…give your children these tools because a lot of times the kids haven’t been exposed to these ideas.

For them, going to Starbucks every day is a big thing for them. That’s a big decision for them. To teach them about money and to teach them the concept of what we believe is saving money first and spending the rest.

If you identify what you need to do and how much you need to accumulate for these objectives and then you back into, “Well, gee in order to accomplish this, what do I need to save today?” Then you can just spend the rest. To teach your families, I think it’s just…I’m going to get on my soapbox here guys.

I just really believe that this is a concept that is not taught enough whether it be in high schools or in colleges. How many people Eric come into us? These are highly powered, really powerful executives. Doctors, professionals and they just haven’t been exposed to these concepts. It’s really cost them a lot in terms of their own financial security.

Eric: In terms of the opportunity because time is an asset that’s probably the most valuable asset that anybody on this Earth has. It’s making sure you’re optimizing that and getting it working for you.

Patti: There’s nothing worse than having someone come in – and this happens so often – and they…How many times have we heard, “Gee Patty, gee Eric, I wish we had met you 20 years ago.”

Eric: More often than you would believe. All done.

Patti: It’s just amazing because there’s that feeling of remorse or regret that, “Gee, if I had only known these simple ideas and these simple tools, just imagine where we’d be today.”

Eric: I want to go back to a point that you brought up earlier which is the concept of saving and paying yourself first. If we think about how our life operates, a lot of folks are used to a regular paycheck that comes in on a regular frequency.

The very first action, the very first thing you have control over in that process is saving. Not what you spend when that paycheck comes in you can make that decision saving first before you spend the money. That’s what’s so important is that’s where you can really make the most impact is right there at that point in time.

Patti: Eric and how many times have you and I run numbers for clients? Really bringing that concept home. I tell people all the time, “Good savings will be good investments every single time.”

Yes, we manage a billion dollars, yes we do a great job of it, but we are really…We can be even more impactful by showing people that just by accumulating the assets in the first place that will go a long way to making their lives so much better later in life.

Eric: You’re absolutely right. There’s often a lot of…People have probably heard the litany of examples about the powers of compound interest and how powerful it is but anybody has access to a spreadsheet wants to run those numbers. The power of compounding occurs in the very last few years of your savings when you’ve accumulated a significant base.

Unless you’ve done your part to accumulate that wealth and savor that period of time, that’s where the power of compounding really kicks in is in those last 10 to 15 years of retirement or as you would say – I’m going to steal one your terms here – as the red zone. That’s where the compounding really kicks in is at these points in time.

Patti: Folks imagine it this way, it’s a hockey stick. It doesn’t feel like much when you’re just starting out and it’s you’re saving a little bit, you’re saving a little bit. It’s $100 a month, becomes $400 a month, becomes $1,000 a month. Then you’re doing the 401(k). All of a sudden, it just explodes.

That’s what we’re talking about here. You want to focus on saving first and spending the rest. If you get the discipline down early in life, it’s terrific. Eric, is it too late if somebody’s listening to this podcast when they’re in their 50s?

Eric: It’s never too late. As long as you’re living and breathing, you always have an opportunity to get focused and start saving. Any kind of 10, 15-year, 20-year increment of time, you have to expect it.

Even if you’re in your 50s, there’s probably a very strong likelihood that you’ll be alive, at least, roughly 30 years from now, 35 years from now. You still have a lot of time to be able to make course corrections that will make a big difference.

Patti: You are probably in your peak earning years as well. For some of you, not me, because I still have young children, one in college, if you’re like a lot of people, the kids are educated, they’re out of the house, those cash flow needs have diminished.

Your excess cash flow or what might be leftover might be greater, and that’s important to keep in mind. I also think it’s important to understand what you want your life to look at in retirement. That’s where understanding the goal, in the first place, is important.

This is all very achievable. Anybody can do this. It’s just having that heart-to-heart talk to say, “What does our life look like? Are we going to be in this house? Are we going to be moving to a different location? How much cash flow do we actually need coming in per month when we are retired?”

Eric: Absolutely, right. This is a perfect segue into the goal formation and savings process that we’re going to talk about. You’re absolutely right. The mathematics here are not that difficult.

When you think about this and sit down, you have to plan that whenever that retirement period is going to be, you generally probably have to plan for a 20 to 30-year period of time that you’re going to be retired.

Knowing that then you can go back in, and reverse engineer, not only the retirement number that you need to target but what kind of savings rate is going to be needed in order to achieve that objective.

Patti: Here’s a simple fact, folks, that will help to bring this home for you. If you decide or if you choose that you’re going to spend a thousand dollars less per month in retirement, I got good news for you.

What that means is that you need $300,000 less accumulated by the time you retire just because you’ve made that proactive decision that, “Hey, you know what? We’re going to downsize. We probably can cut our expenses by a thousand dollars a month.”

Eric and I get to tell you, “Hey, you don’t need that extra $300,000 now because you made the choice that you’re going to be living in a different way.” Not budgeting. Not feeling that sense of lack.

You’re just choosing to use your money differently both in retirement and today because that reduces the stress that you have today on having to save as much as you possibly can. It’s quality of life. It’s living your best life today as well as in the future.

Eric: What you’re highlighting is an important consideration. It’s that glide path of how your expenses are going to change as you age. For example, the mortgage could be paid off, you could always make the decision to downsize.

You have four kids at home. I imagine the adjustment and expenditure will be different by the time the last one…

Patti: I’m hoping so. It’s working already, but you do have the boomerang kid that comes back and lives at home.

Eric: What about these?

Patti: Yes, it is…that’s a practical reality that we all have to keep in mind. It’s a navigating process. Things are going to happen. Kids are going to need maybe some help, or you might want to give them some help.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you’re in a position where you’ve made certain life choices, and you were able to set aside even more money, and it accumulated to even more than what you will need to accomplish your objectives?

It puts you in a position to be able to do things for the people that you love and get them to experience it, and you get to enjoy it along with them.

Eric: Exactly. What do you think about maybe going through a quick rudimentary process? Just to give people a guide to how you would go back in and say, “How much do I need to save? What’s important?”

Maybe just give them a couple of steps and say, “Here are the pertinent questions that you need to answer.” That will go a long way to helping you along this road to determine what you need to start saving to meet your goal.

Patti: Love it. Let’s go for it. It’s all about actionable steps that they can take. We can all make it relatable so that you can use this information.

Eric: The first thing is that life expectancy is getting longer for everybody. That’s been a long-established trend that’s been changing over time.

You have to understand if we’re thinking about a household, husband and wife, that there’s roughly about a 74 percent chance that one of you will still be alive at 85 years old, and roughly a 48 percent chance that one of the individuals will still be alive at 90.

When we’re thinking about how long do we have to plan for we’re thinking 20 to potentially upwards of 30 years based on the likelihood that at least one of the spouses will be alive that long.

Patti: Eric, this is a good segue to highlight another podcast that we just finished called, 8,000 days. Roughly speaking, people are going to be retired for 8,000 days. That’s a long period of time, and there are different seasons of that retirement. Let’s keep that in mind as well in terms of what cash flow might look like.

Eric: Absolutely. Then from that day, you also…there’s different people have different opinions on this but the factor in that there’s going to be some other non-portfolio related sources of income. Social Security would be a big one. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to still have a private pension that might help add in there.

When you think about these sources of income, you have to figure out what that will be part of your retirement income stream. What portion do you need to finance through private savings?

Patti: Exactly. It’s all about filling the gap. If based on these examples, we put together some examples of somebody who is living on or has an income of $100,000 per year, and then we’ve got another example, someone who is living on $250,000 a year. That is, today, you might make different decisions and different choices in retirement, but let’s just start with those two examples.

Eric: If you’re in a household that was basically making $100,000 a year…This is from a study called, The Guide to Retirement, from JP Morgan, which is a great study that you can go through. They estimate that if your household income was $100,000 a year, you need roughly 41 percent of that to be financed through private savings.

If you are in a higher income household of 250,000 a year, you’re going to need roughly 58 percent of that to basically replace your income through private savings.

Patti: That becomes a pretty big nut. Depending on where you are today, and how much you’ve accumulated so far, that can be, for some people, feel insurmountable.

You and I, you know me very well, Eric. There is always hope. There is always a solution. It’s just a matter of figuring out what we can tweak here and there to make all of these things realistic and achievable.

Eric: As long as you’re getting out of bed every day, you have an opportunity to change the course of the future.

Patti: Absolutely.

Eric: Going back to that example, a lot of people have heard about the four percent rule. Just keep in mind, this is a rule of thumb. There are lots of caveats to consider with this. If you think about the rule of four percent, basically what it means is this is what we consider to be, in a lot of cases, a safe withdrawal rate.

As long as you can live on four percent of your private capital that you’ve accumulated over your lifetime, it’s associated with a fairly high likelihood that you will not run out of money over a 25 to 30 year period of time.

Patti: Now again, Eric, let’s talk about what this is. First of all, I’m going to tell you that I have a bias against rules of thumb like this because every family is very different. Also, understand it’s four percent of the initial value of that working capital.

When you retire, you pretty much have whatever you’re going to have. Then it is just a matter of how that spends out for the rest of your life.

The four percent rule basically says if you’ve got a million dollars, you can take $40,000 a year increasing by inflation. There is a relatively low probability of running out of money over 25 years. There are tons of caveats that assumes a well-balanced portfolio, well-allocated, diversified, yada, yada, yada. It’s a general rule of thumb.

Many people, myself included, are much, much more comfortable with three percent, especially in this low-interest-rate environment. We’re not getting the rate of return on bonds that we did just 10 years ago.

Eric: Right. Well, that study was first basically unveiled, I think, in roughly the mid-’90s. It was based using bond returns from the ‘80s and ‘90s when interest rates were far higher than where they are today. That’s a shortcoming.

The other thing, too, is that it doesn’t consider the possibility of a long-term care event. If you’re in a household that doesn’t have long-term care insurance, for example, that could be something that could definitely make the four percent rule completely irrelevant.

Patti: Absolutely. Let’s talk about the income replacement or the rule of 25. I think that’s an interesting one for people. If you’re trying to do this on your own and you want to have a goal, you want to just have a number. The rule of 25 basically takes the income that you’re currently earning, and it does a factor of 25 against that.

For example, if you’re a $100,000 household, you’re going to need a million dollars by the time that you are retiring.

Eric: Retirement age, right.

Patti: If you have an income need or you want to replace $250,000, you’re going to need $3.6 million accumulated by the time you choose to retire. It gives you those goals and those numbers to work with your own financial planning, if you will.

Eric: Yeah, I mean, basically, the rule of 25 is just the inverse of the four percent rule. If you take 1 divided by 0.04, gives you 25. That’s the idea, is that, whatever that income need that you have to supplement that’s not covered by state pension or Social Security, whatever you solve that to be, simply multiply that by 25.

Then that gives you a good guideline for the kind of capital you’re going to need to accumulate.

Patti: Again, folks, those of you who are listening, remember these are rules of thumb and the caveats we said before. To me, someone earning $100,000 having a million dollars saved for retirement, that feels a little light to me. I’m going to be honest with you. Again, take these rules of thumb, add a couple hundred thousand dollars. You’ll probably be fine.

Eric: Yep. Well, hey, and we are all about being conservative here like Patti said. If you want to take a more conservative approach and say the three percent rule, then just multiply it by 33. Then that’s the factor you need to save for rather than 25.

Patti: Also, Eric, I think it’s really important to point out that people’s needs during retirement actually do change. We’re focused on retirement. We’re also focused on life in general. You’re not going to need exactly the same amount of money rising by the rate of inflation every single year for the rest of your life.

In the initial stages, you might want a little bit more coming in. Then you’ve traveled to the places you want to travel. Your cash flow needs will go down, and then they might go back up depending on health and things of that nature.

Eric: Right. Excellent.

Patti: Let’s go back to this concept of, “OK, fine. You’re talking about retirement. You’re talking about college and all those things. You don’t believe in the word budget.”

How do we get from here to there? What practical steps can we share with our listeners to help them accomplish the things? Where are they going to come up with the money?

Where are they going to come up with the cash flow, I should say, to be able to steer into savings and investments to accumulate $3.6 million? That’s a lot of money.

Eric: Yeah, it absolutely sure is. I guess you would start first with your employer retirement plan. Just think of it this way, if you’re getting, say, a 4 percent match in your employer retirement plan, and then you also put in 10 percent, you’ve got 14 percent right there. That’s you’re saving. That’s the first place you would start.

Ideally, you want to try and put in as much as you can to that retirement plan. Then really have a systematic process setup that can be linked directly through your payroll provider, or, maybe, through your bank account where you’re just simply taking out a certain amount of money, an automated process that coincides with whenever your payment is.

If your bi-weekly payroll, every two weeks, a certain amount of money is getting pulled out of that paycheck and put into an investment account.

Patti: Eric, I tell people all the time. Here’s the deal, if you really want to make this simple and actually work, automate your savings, pay your bills the old fashioned way. You’re going to be making choices as it relates to how your money is being allocated. If it’s, or if you’re doing automatic bill pay, it’s great. It saves you time, but you don’t really control it.

It’s not necessarily empowering you to make those decisions. It’s like, happening after the fact. If you can actually slow down that process, again, we’re not talking about budgeting per se, but just create an awareness of where the cash flows actually going.

Eric: Absolutely.

Patti: I think that, when you think about this whole thing, it doesn’t have to be crazy, complicated, or overwhelming. It’s just a matter of making good choices.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. Like we said, it’s all about adopting the right behaviors. More importantly, a process to just safe on a regular basis.

Patti: There are for those of you who want to look at different ideas on ways to increase your savings, which might mean cutting down on your expenses, there’s a really neat site, or an article by Marion called, thebalance.com, Ways To Save Money Today.

She’s got different ideas in terms of 20 ways to save on food, 20 ways to save on your monthly bills, 20 ways to save on entertainment costs. We are not talking about micro-managing your day-to-day activities. Yet at the same point, if there’s something that could save $50 on a cable bill, then by all means, why not know about it?

The one that I think is really important that I just want to point out is this concept of retail therapy. I will tell you that time and time again, when people are going through different times, etc, that it’s not unusual to just go out to the mall and just engage in a little bit of retail therapy.

If you’re looking at where you can come up with that extra hundred dollars per month, this may not be for you who are listening, it might be more for your kids. When it comes to anything that’s over $100, wait 24 hours before you do it. If you’re stressed out or upset, just do not go to the mall. I mean, that’s just practical. Just don’t go there.

When you’re planning for those big purchases, really, talk about it. It’s fun to just banner about if you’re married with your spouse. Wouldn’t it be cool if, fill in the blank. What can we do together so that we can accomplish that?

Eric: Do you have any solutions for Amazon therapy? I don’t know about you, but boxes continually show up at my house. I don’t even know who’re these things or where they come from.

Patti: It is definitely, I mean, I’m bringing in the B word, that is a budget buster. If I ever heard one, it’s just too easy. It does, it definitely can interfere with people being able to set aside that money every month.

Eric: Well, I think in this day and age, with technology the way it is, retailers had made it so easy to make the purchases via your cell phone. Having, basically all your credit card information. Everything loaded and preloaded. You can just literally make it so easy to make a transaction on the phone.

That’s, definitely, something that’s going to be hard to manage if you want to meet your savings goals as well.

Patti: Here’s the idea, Eric, in terms of this Amazon issue. What I would say is, I would connect the debit card. I know debit cards are not theoretically as safe as credit cards.

There is nothing that is less safe than running out of money. Just for whatever that’s worth. Connected to the debit card. My point there is if we can apply that 50/30/20 rule.

What that means is, based on your net paycheck, reserve 50 percent of your net paycheck for essentials like housing and food, 30 percent for discretionary spending, and 20 percent for savings. everybody listening today, if you are not retired, should be setting aside 20 percent. I’m sorry, it’s tough information. It’s not easy for everybody.

As Eric said, we don’t have pensions anymore. It is incumbent on you to save this money for your own future. 20 percent is really what you’re probably going to have to set aside.

If you know that that’s the goal if you know what your next paycheck is, you know what that 20 percent is, you set that aside first. Your 401(k) would be one area, then your monthly, yank it out of your checking account would be the other area, whether you’re investing in mutual funds or ETFs, etc., and then you get to spend the rest.

50/30/20, you’re saving 20 percent of your income to the things that are most important to you.

Eric: You got it.

Patti: Let’s pull this together in terms of helping more listeners accomplish the things that are most important to them, to live their best life. The thing that you started out with, Eric, was so very important. If it makes you happy to track your set spending if it makes you happy doing the spreadsheets, terrific.

I find most people don’t like doing that. It feels punitive. Let’s go back and do the opposite way. Let’s figure out what your 20 percent is, choose where you’re going to be saving that money, and then you get to spend the rest. Keep it simple, right?

Eric: Absolutely. The most important thing you can do is that very first step, which is, when you get paid, that’s where you have to save the money. It has to happen there.

Patti: Second thing is identify what is important to you. Figure out your timeline. Come up with the number that you’re going to need to have at that point in time, and then you reverse engineer it. Figure out what you need to do today to accomplish that objective.

Again, it makes the savings part feel like you’re working towards something that you’ve identified as important. It is. It feels good. It’s really fun when the money really starts to add up, and you see the account balances. You say, “Oh my goodness, this is actually working,” because guess what, folks? It does. It does work.

Again, we’ve pulled it together. We’re not micromanaging. We’re figuring out how much you want to save. You’re doing it every month. You’re watching your money grow.

You’re accomplishing the things that are important to you.

Guess what? It’s not all about the future. By doing this, you are living your very best life today. If I can say, as a mother of four children, you’re also setting an amazing example for your family.

Eric: Absolutely.

Patti: For those of you who are interested in learning more about this, again, we are not talking the budget word. We are talking about cash flow. What are your cash flow needs today? What are they going to be in the future? What can you do to make all the things that you want to have happen in your life achievable?

It’s so incredibly empowering. It’s so wonderful to know that, if you just do A, B, and C, you’re pretty much there. All of a sudden, going to work takes on new meaning. It doesn’t feel like you’re slaving, etc., because you know you’re working towards something that you’ve identified as really important.

Again, that’s what gives people that sense of well being and happiness. Again, not just when you’re 65 or 85, etc., that’s not what it’s all about all the time.

Yes, it’s important. I would be remiss. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t put you in a position to accomplish those things. Let’s also make sure you’re doing the things that you want to do today as well. Have that fine balance.

If you want to learn more about how to do that from a practical perspective, go to our website. Give us a call. I’m happy to talk with anyone and give you these ideas that are much more personalized that apply to your particular situation.

Really, if you like what you heard today, and you want to share it with anybody, share it with those people that you also think might benefit. Share it with your financial advisor. I’m all about making everybody in America financially secure, financially confident.

If we can get even more advisors talking about these issues that really make the big difference, then we’re all going to be better. What do you think?

Eric, thank you so much for joining me today.

Eric: Thank you for having me, Patti. I look forward to the next one.

Patti: Very dry subject, I love doing these with you. You really pop it up for me. Thank you all for joining me. I am Patti Brennan, and I will see in the next episode. Have a great day.

Ep61: Hot Housing Market Tips & Trends

About This Episode

One of the big surprises in the last quarter of 2020 was the housing market boom! The unintended result of major metropolitan areas in lockdown and millions of Americans now working from home has been home sales that are off the charts. One of the biggest drivers in this uptick of renters leaving cities to become first-time homebuyers in the suburbs are millennials. No longer can a one-bedroom serve as both an office and a residence, and the amenities of living in a city in lockdown have long been taken away. Older generations are also seeing a unique opportunity to sell while the market is hot instead of waiting until retirement. In today’s episode, Patti sits down with the Main Line’s top realtor, Lone Spillard, of Compass Realty. They discuss the trends that are now happening in the real estate market as a result of the pandemic and the opportunities for home buyers and sellers alike. Thinking of buying or selling your home? Even if you’re not, this episode may change your mind!


Patti Brennan: Hi everybody, welcome to the “Patti Brennan Show,” whether you have $20 or 20 million this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow and use your assets to live your very best lives. For most people, their home, the real estate is the largest asset you own.

Today, we’re going to break this down. Real estate market is on a torrid pace. Things are flying off the shelves. What are the dos and don’ts when it comes to selling a home, purchasing a home? Are the old rules of thumb, location, location, location, get in a good school district? Do they still apply in this market?

Joining me today is Lone Spillard and Emily Fazzini, what many people refer to as the Dream Team. They are with the Lone Spillard team at compass and I can’t thank you both for joining me today. I know how busy you are. I know how in-demand you are. It means a lot that you’re here today to break down the market and tell us all, “What in the world we’re supposed to do?”

Lone Spillard: Good morning, and thank you for having us, Patti. Emily and I are both thrilled to be here. Yes, the market is indeed on absolute fire. I am going to let Emily introduce herself, and then we can get into it a little further.

Emily Fazzini: I am with Lone here at the Lone Spillard Team with Compass. I joined Lone two weeks before the pandemic started.

Patti: It’s so interesting because you guys have a unique combination. You’ve got the experience of Lone Spillard who has been in this market, knows it cold every home.

Then, Emily, you come in brand new. You’re a Millennial for those of you who are listening today, with the wonderful energy and experience and skills of a Millennial. Together, it’s a great combination.

First of all, how in the world did you ever meet?

Emily: That’s a great question. Lone was my parent’s realtor. When they started the search for their…They called it the last stop on the train home, which was really a home with a first floor, master, and a couple of other details, they really wanted.

Lone probably showed them over 75 houses. My mom said it passing to me on and off for a few years, “Yeah, I’m going out with our realtor, Lone…”

Patti: Let me stop you there, a few years.

Emily: Years.

Patti: OK, years. All right.

Emily: That shows you that Lone has the patience of a saint. I finally went to one of these mysterious showings with my mom. That was the first time I met Lone. About a year later, when I decided I was going to go into real estate, my mom connected the dots and said, “I’m going to put you in touch with Lone.” The rest was history.

Lone took me under her wing and brought me onto her team at Compass. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Patti: Excellent, it’s so funny, because literally when we were talking before the show, you said something to the effect of, “I thought my mom made this person up.”

Emily: I was convinced she didn’t exist. It was just, now being in the industry and seeing what type of client my mom was, I turn to Lone all the time. I’m like, “You were a saint.” I kid you not, she probably showed them close to 75 houses. The big joke is that they settled on new construction.

Patti: How many houses is typical when you’re showing? I heard at one point that 10 houses, that’s pretty much going to tell you what…

Lone: Patti, it depends on the education level of your given client. That’s what we do is, when we do speak to a client at first and instill some trust in them, we also find out what level they’re coming in at. How knowledgeable are they? We like to show them homes within their given parameters and put in some lucky cards in there as well.

If they’re looking to move fairly shortly, then yes, maybe 10 houses. Sometimes it’s the first house they look at, they fall in love with. Sometimes, yes, it is years, and sometimes it is 100 houses.

There’s never a set rule. You just know that whenever you show a house, you give it 100 percent. They see what they want to see. Then you educate them about the ups and downs of that given house.

Patti: That sounds good. Are there any trends that you’re seeing right now? I talked about location, real estate, the schools, things of that nature. We’re hearing just anecdotally that people are moving out of the city for example. Are you seeing that? Who are your typical buyers? What’s happening?

Lone: My typical buyers are referral buyer, and tends to be a little on the higher end. That being said, I never say no to anything. I love as much a new buyer. Emily’s concentration is the first time homebuyer.

As your question about moving or flocking in from the city, I wouldn’t say people are flocking in from the city as much as they are, perhaps in New York City. We are seeing some people move out because there are people that want greener pastures. They want more space. We’re definitely not seeing the flocking.

As to your question regarding trends, school districts are always going to be paramount. We’re also seeing that people pools are back in vogue again. Before they didn’t add much value to a house. Now, people are definitely looking at pools. They’re looking at more staycations, ways to stay at home to enjoy their home. They want more space.

They still want the open space. The trend is definitely shifting a little bit. Movie theaters downstairs in the basement, they’re back in vogue as well. Fire pits, you name it. Everything from gray walls, even that is shifting now to a more bluish color.

COVID has changed a lot of things when it comes to trends and homes. The foremost trend is probably a home that is all fixed up.

Patti: That was a question I was going to ask you too. Given the torrid pace of this market and how quickly things seem to be selling. You can correct me if I’m wrong on that. You look at a home, does it make any sense to put any money into your existing home, if it’s going to fly off the shelf anyway?

Lone: It depends on what your house looks like on the inside. If you’ve lived in that house for 20 years, and it was decorated 20 years ago, then absolutely. Even if it’s paint, new curtains or, removing things. We have to remember that we have a tendency to decorate our homes after our own tastes. We need to neutralize them.

When we put a house on the market, it goes from being a home to a product. It’s removal of a lot of personal items. I’ll let Emily speak to that as well.

Patti: You remove the pictures because the people who are walking in the house, you want them to be able to see themselves in the house. They don’t want to see you in the house. They want to see themselves. It’s amazing the psychology of this.

Do you guys still have boiling water with vanilla or that the potpourri go on? That is pretty wild.

Emily: That’s funny. I haven’t baked any chocolate chips at an open house before. Choc chip cookies on open house but I’ve heard that. To Lone’s point. It’s definitely a fine balance between depersonalizing but also making it feel lived in and homey enough that someone can envision themselves there.

Patti: Wow, that’s terrific. The fact that the pools are in. The fact that the staycation, that’s a fascinating change that the pandemic certainly has brought out. What’s also interesting, in looking at the demographic, who is buying these homes?

I was looking and in 2011 people who are in their 30s basically originated $62 billion worth of mortgages. In this quarter alone, that was $300 billion. This is a titanic that is shifting. The old idea of kids that are going to be in these studio apartments or in their parents’ basement, that is not going to happen. It is moving, isn’t it?

Emily: The statistics we are seeing out there with, people were scared that it was going to go into another housing crisis with COVID. There’s so much out there. The number one thing going against that theory is the strong demand from the Millennial home buying market.

COVID accelerated it, because a lot of Millennials did live in apartments and rent and cities. Then finally, they started relooking at everything. They started having to work from home, where working from home wasn’t as accepted pre-COVID as it is now.

People are living in their one-bedroom apartment with no office. They’re looking at their finances saying, “What can I afford now to make my space more livable?”

Patti: That’s a good point. Having a couple of my kids come back home. We’re all trying to work in the house. I’m like, “Kelly, wait a minute. I’ve got this Zoom call, you can’t be in this area.” She’s got to go to a different area. I’m ready to go to the bathroom and do Zooms. It’s just getting crazy with the number of kids and people in my house.

It’s also interesting with those 30 somethings. We have to think. They graduated from college. Typically, if they had student loans, it’s a 10-year pay off. Now, they’re in their 30s. They don’t have the student loan debt. Their cash flows gotten better.

What are they buying? Are they buying the starter home like we started with or what’s happening in that area?

Lone: The starter home certainly has changed, and so has the pockets, or the pocketbooks of the Millennial purchaser. We often find that there’s two incomes that are coming into it. It’s really gone from a starter home of 250 to…in Emily’s experience. She can speak to this as well.

It’s anywhere from over 500 to close to would you say $800,000 as well, Emily? There definitely is a shift in what they’re looking at, and how much they’re spending.

Patti: What they seem to be able to afford.

Lone: That’s what I mean, what they’re spending, absolutely. They want perfection. They want to walk into this home with gray walls. They want stainless steel. They want it all. They don’t want to do anything because they want to enjoy the outdoors. They want to get out on their bikes. They want to go hiking. They want to experience life.

Patti: They are the experiential generation where they don’t want to be stuck in the house. They’re not the do it yourselfers. They want it to be done. They need a place to live. They want to enjoy it. They want to feel good and go back to work and get on with life and go have fun. Have I described you, Emily?

Emily: I’m laughing because we are called the instant gratification generation. We are pretty much. There are some exceptions. For the most part, the trend right now is definitely move in ready.

Patti: We talked about this on the show. As much as technology has improved our lives, we’re busier than ever. I certainly think that with your generation, you are the tech generation. You use tech, you’ve got your Instagrams. It’s crazy, all the crap you guys use. Yet you don’t have time. You don’t want to be doing the house. You go out and you go do your thing.

Generally speaking, people are over that. Having a walk-in, having a home that’s got that curb appeal, and it’s already done. It’s appealing to me. How about you Lone, forget the generations, I know that’s what I want.

Lone: I’m one of those first-floor master people with low maintenance. I’m not a big cook either. I hear that, absolutely.

Patti: Housing’s going nuts, prices are going up. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. What are you seeing in your market? You guys are mainline, literally the Lone Spillard team, we move mainline. You know the market better than anybody that I know.

As a sidebar, I’ve worked with a lot of people. I’ve had the experience of working with this team. They helped a very dear client of mine, sell her home. It was a tough situation, very difficult, just emotionally for this person to sell her home. There was so much history there, so many memories.

I cannot believe the way that Lone and Emily were able to gently move this person in the direction that she needed to go. It was a difficult process. What is also so interesting is, this woman I talked to her a week ago, Lone, she told me that you’re still going out to lunch with her two years later.

For those who are listening, this woman is in a continuing care community. She’s not buying another home. Yet, you’re still going out to lunch with her. That said volumes to me about who you are as a person and how much you deeply care. It’s not BS. You are the real deal.

Lone: We like to take personal care of our clients. We get to know them. We become friends. In this woman’s situation, she happens to be a bridge player. We do a lot of bridge games online as well. A very dear friend of mine.

Patti: It’s amazing. I introduced you to her. Now, you’re closer with her than I am.

Although, if you’re listening to this, I’m still the BFF. It does say a lot about your approach. What I also think is the combination of the two of you, is really creating the experience that so many people were missing. That community feel and what you’re doing in terms of helping people, bring people up to speed with what’s going on in their neighborhoods.

Emily, tell me a little bit more about that. I know that’s your thing. You’ve taken that technology and your experience and reaching out to people, who may not even be looking for a home.

You’re reaching out and talking about, what’s happening in your neighborhood? What are some of the things to do? Here are the people that you might know? This is pretty cool stuff. Tell us more about that.

Emily: Totally. In my previous life, before real estate, I owned a small startup business, actually right here out of Westchester. We made snack bites. I got a peek into the small business community in the Greater Philadelphia area.

I realized how much it meant, even as a small business owner to have the support of people in the community. That was your ticket to making it, not big, but successful and not bigger than a hobby. You could live off of it. It could be your business, which is ultimately a small business owner’s dream, is to live off of what they do for day to day activity.

When I went into real estate, I realized that it really wasn’t that much different being an entrepreneur, in the sense that our day to day is, we control it. We are the owners of our business. This is a small business within our brokerage. I had a vision for us to be more community-focused, than the more traditional agent, marketing style of so person focused.

We wanted to put the focus back on our community, and highlight the amazing points of our community. Why we love where we live and things to do in our community that will ultimately add value to our consumers’ lives, rather than just selling them a piece of real estate or helping them buy this real estate.

Patti: When you build up the community, when you bring people in that sense of inclusion, it increases the value of real estate because everybody wants to live there. That is so interesting. How are you doing that specifically?

Emily: Lone and I have an Instagram page called We Move Main Line, where we highlight local businesses. We give a peek into what we do on a daily basis. Also, our personal Instagrams, Lone is @theloneh and mine is @emilyfazzini.

We have a newsletter sign up that goes out every Wednesday at 8:30. There we highlight local events in the Greater Philadelphia area from Friday to Sunday. It’s family-friendly activities, great date options, even with a best friend just to do something, even by yourself.

We give great recommendations for activities. Then we give some of our favorite real estate pics of the week. Then we highlight one local business and might not be a business you know about but we just love keeping our community in the know. That’s really how we built a little network of our followers.

Patti: Well, you know what, I am a follower and I get your newsletter every week. It’s awesome, because it does make you feel included. I feel like, it’s not a pitch either, what I appreciate and I have not said this to you, but I appreciate the fact that you’re just out there, trying to include everybody, tell everybody what’s going on.

Not everybody gets local papers anymore. If they get them, they’re probably not reading them. Like us. That’s great. By the way, if you’re ever looking to sell your home, we’re here to help. That’s all it is. It’s an afterthought.

Emily: We truly do care about our community. We’re community advocates. People ask about what sets us apart. Also, the fact that, I feel we’re an unconventional team. I love that about us.

We both bring such different pieces of value to the market, like Lone teaches me something new, every day, which I appreciate. I hope that I give a little bit back to her, even if it’s showing you how to copy and paste or use Instagram.

We add value in other ways.

Patti: When we’re done, can you please show that to me?

Emily: Yes, I will.

It’s a beautiful balance. I’ve had a lot of fun. I wanted to do things differently. I’ve always been that way. It’s slowly breaking the mold of what traditional real estate marketing is. Where a lot of people go wrong in marketing is they ask for trust. They ask for following, but they don’t give any value. I’m not talking about paid value. I’m talking about any value.

People are like, “I can’t believe you take the time to do a newsletter.” I’m like, “Well to me, I enjoy doing this first of all.” Second of all, you have to give value. You can’t ask for people’s trust and ask for it without giving them anything. It is free if you want to say that. I don’t look at it like that.

Patti: It’s so interesting. That’s why we do this podcast. We do this podcast, it’s free. We work hard to do these and educate and inform. We get a lot out of it because we learn a lot. I’ve learned so much from both of you today about the market, what’s going on, what to do, what not to do.

It’s funny, because one of the things we were talking about earlier was, is this a bubble? Is this going to be another real estate bubble? It forced me to ask that question. That’s why we do these podcasts.

I’m a big believer in the Walt Whitman school of thought. He basically said, “If you ever want to learn about something, write a book about it.” In my case, if I want to learn about something, I do a podcast on it. I wanted to learn about what’s going on with real estate, especially in our area. I brought the best team in the area to find out.

In doing that research, for those of you who are listing one of the things that I’m worried about, to be perfectly clear, I’m worried about the pace of increases. Lone, why don’t you go through that? It’s worth you guys hearing this. It’s amazing. We got to be on the lookout. In our area, you guys work from Wynnewood to Westchester?

Lone: Correct.

Patti: Let’s talk about the different markets and the change in prices.

Lone: I have some stats on the different counties that we deal with, which is Chester County, Delaware County and Montgomery County. Our active inventory, which means if nothing new came on the market today, this is how long it would take to sell every single house in Chester County. We have one and a half months worth of supply.

Patti: That’s short.

Lone: In Delaware County, it’s less. It’s 1.4 and Montgomery County, it’s 1.4 months as well. The price increases in Chester County from last year is 17 percent. The price increase in Delaware County is 10.3 percent and the price increase in Montgomery County is 14.4 percent.

Patti: I hear those increases, and it brings me back to the real estate bubble. That’s what was happening in the real estate bubble. When you told me that Lone, I thought, “Should I be you know, worried about this? We’ve got to be careful.” One of the things that led to the bubble was that anybody and everybody could get a house. They could qualify for a mortgage.

What I found interesting is that 72 percent of mortgage originations this quarter had a FICO score of 760 or greater. That’s a very big difference. I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but between just the shift to people wanting more space bigger, maybe moving out of the city, certainly New York. I have a client who moved out of Manhattan and is living here now.

I see it also on anecdotal basis. Between that, the 30 somethings who are buying their first homes, very low mortgage rates, and the quality of the people who are buying homes, it feels this Titanic, this pent up demand that’s been there for 10 years has shifted. It doesn’t feel it’s going to be a bubble, because of the quality.

It just it feels like, I often tell people that real estate has the longest cycle of anything you can put money into. The stock market is typically a 5-year cycle, it goes up a lot one year, does pretty OK for three years, and then is down at one year. It’s a 5-year cycle.

Real estate, I tell people typically has a 10-year cycle, where it’s limping along for about 10 years, and all of a sudden, it is the only game in town. What are your thoughts on that?

Lone: With the given interest rates that are historically low, and you can speak more to that I’m certainly not a finance person. That is driving people to refinance and also gives them more purchasing power. The inventory staying low, is also adding to that.

If there is a lack of something, and there’s only one of it, and there’s five people who want it, well, that’s automatically going to drive up the price. It depends on how the inventory shift is going to be. I am sure that we’ll see much more inventory in the spring.

Once that levels out, the prices might level out as much. I had a glass bubble because I probably wouldn’t be selling real estate, I’d probably be off on an island somewhere. To answer your question, it ebbs and flows and ebbs and flows.

There’s going to be a little more of an even out, I don’t think there’s going to be a fall like we had in the financial crisis, as a result of every Tom, Dick and Harry being able to get a mortgage in a very creative sense.

Patti: Last question. Do you see any difference in terms of the days on market, or prices or activity, in terms of the cost of the home or the super luxury homes? As you guys define is two million and above, are they selling as quickly? Is there a sweet spot?

Lone: There sure is. There’s a huge sweet spot, and it’s in there somewhere between 475 and 850. A huge sweet spot. That’s your Millennium coming out to purchase again. We are seeing above a million selling as well. Again, condition driven, always condition driven.

The two million and above, prices are increasing with about one percent. They’re not moving quite as rapidly. Obviously there’s less of a buyer for that market as well.

Patti: It’s interesting, because, I’ve talked with people. They were looking at selling their home for two and a half million say, and taking advantage of the wonderful rise in prices. They were going to downsize into a smaller home, intermediate home. I was thinking to myself, that you’ve got transaction costs.

I feel you’re selling high theoretically, although one percent is not exactly high, to buy high. What are we getting out of the deal? For those of you who are listening, Lone, and I, and Emily are running numbers to determine the net benefit. In this particular case, does it make sense?

The real estate taxes are going to be lower. The cost of the ownership is going to be lower. If it is a three-year deal, it’s one thing. If it’s a 10-year deal, quite another. Everything is different, and you got to run the scenarios.

Lone: Everything is different and you do have to run the scenarios. There’s so many different money amounts coming into the scenario. You may end up spending more to fix up your house to buy for less. It’s definitely each individual situation is different and where are you selling and where are you buying?

Patti: As I listen to both of you today I think, “You know, it always does come down to people.” It really comes down to people taking the time to understand what’s important to each family, each person.

Then carving out a solution that will work primarily for them. It’s true in my business, it’s true in your business. It’s wonderful to have the access – if I may say – I’m so proud and honored I can pick up the phone and call Emily and say, “Emily, I’ve got a 35-year-old. They’re looking for a house, can you help me out?”

What are the dos and don’ts? Where are we looking? They’ve got little kids. I don’t know the schools anymore. What schools should they look at? Give me streets, give me places.

It just makes it easier for everybody involved. Thank you for that. Lone and Emily, thank you for joining us and thank you for joining the show.

If you have any questions, please feel free. Go to our website, keyfinancialinc.com. Give us your questions if you have particular questions on your property, real estate. Write them out. Get in touch. I’ll put you in touch with the best team in the area.

For those of you who are listening, we are recording this just before Thanksgiving. I would like to end this by saying thank you. Thank you for taking the time to tune in every two weeks to listen to these podcasts.

You make it all worthwhile. Your feedback has been unbelievable. I am so honored and I’m grateful that you are sharing it. I’m grateful that you are telling us what works for you and what doesn’t because that’s the only way we learn. Thank you for that.

Thank you for sharing 30 minutes of your precious time with us. Have a great day!

Ep60: 2020 – A Year to Remember or a Year to Forget?

About This Episode

As 2020 begins to wind down, are we going to look back on this year as a year to remember or a year to forget? The pandemic has certainly created significant hardship and loss for so many, yet there have also been some inspiring revelations. Patti is concluding her series this year with her special guest and friend, radio host Gregg Stebben. They discuss lessons they have learned this year because of the pandemic – both professionally and personally. Listen to find out how to lock in these lessons and move forward into 2021 with renewed hope and optimism for our future – as well as our finances!


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Joining me again is Gregg Stebben.

Gregg is going to help me bring the year, bring 2020 to an end and help all of us to look forward to a bright and secure future. It’s been a difficult time, but I think that we’ve all learned a lot about ourselves, our businesses, and the world at large. What can we do with that newfound knowledge?

Gregg, thank you so much for joining me today and helping us to lock these lessons in to help all of us go forward.

Gregg Stebben: Well, it’s such a fascinating thing. I remember the last time a year got branded was the year 2000, because of Y2K. Oh my gosh, it was going to be such a disaster. It was a letdown. That was the last time I remember a year actually having its own identity until 2020.

Now, when something goes wrong, we look at each other, and we laugh. If we can laugh, and we say, “Well, it’s 2020. It’s the opposite of Y2K. That was a big letdown.” This has been exactly the opposite. It’s been one disaster after another.

Patti: I was just going to say, that is so true. If we were having this conversation this time last year, talking about 2020, I don’t think anybody could have ever anticipated what we faced. You couldn’t plan for something like that. The domino effect in our lives, in our families and our businesses, etc.

It’s so interesting that you go back to Y2K, because you’re right. That was branded, and that was going to be a disaster. The world was never going to be the same. It was. Let’s fast‑forward and say, “OK, 2020 happened. We had COVID, civil unrest, a really divisive election, and it’s over.”

What do we get to look forward to and what can we learn? What can we do with what we’ve learned in 2020?

Gregg: One of the first things to do is set aside time to reflect on the year, what happened, good and bad. As we’re recording this, I’m looking over and the Dow has crossed 30,000 for the first time. That’s not a bad thing. We could list all bad things in 2020, but that’s certainly not one of them. There have been in everyone’s life, great things too. Don’t forget about them, and take the time to reflect on them.

Patti: It sure is true, and just when you think you know what’s going to happen, who would’ve thought that we’d be seeing a Dow of 30,000? Who would have ever dreamed based on what was going on in the lockdown? There’s always reason to have hope, for me at least. I can say there’s always reason to have hope.

We never know what’s going to happen. We’ve always got to have plan A, plan B, plan C. Maybe this is the optimist in me Gregg, but I’m an optimist, I believe that things are going to get better.

Gregg: I think that’s also our nature as a people, as a nation. I think it is the nature of humans to always strive to make things better. Again, if you don’t set aside some time with yourself perhaps first, and then deliberately, consciously set aside some time with your partner, with your family, with your co‑workers, with your friends.

If you don’t take the time to think back on what the year was, what happened, and what did you learn, that is neither good nor bad necessarily, they’re just lessons. What are the lessons you learned?

You want to capture those after a year that’s been so unusual because they’re either lessons that are going to help you for the rest of your life, or they’re lessons you want to be finished with, and by golly, capture them so you can bring closure to them and move on from them if there are those kinds of lessons.

If you don’t take the time to reflect, if you just keep running, then the greatest value of this year is lost, because you didn’t take the time to capture it.

Patti: It’s so interesting because when you brought this topic up and you asked me that question, honestly, I did take the time to say, what did I learn? What is different? For me, if I can share it, what I learned is that we’re all far more resilient than I even realized, that we are adaptable.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how resilient my business was, my team was, and our clients were. I also learned that we don’t need a lot of the things that we think we need. Yes, toilet paper is essential, OK.

Gregg: We learned that this year.

Patti: We did learn that, absolutely, but really a lot of the stuff that we were doing and spending money on, it’s probably not necessary. It’s OK. It’s just not necessary. That was really important to take a look back and say, “Hey, we’re all still standing. We’ve got our families. We’ve got our businesses.”

We also have hope that we’re going to get through all of this and we’re going to be better because of it.

Gregg: One of the things I hear people talking about in a lot of different settings, and I want to get your take on this. I hear a lot of people reflecting on one of the biggest changes in their lives is how they view the other people in their lives. A greater appreciation for family members or partners.

Why, because you spent a lot more time with them and maybe you discovered things about them, you’d never knew. Maybe you found new ways to spend time together or things you had in common that you never knew. Those kinds of discoveries and that new love for your family and your partner, might not have happened if we hadn’t all been sheltering in place.

I hear people talking about the people they work with, for instance, in the same way, because of COVID we shared things we might not have shared, personal things, but we felt more comfortable or even desperate to share things that we wouldn’t have shared before. Or we were forced in a set of circumstances to work together in a way that we might never have worked together before, or even with people we hadn’t worked with.

Once you take the time to reflect, one of the things you discover is there is a newfound richness to many, if not all of your relationships that just got glossed over in the past, because we were running, we were doing other things. We were going other places. We were spending a lot of time looking at our phones instead of drawing on the people around us because we needed them.

Patti: It’s so true. I’m going to tell you a story. My husband and daughter are going to get mad at me, but literally this happened about two weeks ago. I’m at the house, my daughter is there and my husband, Ed, God bless him.

That man has put up with me for all of these years. He’s the most considered person in the world. He’ll run out for my favorite yogurt and just go and get it, or he’ll do this. He’ll fold the laundry because I don’t have time to do that. It’s just what you said, Gregg. I’ve had this opportunity to look at him and say, “Gosh, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Literally it was a Saturday and he had done one of these just wonderful gestures of just random acts of kindness. I looked at him, I said, I just love you. I gave him a big old kiss mack on the lips, and my daughter was there and she’s like, “Eeeew.” Now, I’m like, “Ooh, this is my husband. What are you talking about?” She said, “I don’t really need the PDA. I know that you guys…”

I’m like, “Wow.” It made me think, I haven’t shown my own children, how much I adore their father. That’s something that I need to change because that’s not right. I love this man through and through, and he’s just everything to me.

I need to be more demonstrative and let the rest of the world know how special he is and important in my life. That to me was…It was truly a moment, not what I’m proud of, but nonetheless.

Gregg: Willing to share, which says a lot about you, Patti.

Patti: It’s something and to your point, whether it be our spouses, our kids, our team, same thing with the team. These people have been working their tails off literally it’s just been incredible.

With adversity comes tremendous innovation and boy have, we had our fair share of adversity this year, but man, I’ll tell you what, you can’t believe the stuff that my team has come up with. We’ve literally written software because our industry doesn’t have certain things that I thought we needed.

I just basically asked the question and these people went to work and I have an executive dashboard and a package that is helping me make that much more of a difference in the lives of our clients. That never would have happened if it wasn’t for COVID.

Gregg: I’m curious to know if you’re hearing from your clients about changes, they’re seeing an opportunity to make in their businesses, in their careers, with their families, because you get to talk to an awful lot of people in the work that you do every day.

Patti: I would say that for the most part, the things that I’m hearing are just exactly the things that you and I are talking about right now, and in the prior podcast. They include, what are we doing all of this for, why are we working like this, what are we doing with our cash flow, and is that the right decision?

They’re being more proactive about it. Instead of having the big humongous house with a $30,000 real estate tax, and all that stuff. It’s just not that necessary, and what’s important to us.

They’re having those conversations because of what they’ve been through. They’re spending more time together. Time and time again, I’ve heard from parents of adult children, loving the fact that the kids are coming home. They’re leaving their apartments.

They’re loving the fact that these 20‑something‑year‑olds are living at home, working and saving the rent money, and building up their own balance sheets. It’s been lots of changes for different reasons. It’s all been very good, very healthy.

Gregg: One of the things you mentioned early on in this conversation, and I think we all have said this or thought it to ourselves, is that I never would have guessed on New Year’s Eve 2019, how 2020 would turn out.

I want to get a sense from you about the importance of having a plan for 2021 that takes into account all of the changes around us. Also, that’s plan A, having a plan B, maybe a plan C, and maybe even a plan D because just as 2020 turned out to be quite a surprise, 2021 might turn out to be quite a surprise too.

It seems to me that it might take more than one plan, but have a couple of backup plans as well, and be prepared to pursue them if the year 2021 is as much as a game‑changer as 2020 has been.

Patti: It’s so true. As you were talking, I was thinking about this annual speech that I gave for the Economic Development Council, and it’s basically my outlook for the next year.

In January of this year, I’m going to have to tell everybody, “Well, that was a complete dud.”

“I was wrong on almost every single thing.” Yet at the same point, the message that I’ve always said is you’ve got to be in a position where you can pivot because nobody knows what’s going to happen.

Humility is probably one of the most important qualities a good advisor can have, a good doctor can have. Any kind of industry where you have to guide people into an uncertain future, the humility to admit that we don’t know. We believe, “By the way, if it doesn’t happen, here’s plan B. Here’s what we’re going to do.”

More importantly, having the ability to pivot, to do the things that are going to be better if that thing that we weren’t anticipating does occur. You got to be ready.

Gregg: Do you have suggestions for how our listeners might sit down and make a plan B, C, and D? Have you learned some things that you can share with the rest of us?

Patti: Sure, I’d be happy to. I think that whether it be a software package, or what have you, run your numbers – and I say that all the time, Gregg – run your numbers.

If we continue doing everything that we’re currently doing, paying the level of income taxes we are currently paying, aligning our cash flow, and choosing to spend in these areas, and save in those areas, how are we tracking? What does it look like a year from now, five years from now, etc?

Then what I would do is I would stress test that, “What if this happens, or what if that happens? What if somebody gets really sick and needs care? What if somebody dies? What if the market doesn’t do so hot? What if we go through a another really bad‑bear market? Worse, let’s run the numbers and say it lasts a lot longer. Are you still going to be OK?”

Number one, and number two, what should you do? What should you be ready to do if it does? You’ll learn where you might be vulnerable. If that thing does in fact happen, you’re not going to be vulnerable. You’re not going to miss out, lose, or be in financial jeopardy because that’s what we’re all worried about.

Gregg: I would think, and it’s funny because we talked about this in our previous conversation together.

It seems to me that if you have a plan B and a plan C, you are going to get peace of mind from going through the exercise, and you are going to get peace of mind from having them in place because you’ve eliminated as many of the unknowns as you can, and you’re ready, instead of afraid.

Patti: Exactly. You’re empowered. You just have a much better understanding, and you know what you’re going to do. That’s everything. It’s funny because I’ve always been a believer, Gregg, in this notion of “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

That’s a saying that’s out there. It’s one that I have at my desk, and it’s so important in so much of what we do, and what other people do as well. I also believe that as part of that, that caring is also caring enough to be competent, to do the legwork. It can’t just be fluff.

I talk about that internally here all the time. It’s not about fluff. You got to do the work. You got to crunch the numbers. How many of our clients this year? Right now, we’ve got about a hundred clients. We’ve run algorithms to figure out who should be doing a Roth conversion.

It’s awesome. They wouldn’t ever have done this if we didn’t behind the scenes, run those things. Why do we do this? Because we’re not just fooling around. We do care. It’s going to make a difference for those people who qualify, where it makes sense.

For me, that’s where it matters because that message just comes from deep within. It’s not a bowl. It’s true, we’re doing that stuff, and people can tell.

For me, what I’ve so appreciated this year is the number of people who recognize that. It’s like the greatest feeling in the world, Gregg. It is the greatest.

When everything was hitting the fan, and have people reach out and say, “I can’t tell you how much of a difference it has made knowing that you’re there for us.” To me, that’s what it’s all about. Truly what it’s all about.

Gregg: You’re making me think about one other piece of the year‑end that might be worth us talking about, and that is for all of the changes in our lives because of 2020. People who need help.

There’s going to be people, especially at holiday time that are going to be alone, or need help that might not otherwise have. Their families can’t visit, either because of social distancing, illness, or financial circumstances because of COVID.

It might be worth us talking a little bit about looking around the world you live in and asking yourself, who might need a little help this holiday season, a little company, a little cheer, safe company, safe cheer? Who can I help or support during this holiday season?

Under other circumstances, they might have been surrounded by family, friends, and other loved ones.

Patti: You’ve really hit on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, Gregg. I’ve always believed that loneliness is one of the…You talk about a pandemic; loneliness is a pandemic. That existed even before the virus. It’s awful. It takes 15 seconds to pick up the phone and call somebody and reach out. That is so important.

From a practical perspective, there are people who are really hurting that never were hurting like this before. There was a report about people in Dallas, waiting for hours and hours and hours in a line for the food bank. When they got to the front of the line, they were asked about their situation.

Gregg, do you know that 50 percent of those people reported that they had never been to the food bank before? That is what’s happening here.

There are neighbors, there are people in our own communities who could use some extra gifts during Christmas to give their kids. They could use that extra meal or that gift card. It doesn’t have to be huge. Again, those random acts of kindness that can make a difference.

Getting back to that Ed Brennan story, do you know what that guy did? I didn’t even realize this. I found out today. He has a turkey for Thanksgiving. He also ordered a ham. We’re taking it over to Salvation Army to give to somebody who may not be having a meal. I didn’t even know he did it.

That’s the stuff that touches me. It makes a difference because there are people who need some help right now.

Gregg: It does seem to me that when I think about this year that has gone by, and the many things that have happened, obviously COVID is the headliner, but there’s been so many other things that have been very traumatic, or jarring, or problematic.

Speaking for myself, in many cases what those events or those circumstances have done is to remind me about the greatness of people, the importance of the people around me, and open my eyes to the beauty of humanity around me.

I will look back on [laughs] 2020 with mixed feelings, but for me, I didn’t get sick. No one in my immediate family got sick. I’m so happy to be able to say that. I know this is a different conversation if you or someone around you has gotten sick. For me, and I hope for many others in the net, this has actually been a beautiful year because the hardship made me a better person.

Patti: I can’t agree with you more. For me, what I have gained from this is a real appreciation of people who are out there doing the work every day that I probably didn’t pay as much attention to, the people in Wawa who are there working whether they feel like being there or not.

There was a big emphasis in March and April with the essential workers and the people in the hospitals. That’s died down. It’s important that we don’t forget that they’re still in those hospitals working their tails off.

I had a conversation with somebody at our local hospital, and they’re fried. They are really fried. They’ve been there since March taking care of really, really sick people, just not being able to do enough for them, and watching them perish. I’ve been in that role. It is heart‑breaking. You go home at night. You cry. You feel bad for the families. It’s awful.

To have that day after day and not know when it’s over. These people, I can’t say enough about what they’re doing for our community. They show up, Greg. They’re there when it’s raining. They’re there when it’s snowing, the weather is awful.

They don’t want to get in their cars in the freezing cold. They certainly don’t want to get in their cars when it’s 75 degrees out and gorgeous. Yet, they do. They do because that’s what it’s all about.

I would say, at least for me and for our family, we’re going to go back to those essential workers and thank them, and whatever we can do to help them get through this next phase. We’re going to need them. We’re going to need them to have the energy to pull us all through.

Gregg: Well said.

Patti: Gregg, let me end with this. If there is one thing – you talked to so many people – if there’s one thing that our listeners can learn from this year, or what you’ve learned from this year that you’re going to take into 2021 as a different person, as you said, what’s going to be different in the life of Gregg Stebben?

Gregg: As you know, I have already made some big changes in my life, including a move. I’ve made some big changes in my relationship with money. The thing that I’m in the process of doing that is going to ultimately have the biggest impact on my life and the life of others around me is, it’s a whiteboard exercise.

Literally taking a whiteboard, erasing it and saying, “This is my life going forward.” Slowly, methodically, filling it with the things that are important to you. Letting nothing else get on that whiteboard. Then keep it in front of you so that, that’s what the rest of your life is full of.

Patti: Wow, that is poignant. It is huge. I’m going to end it there, Gregg. I can’t thank you enough for sharing that with us and for sharing your heart, your knowledge, your energy. I just love working with you. It’s been such a joy. I look forward to continuing in 2021. Thank you so much for joining us.

Gregg: Thank you, Patti. I’m going to say the pleasure is all mine and I admit it is a joy to be here.

Patti: This is great and you know what, thanks to all of you for joining us. You give us hope, you give us energy, you make all of this possible. I can’t thank you enough for joining us week after week and sharing these episodes and letting this thing go viral not to use a bad word by the way.

I really just appreciate all of you. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. As always, we are here for you. If you have any questions, go to our website, keyfinancialinc.com. Always remember that we’re in your corner. I hope you have a great day.

Ep59: Automatic Millionaire – It’s Easier Than You Think!

About This Episode

There are more millionaires in America today than ever before. At one time, becoming a millionaire may have only been attained by the highly educated or successful corporate officers – now it can be attainable by anyone with the right plan and the right tools to get them there. In today’s episode, Patti sits down once again with renowned journalist and radio host, Gregg Stebben. Gregg confesses that while he has always been financially responsible in his life, he was not taking financial responsibility. But because of the pandemic shutdowns, an opportunity arose that he saw happening across America…people became more mindful where their money was going and how it was being spent. Patti shared the secrets of gaining financial freedom with some very simple tools that are available. Listen to find out how using these tools, automates your spending behavior, and when applied over time, the opportunity arises to become an automatic millionaire.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or 20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Joining me again is Gregg Stebben, journalist extraordinaire.

He and I are going to bring home this podcast program for the end of the year, and I’m so excited to talk about what we’ve learned with COVID and what we’re doing going forward. Gregg has so many great points and great questions that he was asking me, so we decided to record it.

Gregg, thanks so much for joining the show.

Gregg Stebben: Oh, Patti, it is always great to be here. It is such a pleasure and such a joy to be with you. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed it’s been a strange year. It’s not just me, right?

Patti: No, it’s not just you, Gregg. If there’s anything that COVID has taught us, is that there really are so many things that are really out of all of our control. Really, let’s think about it. We can’t control an invisible pathogen that swept across the Earth, really ending the lives of 1.4 million people.

It’s really a scary period of time. A lot of people are feeling disjointed and out of control. I think that the things that you and I are going to talk about, the questions you were asking me, I think, are really, really important right now.

Gregg: Your point about control is a really good one. I have felt, I think, the way almost everyone else has. I realized, in some part, I think, thanks to the conversations you and I have been having, I realized at some point during this long shelter in place period that there was one thing in my life I could take control of that I frankly I had avoided taking complete control of in the past. That was my money.

Patti: Gregg, that’s what I love about you. You’re so very real. It’s true, a lot of people just put their heads down, go to work, deal with their kids, and do all of these things, and it’s an afterthought. The upside to what’s happening is we are finding ourselves more at home.

A lot of people are, do find themselves having more time, and really are taking a look at their finances and saying, “Gee, I can’t control all the stuff that’s going on outside, but I can make better decisions about this.”

Gregg: Yes. I went through that, and I had to be honest with myself about how frankly irresponsible I had been about money. Look, I’ve made a good living. I am in a good place financially, but I always knew that I could do better financially and that I should do better financially.

That’s when I discovered, doing a little research, that only about 50 percent of Americans have a budget. I was part of the other 50 percent. Just the word budget would make me roll my eyes, and if I could, get up and walk out of the room. I wanted nothing to do with it.

I realized, thanks to COVID, that what I was doing was giving up control, giving up control of one of the most important, power assets in my life.

Patti: You are not alone. First of all, 37 to 40 percent of Americans are right where you are right now, Gregg. They’re being much more mindful of their money and where it goes. I am so with you. I am not a big-budget person.

I’ve always said to you before, to me, the word budget’s like the word diet. It sounds like I’m giving something up. It sounds like there’s sacrifice. I think that there is a different way to frame it. I think that, when you think about it, you’re just realigning your expenses. Instead of wondering where your money is going, tell it where you want it to go.

Gregg: Yes. Well, so, for me, again, you could probably say I started obsessing about this a little bit, partially because I was at home. I have had, I think like a lot of people, more time on my hands than normal.

Typically, when I had time on my hands, I would walk out of the house, get in the car, or walk out of the house and go do something. We haven’t been doing that this year. You’re at home.

Patti: Yeah, typically, you’re probably going out to dinner, going to the mall, or maybe even going on vacations that really aren’t happening right now.

Gregg: Interestingly enough, usually, once you walk out of your house to go do something, like go to dinner, go to the mall, or go on a vacation, what you’re actually doing is you’re doing something that has some impact on your finances.

I can tell you, I’ve been married for over 20 years. For over 20 years, my wife Jodie has said every year, “We have to figure out how much we spend on restaurants.” Every year, I pushed back on that. Truthfully, I didn’t want to know. I like eating out. We ate out all the time.

In 2020, we haven’t eaten out. For me, that was a huge realization, and frankly, an opportunity from this year that really set me down this road of taking more responsibility for my finances. I realized that, if I dove into our finances this year, unlike any other year in my adult life, it was going to be easier for me to dig into the data and evaluate it because we haven’t been eating out.

We haven’t been going to the mall. We haven’t been going on vacation. We really could look at what we spent. First of all, there was just going to be a lot less data in the spreadsheet, so it was less overwhelming.

Patti: Right, less transactions to have to wade through.

Gregg: Far less transactions. We could also look and really get a benchmark of what is important and essential because that’s almost all we’ve spent on this year. Oh, and some sourdough starter as well.

Patti: I love it. You’ve got to through something in there to get yourself through. That’s the key. I give you so much credit because just taking that first step is a huge deal. Just to accept and recognize that it’s something that you haven’t been doing, you probably should do it.

OK, inertia, forget about it. You’ve got to just start somewhere. You know what? Once you get started I don’t know if this is happening for you and Jodie, Gregg, but – people I’ve talked to have a sense of empowerment.

They feel more organized. They feel more in control. It’s a really good feeling. The decisions that they’re making are a little different. It’s not bad, it’s all good. I think it’s so interesting. McKinsey had a study, and what they found is that 40 percent of Americans have the intent of spending less money at the stores, but they’re doing more online.

What’s even more interesting to me is brand loyalty is out the window. They’re just going for the best deal, because of what you and Jodie are doing. It’s the awareness. Do you really need to pay those big-ticket prices when you can get pretty much the same thing for 70 percent of the cost?

Gregg: I like how you talk about control. What I found is, by really, again, for the first time in my adult life, being able to roll up my sleeves, dig into the data, and take responsibility for where we were and are spending our money, I did actually begin to get the sense of what it’s like to be responsible for my finances, in a way that I had never been responsible before.

I’ve always paid my bills on time. I don’t think I’ve ever written a bad check. I’ve always been a very responsible person, financially, but I never took responsibility for the whole of my finances. Again, I thought this year was, I have the time.

It’s a very unique and special dataset in my financial life as an adult, and I’m going to take advantage of that. We now do have a budget, and it doesn’t feel like I’m following a diet, to use your analogy. It feels like something I own instead of something that owns me.

Patti: Wow, what a powerful message for everybody listening today. I love the way you put it, Gregg. It’s the idea of you were very responsible, but you weren’t taking responsibility. There is that just slight shift in the way that you phrased it is huge, absolutely huge. Good for you.

I think the fact that it doesn’t feel bad, it actually feels good. You feel like you have control. It’s big boy and big girl stuff that we’re dealing with.

It’s your life, and you get to spend…You work your tail off. I know you, Gregg. You work really hard. I talked to my kids about money, and I talked about this concept. We would go out shopping, and the kids would beg.

“Mommy, can I get this? Mommy, can I get that?” I would say, “No,” and they would look at me. I say, “It’s not that we can’t afford that. It’s just that we don’t choose to spend our money that way.” That really has, I believe, gone a long way as they’ve become responsible adults, taking control of their own spending.

It just is, again, it doesn’t have to be confining. It’s just realigning how you use your money. That’s it.

Gregg: To draw on my personal experience again, instead of it being confining, I actually feel like I have more freedom. Not freedom necessarily to spend, but I think I have freedom from worry, from guilt.

I think we all have negative things associated with money. I think that’s just the nature of money. I have actually found that taking responsibility, owning the data, creating a budget…Part of it for me, frankly, was creating a process that I could stick with. I now have enough months to know that I will stick with it for a long, long time.

We might talk about what would that process look like, but I have found that it is, I think I sleep better. I think I used to wake up and worry about money. Not that I had any specific worries, but I just didn’t know. I was worrying about the unknown.

It’s not an unknown to me anymore. I think it’s actually brought freedom and a state of grace to my marriage, because Jodie always wanted to be more responsible about money, and I pushed back. Now, we’re aligned and we’re partners about our money. It’s our money. It should be something that we own together.

Patti: You know what? It’s fabulous what you have done. It just is. It takes that effort. It takes that recognition that it can’t be a one-off to develop a repeatable process that’s easy to follow. Over time, it just becomes a habit.

Those habits can compound over a lifetime like you can’t even believe. Kudos to both of you. I think that one of the things that I’d like to help everybody listening today is, how can we make this as easy as possible?

What are the hacks out there that can make all of this not a painful process, but for you, an empowering one, one that gives you that sense of freedom, of peace of mind? Anxiety is defined as fear of the unknown.

If you don’t have your arms around stuff, whether it be financial stuff, worries about the kids, or what have you, that’s where anxieties really increase. If we take away that fear of the unknown by just sitting down, getting one of these hacks in place that’s easy to follow, literally everybody listening in three months, in six months, you can feel like Gregg and Jodie do.

Here’s a question. How long, how many months did you go through? How long did this take you to get you from A to B?

Gregg: Well, the interesting thing is I have tried different tools in the past. We all know there’s Quicken. If you own a small business, Quick Base. There’s Mint, but those tools, what I’m about to say is not a critique of the tools themselves. It’s just that they never were a good fit for me.

I think one of the things I learned in this journey is you’re going to need some kind of tool to do this. It could be a spreadsheet. It could be Microsoft Excel. That’s fine, I think, but it needs to be a tool that works for you.

What I realized is I needed to think about the screens I already look at regularly during the course of a day and the tools I use on those screens. What I discovered was a product I had never heard of. It’s called Tiller Money.

What I love about it, and why it made this so easy for me, is it’s like Quicken or Mint. It downloads all the information from your bank automatically. It lets you categorize things, so it automatically categorizes things in the past. It automatically makes a budget.

It’s not a piece of software, and it’s not an app. It’s just something you add to your existing Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets account. It’s embedded in the spreadsheets that I already knew how to use. I always wanted to manage my money in spreadsheets, but I hated the idea that I had to download the stuff from my bank.

I had to import it into the spreadsheet. I then had to catalog all these things. This does all those things for me. Once I found a tool that made sense for me, it turns out that that was actually the biggest barrier. Now, I want to manage my money, because I don’t have to think about how to make the tool work.

I already know how the tool works. It’s a tool I use, a spreadsheet, every day.

Patti: It’s a really important point. You’ve got to make it easy. I think automating as much as you possibly can is the key for all of this. I love the idea of going into things that you’re already going to be going into.

Another tool that I really like is this tool called Simplify. What it does is it does the same thing. It pulls all of the data. It’s called aggregation. It aggregates all the data into one place, and it automatically categorizes your recurring payments.

You’ve probably heard, Gregg, the 50 30 20 rule. 50 percent of your expenses should be your needs, your mortgage payment, your rent, utilities, recurring payments that are just going to happen. 30 percent would be to your wants.

That’s that discretionary, those decisions that you make on a discretionary basis. Then 20 percent to savings. What this tool does is it takes those recurring payments that we all make. It categorizes them for you.

As a sidebar, I think one of the problems with a lot of these tools is you have to categorize them. Half the time, it comes in, it’s wrong, and it’s a pain in the neck to keep it up to date. Whereas these tools are really using smart technology, so you don’t have to do that.

It lumps them. These are all your fixed expenses, your recurring payments. 50 percent, whatever that number is, it is. Step two is you put in the amount of money you want to save each month. It’s looking at how much is being deposited each month, and then it automatically uses the algorithms that say, “OK, here’s what’s leftover. Go have at it.”

It’s literally doing the budgeting for you in terms of making sure that the needs are taken care of and your savings are taken care of automatically. Then you get to spend the rest. You don’t have to add up how much am I spending on utilities, how much am I…?

You can, if that works for you. Everybody is different, to your point. Figuring out what’s going to work for you, that, to me, is the most important thing. Something that you’re going to be able to stick with. Once you’ve found that, it’s just a matter of looking at it every once in a while.

It’s a real eye-opener for people. It can tell you, “Gee, if I save the money first and spend what’s leftover, I’m going to hit all of the goals that are important to me. I’m going to educate my kids, get that second home, retire in comfort, and never run out of money.” It is a done deal. Then you get to spend the rest.

Gregg: You know what I love about you, Patti? Which I just learned from you right now, as you said.

Patti: What’s that?

Gregg: I am a micro guy. I’m looking at managing my money by the month. You are explaining to me how, “Oh, Gregg, if you manage your money by the month, what you end up with” – this is what you are so brilliant at is – “You actually get to own the big picture.”

I hadn’t even thought about the big picture of retirement, a second home, where do I travel? I’ve just been thinking about where do we spend our money every month? You’re absolutely right. Those big goals are the things that are going to motivate me, and I think motivate most people, to follow through on the program.

Patti: That is exactly it. Here is the beauty of this. Let’s think about what’s happened with COVID, where people are aligning their expenses, and what that means. The savings rate in America is higher than it has been in 30 years.

The question is what are people doing with that money? Let me motivate you a little bit more, Gregg, OK? You could stick that money in the bank, or let’s just do something simple. Let me just take an IRA. Let’s say that you’re going to put $6,000 into an IRA each year.

If you get seven percent over 30 years, that will compound and grow to $600,000. By the way, I need to tell you that this idea came from Ben Carlson who writes a blog called “A Wealth of Common Sense.” He is so great at just simplifying things and showing everybody how easy it is.

Frankly, not everybody can save $500 a month, but I want to show you the impact of compounding over time. Let’s say that we increase that by $20 a month, just $20. Not a lot, just $20. It might mean less stops at Starbucks or not stopping at Wawa in our area, whatever the case may be.

What do you think the difference would be 30 years from now at that same seven percent?

Gregg: Just to show how bright I am, $20 a month, that’s $240 a year, right?

Patti: Yep, over 30 years.

Gregg: Over 30 years, I’m going to say over a million.

Patti: Actually, the difference, what I was looking for, it adds $260,000 to the $600,000, so you were on the high side. You must be an aggressive investor, my friend.

Definitely. If I did the numbers at eight percent, you’re definitely in seven figures. Now, what’s interesting about that is, as people get raises, as people’s life changes or what have you, just by automatically increasing your savings – whether it be to your 401(k) or these outside savings – it can make a huge difference.

Here’s the question, Gregg, because this is what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about taking control of your money and taking control of your future. It’s fine and dandy to be able to save that money and increase it by $20 or $50 a month, but where is that money, where is that going to come from? It’s got to come from somewhere, right?

Gregg: Yes.

Patti: I want to share an idea with you and everybody listening, an idea that’s called snowballing. Here’s the way it works. When you’re looking at your bank account, when you’re looking at your expenses, just pick something to stop.

It doesn’t have to be big. It could be a cable channel. In my case, when I was doing this, honest to goodness, I’m a financial planner. I’m embarrassed to admit this, Gregg, but here it is. I have been subscribing to a legal application.

I’m going to give the name. I will tell you it’s $39 a month. I have subscribed to this thing for, like, three years. Ask me how many times I’ve used it.

Gregg: How many times have you used it, Patti?

Patti: Not once.

Gregg: [laughs]

Patti: It’s crazy. I wanted to have it, just in case, if I need a lease, or I wanted to look at changes in the Pennsylvania healthcare power of attorney, or whatever. I just always like to have access to the latest and greatest.

Have I ever opened the application? No. 40 bucks a month. I stopped it, and there’s money. That’s real money. Again, compounded over time, my children, my grandchildren, they’re going to have that money that I was spending on this legal service that I wasn’t even using.

Gregg: One of the things I discovered by taking this responsibility for my money is I didn’t have anything for $40 a month I wasn’t using, but in total, I probably had more than $40 worth of things I wasn’t using.

I think this is the design of programs like that. Once it starts hitting your credit card, if you don’t look at your credit card bill very closely, you forget. You forget that you’re paying $3 for this, $5 for this, $1.99 for this, $4.99 for this. I was shocked and frankly embarrassed by the things I had been paying for that I turned off.

You’ve given me the big picture idea here, which is to take the money I was already spending and to put it into something that’s going to grow exponentially over time, thanks to compounded interest.

Patti: I think, for you and for everybody, you want to automate it. In this case, what we’ve just talked about is becoming an automatic millionaire. Literally, an automatic millionaire. You just redirect that money that you were spending on these things that you weren’t really even using, and what a difference it’s going to make.

You’re going to be able to retire sooner than you ever dreamed possible, have higher cash flow. Once COVID is over, and it will be over, go on those wonderful vacations. Do the things that you want to do, and you’re doing it because you’re choosing to.

Because, again, you’re not wondering where your money is going anymore. You’re telling it where you want it to go.

Gregg: Did you just come up with automatic millionaire just now?

Patti: You know what? It’s a concept that I read about. I think there was a bit about it at some point. I’m telling you, Gregg, I use that all the time. Literally, you just run the numbers, and you just earn that seven percent per year. You can’t not be a millionaire.

Gregg: I love that. I’m borrowing that from you, and you get full credit every time I say it.

Patti: Thank you so much.

Gregg: I want to be an automatic millionaire, so I’m going to do what it takes to be an automatic millionaire.

Patti: Doesn’t that do something for that anxiety that you were talking about, those sleepless nights, and the worries of not really knowing, are you OK? Are you tracking? When we do these things, these are small life hacks that make a huge difference over time.

Not only in terms of 30 years from now but right here, today. It’s making a difference for you and Jodie, and it’s going to make a difference for everybody listening to this podcast today.

Gregg: I want to just add two other things to that that I think might be useful. These were things, one motivated me. That was, on top of the fact that I realized that the year of COVID made this a unique year, and probably an easier year to get started, I also realized, it’s the end of the year.

Get it done now before 2021 starts because if you don’t tackle it and get it done now, you’ll put it off until next year – which, if you’re like me, is what you’ve been doing for 20 or 30 years. This is literally, you’re at home, it’s the holidays. You have more time off from work. You can’t go anywhere.

Find a tool and get this done. I can’t tell you how much the end of the year motivated me. Then talking with friends about this. One of the things I realized is, I don’t have kids, but my friends who do, we started talking about how, if they took this on, if they got their kids involved, first of all, the kids could help them with the tool, the automation part of it, because kids are great at that.

The other thing is, if you get them engaged in how your family is budgeting money, it’s only going to help the entire family for everybody to understand where the money comes from and where it goes. Why not also set up an account for your kids, so they can begin to budget for themselves, too, so they don’t have to reach my ripe old age before they start doing this for themselves for the first time?

Let them start now, while they’re 10, 12, 15, or 17?

Patti: You know what, Gregg? That is an even better idea than the one that I used. With my kids, my hack was I would get them a debit card. It would be a joint debit card, and together, we would go through where they were spending their money.

Again, that takes time. There’s a hassle factor. It wasn’t necessarily being categorized. I basically looked them in the eyes and said, “Hey, let me tell you something. I know what you’ve been doing in college,” right?

Gregg: [laughs]

Patti: All of a sudden, it made them realize that, yes, they are accountable. I really like using, taking that one step further and empowering them with a tool like Tiller, Simplify, or whatever. Again, it doesn’t matter what the tool is, although I will say one thing.

You want to be cognizant of the privacy settings on these tools. Some of them will sell your data, and you may or may not be comfortable with that. Just go into this with your eyes wide open, OK?

Gregg: I think that’s a really great point. The thing I realized as you were describing this is a benefit of getting your kids having their own budget and using the same tool as you is, not only can they help you master the tool, but they then become your tech support down the road when you need more help with the tool.

Patti: Oh, yeah, baby. Let me tell you something.

Gregg: [laughs]

Patti: I am joining this century. I’m changing, and I’m getting an iPhone. I have a Samsung. I’m finally getting an iPhone, because I want to be able to do the FaceTime. Let me tell you something. Converting my information from Android to Apple, not an easy task. I’m letting the kids do it.

Gregg: They’ve got the whole holiday period to get it done, is my guess.

Patti: They’re going to need it, with all my pictures, that’s for sure. [laughs]

Gregg, thank you so much. This was so great. I always worry about topics like this, because I don’t want to bring up the “you’ve got to be careful where you spend your money” type of conversation.

It makes people feel guilty. It makes them feel that anxiety or that I’m shooting on them. Today’s podcast, and what you’ve brought to the table, has been so helpful in terms of how empowering it can be, and how it can bring peace of mind, a sense of freedom, and a sense of, “Wow, we’re really making progress.”

I can’t thank you enough for joining me today, Gregg.

Gregg: Oh, Patti, it is such a pleasure. Thank you so much for letting me join you here.

Patti: It’s always fun. It is amazing what comes out of these podcasts with Gregg Stebben. For those of you who are listening, stay tuned, because Gregg, is going to be joining me for a final conversation about 2020.

What have we learned? Let’s go back. Yes, it’s been a difficult year, but there have been so many good things that have happened as well. What’s some of the perspectives that Gregg can bring to the table? He’s got a worldwide global view of things, and I certainly have a thing or two to say myself.

Thanks to all of you for joining me today, and if you have any questions, or you just want to get in touch with us, give us a call. 610-429-9050. Go to our website at keyfinancialinc.com. We’re here to help. We’re here to serve you.

Thanks so much for joining me, and I hope you all have a great day.

Ep58: The Election is “Almost” Over – Now What?

About This Episode

Now that the most contested Presidential election in history is almost over…now what? The markets seem to be holding steady and the housing economy is still booming. There has been much political commentary from both sides as to what is going to happen to the economy in 2021 and beyond, under a new President. Is there really much to worry about? America has a strong, supportive Federal Reserve and history proves that election outcomes rarely drive long term market and economic activity. In today’s special episode, Patti has a candid conversation with her Chief Investment Officer, Brad Everett. They put politics aside to reveal what they believe will happen in the markets as a result of this month’s election.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

OK guys, the votes are in, and the election is almost over. Joining me today is our chief investment officer, Brad Everett. We’re going to discuss the election and the outcome, and what that might mean for your portfolio, your money, and maybe even your life. Brad, thanks so much for joining me.

Brad Everett: Thanks, Patti.

Patti: Let’s get something out of the way. Let’s just acknowledge, Brad, that we understand that people might have strong opinions about the election, and the last thing that I want to do is make anybody mad at us, right?

Brad: Yeah. We want to just make sure that we make everybody mad at us equally. We’re probably going to make everybody upset. Let’s evenly make everybody upset.

Patti: It’s very democratic, right?

Brad: Exactly.

Patti: Everybody is treated equally. There you go. I love it. Here’s the deal, you guys. We’re going to be talking about the economy and the markets.

There are a lot of issues that whoever is elected to lead our nation and lead Congress, etc., they’re going to be making decisions that affect things that may or may not have an impact on your portfolio. Things like gun control, or gay marriage, stuff like that, they’re really important. Civil rights is another example. They’re important.

We’re going to focus on the things that might have an impact on the economy and the markets. Just understand that we recognize that there’s a lot more to the office than that.

Brad, when we were talking about this on Friday, you brought up a good point, and I think it’s important to differentiate about the policy decisions that may have a direct impact on the economy and the markets, and the ones that may have an indirect impact. Can you give me an example of what each one might be?

Brad: Sure. Just to step back a little bit, there are plenty of things that we could debate that have no impact on our portfolio at all. How much time did we spend debating the updated baseball playoff postseason? We didn’t, because that doesn’t filter through to the economy, and probably our clients don’t care much about it either.

Patti: It probably doesn’t impact the baseball players, either, right?

Brad: They probably also don’t care, exactly. They just want to play. The first question is, does it affect the economy? Does it affect your portfolio at all? If it does, there’s a second level of things that just very directly influence the economy, things like a stimulus package, or tax rates, or things like that.

There’s another level that maybe on the surface doesn’t seem to, at the first order, affect the economy, but long term, it will filter down, like immigration, or foreign relations, or health care law, things like that. Those are all ostensibly about something else, but then they will have some kind of long term economic effects also.

Patti: That’s a really good point. Here we are in the midst of COVID, and you think about health care law and health care in general. I think, for many of us, it’s made us painfully aware of what is lacking in that area.

I also think it’s important to recognize that the policy makers and leaders can change on a dime. Look at how quickly they’re getting a vaccine through the FDA. Normally, it is a painful process, would take up to 7 to 10 years to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, and we’re going to have one in 7 months instead of 7 years.

You don’t think about that in the election and things of that nature, and as they’re grappling with the hundreds of decisions that they have to grapple with when they are doing their debating.

We talked about direct and indirect. Let’s talk about what we do know. Let’s talk about the things that, at this point, November 16th, as we record this podcast, the things that we do know. We do know who is likely to be our president. How about leadership in Congress? Is it a sweep? Is it going to be divided? What’s the impact of that?

Brad: Yeah, I think the House Republicans is settled, for the most part. That’s going to be Democratic House. As of last week, I think we’re just waiting for the runoff in Georgia in early January. I think currently it’s the Senate’s 50 to 48, Republicans to Democrats.

If you value a divided government, you would want at least one of those runoffs to be a Republican, and I think that’s the way it looks. It might be one to one there, so you’re looking at 51 to 49 maybe in the Senate. You would have what you would consider a divided government, sure.

Patti: You know what I don’t get? I don’t understand, we elect these people, right? It’s so close, 50/50, 51/49. That’s going to change the trajectory of all of their decisions, based on what they’re labeled, a Democrat or a Republican? It makes me wonder. We elect these people to think, don’t we?

Brad: Yeah. I guess that’s always been the nature of democracy, is that the people that are least qualified to make the decision are the ones that get to vote.

A law professor or somebody that studies politics and government doesn’t get extra votes. Everybody gets one vote. That’s the way it plays out, right?

Patti: Yeah. It’s interesting how things are presented to them and how that might sway their votes, right?

Brad: Sure.

Patti: It’s funny. I heard a story. I think we were talking about this earlier. There was one politician. I’m not going to say who it was. It was under a different administration.

They said, “I really agree with what you’re doing here, but if I vote yes, there is no way I am going to win in my state. I’m sorry. I agree with you. I think it’s a great piece of legislation. I’ve got to vote no. Otherwise, I’m not going to be in office in two years.” That’s really wrong. That’s just crazy to me. Again, that seems to be the way it goes. It is what it is.

Brad: I guess until we can come up with a better way to do it, I think that’s what we get.

Patti: What I think is fascinating is the Capital Group came out with a great statistic. Since 1933, if we had a unified, all three, both houses as well as the president, all the same, Democrats or Republicans, the average annual return of the S&P 500 was 10 percent.

If you had a unified Congress but then the president was of either party, like if it was all Democrat and then the president was Republican, the average annual return was 7.4. If you had a split Congress, what we might be looking at here, 10.4.

Brad: It’s interesting.

Patti: When it comes down to it, let’s face it, since Herbert Hoover, every president has presided over a stock market high. We talk about the value of a calendar day.

Gee, it just so happens that the market was going gangbusters before COVID. Trump was in office. We got COVID. We’re having a recession. If Biden had been in the chair, if his butt was in the chair when COVID, chances are we would have been in a recession as well, right?

Brad: Yeah. I don’t know how you would have avoided it. We’ve talked about the president is elected on a schedule. When that day comes, that he goes into office and sits down in the chair, there’s things that are in place that are far more important in controlling the economy than he.

You’ve got interest rates, the Fed. You’ve got new housing starts. You have manufacturers’ indices, things like that that are all far more powerful in determining the economy than just a single person.

Patti: Really, I can’t help but think that the CEOs of these major corporations, are they going to be changing what they do based on who is in office? They may be worried about certain things, but they’re going to try and drive profitability no matter what, right?

Brad: Yeah. I think the business cycle is far longer than any president’s term. Even if you were an eight year term president, the business cycle is longer than your duration in the office. I think you’re just a person that…I don’t know. A lot of times, I think of the president as our number one PR person. You’re in there to…

Patti: Good point. They’re our voice. I suppose that to a certain extent…Well, I’m not going to say it. You’ve got to recognize that that’s the role. They lead. They set the tone in terms of what they want to have happen. It’s also really important to keep in mind that there are other forces, macro forces, that are far more important. That train has left the station.

Let’s talk about what we’re thinking in terms of what they’re thinking, what they’re thinking about. It’s also important, Brad. Let’s face it, for example, President elect Biden came out with this incredible tax package, tax proposal, that he’d like to push through.

To your point earlier, he made some campaign promises when he was running for just the nomination. Then those promises, it changed a little bit when he got the nomination and now he’s running for president.

Brad: There’s always been a tendency to be more extreme in the primaries and come back to the middle in the general election. You have to appeal to your own party. You want to be the standard bearer for that party and be the shining example of what the party is supposed to be. You’re pure. You’re probably more extreme than most.

Then, in the general election, you’ve won the nomination of your party. Now you’re in the general election. You have to moderate your views for A, the undecided voters and the people on the other side. If you hope to convince somebody from a different party to vote for you, you have to moderate yourself.

Of course, a campaign promise is still a promise, but I don’t know if you can…There’s a big difference between a campaign promise in the primaries and what actually gets put through as legislation. You have to analyze the likelihood of any of those things going through before you can really worry too much about something that was said six or nine months ago.

Patti: I would imagine that if, in fact, we do end up with a divided government, it’s going to moderate some of those proposals anyway.

Brad: I think it happens naturally, absolutely.

Patti: Now, let’s break this down into the macro stuff, like the fiscal package. There are so many Americans that are still hurting. I saw, on the news this morning, there was a line of cars in Dallas for the food bank. It was miles long.

When they finally got up to the front of the line, they were interviewed. Over 50 percent of those people had never had to go to the food bank before. That’s really scary. There are so many people who are hurting that never really were hurting before.

This is a really unusual recession in that it is really focused on the service sector. The manufacturing sector is fine. Typically, a recession, it affects all areas, but this is really hurting the service sector. There’s so many people that work in that.

We might get a fiscal package. It’s probably going to be trimmed down. It’s not going to be another $2 trillion. It is what it is.

Brad: It sounds like the stimulus is more to smooth it out for everybody. It doesn’t address the underlying cause. Obviously, a stimulus package doesn’t solve COVID. It doesn’t get people back to work. It’s to soften the blow a little bit.

Patti: It’s more like a relief package. It’s not stimulus. We’ve had stimulus packages. They can be really beneficial. This is really a relief package. In that case, I guess we have to count on the Fed to continue its policy.

Brad: You would assume that they pick up the difference and keep rates low and carry forward with…I wouldn’t expect a huge change from them.

Patti: If we don’t expect the tax hikes to go through…Keep in mind, the tax hikes are really aimed at high income people, people making over $400,000. If we don’t think that the dramatic hikes are going to go through and the spending is going to continue, if not even accelerate a little bit, what does that really mean? Something’s got to give.

Brad: I wouldn’t think it’s far fetched. You’d have to assign some probability to some increase in taxes. If I think back to the Laffer curve in college…I haven’t really thought about it much since, but you think about it today. I don’t think we’re at the point where…

Think of in your own case. If you knew your marginal tax rate was going to go up two percent, do you think you’d just retire early? You would continue to work hard and care about your job and try to innovate and be creative and things like that.

The opposite is true too. If your tax rate went down two percent, I don’t think that you would find some extra level of work ethic or creativity that was just waiting for the tax code to change before you decided to release it.

Ultimately, taxes are based on profit and earnings. Obviously, taxes will never be 100 percent of profit. They’re never going to be more than your profit.

In most cases, as long as the taxes, it’s a minimal change maybe you shift the brackets and add another one at the top that wouldn’t surprise me at all, but I also don’t think that causes a significant drop in productivity or output in the country at this point.

Patti: In terms of innovation, I think that one area of innovation that might really be something that could affect what we do for our clients and our clients in general would a change in the estate tax law.

If more of a person’s wealth is going to be taxed at what he’s proposing 45 percent in Pennsylvania, we got another 4.5 percent, so 50 percent of the excess over, I think it’s, $3.5 million is going to go to the federal government. Right now, you have to have $11.5 million before that even becomes a factor, and even the rate is lower currently.

In terms of what we think about and how we help people, that’s one area that I think that we’re really paying attention to. It’s not based on income. It is based on wealth.

This has been an issue from the day I started and became a CFP. it used to be really, really bad. Then it got a little better. Then it got a lot better. It could get bad again. We need to be proactive about that.

Brad: It seems like something that changes quickly with almost every administration.

Patti: Here’s the question. We’ve got this deficit. We’ve got this humongous debt with the federal government. If tax rates don’t increase and deficit spending continues, that debt’s going to get even worse. What is the tell tale sign that we’re getting into trouble?

Brad: I guess you would probably have some kind of…The market would just react. If spending doesn’t go down, which…No president has ever really been able to curtail spending in any significant way.

Patti: Even though they promise in the campaign, even though they say to balance…

Brad: There’s another example, absolutely. If that doesn’t change, then the Fed just buys more and more Treasury debt, which, I guess, eventually you would think would lead to some kind of inflation and higher interest rates.

Once the market adjusts, then that’s probably…At this point, it hasn’t yet. It hasn’t become a problem in the eyes of investors anyway. Once that happens, you would…

Patti: Basically, it’s inflation, is the real tell tale sign that something’s got to give, right?

Brad: Yeah, I think so.

Patti: Let’s drill down a little bit. We’ve talked about some macro. Now let’s talk about some of the policies. We’ll talk about domestic versus foreign. There’s three major themes that I think really could be relevant. Again, just talking about the economy and the market.

The three major themes that we’ve talked about internally would be, obviously, healthcare, COVID, COVID, COVID, infrastructure, and then regulation. Let’s go back to the top, talk about healthcare.

Brad: Healthcare is a tough one to predict. There was a huge surge in just the market cap of healthcare stocks when it looked like the odds were in Biden’s favor to win, maybe with the idea that he would fund ACA more. That’s the only thing I can think there. The market doesn’t always offer an explanation for why it does things.

Patti: I know.

Brad: It just seems to do things without letting us know why.

Patti: It’s a pain in the neck. We’ve got to guess.

Brad: The moderating factor there is Biden has been willing to support policies that limit drug prices and things like that. It’s hard to know what would net out there. There’s some benefits for healthcare but also things that you would think may hold an individual company back a little bit.

Patti: The third thing that I talked about was regulation. It’s so interesting to see how quickly they’ve pushed this whole thing through with the vaccines. They seem to be really making it easier for these drug companies to innovate, to use this RNA technology, which had never really been used before but seems to be really effective.

It’s not like they’re turning a blind eye, by any stretch of the imagination. These vaccines are going to be safe, in spite of what you might hear on social media. That’s really opened up other opportunities in healthcare to innovate, to use computer and technology and things of that nature. That’s so exciting. At the same point, is it already baked into the cake?

Brad: A great healthcare analyst would be able to piece together these companies have a better chance than these companies. It’s probably, obviously, more narrow than just saying the healthcare industry by itself, but yeah, absolutely.

Patti: You think about a Moderna. Moderna came out with its news this morning. They’ve got their vaccine. It’s also over 90 percent effective. What makes it different than the Pfizer vaccine is that it doesn’t need to be in this 95 sub zero freezing temperatures.

Brad: It can live in a fridge for 30 days, I saw.

Patti: Exactly. That really is an interesting development that makes it…Again, getting back to supply chain, now we don’t have to have thousands and thousands of these freezers. Maybe we’ll still need them, but we don’t need as many maybe.

That’s another thing. Let’s go back to just the crisis part. It’s so interesting. You talk about innovation and just the human spirit. The fact that companies were able to pivot on a dime. You go from making cars to making ventilators. You’ve got even small businesses, they’re in the mask business. I got an email today. Do you want to put your logo on a cloth mask?

These are great ideas. These are things that could help people. It’s amazing how just when it hits the fan, we rally. We can get things done. That’s true no matter who’s in office because it’s needed. By the way, I believe that to be a fact because it happened not just in the United States but worldwide. That innovation is happening all over.

We’ve talked about healthcare. What about infrastructure? For years and years and years, Brad, large value, dividend paying companies, these smokestack companies, have languished. Last year, the large value under performed by 14 percent. It’s never been this long a period of time and that wide of a gap. What do you think?

Brad: I would think that is one of the places that both sides have expressed an interest in trying to move forward on. It’d be great if they could get in a room together and actually make some progress. That’s all you’re hoping, that they can work out the details. That’s something that would be beneficial. Both sides have shown to be interested in that.

Patti: The infrastructure companies or the infrastructure projects, that includes climate change, right? Does that include those areas or energy or ways of bringing things to us a little bit easier, a little better? Pipelines, etc.

Brad: They were probably be defined as different sectors, but there is a lot of overlap there, sure.

Patti: Those are examples of things that are near and dear to people’s hearts, the climate change. That could have long term implications from an economic perspective. What we do about it, yeah, companies could benefit. Yeah, their stocks would benefit, but it really does have important implications much longer term.

The third thing, regulation. We talked about that a little bit. You and I both know, in our own industry, they finally got legislation through called Regulation Best Interest. It’s a pain in the neck from our perspective. It increases our compliance costs tremendously, but come on. It’s been a long time coming.

I’m embarrassed to say that the industry even has to be legislated to do what is in the best interest of your client. Like I said, it’s embarrassing. Yet it happened. It’s good. Americans are going to be protected because of it.

Regulation, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or it’s bad. It just is. Sometimes, there are extremes that are happening that need to be reined in. That’s a good example of one of them.

Another example might be the antitrust regulation that seems to be bubbling up for technology companies. Yeah, on the one hand, Google, for example, they own the market. They own search.

Did they do it unfairly? What did they do to make sure that Bing didn’t get popular or some of these other search engines get popular? Did they just build a better mousetrap and because of that we all go to Google?

Brad: Now that they have it, are they doing something harmful with the position that they’re in?

Patti: I guess that’s for them to prove. Same thing with an Amazon. We’re all understanding how convenient Amazon is. I will tell you, I’m embarrassed to tell you, that I order paper towel and toilet paper on Amazon. I’m stocking up, baby, because it’s easy. It got delivered. I don’t have to have that big old thing in my shopping cart, where I can’t fit anything else. Drives me nuts.

Anyway, regulation is important. Let’s talk now about foreign policy. That’s an important topic, especially with the new administration. You think about China and the tariffs. That was such a big deal for such a period of time. Yet, again, this morning, again, breaking news. China signed trade policy with 14 other nations, not the United States. Where does that leave us?

Brad: I was thinking about what you said before about planning. Apple was the great example of when do they start, when do they commit to building something. Just having a policy that’s actually known, whether it’s a good or bad policy, at least you know.

Patti: That’s a good point.

Brad: Does Biden provide at least some kind of consistent, stable…Whether you like the policy or not, at least it’s known ahead of time. That allows the CEOs to make plans. Once you can make plans, then the relationship becomes a relationship. At least they’re planning. They know what to expect 5, 10, 15 years down the road.

Patti: Speaking of foreign relations, we’ve got to remember that Britain is nearing the end of its transition period with Brexit. The end of this year, it’s done. Their economy is really suffering right now. That’s happening there.

Canada’s doing pretty well, but Ethiopia is lurching on a civil war. Africa, they’ve got their things going on. Myanmar, 50 percent of the people in Myanmar don’t have access to literally basic things like water, public transportation. There’s stuff going on around the world.

As human beings, I think that COVID has really opened everybody’s eye that we are a human race. We’re not just Americans. We are a human race. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could really all pull together and solve problems. After COVID, what else can we solve together? Science is there. People, when we collaborate, it’s unbelievable.

I’ve got to tell you. Even when we’re all in here…We’re not all in here all the time, but when we’re together, just the brainstorming from our different offices and “What do you think about this,” I will tell you, Brad I don’t mind saying it in front of everybody that’s listening here I value our conversations that lead to this podcast.

Like what we talked about on Friday and here it is on Monday. I said, “Brad, we should talk about that and let other people hear what we’re thinking as it relates to this election.” Here we are.

That happens because we get together and we collaborate, always looking for how can we make a difference, what should we be doing for our clients, and wouldn’t it be a good idea if they heard about it too.

Foreign relations is really important. Looking at all of these problems from a worldwide basis, really key. What about immigration? I would really like to understand, Brad. I’m going to pretend I don’t know, I don’t understand this. Why is immigration so important to the growth of our economy?

Brad: That’s one of the ones that’s fraught with political tension. It happens as nations become more and more prosperous. The birth rate drops. We are not replacing our workers as fast as…

Patti: We’re not making babies.

Brad: Exactly. You’re right. Everybody’s comfortable 1.9 to 2.1 kids, and that’s it. If the labor force is still, that’s one of…Labor force growth and productivity growth is what goes into GDP growth.

If you have more employees and those employees are more effective, then the economy is bigger than it was the year before. If the workforce doesn’t grow, you can hope that productivity increases, but that’s stagnated over the last decade or so too.

Patti: Which is surprising to a lot of people. Really, when you break it down, the productivity has stagnated. You would think with technology, etc., we’re more productive, but we’re not.

Brad: It seems to come in major bursts. The computer was great. We’re still working on computers. There’s always minimal, incremental changes and incremental growth, but there’s certain innovations that come over time that just put it into hyper speed for a while.

Back to the immigration thing, if you can figure out immigration and make everybody comfortable with it, that is potentially a source of new employees and of a growing workforce. That’s something that you have to figure out.

Patti: OK, Brad. Let’s pull all this together. There are basically three conclusions that I think we can summarize our conversation. The election results are probably not going to displace the other factors that were already in place, a supportive Fed, stimulus that’s in the economy, $4.5 trillion sitting in cash on the sidelines.

That stuff eventually is going to come in and begin to work. That’s probably going to have an impact on the economy as well as the market. These things tend not to be calendar based. You go back to 9/11. We would have gone through a recession if Clinton was in office instead of George W. Bush. Fair to say?

Brad: Yeah, absolutely. You made a point last week too when we talked about how would you even identify…There’s no such thing like Obama’s economy, or Trump’s economy, or Biden’s economy. When does one stop and one start? The day they change positions?

Patti: That’s a good point. That is a really, really good point. If the economy, if the markets do well, and they do do well, let’s say that under Democrats, they do 11 percent, and Republicans, they do 10 percent. Are we going to change investment policy based on that?

Brad: No. Absolutely not. Even if you knew with 100 percent certainty that one party would outperform the other party by two percent a year, or one percent a year, is that actionable? Would you do anything about it? The answer is no. What are you going to do instead?

Patti: Exactly. As we ask these questions to each other, the questions are, is it something that can be predicted, number one, and number two, is it actionable? That ultimately is a great framework for everybody listening in terms of your own portfolios. Is there any predictive value, and is it actionable? Most of the time, the answer is no.

The issues that we care about also as it relates to the election, gay marriage, civil rights, gun control, they may have little to no impact on your portfolio. Making extreme choices based on those issues, which are important, I totally get it, I wouldn’t necessarily invest one way or the other based on that.

Brad: It doesn’t tell you to buy small cap stocks or large cap stocks or bonds.

Patti: Safe to say that the economy is just a tad more complicated, right?

Brad: Yeah, I think it’s probably true.

Patti: Number one is, understand yourself, understand when you need the money, what you’re comfortable with, what you can live with. That is the most important thing.

Finally, let us not forget the importance of perspective. Go back to 1970. $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 in 1970 is worth about $1.6 million today. I’m going to say it again. Take that in, you guys. $10,000 is worth $1.6 million today.

During that period of time, we’ve had Democratic presidents, and Republican presidents. We’ve had several wars, some declared, some not declared. We’ve gone through 12 bear markets, the near collapse of the financial system, and, by the way, a worldwide pandemic. I believe, but I cannot prove, that this trend is probably going to continue.

What do you think about that, Brad?

Brad: Totally agree.

Patti: We’re good, irrespective of who’s in the White House. The longer term trend is going to continue. The innovation, the spirit of human beings, not just Americans, human beings, is going to continue.

Brad, thank you so much for your perspective, your humor. You just make doing this stuff so much more fun.

Brad: Thanks, Patti.

Patti: Thank you. To all of you, I hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving. I hope you connect with the people that you love, one way or the other, face to face, or virtually, for many of us. As you go through and as you talk about these issues, share this information with them. Share the podcast, and please feel free to share the fact that we’re here.

We really appreciate you. We appreciate you tuning in. Thank you so much for your time. Until next time, on Patti Brennan Key Financial, I hope you have a terrific day.

Ep57: Real Life Pandemic Opportunities and Solutions

About This Episode

For the past seven months, local, state, and national governments – as well as other governments around the world – have been in crisis management mode. Decisions have been made according to the best scientific data available at the time to ensure public health and safety. Many people have been making some life-altering decisions during the quarantine as well. Decisions affecting their financial futures and well as their personal futures. Once again, Patti sits down with a nationally renowned radio host, Gregg Stebben, to discuss some life-changing decisions that clients, friends, and family are making during this pandemic. Tune in to hear the “upside” of this pandemic – does it and can it pertain to you?


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Joining me again is Greg Stebben. Greg is the ultimate journalist and a very dear friend.

In our last podcast, we talked about the impact of COVID. I had the great confession of what was life before COVID. What changes have I made? What has happened in my life, and Greg did the same. It was really interesting to see how our life is different, even though we are in the midst of this pandemic.

We thought it would be really good to tie a bow on this thing and have a session or have a podcast about, “What do we think life is going to like look like after COVID.” Greg, welcome back. Thanks again for joining me.

Gregg Stebben: Patti, it’s great to be here. The topic of after COVID is huge because, first of all, we all want there to be an after COVID. After COVID is the rest of our lives.

Patti: Oh, boy. You couldn’t have said it better. You couldn’t have said it better. Some of the things that we’ve done, I’ve done personally, and that you’ve done personally have set that whole thing in motion. What do we want the rest of our lives to look like?

There’s a lot of positive that is coming out of this crisis. As with any adversity, there is going to be some good that comes from it. We’re seeing that in our day to day lives.


Gregg: Well, right. I hear talking to friends, them talking about changes and how they’re working, for instance, or even the changes in their kids’ education. There’s challenges to that, of course, but there’s also positives as well.

I know that you actually did a Forbes SHOOKTalk with Dr. Joe Coughlin from the MIT AgeLab. I’m wondering what kind of things you discussed there about the world after COVID?

Patti: That was a fun podcast, also. Dr. Coughlin is a very dear friend of mine as well. I’m on the board of the MIT AgeLab. Forbes wanted us to put our heads together. Doc Coughlin, with his incredible research and the lab. My angle was more from a practical perspective.

Together, we were doing some brainstorming again on a podcast similar to this on what does what does life look like after COVID?

Joe brought up a really good point. He said, “What this has done is it’s accelerating the trends that were already in place.” People were adopting technology. It’s just that we’re adopting it that much quicker.

I think that so many good things like telemedicine, the fact that insurance companies finally got off their you know what and decided to approve telemedicine visits. That’s making life so much easier for everybody.

We went through a period of time where people were not going to the doctor when they really needed to be going to the doctor. Once that initiative took hold, the visits are now approved by insurance companies, people are going back for regular health care. That’s going to help for the rest of their lives.

There’s trends that were beginning but really hadn’t taken hold. They will now.

Gregg: One of the things that’s interesting about telehealth that I want to bring up, this comes from my position of having interviewed a lot of CEOs at a lot of events, is the telehealth industry has been building, and developing, and growing for a long time.

Became very sophisticated and mature as if it was all driving toward a need exactly like the need from COVID.

I almost feel the same way about, for instance, remote work. All these platforms got built and developed and reached a level of sophistication. Yet, never had the kind of adoption that we’ve had since the beginning of the lockdown.

Where would we have been if those platforms, and frankly, if those entrepreneurs hadn’t invested in those platforms so that they were there ready and waiting for us?

Patti: Yeah, it is interesting. Everybody’s talking about the stock market and how tech companies are dominating the stock market in terms of the growth. Honestly, that’s for good reason. They have put us all in that position. I mean, even from a practical perspective.

I was talking with Bernadette, who works with me, and she was telling me about her mom. Her mom made the switch from her old phone. I won’t mention the manufacturer to an iPhone.

Their mom lives in Chicago and was really feeling so isolated. What the iPhone now allows her to do was FaceTime. Bernadette said it’s a game-changer. She calls every single day. She’s connected again.

There is a perfect example of because of COVID…We talked about this. People make changes for one of two reasons, inspiration or desperation. Her mom was just so lonely, and she made the change. It’s made all the difference in the world.

There’s a lot of good things that are happening. You mentioned the remote work. Dr. Joe and I were talking about the fact that people are working from their homes. In some respects, it’s more difficult because it’s clunkier. You don’t have the collaboration that often happens just spontaneously, but the work is getting done. That’s the most important thing.

They have an ongoing study right now that I was actually surprised to hear about. This ongoing study is asking workers, “What do you prefer? Do you prefer to work from home or do you prefer to work from the office?”

What they’re finding is more and more people are saying, “Yeah. I kind of want to go back to the office. I miss, I miss the people. I miss the collaboration. I don’t feel like I’m as important. I don’t feel like I’m as visible. I’m worried about my career.”

Those are all very real fears that happen if people are working remote. Again, with any kind of a fear, is it just a perception, or is it real? Time will tell. I was surprised at that. Everybody always thought that they wanted to work from home. Now that they’re there and they have it, it may not be everything that it was cut out to be.

Gregg: I love the example about Bernadette’s mom because FaceTime if we looked at the statistics, has been used very heavily by certain younger demographics. I would bet that as the iPhone owner ages increase, the use of FaceTime on a regular basis decreases. Yet, you’ve just shown us an example of where that’s quite possibly changing.

I’m wondering if you are seeing behavioral changes in your clients like that that really surprised you. Are your clients comfortable doing things in a virtual environment today that perhaps they wouldn’t have been a year ago?

Patti: It’s very interesting. That’s a myth. There’s a myth out there that people who are over the age of 50 or 55 just won’t adopt the technology. They’re just not into it. In fact, the statistics are proving exactly the opposite. That given a little bit of time and patience, you teach it to them, they are so excited. They’re all about it.

Even a year ago, if you would have asked me, Greg, “How do you think your clients would feel if instead of getting paper reports in the mail every three months, they’re just going to go online to get their reports?” I would say, “No. They really liked the mail.

They like to have the paper, etc.”

I got to tell you, because of COVID, we couldn’t put those reports together. We couldn’t get everybody together. It’s a cumbersome process, to begin with, us. You should see the emails I’m getting about this new site. I mean, they love it.

This is another example of don’t necessarily make assumptions about how people will receive something. Why don’t you try it? Ask them.

The other thing that I’ve been surprised at and pleasantly so is how flexible everybody is. There’s just this built-in understanding that we’re in unusual times, and they’re willing to try things like Zoom, having meetings that way, etc. It’s working out great. They still feel connected. They know that they’re well taken care of or checking in. It’s working out really well.

Gregg: I want to ask you about one last part of your conversation with Dr. Joe, who’s from the MIT AgeLab. We cannot talk about these kinds of changes in the adoption of technology without also talking about what’s happened with education during the age of COVID. What kinds of things did you and Dr. Joe discuss relating to education?

Patti: It’s a really important issue because it has to do with the future of our nation because our young people are our future. They need to be educated. Unfortunately, because of the concerns of COVID, a lot of the developmental progress that occurs in school is not happening. Really focusing on what are the potential solutions.

We can talk about whether a school should open or whether they shouldn’t. If they open, what does that look like? There’s a general understanding that online learning is a good band-aid, but it’s not the same.

I can tell you that from my perspective, this is something that my company, Key Financial, is really honing in on because here it is, September, our schools are closed. I have these lot of young families.

What I’m looking at is opening up a part of our office area, hiring someone to help the kids if people want to bring their kids in, sit them in front of the computer, we’d have somebody rotating. I’m just beginning to do that brainstorming with my team, whether it be somebody from the outside.

Let’s say we’ve got five parents with children under the age of 12. One parent takes care of the five kids per day, and so they rotate. The kids get to interact with other children, which is really important. We have an adult who’s a parent who’s overseeing their learning, etc.

By the way, their real parent is right around the corner. If there are any issues, they can just come on over and see the kids. Again, here’s another example of how we Americans are creative. We’re going to focus on a solution that’s going to work for everybody.

As I said, literally before we started today, I went into my group, I said, “Let’s just try something. We can always adjust as we go along, but if we don’t try, then the kids are going to suffer and parents are going to suffer. They’re going to feel like they don’t have enough time to do their work, and they don’t feel like you know, it’s this…”

I just remember because Greg, I think you know this. I have four children, as well. I remember that feeling of never feeling like I was doing anything well, whether it be being a mom, or being a financial planner, being a really good wife, a sister, all the different roles that we all play.

When you’re too scattered, when there’s too much going on, it’s hard to do anything really well. We’re going to find a way to make our team realize that they’re doing a great job. I want to make it easier for them.

Gregg: All I can say in response to that Patti is a year from now, I’m going to be sitting in an audience. I don’t know if I’ll have a mask on or not. I don’t know if the seat next to me will be full or not because of social distancing.

I have a feeling I’m going to see you on a stage talking about the success of this program talking to a TED stage audience because that is one of the most exciting things I have heard related to COVID in a long time.

Speaking of next year, when you’re giving that TED Talk, we will be passed a landmark event, which is a presidential election. We will either have an incumbent or a new president. It would be worth us talking about that. Are you willing to do that?

Patti: Absolutely, because it’s on the minds of every American right now. Yes, COVID is a major issue, but so is this presidential election. You know, Greg, I don’t know about you, but when I go back to other elections, I can’t remember one where there was such a confluence of really big issues, really big events, things to be concerned about.

Obviously, we’ve got COVID. Underneath that major, major topic, we’ve got the testing or the lack of testing, the FDA, the CDC. Nobody seems to be talking to each other.

We’ve got the impact of the potential of another shutdown.

With the flu season coming about plus COVID, what is that going to look like? That’s really scary to think about another shutdown. What’s the economic fallout from all of that? What’s going to happen with the stock market?

We’ve got 31 million Americans who are receiving some form of unemployment. That is so many people. We didn’t have close to that during the financial crisis. The three trillion dollar check that the federal government just signed to deal with the fallout from COVID.

What is that going to mean from a tax policy perspective? Does that mean that our taxes inevitably are going to go up for everyone? These questions are on the minds of everybody as we go into November.

Gregg: How do you look at these issues and then translate that into conversations with your clients? Because your clients must be asking you about this every day. What are the questions they ask? What are the concerns they have? What is the counsel you offer?

Patti: It’s a really good question. For this election, there are so many social issues on top of the economic ones, whether it be the racial injustice. I don’t know if you remember this. Remember, immigration? Remember, China? That was the big topic, China and trade, and tariffs. That seems to have fallen by the wayside, but they are also really important issues.

What is our standing like to the rest of the world? There was a very interesting article the other day that asked the question of people in various countries, France and Germany and Italy. Who do you trust more, the United States or China? For the first time, China got more votes. That’s really, really unfortunate.

Gregg: These were people in the United States who said they trusted China more than the United States?

Patti: No. These were people who are in France.

Gregg: Oh, in France.

Patti: People who are in Italy or Germany. Good question. Thank you for the clarification. It’s really, they just don’t know how to take us. I understand that. Yet, there are concerns on both sides with both candidates.

It just is a very confusing time to answer your question directly. Normally, what I would say is if you look back at history, one human being, a man or a woman, really can’t impact a nation to the point of turning it from capitalism to socialism or to make it so that we go into a massive depression.

Our democracy is so important in terms of calling people on their stuff. Granted, yes, the president can sign a decree, and certain things can happen. For the most part, that can happen. In terms of my clients and the questions they’re asking, obviously are, “Are our taxes going to go up?”

All I can say is, “Probably.” Second question would be, “What are we going to do about it? We’re going to do something about it. We don’t have to do anything about it until November 9th.”

Third question is, “What do you think about the economy and then what do you think about the market because the market doesn’t seem to be reflecting what’s happening in the day-to-day lives of Americans today.

“Why is all of that going on, and what should we do about it?” I will tell you that there are certain assumptions that people make. For example, Republicans are better for the economy. Republicans are better for the market.

Actually, when you look at the data, that is not true at all. In fact, there’s only three presidents, Gregg, who have presided over a negative stock market. That was Herbert Hoover, Nixon, and George W Bush.

Now, Hoover, we can talk until we’re blue in the face of all the mistakes that he made and how some of his decisions made the depression last a lot longer than it needed to. Nixon, obvious reasons, Watergate, inflation, the oil embargos.

Then George W Bush, he started with 911, the tech bubble, and then he ended with the financial crisis. Ironically, all three of those presidents are Republicans. In fact, if you look at the history, it’s about even-steven in terms of Republican versus Democrat and how the stock market performed.

The president probably can’t influence our portfolios as much as people think. Yes, they can influence tax policy. Yes, certainly, from a social perspective, it is important, and I would say to everybody listening today that you want to pay attention to the issues.

Listen to how each candidate is answering the questions, and then make the best decision you possibly can. We’re not going to know until Gregg to your point, a year from now, who that person is and what they’re following through on.

Gregg: I want to ask you a question that I imagine a lot of other people are wondering too. That is, between now and election day, can the fact that an election day is coming influence both the markets and the economy?

Is there almost a struggle between an incumbent president wanting it to improve and be great and someone running against an incumbent, not wanting it to be bad, but in some ways benefiting from it being bad and we’re already on a very difficult trajectory?

Patti: It’s a good question. Yeah, I would expect major drama. I would expect that the markets are going to be volatile. I think that on the one side you’re going to hear a lot of negativity, things are awful, awful, awful, and on the other side, things are pretty darned good.

How do we take in that information? What do we believe? I think ultimately it’s going to come down to each individual saying, “Is my life better today than it was four years ago?” And trying to look at some of the issues.

Hopefully looking at some of the issues where they may not be impacted by the riots, for example. They may not be impacted by some of the China and the trade and things of that nature, but ultimately, they will have an impact on our lives.

Gregg: I want to ask you one last thing, Patti. That is when you are scrolling through the news on your iPad or your computer or your phone, and you want to bring in some different perspectives on what’s happening in the country, what’s happening in the world, and particularly what’s happening with the economy, are there a couple of people or outlets that you go to that you find yourself recommending to others?

Patti: Yeah, it is interesting. I would have to say that I haven’t found that yet.

I am looking. I’m really looking. I think that what’s unfortunately happening is the news has become entertainment. Because of it, I feel the need to listen and read all of it, and then try and assimilate what resonates with me. What do I believe?

I think that the debates are going to be important. I just think that’s going to be really important. The conventions that are going on right now, it’s a lot of fluff, and I think it’s wonderful. I’m not getting a lot of substance from either of the conventions, so I’m hoping the debates will help to bubble up a lot of the issues and help me make a decision that I’m comfortable with.

Gregg: I want to go back to your response about news because I want to sum it up in the way…I want to summarize it with what I’m taking from what you’re saying because I find it very valuable. I think what you’re saying is, don’t restrict yourself to a couple of people or a couple of outlets, but read it all.

I would add, also, ask yourself, what is the potential bias of that person or that outlet. If they tend to lean towards one thing or another, take that into account in what they’re saying just as you do in any conversation you’re having with anyone.

The more you read, and the more opinions and voices you hear and read is, I think you’re saying, the better off you are because you become well rounded and in a better position to make decisions that are right for you.

Patti: Exactly. Absolutely, because then you’re listening to both sides of the argument, and you’re hearing, hopefully hearing, both sides of the argument because these people believe in this stuff. They’re not just spewing.

Although sometimes it comes across that way, there are some facts there that we need to pay attention to. When you hear, for example, defunding the police, obviously, I say, “What in the world are you thinking? You got to be crazy. We have to give them more money, not less.”

Yet, when you dig into where they’re coming from, they’re not saying cut them off all together necessarily, they’re just redirecting. Again, I have my opinion on all of that, but let’s not just read the headlines.

I think that’s the most important thing.

Gregg: Patti, thank you so much for letting me join you and talking about these issues from the election to, well, what’s going to happen after COVID.

Patti: Thank you so much, Gregg, for joining me again, and thanks to all of you who are listening to this podcast. We appreciate your time. We appreciate your input. I hope that it’s helpful to you. Feel free to go onto our website at keyfinancialinc.com.

Let us know what you want to hear about. We’re here for you. Thank you so much for joining us today. Take care.

Ep56: What Does Life After COVID Look Like?

About This Episode

For the past seven months, local, state, and national governments – as well as other governments around the world – have been in crisis management mode. Decisions have been made according to the best scientific data available at the time to ensure public health and safety. Many people have been making some life-altering decisions during the quarantine as well. Decisions affecting their financial futures and well as their personal futures. Once again, Patti sits down with a nationally renowned radio host, Gregg Stebben, to discuss some life-changing decisions that clients, friends, and family are making during this pandemic. Tune in to hear the “upside” of this pandemic – does it and can it pertain to you?


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Joining me once again today is Gregg Stebben.

Gregg is the ultimate journalist, a very dear friend of mine joining me today from his home. Gregg, I’m going to let you tell that story.

It’s a great story. Really, what we’re going to be discussing today is life after COVID. What has COVID done in terms of helping all of us think about our day-to-day lives, our day-to-day work lives, family life? Gregg, give us a little bit of an overview of what you and Jody have decided to do as a result of the time that you’ve had together during COVID?

Gregg Stebben: Well, it’s funny. I didn’t realize this interview was going to be about me. I thought I was going to be interviewing you. Nice move there, Patti.

Patti: Well, you know what?

Gregg: Nice transition as we say in the audio business.

Patti: It takes one to know one, Gregg.

Gregg: First of all, thank you for letting me join you again on the show again. It’s interesting. In April we did an interview together about COVID. In June we did an interview about COVID. I don’t think I thought that in August we’d still be talking about COVID as if we were…I don’t know if we’re in the middle of it, but we’re not out of it. That’s for sure.

You mentioned some changes that Jody and I have made in our lives. If things sound a little different in the background here, it’s because I’m literally standing. I’m still in my studio, but there’s no furniture left in my house…

Patti: Wow.

Gregg: …because we have taken advantage of this time. Look. I think we’re like a lot of couples and a lot of individuals, too. That is, there’s important things you should talk about. There’s just never time, or there’s never a reason. It’s never a priority. It’s always something you can put off until the weekend, next weekend, next weekend, next weekend, next weekend.

This we couldn’t go anywhere. I might have shared this with you before. One night early on I woke up in a cold sweat. This is when there were so many more unknowns. I thought, “One of us is not going to make it.”

Patti: Oh, that must have been so scary.

Gregg: It was. I thought, “It’s OK if it’s me that’s still here.” I don’t mean because I hope Jody dies, and I don’t. I meant it exactly…

Patti: Sure.

Gregg: …the opposite. I would not want to pass away and leave a mess for her to have to deal with on top of…Well, it would be devastating to lose me, of course. I’m being facetious, but…

Patti: For all of us as well, by the way.

Gregg: All of you, but I think my financial and legal commitments with Jody are much more complicated than, for instance, yours and mine, Patti. I just thought, “She and I have been married over 20 years. We don’t have kids. We remarried later, but we never did the things we should have. We never wrote a will. We never did a living trust.”

We never did any of those things because we always put it off. In the morning, when she woke up, I said, “We’re doing this starting today.”

Patti: Good for you.

Gregg: Once we started on that conversation about a living trust – what does it mean, finding an attorney to complete it, and etc., etc. – that forced us to talk about a lot of other things. The thing about COVID was we had the time to do it. We recognized that we may never have the time to again to do it again. We didn’t know what was coming. Maybe one of us wasn’t going to make it.

It motivated us to get it done. It forced us to talk about, “Well, what are our priorities?” Then I shouldn’t tell you this, Patti, because it’s embarrassing. We really were in a good financial place, but more by luck than design, and it forced us to talk about that. Where do we want to go and what do we want to do? Where do we want to be?

In the six months of COVID, we transformed all of that, sold our house. We’re moving tomorrow and we’re going to start a whole chapter of our lives. My view of this is we, too, were COVID statistics. We’re just not bad COVID statistics. We’re actually good COVID statistics.I think almost everyone can look at their life and say, “Even if I never got sick, I’m still a COVID statistic. Something happened here. It’s either been a positive outcome under difficult circumstances, or I didn’t grab the ring and make it a positive outcome. It’s not too late to start.”

Patti: I have to tell you. That is a powerful story. First of all, kudos to you and Jody for taking the time. A lot of times people need that facilitator to get that ball rolling. I know we’ve been doing that for the last six months because people are much more aware of this thing called life and the fact that it is short. The fact that, jeez, this isn’t a dress rehearsal. Are we really happy? Do we like what we do? Do we like where we live, etc.?

We call it a deep-and-real. Let’s take the time. You said it better than anyone I’ve heard it. “We’ll do it next weekend. We’ll do it next weekend.” All of a sudden, we turn around, and we’re 75 years old and look back at our lives and say, “Wow. There were so many more things that I would have wanted to do, but we didn’t do them.”

Gregg: “Or I want to do going forward, and I can’t afford to.” By the way, one of the things I want to say here because I think this is important in my conversation with you, Patti. It took us doing that homework for ourselves to now feel like we’re comfortable working with a team like yours.

We’re now ready for Patti Brennan, whereas I don’t think we would have even known how to start that conversation with you and your team in the past. We had to get ourselves mentally prepared to get the professional help we need. We weren’t even there yet. Now we are.

Patti: It’s interesting because that mental preparation is all about motivation. What happened with COVID for you and for so many people, is that all of a sudden you were really motivated. You really realized that, “Wow. We got here by accident.” There’s a saying in our industry. “Most people spend more time planning their vacations than planning their financial futures.” It’s so true.

Gregg: I want to say I’ve spent more time planning dinner than I…

Patti: There you go.

Gregg: …previously planned my financial future.

Patti: Sure. Sure. When you’re proactive about something like that and you really take the time to have that conversation to decide, “Gee. What are our values? Where do we really want to live? What do we really want to do? What does work mean to us? Where do we get our purpose in life?” and all of the things that you and Jody went through.

I would also submit that, while you said that you’re embarrassed to say some of this stuff, I will tell you, Gregg. The best compliment, the most important thing, that I would say is that, whether you just do it as a couple or you do it with a financial advisor, an attorney, or what have you, is to recognize that we’re all human beings. We all have our vulnerabilities. Nobody is perfect.

Most of the time when I’m working with people, I’m asking the questions that I think someone should ask Ed and I. I’ll often offer, “Gee, if you were asking this of me, I would tell you, ‘Well, let me give it to you real.’” That way it opens that door for that person to be honest with themselves and to let that conversation continue.

Gregg: Myself included obviously, why do you think this is such a difficult thing for us to, as you said, make it real with other people? Is it shame? Is it the fear of looking stupid? Do you have some sense, given the number of people you’ve worked with, why it’s so hard to just put the cards on the table so you can make them better?

Patti: I think you’ve identified two of the things. People feel like they’re going to be judged. People feel ashamed. They feel like they should be further ahead than they actually are. What I would say is that I nip that in the bud in the first 30 seconds. “You’re not alone. This is why we exist. Let’s just have fun with this process,” or “Let’s just look forward, not backwards.”

That would be number one. I would also say, Gregg, and I think that yours and Jody’s experience is a perfect example. It has to do with change. It’s really difficult for people to make the kind of changes that you two have chosen to do. Most people will change for one of two reasons – inspiration or desperation. For you two, it’s a little bit of both.

The desperation part comes out of, “Gee, we could wake up tomorrow and have COVID. We may not be here in two weeks. What do we want to do about that now? Let’s get our affairs in order.” That sense of urgency was very real, it was palpable, and you did something about it.

The inspiration part comes from, “Let’s assume that we don’t get COVID. What’ll we want the next 30 years to look like? Do we want to live here in Raleigh, North Carolina, or do we want to live somewhere by a beach or mountains or what have you?

Now you’re choosing to live your life the way you want to live it. The hardest part is to identify what that looks like for you two.

Gregg: What I think is interesting, this process for us…I love how you talked about desperation and inspiration because what I…It started desperation. I thought if one of us is going to die and there’s a mess, we have to clean that mess up. That’s desperation.

Patti: Sure.

Gregg: It then transformed into inspiration because we were removing the desperation. We were removing the fear and the uncertainty. The word I would use to describe where I am left today, and I think I can speak for Jody too, is there’s come, over both of us, an incredible peace of mind and serenity because the details are taken care of.

It enabled us to evaluate, honestly with ourselves, where are we? Where do we want to be? What do we want to do? Where do we want to go? That, you mentioned going to the beach or going to the mountains, I always thought, eventually, we would live by the beach.

Well, tomorrow we’re moving to a house in the mountains. I don’t think we would have even been able to come to that kind of decision together had we not cleared or cleaned up the mess in front of us first, so there is this calmness that’s come over me, and I think Jody would say the same thing.

You cannot put a price on that, even though the reason it all happened is because of this horrible thing called COVID.

Patti: No question about it. I think that you’ve nailed it. When people’s lives are dominated by anxiety or fear, fear of the unknown, how are we doing, are we going to make it, what’s it going to look like, once you clear that out of your psyche, it allows for more creative thinking, more possibility thinking.

That is so important in terms of your overall happiness and that thing that everybody just really, really desperately wants, and that’s peace of mind. You know that this stuff is taken care of, and we all have stuff.

It doesn’t matter, again, whether…It doesn’t matter what your net worth is. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. We’ve seen it with people with very modest lifestyles and modest net worth, and I see it with huge net worth.

There’s always stuff, details. Get rid of the details, whether you do it yourself or you delegate it, and then that allows for that more creative, again, the possibility thinking and, “What do we really want out of our lives?”

Gregg: I want to make a transition now to something I think you have a unique perspective on. That is, I want to remind our listeners, or your listeners I should say. I want to remind your listeners that long before you were a wealth advisor, you were an ICU nurse.

I know that when you look at what’s happening around COVID, you understand it in a way that most of us do not. On top of that, you’re also hearing from your clients about the impact that this is having on their lives and their thinking and their perspectives.

I want you to give us a view of, when in the mind of Patti Brennan, you put those two things together. The understanding as a former ICU nurse, and the understanding as someone who’s a wealth advisor with lots of people depending on you and talking to you for comfort today, what do you see or what do you think when you think about COVID?

Patti: It’s interesting. To a certain extent, we’re right back in the ICU. We’ve got people who are really, really worried about this infectious disease that is invisible. We don’t know who’s a carrier and who is not, and we’re getting conflicted reports about what we’re even supposed to do.

As a sidebar, I was in California helping my son move from San Diego to south of LA. Flew in an airplane, helped him do all of that, flew back and, of course, we’ve quarantined because that’s what we were told that we were supposed to do.

Here we are, Gregg, 13 days into the quarantine, and then the CDC comes out with a report that says, “We were kind of wrong on that. Even if you are visiting a state that has an outbreak, you don’t have to quarantine for 14 days.” I’m like, “OK.”

It’s just things are changing left and right. I think that from a medical perspective, we have to be very, very cautious, understand and remind ourselves that this is going to be temporary. This is not going to last for the next 10 years, or at least we hope.

We hope that there’s a vaccine. We hope that it’s going to be effective. To really focus on the immediate steps to protect ourselves, both physically from a health perspective, as well as in all of the other areas. There’s been a domino effect on the economy and the markets.

31 million Americans are receiving some form of unemployment right now. That’s devastating. This is so much worse than the financial crisis. We have to be cognizant of the impact of that on people who are coming in and people that we’re communicating with on a day-to-day basis.

It’s so easy to let it bring us down, but again, I go back to that possibility thinking and recognizing that it is temporary, that we’ve got to take our medicine, recognize what works, be open to some of the things that we’re hearing about now in terms of testing and etc.

Also, I would say not to necessarily respond or react to some of the hype that might be out there. Get the facts. Take the time, go on the CDC website, go on the government website. Hopkins has a great one as well.

Who is really vulnerable? How can we protect the most vulnerable in our society? That, to me, is the most important thing that we can do.

Gregg: It’s interesting when you bring up the most vulnerable because I think we all know that the most vulnerable are people in certain age groups. If you’re over 85, you’re at a high level of vulnerability. If you’re over 75, the vulnerability is a little bit less.

We’ve also heard stories about people having incredibly long, lingering, and frankly, unpredictable or unexpected symptoms. Can you talk about why that is? People are suffering from all kinds of symptoms that you wouldn’t expect them to suffer from, from something that we thought originated in the lungs?

What are you as a former ICU nurse hearing that you understand about COVID that you wish the rest of us understood too?

Patti: You’re exactly right because initially when it broke out, we heard stories of people on ventilators and not enough ventilators to go around to treat all the people where the shortness of breath was so acute that they couldn’t get air.

What they’re finding is that, while it does originate in the nasal passages and in the mouth. Then eventually goes down to the lungs, it’s really turning out to be more of a blood vessel disease where it’s an inflammation of the blood vessels. The really devastating impact of that is that it’s creating excessive clotting. People are throwing clots left and right, having heart attacks, having strokes. They’re developing myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart.

Pneumonia is a by-product of all of that. With this particular virus, it’s not the forerunner, it’s just something that happens along with everything else, the liver is being affected, a third of patients end up on dialysis, and many of them have to stay on dialysis even six months later. Literally, it is a virus that has such a systemic impact on all organs of the body. That’s the scary thing.

That’s the most difficult thing for physicians and experts to treat. Now, again, there are things that are working, what they’re finding is that even though someone’s PO2, which is oxygen saturation might be below 90 percent, which would normally be “OK, we got to get this person tubed up, get them on a ventilator, etc.

What they’re finding is that let’s not put them on the ventilator as quickly. Maybe give them a rebreather, which is it’s forced air through the mouth but it’s not a tube into the lungs, when you put a tube into the lungs, it’s so much easier for that person to get pneumonia. They’re finding better ways of treating this.

It’s interesting, Gregg. I don’t know if you remember this, but one of our first podcasts about COVID, one of the things that you had said that I often think about is, “I don’t know if I ever want to go on a ventilator.”

Gregg: I was just thinking about that.

Patti: Remember that?

Gregg: I do.

Patti: It’s so funny because, Gregg, you were and I said, “Oh, Gregg, don’t do that. Ventilators are really important because they get people over a hump.” That is still true. What they’re finding is that with this particular virus, yes, it’s really uncomfortable to be gasping for air, as these patients are.

Oh, my goodness. I can’t think of anything more difficult to watch as a nurse than watching someone gasp for air but if we can get that air into their lungs without having them go on a ventilator, the outcomes are turning out to be better.

There’s the dexamethasone which is a steroid is helping and there are things that are helping, but it’s the transformation of the how we’re, I say, “Wait, you know, I stopped being a nurse a long time ago,” so for the record, everybody…

Gregg: Absolutely.

Patti: As we think about what the Federal Reserve does, now it’s creating a lot of money. It’s got these assets on the balance sheet. First question is, OK, well, these assets on the balance sheet happen to be treasury securities, mortgages, etc.

The Federal Reserve is a separate entity. To me, again, I’m nerding out on you, Gregg, and I’m nerding out on all of you who are listening today, so bear with me, but what I think is really…

I have one of those brains that I can’t get enough and I’m just so fascinated by this but what they’re finding is that it’s less of a respiratory disease and more of a blood vessel disease, which is why it is so devastating to the human body.

Gregg: I want to ask you one last question as we wrap this up, and that is if I had run into you before you or I had even heard of COVID. I asked you, “What’s the life of Patti Brennan like?” Then I asked you that question again today.

How has your life changed? What have you done to make yourself as safe as possible? What are you doing to optimize your life to get as much out of this period as you can, as unfortunate as the period may be?

Patti: It’s a great question, Gregg. Nobody’s ever asked me that. I would say that before all of this happened, I was one of those people who lived to work. I was nonstop 24/7.

I’ve frankly never admitted that until just this moment.

Gregg: We’re all shocked about it.

Patti: I know anybody was listening and it’s funny. I will also say that for me, even back then it’s never really felt like work. Although I was always focused on what do I need to do next? What email do I have to answer? Who do I have to call? We’ve got five meetings tomorrow. I got to prep for the meetings, etc.

My life was on that little bit of a hamster wheel, wasn’t a great delegator, and I would say that what’s different is that because we were forced – not kind of we were, we’re all remote, working from our homes – I’ve learned to delegate much better.

I’ve learned the importance of spending time with Ed and the kids. This summer has been crazy in that regard because I’ve been able to work not only from my home. We have a home down at the shore. I’ve been very effective working maybe at different times during the day, but my daughter has been there, she is also got my DNA, unfortunately for her.

The two of us have found this way of getting a little bit more balance. I think if you were to ask anybody around me. Maybe I’m a little bit more sensitive, almost to the fact that people have lives. I’ve always thought that I was sensitive but I’m really sensitive to the fact that people have challenges.

People who work for me, they’ve got young families, they’re trying to balance this whole thing. Several of my employees have parents that are living with them. With their own health challenges and a couple of my employees have just had children. I’m like, “Look, take care of your babies. Do not worry about this.”

I would say that’s probably…I will be honest with you. I’m not necessarily proud of that but it has forced me to be much more reflective of, “Yeah, this life is short, I haven’t sold my home like you guys have. We’re not moving anywhere.”

I do really appreciate day-to-day and the relationships, just the wonderful relationships, the friendships that I have with the people who help me to take care of all of our clients. I mean, we’re more than a team. This is a family.

In fact, tomorrow, I’m having everybody over, we’ll get beer, we’ll get wine, I’m like this is…Let’s just go and have fun together. That is probably the biggest thing that’s changed in my life.

Gregg: I want to thank you for this conversation today, for our friendship and our relationship on the whole. I have learned so much from you. I’m so grateful for it. I am so grateful for the opportunity to come and join you on your show. Thank you so much.

Patti: Thank you so much, Gregg Stebben. I’ll tell you what nobody but Gregg could get that information out of Patti Brennan. Thank you for drawing it out of me and helping me to recognize the impact of COVID on my life as well. That’s the beauty of a great friendship, isn’t it?

Gregg: Absolutely it is.

Patti: Just be able to talk openly, forget that there might be millions of people listening to this today. It’s just you and me. Perhaps if anything, you and I have given people the opportunity to do the same with people who they care about and love.

Gregg: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Patti.

Patti: Thank you and thanks to all of you who are listening today. You’ve been terrific. I so appreciate our relationship that has developed over the last year or so. You’re just amazing. I’m just so grateful that you take time out of your day to listen to our podcasts.

If you have any questions, feel free to go to our website keyfinancialinc.com. Until next time, it’s Patti Brennan from Key Financial. I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day. Take care.

Ep55: The Federal Reserve – The REAL Driving Force in the Economy

About This Episode

The rising debt in our great country is almost $26 trillion! News noise will try and create fear in Americans because fear is a powerful motivator. Aren’t there negative implications for our families with numbers like these? The answer is simply, NO! To understand why, one also needs to understand the basics of accounting – assets and balance sheets. In today’s episode, I am continuing my conversation with my Chief Planning Officer, Eric Fuhrman. We define the relationship between the Federal Reserve and the Federal Government and offer some historical perspective with examples every listener can understand. Tune in to find out that this relationship is not as complicated as one might imagine. With the presidential debates coming in the next few weeks, this is the perfect time to learn and understand what these numbers really mean and how they affect our economic health and future.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the “Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Today, we’re going to be talking about the Federal Reserve and how the Federal Reserve works with the government. In our last podcast, we talked about the mounting debt that the Federal Government has accrued as a result of the stimulus programs that they’ve approved to get us through this crisis.

Now, I want to talk about how does the Federal Reserve work with the Federal Government to create stability and to grease the engine a little bit to make sure that there’s ample liquidity for our economy to continue to be able to function?

Joining me again is the professor, Eric Fuhrman. He’s our chief planning officer. A real student, he is amazing in terms of the depth of the research that he’s willing to explore a particular subject.

We’ve had a lot of fun – if you call it, Eric, fun – just getting our brains around how these two separate entities work together to get us through very difficult times in our nation. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Eric Fuhrman: Patti, thank you so much. I couldn’t imagine, I’ve been losing sleep over thinking about this day when we could come and talk about the Federal Reserve. National debt followed by the Federal Reserve, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Patti: You and me both. The reason I’m losing sleep is because we want to take a very complicated subject and boil it down into terms that people can wrap their heads around and understand a little bit.

Eric: Here’s the deal. It’s not easy, but we sure are going to try, right? We’ll give it our best, and that’s all we can do.

Patti: Absolutely. It is complicated, and yet it’s so important. Especially as we go into this election, you’re going to hear a lot of rhetoric, everybody, in terms of the debt and the Federal Reserve. We even heard about it a couple years ago in terms of “The Fed wasn’t doing its job,” yada, yada, yada.

It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback. It’s easy to criticize. Yet, when you really think about what they’re doing and what they’ve already done, you begin to realize and recognize – at least I do and I think that, Eric, you probably show this – that the leaders in government and the leaders at the Federal Reserve, they’re really smart people.

There’s a method to their madness. There’s an important role that they both serve. They’re different roles. Last podcast we talked about the Federal Government, what they’re doing with all of this stimulus, why they’re accruing this debt, why it’s important for our economy.

Now, let’s talk about the Federal Reserve and how the Federal Reserve’s role is very different. Eric, let’s start there.

In February and in March, there were headlines. You may not have read it in the local newspaper, but there was a lot of talk in our circles about the fact that the markets were beginning to freeze.

Things were seizing. The spreads were widening and the demand for the debt, there wasn’t any demand, and the Federal Reserve needed to come in and save the day.

How does that work? Why did those things happen? Why is the credit market so important? What does that really have to do with the rest of the economy?

Eric: Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there. That’s why I said we might be here for the next 30 minutes just talking about this. Credit is the lifeblood of the economy. You have to have credit flowing through because that’s, ultimately, what keeps commerce going, keeps growth going, and everything else.

We want to basically dissect two distinct roles that the Federal Reserve plays in times of crisis. Many people are probably familiar with the term “lender of last resort.” In the modern economy, we have a very complex financial system. They have also become the buyer of last resort. Those are two different functions. Why don’t we talk about each one here a little bit?

Patti: It’s a great way to break it down.

Eric: Yeah, just easy, digestible pieces, two at a time. Let’s talk about the lender of last resort, explain that. All banks, they have an inherent mismatch in their assets and liabilities. What does a bank do? It takes in depositors’ deposits, which is a short-term liability for the bank because the depositors can show up any time and request their money, right?

Patti: Sure.

Eric: What does a bank do? It takes the savings and then extends loans to entrepreneurs and people that want to engage in commerce and build their business. Those loans are long-term assets. For the most part, they’re illiquid. They just can’t call a loan if they need to pay a depositor back.

Maybe a good little example, many people are familiar with the movie from many years ago called “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. He played George Bailey. There’s a scene where George Bailey goes to the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan and he sees all the customers of the community outside. This is an old-fashioned bank run. This was staged in the 1930s.

Everyone was worried and wanted their money back and he tried to explain to them, “I don’t have your money. I gave a loan to this person and to that person and so you’re…”

Patti: Sure, this is how you bought your house and your car and this business. They’re the ones that actually have the money. We have some of it, but we don’t have all of it.

Eric: Exactly right. That’s the case he made, as impassioned as it might be, and they were unfazed. What did he have to do? He went and dipped into his anniversary savings, which was about, I think, it was $2,000 and he started giving depositors their money back.

In essence, George Bailey had become the lender of last resort. How does that apply in the real world? Think about the Federal Reserve. We have banks that are good banks, good collateral, but they might experience a liquidity squeeze, an event like, say, COVID or something like that, where all of a sudden, people are running to the bank to get their money out.

What the Fed does through what’s called the discount window is that they step in and they will provide collateral or loan on banks that have good standing and good collateral to help them through that liquidity so they don’t fold and don’t have to sell assets in a fire sale.

Just to give you an example of how effective this is, in 1933, there is estimated over 4,000 bank failures occurred then. 2020, we’ve had two so far.

Patti: Wow.

Eric: In the last 20 years, I think we’ve only had about 559 bank failures that have happened right. That’s how they act as the lender of last resort, to loan on good collateral, to make sure those institutions stay solvent and don’t collapse when they have an unexpected run on deposits.

The other one is to basically operate as really the buyer of last resort and this is a new way to think about it. You talked about the credit market seizing. What does that look like?

Think about any financial transaction. There’s an ask, what someone wants to sell something for, and then there’s a bid, what somebody wants to buy it for. When you have a seizure of the credit market, there are no buyers. No one’s going to step in and buy it.

Essentially, the market dries up. There’s no liquidity. There are no trades being made at any price because the buyers are worried about the counterparty, the risk, and so forth.

Patti: Why is the liquidity so important? We’ve got to get down to the baseline of what debt represents. You basically have a bond or you have a loan. You want to sell it to get the cash, but nobody wants to buy it. The liquidity part is you need cash. You can’t live on a bond.

You need to live on money, but if nobody’s willing to buy it, what are you going to do? You’re going to lower the price, yada, yada, yada, or as what happened earlier in the year, there wasn’t anybody that wanted to buy it. No ifs, ands, or buts. That’s where you really get into a very difficult situation.

Eric: Yeah, and that’s what we saw earlier this year. Even the treasury market, one of the deepest liquid markets in the world, started to seize up spreads. The bid and ask started to widen, which creates a liquidity problem.

What does the Fed do? The Fed has an awesome, awesome power. They have monopoly over money creations.

Patti: They’re the Wizard of Oz, Eric. I just thought about that. You got the Wizard of Oz, Jerome Powell. He’s got the little curtain thing going on and he just pushes a button, doesn’t he?

Eric: Yeah, well, that’s probably the best way to describe it, right? They can literally conjure money into existence with a stroke of a key on a keyboard. They have infinite capacity to create money.

The idea is that their activities and the market are really supposed to be short-term. These are not long-term participations in the market. They want market forces to figure out the allocation of resources.

In times of trouble, the Fed will go in and set a floor for bonds. Call it municipal bonds. They have committed $500 billion to buying municipal bonds in this new facility that they have this year. They’re putting a floor on it.

Patti: The reason for that is because municipalities are running into their own liquidity crisis because municipalities have services that they need to deliver, but they’re not getting the taxes because people are unemployed. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle.

That plus the fact that people don’t want to buy municipal bonds because they recognize that the municipality is having some financial trouble and they could default, which many municipalities have defaulted over the years.

Entire states have done that. Now, you’ve got a government service or a government entity that is there to provide services and they have their own form of debt and nobody wants to buy it, so who comes in to buy it but the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve gets the bond. The municipality gets the cash to conduct their services.

Eric: Exactly right. There are criticism like, “How far do you go?” At what point is the Fed engaging in what you would call moral hazard? If the Fed exhibits this precedent for stepping in and solving these problems, as they did in 2008…Remember, they took equity stakes in companies like AIG and things like that.

The argument is, and this argument is even made for FDIC insurance, if there’s going to be this backstop, this implicit guarantee that the government will save us, then what are you doing? You’re encouraging bad risk-taking behavior because the government’s going to step in and save us.

That’s a fine line, probably well beyond this podcast, maybe another podcast. Join us next season where we’ll entertain this topic. It is a legitimate question, but I think the Fed is doing this on a short-term basis to arrest the decline, the collapse, and the financial crisis in the economy.

Patti: You mentioned short-term basis. Let’s go back to 2008 and 2009. Up until then, when you look at the Federal Reserve balance sheet, all that was on it was the currency. In 2008 and ‘09, they went into some of these other programs, the QE programs, where they started to buy the Treasuries, the munis, and the mortgages that nobody else wanted.

Now they have these assets on their balance sheet. Over time, the goal was to reduce their balance sheet and go back to where they were before the crisis, but they never got there. Now here we are in 2020. Is that something we should worry about? The Federal Reserve balance sheet, it’s probably going to double by the time this is all done.

What happens in that scenario? We’ve doubled the Fed balance sheet. It now owns these loans, these bonds, etc. How does that work?

Eric: That’s an interesting point. The point here is their operations that they’re conducting are meant to be short-term. They don’t want to create dislocations in how private individuals decide how to allocate resources.

But you make a good point. Prior to 2008, the Fed’s only liability was currency in circulation. These are coins, dollars, and stuff like that. That’s a liability of the Fed.

2008 was extraordinary because now they started ramping up Treasury bonds, mortgage-backed securities, all these other things. Effectively, what happens when they do that is they print money. They’re conjuring money into existence. Where do they get the money to buy $10 trillion of bonds? $10 trillion’s an extreme example. A keystroke, right?

Patti: Right.

Eric: They create the funds, they deposit the funds in the bank or whoever would sell them the bonds, and they inject cash into the system. The concern is that this is money-printing. It’s going to lead to inflation.

Patti: Let’s stop right there. It would be reasonable for people to say, “Hey, that sounds pretty good. You just create a lot of money, you put it into the system, everybody’s that much richer.”

The issue with inflation, of course, is that’s fine and dandy, but if you have a lot of dollars, and the same amount of goods and services are in the economy, you’ve got too many dollars chasing too few goods.

What happens to the price of those goods? They go up. “Hey, you know what? You really want this loaf of bread? OK, it’s 10 bucks because there are a lot of people that want this loaf of bread.” It is in a really interesting phenomenon. The Federal Reserve can’t really, or shouldn’t really, just print money out of the blue. Yet, to a certain extent, it has done a little bit of that during this crisis. Go ahead.

Eric: I was going to say what’s interesting about that is you make a great point. If there’s more money…I think it was Milton Friedman who said, literally, “If things were really bad, just drop bails of money out of helicopters on people to just try and create some inflation.”

What you’re saying is correct. If the money supply doubles but our output can’t increase, then you’ve got more money chasing the same quantity of goods, and basically inflation goes up.

The unique part, there’s a lot of criticism of what the Fed did in 2008. It was unprecedented, and there was this notion that it was going to create runaway inflation.

The important distinction is the Fed has created additional money in the system, but that money is locked up in the banking system as excess reserves. This money is not entering the real economy. What the Fed is really trying to do is to set the conditions for growth, set the conditions for people to come back to the table and borrow.

You don’t have inflation until you have the credit creation process. Banks have to use those excess reserves to then make loans. Then the money enters the real economy. If loan growth doesn’t happen, the Fed can do all they want. We used the term in the last podcast about “pushing on a string.” They can only do so much.

The conventional thinking is that if you lower interest rates, the price of money, that will increase demand. But we’re finding out that there’s some situations where it doesn’t matter. Even at negative interest rates, there are no borrowers to come to the table.

Patti: That is, again, getting back to the human element of all of this. Remember, we are an economy that is basically people and owners of businesses. When you go through economic contraction, unemployment goes up.

It’s human nature to say, “You know, I’m not going to spend as much money. I don’t want to borrow money. I don’t want to get a home equity line of credit to do this renovation because I’m worried about my job or I’m worried about paying it back,” so they don’t do those things.

Getting back to the prior podcast, one person’s expense is another person’s income. Very basic, so important, one person’s expense is another person’s income.

If that person isn’t doing the renovation, the contractors aren’t earning an income. The companies that make the power tools that they would use for the renovation, they’re not getting an income and creating jobs within their company.

Commerce has this domino effect. It’s referred to as a multiplier effect. A dollar can multiply in terms of benefit for many. If everybody’s pulling back and it’s locked up – or as you say, trapped in the banking system – then it doesn’t have the opportunity to have that multiplier effect.

If, on the other hand, businesses or people go out and get the money that they may not have themselves through a loan with the promise to pay it back, then they get that chunk of money, and they do whatever it might be. Whether it be to start a business or pay their employees, it has a really important function.

If, all of a sudden, the demand for that loan, the demand for all of that rises tremendously, that means that spending has risen tremendously.

That’s where inflation can be the likely outcome because there’s so much spending, there’s so much pent-up demand that everybody is going out and buying all of this stuff.

If you’ve got the same number of companies, or even worse, if companies have gone out of business because of a crisis and there’s not enough entities to produce the goods and services that people want and need, then inflation can become even a bigger issue.

It is interesting how the Federal Reserve works to provide that floor so that people can have access to money if they need it.

Back to the 2008 and 2009, and you and I saw this very clearly with some of our business owners, a lot of them were having trouble getting the loans from the banks. The banks got really paranoid because the banks were criticized because all lending standards seemed to have gone out the window during the 2000s, which created a problem for the banks.

The stability of our banking system, not only here in the US but on a worldwide basis, got in question, so the banks said, “OK, we’re not going to be as freewheeling with our lending,” and so businesses were having difficulty, people were having a really tough time getting mortgages, and that dampened the recovery in a really big way.

Inflation never showed up because the banks didn’t lend it out as much as you would expect after a crisis like that.

Eric: Yeah, you have them pulling back credit lines or increasing underwriting standards so they only lend to the most sterling credit available in the market. All those things happen and that puts a dampen on demand. You have to have people spending in a big way to have inflation show up.

Patti: I think it’s pretty interesting that in this particular crisis, what they’ve done is, they’ve really gone gangbusters.

Federal Government as well as the Federal Reserve are getting so much liquidity into the system, whether it be through some of the programs like the unemployment benefits and things of that nature, or the PPP loans to keep businesses solvent, to give them a bridge so that they don’t have to let people go, creating another domino effect.

Again, the hope is that because of that, these businesses remain solvent so that banks feel comfortable to lend the money to these entities, so that commerce and this wonderful thing called the US economy could continue just going back with great output.

Eric: Absolutely. I think an interesting observation too, there’s a lot of worry about inflation and what the Fed is doing, but you and I as financial professionals, you look to the market for signals, what does the market tell you?

As much press as the stock market gets due to its capricious nature from time to time, the bond market is far larger than the stock market is. The credit markets are much bigger, and when you think about any corporation, bonds and credit have a senior claim on the assets. Equity is at the very bottom, which is why it’s so volatile.

Ultimately, you look to the credit markets, right, Patti? We look to the credit markets for what are the telling us because in essence, they are senior to equity claims, so a healthy credit market gives you signals about where the economy and the stock market may go.

When you think about inflation, we can observe Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, also known as TIPS, and what are they telling you? They’re negative.

We don’t have negative yields in government bonds like you would in, say, Germany, or Japan, or the UK, but the Treasury inflation-protected securities are negative yielding, and that tells you the problem is not inflation. It’s deflation.

Patti: That is a serious problem.

Eric: Yes, that is far more devastating. Thankfully, periods of deflation in our country have been far and few between over the last 80 to 90 years, but that is something that is far more of a greater danger than, say, two or three percent inflation.

Patti: Just to explain what deflation is, now, you have more goods and the people don’t want, so it’s the opposite effect, and that’s one thing. Now, you’ve got to factor your warehouse filled with a whole bunch of stuff, and it just sits there and it’s unproductive. It’s not creating income for employees and things of that nature.

I think also equally as important is that if somebody has a loan, paying back that loan becomes that much more expensive, right?

Eric: Yeah, and I think that’s a great point. Your very visual point about inventory just sitting on the shelves and piling up, what’s driving that? It’s because in deflation, prices are falling. People defer consumption.

If you’re sitting out to dinner with your sweetie and you’re like, “Well, why buy the steak now? If I wait 10 minutes it’s going to be cheaper, right? I’ll just wait. I’m going to defer.” That has a very pernicious effect throughout the economy. People delay. That ends up in people getting laid off.

For those that are working, if you see your wages slashed, the point that you just made, your income is going down because of deflation, but your debts have not changed. The mortgage, principal, and interest is still the same, and then that’s when it leads to bankruptcies.

Patti: That’s a very difficult situation, and that’s to a certain extent what Japan has been going through, a period of deflation. Japan is a nation of savers, not spenders. It’s locked up in their banking system and it’s gone on so long that it’s going to be very difficult for them to get out of it.

The government didn’t step in as our government did, whether you agree with where they put it or not, to really stimulate demand, to get out there and just get that inventory off the shelves of the warehouse, so that the businesses can stay and keep their employees and to prevent this thing called deflation, which is a much more difficult economic issue for a Federal Reserve to solve.

Eric: Yeah, and it’s interesting too, we love the idea of low interest rates, cheap credit. It’s great. It allows us to do more things than we thought possible when your mortgage is three percent versus eight, but you remember, we look at long-term interest rates in 1981, and where were they? 13 percent.

Interest rates have been falling for the last 40 years. That is a sign we’re having trouble with inflation. It’s deflation that’s taking over. There’s various debate on why that is, or what the endgame will be. Low inflation is very good, but deflation is definitely a bad thing.

Patti: A lot of the argument or the theory is that technology has really helped us to improve productivity and keep the cost. Every time you go out, the cost of the TV is getting cheaper and cheaper for a better TV, things of that nature.

Not everything is going down in price. Some things are still going to inflate. Services tend to inflate faster than goods. You’ve got tuitions, and medical care, and things of that nature continue to go up.

Just as an economy in general, you want to have that balance where prices don’t go down and peoples stop spending money and, now all of a sudden, paying back that $100,000 or $500,000 mortgage. Wow, that’s stayed the same, and it’s going to be harder and harder to do that.

Eric: Absolutely.

Patti: As we think about what the Federal Reserve does, now it’s creating a lot of money. It’s got these assets on the balance sheet. First question is, OK, well, these assets on the balance sheet happen to be treasury securities, mortgages, etc.

The Federal Reserve is a separate entity. To me, again, I’m nerding out on you, Eric, and I’m nerding out on all of you who are listening today, so bear with me, but what I think is really…

Eric: This is a behind the scenes. This is the best part of Patti, by the way. When Patti nerds out, it’s everybody’s favorite moment of “Key Financial.” I just want to let everybody know, because they don’t always get to see it all the time…

Patti: Totally, totally, totally.

Eric: We love when Patti nerds out.

Patti: Oh, man, what was I just going to say? I was about to nerd out, and I forget what I was nerding out about.

Eric: Oh, no.

Patti: Basically what the Federal Government does is, it’s a separate entity. It has to manage its own finances, so it’s got income. It’s got where it gets its income, which is basically the interest on the assets on the balance sheet. It’s got its own sets of expenses, and over the last 10 years, it’s had a surplus. What does it do with the surplus?

Under federal law, the Federal Reserve must pay that surplus back to the treasury. Last year, it was $55 billion. In 2015, it was $117 billion. In effect, while they work separately, the Federal Government is actually benefitting from what the Federal Reserve is, ultimately, doing.

Eric: I feel like I wish I would have thought about this in our last podcast, but I feel like the tag line for both of these is follow the money. When you’re thinking about debt, you’re thinking about all of these things. You have to think about the stages that the money goes to that really cement, solidify the understanding.

You’re right. Think about it. The Federal Reserve, from our last podcast, I think you said it owns 21 percent of the US treasury debt out there, so they receive the interest income. As you said, they use that to cover their own expenses of the various Federal Reserve banks, but the surplus, by law, has to be remitted to the treasury, back to the government.

In essence, when the Federal Reserve buys bonds, they are effectively providing interest-free financing to the government in one way, shape or form, because the government taxes us for the interest. Simply, they buy the bonds and then they remit that back to the treasury. I wish I could get that deal because it’s not too bad.

Patti: You and me both.

Eric: It’s not bad. By the same token, I don’t think people should take that as though there’s something surreptitious going on here. It’s just a function of how the system works. The money has to go somewhere.

Patti: Again, to go back to the previous podcast, again, using the Abe Lincoln quote from the “Gettysburg Address,” the government, meaning the Federal Reserve and the Federal Government, it is basically a body of the people, selected by the people, for the people, so that’s a really important concept.

Then again, as we said last time, as we go into this election, to remember the principles of what our government and what our founding fathers intended, take away personalities, whether you like them or not, understand their role, and how all of that works.

Eric: I think that’s such an interesting point that you break up. I love that quote from Abraham Lincoln and we used it in the last podcast, but it’s so interesting, when people think about government debt, and they always say, “Well, this has got to be paid back. How are they ever going to pay it back?”

They’re going to pay it back to you, the American people. They borrow the money from you. We’re borrowing from ourselves, and we owe the money to ourselves, so we’ve got to pay it right back.

Patti: The simplest example of that is, and again, we’re off topic, but that’s the way we always do these things.

Eric: As long as you can rollover your debt, then you never have an issue.

Patti: We’ll wing it. You think about it, think about World War II and the War Bonds.

The War Bonds were issued to finance the war because the Federal Government needed cash, and so it went out to the United States citizens and said, “OK, we’ll give you this war bond to finance the war.”

Let’s say that it’s May, “I’m going to give the Federal Government. Yeah, of course, I want to support my husband who happens to be overseas fighting for our country. I want him to have the best supplies. I want him to do that. Here’s $10,000 to finance the war.”

The government says, “OK, great, Patti. I’ll pay you the interest, and they take the $10,000, and they buy supplies.”

I never thought about this, Eric, but they bought supplies from my grandfather’s company. He had a big company, big company, I don’t know, hundreds of employees. What they made, my grandfather was instrumental in this thing that we refer to now as gauze. His company manufactured bandages, gauze.

The Federal Government took my $10,000 and used it to purchase gauze from my grandfather’s company. That gauze went back to the Federal Government. It was sent over to my husband who was wounded. By the way, I was working in my grandfather’s company so I got a salary from my grandfather, and I went and spent the money.

It’s the way that the money works all-around within a system to keep everybody afloat, provide the goods that are necessary, in that case, to provide our servicemen, the people willing to go over there and defend our nation and Europe in World War II.

What’s a little different now, fast forward, is that there’s an extra entity out there buying those bonds, and that’s the Federal Reserve.

During February, you know what, this is all fine and dandy, but I don’t want your bonds. People didn’t want them. The market froze.

That’s where the Federal Reserve came in and purchased the bonds, gave the Federal Government the cash to provide higher unemployment benefits, the PPP loans, etc. Yes, again, because it’s a liability, it’s debt, it’s debt that it owes now to the Federal Reserve.

Again, we’re trying to boil this down and bring this down in a way that, hopefully, it makes sense for all of you and to give you a sense of it’s not hocus-pocus here. There’s a real reason why these things are happening. It’s exactly why the government, any government, really exists. It’s to support its people during very difficult times. They do that in the ways that they’re doing with this.

For everybody listening, for all of you listening, it’s also important to understand the role that the Federal Reserve plays versus the government.

Eric, why don’t you talk about the Fed being that, providing the floor, but we still need the government. Right? What is the difference? The Federal Reserve is there to provide that liquidity, that relief, but they can’t stimulate the economy.

Eric: That goes right back to a very interesting discussion of fiscal policy and monetary policy that sounds like that. It looks like that. I think that’s where we’re going, right?

Patti: You got it. Go for it.

Eric: There’s two different policy tools here. The Federal Reserve is really in charge of the monetary policy. They’re given several mandates by Congress to promote full employment, stable prices, but also to support the smooth functioning of our economy.

They use interest rates to try and manage and maximize employment and borrowing costs, which is a tricky thing to do. They’re using data that’s already happened to try and see where the puck is – a wonderful analogy that I’ve heard you use many times. It’s a difficult job, and they don’t always get it right.

What’s interesting is that they have learned from the past. They have learned from their mistakes.

Central banking monetary policy is something that really continues to evolve. The things that are happening today were really forged in the depths of the financial crisis by Ben Bernanke, the former chairman. These are all new tools and things that really didn’t exist prior to that point. It will continue to evolve.

Ultimately, they’re there to provide that stability and prudent management of the financial system. Where the government steps in, they make policy decisions about what services, what kind of things do we provide, what kind of investments do we make for the country whether it’s roads, and bridges, and different infrastructure.

The infrastructure, ultimately, that makes us more productive. If we’re more productive in the future, we have higher standards of living because we’re producing more for a better cost. They’re really in charge of figuring out how to structure those safety nets, how to allocate the big, big things that an individual or a private company just couldn’t do.

Did they get that right? They are not beyond criticism of not doing this right. Ultimately, they get most of it right. That’s what they’re there to do is really to provide and direct those funds into investment and support and to do big things.

Patti: The bottom line to this is the Federal Reserve can print money till they’re blue in the face. Again, they’re not really printing it, but they’re using their operations, etc. They can print money till they’re blue in the face, but if it’s not lent out, it’s not going to do any good.

You need that demand. If the demand isn’t there from you and I, from the consumer, then the government steps in to create the demand where it doesn’t exist during a difficult period in our economy.

Eventually, hopefully, the consumer comes back, and some of those programs, whether it be the public-private partnership with pharmaceutical companies, the Federal Government is giving money to the pharmaceutical companies to find this vaccine, things of that nature.

Eric: That’s a reoccurring point that we just want to keep reinforcing and continue to echo this notion that we’re a market-based society. We believe that individuals make the best decisions to allocate resources, and own property, and make those decisions.

Occasionally, the business cycle’s volatile. Those things break down. People don’t spend.

What we’ve learned from the past is what you’re saying. The Federal Reserve can only do so much to create an environment where the economy can come back.

Many times, there’s a responsibility on the government to step in and extract that money, tap into that pool of savings from the private sector, households and businesses, to pull that money out and then spend it in a real economy when those private individuals are not spending.

That, ultimately, helps us get through these crisis and hopefully sets the foundation where we can grow again and hopefully not experience significant, significant difficulties that just persist on and on for years.

Patti: Again, and when you refer to that, you’re talking about GDP. When we talk about GDP, the goal here, assuming that we’re still in this recession, is to get out of the recession. A recession is defined as two quarters back to back of negative GDP where you’re not growing. You’re actually contracting. They want to get us back growing again one way or the other.

When you hear about these terms like a V recovery, or a U, what have you, a lot of times, these commentators, they confuse the economy with the market. They are two separate entities. I cannot emphasize that enough. Yes, the market is on a significant upswing, but we’re still, from an economic perspective, we’re trudging though. We’re still in this recession.

That is not unusual. The market is a forward-leading indicator. It is taking a look at the amount of money that is now sloshing into the system, and it believes that, eventually, we’re going to come out of this. The market is hoping we’re going to come out of this sooner than anybody every realized or anticipated.

That’s where you’re seeing a lot of this upward volatility, and the market is recovering and doing quite well when the economy really isn’t. Again, not unusual. That’s the way it typically happens.

Eric: It’s important, too, to remember that the stock market is not the economy.

Ultimately, publicly-traded companies have advantages that do not exist for the majority of employers, which are small businesses, which they don’t have access to the credit lines. They don’t have access to the capital markets to sell debt or issue equity to see them through. They don’t have the diversity of revenue streams that businesses do. The stock market is distinctly different.

A lot of people ask the question how can the stock market only be down a couple percent when we’re mired in probably one of the most severe contractions we’ve seen almost ever. It’s a different kind of thing. The support that’s going on, that’s certainly helping the stock market, but it’s really aimed to help some of these small businesses and people that are hurting out there for the most part.

Patti: Excellent. I’m just going to go through just a couple of, few concepts, and then we’re going to wrap this up. What is it, Eric, when they talk about monetizing the debt? What does that really mean in English?

Eric: It almost sounds like a dirty word, doesn’t it?

Patti: It does.

Eric: Monetizing the debt, it’s just some kind of negative, devious thing that’s going on there.

Patti: Again, it’s this Wizard of Oz thing behind the curtain.

Eric: Basically what monetizing the debt is, that’s literally if the Federal Reserve wants to influence interest rates, what do they do? They go to the New York Fed, and they tell them we’d like to buy $50 billion in Treasury securities.

They, with the stroke of a key, they create the money. They literally conjure it into existence, and they buy the debt. They’re monetizing debt in that they’re buying debt and they’re just creating the money out of thin air literally, and that’s what it is.

Patti: Over time, that helps in terms of they continue to do that, they monetize the debt. 10 years from now if they continue to do that, that creates some inflation because you’ve got more dollars circulating in the system, so the cost of paying down that debt is a lot less.

Eric: It goes two ways too. Remember that the Federal Reserve is trying to just create the conditions. They can monetize the debt, but they can also demonetize the debt.

If they want interest rates to rise, what do they do? They sell the treasury bonds they own on the balance sheet to the banks, and they extract cash out of the system and that cash doesn’t go back to the Federal Reserve. It just disappears out existence. It can really go both ways. They can monetize, they can demonetize the debt.

Patti: That’s how they control inflation.

Eric: Right. They look at inflation and then they try and control interest rates based on where inflation would be. They don’t want it getting out of control and so forth because, ultimately, businesses and consumers can’t make decisions if prices are going all over the place like they did when we had the gold standard.

Patti: One last question. When you think about the Federal Reserve, they’re printing these dollars and that’s circulating in our system. We talked about this a little bit, but for those people who weren’t able to listen to the last podcast, why is it that the US dollar is considered the reserve asset for the rest of the world? Why is that? What does that really mean?

We talked about this before. We can only do it on the surface, or we can go real deep and talk about Bretton Woods and the gold standard, and that kind of stuff.

Eric: What door do we go through, Patti? Do we go through door number one, or just we see how far the rabbit hole goes?

Patti: The simple answer, if I may answer my own question, is to say it’s not really the reserve currency. It’s the reserve asset.

The United States, the treasuries, and the dollar is the most liquid, transparent, largest entity market of anything. It’s a very reliable asset to hold, or in this case, dollars, and other countries peg their currencies to something that is so reliable, right?

Eric: Right.

Patti: Go ahead and go into a little bit about how that all happened.

Eric: I think the dollar supplanted the British pound after World War II, but people may have heard of this. Basically, the Bretton Woods Agreement, this was the Bretton Woods Conference that was conducted in New Hampshire.

In the post-World War II environment, the major economic powers, our allies, got together in New Hampshire and they forged the framework for what the new international monetary system would look like.

We have to remember that the United States, at that point, was the lone superpower, after having vanquished two foes on the Atlantic and on the other side of the Pacific, but the United States was the largest creditor nation in the world.

We had accumulated the largest stock of gold reserves in the entire world by far. Our allies in Europe had devastated economies and they had to rebuild those economies, and they needed dollars to be able to import food and energy to start building up, and so forth.

The intent of the Bretton Woods was to establish the dollar, because we had the most gold, as the world reserve currency that all other nations would peg their currencies to, but the idea was to overvalue the dollar, undervalue the foreign currencies so we could create a trade deficit.

Foreign countries, our allies, would run trade surpluses with the United States because their currencies were systematically undervalued. That would provide them the means to accumulate the dollars to then…

Patti: Get the goods and services.

Eric: …import the basics of life, food, energy, all the things that you need.

That established the marker in history where we went from a creditor nation to what we would call a debtor nation, and now we always get talked about that we’re the greatest world’s debtor nation ever, separate podcast, by the way. We’ve got lots of good ones coming up…

Patti: Absolutely.

Eric: …is what is what I’m getting at with this, but that’s where it established that. What happened is that gave them the ability to start to rebuild their economies and so forth, so that’s where we became the world reserve currency, was after World War II, because of just the favorable conditions in our economy.

Things have changed over time that, eventually, we were seeing massive outflows of gold. I think it was 1971, Richard Nixon called a gathering of his top advisers and Camp David and they said, “That’s it. We’re going to suspend the convertibility of the dollar into gold.” Now, we have what we have today, which is a credit-based system, based on what they would call fiat.

Now, rather than countries getting gold when they run a trade surplus, they accumulate dollars.

Patti: Simple.

Eric: Yeah, easy.

Patti: Easy, and then basically, like we said in the last podcast, they’ve got a number of different choices on what to do with the dollars because they can’t spend it in their own economy, because that’s not their currency.

Very briefly, they hold the cash, but then that’s dead money. They can spend it in the United States by buying our goods. That helps our economy because now they’re buying our stuff, and that gives our employees incomes, things of that nature.

They could invest in the United States. BMW can build a plant down in South Carolina and use dollars to do so, or they can convert the US dollar into a different currency.

Instead of holding dollars, they can convert that into euros, but now they’re back to the same problem. Now they own euros. Euros, great nations, wonderful, but they’ve got a whole separate issue in that they have one monetary system but they have different fiscal systems. Germany is different than France, etc.

It’s not a united framework as we have here in the United States, so I think that most nations prefer not to hold the euros because it’s less reliable in that vein, so what do they do? They buy US treasuries, and that’s basically what they do. They give us those dollars, and we pay them the interest on the treasuries.

If they want their money back, if they want to sell the treasuries, that’s fine, but if they do too much of it, what happens to the value of the dollar? It goes down. They’re shooting themselves in the foot.

Eric: Right, because then our exports become competitive, right?

Patti: Right.

Eric: You make an interesting comparison to Europe, how they’re set up versus us. We have the benefit of a fiscal and monetary union across all states in the land.

Could you imagine if suddenly Texas, or Idaho, or whoever, wanted to suddenly have their own currency? This was problematic back in the Civil War, but that’s one of the advantages that we have.

I think part of what does not fall into the public discourse that I think is a disservice is, there’s so much focus on the trade deficit, this imbalance between what we export versus what we import, and that’s in the headlines and so forth.

What is missing is, the trade deficit is part of what we call the current account, but every nation has what they call a balance of payments, hence the word balance. If you have a deficit in one area, so a deficit in your trade account, you have to have an equal and corresponding surplus in your financial account.

When we run a trade deficit, that can have negative effects in certain segments of the economy, but it also means that we’re importing capital from abroad, so we’re creating a source of funds in the financial account.

Patti: That’s exactly right. You have the dollars here.

Eric: I would say, every time you hear about the trade deficit, just remember that is just one component of a broader set of what we call the national accounting identities, which is the balance of payments. The system has to balance. If there’s a deficit here, there’s got to be a surplus somewhere else.

Patti: You know, Eric, it’s exactly what we were talking about last time. We hear so much about the debt in the United States, and this rising debt of $26 trillion. You never hear about the assets. It’s balance sheet. It’s accounting 101. There’s got to be assets, and we happen to be the wealthiest nation in the world.

Americans hold $117 trillion worth of assets. That doesn’t even include what the Federal Government holds, and the state governments, with the land, and buildings, and things of that nature. There’s assets, pick a number, $140 trillion, $150 trillion with a T dollars, to offset the $26 trillion that we owe, frankly, to ourselves.

Eric: It’s interesting. The numbers are pretty big, but that again, which I was really excited about this series of podcasts because I just feel like so much when you talk about it or if the topic comes up, is that people only focus on the liability.

Nobody ever asks the question about assets. I’ve never heard anybody say that, and that’s so fascinating to me, because it would certainly put things in context if you thought about the assets.

Patti: Here’s the deal, Eric. They wouldn’t get elected, because fear is a powerful motivator. People don’t want to think that we’re going to have so much debt, and the implications for our families and things of that nature.

I hope it’s been helpful for everybody who’s listening. I find it fascinating. Thank you so much for all the research and your contribution, professor, and thanks to all of you for joining us.

I hope this was helpful. I hope that we were able to boil a very complicated subject into fairly simple terms, and maybe restore a little bit of confidence in the system that we call the United States of America’s economy, and the leadership, and how some of this stuff can work.

Pull back the curtain, simplify it, to help you to understand that there’s really a reason and there’s a method behind everything and a lot of the decisions.

Again, we may not always agree with them. We can go on and on about how the money is being used and is it frivolous, but the intent is to keep this wonderful economy in the United States growing. We stabilize it first and then we return to the growth that has really made our nation what it is today.

Thank you so much for joining us. I hope you found it helpful. Go to our website. Listen to the other podcasts. Definitely, please let us know if you have any questions, if you want to talk about this further one on one, that’s what we’re here for.

As you think these things through, always remember, we’re here for you. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, Eric, for joining us. You’re terrific and I hope you all have a terrific day.

Ep54: The Government Deficit – What the Numbers Actually Mean!

About This Episode

The government deficit is at an all-time high and yet the markets remain strong. The economy is starting to bounce back after the pandemic stopped progress in its tracks for the past 6 months. So, what do the government debt numbers really mean? Are we stealing from future generations to solve today’s problems? Patti sits down with her Chief Planning Officer, Eric Fuhrman, to break down the very complicated concepts of deficit spending and the Federal Reserve into terms listeners can understand more fully. They discuss the two primary sectors in the economy – public and private and how mounting debt affects each. With the presidential debates coming in the next few weeks, this is the perfect time to learn and understand what these numbers really mean and how they affect our economic health and future.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Patti Brennan show. Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Folks, here is the episode that you’ve been waiting for.

We’re going to be talking about the government debt. Just what you wanted to hear about, right? My goal in this episode today and the one that’s going to follow it, is going to be talking about the Federal Reserve. We’d like to take some very complicated concepts and a very complicated subject and break it down into terms that you can understand.

I’m hoping that by the end of all this, you come out of this with a better understanding of how the government works with the Federal Reserve because we certainly have seen that during this crisis with the coronavirus. I just want to boil it down and give you a little bit of perspective and understanding of why they might be doing some of the things that they’re doing and what that might mean.

In yesterday’s “Philadelphia Inquirer,” the headline read, “Government deficit shatters the one-month record.” In the article, goes on to report that about 10 years ago, the deficit for the month of June in 2019 was $1 billion. In June of 2020, it has skyrocketed to $864 billion in one month. The question is, are we robbing future generations in almost assuring bankruptcy for our children?

Joining me today is the Professor. It’s who we call Eric Fuhrman. Eric is just a student of this stuff. He is so articulate. He’s got such a good grasp and an understanding. Between the two of us, we’re going to banter about and really boil this down in such a way, hopefully, that’s going to make some sense.

Eric, let’s tackle that first one. What do you think? Are we really being irresponsible with the deficit that we’re adding on top of the debt that the federal government already owes? It’s pretty crazy.

Eric Fuhrman: That’s a deep question. I’d like to have a lighthearted moment with you first, which is, how is it that you and I keep getting topics like this over and over again? Income taxes, estate planning, social security. Now, the national debt. All the fun stuff.

Patti: Hopefully not.

Eric: We try and make it exciting, right?

Patti: Exactly.

Eric: That’s the hope for the people there. To answer your question, yes. It’s only human nature. Anything that seems large, big, unknown, what other feeling would you have other than to fear what you don’t really understand or what you don’t know

Patti: Especially when you’re comparing it to a deficit 10 years ago, that was a billion dollars versus over $700 million. We’re talking one month, Isn’t that scary? Should we be afraid?

Eric: Yeah. What I think is important for people out there, regardless of how you get your information, maybe it’s print, maybe it’s TV and so forth, is to always remember you’re getting data points but you’re not getting all the data points. You’re not getting the whole story.

To look at the deficit of last year versus the deficit of this year, I think the Bureau of the Fiscal Service publishes the monthly borrowing of the Treasury, borrowing or surplus. It’s a very, very volatile number. You see these wide differences, but you really have to take it in context of a much broader picture.

I hope what we’re able to communicate here to our listeners, is really to dispel some of the myths. More importantly, when you have education, when you have understanding of something, then I think it becomes less scary. Hopefully, we’re successful in doing that today.

Patti: I think it was Brian Wesbury. He had a blog. I love Brian Wesbury. He just writes so well. The headline was, “Coronavirus, it’s scary but is it dangerous?” He goes on to really explore that concept. It is scary, but is what is going on actually that dangerous, as it relates to the economy, the markets, etc?

Is the response that the government has really had to embark upon, does it necessarily mean that income tax rates are going to have to skyrocket, inflation is going to get out of control? Are we in fact, robbing the future for our children?

Eric: I think that’s an important distinction. When we’re talking about the government response here, we’re talking about the fiscal and economic response that they’re engaging in. I think what we have to explore first, is the predominant view. It’s almost orthodoxy amongst politicians and the public, that the US government debt is this bad thing.

This looming thing that is a great burden, that eventually has to be paid back, that eventually by spending profitably today, we’re essentially robbing future generations, and they’re going to be stuck with a bill.

Patti: I’m going to stop you right there, and what doesn’t help are the headlines and the newsflashes that basically just give you our national debt. It just ticks up, and up, and up every single second, and it just makes people feel that much more uncomfortable.

I think that one of the things that we had talked about, and not to steal the thing, I think the newsflash that we’re going to get from this, the bottom-line to this is, it might not be as bad as you might think, right?

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. I think the first observation you have to make is that the government, just like businesses, are perpetual. They don’t have an infinite life…I’m sorry, they don’t have an end like we all do. Our life is finite. These institutions aren’t, so I think that’s first to keep in mind.

Also, when you talk about the size of the debt, people have to realize right context here. The economy is phenomenally bigger today than it was in 1990, 1970, 1940. We exist now in what’s called basically a fiat or a credit-based system.

As credit expands, when economic activity expands, the debt is going to naturally expand as well. It’s a first important distinction that people have to have.

Patti: Let’s talk about how the federal government manages its finances, and compare that to how we manage our own finances. If I were the financial planner for the US government, I’m not so sure that I would feel that great about the debt.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about, does the government pay off the debt? Should we be paying it down? What is this thing that’s referred to as this thing, this fallacy of composition, that the government should be managing its finances like you and I do? Why is that a fallacy?

Eric: I think that’s an interesting point. I think part of the public’s bewilderment over the debt really stems from what you’re describing, that there’s this parallel that’s drawn between government finances and that of an individual household.

We all recognize that we should…Judicious financial management is to save, to basically invest wisely and not engage in unprincipled behavior. We take that and say, “Well, the government should do the same thing.”

That’s a fallacy of composition to assume what is good for the individual is good for the nation as a whole, and I think that part of the misunderstanding is that that’s not how it works. What’s good for you and I is not good policy at the national level.

Part of this understanding that we’re going to explore is, there’s really two primary sectors in the economy. There’s the private sector, which are basically households and businesses, and then there is the public sector, which is the government.

We’re going to get into that a little bit more, but I think that’s the biggest thing that people have to understand, those two distinct sectors in the economy.

Patti: I think that the myths and the misperceptions of how all of this works is an important thing we want to clarify. Let’s talk about the Fed and the government, and how the balance sheet works.

When you and I look at a balance sheet, we’ve got the liabilities, but when we’re working with a client, we’re not just looking at the liabilities. We’re looking at the assets as well, so what is missing in all of those headlines?

Eric: That’s an interesting point. I think you put up the picture of the national debt clock, that everyone knows what that is, and it shows your family share of the national debt.

You make a great point. There is this myopic focus on the debt, but why would you not ask the question, “Well, what are the assets?”

Every liability has an asset somewhere in the financial system. We would never look at one of our clients and only look at the mortgage, and not consider the collateral, the home that secures that mortgage.

I think what’s important for people is to understand what are the assets of the country. You really have to consider the other side of the balance sheet, which is far more important for that matter.

There’s various ways you can calculate this, but the Federal Reserve puts out every quarter what’s called the Z1 report. This is a reconciliation of the country’s finances.

What you would find, and I believe this is at the end of 2019, is that the household sector of the United States has over $117 trillion of assets. These are physical things, buildings, structures, equity, $117 trillion. When you consider the national debt, there’s about, I don’t know, roughly five times more assets than there are debt.

Patti: Yeah, I mean if that was a home or any other kind of debt, that’s a pretty good debt to equity ratio. Let’s kind of take a step back, and really think about an important principle that I think so many people kind of miss, and that is something that Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address.

What he said was, “We are a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” That’s really important because, when you bring up the government debt and then you talk about the household assets, why are we adding in the household assets?

That’s because we are the United States of America, we are owners, if you will, of that debt one way or the other. When you think about a treasury bond, and let’s really simplify this for everybody listening, because it was the only way I could get it, Eric.

We’re simplifying here for Patti Brennan, and then hopefully, it’ll help everybody listening today. When the government has debt, what is that? Basically, it’s treasury securities. What they do, very simply, is they issue a bond, bond represents debt.

If I, Patti Brennan, buys a $10,000 treasury bond or if I buy a mutual fund that’s treasuries or government debt, I have lent the federal government $10,000 and they’ve got the cash, and I have the security, so literally I have an asset that is part of my net worth.

Over time, the federal government is going to pay me interest, every quarter, what have you, and at the end of the term, they’re going to give me my money back. That’s the way it works, so you know to a certain extent. The government really owes the money to us, the citizens.

Eric: Right. Yes. Essentially, the interesting observation from what you just described is that we both owe the debt and we own the debt, right?

Patti: There you go.

Eric: That’s an interesting concept to think about here, but really what you’re kind of describing is, basically, the auction process of how does the government issue debt? When the government decides to run a deficit, which they pretty much have since the 1950s, there’s been very few times where there’s a surplus, they have to close the gap. What do they do?

The treasury then will sell securities to a network of dealers, and those dealers then sell the bonds to individuals, and so forth. Think about the transaction that’s happening.

Basically, the government will sell a treasury bond, the owner of the bond will now have an asset. The government records a debt, one offsets the other. And the government receives payment.

They take cash from the person that bought the bond. Now the government spends the cash which goes right back into the financial system, just in different accounts. The recipients of whoever invoiced the government, employees, whoever it might be.

Essentially, there’s an equal and corresponding asset and liability, one in the private sector, one in the public, and the cash in the system has not changed. There’s been no printing of money that’s occurred.

Patti: That’s really interesting. You’ve brought up a really important point, and it goes to this kind of idea of the spending, and how the government uses the money. Again, the government gets money different ways.

It gets money from taxes, part of what I think the reason why the deficit was so high in June is because, guess what, those of us who owe taxes didn’t pay them April 15th. We got an extension. The April 15th is going to be in July. That’s number one, but also, they issued that debt.

What happens is they pay that interest. It goes into our pockets. Then we have it to spend or to invest. Those are, basically, the only two things that can happen. When the government spends money, they are either using it, it’s an expense, to hire people to work for the government.

One person’s expense is another person’s income. Very important. One person’s expense is another person’s income. Yes, they’re spending it, but if they spend it to judiciously, I can’t say that word, Eric. You say it much better.

Eric: Judiciously.

Patti: If they’re smart with it, let’s say that.

Eric: That’s good. I like that. We’ll go with that.

Patti: If they’re smart with it, what they’re doing is they’re keeping people employed, or they’re using it to purchase things to support the military, or to provide services for its citizens, because again we are a government of by and for the people. The government is there to provide relief, service, protection to the citizens. They do that by spending money, employing people, etc.

Eric: Right. Yep. Absolutely. I mean they do all kinds of things in terms of the research that they provide, employment in all kinds of various industries. They’re doing, in a lot of cases, there’s plenty of criticism that there is fraud and waste that occurs. There’s no doubt about that.

Patti: I was going to say that too. When we talk about spending, and this is where the politicians get involved, and this is really an important topic as we get into the election. It’s not to say that there’s an endless amount of spending that the government can do, and there is responsible spending that really helps the economy. It juices things up, creates demand where it doesn’t exist, and it supports people who really need the support.

Eric: Absolutely. I think the government does things, big things, that would be difficult for any individual or single private company to do on their own.

Patti: Yeah. Let’s talk about that, Eric, because I really like that point that we were talking about before, because there’s two things you can do with money. You either spend it or you invest it.

Eric: Right.

Patti: Let’s talk about the investment that any government makes. It can invest in transports, roads, bridges, trains. It can invest in the electric grid. The goal there, always, the goal for a government is to increase output. That’s their bogey. They want to increase GDP, that’s it. That’s how they get measured.

We need to have growth in the nation to keep those assets building, because as long as we can have growth, the assets will grow in value, and the value of the debt, especially given today’s interest rate environment, becomes less of an issue.

If they’re frivolous, if they are wasteful, and we’re not investing it to propel innovation and ease of use, ease of business, etc., then it’s a waste, and it doesn’t help GDP.

Eric: Right, so that’s an interesting concept. If the government is running up debts, and they’re using that money on unproductive things, on subsidies or special interest, things like that, that are not going to provide a productive return to society, that’s wasteful.

That’s not good spending that invests in our future. As you point out, what’s interesting is that we record the revenues, the spending, and the result in deficits, but the government makes very large investments. Think about the international highway system.

This is a significant investment that lowered transportation costs, made the entire economy far more productive because of the ease of moving goods and services, from coast to coast, and into the interior of the country. That’s how many of these cities blossomed.

Patti: It’s really interesting. When we were comparing, I love the comment that you made Eric. It said something like, imagine at what life would be like if we were still on horseback.

Eric: We wouldn’t be nearly as productive as we are today.

Patti: Exactly.

Eric: We wouldn’t have the standard of living that we have today.

Patti: That’s the goal, is to increase standard of living. It was also interesting, the way we look at it. Spending improves our standard of living today. Investment improves our standard of living tomorrow.

Eric: Yes.

Patti: That’s how the government hopefully is and should be looking at this. The spending that’s happening now, again, bring it back to today with COVID, they’re spending a lot of money to improve or support standards of living today.

Right now, again, incomes went down, unemployment was huge. How are we going to keep these people afloat? The government steps in unemployment benefits, plus $600, etc. Right?

Eric: Right. I think you make an important point too. Just on the last one about the investment, the interesting thing is that we see what the government spends, but we never calculate into that the return on the investment, the highways, the airports, the bridges, and those things.

Ultimately that gets expressed in basically the private sector, the increase in wealth that we all enjoy because now we can be more productive, live better lives, and so forth.

Patti: Which is why GDP is the measurement.

Eric: Exactly. I think there’s an interesting segue here into times of crisis. How can government debt be helpful? I think that leads into another one of this wonderful fallacy of compositions, what John Maynard Keynes, the famous British economist called the paradox of thrift.

When you enter periods like COVID for example, it’s enormous, unforeseen, enormous shock to the system. We have to think we’re all human beings. We all have the innate response for self-preservation. Economically, what does that mean? That means that basically, we’re going to save.

We’re scared. We don’t know what the future holds. We’re going to save as much as we can. We’re going to try and pay down debts.

Patti: We’re not going to spend it. We’re not going to do what we would normally do. We see that on a micro level right here. People change their plans and say, “We’re not going to do this renovation.” We’re not going to do these things that we were thinking about doing because we’re worried. We don’t know what’s going to happen.

Eric: Yeah. I think about how many clients that we’ve talked to, where they’ve received maybe a stimulus check, or they just said, “We’re just not spending money because we’re not going out and doing the things that we do.” Think about this on an aggregate level.

The idea behind the paradox of thrift, is that individual savings is good, but when everybody does it, it’s bad. Right back to your point, that one person’s expense is another person’s income. When people stop spending, what happens is all of that savings, that money, essentially becomes trapped in the banking system, in the financial sector.

All of a sudden demand starts to contract, financial assets go down in value. Eventually, you’ll have a domino effect of bankruptcies that emerge until the system just completely clears itself out, which is bad. That’s the stuff that happened in the Great Depression.

Where government debt can be very useful is that in these times, the government is the spender of last resorts. What they’ll do is run humongous deficits that will require them to sell treasury bonds. If you’re an environment of great fear, what do people want? They want a safe haven, a risk-free safe asset.

What do you know? What’s the best performing asset class this year? Long term government bonds. They’re up phenomenally. Essentially, what the government is able to do by running deficits and selling those treasuries, is that they are able to extract that savings that is trapped in the banking system, and then spend it in the economy.

They’re essentially trying to make up for the lack of demand because consumers are not spending. Ultimately, that will hopefully soften the landing, arrest, the decline in asset prices, and hopefully reinvigorate the economic engine again to get people spending and borrowing.

Patti: It’s so interesting. I think it’s fascinating how the government basically can monitor that, and basically come in where the consumer has left. The consumer to your point leaves two ways. They stop spending, they pull in, maybe stop paying their mortgages and things of that nature, making the banking system more fragile, etc.

Although sidebar, I think it’s very interesting to see how well the banking system has performed, passing the stress test. The legislation that was passed after 2009 really was effective. The banks know that they’re going to be monitored, and that whole thing has to continue. They’ve got to remain solvent.

The bank’s role really is to lend the money out. The whole idea of the banking system is to put money, literally cash into the hands of individuals and businesses in the forms of loans for them, to give people a bridge to get through this crisis. Right?

Eric: Yeah.

Patti: I think it’s also important to point out to everybody listening because I know that this is a heavy subject. It’s one filled with lots of fear. When we think about that huge rise of the debt, we have to understand that the debt really never gets paid off. To use a quote that you had shared with me, a rolling stone gathers no moss, so that it just continues to get rolled over.

The real expense for the federal government is the interest on the debt. When you compare the amount of interest that the federal government is paying on that debt, it’s actually lower than it was in the ‘80s and the ‘90s because interest rates were much higher.

Eric: Actually, to go back on that comment, I think in central banker speak they would say, “A rolling loan grows no loss.”

Patti: Ooh.

Eric: That’s how they would modify it probably.

Patti: That’s interesting.

Eric: As long as you can rollover your debt, then you never have an issue.

Patti: Let’s talk about that part. We can say, yeah, the federal government can spend and spend, and support and support, and do all of that wonderful stuff. What could happen, Eric, in terms of, what’s the downside to this? Ultimately, for example, could the debt be called?

Could people stop buying it? Ultimately, we’re only as good as the confidence that people have in our ability to pay it back. Right?

Eric: Absolutely. I think the United States when it comes to the debt, would never have a problem of insolvency. We think about ourselves, an individual can certainly become insolvent. You could run out of money to keep supporting and paying your debts. That’s how you become bankrupt.

The United States is unique. It doesn’t have that problem. We have an independent monetary authority called the central bank, and they have a monopoly power over printing money. In our case, the Federal Reserve can create an infinite amount of money. There would never be an issue of never having enough dollars.

Really the problem that you would have would be one of confidence. You see this and other governments, Zimbabwe, Argentina, there’s other serial defaulters in the world that are a great examples. It would ultimately be one of confidence where there would just be such mismanagement by the monetary authorities or our elected officials.

That would be the thing that would be problematic, in terms of the debt. It would never be an issue that there wouldn’t be enough money to pay it.

Patti: It’s interesting. I guess it’s hard to go bankrupt when you owe the money to yourself, right?

Eric: Yes. That’s an interesting concept. It’s a little bit hard to wrap your mind around, but yes. Essentially, we are the ones that own the debt and we owe the debt.

Patti: We’re going to get into that in a little bit of detail in a minute. I know you guys who are listening to this, or watching this or thinking, “Well, wait a minute. We don’t own all of the treasuries out there.” You’re absolutely right.

The United States, the citizens of the United States, via either mutual funds or individual bonds, or through especially institutions and especially pension plans, own 64 percent of the debt. Who owns the rest? It is other nations. All right. Since I brought that up, I’ll bring Abe Lincoln in a little bit later. Actually, can I just tell you about this Abe Lincoln? I love this quote.

Eric: Yeah. Sure.

Patti: Let’s just do this.

Eric: He had many great speeches in history that are just timeless.

Patti: It’s just crazy that he was so smart. It’s just crazy, way back when he really understood something, that we really didn’t get our arms around until after the depression, and the mistakes that were made during the Depression. What he said was, “The great advantage of citizens being creditors as well as debtors, with relation to the public debt is obvious.”

Men can…and sorry, men and women. He said, “Men can readily perceive that they cannot be much oppressed by a debt, which they owe to themselves.” I thought that was really fascinating even back then, as they were fighting the Civil War, and financing all of that, and we got into World War II.

Again, we go through all of these crises. If you listen to the last podcast with Brad, we talked about this. It was, every time we go through one of these things, we learn. We learn what worked, we learn what didn’t work, what was OK, or how we could have gotten out of a crisis.

We’re going to go through a crisis. It’s just the human element and the human nature. What tends to get us out of it faster without as much moral hazard as other situations…again, moral hazard. People are out there talking about this unemployment benefit, where two-thirds of people were receiving unemployment in America today.

Two-thirds of those people are making more than they would have when they were working, because of the extra $600. I

Eric: It’s interesting. I thought it would it would be 50 percent.

Patti: Nope. It’s two thirds. What’s happening is the moral hazard of that is, as we get into this crisis a little further, these companies are saying, “OK. Time to come on back. Time to come on back.” These people are thinking, “Well, I don’t know. I like this whole thing. I’m making more money. I don’t have to go into work. I don’t have to worry about my kids. This is a pretty good deal.”

Again, it’s temporary. Does it create a moral hazard, etc.? Again, I just think it’s fascinating in terms of how all of these sloshes around the system, what it leads to in terms of behavior, whether it be on an individual level or a company level, what they did with the PPP loan. Hopefully, that is forgivable for many.

For a lot of businesses, that PPP kept them in business. That’s important because we need businesses to provide goods and services. When demand comes back, if so many companies go out of business, we don’t have the people when the businesses to create the goods and services.

We have all of this cash chasing even fewer goods, and guess what happens? Inflation goes nuts. That’s what happened with all those governments. We need businesses. We need to keep people afloat. Those businesses are keeping people employed.

Those people who are employed then get the money. They get to pay their mortgages, they get to pay their bills, etc., and commerce continues to go on. It’s not going to recover overnight. We talk about Vs. We talk about Ws.

We don’t know. We don’t know whether we’re still in this recession or not, but the stock market, and we’re not going to talk about the market, seems to think that we’re going to get out of this thing pretty quickly. Who knows?

That’s not what we’re going to be talking about today, but it does make me think that the government may not be as clueless as a lot of people might think, right?

Eric: Right. It’s easy to bash them, though.

Patti: Oh, absolutely.

Eric: It’s a little bit fun too sometimes.

Patti: Yeah, yeah, yeah. This patsy driving is the best. They are nothing like…

Eric: I mean, come on.

Patti: Yeah. Why not?

Eric: It’s like a pastime, right?

Patti: Right, absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s go back to this paradox of thrift.

Eric: Yeah.

Patti: It just doesn’t sound right. I thought it’s good to save money, Eric. Why isn’t it good for a nation to save money? What is the economic outcome if everybody just pulls back, puts money into the bank, and doesn’t invest it, just let’s it sit there? You mentioned it’s trapped in the banking system. Why is that so bad?

Eric: I would say it this way. We can’t save our way to prosperity. You just can’t. We’re in a system that is based on the expansion of credit. You always have to keep expanding credit, and keep issuing loans.

Patti: I’m going to play devil’s advocate, Eric, because that sounds bad. Why are we expanding credit, because that means more debt? More debt is bad. Why does it work that way? I know the answer, but I want you say it.

Eric: Gosh, I don’t know. I would say that the reality is right. Ultimately, what’s a loan? It’s a financial asset for the bank, a liability for something else. Essentially, what we need, what banks do, they utilize the pool of savings, people out there that want to save and want a rate of return on their money, and then they essentially take that and make loans to good risks, to good ideas.

Ultimately, what does this do? It brings together all what we call the factors of production. Land, and capital, and all these things, and essentially, all that leads to greater output. We measure our standard of living by the size of our output. The more output is growing, that means the pie is growing, the economic pie is growing and everybody is better off for it.

If you look back from the 1950s, the ‘70s, and so forth, standard of living continues to rise, because people are being more productive. There’s more output now, and it’s more efficiently produced than it ever was at any point in the past.

Credit is really that way to access the savings that people are taking today and make those investments in the future that will lead to greater prosperity.

Patti: I think it’s also interesting, when you look at that, the interest on the debt, whether it be the government debt or what have you. Even though we have a lot more debt and the government is paying the interest on that, when you look back at the ‘80s and the ‘90s, and they were paying a lot more on an annual basis than we are currently, the ‘80s and ‘90s were one of the greatest periods of expansion in our nation’s history.

It’s not the debt, it is the servicing of the debt and how it’s being used. If we expand credit, the goal there doesn’t always happen, because you can loan money to a business for an idea that they have, and the idea may not work out. Over time, some ideas work out great.

Look at Tesla, for example, and look at what Tesla is doing with the space program. You might wonder why in the world do we care about a space program? It’s not landing somebody on Mars, it’s the technology that’s developed to create the opportunity to land somebody on Mars, and then the application of that technology in life here on Earth.

The Internet was spending through the Pentagon. That was government spending that created the Internet, that gives us access to information that we never would be able to access, to put together a podcast like we are today. How about that?

The whole idea of credit, I can’t build a company overnight unless I have money. I can’t hire people. I can’t provide good benefits. I can’t attract them. I can’t build a factory unless I have capital. A bank lends me the money with the idea that I will create a company that’s profitable enough so that I not only can pay the bank back, I will also pay employees who will then use the money that they’re earning to pay taxes, works it way back into the government.

We can talk about a lot of things today, but how all of that works. Then it circulates back in other ways. There are so many things that are going on, and it’s not all bad.

It does take money to create money. That’s the whole concept of allowing credit to expand, because it’s been shown over a hundred years of our nation’s history that expanding credit increases the net worth of our nation.

Does it do it evenly? No, and we’re seeing that. There’s a separation, the rich versus the poor, and more is going to the wealthy. Truly, that’s probably… We can get into philosophical, and the tax system, and moving the wealth from the very, very wealthy to people who are struggling, etc. That’s another concept.

We are a nation of, by, and for. That’s just to keep that principle in mind as we go forward. We might be idealistic when we talk about this, Eric. I think that it’s OK to do that. I think that today, I want to just drive home the point as we go into this election, that the government is there to support all of us, the people.

Some of us have been blessed and we are so grateful, and yes, we pay a lot of taxes, and that tax money isn’t always used the way we would love it to be used. There are judgments sometimes we may or may not agree with. Eventually, it circulates through the system. It keeps the economy going. Right now, it’s more relief, and eventually, it will help it to grow again.

What have I missed?

Eric: I think that about covers it for Podcast 1, and then the Podcast 2. [laughs]

Patti: Oh, you know what, Eric? Timeout.

Eric: Yup.

Patti: We got to do one more thing. Sorry guys who are listening. I promised you we would get into the government debt and the fact that the foreign ownership is up. Let’s nail that one, Eric, because that’s important.

People always talk about China owns so much of our debt, and Japan. Actually, Japan owns more of it. Japan owns seven percent. China owns six percent. Other nations own our debt. Can you, for our listeners, explain how do they get our debt? First of all, why would they get it? How does all of that work?

Talk a little bit about the trade deficit and how that works, and how they get the dollars in the first place. You and I can chime back and forth in terms of what the different ways that they can use that dollar.

Eric: Maybe the best way to frame it is why wouldn’t you want to own it. Let’s talk about…As an investor, we want to find safe, high-quality assets that we can buy that will provide an expected return. Treasuries do that in a great way.

What are the mechanics of how foreigners accumulate so much debt like China and Japan? Let’s form the linkage here with what you might be hearing in the public discourse, which is trade deficits. We hear all about trade deficits.

If Walmart says to a Chinese manufacturer, “I’m going to place an order for $10 million of stuff, junk,”

Patti: Widgets.

Eric: Or whatever. I shouldn’t say junk. If they are going to buy $10 million, they receive the goods. The Chinese exported it. What do they receive? They receive payment in US dollars. That leaves them with a limited set of choices. What are they going to do?

Now they hold US dollars. They really only have a couple of choices. The can just leave it in an American bank…

Patti: Wait, timeout. Very important, and this is one that…Keep it simple. They hold US dollars. Remember, it’s China. They can’t use US dollars in their economy. It is not their currency.

Eric: Yeah. A great example would be this week when you do your grocery shopping, bring a stack of Japanese Yen with you and see if they take it as payment for groceries.

Patti: Perfect example, exactly.

Eric: They’re going to look at you funny and be like, what is this.

Patti: Exactly.

Eric: Yes, you make an excellent point. Those dollars can only be spent in the US financial system. They don’t go abroad and things like that. Maybe in the black market, people with suitcases of money, that might be true.

In any event, on an international scale, when you run a trade surplus with another country, you accumulate their local currency, their domestic currency.

Patti: By the way, let’s stop here. The trade deficit has run between what, two and five percent since the ‘70s. Something like that.

Eric: Yeah, I think so. It was really big back prior to the financial crisis. Now it’s come back in line with the historical two, three percent.

Patti: Yeah.

Eric: Basically, if you are a foreign exporter now holding US dollars, what are you going to do? You can leave it in cash, which is not productive. We would never leave anybody’s money just sitting in cash.

Patti: It’s dead money.

Eric: Or you can invest in US financial assets. You can buy stocks. You can buy bonds. You can buy real estate. What do most people do? The buy US government Treasury securities.

Patti: OK, let’s talk about that. They buy stocks, that’s not bad, because it makes our stock market go up.

Eric: Demand for our assets, right.

Patti: They buy bonds, I guess that’s not bad either, because as they buy the bonds, interest rates go down, so that’s a way of keeping our interest rates low.

Eric: Right.

Patti: They invest it in land, or BMW buys a factory and builds a factory down in South Carolina. Not a bad idea either, right?

Eric: Yeah. I think there is a…Prior to China, remember, there was a time when people thought Japan was going to take over the world, and there was these big stories about Japanese investors buying landmark properties in New York City. They even bought Pebble Beach, and I think they paid over $800 million.

Ultimately, they overpaid for all these assets, because Japan was going through a tremendous bubble at the time. Ultimately, foreigners have US dollars, they have to spend it in the United States. They can buy our goods and services. They can buy our assets, physical or financial, but if they don’t like any of those choices…

Patti: Let’s go buy goods for services. Let’s say they buy something from Walmart. That puts the dollars right back into our economy, and Walmart gets the money to pay the employees, yadi-yadi-yada. I’m just trying to bring home the point that the foreign ownership of our dollars isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because eventually, we benefit from it, right?

Eric: Right. They can buy our goods and services. Think about a German car manufacturer. BMW builds a plant in North Carolina. What does that do? That provides employment. I think there are something like over seven and a half million jobs that are created by foreign direct investment, where foreign investors invest here in our country and so forth.

Keep in mind, the dollars that they accumulate because of trade surpluses have to be spent here in the United States. They could always say, “I don’t like the dollars. I’m going to go to the euro,” but guess what, they have the same set of choices in the European currency. Or if they go to Japanese yen, they have the same set of choices within Japan.

If they decide, “I don’t like any of those, I’m going to bring the currency back,” what does that do? That means they’re selling dollars, which depresses the exchange rate and makes US foreign goods more competitive on the world market.

Patti: They don’t want that either.

Eric: Yeah. They haven’t done that, right? So, yeah. No.

Patti: Right. That’s interesting.

Eric: Remember the Big Mac Index that we looked at?

Patti: Yeah.

Eric: When you look at that, “The Economist” publishes this to give you an idea of how undervalued or overvalued currencies are relative to the dollar, because a Big Mac is a homogeneous thing, unless you’re getting one in India, because they don’t use meat there.

Otherwise, the Big Mac is the same, same ingredients no matter where you go, so it should cost the same once you convert your currencies, but the reality is the interesting part about the Big Mac Index is that they don’t.

This is playing on a concept called purchasing power parity, which says the same thing should cost the same amount in the foreign currency once you convert it. They don’t. You see places like the UK, China, their currencies are massively undervalued, based on this Big Mac Index. It’s an interesting little way to look at it.

Patti: Fantastic. This is really feeling good. I’m getting it. Let’s pull all this together. To summarize, when you hear about the rising debt, we’ve always got to remember that there are assets to offset that liability. $117 trillion to offset $26 trillion, that’s a pretty good ratio.

We also have to keep in mind that the interest is really what the government has to be concerned about. Can they maintain the interest payments on that debt? In fact, it’s lower than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s because of interest rates.

Eric: What I would say to that point too is keep in mind the interest is not really an expense. There’s all this talk that the interest rates will go up and interest will become this unsustainable burden and crowd out other spending in the government budget, and so forth.

Interest is not a government expense. They are simply taxing us, you, and me, and everybody else, but what do they do? They return that money right back to US citizens that hold Treasury securities, and those citizens determine what goods and services that they will spend that income on.

The government, it’s not like other expenses where they determine what they’re going to buy or invest in. The interest just comes into the Treasury and goes right back out to the holders’ pension funds, which pay pensions to millions of Americans.

The interest isn’t really necessarily the kind of expense that you would normally think. It comes in from all of us and goes right back out to those of us that have bonds, or pensions, or rely on some kind of fixed income.

Patti: That’s a really good point. That’s a really important point. We got that. Assets and liabilities, interest on the debt is the most important thing to look at. Deficits of between two and five percent of GDP have occurred since the ‘70s.

Eric: When you think about that, the question I always ask in my mind is why? Why do we always have these persistent deficits all the time? I don’t know if this is the answer. I just anecdotally thinking about it is there’s a large swathe of the electorate that wants fiscal discipline and tax cuts.

There’s also a large swathe of the electorate that derives benefits from social programs and government spending. The reality is if you’re going to have a balanced budget, those two things are mutually exclusive. You can’t cut taxes and spend more.

As much as politicians might loathe the idea of running government debt, the reality is the government debt is a convenient way to have both at the same time, where you can cut taxes, you can spend, and what do you do? You finance it by borrowing from American citizens who a large proportion of them want a safe, secure financial asset that they can use to build their household savings.

Patti: I think you had said another conversation, when you compare the US Treasury market to any other market, first of all, it’s huge. It is much bigger than the stock market. It trades very easily, and it’s transparent, and it’s backed up with one of the strongest, most resilient economies in the whole wide world, so it’s trustworthy. That’s why people want it.

Eric: We may talk about this in the next podcast, but there’s always this notion that we have the world reserve currency. I think people have it a little bit backwards. We have the world’s reserve asset. We have the premier financial asset that the globe wants, which is basically US Treasury securities, one of the largest, deepest markets in the world, as you said, backed by the highest quality revenue stream.

People across the globe don’t accumulate dollars because they want US dollars. They accumulate dollars because they want the Reserve asset. Their holding of dollars is just a byproduct of that desire. As money moves fluidly throughout the economy, people are making transactions, there is a huge portion of that money that always seeks a safe haven, somewhere at the end of every day.

The system, it’s beautiful. Every day, it balances, and there is always demand for that safe asset, which is the deepest liquid market in the world, US Treasury securities.

Patti: I think also, to drive that point home, larger deficits coincide with slower economic growth, not spending. When you look at the charts, the graphs, all that kind of stuff, the bigger, larger deficits like right now, we just talked about that headline, it’s because the economy has been shut down and growth has slowed. It’s contracted. We’re negative now. Negative GDP. It tends not to coincide with greater spending. I think that’s really interesting.

We’ve got that. We nailed that one. I think the most important, and I think the other thing is, and I keep on talking about Abraham Lincoln, just because I love him. We are a nation of the people, by the people, for the people. It is hard to go bankrupt when we owe most of the money to ourselves. That’s the purpose.

We’re getting back through the debt. I think we have to be smart about the way it’s being spent and/or invested. That’s really where you hear the bantering. We are a very wealthy nation. We are so wealthy. I think that that’s something that we should all be happy about, proud of.

It’s difficult a period of time, we’re going to get back to growing one way or the other. It’s going to come down to the virus, getting a vaccine. Here is that public-private partnership working very, very well. The government is funding these pharmaceutical companies, giving them money to do the research to get this vaccine faster than anybody dreamed possible.

Our government has made the decision to use some of our money, through debt, to give it to these pharmaceutical companies, to give them the incentive to say, “Work on this vaccine. We’ve got your back, and keep your employees working, and we got to find a solution.”

Again, it’s like the war bonds all over again when they issued war bonds to get us through war, too. This is not necessarily a discussion on public policy, although it just turned out that way. [laughs]

Eric: Did we just fall into that? Oopsie.

Patti: Yeah. We did. We did. It is not intended to be political commentary. I think it was just really important for you and I to lay it out, hopefully, in simple terms that people can understand, that there really is a lot of thought that’s being put into this stimulus program that the government has approved.

Again, we got to understand that when you think about any kind of program, the fact that Congress and the Senate, collectively, every single individual approved the Cares Act, except for one person, that’s crazy. To put that in perspective, these people understand that, that kind of…what was it? Two, four, whatever trillion dollars that they have committed over and above.

Back in the financial crisis, it was $800 billion. This is a big deal, right?

Eric: Right.

Patti: They did it like that within a week. Again, time will tell how it was spent, what it was being used for, lots of complaining, etc. I understand that. Yes, I wish everybody could get tested. These long lines are ridiculous. Was it perfect? No. Again, over time, they’re going to get it right, or at least we can hope.

Eric: I would say, if you look at the history, history provides a litany of examples of policy mistakes and times when the government didn’t step in, in a big way. Bank panics were far more frequent in the 1800s and early part of the 19th century than they are today.

A big part of why they aren’t there is because, you’re right, of the regulations and the improvements in the central banking, the way it’s done today versus the way it was done so many years ago in the infancy of our nation.

Patti: Excellent. You’ve mentioned central banking, that’s going to be the subject of our next podcast. Eric, thank you so much for joining all of us today. You are so eloquent.

You know so much about this stuff. I really appreciate all of the research and everything that you did to boil this down for this podcast for everybody listening.

Eric: You bet. Are we going to wait for the next one and not reveal it till next season so everyone has to wait?

Patti: Exactly. [crosstalk]

Eric: They got to wait six months.

Patti: This is the finale.

Eric: That’s right.

Patti: This is the season finale.

Eric: We’re going to try and stretch it out.

Patti: Exactly.

Eric: The anticipation, central banking, lookout.

Patti: Oh, my goodness.

Eric: People will be hanging on the edge of their chair. [laughs]

Patti: Actually, this is what they refer to as evergreen content. We could launch this now. For those of you who are listening, you could be listening to this now and every once in a while. When you got to want to get a primer on the federal debt, you can always listen again. Grab a glass of wine, having trouble sleeping, we’re there for you no matter what.

Thank you again. Thanks to all of you for joining us. I look forward to the next time we get to meet again. I hope you have a great day. I hope your families are healthy, safe, and staying somewhat sane during a really difficult time in our nation.

Any questions, go to our website, www.keyfinancialinc.com. Give us your feedback. Ask us your questions. We’re here for you. That’s why we do all of this. Thanks again for taking the time today. Take care.

Ep53: REBROADCAST: Life or Death Emergency Preparedness – What to Grab?

About This Episode

If authorities knocked on your door and gave you only 30 minutes to evacuate – what would you take? Today’s episode is a special rebroadcast of one of our most popular episodes. With wildfires raging on the west coast and a very busy hurricane season already well underway threatening the east coast, our attention once again goes to the horror of these disasters. “Life or Death Emergency Preparedness – What to Grab?” shares valuable lifesaving information that we all should be aware of.

In this wide-ranging discussion, Patti talks with some of her top employees at Key Financial about their plans for handling a Life or Death Situation. Eric Fuhrman, Jenifer Meehan, Michael Brennan, and former Army Ranger, Kristopher Thompson all join Patti and share their insights on the items that they would grab first. They also detail some of the things they would do to survive a crisis that could last for several days or even several weeks. The information contained in this podcast could save your life! Does anyone know what a LifeStraw is? Tune in to find out.

Ep52: Asset Allocation Strategies That Work!

About This Episode

Today’s episode is the highly anticipated follow-up to THE Biggest Retirement Mistake that people make. Patti continues her conversation with one of Key Financials’ Portfolio Managers, Sam Baez, and they discuss asset allocations that work best for their clients. They break down successful asset allocation strategies and explain why they are successful. Portfolio management during bear markets and bull markets require different approaches to make sure your portfolio can keep up with inflation and be protected for the rest of your life. Listen today to find out what strategies will keep your portfolio performing at its best!


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me today is Sam Baez. For those of you who haven’t listened to the prior podcast, boy, you got to tune into that. That was really good. It was a lot of fun. We talked about the most common mistake retirees make.

To add on to that, I’ll get into the weeds a little bit more. Sam and I are going to be talking about what do people do as it relates to their money, whether it be the asset allocation, the portfolio management strategy, etc.

Speaking of which, Sam is a portfolio manager here at Key Financial. As I said before, he is just a unique planner because he really takes a holistic approach to the money management side of things. It’s so important because it’s not just about a portfolio.

We’re talking about real people here, lives. We’re talking about weddings, trips to Italy, and retirement dreams of being able to finally step back into all the things you always wanted to do and never worry about money for the rest of your life.

Sam, thank you so much again for joining us today.

Sam Baez: Absolutely. Thank you, Patti, for having me back. This is great.

Patti: It’s so much fun, isn’t it?

Sam: It is.

Patti: Yeah, oh yeah. I don’t know about you guys. We’re having fun. We’re learning a lot too. Sam, let’s begin where we ended the last podcast and talk about the asset allocation strategies.

When we talk about asset allocation, folks, what we’re talking about is not just diversification. You can be well diversified if you have a mutual fund or an ETF. That’s diversification, but it’s all the same kind of investment. It could be stocks or bonds.

What asset allocation does is take it to another level to have different types of investments doing different things, right?

Sam: Yeah, it’s true.

Patti: I’ve used in the past, in order to create a really effective strategy, it’s like your garden. You want something blooming all the time, so you have something to look at.

Sam: Absolutely, Patti. I wish I would have thought of that when I was landscaping my new home. I became a home owner back in 2015. I live in beautiful Lancaster County. It’s about an hour from here, but I love the commute. I get to see fields, flowers, trees. The scenery is absolutely beautiful.

Patti: Sidebar, guys. That’s what I call dedication. This guy does a commute an hour each way. Truly, if you were to meet Sam, you’re going to see he’s got a Hollywood smile. He has a Hollywood smile when he walks in the door, got the Hollywood smile on the way home, usually seven o’clock at night, sometimes eight. This guy is incredibly dedicated.

I’m sorry, Sam. I interrupted you.

Sam: Oh, no. It’s…

Patti: Tell me more about that ride home.

Sam: I remember the first year that we had our home, we bought it in the fall, and then spring was coming around the corner. I’m seeing flowers start to bloom, and everybody else is landscaping in flowerbeds.

What’s the first thing that blooms in spring? Daffodils. I’m seeing daffodils. I get very excited. Beautiful yellow, some white. I said, “Let me pick up some daffodils so I can have some blooms in my garden.”

I purchased some daffodils, planted them, two to three days later, all the flowers were gone.

In hindsight, if I did a little more research, I would have known that there’s a certain time when certain flowers bloom, but I just kept chasing it.

Next, tulips came up. Bought tulips, two to three days later, gone. I did that for the entire spring and summer season. I would just keep purchasing whatever was there and blooming, because it was exciting, it was beautiful. You want to buy what looks great at the time.

What ended up happening is I never really had flowers for a very long time. What I learned was you know what, I should go back, I should research, find out when these things bloom, and plant them ahead of time. It’s not as exciting because you may not be planting something that’s doing something right now.

But if you plan appropriately, then like you said, you have something blooming all the time. You have your daffodils in the spring, and you’re ready for mums in the fall.

Patti: That is a great metaphor. I love that, Sam. I don’t know about you, but as I’m listening to you, I’m liking the evergreen approach, you know?

It’s consistent, it’s constant, etc. Unfortunately, and if we can take that one step further, maybe evergreens are like your bond portfolio.

Sam: Sure.

Patti: You don’t really have to worry about them that much, although they do get brown, and they do die, and the deer love them, but unfortunately, they don’t flower. They don’t create that beauty that maybe your daffodils and your roses do. You got to need.

Again, when you’re planning this beautiful garden, when you’re planning your portfolio and more importantly, your future, you want something blooming all the time.

Sam: Yeah. Sometimes boring is definitely beneficial. Not to call evergreens or bonds boring, but stability, there’s a lot to be said about stability. You can’t really hang Christmas lights on petunias.

Patti: There you go, absolutely. Love that. Let’s talk about this thing about sequence of returns and taking a look. Again, let’s take that one step further as we talk about how do we plan for retirees, people who are retiring in the next couple of years.

Now that we’re in this 10th year of a bull market, do you take a different approach knowing that we’re in the mature phase than you did, for example, 10 years ago?

Sam: Without a doubt. We’ll never claim to know exactly what’s going to happen in the next 3 months, 12 months, or even three years, but we do know what has happened historically. Just based on the experience that we’ve got, we can have an idea of what it may look like going forward. We want to be sure to plan accordingly.

In the idea of sequence of returns, when we’ve had a long bull market like we’ve just experienced and we’re currently in, we’ve had over a decade of stellar stock performance. That could continue for another year, another two years, another five years. We don’t know, but the bottom line is based on what we’ve experienced in the past, based on what the data suggest, that will at some point turn.

This bull market is getting a little long in the tooth, and we want to prepare for the downside.

Patti: Isn’t it true, Sam, that just because it’s been one of the longest bull markets, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to end?

Sam: Bull markets don’t die of old age.

Patti: They certainly don’t. You got to look at the metrics. You got to look at things like P/E ratios, etc. When I say you’ve got to, not necessarily you listeners have to, but that’s something that we do take into consideration.

The thing about bear markets and the thing about really bad bear markets is it always feels different. The catalyst that created the downfall is something different. It could be China. It could be what’s going on with Britain and Brexit. We don’t know what it is and we’ll never know in advance, but we just look at a common sense for each individual situation.

If you’re 10 years away from retirement and you’re needing to actually pull the money, we would take a different approach with somebody like that, right?

Sam: Sure, sure. Especially going back to the idea that we’ve had a nice, long bull market and it could continue. The bottom line is if we know that there is a short-term cash flow need, we may maybe have a little more…maybe prepare for three to four years’ worth of cash flow rather than one to two.

Typically, we look at the shorter term. We’ll have one or two years earmarked for either big expenses or just ongoing cash flow that you may need.

In this case, we want to take a little extra precaution and create maybe a few additional years of cash flow. In this kind of scenario, the opposite is also true.

Patti: Yeah, Sam. That’s a really good point. Let’s talk about what happened in the fourth quarter of 2018. We’re not talking about market timing. We’re just taking a look at what happened and responding accordingly. We know that these things can happen. What did you do during that period of time?

Sam: Sure. There’s quite a difference between market timing and just realizing opportunities. I think a 20 percent correction in the market is without a doubt an opportunity.

In that regard, where equities are now representing less of your portfolio than we originally targeted for you, why not take this opportunity to get you back in balance, pick up some stock investments at attractive valuations, and over the long term, you’re going to be happy you did?

Patti: OK, Sam. Now, I’m going to be playing devil’s advocate. I’m going to be a client on the phone with you and say, “The market is down. It’s going down. It’s going to keep going down. We should get out of the market and wait until things are better, and then we can get back in. We can buy lower.” What do you say to that?

Sam: We certainly understand that sentiment. It’s never exciting to watch the portfolio values go down on paper, but the bottom line is, to make that decision, it’s not really one decision. Its two. You have to decide when to sell and you also have to decide when to get back in.

Patti: It’s true. You think about how often does the market lose five percent. It typically does that three times a year. A 10 percent correction…By the way, folks, what I’m talking about is it goes down five percent, and then stops going down.

If we sell at five percent, then you’re not going to recover when it recovers. That happens three times on average per year over the last hundred years.

A 10 percent correction on average has happened about once a year. We sell at 10 percent and then it stops going down, because historically, that’s what it’s done. A 20 percent, good, old-fashioned bear market about every three and a half years.

It’s important to recognize that those things are going to happen. We’re not going to react to it and sell. If anything, just as Sam said, we want to be opportunistic about it. We want to rebalance the portfolio so that we can add a little turbocharge to that car we were talking about in the previous episode.

Sam: Absolutely.

Patti: That is an important, important aspect of things. When we think about investors, a lot of times, there is rules of thumb when you’re retiring. You got to have a lot less in stocks, a lot less risk. Why is growth important during retirement?

Sam: That’s a great question. You often say, when you retire, it’s not like you’re falling off a cliff. You’re just shifting into the next journey of your life.

At the end of the day, if you really consider, especially now with longevity, individuals living longer, we have to consider the fact that you could very well be in the distribution phase, the retirement phase where you’re withdrawing from your investments as you were saving for them.

Patti: That’s really important. For those of you who listened to our podcast with the MIT AgeLab, longevity is a big deal, guys. We are living longer and we are going to be living longer than we ever thought possible.

We got to make sure that this money lasts for the rest of your lives. I got really bad news for you on that one. We’re not going to be able to do that if we focus only on a preservation strategy.

I can’t think of a more certain way of someone running out of money than not keeping pace with even inflation, because you’re taking money out. You’re not getting the rate of return that even keeps pace with inflation, and you’re pulling out four percent per year.

If inflation’s three and you’re pulling out five, you’re losing money every single year in that strategy. That’s not going to be sustainable. It’s important to have growth in the retirement planning, in the portfolio.

Sam, here’s a question for you. When we look back at long-term data, and we look at the average annual return for stocks, call it the S&P 500, or the total stock market, we talk about the average rate of return of between 8 and 10 percent, depending on whether it’s big companies, small companies, etc.

When you look back at that data, which I know you have, how many years, if you look at January to December, how many years did the market actually earn that 8 to 10 percent in a given year?

Sam: Sure. We’re looking back from 1926 to the end of 2018, an average rate of return of around 10 percent. The number of times that the market has actually returned 8 to 10 percent has been zero.

Patti: Zero?

Sam: Never.

Patti: Never?

Sam: We’ve been close. In 1993 and, I believe, 1994, we were pretty close, but we have never, ever hit between 8 and 10 percent.

Patti: That is wild.

Sam: We focus on averages so often because an average to us is what we should expect over time.

Patti: Over time. Those two magic words, folks. Over time, not every time. Big difference. Over time, that part of your portfolio will hopefully average that 8 to 10 percent, but it’s not going to do it every year. In fact, it never has.

Sam: Never has. To take that a step further, if you were to consider over that same time period, the number of times that the market has either gone up over 20 percent or down less than 20 percent, 41 times.

Patti: Oh, my goodness. There you have it right there. That is the issue that we have with averages. In terms of managing expectations and helping you to understand how your money will perform, which to be honest with you, I cannot stand that word, because everybody is chasing performance and talking about, “I want to outperform the S&P 500,” while I’m not really sure you really want to do that, guys, that’s a whole another subject.

I think that it’s really important to take that into consideration, the averages. My point here is that, again, getting back to the original mistake, the number one mistake people make in retirement is, they don’t run the numbers. When I talk about running the numbers, that means continuously. It is called planning, not a plan. You are not going to get that six or seven percent average annual return every single year. It’s just not going to happen.

Not to say that you’re going to adjust your life. You’re going to go and live your life, but things, your portfolio…Sam, I know I’m talking for you, we adjust accordingly, OK?

Sam: Absolutely.

Patti: Very important. It’s interesting. We talk about the mistakes, and the things, etc. I often go back, and I’m going to date myself here, I often go back and I…We have an example internally of three different allocations, let’s say.

Let’s say that we’ve got somebody with a nice portfolio, a million dollars, and they’re going to do $40,000 a year, pull that out. Let’s compare three different approaches.

Put 100 percent in the S&P 500, put 100 percent in the bond market, or do a 60/40 – 60 percent in the stock market, 40 percent in the bond market. Let’s take the decade of the ‘90s. If you had your money 100 percent in the S&P 500, that million dollars grew to over four million dollars. If you had 100 percent in the bond market, hey, you ended up with a million five. That 60/40 mix was at about 2.8.

Let’s assume that you’re going to retire at the end of 1999, and you say, “You know, Pattie, I’ve looked at these portfolios, and jeez, over the last 10 years, look at what the stock market has done. If I had done what you and Sam had recommended,” – sorry, Sam. I know this is your baby – “if I had done 60/40, a diversified portfolio, yadda yadda yadda, I’d end up with a million three less in just 10 years. Why in the world would I ever want to do that?”

OK, guys. Fast-forward. Let’s look at the next 10 years. The next 10 years, 100 percent in the S&P 500. Guess what? Ended up with $483,000, while that 60/40 blend, granted, it was worthless, but it ended up with almost $800,000. Keep in mind you’re pulling $40,000 out per year rising with inflation.

It was a terrible decade, one of the worst decades in our economic history. That’s why we don’t chase returns. What has happened historically, and we say it all the time, past history is no guarantee of what you can expect in the future. It’s often a really bad way to invest.

In fact, sometimes, and I’m not going to say you want to do the opposite, you really want to take – how would I say it – a very studied look at not just the short term. There’s a term in our business, and I’m going to use this jargon. It’s called recency bias. Be really careful about being vulnerable to that. That is yet another mistake people often make as it relates to retirement.

Sam: Yeah. If you chase daffodils, you’re going to wish you had tulips.

Patti: Oh, boy, is that the truth. We’re planning this garden and we’re getting lots of different types of investments, lots of different things blooming at different times.

Let’s summarize the asset allocation. I guess there’s two extremes, right, Sam? What would you say would be the two extremes you’ve seen in your experience?

Patti: Sure. I would say that a lot of times, we either see one end of the spectrum or the other end. One end being, they’re retiring, want to preserve their capital, I just want to be uber, uber-conservative, and we understand that.

There’s also the other side where clients may feel like I don’t quite have enough for retirement. I need to really get aggressive. I need to grow this money, so I need to invest in all stocks or I need to invest in the latest fast stock.

Sam: Greatest thing, right?

Patti: Yeah, latest, greatest thing.

Sam: Bitcoin, here we come.

Patti: Absolutely, because I need to make up for lost time. Truly, the answer is somewhere in the middle, but at the same time, also depends on what your needs are.

A lot of times, sometimes it may make sense to be aggressive even if you’re coming closer to retirement, or if there is not a huge need for you to grow your assets, it’s OK to be conservative. We need to run the numbers and make sure that it makes sense for your own situation.

Sam: I guess with the size of the companies in particular?

Patti: I would also say that you got to know thyself, because we often assume that we understand how we’re going to respond to a certain event, whether it be an incredible, great environment.

I saw in the ‘90s, it was a really tough time to be a financial planner, because everybody wanted to have everything in the large growth and nothing anywhere else. Equally so, you don’t want to be overly conservative as it relates to this season of life.

Let’s pull this together, Sam. I think we’ve got three really good takeaways. Number one, I love what you said. Retirement does not represent an end to your investment journey. It simply represents a shift. It’s a shift. That’s all, folks.

Number two, understand what you need to earn. We often refer to your personal. That’s your drop dead rate of return that you need to know you’re going to average over a long period of time. Then you create the model which historically over time has done about that or, frankly, better.

Then number three, please, please, please expect that things are not going to be average, because guess what? You aren’t average.

Sam Baez, thank you so much. This has been terrific, a lot of fun. Thanks to all of you for joining us today for the Patti Brennan podcast. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to call our office. You can get our contact information on the website.

Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan, and thank you again so much for joining us. Have a great day.

Ep51: The COVID Economy and The COVID Market – Not the Same!

About This Episode

The economic response to the COVID pandemic has not been the same as how the global markets are responding. In today’s episode, Patti dissects the difference between the markets and the economies with her Chief Investment Officer, Brad Everett. How can it be that the S&P is just below an all-time high right now, despite the pandemic? What are the best strategies and moves to make with portfolios right now? It might not be what you think! Patti and Brad discuss the important principles that are protecting portfolios despite the pandemic, as well as identifying the one thing investors should absolutely NOT be doing right now!


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me today is our chief investment officer, Brad Everett. Brad and I are going to talk about the markets and a little bit about the economy. I thought it would be a good time to get an update in terms of what’s going on and what we’re thinking about what’s going on.

Brad, welcome to the show.

Brad Everett: Thanks, Patti.

Patti: Alrighty. Let’s talk about COVID. I got an email from a client this morning, and I thought it was a great way to explain the spread of the virus. Basically, it was a visual picture of six people sitting at a table, each one working on their own projects. One of them is using glitter. Of course, by the end of this project, everybody has glitter on their project.

I thought that was an interesting metaphor for how this virus spreads. It’s kind of like glitter, right?

Brad: Sure.

Patti: With that in mind, let’s talk about COVID. Where we are with the vaccine, the market. The market seems to just not really care anymore. What do we think about the decoupling? It certainly seems like we’re still in a recession, right?

Brad: Yeah. It’s almost like the market has completely ignored 2020 altogether. To think that the S&P is, what, six or seven percent below an all‑time high right now despite the news is pretty astounding. I think you have…decoupling is a good word between the prices and fundamentals, where you have this race.

Can fundamentals improve in order to catch up with stocks in a certain speed, or if it takes too long, you’d think stocks would come back down to adjust down toward the fundamentals.

Patti: When we talk about stocks, we’re talking in general, but certainly, not every company is participating in this recovery, in this rally, right?

Brad: Sure. I think this is probably even a longer‑term issue than just now. You could really argue that the vast majority of the gains are concentrated in very few of the smaller stocks. I saw a stat this morning that the average gain on the FANG stocks since the beginning of 2015 has been 35.7 percent a year through the end of May.

We’re a month and a half short. The S&P without those is up 3.4 percent per year, so there’s an incredible gap there between the top 4 or 5 and the 495.

Patti: That is amazing. So let’s just restate this. The FANG stocks are Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix…

Brad: Google.

Patti: …Google, right. So you’ve got those five companies. And what timeframe was that stat?

Brad: I believe January 1st, 2015 they started that calculation.

Patti: So as of January 1st, 2015 to May of this year, the rate of return for those five companies was…

Brad: 35.7% per year.

Patti: …35% per year. If you just take out those five companies, we’re still talking S&P 500, right Brad?

Brad: Yeah, exactly. Basically, the S&P 496 without those 4.

Patti: Crazy. What’s the rate of return?

Brad: 3.48.

Patti: 35% versus 3.48. We see this from time to time, but that is an incredible difference and really speaks to when we talk about the market, what are we really talking about. It’s really NASDAQ. It’s really those major companies.

Brad: I don’t know if there are very many portfolios on Earth that have kept up with the NASDAQ in the past five or six years.

Patti: Amazing. So let’s go back to COVID. The market has recovered, seems to be looking optimistic, as state by state, things begin to open up.

Here we are as we record this, it’s mid‑July. Now, all of a sudden, the number of cases are rising and states are beginning to rethink their policy and beginning to shut back down again.

So given that, we don’t know – we never know – whether or not we’re actually out of a recession. Certainly, the first quarter, second quarter, deep, deep, terrible contraction. Who knows what this quarter is going show, right?

Brad: Sure.

Patti: What do you think about where we are with the economy, and what do you think about a second wave?

Brad: Sure. Yeah, there’s a few things there. I think COVID wise, you almost have to rely on a vaccine at this point. We’re going into an election.

If you just think of the math of herd immunity, if you made the argument that 10 or 15 percent of the country’s been exposed, I think a lot of people would argue and doctors will differ here. But if you think 60 percent of the country have been exposed to it for herd immunity, you’re looking at potentially another 175 million people that would have to get it in order to have this herd immunity.

Even at a very low, think of a one percent mortality rate, I don’t know that any politician can take on that kind of risk. You almost have to keep the economy in some kind of state of not quite open yet. I don’t think that in an election year anybody can explain away those numbers. You just have to wait out the vaccine.

Patti: It is going to be really, really interesting in how the government responds to all of that. Not only from a policy, in terms of shutting down the economy again, but then what do they do to keep the grease on this machine to make sure that we don’t really go into a deep, deep contraction.

This is kind of a sidebar. We’re going to be recording another set of podcasts on the government response as well as the Federal Reserve response, what that really means, why they’re doing it, what that could lead to in terms of our tax rates, inflation, and what it could mean for our children.

Brad: Sure.

Patti: Brad, you’re so good at this in terms of breaking down the really complicated stuff into something that is digestible, and people can grasp. Boy, there’s nothing more complicated than all of that.

Going back to this. Let’s say that we get a second wave, double‑dip recession. What do you think about the probability of that? Even if we’re coming out of it. As we were talking, you marked the recession. Even if you have a little bit of improvement, the recession is theoretically over.

Brad: It’s a funny idea that we could technically be out of the recession already. Nobody’s ever going to announce the end of it.

But if you say that the second quarter was the worst, in terms of GDP, even a very small fractional gain in quarter three, means we’re technically out. Growth off the bottom is usually not that difficult, especially if GDP is down a significant amount, and you just have a 10 percent return to what you were before, then you’re ahead.

A double‑dip recession is certainly not impossible. It’s happened before. I was just a little kid at the time, but I think in the early ‘80s that was probably the last one. Usually, there’s so much pent up demand that it’s really hard to not grow a little bit off the bottom and avoid that double dip. But it’s happened before.

Not to always talk about politics, but it seems to come down to that. You really have to bungle the response if there was a second wave in order to have a re‑complete shutdown of everything and go back to even worse than where we were.

Patti: I think you’re absolutely right. Let’s take personalities out of the picture, forget, just talk about leadership.

Brad: Someone’s going to be president. We don’t know who. That person will be responsible for the second wave if it comes back in the fall.

Patti: Sure. The market’s response to that ‑ if I can make a crystal ball prediction ‑ I have this feeling, I have this belief that even if we get a second wave, and even if states have to shut down, I don’t think the market’s going to freak out like it did in March. This thing of FOMO, fear of missing out, is very real.

Brad: Sure.

Patti: So many people sold stocks in March and never got back in. Nobody expected this kind of recovery this quick…

Brad: Right.

Patti: …when the market was losing 3,000 points, 2,000, 1,000, up 500, but then right back down again. It was a really, really scary period of time. The people who sold never really got back in, because they were expecting that’s the way markets do perform. They go back up, but then they go back down. It’s a head fake, right?

Of course, we had the talking heads that said fundamentals are really bad. There’s no way that the market is going to recover that quickly, because we don’t even know what the earnings are going to be. Those people who sold said, “Gee, I was right. I’m going to wait until after it goes back down.”

Brad: A better entry point.

Patti: Yeah, the old story. It hasn’t. That train left the station.

I believe, can’t guarantee it, don’t know for sure, but knowing human behavior, I think if we do get a second wave, and if the government does have to shut down ‑ I’m not even sure they’re going to do it as drastic as they did before, but they might ‑ the people who would sell again or sell this time, basically saw how the market recovered so quickly and are like, “Well, I don’t want to miss out.”

Brad: Right. There wouldn’t be so much volume going down.

Patti: Exactly. That’s what makes it. It’s a self‑fulfilling prophecy.

Brad: Right.

Patti: While nobody knows, and we do have an election to add and compound the issues, a lot of things are going on, US, international, trade. Isn’t that interesting how all of the sudden, nobody’s talking about China, and that was what everybody talked about a year ago.

Brad: Right, sure.

Patti: These things are always going to happen. There’s always going to be reasons to be worried. There’s always going to be reasons to be toning down the portfolio, etc. I will tell you, as you know, our belief. We believe that you tone down the portfolio as you approach that period of time of needing the money.

Brad: Right, exactly.

Patti: It’s a time thing. That should serve.

Looking at another statistic. One of my favorite podcasts, for anybody listening today, is a podcast called “Animal Spirits.” It’s Ben Carlson and Michael Batnick. What I love about their podcast is they do a lot of this they kind of tease each other and jostle each other.

We do that an awful lot here at Key Financial, but we kind of keep it clean for the podcast. These guys are so smart.

I was just listening to a recent one. They came out with a number that blew me away. To give the proper person credit, it’s Jeff Wininger, who is a real data fiend. He’s really terrific when it comes to calling the data, looking at the opportunities and things of that nature.

The top 100 companies in the US stock market, as measured by size, when you combine those, they are larger than all other public companies in the entire world.

Patti: Isn’t that amazing?

Brad: Yeah, incredible.

Patti: That is amazing to me in terms of market capitalization. The big are really getting bigger. They happen to be located, for the most part, most of them are right here in the United States.

Brad: I’ve actually heard the argument that actually could continue as big data becomes so important. The people that become large then have an advantage of having the data too, and they can become larger and larger.

Patti: Absolutely. Again, it becomes another self‑fulfilling prophecy. We’re not going to make investment decisions based on that information, right?

Brad: I guess with the size of the companies in particular?

Patti: Here’s the thing. I would say that, again, knowing our philosophy, etc. We are certainly going to overweight the United States, and we also overweight large, because we’re looking at market capital, we’re measuring it, and things of that nature.

Brad: Sure.

Patti: Having said that, this is not the time to abandon the other asset classes either, right?

Brad: Right.

Patti: Small companies become mid‑size companies and become large companies. That’s how those companies got there. Some of them did it really quickly, right?

Brad: Sure, absolutely.

Patti: Even though we come out with these stats, we talk about large, it’s not to say, “Hey guys, just get rid of those small company funds that you have. Get rid of the international stuff that you had. By all means, bonds are dead money, so get out of that, too.”

The principles of asset allocation and diversification that have been tested over every economic environment and every situation, they work overtime. They don’t work every time.

Brad: Right.

Patti: But they work overtime. You want that compounding working for you.

Brad: In every time there’s been some example of something that’s been doing really well when everything else hasn’t that convinces you that you should abandon diversification and just go into that thing. But the recent 10 years, the large‑cap growth has really been the thing.

Even value has not done well. Small‑cap stocks have not done as well as large growth. You could really convince yourself that you could make a lot of money for the rest of your life if you only just bought US large‑cap growth.

We have to believe. We don’t know what the reason is, but eventually, that will end and something else will cycle and become a good performer again, too.

Patti: An interesting stat that you actually came up with for the investment committee meeting. Again, a really, really wide dispersion with the Russell 1000 Value, that particular index is down 15 percent. It lags growth by 32 percent.

Brad: That’s just this year.

Patti: That blows me away. That absolutely blows me away. That is really something.

Brad, it’s beginning to feel a lot like the end of the ‘90s, where large‑cap growth, large‑cap growth, you had Greenspan in 1996 talking about irrational exuberance.

Brad: Right.

Patti: It just year, after year, after year, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98, ‘99, and same thing. Here, we preach diversification, etc. Back then, rightfully so, clients were like, “Well, Patti, we don’t understand why you keep trimming off the large growth and buying the stuff that isn’t doing anything.” Like, “Let’s not do that.”

The problem with that is that if you don’t trim from time to time, that overweight, it grows to so much, and then when it crashes, which it did, then you lose so much more money.

Brad: Sure.

Patti: Trying to keep people in 1999 in small‑cap value, it was a Herculean effort, because that just had done nothing. Again, small companies’ value underpriced, yada, yada, yada, whereas growth is going up, 30‑35 percent per year. Then in 2000, don’t you know, what happened to growth? It crashes and small‑cap value is up 23 percent.

Brad: If you don’t trim, too, that position or that asset class becomes a larger and larger percentage of your portfolio. You can almost grow into a risk exposure that you weren’t prepared for or didn’t even understand you had.

Just when the thing is about to crash, you’re at the highest investment percentage you’ve ever had in it.

Patti: Again, use the math and let’s make this real for people. You put $100,000 into something, and it grows year‑after‑year 20, 30 percent, 15 percent, and it’s now worth a million dollars.

Well, if it’s like what happened in the tech bubble ‑ let’s even just say it loses 50 percent, not the 70 percent that many of those companies lost, and many of them went out of business ‑ now, you’ve lost $500,000.

Again, trimming is a good idea. You’re never going to be out of everything or anything. It’s just diversify, asset allocation, those principles. Again, they don’t work every time, they work over time. You want to get that math, that compounding working for you to build true wealth.

Brad: Sure.

Patti: In the meeting that we had, you made a very interesting comment about comparing the earnings yield on the market versus the BAA yield. Can you talk to that a little bit for everybody?

Brad: Yeah. Historically, it’s been a good comparison between bonds and stocks. If you take the P⁄E ratio, let’s say a normal P⁄E ratio is 20. That’s high, but whatever. We’re just making up numbers here. The earnings yield is the inverse of that. Instead of price to earnings, it’s earnings to price. You would have an earnings yield there of five. The inverse of 20⁄1 is 1⁄5, so you’ve got a five percent earnings yield.

Patti: By the way, folks, what you are listening to right now is a person who was a dual major at John Hopkins in applied mathematics and economics. This guy has just got a machine in his head. I couldn’t do that math, but he can. You know what, together, this is what you get. It’s amazing.

Brad: Yeah, just need a pocket calculator and you could figure it.

Patti: You don’t even use a pocket calculator. Don’t even say that, Brad.

Brad: [laughs]

Patti: You just do this stuff in your brain. I need the pocket calculator. But go ahead, I’m sorry. We digress.

Brad: No, that’s fine. That’s a good way to calculate the yield of a stock, which is a weird consideration. Then usually, historically over the past 25 years, the spread between that number and the yield on BAA bonds, an investment grade bond, is actually very, very narrow. It’s always very small. Almost 0.02 percent is the average gap there.

Right now, it’s over one percent, which would suggest that stock prices aren’t necessarily very low, are very high relative to bonds. In order for that number to align itself, either stocks would have to go up in price or bonds would have to go down. It’s interesting.

It’s a foggy number, because it’s based on forward earnings, which is tough to figure out, especially if you don’t even know what businesses are going to be open in three months. It’s an interesting idea there.

Patti: It also speaks to this concept of when interest rates are so low, it’s OK for the P⁄E multiple to be higher. You used the number 20. When you look at long‑term average, the long‑term average is closer to 15, but you hear a lot of people saying because interest rates are so low, then it warrants and it’s OK that the P⁄E is higher. It goes back to that whole concept of TINA, right?

Brad: Yeah. You’d expect stock prices to go up when bonds are really unappealing.

Patti: The fact of the matter is, like I said, TINA. There is no alternative.

Brad: Yeah, you have to pick something.

Patti: You got to pick something if you’re going to invest. You’re going to stick it in the bank, that’s dead money. You’re going to put it in a bond, the Treasury is paying all of 0.7 percent right now, and you’re going to lock it in for 10 years, and by the way, you got to pay taxes on it.

Brad: [laughs] Right.

Patti: Dead money for 10 full years, or you put it into the S&P 500, you get a dividend of maybe two percent. By the way, that’s taxed at a better rate, 15 percent tax instead of ordinary income, and you get paid to wait.

This whole idea of it’s OK with interest rates being so low, the P⁄E multiple is going to float up, may not be representative of literally how expensive stocks really are. Given the behavioral aspect of all of this thing called investing, given the fact that there really isn’t a very good alternative, I’ll just stick it in the S&P 500 and go into a coma.

The coma thing works really well, because 10 years from now, I kind of have to believe, I don’t about you Brad, but I kind of have to believe that when that Treasury bond matures, and you get your principal back, you got all of your 0.7 percent, again taxable at ordinary income, I got to believe that the S&P 500 is going to be worth a little bit more.

Brad: I think that’s a fair bet.

Patti: What do you think? OK.

Brad: I would take that.

Patti: TINA is alive and well.

Brad: Absolutely.

Patti: This is kind of, hmm. I haven’t said this out loud, but I’m going to say it out loud to you, and we’re going to pretend that there aren’t thousands and thousands of people listening to this. I wonder if this isn’t all kind of orchestrated.

I wonder if maybe the government and the Federal Reserve know that that’s going to happen, understand this concept called the wealth effect, which by the way, we see all the time.

The wealth effect, for those of you who are listening that I’m pretending that you’re not listening, the wealth effect works like this. When people get their monthly statements, we, as a billion‑dollar firm, get phone calls.

When those investments, that portfolio is down, they are nervous, and they are like, “We were thinking about doing A, B, and C, buying the car, doing this renovation, etc., and we’re not going to do that, because we don’t think it’s a good time.”

They’re worried. When they get their statement three months later, they’re feeling really happy. They’re feeling warm and fuzzy. This wealth effect is alive and well, and they’re like, “You know that renovation that we wanted to do? We’re going to go ahead and do that now,” and they go and spend that money.

That is a powerful concept. Again, those of you who are listening, we’re going to record the next two podcasts. I hope to take this very complicated subject and explain why spending is so important to keep this economy alive and well. It’s really important. I think that there is so much misinformation out there, and the headlines do not tell the story.

This idea of this wealth effect. The Federal Reserve, they’re smart people. The government, again setting aside personalities, there are some pretty smart people there too. They learn. They learned from the Depression. They learned from Pearl Harbor.

They’ve learned from when Kennedy was shot. They’ve learned from when we went off the gold standard with Bretton Woods. They learn, they learn, they learn.

They learn what works. They learn what was not nearly as effective. They learned what has more of a lag effect. They learned. I believe that they’re getting better at it. I believe that what they’re doing now is the result of all of that learning. It’ll be really interesting to see how this…

I can’t wait for five years from now. I don’t know about you. I just can’t wait to see in hindsight how this thing all worked out. Did what they’ve done and what they might do with the stimulus. Did it work? How quickly? How effective was it?

Then I’d also be interested, again five years from now, when this is a semi‑coma, it’s not the long‑term coma. When I wake up from that one or we all do, what the international markets based on what they did, how did they do compared with the United States.

To pull this together, we’ve been talking about this. We always talk about this as a team, our investment committee. Let’s talk about what we’ve observed and how that has influenced our decisions in terms of what we do for our clients and what we do for their money.

Let’s talk about bonds.

Brad: Yeah.

Patti: Take it away. What are we doing in bond portfolios? What do we think about bonds? Is it something that people should be investing in, given what we just talked about? It’s pretty much dead money. Why bother with bonds in general, and what have we done as it relates to our client portfolios?

Brad: We use bonds for two things. The primary reason is for cash flow. If you have a certain amount of money you need in a year from now, especially at any given time the stock market is volatile. If you need money a year from now, that money should not be in stocks.

Patti: Just to clarify, Brad, when you say for cash flow, you’re not talking about living on the interest on the bonds.

Brad: Correct. You’d have to have a pretty significant portfolio to be able to live on the interest on bonds nowadays. The principal will be far less volatile than holding a position in equities. We have it there as a go‑to place that we trust will be there when we need it, and rate of return is way down the list of things that we care about from a bond.

The other reason is stability. Just for mental health, you want to be able to sleep at night. Not every client can, and they shouldn’t have to, bear the ups and downs of the stock market if they don’t…

We always start with the financial plan first, what kind of rate of return do you really need, and then we back into how much volatility you can bear to accept, and then find some compromise there in terms of how the portfolio should be allocated.

We want you to have enough equities to reach your goals but not stress you out any more than you have to be stressed out.

Patti: It was really interesting. First of all, when you think about where bonds are today, and you think about a 50‑50 portfolio, a 50‑50 portfolio today, if half of it’s in bonds at one percent, you’re going to get a half a percent, right, from that part of the portfolio.

Brad: Right.

Patti: If the other 50 percent is in stocks, let’s pretend that you think that stocks are going to do seven percent. Half of that is three and a half. The total rate of expected return on that portfolio is four percent.

A lot of people may not be OK at a four percent rate of return, right?

Brad: Right.

Patti: It was fascinating. Jeremy Siegel on another interview, he came out, and I thought it was really interesting. He believes that 75‑25 is the new 60‑40. Isn’t that interesting?

Brad: Because bond yields are so low.

Patti: Right, that people are going to be forced to accept more volatility in the equity side of their portfolio to try and give them the opportunity to get a higher rate of return, because if takes 5 or 5.5 percent to achieve your long‑term objectives, you’re going to have to stomach the risk that comes along with that, because we’re not going to get it from that half of the portfolio that’s sitting in bonds.

It’s always comes back to financial planning. Everyone is different. What’s the need? What’s the ability? How are we going to orchestrate this from a cash flow perspective? Again, it’s time.

We do this five‑year cash flow. We know how much money each client is going to need from their portfolio for the next 5 years, for the next 10 years, and for the rest of their life, and we build the portfolio to make sure that there is no risk with that shorter‑term money. That’s our go‑to money.

We may not even use it. If the market’s going nuts, we’ll re‑balance, and that would be a great place, too. Give them their $5,000 a month.

Brad: Keep selling stocks.

Patti: Yeah, because we have to re‑balance anyway, so here you go. You need it anyway, so that we don’t get too out of balance, but in those times, as we had them in March between the tax laws harvesting and the re‑balancing, we lean on that safer money.

Brad: Yeah. The bonds allow you to let the stocks go through their cycle.

Patti: Exactly. With that in mind, we made a change in the fixed‑income side of the portfolio. Why don’t we talk about that?

Brad: Sure. Kind of coinciding with the drop in interest rates over the past several years, most actively managed bond funds ‑‑ and not to a large degree, but you have to find rate of return somewhere ‑‑ so usually the best way to find extra rate of return in bonds is to drop the credit quality, invest in something that is not as high grade.

Maybe you go from government bonds to corporate bonds, or you go from corporate bonds to barely solvent corporate bonds.

What we were finding is that a lot of the bonds that we invested in were steadily degrading in quality. We used to have significant allocations to government bonds in our core offerings. Over time, again, in the chase for yield and rate of return, the credit quality dropped, and the government bonds were taken out of a lot of the core holdings.

We made an allocation change from global bonds, which were also on the edge of being high‑yield debt at this point and sold that. We already have specific allocations to high yield. We want to know that what we allocate the high yield actually is the only risk you have in high yield. We don’t want to put 10 percent in high yield and find out you actually have 20 because some other holding had it, too.

As international bonds started to drift down in quality, we made the decision to move from global bonds in general and move into US government bonds. Lessen this hidden high yield exposure that we had and then kind of return to the government bond positions that we used to have hidden in other positions.

Patti: The rationale behind that also is it’s a different kind of a hedge. Our research has shown that when stocks are freaking out, and going down 30‑40 percent, what does really well? Government bonds. By the way, the longer the maturity, the better it does.

To have that hedge, again, to smooth out that return, it’s a really important aspect of managing a portfolio. When you’re hoping to have that, and it’s not there anymore, you want to make sure that that’s being managed.

The other thing that was important in our research is that as we were going through COVID, you found and I found in all of the research that the stimulus and the government programs ‑ whether it be the central banks or the government programs ‑ what we were doing in terms of all of that, the fire hose approach from both entities, was huge.

To give you an idea, in the United States, those people who are receiving unemployment benefits, two‑thirds of people getting those weekly checks are making more than they were when they were working. That is incredible stimulus. There might be some moral hazard.

Those people are not going to want to go back to work. Why bother? That program’s going to end at the end of July. There probably might be another stimulus program where it gets extended. They’re taking about lowering that extra $600.

That’s what we did. Then we compared it to the central banks of Europe, Japan, etc., as well as what they did while all of this stuff was happening from a government response.

It wasn’t as robust. In France, for example, they did a lot, too. France was the biggest stimulus, if you will, in Europe. They were replacing 80 percent of a person’s income. It wasn’t 110 or 120 percent. That’s OK because that’s their thing. Only time will tell.

What we have learned is that that stimulus, and what the Federal Reserve does is really, really important. I am not sure that the international markets are going to do quite as well as the United States, or at least the economies.

We’re learning, we know, the economy is not the market. They are two completely separate animals even through a lot of people think they work hand‑in‑hand.

Brad: Right.

Patti: They sort of do, but they don’t work hand‑in‑hand. It gave us pause. To brainstorm on that whole thing, we made a significant change in our retirement accounts. Why don’t you talk to that?

Brad: Because of that, I think there’s a tremendous advantage, especially at a time like this. Give or take a few percent, I think the US is 51 or 52 percent of the world’s market caps and stocks. There’s only one or two organizations that are responsible for making all these decisions on stimulus, interest rates, and things like that.

The other 50 percent of market cap is a phenomenal amount of parties involved. The idea that there’s a real cohesive organized effort there to coordinate that, the policy response can’t be as quick and as large as what we can do here.

In longer‑term accounts, when there’s no tax impact, we made the decision to go from strictly international investments, strictly ex‑US investments to a more global approach, where a manager can navigate the policy responses and say these seven countries or areas we really like, these three we don’t. Within that, then say which companies and sectors are going to have a pretty good chance of working their way through this.

Rather than just, say, give them a bigger opportunity set to pick from, and say, rather than expecting you to choose only from international stocks, if there’s a company in the US that you want to invest in, too, let’s do it. There’s opportunities to give them the ability to look across that whole perspective.

Again, back to that market cap stat, we have 50 percent of the market cap, but 75 percent of the best performing companies since 2011 are out of the United States. There are phenomenal opportunities there.

Patti: Let’s go back to that. People need to process that. That’s really important, because when they look at their investment mutual funds, they think when my investment mutual funds haven’t done that great, what’s going on?

Talk a little bit about the currency influence on rates of return.

Brad: This has always been, well, not always, but call it since 2013, has been a very deceptive part of what we think how the world stock markets are performing. International markets have not been that bad. They haven’t been that great to a US‑based investor.

In order to invest in a company overseas, you have to convert their currency back to dollars to sell your investment. You could argue that in a given year, anywhere between four and six percent of an international investment you’ve lost because of the appreciation of the dollar compared to the international currency. That’s been going on for seven or eight years now, and that’s a pretty big effect.

Patti: It sure is. In their own currency, these companies are doing fine and dandy. They’re doing great, right?

Brad: Absolutely, yeah.

Patti: When you look at it that way, then 75 percent of the companies are doing better than the US.

Brad: It works the opposite way. There’s been times that the dollar has significantly depreciated versus other currencies. There would be a significant you call it kind of a tailwind behind international investments.

Not only are you investing in companies overseas that are doing well, you’re also benefitting because you’re invested in their currencies instead of ours, which has depreciated at times. The cycles are not quick. It’s always kind of a 5 to 10‑year range. It happens all the time.

Patti: Just to close this loop, where is the dollar now? Is it up? Is it down? Where are we on that?

Brad: It’s been a very long upward trend, but it seems to have flattened out a little bit. There’s two kind of effects, and they’re working oppositely each other, so the dollar’s really flattened out.

There’s the trade deficit. We buy a lot of other country’s stuff, because theirs is cheap and ours is expensive. They don’t buy ours, because ours is expensive and theirs is cheap. We flood the world with dollars to buy these things, and you would think, theoretically, that should eventually work to devalue the dollar.

The opposite effect is that our interest rates are still higher. For foreign investors to invest in US interest rates, even as low as our government debt is paying, it’s still higher than…

Patti: What they can get.

Brad: …everybody else. That creates the opposite effect of demand for dollar. They’re kind of offsetting each other to a certain degree.

I guess you would think that as interest rates collapse, all toward this very low number, that the effect of causing dollar demand is probably diminishing. Eventually, it has to end, whether it’s this year, or three years from now, or whatever. It can’t go up forever.

Patti: Again, we do not want to abandon international all together.

Brad: Exactly, yeah.

Patti: Boy, that would be the last thing you’d want to do, especially at this point in the cycle. When you look at that, the dollar moving sideways in the global, it makes a lot of sense. Why didn’t we do that in the non‑retirement accounts, Brad?

Brad: The problem is with asset classes don’t move together. You have bonds going up and down that don’t even correlate to each other. Short‑term bonds can go up and down differently than high‑yield bonds.

Let’s think of the extreme case. You buy a balanced index fund, a 60‑40 portfolio, the entire holding can go up even though there’s components of that that have gone down. By segmenting your portfolio more, you can pick and choose which parts, even though your whole portfolio is going up, 40 percent of it may be down, but that gives you a tax loss opportunity.

You can kind of capture that for your taxes, reinvest, keep the allocation the same. But you’ve got these different component parts that you can pull out.

If you need cash, you want to be able to pick where to take it from. Not just have this bundled mutual fund that doesn’t give you the choice of whether to sell stocks, bonds, international, US, whatever. The more we can segment, it gives you more flexibility and option when you need the money.

Patti: Option is the magic word. It goes hand‑in‑hand with optimizing. What we’re trying to do is optimize, not just for rate of return, we’re optimizing for risk. We’re optimizing for time and cash flow. Most importantly, taxes. Taxes, taxes, taxes.

The more that we can save money on taxes for our clients, it doesn’t show up on their quarterly reports, but it can have a material impact over time.

Brad: Sure.

Patti: Brad, thank you so much. This was great. There’s a lot of content here. We could talk all day long. It’s a good summary of where we are, what we think about where we are and what we’re doing about it.

Brad: Thanks, Patti.

Patti: Thank you so much for taking the time to join me and join everybody else, who’s really not listening to this podcast. [laughs] But you’re listening.

Thanks to all of you. Thank you for joining me and joining Brad. Thank you for always tuning in. I can’t get over how many people are listening to these podcasts week after week.

We’re really grateful. We’re so hopeful when we do this that it’s providing some value, taking some really complicated stuff, boiling it down into terms that you can understand, help you to see why we might be making certain decisions. If you have any questions, go to our website.

By the way, that whole concept of the depression, and why I don’t believe that we’re going to go into another depression, in about a week, we’re going to be launching a white paper that will go over the 15 reasons why we don’t think we’re going to go into a depression now or ever.

It’s a paper. It’s educational. We’re going to build on that thought leadership. We’re going to talk about there’s going to be another one that’s going to launch on the government debt and how it’s basically setting records every single day, and what we should think about it. We’re going to talk about the Federal Reserve and have another white paper on that.

We’re trying to add the thought leadership that we kind of have within our four walls. Actually, it’s more walls than that, but between our walls. We talk about this stuff all the time.

I want to share it. I think it’s so important, especially during times like this for all of you to have access to the information and give it to you real. We’re not going to paint this great, rosy picture if it’s not a rosy picture. We’re also not going to say it’s the end of the world if we don’t think it’s the end of the world.

With that, I thank you again. Thanks for joining me. I hope you have a great day. Take care.

Ep50: THE ONE Strategy to Implement When Young

About This Episode

Most people do not start thinking about retirement until they are in their late 40s or early 50s. That is a costly mistake! In this episode, Patti reveals one simple action done in your 20s that will amass almost $800k by retirement. She strategizes with Maddie McTigue, a Portfolio Manager at Key Financial, about the importance of certain actions done consistently after graduation from college that make all the difference in an investment portfolio by the time one is set to retire. At a time when most millennials are starting new jobs, have student loan debt, and not thinking about a retirement plan at all, Patti offers a winning strategy that is surprisingly simple to implement.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patti Brennan Show.”

For those of you who tuned into our prior two episodes on retirement planning and the mistakes people make, I can’t get over the feedback that we’ve gotten on them. Thank you so much for your ratings and for tuning in, and especially for tuning into this show.

What we’re going to be talking about, the retirement moves to make in your 20s and 30s. Whether you have $20 or 20 million, this show is for everyone who wants to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. What we’re going to be talking about today are the moves that our young people can make.

Joining me today is Maddie McTigue. Maddie is a very dear friend of the firm. She’s been working with us for many years now, and I have known Maddie since she was four years old.

What I thought might be interesting for all of you who are listening today is I thought you might be interested in getting the perspective of a millennial, of someone who’s actually right in it. To hear some of the lessons that Maddie has learned since she’s worked here, and some of the things that she’s recognized and learned from people that she’s friends with.

Maddie, thank you so much for joining us today.

Maddie McTigue: Thanks for having me, Patti.

Patti: You graduated, you had great education at Temple, you joined the firm right away, and you and your friends have your first jobs. Is there anything in particular that you’ve noticed that young people tend to make? Now that you’ve been here for many years now, have you noticed anything initially with that first job experience, and then what seems to be happening over time?

Maddie: I think that a lot of people fall victim to the lifestyle inflation of your 20s. You start making money, you start buying things, getting your apartment, going out, and you can forget about how far retirement is away and saving. If you make the right moves now, even if it’s really small, it can have a huge impact on your life later on.

Patti: It’s really a big deal. All of a sudden you guys are in high school, college. You never really made the kind of money that you’re making when you graduate. Even with the first job, you’ve got this $30,000, $40,000, $50,000‑per year job, or maybe even more, and you’ve got this cash flow of thousands of dollars.

You’ve got to make some choices. It might be your first apartment or the car, and even just like you said, lifestyle stuff. Lifestyle can be categorized in terms of your furniture, it could be categorized as running around with your friends and going out.

Now, all of a sudden it’s not just Thirsty Thursdays. It’s Freakout Fridays and Saturate Saturdays, and you’re out there partying and having a blast with all of your friends. It’s easy, and boy, what’s 100 bucks at the bar? 100 bucks at the bar, you do that every weekend, it really adds up, right?

Maddie: Yeah. If you create a way of saving, even if it’s a small amount, then you can do those things and create a way to put the money away, not even think about it. Then, you can actually do those things and not worry about it.

Patti: Maddie McTigue, you have learned very well. What you’re saying here is that automatic savings yank the money out of your account, yank the money out of your paycheck upfront, and then go ahead and do all the things that you want to do. Work with that, so you save first, then spend the rest.

When we think about saving and doing all of that, it’s also important to recognize that things are going to happen. What would you say? Build an emergency fund, right?

Maddie: Yeah. Even out here at Key Financial, even when we’re doing plans, we like to look at cash flows, like a three to six months emergency fund for everyone. Maybe that’s an important thing as a young person to make sure you have that, because if something happens, you don’t want to rack up debt for unplanned expenses.

Patti: That’s a really important point. Folks, listen up. By the way, for those of you who might be parents, feel free to share this episode with your kids, because it’s our kids that we want to help. What an amazing difference we can make for our children and this young generation if they just know a few of these things.

By having that buffer money, it prevents those young people from racking up a lot of credit card debt, because that is a terrible snowball issue that a lot of people in America are faced with. Let’s nip that in the bud by creating a buffer so that they’re not racking up a lot of debt.

Let’s talk about other kinds of debt, like student loan debt. A lot of our young people are graduating with student loan debt. It’s really hard when you graduate and you’ve got this great job, and all of a sudden you’ve got these student loans.

Is there anything in particular that you’ve noticed in terms of yourself, friends, etc., in terms of the student loan debt, and then any advice for everybody listening today?

Maddie: Yeah. The biggest thing for me that I see is that people are extremely uneducated on their own student loan debt. They graduate, and they have all this loan.

Whether it’s just because they’re overwhelmed and they don’t even want to look at it, whatever the reason may be, they’re really uneducated on the term of the loan, the interest rate on the loan, and even what their monthly payment is.

That’s one of the first things that would be important for young people to do, once they get out of college, is to educate themselves on their loans and make sure that they know about all of their loans.

Patti: You told us a story before we started today that was pretty wild. Tell us more about that.

Maddie: I have a friend of mine who graduated, knew about our loans, was paying them. Four months had gone by, and she was pretty on top of her credit score. One day, she saw that it dropped 40 points.

She started to look into it, was like, “I pay everything on time. I have no idea why this happened,” ends up there’s a completely separate loan from college that she didn’t even know about and had not been paying on it for the past four months. Now, she is working her way back getting her credit score back up, but it affected her in seconds.

Patti: It’s taken two years to crawl out, is that right?

Maddie: Yes.

Patti: FICO score, for those of you who are listening, is really important. If you’re going to rent an apartment, or if you are looking for your next job, a lot of times your employer is going to look at your FICO score.

From an employer’s perspective, it gives them an indication of the degree of responsibility that you might have – the fact that you are able to make a commitment and keep that commitment and pay on time.

If the FICO score goes down, they’re thinking, “Gee, what happens if we have deadlines? What happens if we have this or that? I got to be able to count on this person, and if I can’t count on this person to pay their loan every month, I’m not sure I want to hire them.”

Maddie: To add to that, it’s also affected her personal life, because she’s responsible, and she has a car payment, she has rent, things like that, and it’s looked at in a very different light. Her car payment is more expensive now, because of the interest rate she received after this happened. It affects her personal life as well.

Patti: That FICO score’s really important. Again, take‑away with that is understand what student loans you have, make sure you’re aware of everything, and create a strategy to make sure that you’re able to make those payments on time.

To Maddie’s point ‑ which, Maddie, I thought it was excellent ‑ you’ve got to get educated because there are different ways to pay off your student loan debt. If you’re just starting out, you can do an income‑based repayment plan versus just taking that straight 10‑year repayment.

Be kind to yourself, understand what the options are, and whatever you do, make sure you’re making those monthly payments. Let’s talk about more fun things.

We talk about the beginning, you’re in your 20s, you might be single. You’re living life, you got this great job, and we’re talking about retirement here, Maddie. How many of your friends are thinking about retirement?

Maddie: I don’t think many right now.

Patti: It’s interesting. Most young people don’t think about themselves in their 60s and 70s and 80s. They’re just thinking about Thirsty Thursdays, Freaky Fridays, and Saturated Saturdays. Yet, the impact of thinking about that, and really getting involved in whether it be 401(k)s or IRAs, it’s pretty dramatic, isn’t it?

Maddie: Yeah, definitely.

Patti: Let’s talk about the example that we talked about with saving, beginning to save at age 22. Let’s build the story. You graduate from college, you’re 22 years old, you got your first job, you’re single, you’re living your life, and you have this wonderful opportunity of putting money into a 401(k) or an IRA. Maddie McTigue starts right away, which you did, because I know that you did.

Maddie: You started saving, and let’s assume it’s $300 a month. You do that religiously every month until you’re age 62. How much money at seven percent rate of return do you have by the time you’re 62 years old?

Patti: $787,000.

Maddie: It very seldom does, and I think planning ahead will help. Even if things do run smoothly for the duration of your retirement, knowing that you have a plan for when things don’t will bring a level of comfort that’ll help you actually enjoy your retirement rather than worrying about it.

Patti: You have $787,000. Folks, for those of you who are listening, the total amount invested was $140,000. That’s the amount invested, and it’s almost 800 grand.

Now, let’s pretend that we have another friend, and they say, “You know what? I don’t want to be saving. I don’t need to worry about retirement. For crying out loud, it’s 40 years from now, I’m not thinking about that,” and they choose not to save.

Sure enough, they turned 32 years old, and they wake up one day and they say, “OK, I guess I’d better start.” They begin to start thinking of the future, etc. The same $300, folks, we are not increasing the 300. It’s a flat 300, seven percent rate of return. How much does that person have?

Maddie: $366,000.

Patti: Same monthly investment, same rate of return, just started 10 years early. The cost between the two is $421,000. In other words, that’s the cost of waiting and not saving in that first decade of your working years. It’s a big deal.

Maddie: Yeah.

Patti: We talk about opportunity cost, we’re not talking about what to do with the money. We’re just talking about take advantage before you get married, before you have children, before you have the mortgage, before you have all of those responsibilities. Get started right away, it is a very big deal. Use compound interest to work for you, not against you.

Maddie: $300 a month can seem like a lot at 22, but once you do it, it’s like ripping a Band‑Aid off. You don’t even think about it ever again, and you keep going and you keep doing it for however many years it is, and it turns out to be a big deal.

Patti: Yeah, automate it. Automate everything and just spend the rest. The other thing, if we can go back and circle back on the student loans, it’s also important to understand the interest rates that you’re paying on student loans and the credits cards, etc. We want to balance all of that.

Just keep in mind that if you’re going to be doing the 401(k), you might have a pretax option, meaning whatever you’re investing, it comes off of your taxable income, or you can do a Roth. I’m going to give you the advice that I gave to Maddie and my own children, and that is while you’re young, and your tax bracket is relatively low, at least look at the Roth option.

That money grows tax free. Everybody listening, all of you are in your unique situations, everybody’s different. Some of you might have student loan debts, some of you may not. Some of you might have credit card balances, some of you may not.

Here’s the bottom line. Take what we’re talking about today, think it through, and begin to apply the principles that we’re talking about. The three takeaways that we have for all of you today.

Number one, watch lifestyle inflation. Be really careful. Don’t let that sink in, this keeping up with the Joneses or your friends and that kind of stuff. That can really sabotage your future.

We’re not just talking about your retirement. It could sabotage, in general, everything, because it can lead to credit card debt, a fall in your FICO score, and your ability to get that next great job that would pay you a lot more income. Be careful about how you’re spending your money.

Number two. It’s really important to get yourself a buffer, get an emergency reserve. That will also be a great way of preventing that credit card situation because you don’t have the money and you’ve got to pay for something.

Last but not least, please, please, please, start saving early. I like to tell young people at least 10 percent of your income should be going into some form of savings. At the minimum, for those of you listening who might have credit card debt and student loan debt, at the very least, you’ve got to put whatever the matching contribution is that might be from your employer.

That’s a drop‑dead mandatory got to do it. For those of you who don’t have that kind of debt, I’m going to say to all of you it’s a mandatory at least 10 percent. Believe me, when you’re 50 years old, you’re going to look back and thank…I’m probably not going to be here, but you might thank somebody that you listened to this podcast and you did exactly that.

Maddie McTigue, thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you so much for giving us your perspective, because you’re living it. You’re seeing what’s happening, and you’re applying the principles that you’ve learned here, and helping so many people in your generation. It’s a big deal. It’s really important.

Thanks so much to all of you for listening in today. This podcast is for you. It doesn’t happen without your input and your feedback, and I’m just so grateful to all of you for giving us the kind of feedback, the great feedback that you’ve been giving us.

It gives us the energy to continue doing them because we do it so that we can make a difference for all of you. Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan, and I hope you have a great week.

Ep49: The Most Common Retirement Mistake

About This Episode

Although there are many mistakes made during retirement that are sure to derail your financial plan and the growth of your portfolio – there is ONE mistake that people continuously make as they are looking at their retirement horizon. In today’s episode, Patti sits down with Sam Baez, a portfolio manager at Key Financial and they reveal what that mistake is and the strategies that top advisors are doing on behalf of their clients, so this doesn’t happen to them.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Today I have Sam Baez with us. Sam is a portfolio manager here at Key Financial, and what I think you’re going to find, and what I love about Sam is he really takes a holistic approach to managing money.

It’s not just about the pie chart for Sam. He really looks at every individual client’s situation to determine the best strategy based on what might be happening today, tomorrow, and for the rest of that person’s life.

Sam, welcome to the show.

Sam Baez: Thank you, Patti. Thank you for having me.

Patti: Here we are. We’re talking about the most common retirement mistakes, and boy, have we seen them, haven’t we?

Sam: Sure have, yeah.

Patti: To me, it’s such a privilege to be able to walk people through different strategies and really take the steps necessary to prevent our clients from making the mistakes that people make over and over again, not because they want to, but because they just don’t even realize what those mistakes are.

Sam: Sure.

Patti: Today you and I, Sam, are going to solve that problem. How about it?

Sam: All right, let’s do it.

Patti: I’m going to ask you these questions based on your experience, and I’ll chime in based on what we’ve discovered together.

If you were to pinpoint one mistake, Sam – just one mistake – what do you think is the most common mistake people make as they’re looking at this retirement horizon?

Sam: That’s a great question, Patti. Obviously there are a number of things to consider when planning for retirement, but I think the most important thing is you have to run the numbers. You have to know where your income is going to come from, and you have to know how you develop a strategy to support that.

Patti: It’s really interesting. When we say “run the numbers,” we are literally running cash flow statements for every year for the rest of that person’s life. We’re integrating the tax planning, so we’re running the tax calculations and considering that as part of the cash flow needs.

Is it fair to say that oftentimes people are surprised when you actually run the numbers? I don’t know about you. Some people come in, and they think, “Oh, Sam, I’m never going to be able to retire.”

Sam: Running the numbers is extremely important when looking at and then developing a plan for a client. It’s a lot like taking care of your car. You have to look under the hood – look at the engine, check the oil, look at the air filters – all these different moving parts for a car, where on a daily basis, when you put gas in a car, we’re ready to go.

If we’re planning for the longevity of a car, we really want to dig deeper and look at all the moving parts to make sure that we’re not going to get blindsided by something that we may have taken for granted or not planned for.

Patti: I love that analogy, Sam. I’ve never used that, and it’s a great one, because that’s exactly how many of us drive every day.

We just throw the gas in the car and go. In reality, we do have to take it in from time to time and get our inspections, make sure the brakes are working, make sure that the engine’s running, that the oil hasn’t turned black on us – although I think oil is black anyway.

But you know what I mean.

Sam: Yeah.

Patti: It’s a really good point, because if one part of this car isn’t working, it is not going to go. Or, it’ll go, but it won’t be efficient. Frankly, it won’t last for the 10 years that most of us want to keep our cars. That is not the way you want to go into a retirement, that’s for sure.

Sam: Exactly. Piggybacking on the same analogy, a lot of times even when something’s wrong, a car will continue to run. You won’t even know anything is wrong. A lot of that can happen with retirement, but the last thing you want to do is figure that out 10 years in.

Patti: Boy, you are not kidding, because then it really is too late, so why not just run the numbers? I think, to take it one step further, isn’t it true that when you run the numbers, you’re not just running a baseline based on what we think is going to happen? We’re going to stress-test it, right?

Sam: Absolutely.

Patti: Tell me more about that.

Sam: That’s actually one of my favorite things that we do, because – I don’t want to say it’s easy to paint a rosy picture, but we can certainly make certain numbers work, in a sense, as long as everything just runs smoothly.

Patti: Right. How often does life run smoothly?

Sam: I’ll let you answer that question.

Patti: Yeah.

Sam: It very seldom does, and I think planning ahead will help. Even if things do run smoothly for the duration of your retirement, knowing that you have a plan for when things don’t will bring a level of comfort that’ll help you actually enjoy your retirement rather than worrying about it.

Patti: It’s a really good idea. Isn’t it true that anxiety is fear of the unknown? If we go into this understanding the impact of a bear market right at retirement, or higher tax rates, or higher inflation, or a wedding, the cars, those things are going to…

You know when people are retired, also, Sam, guess what? People have extra time on their hands.

Sam: They sure do.

Patti: All of a sudden, all of the things that they didn’t have time to do like the home improvements and fixing this and fixing that, that really adds up. All of a sudden, people start to do those things.

If we don’t include that in the scenarios, then we’re going to be using capital that we were planning on for year 10 that’s actually being eaten up in year 2. That is often a prescription for an early demise of a person’s working capital.

Sam: Absolutely

Patti: Now that we’ve identified that running the numbers is really important, what would be the next thing that you find, Sam, is often overlooked by retirees?

Sam: Once we’ve run the numbers, we kind of have an idea for what the short-term cash flow need is. Now at that point, you have to develop a strategy for providing that income.

It seems easier than it may actually be as far as from an efficiency standpoint, so we want to make sure that, for example, we’re being tax-efficient when developing your cash flow strategy. Sometimes it makes more sense to take out of an after-tax account rather than a retirement account.

Until we run the numbers to see what your tax situation’s going to be in retirement, or even a couple of years before retirement, we don’t know what the most efficient strategy is for cash flow.

At the end of the day, taxes are just money paid to the IRS, so the less that we can pay, the more money you get to keep in your pocket, the more money for vacations, cars, weddings, and whatever that is.

Patti: To be clear about this, eventually the IRS is going to get the money, right?

Sam: Sure.

Patti: It’s just a matter of deferring it to a later time. Let’s say that you’re in a 30 percent tax bracket. To the extent that we can defer the tax payment on $10,000, for example, by not taking it as income, taking it out of the IRA, that means that you’ve got that extra $3,000 left in the account to earn the rate of return.

It sounds like a little thing. Guys, it’s a big deal. You do that year after year over time, the compounding aspect of this is huge. That’s what we’re talking about in terms of efficiency.

How about, does it always make sense to defer, Sam? What about those people who might be retiring a little bit earlier? They’re 62 years old. Let’s say they’ve got a nice big 401(k), and they’ve got some after-tax money. Does it always make sense to go to the after-tax money in that situation?

Let’s say they’re going to defer on the Social Security, too, so the only source of cash flow is going to be the after-tax accounts.

Sam: Assuming that they are before retirement age, I would say it makes sense to go to the account that’s going to not have as high of a tax bill, an after-tax brokerage account.

You could take advantage of long-term capital gains rates, which back to your example, if you’re in the 30 percent tax bracket, you can pay 15 percent for long-term capital gains. You’re saving half the tax just right there. Again, it’s sometimes tough to see that until we actually run the numbers

Patti: It’s a really interesting thing. The tax laws are the same for everyone, but everyone’s situation is different.

Sam: That’s correct.

Patti: In other words, everyone is impacted differently by the exact same law. For client A, for person A, what you’re referring to might be exactly the strategy that’s right for them.

Client B, though, let’s say that they’re only going to use the after-tax money. They’re getting capital gains rates, and their ordinary income rate is very low. All of the sudden, that presents some kind of interesting opportunities, doesn’t it?

Sam: Sure.

Patti: We’ve talked about this before in prior podcasts. For example, if a client’s in a 12 percent tax bracket, guess what? Capital gains are not at 15 percent. That’s a big fat zero percent.

Sam: That’s right.

Patti: That’s pretty cool. If somebody’s got investments or stocks that they’ve held for a long time, but there’s a big gain, those are the years where you want to maybe take those gains, because guess what? You don’t have to pay taxes on it. Or those might be the years where we do Roth conversions.

Not the whole 401(k), but let’s take out a little bit each year and convert that from a pre-tax that you’re going to have to pay that 30 percent, in this example, to a Roth where the money grows tax free. Is that the coolest thing in the world? I like tax-free. How about you guys?

Sam: Yeah, we love tax-free.

Patti: Absolutely, so tax-free is the way to go.

Let’s talk a little bit more in terms of other things that people ask. Let me play devil’s advocate.

Somebody comes in to you and asks the question, “Hey, Sam, I’m about to retire. Do I have to adjust my standard of living? Do I need to stop spending money?”

I don’t know how often people come in and say, “I’ll just cut back. I really don’t want to work anymore. It’s killing me. I won’t do the things that I want to do. I’ll just cut back.” What do you think about that?

Sam: I think, not to sound like a broken record here, but until we run the numbers, there’s just no way of knowing. It’s important for us to have all the information to build the plan so that we can let you know.

One thing I love about you, Patti, and the way that you take care of your clients is you’re a straight shooter. You’ll take care of everybody, but you’re also telling the truth, and that, in my opinion, is taking care of your clients.

It’s a matter of, “Do you need to adjust your standard of living?” You may, depending on what the numbers look like. You may be able to live even better than you anticipated.

Patti: It’s a really good point, and I think it’s so important. We’ve got to give it to you real, because that’s when the real trust, that’s when all of that gets developed.

I think that if we’re just winging it and say, “Oh, you can retire. You’ll be fine,” yada yada yada, and we’re not backing it up with lots of scenarios and numbers, and, “What if this happened?” and, “What if that happened? What if the kids get married and then divorced and they move back to the house?” or, “What if we need to go to a continuing care community?”

This is life. This is life, guys. Life is kind of interesting. It just has a way of throwing those curve balls, and when the curve balls get thrown at us, it’s so much easier to handle it when we understand the impact before it happens, when we recognize that these things can happen, and we can respond accordingly.

We’re not going to react. We’re not going to panic. We’re just going to go from plan A to plan B, because before you retired, we kind of knew that that is a possibility, because it all is.

Sam: Sure, and better to see it on paper than to experience it or live through it.

Patti: Exactly. I will tell you that I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, like I’m not Debbie Downer here. I want to be optimistic. I want to believe that everybody’s going to be financially secure for the rest of their lives. As long as we’re monitoring things and continuing to update the numbers…

We’re not going to do this once. You don’t go to the doctor when you’re 50 years old and assume that you’re going to be healthy for the rest of your life. No, you go in for checkups. That’s basically what we do. It’s all part of the planning process. Like I said before, it’s a verb. It’s not a noun. It’s an ongoing process.

We’ve talked about the standard of living in retirement, and I think that, again, to kind of summarize that – important – run the numbers and include those unusual expenses like cars, weddings, home maintenance, etc., and then the stress test, those numbers too. I think that when we talk about retirees’ main concerns, it really is about, do the numbers work, right?

Sam: Sure, sure, and just kind of making sure that we’re being open and realistic with what we’re expecting in the short term and long term.

Patti: It’s interesting, and one thing that I find often comes up – and you probably do as well – is that the one area that people don’t forget about is health care. I am surprised in a way that the number one concern for soon-to-be retirees is the cost of health care.

People are cognizant of it. They recognize it, and it is an important thing. We can plan for all the greatest things in the world. We can plug in those vacations. We can plug in those weddings and the renovation, but we don’t know what a person’s health is going to be like.

Sam: Absolutely, and that can often be one of the most expensive variables to deal with in retirement. I do appreciate how many scenarios we run in the plan, because certain different rates of return, different jobs can kind of change the trajectory of a plan but maybe still work out. Whereas a big health event can sink a long-term plan.

Patti: I don’t know about you, Sam, but I find a lot of times when we have that conversation, especially if it’s husband and wife, that the wife will say, “Well, gee, I will take care of Jon if something happens to him.” Then when the event does occur, Susan realizes just how difficult it is to take care of another human being.

They do need to bring in help, so why don’t we just run that and see what that looks like? We’re not going to change the plans. We’re not going to say you have to keep on working because we have to be careful if Jon needs care and you’re going to need to hire somebody, but we do want to be aware that that is something that we have to be cognizant of.

Sam: Absolutely.

Patti: Here is the big, big question mark. It is the market, right? The question is how much of your client’s portfolio should be allocated to bonds and stocks? How do you choose the proper asset allocation for a soon-to-be retiree?

Sam: That’s a great question. A lot of conventional wisdom would tell you that it depends on your age. At 65, maybe you have as much in bonds as whatever your age is, but it comes down to running the numbers and knowing what the cash flow need is.

Obviously, you have to be comfortable with the strategy yourself, so considering what your shorter-term objectives are – two to three years – that gives us a ball park for how much should be in less risky, more stable investments that we can turn to if the market were to go south on us.

We are expecting that. We never know when it’s going to happen. We never know how bad it’s going to be, but being prepared for it, that’s how you win the game. You have to be prepared for these downturns by preparing for it for the short term. We’re in this for the long term, so we want to make sure to work on both ends of the spectrum.

Patti: OK, folks, for everybody who is listening, in the next podcast, Sam and I are going to be coming back, and we’re going to get really in the weeds as it relates to how to develop a portfolio that ideally is sustainable through lots of different economic environments during retirement.

I think that this is really important, because that’s the worry that a lot of people have. “How am I going to make this money last? How am I going to live off of the fruit of this tree?”

Sam Baez, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve been terrific. I look forward to talking with you again as we get into the weeds about portfolio management strategies for retirement.

Thanks to all of you for listening. We, again, have been getting great feedback on these podcasts. I just looked at something, and we’ve gotten only five stars, so thanks to all of you who have given us those incredible ratings.

If you have any questions or want to hear about a particular subject, please come to the website at keyfinancialinc.com. Let us know what you want to hear about.

Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Ep48: Barron’s Australia Summit Recap – Top Tips for Success

About This Episode

Earlier this year, Patti was asked by Barron’s to present to top industry professionals from around the world at the Barron’s Australian Summit. Although this episode was recorded just before COVID – 19 shut down America and the world, the message is still relevant. In a discussion with her Chief Operating Officer, Vince Kailis, Patti is asked to reveal her key takeaways from some of the brightest minds in science and technology today. They brainstorm how these innovations can be applied to increase the financial advisory client experience today, as well as how these revolutionary ideas can change the look of retirement forever.


Patti Brennan: Hi everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Folks, what we’re going to do today is a little different than what we normally do.

I just came back from a trip in Australia, New Zealand. When I go to these conferences, whether they be in the US or on a worldwide basis, I always take lots of notes and I come back and meet with my team. As I was coming back, I thought, if this is good enough information to share with my team, I’d like to share it with you as well.

You’ve chosen to listen to these podcasts, you have subscribed, you’ve shared them with other people. Because of all that, I thought, “You know what? I’m just going to take an unvarnished approach to this podcast today. What you see is what you get.” It’s always been that way with me. I just find that that’s so important.

I’ve asked Vince Kailis, our Chief Operating Officer here at Key Financial. We’re going to have the typical conversation we always have when I come back from these conferences. You’re going to see, if you’re watching this on video, I’ve got tons of notes. I’m going to be reading my notes.

I’m going to be brainstorming with Vince in terms of, “OK, this is what I heard. This is what I think about what I heard, Vince. What do you think we should do about it, and how do we apply this information if we apply it at all?” Vince, thank you so much for joining me today.

Vince Kailis: Thanks for having me.

Patti: We’re killing two birds with one stone because we were already going to do this.

Vince: We absolutely do these meetings every time you come back, and you do them with everybody on the teams. We do them as a group in our leadership meetings. They are the most fun because we get to really imagine where we’re going to be as a company with the ideas you come back with.

Patti: Right. It is so important because, ultimately, the focus is always how do we create the client experience that nobody else is creating. We get so many great ideas. We don’t and can’t implement all of them, but the ones that we’ve been able to have made a material difference in our clients’ lives.

Vince: Absolutely.

Patti: I got to tell you about this guy Kevin Gaskell. Vince, he was unbelievable. This guy has written a book. It’s called “Inspired Leadership.” I haven’t gotten it yet. I can’t wait to get it.

He was just very low key, but the passion just came through the way he approaches any business that he goes into. He was with BMW. He was the CEO of Porsche. In fact, Vince, he became the CEO of Porsche when on a customer satisfaction, I guess there’s 32 companies, they were rated number 32 out of 32 for customer satisfaction. They were losing 20 percent per year.

When he came in, they were a mess, and you know. You’re a car guy. Porsche was really circling the drain.

Vince: Oh yeah.

Patti: What he did was he went in and he pulled his team together. He said, “Kevin’s big thing is, as was Stephen Covey’s, start with the end in mind. What do we want to be a thousand days from now?”

Vince, it was so cool because he said, “It’s not three years. It’s not five years. A thousand days from now, what does this business look like?” But more importantly, what does the customer experience look like? Literally within 18 months, they went from number 32 to number 1 in customer experience. They went from losing 20 percent per year to earning 20 percent per year.

The way he did it was so cool because it’s what you and I have been doing over the last three years also. That is they pulled the team together and they talked about it. He called it war games. War games are putting these pieces of paper up on a wall. You do this all the time.

It’s the humongous post‑it notes with a black sharpie. Everybody comes together and they say, “OK, let’s do some brainstorming. What are we doing now that’s working? What are we doing that isn’t working?”

There are things in the past that we were doing that weren’t working. One of the challenges that we’ve had as we’ve had wonderful growth is how do we make sure that I don’t get spread too thin, while at the same time giving clients that same warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing that I’ve got their back?

Vince: I remember that vividly. We went to a hotel offsite. We had rented a giant room. We had packs and packs of post‑its, sharpies. We hung them up on the wall. We broke into tables and we had these little tabletop exercises.

You said, “If you could imagine this business better, and you could imagine yourself giving everything you can to make the perfect client experience, what would it be?” The model we have now is just what the employees told us, which is what they heard from clients.

Patti: It’s so interesting because Kevin said, “If you want your employees to do a good job, give them a good job to do.” What I heard that day and what you heard that day is people who are in client services, they do the administrative stuff, the paperwork, etc., they wanted to have a deeper, richer relationship with our clients.

Each one of them have a hundred clients. They are responsible for 100 percent of anything that that client might want or need. They go out to their clients’ homes when they’re unable to get into the office. We help them with their computers. We help them with that stuff. That all came out of that meeting.

What’s cool about it is, talk about a morale‑builder. They have deep and rich relationships with these people. It’s unbelievable.

The thing that gives me more joy than anything, Vince, is when Mrs. Jones comes in with brownies for Meg, and they come in with flowers for Stacy because Stacy did something above and beyond. That is just the most wonderful thing that everybody gets to experience what I’ve always got to experience.

Vince: You let them experience something that most CEOs get to experience, which is they got to design their own job.

Patti: That’s exactly right, and you know what? They do it much better than I did. Much, much better. It’s the thing. It’s figuring out what each person’s gift is. The thing that he brought up is the statistics that each one of us is five percent genius. I said this in a previous podcast because I thought it was fascinating because it’s exactly what happens. Each one of us is five percent genius.

If we get 20 of us in a room, you’re going to 100 percent, and that the things that could come out of it, we’re going to throw a lot of ideas up on the wall. We’re not going to be able to execute. The most important thing, Vince, is as we think about this business a thousand days from now, that’s where you come into play is that execution piece.

Folks, I don’t know if you know this, but in our industry where you’ve got a registered investment adviser, you’ve got an independent firm, it is very unusual for a firm to have a Chief Operating Officer. Vince comes from a large corporation. He was number 50‑54 in terms of employees. That company is now 700 employees. I stole him.

Vince: I want to switch gears here a little bit, Patti. I want to talk about some nuts and bolts financial advice. Again, I want to focus more on the parents than for adult‑age kids, or even high school or college‑age kids. What should parents be thinking about things like, for instance, their kid’s out‑of‑state tuition and 529 plans?

Patti: I stole him from that company because I saw his brilliance. We laugh from time to time. Vince, you know this already. He geeks out on us from time to time when we get involved in the computers, etc., but the processes and the workflows.

One of the things that we have to talk about, Vince, when we get together is one of the processes that we are doing now that we shouldn’t be doing. To me, a process is only there to serve our clients. Let’s talk about what our processes are, what the workflows are, what is serving our clients and what isn’t. How can we simplify things?

Vince, if we can simplify things that frees us up and frees our energy, our time, even our resources to go into other areas that would add that kind of value.

God, what we’re doing now with long‑term care communities and researching them and putting together this wonderful kind of template of, “Here are the different communities in the area. Here’s what works here. Here’s how they work. Here’s the cost,” and saving our clients a lot of time and energy or more importantly, their families.

Vince: Absolutely. When we look at how we were talking four years ago, putting papers up on a wall and designing that path, “How are we going to get there?” We made sure that probably the most important piece was that the culture didn’t go away and holding the culture that tight, that clients come first. Period. End of story.

We get that this might seem like it’s an extra step or this, but that’s what makes it for the client. But again, you have to revisit, as you said, tear it down to the walls and say, “OK, what’s working and what’s not?”

Patti: Yeah, because you know what? Guess what, we can’t get complacent. Yes, we’ve done very well. Yes, it’s wonderful. We’ve had wonderful growth. Who gives a damn? I don’t care. The most important thing is I want to fix the roof before it rains.

I want to fix this and I want to go and become that person, and I mean that. We are people serving people. Let’s be the people that our clients want and need in their lives to give them not just financial security. There are a lot of people who are financially secure. That’s not enough.

We want them to have peace of mind for themselves and their families and the things that they care about most.

Vince: What you just said there is exactly it. That’s our culture. That’s who we are as a company. Everything is the client. It’s what they want, what they’re looking for that we’re trying to build. There’s a great long‑term care facility down the street.

We already know many people have gone there and what the prices are and what the buy‑in is and whether or not they can have a table, they can bring in wheelchairs into the dining room. Every little detail we know about those companies and we can help them with that advice of “This won’t work for you because we know how you like this. You like X, you like Y. They don’t have X and Y. They have Z.”

Patti: It’s interesting because when I took on the title of CEO, that whole idea of everyone is five percent genius, my role is really to be a genius generator. Is to really pull that out of each one of you and to really learn how we can together create something for our clients that doesn’t really exist.

Right now, off the top of my head, Vince, I don’t even know what that looks like. We got to really get everybody together and figure out what we do already is far more than what other people do but that’s not enough in my mind. It’s just not enough. I want to get to the next level.

Vince: Things we do that clients don’t know that we do for them.

Patti: That’s another good point. I don’t know. We’ll have to talk to Bernadette about this. I don’t want to brag. We got to do it in a really however way, but the awareness is important.

I’ll never forget, I’ll never ever forget the phone call I got from one of our client’s daughters. I was at a convention at one of these big meetings and my cell phone rang. I picked up the phone and it was…call her Susan. Susan was on the phone and it was late. It was probably 7:00, 7:30. She said, ‘’Patti, I’m calling because I just want you to know that my dad died a few hours ago.”

I went…like it was really sudden, out of the blue. I had seen him a couple of months before and I was devastated at the loss. She was devastated at the loss. We cried together. I basically said, “OK, here are the next steps. There’s nothing that has to be done right away. Let’s go through the next couple of weeks.”

My team will already begin that process of figuring out date of death values and all the things that your mom is going to need to settle the estate. I don’t want you guys thinking about that at all. We finished the conversation and before we were about to hang up, she said, “You know, Patti, there’s something that I think you need to know.”

I was like, “Wow, what could that be?” She said, “I want you to know that when my mom called me to tell me that my dad just died, she said ‘Please, you got to make sure that you call Patti Brennan. You really have to call Patti right away. Then, by the way, call your sister.’”

Vince: [laughs]

Patti: Is that unbelievable? It was incredible. That to me said it all. I almost want to cry to remember that experience. When people get sick, they get a diagnosis. Somebody’s got…they’ve have been diagnosed with dementia, we know exactly what to do, how to position things, etc.

Getting back to Bernadette and this kind of thing, I don’t want to be tacky about it in terms of “We do this, we do that, we do that.” There is a better way to communicate some of the things that we do. We’ll have to put that on the agenda.

Vince: I wouldn’t say that we’re looking at something that’s tacky or not tacky. It’s just making people aware. That story alone, somebody else has had somebody that’s passed that maybe didn’t think to call us first.

Patti: Yeah.

Vince: Or in the first hundred people even.

Patti: I’m not proud to say it but I’m not also ashamed, addictions run in my family. I know what to do. We have resources. We know where to go, what all is involved. It’s not necessarily what a financial adviser does, but it is what we do.

I have people call me for elevators to be installed, I mean everything. I’m not saying that we have all of the answers but a lot of times we know who does. We need to put that on the agenda.

Vince: When I walk around and I’m talking to people during the day and checking up on things, I can’t tell you how many of those stories I’ve heard. “I’m having a septic system replaced.” “I’m having this done to my house.” “I need an elevator replaced.”

There are things that go on here, everyday conversations, somebody on the planning team is analyzing it, evaluating what the best way to do it for them is potentially. Then somebody is there counseling them and emotionally consoling them on that piece of the equation. It’s not just the numbers.

Patti: Absolutely. The real question that we’re going to ask in the retreat is “What is an unmet need for our clients?” Let’s just focus on that and then we’ll see what comes out. OK?

Vince: Yeah, perfect.

Patti: I got to tell you, there were two real standouts. Kevin Gaskell, former CEO of Porsche, wrote the book, got to get the book. Phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal speaker. The other speaker was Ric Edelman. Ric Edelman is also a CFP. He’s built this incredibly successful business.

What I love about Ric is his ability to communicate complex ideas and he really makes it interesting. He’s getting very much involved with this whole longevity economy. He’s working with Stanford. As many of you know, I’m working with MIT. It was fascinating how the two of us were balancing each other out.

Some of the stats he came out with and the things that he was bringing to everybody’s attention, were really good though. He said, “We owe it to our clients to prepare them for a future they may not have anticipated.” We always talk about people are going to be living longer and he really boiled it down into some of the reasons as to why people are going to be living longer.

For example, he talked about this whole gene sequencing of the human genome. Vince, in the 1990s when that was discovered, which was a huge discovery, it took 13 years and $40 billion to get it to the point where you could sequence the genes. By 2015, it takes $1,200 and three weeks. Think about what that does to personalized medicine.

According to Ric, pretty soon we’re going to have it as an app on our phones and it’s going to be free. Your doctor’s going to be able to look at that and figure out what is actually going to work for your genes and your make‑up. Isn’t that amazing?

He was talking about the CRISPR technology. That was discovered how many years ago? Just a few years ago. You can now replace bad genes with good genes. That’s a big deal according to Ric. By the year 2030 ‑‑ we got to make it to the year 2030, Vince ‑‑ that’s the key.

Vince: [laughs]

Patti: If we do, and when we do, diabetes, every form of cancer…There’s thousands and thousands of cancer. There isn’t really lung cancer. There isn’t really brain cancer, or stomach, there’s different cellular types.

When we understand how our DNA works, they can adjust the therapies for our cellular type to get rid of whatever it is with the cancer. You think about nanotechnology. It’s all about the atom.

They’re going to be able to create a chip, implantable into our brain, into our body, that will be an internal MRI, that’ll send a signal out to your doctor to say, “You know what, this particular cell divided incorrectly, which is basically what cancer is. It’s a cellular division that goes awry,” and sends it.

The doctor will get that and say, “Hey, Vince, you got to come in. We got to take care of the cell. It’s located in the lower part of your intestine. Let’s get rid of it, so it doesn’t create a problem for you.” How is that? It’s amazing some of the things that are coming out. It’s wonderful in many respects, but again we’ve got to be careful.

We’ve got to be cognizant of the fact that even when we run our numbers out now, how many times have you and I seen…We’ll run the numbers out to their 95 or 100 years old, and our clients roll their eyes and say, “Oh, Patti, I’m not going to live that long.”

We do have to prepare them for that. You think about if people do live to age 110, 120. They retired when they’re 65 years old. From a financial planning perspective, we must be ready for that. In fact, if we aren’t ready for that, we are doing a grave disservice to our clients, at least to have that as one of the scenarios.

The most important thing is, as we build each person’s plans, we’re not just running one plan. This is not like a blueprint that you never look at again. It’s updating every night with changes in the markets which we all know. Markets are plummeting right now.

It’s scary, but we’re not scared because we knew that this could happen. We had already run that scenario. We knew how our clients might be affected, each individual client.

Some people are not going to be affected and some people are. For those people who’re going to be affected by this 17 percent drop in the market, we’ve got plan B. We’re executing plan B. It’s a done deal. The best thing about it is they know it.

Again, not just financial security, peace of mind, we’ve got their backs. That is the most important thing, but I think we’re not doing a good enough job of preparing clients for a longer period of time that we might need this money to last.

It’s going to be some coaching involved and we’ve got to get the team onboard in that retreat. I need to teach them about, “How do you coach people around this idea that your life in retirement may look different?” I thought it was fascinating.

One of the ideas that Ric came up with, which I thought was cool was this whole idea of retirement, throw it out the window. Dr. Joe Coughlin, same thing, throw it out the window.

This idea of our careers being more of a cyclical in nature. You go to school, you learn whatever you’re going to learn. You get your first job, you’ll work there for 20 years, then you take a couple of years off, take a sabbatical, go back to school, learn something new.

As we get older, we may find what we are really get jazzed up about. You take a couple of years off, and you get trained, and you get the next job, and then you do that for another 20 years.

This idea of being permanently retired is going to be out the window that has important financial‑planning implications, that has important implications for quality of life, where people are going to live. Education is already transforming.

The good news is that hopefully, the student loan crisis that we’re experiencing will begin to dissipate because colleges aren’t going to look what they look like today. There’s going to be so much more online stuff.

Just to begin to help people reframe their thinking in terms of, “What do you want to do when you’re 75 years old? Are you sure you want to be watching television seven hours a day?”

Let’s take your gifts, your natural gifts and things that you are naturally interested in and maybe work towards something that you might be interested in and where you might be able to earn a nice income as well.

Vince: Multiple retirements.

Patti: There you go, multiple retirements.

Vince: Yeah, that’s one way around it. I know for me, I could only tinker with cars and things and garden for so many years before I’d be itching to do something again. If I’m going to live to 120, I’m going to want to do something. I want to keep busy.

Patti: Oh yeah. Vince, how many people ask me, “Gee, Patti, what are your plans for retirement?” and I look at them all, “I don’t ever want to retire.”

First of all, I am blessed. As many of you know who are listening to this, I used to be a nurse. I was an oncology nurse and then an ICU nurse. 30‑some years ago, I realized and I just felt like that wasn’t necessarily what I was meant to do. I got into this new profession called financial‑planning, and here we are today.

I love what I do. I get out of bed, “I am jazzed up about this,” and probably, even more, when we go through periods of time like we’re going through right now because that’s when people need us more than ever, is to have that person who has lived through…Boy, have I lived through things like this before?

It started with the crash of ‘87. You go through a 31 percent drop over a couple of days in the market and you learn quickly how to get people through a rough time of life. A lot of that is what I did as a nurse too. You think about their health and think about their money, but it’s important and it is interesting to think about what life could look like.

Vince: You have all these online classes available now. You had told me a story previously about Jack and taking an online course, and it’s not small schools. It’s not like you can get this little tiny university on some Island somewhere giving a class. It’s Harvard, it’s MIT, it’s Penn.

Patti: Absolutely. We’re all getting smarter as a result. People are getting better at certain things, smarter. You look at YouTube and you can learn anything. Let’s talk about the Internet.

We’ve talked about certain technologies and what they’re going to do, maybe some industries that are going to go out of business. If you get driver‑less cars, all of a sudden the crash economy is history. People are not going to be getting in car accidents. You’re not going to have the body shops. Claims adjusters, car insurance is going to look very different.

Then you look at other technologies. You think about the Drone Economy. Wearables is a $230‑billion industry already. Robotics is only a $40‑billion industry. I thought that was pretty interesting. 3D‑printing, Big Data, cybersecurity.

There are industries that are coming alive as a result of technology, the Internet, etc. This thing that we talk about the Internet of Things, as Ric says, it doesn’t quite exist yet, although it is beginning to exist. According to Stanford and what he’s learned, it’s going to be a $14‑trillion global business in just 5 to 10 years. $14 trillion, that’s huge.

The Internet of Things, as I understand it, Vince, depends on this 5G technology.

Vince: Absolutely.

Patti: Here’s the deal. As you know, my dinosaur of a Samsung phone is about to die. I just ordered this new phone that’s supposed to be 5G. What I’ve heard is that it’s fine that you have the capability, but it’s probably not going to do much for you. What is this Internet of Things? This is your area. What is this 5G all about?

Vince: Let’s go back in history. Remember the big bag phone you had in your trunk?

Patti: Oh yeah.

Vince: I’m got to plug it in to get 12 volts from the battery to be able to talk, and it was like a dollar a minute, whatever it was. That was 1G.

Patti: Oh my God.

Vince: Then all of a sudden you could text. You had Blackberries and little pagers and you could start to text from your phone. That was 2G.

Then all of a sudden you could get the Internet on your phone and you could go on a browser and look something up. That was 3G, but then all of a sudden it was so slow because more and more people were getting them. 4G, it made using the Internet livable on your cellphone.

The problem is there’s more cellphones and more cellphones, and now smartwatches and it hooks up to your car and it turns your lights on when you come home.

What we’ve created is what we know in Philadelphia here as gridlock traffic. If you’ve tried to go from the suburbs into the city on any day of the week after four o’clock, up until seven either direction of what week does Schuylkill Expressway, you’re going to sit for a while. It gets really, really slow.

The problem with the Internet of Things is you’re going to be introducing thousands of new items per person, potentially to this already bottlenecked system. 5G is 10 times faster than 4G. It’ll handle a thousand times the number of devices per tower. What we need is lots of more towers. We need infrastructure.

When Ric was talking, and he says it’s five years old, yeah, he’s probably right. We’re already negotiating these deals. We saw a 5G‑tower go up in this area within the last year. They’re starting to put them up. Once that bottleneck is opened, you’re going to see all kinds of neat things coming out.

When we talk about Tesla’s full self‑driving cars and all of this stuff, they all rely on that same bandwidth. It’s jammed and it’s under six gigahertz. From 6 to 300…Patti warned you that I geek out.

Patti: [laughs]

Vince: This is the geeking out part. Up to about 300 gigahertz is free space. It’s never been apportioned out to anything. That’s where 5G is going to live. It’s like building a new layer on the Schuylkill Expressway, a second deck and saying, “Here you go.”

In fact, we’re going to put a third, a fourth and a fifth deck on it and let you go.

Patti: That’s cool. I get it now. Beautiful. What can we do? Now that we’re having this conversation, I want you to begin to think about what that could mean for the people we serve.

How can we position our clients in a more favorable way? Whether it be through their portfolios, whether it be the quality of life, do we need to go out to their houses and help them hook up this toilet that does the samples right then?

Let’s start thinking big in terms of what we can do to prepare ourselves and our clients for this next wave of innovation.

Vince: Absolutely. That’ll be a fun brainstorming.

Patti: That’d be a lot of fun. I have to think about from a business model what do we need to do in terms of people because at the end of the day, technology is one thing you have to have bodies, you have to have people. We need to talk about that as well in terms of, “OK, what do we need? Do we need…?”

Getting back to Kevin Gaskell, I thought it was fascinating, Vince. One of the things that came out of their war room as he called it, was the idea of when someone’s cars breaks down on the side of the road, they used to send out tech people, engineers to try and fix the car right then and there.

When he came on board, they flipped it. They sent out people who, yes, could change a battery and yes, could fix a flat. They sent out people with customer service skills so that the first, what they wanted to change was the experience.

The first thing they said is, “OK, where were you? You’re on the side of the road. We are on your way to work. Did you need to pick up the kids? Do you want us to send somebody to pick up your kids? What do you have over the next two days?”

They basically would arrange for a new Porsche to be in the driveway before that person got back to their home, so they would have a car to drive over the next few days until their car was fixed. That is service. That is an experience. That’s the kind of experience that you and I need to focus on and build with our team.

Vince: 5G is going to let Porsche know you have a problem before the Porsche has a problem.

Patti: That would be cool if we all had Porsches, right?

Vince: Yeah.

Patti: Yeah, well, so much for that.

Vince: [laughs]

Patti: Our good old Ford, they’ll do just fine. Back to the whole idea. Instead of owning a car, we may be ordering a car. It’s a service. Not a product, and what does that look like?

Lots of things. We’ll just get everybody together. Let’s get everybody off‑site. There’s a lot more that I learned in Australia and New Zealand a lot about the virus and the implications there. We’ve already had an earlier podcast that we talked about that.

We’re meeting with the team later on today because we can’t wait. We’re being proactive. I was so happy to hear. I came in this morning and everybody was here. First thing before markets opened and already looking at rebalancing portfolios and doing the tax loss‑harvesting.

These are the things that people don’t know to do and don’t necessarily have the scale that we have here to be able to execute quickly.

Vince, I have you to thank for that. Before we came, we didn’t have that. We now have that. I don’t know that words will ever be able to express what a difference you’ve made for me personally, this business and the clients we serve.

Vince: Thank you. That’s so sweet.

Patti: Again, it is what it is. I love you. You’re the best. I’m so grateful that you chose my firm as the place that you wanted to hang your hat. Maybe not for the rest of your life, I hope so. We just get better and better because of you. Thank you for that and thanks to all of you for joining us today.

This was completely unvarnished. I said, “Vince, I’m bringing in my notes. It is what it is.” I hope that it gave you a little bit of insight in terms of what goes on here at Key Financial. You’ve been a fly on the wall. It is what it is. Thank you so much for joining us today.

If you have any questions, the show notes will be on our website at www.keyfinancialinc.com. Always, I’m a reader. I go and read the show notes to remind myself what in the world I talked about today.

Again, thank you for joining us. Thank you for sharing these podcasts. We do these podcasts to hopefully make a difference in your life and the lives of the people that you care about. Until next time I am Patti Brennan. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Ep47: Covid and Courage: Are Students Heading Back to College in the Fall?

About This Episode

In this special edition series of the Covid-19 discussion entitled Covid and Courage, Patti addresses the reality that so many in our nation are experiencing right now. What does your retirement picture look like now if you just retired – amidst a global pandemic? Gregg Stebben, a nationally renowned radio host, author, and journalist who has interviewed Presidents, Senators and professional athletes, returns to ask Patti the questions that all new retirees might be asking right now. Listen to find out Patti’s answers and solutions – they might surprise you!


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Hey, everybody. We had such a great response to last month’s segments with journalist Gregg Stebben that we’ve decided you know what? Let’s do a series of episodes with Gregg – we’re going to call them “COVID and Courage” – that focus specifically on how the virus will continue to impact and challenge our lives and how we can face those challenges courageously.

Gregg, welcome to the show.

Gregg Stebben: Patti, It is great to be back. I’m really thrilled to be part of this, as you said, COVID and Courage because I’m constantly reminded that even if there’s a vaccine released tomorrow, the impact of this virus is going to be ongoing. I’m so thrilled that I get to talk with you about that.

Patti: You know what? I can’t thank you enough. Folks, Gregg Stebben is an incredible journalist and has interviewed presidents, members of Congress. He’s got his finger on the pulse of this COVID‑19 issue.

It’s amazing. Just to give you guys some inside baseball, we actually talked about what we’re going to talk about today yesterday. When it was all said and done, we said to each other, “Gee, I kind of wish we were recording then.”

Gregg: [laughs]

Patti: “I wish we had hit the record button.” It’s one of these things. It’s a terrific exchange. I think it’s just so important, Gregg. It’s such a frightening period of time. As you said, we might get a vaccine any day now, but really the implications of this are going to be much longer‑lasting.

What are people thinking these days? What are the people that you’re talking to thinking these days?

Gregg: It’s interesting you ask that because one of the big questions in my mind…I’m very curious to hear your take on it, given your position and the conversations you’re having with your clients.

It is graduation season. We saw the big televised graduation ceremony. High school kids continue to graduate. College seniors continue to graduate. Even high schoolers. It’s that season. It’s a very atypical season for all graduates. I’m wondering what you’re hearing and what you’re thinking about, not just for the kids, but for their families.

What’s the most effective way for them to go forward, given that many families’ futures are going to be very different than putting a kid in the car and sending them off to college?

Patti: Boy, I’ll tell you what, Gregg. I can’t think of a more important topic right now. For whatever it’s worth, I feel every parent’s pain. Our youngest, Jack, is graduating or was supposed to graduate in May. He is there still at school. It’s just a very difficult time as a parent.

I will tell you, with the people that I’ve spoken with, for a lot of parents, it’s like wow, it’s going to be a whole different ball game for these kids. They’re competing against 30 million other Americans for jobs. What do they do? What do we as parents do for those kids?

The implications are far‑reaching. I will tell you I had a conversation with a parent. They have two kids. Long story short, the parents are retired. These kids, the youngest, there’s an age gap between the two kids. The youngest is also graduating.

While this was all going on in March, he kind of panicked. He wasn’t using an advisor. He was calling me to get my thoughts. He panicked. He said, “I’ve got $5.5 million, but now I’m going to have to be supporting…” His oldest child had already lost their job. The youngest probably won’t be able to get the job that they anticipated they were going to get.

This parent was thinking, “Oh my goodness. I’ve just lost $1.5 million.” Gregg, he sold. He sold right near the bottom. Now he has permanent losses. He has been out of this market. He has not participated in this recovery. He’s asking, “What do I do now?”

Hopefully, everybody, those of you who are listening to this podcast, didn’t have to go through that and didn’t do that, but it’s human nature. It really is. You want to go for safety when you think about the implications, short‑term, intermediate, and long‑term, as it relates to your family and your own retirement.

Gregg: What’s fascinating to me about the story you just told and the time we’re in is it seems to me that generally when there’s an economic downturn, that the parents are suffering or fearful and either share that with their kids or not, but in this case, it’s happening to the kids and the parents simultaneously.

College graduates are worried about their careers. Parents are worried about their careers. Parents are worried about how they continue to support kids they thought would be on their own going forward.

I’m wondering if you can share with us some advice or stories of conversations you’ve had with others who didn’t sell and perhaps spoke with you earlier so that you could help us understand what advice you gave to them early on. Then let’s move to what advice you’re giving to parents today.

Patti: There’s two ways to approach this, Gregg. It’s really important to understand not just the financial but also the psychological. When we’re going through a crisis, for most people, you lose perspective. We all think that this is going to last forever. It’s really not.

It’s interesting. I listened to a podcast with Stephanie Bogan. She talked about how our brains work. We process 60,000 thoughts a day, but 80 percent of them are negative. You take that as a baseline, then you add a crisis on top of it. People are just plain old bummed out.

Unfortunately, what happens is it takes away creativity. It takes away this can‑do attitude and how can we turn this thing around. It’s really important, as parents, to set the example, to say, “OK, it isn’t the ideal situation. It isn’t the ideal scene. How can we think differently about this? How can we create opportunities that are going to come out of this whole crisis?”

First of all is to check in with ourselves and make sure that we’re not Doug Downer or Debbie Downer and bringing everybody else down along with us. Resilience is an important thing for all of us.

Now, more than ever, we need to be resilient. We need to think about all the wonderful possibilities that are definitely going to come out of this. They just are. They always have. They always will. That’s first and foremost.

For those parents who have already, that we’ve worked with, we’ve always gone into every year…We go into every day of every year, Gregg, assuming that the next awful bear market is happening today. To prepare people, it’s that emergency fund.

It’s interesting. I was having a conversation with my daughter. I was saying, “What are you thinking about right now, Kelly?” She’s a young adult. Tell me how you’re approaching all this. She said, “You know, Mom. I know that a lot of my friends are asking the question,” like, “What does an emergency fund look like during a period of time like this? Should we stop putting our money into our 401(k)s?”

I’m addressing this not only to young adults but parents. It is human nature to want to stop doing everything. I will tell all of you there has been no better time for you to shore up your financial affairs than now. Let’s face it. You’ve got a situation where you don’t have to pay the student loan, make those student loan payments. You’re good until September, the end of September.

You have a forbearance on your mortgage payments. Talk to your mortgage banker. Put those payments on at the end. Shore up your personal finances. Get those after‑tax, those savings accounts built up. Granted, you’re not going to make any money on them. I totally get it. It’s OK. That’s your rainy day fund.

Do you need three months? Do you need six months? I will tell you that those rules of thumb, Gregg, they came out of a lot of old, again, rules of thumb. It really has to do with benefits because most disability insurance does not kick in for either three months or six months. When people lost their jobs, it usually was because they were sick.

IBM, when you worked for that company, you never lost your job. It was a whole different mentality in the ‘60s and ‘70s. That’s when those rules of thumb came to be.

I would say that based on what we experienced during the financial crisis, and what we’re probably going to experience here, people who are underemployed, like those college kids that graduated in 2008, or the parents who are unemployed, we’ve got to be realistic in terms of how long it’s probably going to take to get back. Back to earning what you were earning.

For the kids, I will tell you, I would not hesitate. I would be more aggressive. I hate to use the A word, Gregg, but I would be more excited to get out there and look for the job of your dreams. Granted, there’s 30 million people that are unemployed right now. I got to tell you, 20 million of them think it’s going to be temporary.

They’ve been laid off on a temporary basis. They think that their company is just going to call them right back. Unfortunately, a lot of that is going to be permanent. While they’re enjoying their summer with this incredible unemployment insurance with that extra $600 a month, they’re not feeling that sense of urgency to hurry up and go back.

They’re enjoying this furlough. They’re going to have a great summer. Those kids and parents of kids, I’ll tell you what, get out there. Get on the phone. Talk to people. The persistence is going to pay off, I promise you.

Companies already are looking around saying, “OK, what jobs do we need to fill?” Any CEO out there, any good leader, I’m going to say, they’re out there and they’re looking. They’re going to say, “Wait a minute.” There’s incredible talent that is out on the streets right now they couldn’t talk to six months ago, because unemployment was so low.

Now, there’s a lot of people out there that are unemployed or on furlough. These new graduates need to get ahead of it, and really look for the opportunities. That’s a long answer, Gregg. Sorry about that.

Gregg: It’s very interesting to hear you say that, because what you’re really saying is, if you’re at home now, even if you haven’t done it to date, because this has been going on for a lot of weeks now, but for many people, it’s going to continue.

Not only is this a great opportunity to be networking and understanding the industry you want to go into, who the movers and shakers are, and getting to know them perhaps through LinkedIn, Twitter, or whatever your social media of choice is.

As I’m listening you, it’s also occurring to me that for your adult children who are at home, for you, as parents, this is a great time for you to pick their brains and understand how the world of work looks as digital natives, and for them to pick your brains as seasoned career professionals about how they can improve their skills and their understanding of the world of work.

If you’re at home together anyway, why not set up your own little personal family MBA program, which this is that opportunity, as opposed to, as you said, just waiting and hoping they’re going to call you back because, also as you said, the unemployment picture has done a complete 180.

Whereas, six months ago, we would have been talking about the war for talent. Now, all those jobs can go to companies who are willing to look for the best talent instead of perhaps the talent they have that they were a little dissatisfied with, but didn’t feel like they had a choice.

Patti: Absolutely, Gregg. I got to tell you something. That is brilliant. I’ve always believed the best investment you’re ever going to make is in yourself, is in your own learning. As dire as the unemployment picture is right now, the difference between people who have a high school education and a college education is incredible.

Right now, the unemployment rate for people with a high school education is 18.2 percent; the rate for someone with a college education is 8 percent. Still ridiculously high. Let’s take advantage of this time to take some classes. Learn QuickBooks. I can’t help but think that there’s going to be new jobs out there that didn’t exist six months ago.

Think about it. I’m thinking about my own company. I’m thinking, “Gee.” We’re too small really to have a human resources division, if you will. Think about it. You’ve got chief information officers, chief financial officers. You’re going to see a lot of chief medical officers checking into, “How are our employees feeling? How are they doing?”

They’re going to be taking their temperatures every morning. They’re going to be checking in to make sure that they are healthy, safe, and practicing all of the social distancing that we’re supposed to be practicing. That’s just one example of ways that everybody can be creative. Create a job that doesn’t exist right now.

Even with my own son, Jack, I said to Jack, because he’s out in California. He has not been able to get home yet. With my own son, Jack, I said, “You know what, Jack? Here’s the deal. There’s a lot of need out there that people aren’t really aware of. For example, tracers.” What’s a tracer? He’s like, “Mom, what’s a tracer? I never heard of that.” None of us heard about that six months ago, right?

Gregg: That’s right.

Patti: I said, “Jack, here’s the deal. If someone tests positive for this virus, what’s really important to control it is to figure out where they’ve been in the last two weeks because they were contagious. Even though they may not have had symptoms, they were contagious.

To really control this virus, we need people to be in touch with those individuals and trace their steps for the last two weeks. That’s a big job. Why don’t you call your county or your local government and see if there are opportunities for you to be a tracer?”

If nothing else for you to even volunteer to do something like that, think about your resume six months from now, a year from now, and say, “You know what? I went to my county and asked how could I help?” Go to the hospital. They’re not allowing visitors to come in. Can’t you stand outside and be that temperature taker for the hospital? Be a volunteer.

Again, you’ll meet a lot of people. You’ll make a lot of contacts. You got to think differently. What is happening in our world, in our country right now that wasn’t going on six months ago that there’s a need?

Gregg: I want to switch gears here a little bit, Patti. I want to talk about some nuts and bolts financial advice. Again, I want to focus more on the parents than for adult‑age kids, or even high school or college‑age kids. What should parents be thinking about things like, for instance, their kid’s out‑of‑state tuition and 529 plans?

Patti: It’s a great question. You think about it. We have another client whose kids go to out‑of‑state schools. With COVID, the kids are now home. They’re finishing their classes at home.

The parents are saying, “I’m paying this $50,000 out‑of‑state tuition and I’m wondering, gee, what are we really paying for? That’s a lot of money. By the way, what’s going to happen in the fall? Are the kids going to be coming back to campus?”

It also makes you wonder, or at least it makes me wonder as a financial planner, education is probably going to look different in the future. Should I be recommending that clients fully fund these 529 plans if they’re going to be sitting in their bedroom taking classes?

I’m not sure that’s a great idea, especially given the fact that they get taxed at ordinary income instead of capital gains rates and you get a 10 percent penalty if it’s not used for education.

It really does beg that question of what does college look like in the future? I’m not saying it’s going away. I’m not saying campuses are going away or any of that. I do think that we all need to think differently as it relates to how we do financial planning and where are your resources, which are so precious.

Everybody’s got a limited number of resources. What is the highest and best use of the money that you’ve earned and the money that you’ve been able to save? That’s number one. I would probably de‑emphasize the 529s. That would be one aspect.

During this period of time, it’s really important to understand what the foundation of your finances look like. For example, do you have a home equity line of credit? I got to tell you, Gregg, that is the best emergency fund out there. You may never use it, but everybody should have a home equity line of credit.

I’m also going to tell you, please, of all times, don’t let your FICO score drop. I just heard a report that the credit card balances are actually growing. It doesn’t surprise me. I hope nobody listening today was one of them, but it wouldn’t surprise me for those people who didn’t have that money in the bank, didn’t have the emergency fund, and they’ve just been furloughed.

If they looked at their credit card and said, “You know what? I’ve got a balance of,” pick a number, “$3,000 but I can go up to 5,000.” They pull the extra $2,000 out just to stick it in the bank with the idea that, “Hey, it’s a non‑recourse loan. If I can’t pay the credit card balance off, so be it, but I’ve got this $2,000 in the bank.”

I will tell you, that will come back to haunt you. Don’t do those things. Keep your FICO score high. As a business owner and businesses have learned that relationship with your banker is so important. Wow, what a difference that made during this period of time.

You really want to be able to be in a position where if you even needed a personal loan, you can go to the bank and get a personal loan. It’s not going to be a three or four percent interest rate, but at least you’ll get the capital to bridge the gap until you’re able to get back to work. That is really important.

A lot of people also worry about medical insurance and what to do with that. If you’ve been laid off, of course, there’s COBRA. This is going to be a very interesting tax planning year. Keep in mind, COBRA lasts for 18 months.

If your income is going to be low, I would definitely take the COBRA, but also take a look at the exchanges, the Obamacare, the ACA, because you can get great insurance for a family and with the subsidies. If your income has gone down, you can get great subsidies and you might get better insurance at a lower cost by going on the ACA, on the exchanges.

There are always options. Sorry, Gregg, I’m really going off here. Stop me at any time. I tend to get on a roll. During March, and we might get another opportunity, but when we go through periods of volatility like we are going through, take advantage of that time to do some tax loss harvesting.

Now, what’s tax loss harvesting? In English, it’s this thing that none of us wants to do and you’re not doing, which is sell your investments at a loss. Right away, you’ll take the loss and, in that same day, you’re going to move it into an investment that’s pretty much the exact same investment. You’re really just creating a tax benefit.

That’s all you’re doing. You’re not changing the integrity of your portfolio, but now you have a tax benefit. Tax loss harvesting is powerful, because even if you can’t use that loss this year, you carry forward until it’s all used up. It’s like a great little bank account. Given where we are and the amount of stimulus, we just have to be real. Taxes are going to go up.

With that in mind, I would also take a look at does a Roth conversion make sense? Now, I don’t know what taxes are going to look like a year from now. I have to believe that three years from now, they’re going to be higher than they are today. Honestly, a lot higher.

The government can’t do $3.2 trillion of relief or stimulus. I will tell you, compared to $800 billion during the financial crisis, just to give you some perspective, it is a lot of money that they have put in to this system, and they don’t really have it. They do but they don’t. We’ll talk about it if you ever want to talk about it, Gregg, another episode on the government debt and the deficits.

Let’s face it. We went into this thing, and people were already talking about the deficits. What’s it going to look like now? There’s going to be a higher tax for all of us. What do you do now in anticipation of that? Let’s be proactive. Let’s not sit back and just let this stuff happen.

Don’t ever be a victim of circumstances. I can’t tell you enough, there’s so much opportunity right now. Take advantage of the opportunities that are right before us. Don’t be a victim of this circumstance. It happened. What are you going to do about it?

Gregg: My real takeaway from this, Patti, is first of all, the fact that you could continue to roll off the tip of your tongue so many things about what I could and probably should be doing about my finances and for you, you don’t even have to think about it. It’s just what you focus on every day.

I’m thinking to myself, when I’m sick, I go to a doctor. When my car has broken down, I take it to the mechanic. I’m realizing for most of us, there’s no way we’re going to know all of the right things to do and which things to avoid without the help of a professional, like a doctor.

I just want you to take a minute and talk about, if I’m listening and I’m realizing as I’m listening to you, I really need professional help to get through this in the best possible way. What happens if I reach out to Key Financial?

Patti: I can speak for myself. Advisors handle these things different ways. I’ll tell you, I had a conversation this morning with somebody who had called in. We’re getting a lot of calls, you can imagine. When things are uncomfortable, we get a lot of calls.

Here’s the thing. This is why we’re here. We’re here to help people. They were just really worried. They were scared. I sent them some information. I sent them a questionnaire. I said, “Fill this out because we don’t want to waste time on the phone asking questions like what’s your address, phone number, all that stuff.”

They filled it out. It was awesome, Gregg. If I can say from their perspective and my perspective, I was able to hit the ground running and give them very clear ideas, some dos and don’ts that they could apply right away. For them, it was like low‑hanging fruit. I said, “These are the things, if I never talk to you again, do A, B, and C.”

They happen to also have just been laid off. There are some major mistakes people often make when they’ve been laid off. I just wanted to make sure that this person who I talked to this morning did not make those mistakes. I just laid them out over the phone. They were just so grateful. They’re like, “I cannot even believe that you helped me this much in one hour.”

It was great. It doesn’t always happen. To answer your question, I always offer that free consultation. It’s usually face to face. I will tell you, I prefer face to face because then, people can bring their tax return. They can bring their 401(k) statements. They can bring all of their stuff, their wills, and their trust.

Right then and there, we hit the ground running. I can look at it and get a quick overview of where they are, what they’re worried about, how they’re feeling about things, their risk tolerance, their risk capacity, cash flow. Then we’d get into solving problems, because that’s what it’s all about. Let’s solve problems. It doesn’t matter.

I mean it, Gregg. When I start out with this show and talk about whether you have $20 or $20 million, that person who is listening today that has $20 million, let me tell you something, honey. They have problems. You don’t think that they do. They have things that they worry about. Everything is relative.

I can’t begin to tell you, I have people in all walks of life. There’s just things to think about. Think about that person with $20 million during this downturn. Guess what? Now, they have $12. That’s a big hit. That person spent an entire lifetime accumulating that. I don’t care how sophisticated it’s there, it’s scary.

It’s so interesting to talk with money managers during this period of time. It is so interesting, you can hear it in their voices, the fear. I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, this is really an important period of time for us to keep a clear head and understand that this is happening, etc., but not freak out to the point that you get paralyzed.”

That’s where there become some issues. You got to be nimble. You got to be proactive and understand that these things are temporary. The damage can be very long‑lasting, or at least the opportunity costs can be very long‑lasting.

Because the people, for example, Gregg, that did not rebalance their portfolios in March, wow, did they miss an opportunity? Because they could have gotten the exact same investment at 40 percent cheaper. Hey, same car…

Gregg: Could they be better off today than they were when they…

Patti: Yeah, because market’s doing fine. Now, those people have already recovered. How about that? If they had rebalanced their portfolio and then went into a nice, convenient coma, let me tell you, they’re very happy right now. It’s what you do when these things are happening that make all the difference in the world. Again, a long answer to a great question. I will also say there are lots of good advisors out there. I’m hoping that we’re not the only ones that do that. Again, I’ve gotten to the point in my career, this is really a mission more than anything else.

Gregg: One of my takeaways, and I want to thank you, Patti, is you’ve really reinforced for me that the worst thing I can do today, regardless of what I did in the past few months, the worst thing I can do today is to do nothing and to have no plan.

I feel better having talked to you because I see, as you said, there are so many opportunities out there, both financially in terms of career, and really so many opportunities to look at what’s happening with an optimistic point of view, and to use that optimistic point of view to see that we’re going to come out of this fine if we continue to have that optimistic point of view.

I want to thank you for letting me join you on the podcast today. I’ve gotten a lot out of it. I’m sure those who are listening have gotten a lot out of it as well.

Patti: Gregg, I can’t thank you enough. You just pull it out of me. Like I say, you ask the question and then you let me just go off. I’m so grateful to you for spending time with me, and all of the folks who are listening today. For those of you who are listening, I want you to know that we are here.

We’re here to help you and answer any questions you might have. If this has stimulated anything in your minds, if you’ve got a question, if you’re wondering, “Gee, how come this isn’t happening in my life?” or “What do I need to do in A, B, and C?” whether it be taxes, your portfolio, your medical insurance or anything, feel free, give us a call.

Go to our website at keyfinancialinc.com. Until next time, and there is a next time, we’re going to do more of these with Gregg Stebben. He is America’s journalist, as far as I’m concerned. Gregg is just so relatable and just really has that same heart that I hope that you’re seeing here. It’s all about the heart, and boy, does he have one.

Gregg, thank you so much for joining us and thanks to all of you as well. I hope you have a great day.

Ep46: Covid and Courage: What if I Just Retired?

About This Episode

In this special edition series of the Covid-19 discussion entitled Covid and Courage, Patti addresses the reality that so many in our nation are experiencing right now. What does your retirement picture look like now if you just retired – amidst a global pandemic? Gregg Stebben, a nationally renowned radio host, author, and journalist who has interviewed Presidents, Senators and professional athletes, returns to ask Patti the questions that all new retirees might be asking right now. Listen to find out Patti’s answers and solutions – they might surprise you!


Gregg Stebben: As an Interviewer, I have learned many times that sometimes the best stuff is the stuff that get’s said before or after the Interview actually begins. And in this particular segment, Patti and I actually thought the mic was off at one point when we continued to have frankly a really remarkable powerful conversation about this intersection between retirement and Covid-19. Unbeknownst to us, her producer kept the camera and the recorder running and so we’re able to share that conversation with you. We’re quite delighted even though we didn’t know it was going to be part of the interview. You’ll hear this at about 34 minutes and I hope you enjoy that part and the entire interview.

Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Hey, for those of you who’ve been tuning in, you probably know that I’ve had an incredible guest with me over the last couple of months. His name is Gregg Stebben.

He is what I refer to as America’s Journalist. He’s just amazing. He’s got such a great way of pulling out information that is really relevant for all of you who are listening. We’ve decided to take this wonderful relationship that we have and produce a series of episodes that are really focused on COVID and courage.

In other words, depending on what season of life you’re in, what are some of the things that you might be thinking about? By the way, it was all Gregg’s idea. Gregg Stebben, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Gregg: What a great introduction. It’s really perfect because I want to ask you something Patti, that is very selfish because it’s all about me. I don’t think it’s just all about me.

Something happened to me and my family at the end of 2019, that I think has been happening to a lot of people, before many of us even heard of the coronavirus or COVID‑19. The thing that happened to me and has happened to a lot of my friends is my wife retired. I have a lot of friends who are retired, all at the end of the year.

I could share with you but I think I’m going to keep it private, what impact the coronavirus and COVID has had on my wife’s retirement in my house, and the conversations I’ve had with my friends who’ve retired, about how this has changed or hasn’t changed their thinking about retirement.

Rather than do that, I’d rather hear from you about what people should be thinking about, who retired before they heard about coronavirus, and ways they might be thinking about this in the most productive possible, in the most positive possible way.

Patti: Greg, first of all, thank you so much for sharing that with us. Speaking of courage, it takes a lot of courage to say, “Hey we’re in this too. We made some decisions, and frankly, might be second‑guessing some of those decisions. What should we be thinking about today?”

What’s wonderful is that there are so many people who are listening, who are in that same exact situation.

I will tell you that for those people who have just retired, I got to tell you, welcome to your worst‑case scenario. We, financial advisors and planners, we backtest and run simulations. Part of the planning that we do is to say, “OK. You’d like to retire in six months, a year, two years from now.

“Everything is looking great right now, but what if the month that you retire, we get hit with this wicked bear market, like a 40 percent decline? Would you still be OK?” Now, really, it comes down to the math, but it also comes down to what you do when it happens. Yes, we’re in the worst‑case scenario for your wife and for many people who are listening.

I just know you already, Gregg. I know that you guys have prepared and thought about this period of time, and didn’t assume that the last 10 years or that didn’t assume I should say, that the next 10 years is going to be like the last 10 years. Let’s face it. It’s not. It’s a scary period of time.

The economic recovery is going to be probably very slow, because of the massive amount of unemployment. You have to go back to the depression when we’ve seen unemployment at this level. Now, nobody really knows, including Patti Brennan, whether this is going to be a three‑month deal, a one year deal, or a 10‑year situation like we had in the depression.

When I compare and I think about that period of time, to this period of time, or even the financial crisis, unemployment got up to over 25 percent. We’ve got to be realistic. It’s going to be up over 25 percent now. When you hear that…and I mean this sincerely to you and everybody that’s listening. We’re going to hear it.

Everybody’s going to be on the TV saying it hasn’t been this high since the depression, and therefore, we’re going to go into another depression. I don’t believe that that is the case. The reason that there was such a dramatic downturn during the ‘30s is that GDP didn’t just go down for a quarter, which it will go down.

It will be awful this second quarter, Gregg. It will be awful. Just be prepared. It might even be prepared for the third quarter. During the Depression, that downturn was 25 percent. It lasted from August of 29, all the way through to I think it was June of 1933.

That is a long time to have negative growth. The question is, is how quickly are we going to come through this? We have to make sure that everybody understands the difference between the economy and the stock market. They are definitely not the same. Keep your investment decisions separate from what you do, from an economic perspective.

Gregg: I’m so glad you brought that up, the question of whether we will actually see a depression or not. You and I talked about this in an earlier podcast. I found great comfort in what you said then. I again find great comfort in what you said. One of the things that I suspect has changed from 29 to today…well, two things.

One is I don’t think we have the safety net that we have today, the social safety net. I also think that there’s a sophistication and understanding of how economies work, that we didn’t have today.

Frankly, in your role as a financial advisor, you’re part of how the wealth of knowledge and experience, and knowledge about the economy, gets out to us as consumers, that I just don’t think existed back then. I think back then if you were a Vanderbilt, you had a financial advisor. If you were J.P. Morgan, you had a financial advisor.

I don’t think most people had a financial advisor and didn’t get the benefit of that. What kinds of questions are your clients asking you, that you are able to answer for them that you can also answer for us, that enables us to see that, as you said, the future will be tough? It’s going to be short term, and we’re going to come out of this, and in most cases, we’re going to do just fine.

Patti: It’s a great question. You’re absolutely right. The questions that we’re getting are different questions. They are the questions such as how long do you think this is going to last? Do you think that we’re going to go into another depression? What should we be doing if that is the case? Should we be moving our money into really safe investments?

Gregg, if we were having this conversation in the year 2000 even, let’s even take the more recent, recent past of the 2000s. If you had a million dollars, I could say, “You know what? Let’s put all of that into a 10‑year treasury bond.” Guess what? You’d get 6.6 percent. $66,000 of guaranteed income and chances are you’d probably be really happy.

Fast forward to today, you do that same thing, you’re going to get maybe $6,500 a year. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who can live on six grand a year.

Gregg: A month might be tough, frankly.

Patti: Exactly. It’s a very different environment, so the things that we do need to be different. There’s a theory out there, and I think it’s a good one. It’s called TINA. Have you ever heard of it?

Gregg: I have not.

Patti: TINA stands for, there is no alternative. In other words, we could move all this money into the money market account, but guess what? You’re not going to earn anything. We could move it into bonds, but as I just said, you have to lock in for 10 full years and get 0.65 percent.

Does that sound like a good decision, when, frankly, you could put it into the S&P 500 and get a dividend of 2.2 percent? Now, granted, it’s not six percent, but you get paid to wait. You get the opportunity to just say, “OK. I’m not going to panic. At least I get this dividend.”

What’s really interesting about that is that dividends are a lot more resilient than people realize. Yes, Disney, they cut their dividend. They’re no longer paying their dividend. Not permanently. They just made that decision to get through this period of time. On average, during really bad bear markets, the dividend rate goes down.

It goes down by about 10 percent. Now you’re only getting two percent. You have to have most companies stopping paying any dividends whatsoever, to get down to 0.6 percent.

Again, we have to do differently. We have to think differently during this period of time because guess what? It is different. Now, it’s not to say that all of the rules of thumbs, and the principles that we use that have been time tested, it’s not to say that we’re going to abandon those principles.

That’s so important that everybody listens to that statement. There’s a reason why they are used because over time they work. The importance of diversification. Yes, I totally get it. Having money in international securities has not worked out in the last 10 years. Let me ask you a question.

You think about the trillions of dollars that have been pumped into our economy. What do you think that might lead to? Gee, do you think that the value of those dollars might go down? Probably. What happens to international securities when the dollar gets weaker, international securities outperform.

Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen. Given the massive amount of stimulus, and the printing press that is spewing out massive amounts of dollar bills down in somebody’s basement, that somehow it’s going to have some ramifications. I just want to make sure that everybody is positioned not for what happened in the last 10 years, but what might happen in the next 10 years.

Most of all, let’s not abandon the principles of diversification, because over time they work.

Gregg: One of the things I’m thinking about as I listen to you talk about this, and as I shared, it’s very real for me and my family, is that we need to avoid fear and embrace flexibility. We had a plan. Sure. We thought, “Oh, maybe we’ll go 30 or 40 years of retirement with no downturn.”

We didn’t really believe that, but we certainly didn’t think that it was going to come two months after the retirement began. That’s where I suspect being flexible, and being open‑minded, and turning our back on fear becomes very important. I know that when I’m afraid, I make really bad decisions. The last thing I want to do right now is make things worse by making bad decisions.

Patti: Absolutely. It’s human nature to think of, and really be much more conscious of all the negative stuff, and of all the bad stuff that is going on. That’s human nature. Understand it. I think that that’s the beauty of planning. You’re absolutely right. We run those numbers also out 30 years.

I always tell people, “Hey, you know what? These numbers look very exacting.” Let me give it to your real. You are not going to have exactly what that number says you’re going to have when you’re 95 years old. It just gives us a feel for the trend. To me, the most important thing is stay in that three to five‑year range, and be adaptable because things do change on a dime.

We’ve seen that time and time again. You always have your plan A, and you got to have Plan B so that when those things happen, you don’t have to think. The problem is, is that people think. That sounds really weird. When you have a strategy that you can go to, if certain things happen, then you can just flip on that switch and go to that strategy.

It’s like, think about it this way, Gregg. Think about it as having almost two budgets. You’ve got your budget, what you want to have coming in. As your wife is now retired and everybody that’s listening who has retired, you’ve got the things that you want to do during retirement.

You have a second one that says, “If we need to tighten the belt, here’s where we go.” You just say, “OK. We’ll go to plan B.” It’s not permanent. At least it never has been. We’re going to get through this. I think that just having those strategies in place in your back pocket, to just go ahead and go and execute them, that’s really the most important thing.

To your point, I think Americans are far more adaptable than I think we give ourselves credit for. I think that to have that, as you guys talk about these things, to say, “Well, OK. This isn’t the worst thing that could happen.” We’re just going to have to go plan B.

To me, the most important thing, and I’m going to bring this up again because I know that we’ve talked about it before, is that for anybody who isn’t retired, or as you’re approaching retirement, or even in the beginning years, when things like this happen, just try not to sell those stocks.

You have a portfolio. It’s a long term portfolio. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re forced to sell low because you need the cash flow. You have that zero to three‑year money safe and secure, you have your three to six‑year money in case it lasts a lot longer than then we hope, and then you have your longer‑term money. That is that money that is the growth‑oriented investments.

That’s your hedge against inflation. That’s why understanding what your cash flow needs are is really important. You take three years of what you think you’re going to need in the next three years, and you put it into much more stable investments, things that aren’t going to be as volatile. That way, as things like this occur, you just use that money, so you can leave everything else alone.

Gregg: I want to ask you, what may be an off the wall question, Patti.

Patti: I love your off the wall questions, Gregg.

Gregg: We’re in this very unpredictable set of circumstances. It’s unpredictable today in the moment. We didn’t even see it coming, so it was unpredictable as it unfolded. It’s going to be unpredictable going forward.

What it actually makes me wonder is, how is this set of circumstances for you, much like your previous life of being an ICU nurse?

Did you learn triage, and adaptability skills, and knowledge, and gain experience there that helps you help your clients today?

Patti: Yeah. It’s a really good question, Gregg. I think that for me when you’re taking care of a patient in ICU, you know that they’re sick, you know, that they’re vulnerable, you know what’s normal for them, and what’s not normal right now. For everyone who’s listening, you know what it was like for you last year, and now it’s different.

You’re vulnerable. Everybody is vulnerable. I don’t care what your net worth is, you’re vulnerable.

The question for me is, as it was for that patient, as that nurse, because we didn’t have the doctor that was at the bedside all the time. When a patient crashes or their vital signs go the wrong way, we don’t have time to chit‑chat on to get the doctor on the phone. They’re probably asleep if it’s in the middle of the night, or maybe they’re in surgery.

We’ve got to know what to do as soon as it’s happening. That training has been very helpful. Perhaps the training and the ability to communicate and understand that that patient, even if they’re not crashing, they’re scared to death.

I will tell you, when people retire, even in a good market, there’s that feeling of ambiguity, of “I’m retiring right now and things are going really well, and I’m going to be OK. I hope I am.” Then you add something like this, Gregg, it’s a scary period of time.

For me, perhaps the most rewarding thing that I do every day is to talk with people and walk them through the fact that we knew that this could happen, and we’ve been prepared and we’re going to get through it. That long‑term, this is going to be a bad memory, but it will be a memory. It does not have to affect their financial security one iota. To keep that perspective is very important.

Now, I will also tell you that it’s not just talk. Just like when that patient is very sick, there are certain things that have to be done. You’ve got to give the right medicines. You’ve got to watch the signs. You’ve got to understand. You’ve got to check the dressings. You got to make sure that they’re not bleeding out, their O2 levels. Check the ventilators, suction them.

All of those things have to be done. If I translate that into a client’s financial affairs, especially someone who is retired and especially in this environment, there are so many awesome things that we’re doing that people can be doing right now. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Think about the CARES Act. We have this massive legislation that is affecting businesses. It is affecting those people who are unemployed. Guess what? It’s affecting people who are retired in a very big way. Think about it this way. Anybody who is retired, who may be subject to required minimum distributions. Guess what? This year, you do not have to take a required minimum distribution.

That’s a big deal, especially if there are other ways to get cash flow, because if you’re not pulling that money out of retirement plans, A, it can remain invested to recover and, B, you don’t have to pay the taxes on that money. Isn’t that pretty cool?

You think about that and say, “OK, if I’m not paying taxes on that money, then that means that my tax bracket is going to go down.” That’s absolutely right. There’s a domino effect in every decision that we make.

In this case, it’s a positive side effect, because this side effect for many people means that they’re going to end up in a 12 percent tax bracket. You might say, “OK, Patti, what’s the big deal there?” First of all, I think, five years from now, we’re going to all be looking at each other and say, “12 percent tax brackets actually existed?”

Gregg: [laughs]

Patti: How about that? Taxes are going to have to go up. Let’s optimize this environment. For anybody that might have stocks that had actually gains, like you might have been with a company and you might have a low cost basis. Did you know, for example, that if you take your gains and you’re in a 12 percent tax bracket, how much tax do you think you pay? None. Zero.

This is different than a concept that we talked in our last broadcast called tax loss harvesting. In tax loss harvesting, there are certain rules that basically it’s called the wash sale. Here, you can literally sell your Pfizer stock, take your gain, and then rebuy it. You don’t have to wait 30 days like you do with a loss.

This way, you’re paying your taxes. You’re in a 12 percent tax bracket. You don’t have to pay. There’s no out‑of‑pocket cash that you’re paying, and you still own the stock. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? That’s just one example. People who are charitably inclined really want to help their local hospitals.

This concept of qualified charitable deduction still exists, a QCD. Take that money out of your IRA. It’s a great place to go. That will especially be important next year. You might want to make a pledge, because we don’t have to take money out this year, but make a pledge to the hospital and say, “On January 2nd, I’m going to take money out of my IRA and that’s going straight to you.”

That’s something called an above‑the‑line deduction. Again, a domino effect that has a tremendous impact on how much money you end up paying. There is a number of things that this crisis, as with every crisis, there are some opportunities that are created.

Gregg: What’s interesting is that when someone retires, especially if you retired at the end of 2019, and this has been your first quarter of retirement, no matter how big your plans were for your first quarter of retirement, you probably didn’t get to fulfill them. You’re home. We’re all home. We’ve got lots of time on our hands.

I actually wonder if you’re finding that for some of your clients, being stuck at home, retired or not, having negative consequences because there’s lots of time to do things like listen or watch the news. Are you seeing that people are perhaps getting more fearful or more concerned than they really need to simply because they’re overdosing on lots of bad news?

Patti: Absolutely. I’m so glad that you brought that up, because if you’ve got the TV on all day long, that is definitely going to affect how you feel. We all know about clickbait. We all know that negative news sells a lot more than the positive news.

CNBC’s ratings, their ratings right now are higher than they were even during the financial crisis. They’re getting tons of advertising dollars. Remember that they’re in business. That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to get as many eyeballs watching CNBC so that they can charge more money for their advertising.

Just understand that’s the way that game is played. You’ve got to understand that that’s going to have a negative impact. It’s interesting, I was reading this over the weekend. Do you know what the number one disease in the world is right now?

Gregg: I’m going to guess that it’s diabetes or heart disease.

Patti: Both are great, great guesses. Diabetes has significantly increased, especially in the United States. Heart disease is often the first thing, or cancer. The number one disease in the world is depression. More people are being treated for depression than any other ailment.

It’s only going to be more, whether that treatment is pharmaceutical, whether it is going to a psychologist or a counselor. Nothing increases anxiety more than watching television and hearing all the bad stuff, especially for somebody who just retired, who was already going to be feeling that ambiguity.

You think about how those people and everybody is feeling that, “Geez, did I make the wrong decision?” That feeling of remorse, especially now because they can’t do anything about it, because guess what? 30 million Americans are unemployed right now. It’s not like people who just retired can just go back and call their boss and say, “OK, can I come back to work?” They’re going to say, “No.”

In fact, not only are we not hiring, we’re looking at laying more people off. It is a scary period of time. As you said earlier, that fear, we can’t let that fear dominate to the point where it affects the decisions. Feel the fear, it’s OK. It really is OK.

I get back to that patient. They’re scared to death. They’re worried and they don’t have any control over what’s happening to their bodies. They just have to trust the nurse, the doctors. They just have to trust their medical professionals.

People who just retired, you’ve got to trust that you’ve made the right decision. If you have any questions about that, call an advisor, get a second opinion. People like me give free consultations. Sometimes you just need to bounce these things off of someone else to get a sense of, “Gee, am I still going to be OK? What should I be doing?”

A lot of people have frozen. They don’t know what to do and, therefore, they’re not doing anything. I would say right now, inertia is not a good thing.

Gregg: I’m going to open a bottle of champagne before dinner tonight, and I’ll tell you why.

Patti: Yeah, I’d love to hear why.

Gregg: We’re going to celebrate tonight, and I’ll tell you why. You just made me realize something that I would not have even figured out on my own. The reality is, because my wife retired when she did, she knew when she was going to leave the workforce and had the luxury of time to prepare for that.

Now, we didn’t expect what happened. She had the luxury of time to get herself psychologically ready and get us as a family financially ready. That’s something to celebrate, because as you just pointed out, lots of people are unemployed and had no time to prepare. They don’t even know when they’re going back.

We have a really good idea of what our future looks like. That’s a whole other conversation if you’re in that position of not being sure if your job’s coming back or not. Maybe we’ll talk about that in a different segment.

If you just retired and you’re kicking yourself, maybe it’s time to step back and say, “Wow, was my timing amazing? Because I actually got to plan this instead of just being dumped out of the workforce with no advanced knowledge.” That, to me, is worth drinking to.

Patti: I have to agree with you, Gregg. That is a beautiful way to look at this. You do. That was a decision that you and your wife made. It was made for all the right reasons. There is absolutely no reason for you to second‑guess that. You did the right thing. She did the right thing. You guys are going to be fine.

To your point, it’s the people that have been retired, if you will. The layoff is basically a permanent retirement for many of these people who are in their late 50s, early 60s. They weren’t prepared. They didn’t have the time that you guys did. They’re faced with different decisions. Again, this is where an extra set of trained eyes might come into play.

Again, it’s not about Patti Brennan and Key Financial, it’s about you. It’s about the individual and making sure that you’re still going to be OK. Again, I always come back to it’s got to have some substance. It’s got to be this is the time to be proactive, not reactive, and to really understand the implications short‑term, intermediate, and long‑term.

We don’t really know the long‑term. All we can do is deal with the short‑term, and frankly, the opportunities that are right before us. That is the most important message here.

Gregg: You did a great job of really laying out some of the opportunities right in front of us. I want to ask one last question, Patti. You mentioned that most financial advisors will give a free consultation.

If I’ve never spoken to a financial advisor before, or I’m in a set of circumstances where I think maybe it’s even time to change financial advisors, how does that…I probably shouldn’t say that. Let me go back and say that again.

Patti: No, that’s OK. There’s a lot of people who are calling who have advisors and who have not heard from their advisor. This is a sidebar. I will tell you that when things like this happen, in terms of communication, I am calling people 24/7 on weekends. I had a client. I called a client. It was a Saturday, just because I’m not keeping track at all.

This client said to me, we talked for over an hour, he said, “I really appreciate that you called me today.” He said, “I know that you are really busy. I know you’re the CEO, but the fact that you took the time to call us really means a lot to me.”

It really was like, “Wow,” because, yes, they have different people in the firm that take care of them, but sometimes you just need to hear from your advisor. That’s what I’ve done. I’m talking to everybody, checking in, and sending out emails, letters, action items, and things that we’re doing and that they might want to consider.

It could be even about car payment. Should you turn your car in that you’re leasing and buy one and get zero percent financing for the next six years. That might be a really good idea. There’s just some things to think about the people may not realize. It’s not until you’re having the conversations that they come up. Does that make sense?

Gregg: It makes perfect sense.

Patti: They call it money in motion. I’m going to say this because we’re offline. I believe it’s times like this that separate the cream from the crop.

The advisors who are so dedicated to their clients, who are willing to go above and beyond no matter what time of day it is or what day it is, to reach out, check in, look at the financial plan, look at the portfolio and say, “Here’s what we’ve already done for you and here’s what I think we should consider.

What do you think? Now what questions can I help you with? What are you worried about? Let’s get it all out on the table because I am yours. And, and all I can do is help as many people as I possibly can, get the word out, do these podcasts and say, “Yeah, if you want a second opinion, we’re here.”

My job, our job is to take care of our existing clients and If they want to refer somebody that they love, that they care about, then by all means, I’m going to help those people, too. If there’s somebody on the street, who feels like they’re paying a lot of money in fees and aren’t sure what they’re getting for, I’m happy to give them that second opinion.

I believe in my heart that when I do that and when we do what we do for our clients, we are raising the standards for the rest of the industry. It just has to happen. There’s so much opportunity in the financial advice business. That’s all I got.

Gregg: It’s so interesting, because for the first time in my lifetime, when I read the news, not the financial news because I really, frankly, have been avoiding that and just trying to not let it impact my thinking about my own financial situation.

When I read about COVID and I read the stories about people who are hospitalized, who are intubated, who are hospitalized, who are separated from their families, and you’ll see the analogy here, the thing I realize over and over again is that the thing that ends up mattering most to people is that interaction between a nurse or a doctor and the patient, and it matters for both of them.

There’s lots of stories about nurses and doctors, the medical professionals talking about how their lives have been changed like this. There’s lots of stories about patients saying the same thing about the medical professionals, who related to them in a deep, intimate, and meaningful way. Again, it’s so interesting that you began your professional career as an ICU nurse.

Now, you’re a financial advisor. What you’re describing in your relationship with clients and others who just call for a second opinion is that you’re having that same kind of intimate relationship with people that, frankly, is probably much more important than the money itself. You’re actually helping people to find peace of mind during a period of time that is very frightening.

Patti: Yeah, it really is. Everybody’s feeling so vulnerable. I think back to those days, and isn’t it interesting that this virus hits everyone? When you’re a patient in the intensive care unit, nobody cares what anybody does for a living. Who cares who that patient is or what they do for a living? What matters is who they are.

That’s the way I approach what we do here in the financial area as well. I think about a person’s money almost as it’s like this stewardship. You think about your wife who has worked how many years, 30, 40 years, and what you guys have saved represents 40 years of a person’s life, of sacrifice, of traveling, when you maybe didn’t feel like traveling, working maybe when you were sick.

That’s really important. To recognize, appreciate that, and handle that with as much respect, understanding, and appreciation for what it took to get there, and to make sure that it continues to provide for that person and that family what it’s supposed to intend for the rest of their lives. It is that peace of mind.

I would say that there is no more important time in our lives, in a person’s life than to get that from an advisor, whether it be a medical advisor, a financial advisor, etc., is to say, “OK, here is what we need to do. We need to do A, B, and C in order for you to get healthy.”

Same thing here. We need to do A, B, and C to make sure that you are financially healthy for the rest of your life. That’s what it’s all about.

Gregg: Patti, thank you for giving us a reason to celebrate with champagne…

Patti: I want to send you a bottle. If I had time, I would send you the bottle myself, because you have every reason to celebrate, as does everybody who is listening to this broadcast. I believe when we did the last set of broadcasts that we would not go into a depression. I believe that we were going to get out of this.

I did not know that the market would recover as quickly as it is recovering, but I do know that the market and the economy are not the same thing. Do not make financial decisions based on what we think might be happening in the economy. The stocks could care less. They don’t know.

I will end with this one thing, because it’s important for everybody to know this. There was a statistic this morning. You and I both heard it. It’s consumer sentiment. When this stat comes out, it’s actually measured two ways. The government is going to people and they’re asking them, “How do you feel today and how do you feel about the future?”

For the first time, this has been going on since the ‘60s. What’s really interesting about that is this morning, the numbers came in. People are not feeling great today, but they’re feeling much more optimistic about the future. I got to tell you, that is a big deal. There are only four other times when you got those two sentiment numbers that came in that way.

Guess when they were? 1980, basically right after 1987, 2002, and 2009. In all of those periods of time, guess what also happened? It was the beginning of a secular bull market. Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen. I’m just saying it did happen.

Remember, it’s going to feel awful. You’re going to read terrible headlines. You’re going to watch the news, and it’s going to be bad, bad, bad. Don’t make your financial or your investment decisions based on that. Gregg, how can I thank you enough? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time.

Gregg: [laughs]

Patti: What an honor and privilege it is to have Gregg Stebben, just one of the most respected journalists in America, to join us today for us to have this conversation.

I’m just really grateful for the fact that you were able to open up so that people could understand that they’re not alone, that a lot of people are feeling the way they’re probably feeling today, and for us to talk about the ways to get out of this, and that there’s so many reasons to have so much hope.

We’re not only going to get out of this, I believe in my heart that we’re going to be better than ever before. Gregg, thank you for joining us. Thanks to all of you. I’m just so grateful. This seems to be a very popular podcast. Those of you who have been not only listening but you’re sharing it, send this out to the world. Honest to goodness, that’s why we do this.

If you have questions, go to our website, keyfinancialinc.com. You can log on there, ask for a free consultation. I am happy to help you any way I can. Let’s just hit the ground running, focus on solutions. There’s tons of them out there. Thanks again.

Ep45: Economic Outlook with Dr. Quincy Krosby, Chief Market Strategist for Prudential

About This Episode

Dr. Quincy Krosby is not only a Chief Market Strategist for Prudential, she has also served our nation as a US diplomat, worked with the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and the US State Department. With a PhD from the London School of Economics, she is more than qualified to discuss the current economic volatility and how the global central banking systems are reacting to COVID-19. Her expertise gives unique insight to answer Patti’s questions about what is happening in our own country from supply chain disruptions to the high unemployment rate consequences that may or may not stay with us for months to come.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Hey, whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Joining me today is Dr. Quincy Krosby. This is a real treat for me.

Quincy is the Chief Market Strategist for one of the largest insurance companies in the world, Prudential. It won’t surprise you to know that when you hear her background and hear what she has to say about what’s going on today. First, let me tell you about Quincy. She got her master’s and her doctorate from the London School of Economics.

She served our nation as a US diplomat and had numerous assignments at the IMF, worked with the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and the US Department of State. I got to tell you. I feel like we have our own Madam Secretary right in our own midst.

Dr. Quincy Krosby: [laughs]

Patti: She’s got a PhD in economics. She’s a market strategist just thrown in there for good measure. Quincy, thank you so much for being here today.

Dr. Krosby: Thank you, Patti. We go back a really long time. We thought we saw everything with all of the market crashes for tech, for 2008‑2009. Did we ever think it would be a virus coming after us?

Patti: Absolutely. I got to tell you. It is incredible. Folks, Quincy and I were reminiscing before we got on live. We were going back. It has been 20 years, she and I have been friends. Literally, 20 years ago, she came to Pennsylvania and spoke to a group of my clients. I will tell you that Quincy spoke for over an hour. There were no notes. It was just top of mind. It was amazing.

So much has changed since then. Just to your point, who would have thought that a virus would literally stop us dead in our tracks? Quincy, I’m really going to tap into your brain, that big, beautiful brain of yours.

Let’s break this down for everybody listening today. Sometimes, words get confused. Can you just help us understand what’s the difference between the economy and the market? We talked about them as if they’re one and the same, but they really aren’t, are they?

Dr. Krosby: No, sometimes they do match, but very often they don’t. Let’s look at where we are right now. Where we are right now, we are still in April, the very end of April. May 1st will be this week.

The market is up markedly, so to speak, over 30 percent since the so‑called bottom toward the end of March, right? Yet, Patti, just today and this week, we had the GDP ‑‑ that’s how much the economy grows or doesn’t grow ‑‑ it dropped lower than any other consensus estimates from all the analysts.

Consumer confidence numbers yesterday, the lowest since 2008. Remember how awful that was. Day in and day out, we get just dismal, dismal data, just dismal. Not to mention, we are in the midst of what we call the Earny season.

We always look back, obviously, because we get the numbers. One thing that is happening is that one company after another is just not getting any guidance. They just say, “We can’t give any guidance because we don’t know what’s happening. The uncertainty is too palpable.”

Yet, the market is up. You have to ask yourself why would the market be up despite all of this bad news. It is the market’s way always to look ahead. Formally, we call it that the market discounts all of the information.

Meaning, it takes in the good, the bad, the ugly, and then comes up with an idea of where we might be four to five months from now. That’s the reason.

What the market is saying now could change is, “You know what? The economy is beginning to open, not just here in America but overseas, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Austria. Even the UK will little by little begin to open up their economy. China, the world’s second largest economy and where this began, they’ve opened up their economy,” and we’re doing it here in the United States.

That’s a plus. The market is saying, “OK, even though it will be phased and it will be staggered, it is beginning to open.” Then this is what’s so important is we’re starting to see headlines talking about therapies.

The possibility that if you do go out, you do go back to work, you do get on a plane but you catch this, there’s something that we can take perhaps that will keep us from going into the intensive care unit.

This is crucial because over the next six, seven weeks, as we get into late June, we are going to hear from all of the pharmaceutical companies, the biotechs, the universities that are working on this in conjunction with hospitals, in conjunction with biotech companies, telling us about how their trials – as we call it, their trials – are doing.

You know, the better the information, the better the headline, the market sees through it. Of course, Patti, the ultimate will be when we have a vaccine.

In interview, I heard Bill Gates, because Bill Gates and Melinda Gates have a foundation, and I think putting almost $250 million toward a vaccine, a vaccine that works, that’s effective, and that will be available. There are about 100 sources right now of trying to find a vaccine.

He said in the interview something I think we’re all thinking. “You know, when there actually is a vaccine, that’s when we get back to true normal.”

Patti: That’s interesting, and to your point, we heard this morning that Gilead’s drug, remdesivir, it looks like the trials are looking quite positive. That’s another reason why I think the market’s breathing a sigh of relief.

To your point, you’re right on. I think people just want to know that if they get sick, there is something that would prevent them from getting really deathly ill, and this is a hope.

When you think about the economic fallout, so we think about unemployment, where we’ve got 22 million Americans out of work. You compare that to that US stock market that was just plummeting, and we set records for losses initially. Now it’s going up as if there’s nothing to worry about.

Are there, gouges, anything special that you’re looking to see how this is all unfolding that gives us a hint that this is actually legit? We know that the market has recovered quite a bit. It hasn’t recovered everything. But it can go right back down again, right? Is there something that you think from an economic perspective that you’re looking for?

Dr. Krosby: Yeah. The question for the market is really how long it lasts, the duration of this, because the longer it lasts, the harder it will be to kickstart the economy. The government, the Fed, they’re doing everything in their power financially to cushion the downside, but if it’s longer – and Americans don’t want to get…

We are – the consumer – nearly 70 percent of our, what once was, a $22 trillion economy. The problem is, according to every survey that’s out and the most recent ones, that the majority of Americans say that they’re prepared to remain in a restricted environment until they feel safe to go out, even if it dents the economy even more.

This is, by the way, across all party lines, so if during the course of the next couple of months, you don’t hear from the companies that are working on the therapies, the treatments, it’s going to mean that the economy can’t get moving again the way we want because the consumer…

Remember, the consumer represents – again, 68 percent’s manufacturing – is only about 11 percent, and so this is the issue. Even in manufacturing, which is the area that’s targeted to open first, even in a state like New York State, which still has restrictions in place – it was the leading hot spot in terms of the virus and deaths…

In lifting some of the restrictions, the governor of New York said, “We’ll start with the Upstate Region” – that’s the northern region – “and we’ll start with manufacturing and construction.” Across the country, what you’re seeing is manufacturing, but what happens if workers say, “I don’t feel safe. I’m not going in”? This is a dilemma right now.

The other thing that would be difficult for the market is if we start seeing cases rising, and we always have proxies. Just as the market was getting used to the fact that the Fed was in to underpin every nook and cranny in the market, that the government was providing relief, we also had, for the market, focus on how many cases, and you had a proxy.

One of the proxies was Italy because they were the first European country to be hit so dramatically, lock in, and we would watch every day. “What? Was it case up? Was it the cases down?” and our market reacted accordingly. Then New York became that proxy, by the way, because it got locked down. We would watch to see where the cases went.

What about if the caseloads start to rise and rise dramatically, and we don’t have an available therapy? I think that could knock the socks off of the market, because right now, the market has broadened.

The leadership in the market initially when you talked about coming off of that March 23rd low was the big, big, gigantic technology names. Those are the mega‑caps, and they kept the market up. We call it a narrow market. A healthy market, you want to see more sectors involved.

What’s interesting is that as the states are beginning to lift restrictions, coupled with these positive headlines regarding therapies, potential therapies, we’re starting to see the consumer discretionary names. It’s not the Spam, which they say it tastes good with a fried egg on it, I guess.

Patti: Yeah.

Dr. Krosby: [laughs] You know, Campbell Soup, and not to mention, Clorox, all doing very, very well, but we actually started to see Disney, which has become a bellwether consumer discretionary name. We’re starting to see other parts of the consumer discretionary spectrum gaining as those headlines start to become more definitive as opposed to just mass uncertainty.

Patti: It’s interesting, Quincy, the uncertainty, it’s such a big deal. I was talking with clients this morning, and I thought it was fascinating. Her name was Katy.

Katy said, “You know, if I had known. It’s almost better that I didn’t know that we were going to be cooped up with our kids for seven weeks counting at this point in time.” She said, “That would have really bummed me out.”

The other thing that she said that I thought was fascinating – and it’s one person, but I’m hearing it more and more – people are just dying to get out. What she said was, “I can’t wait to go back to the mall. I want to go to Target. I want to go shopping. I want to be able to buy stuff, like, this is getting really, really old.”

I just can’t help but wonder if there are a lot of people who are feeling that, and whether that kind of unmet demand, that there’s a lot of demand that once we’re able to get out, that’s going to spring forth and help the economy, hopefully.

Dr. Krosby: I think it absolutely will help the economy, and that’s one of the reasons that the government has been so generous with the unemployment insurance. I never thought in my wildest dreams – and I don’t think you…

Patti: Yeah.

Dr. Krosby: ..either, Patti, that you would see in the category of who’s going to get unemployment insurance, you would see gig workers, G‑I‑G. Did you ever think that that would be included?

Patti: No.

Dr. Krosby: It’s clear, they want folks to be able to come out and start spending. Look, all over the world, people want to get out. We’re seeing demonstrations everywhere. “Lift the lockdown, lift the lockdown,” but the goal is to do it safely.

Again, the main reason is they don’t want to see those cases come back, because if they do, if we get a significant second wave, is what they call them, without some kind of realistic therapy that’s available, that’s effective, guess what? There’s going to be another shutdown, and that would be really negative.

If you think this one is bad, imagine another one where they then say it’s got to be longer than the first one because we want to make sure that when we lift it, it’s over.

That’s the problem with this, and it’s humbling, Patti. It’s humbling for all of us. It’s a virus. It’s us against this virus. Will we win? Absolutely, we will win. Do you remember the Hong Kong flu?

Patti: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Krosby: Do you remember how many deaths? The death toll? It was dramatic. I remember it. I remember being so sick. I had forgotten there was no vaccine, and the death toll was tremendous, but look. Look where we are, how many years later.

We will get through this. There will be a vaccine, and they are working. It’s sort of like it’s become a pandemic, if you will, of every genius, every scientist, every doctor working toward that vaccine. It’s amazing, and we will get one, and it will be effective. The question is, what’s the devastation before that?

One other thing is think of the timing. Everyone, the first days of spring, every guy was out there on his motorbike, motorcycle. I kept looking to see if they had the – what do you call it – the mask on.

Patti: Yeah, the face mask, right.

Dr. Krosby: The face masks, because they don’t even want to wear the helmets, so how are they going to wear the face masks?

Patti: Exactly.

Dr. Krosby: Everyone feels that way, and you see it. People are on the beaches. People are in the parks. This is normal, but we’re not living in a normal world, and that’s the problem.

Patti: It just goes to show you, the human nature, human nature, and we as people, we need other people. Digital is fine to a point, but there’s just nothing like that face to face.

I think that the government response has been…I have to tell you, I’m going to use a word that might surprise you, Quincy. It’s kind of impressive how quickly they moved and how dramatic it has been, and the fact that they did it almost, as you pointed out, indiscriminately, I found it…

I don’t know if you saw that interview with Neil Carrey on “60 Minutes,” but he said when we look back to the financial crisis, we learned a lot. He said the reason that it took so long for the economy to come out was that we were too tentative.

What we should have done, and what we’re learning now is that rather than doing these targeted programs to really make sure that we’re just helping the people who really need it, when you’re going through something like this, we can’t fool around here.

We’ve got to help both the undeserving and the deserving. In an imperfect situation where we have imperfect information, we’ve just got to make imperfect decisions. In the end, because of the way the economy works – and this is just me talking. Tell me if I’m on the right track or not.

In a situation such as we’re in, getting money into the hands of people gives them a feeling. It’s kind of like that wealth effect. It’s kind of like that, “OK, we’re going to get through this. I do happen to have this unemployment check that happens to have another $600 in it. I’m going to be OK.”

I think that that’s going to translate when we’re able to get out and get back into a semi‑normal life, into hopefully, people are going to use that money and be able to go back to life. Maybe not right away, but eventually.

Dr. Krosby: No, I agree with you, and what I found interesting was when you go back to 2008 and 2009, remember that Ben Bernanke, who was head of the Fed then, was an expert on the Great Depression. He then looked at what they did and what they didn’t do and why.

The Great Depression, by the way, lasted 12 years. Most people don’t realize that. When he was asked, what was the worst mistake the Fed ever made – it had been at the 100th anniversary of the Fed – he said it was what the Fed did in 1937. That was when they raised rates. They told the banks, “Hold more of that cash. Don’t lend it out, because after all, we’re worried about inflation.”

He said that was the worst mistake. Then the Fed raised rates. If you noticed, Ben Bernanke learned from that, because he didn’t want to raise rates initially. He though he needed to see the economy have a viable recovery.

This time around, as you point out, it was the cavalry coming out. There was the President’s nemesis, Jerome Powell, coming out and leading into every nook and cranny. The Fed’s balance sheet has gone from $4.5 trillion to $6.6 trillion right now, and the expectations are it’ll probably go up to about – I don’t know – $8 or $9 trillion by the time they’re finished.

The deficit is going to rise dramatically because the government’s view is – the President’s view is – we have to do whatever we have to do. The economy must be cushioned as much as possible. Patti, there is a lot of criticism regarding the deficit and regarding what the Fed is doing.

There’s a lot of criticism, but you know, I go back to talking about the interview on 60 Minutes. You don’t sit here and write a white paper about this. You don’t sit here and argue and debate the pros and the cons. It’s triage. It’s financial triage is what it is, and you just do what you have to do at that time.

I’m amazed. People are saying, “What is this going to lead to?” Well, we all know, unless the economy skyrockets, we’re going to have to pay for this, but would you rather have the economy collapse and so damaged that we never get back on our feet? That’s not a correct answer for anyone, and yet you’ll hear that in the chorus of criticism.

Patti: It’s interesting, because I think back to just a few years ago. Everyone was kind of freaking out about the rising deficits and the amount of US government debt, and, “What are we saddling our children with?”

Here we are today, and it’s like, “Pile it on. We’ll do whatever it takes.” That’s what they need to do. That’s what the government is there for. Nobody knows the right answer. That’s what makes all of this so uncomfortable, and why markets are plummeted and things of that nature.

Yeah, we will have to pay for this. With that in mind, let’s talk about the federal government. We can talk about the Fed in a second.

Given the amount of liquidity and amount of stimulus or relief – it’s probably not stimulus – are rising taxes inevitable? Really, Quincy, how does a government pay for all this kind of stuff?

Dr. Krosby: You either have the economy coming back gangbusters – but no one expects that – because then you would have the tax receipts from that. Just take a look at local. Local economy at state level, local level. The Fed is getting involved in that now, setting up a facility to help on the most granular level in our country. It’s going to have to be taxes.

It’s going to have to be taxes, and I think it’s something we all have to accept, and I think it’s regardless of who is in the White House. The taxes are coming. You have to pay for it. If we don’t allow it to be paid down, you only have to then say, “What does that mean down the road? That you get the Fed to pay for this always and let their balance sheet go up, up, up?”

There was a debate as we were going through the primaries whether the progressives on the Democratic side, if they were to win, you would have something called modern monetary theory where you raise the deficit so dramatically because what you want is all of those plans that you have to pay for everything to take place, because their view is that would ultimately help the economy.

But the way that they said it would in essence early on be paid for and not have interest rates rise dramatically was have the Fed buy the bonds. In many ways, that’s exactly what you have now, but not for the same reasons. That’s what’s so interesting about it.

Patti: Yeah.

Dr. Krosby: Right? It’s interesting because you think about this. Think about if our deficit rose and rose and rose, and at auctions – that’s how we pay our debt, right? We sell our bonds. Supposing buyers said, “You know what? Two percent on the 10‑year Treasury, it’s just…No. You’ve got to give us four percent, America.”

Imagine if it kept rising and rising, and that would kill the economy, obviously. You’ve got the Fed now engaged in, in many ways, what the left wing of the Democratic party had been talking about, this modern monetary theory.

However, in a world in which you’re going to have to deal with this, I think the expectations are that at some point when the economy is healthy, the Fed dials down its help and will do what the previous Fed did and what Powell was trying to do, and that is lower the balance sheet.

Bring the balance sheet down to where it’s commensurate with where the economy is. This gets really theoretical and so on, but it’s got to be paid for, and my view is it’s going to happen regardless of who’s in the White House come next year.

Patti: Let’s talk about that a little bit further on a fundamental basis. The Federal Reserve is basically buying the debt, right? That’s what they’re doing right now.

Dr. Krosby: They’re the buyer of last resort, right.

Patti: What happens is, they’ve got the cash. They’re printing the cash down in their basement. They’re printing money on their little printing machines, and they’re using that money that they’ve just printed to buy the bonds of the US Treasury, right?

Now they have all of these bonds, and they might be getting their measly one or two percent interest rate. At what point does it become a problem for the Fed to hold all this stuff? Again, I’m asking the question that maybe some listeners are wondering. Could the Fed get into trouble? They can’t exactly raise taxes. That’s not an option.

Dr. Krosby: No, and this is why you hear a lot of people asking, “Are we going to have hyperinflation? Is now a good time to buy gold?” What’s interesting ‑‑ and you will hear it all the time ‑‑ gold has many narratives. Inflation is one of them.

Going back to Ben Bernanke ‑‑ because we always have to go back to something we know, right? We know what happened.

Patti: Sure.

Dr. Krosby: The Fed’s balance sheet was $850 billion in December of 2008. That is when we noticed that the Fed was buying bonds, and then it became clear when we got into 2009, they were doing what’s called quantitative easing, buying the bonds in order to push the rates down to help the economy.

When you typed into Google “quantitative easing,” and you’re like, “What the heck is that?” Now we know what it is, but what is that?

What would pop up – and this would be late 2008, 2009 – would be printing of money, which is the pejorative. You’re saying, “Oh, for God’s sakes, what on Earth are they doing? They’re printing money. This is not good.” Then, what would happen when you clicked there, it would be Germany in the 1920s, and then hyperinflation.

The Central Bank of Germany, in the 1920s, printed money, handed it out, and then wages went up, prices went up, but then it escalated. You had Germans buying a loaf of bread with baskets of money. That was hyperinflation, and then gold was considered what you needed in a hyperinflationary environment.

If you remember – and I remember this so well, because I would be up late at night, like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning during that period just trying to figure out what’s going, what’s going to happen the next day. I’d turn on the TV, and there would be these ads for gold bars. “Buy these bars of gold.”

We live on an old farm, and I was thinking I could buy the bars of gold, and I could put them near the barn, do a map for the kids, because it becomes intriguing.

If you remember, that was what we were buying before we went into stocks. The gold trade, and then ultimately silver, was killed with margin calls. Ben Bernanke introduced zero interest rate policy, and that was meant to push us into taking on risk with the stock market.

Right now there is almost a resurrection of that fear that this is going to lead to hyperinflation, and the irony of this whole thing is the Fed is fighting deflation. That’s ironic, because the only thing we could do is look at the numbers that we get. Prices are down across the board, maybe not for a living, but…

Patti: Sure.

Dr. Krosby: …sending kids to university or whatever. What you have is the Fed – and all central banks, by the way – fighting a fear of deflation. That’s why they believe that they can react quickly enough if they do see a major inflation starting to take hold.

Right now, their goal, at least in the US, is just to try to get inflation to two percent and be maybe what we call “a little hotter.” Let it go a little bit higher than that in order to make absolutely certain that it is intact.

The reason for this is because a lot of people say, “Well, it’s kind of good not to have any inflation,” but you know what? When you have some inflation, it lets companies raise their prices. It lets them raise wages.

It also, by the way, if they can raise the prices, it tends to allow them to keep workers in, because if you get rid of workers, guess what never changes? Your debt. Your debt stays exactly the same. You don’t have a job…

Patti: Interesting.

Dr. Krosby: …hours are cut. You know what? Look, this is not easy, because I’m not in that camp. Despite having a doctorate in economics, it’s as much an art form as it is a science, and you know what they say, Patti. That God put PhD economists on this earth to make the weathermen look accurate.

Patti: There you go, absolutely, and you know what? It is an art form, and if you knew exactly what was going to happen, then none of this stuff would be going on. We could anticipate it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, Quincy, to fast‑forward five years from now and know how this thing already played out?

Dr. Krosby: [laughs] Yeah.

Patti: To your point, we kind of have the benefit that Bernanke didn’t have in that Jerome Powell really saw what he did and made a decision. It didn’t lead to the rampant inflation that everybody talked about back then, and it took a little bit longer.

Rather than do the 1Z, 2Z, QE1, QE2, we’re just going to do it all at once and do the firehose, and really put a lot of liquidity on this thing to see if we can get us out of this as quickly as possible. Here’s a question I have for you, because we’re talking a lot about the United States.

When you think about – and I don’t know if you can help me out with this – but I’m really curious what the other nations do, like a Germany or a Japan or even China. Are they doing that firehose thing, too, whether it be their central banks or their governments in terms of fiscal relief, the equivalent of our unemployment insurance, etc.?

Dr. Krosby: Yeah, they are. Nothing to the extent of the United States to say that. Globally, what you have is on the monetary side, which is what a central bank does, all of the central banks around the world acting quickly. The Chinese Central Bank has been trying for a long time.

Even before this their economy was slowing, then they had the trade war with the US, and then the virus of course starting there. They have been I wouldn’t say going insane throwing things at the economy, but more and more we’re seeing a monetary policy meaning lowering rates, telling the banks to lend money, don’t keep so much on the balance sheet.

Now we’re starting to see of some infrastructure spending. The one thing in China, which is incredibly important for their stability, is to make sure that employment stays intact, because without that everyone says President Xi if China is in there for life.

Even in countries like that, you can have so much rebellion, if it ever led to that, where the party leadership actually says, “We need a change.” Employment is crucial for them.

Germany, which by the way they do not like to have deficit spending, that is anathema to them, but even there in 2008‑2009 as well, we saw that they were prepared to do targeted spending. The European Central Bank, because there’s so many countries involved, are working towards some kind of a liquidity pump into the system.

We’ll hear probably more of that next week and the week after, but they’ve already started. They have negative interest rates. That’s something that everybody wonders, “Are we going to have that as well?” and then Japan, the other day, the Bank of Japan going all in.

Most people don’t realize that quantitative easing takes on many forms depending where you are. Besides “printing money, keeping their rates low,” they also buy ETFs, but now they are pushing in even more. The longer this goes on, the more you are going to see in every country.

Patti: That’s interesting. When you think about it, how do you measure the stimulus and the relief and what the Fed is doing? Do you do it as a percentage of GDP, and is that why ours is much more massive because our economy is so much bigger?

Then, as a spinoff question, depending on what your answer is to that, since we’re doing so much, does that mean that after 2008 and 2009, where we came out of it but international countries overseas did not, it was theirs was much slower? Is that another repeat of all of that do you think?

Dr. Krosby: Yeah, it is. Patti, do you remember the summer, it was the London Olympics and Mario Draghi, who then was the Head of the European Central Bank, who had problems with Spain, with Italy, with Greece? I think it was 2012, if I’m not mistaken, and here in the US you could have had a portfolio just focused on the US, completely domestically focused companies.

Yet, we were in a stranglehold because of what was going on over there. He made a comment. He said, “You know, we will do whatever it takes, and believe me, we have more.” Just by saying that, he didn’t even have to do anything, the markets took a big sigh of relief and basically opened up.

The point is when you look over there, you see the problem, and the problems were smoothed over as the global economy came back to life, albeit there was much slower, but they have those problems today, and in Italy in particular. We always look at – and I don’t want to get too technical – we look at the bonds, at sovereign debt like our treasuries.

We look there and we see what the yields on it is. You’ve got people who were saying, “Do we need this? Do we need…maybe we should just leave. Maybe we should finally just leave the European Union,” which then creates its own cycle of fear of destabilization. You remember when even the British, the UK, left the EU. They weren’t even member.

They were not members of the Eurozone, by the way, they had their own currency. You remember in the beginning it caused chaos, chaos. This is part of the problem, and they’re under a tremendous strain and test in the Eurozone to see if this could work. It’s one thing to work when everybody’s happy and everything is good. Could it work in a situation like this? We’re going to find out.

Patti: Boy, we sure are. When you think about that, “we’re going to find out,” when you think about all of the things that we’re doing, how does this compare to other crises? In terms of the amount, the trillions and trillions of dollars that we’re doing here in the US, how does this compare on a percentage basis?

Is it equal to the financial crisis or the tech bubble, or even if we go back further, Quincy, like wartime or even the Depression, is what we’re doing now eventually when with World War II and the amount of spending that was done to help with the war, is this the equivalent or maybe even more?

Dr. Krosby: It’s so difficult. The Great Depression did last 12 years. When I mentioned 1937, that’s when they started in essence creating the income tax. They created it early, but they raised the income tax to pay for the war every day.

The President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried everything. I hate to say what we call it, it’s throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. That’s the way we discuss it. At least he was prepared to try everything. This time around – we always have to remember something, this was a government‑induced shutdown.

The government knew what it was doing and why, as opposed to events hitting us and everything going willy‑nilly. It was a good thing that we came into this. As the Chairman of the Federal Reserve characterized the US economy just eight weeks ago, we were in a good place.

We were in a good place in terms of the housing market, in terms of employment, in terms of every metric the economy was in a good place and so were interest rates, they were still low. That helped. Imagine going into this if we had been in terrible shape. That would have made us even worse.

That’s why I think that the market – just going back to what you said initially – the economy and the market, how could it be so different now? The point is it’s the market’s way of looking ahead and saying, “OK. We see that things are bad, but what we’re interested in, and this is investors in all over the world saying, ‘Let’s see what it looks like on the other side, and how soon can we get to the other side.’”

No one is expecting it to be the way it was coming into this. We will not be in a good place. The thing is we just need to be where we’re coming out of it, where the data are getting less bad, where they’re fewer people going in for unemployment insurance, where the GDP number, which was so horrible today, maybe is still bad but gets a little bit better.

That’s the part of the healing that tells you that ultimately we’re going to be getting out of it. You go back to something about this country. Why is it that after the financial crisis our country was stronger than all of the other countries? There’s something special about our country. It happens all the time. I remember back then in 2009, 2010, they were saying, “Oh go buy overseas. Go to this country.”

You know what, even if you never, ever took advantage of attractive valuations in emerging markets and in Europe, you would have done really well just being here in the US and the reason is, I think we have a system, nothing is perfect, but we have a system in which companies are managed. They can do what’s necessary, and they still have that entrepreneurial spirit, which a lot of countries don’t have.

I’ve worked all over the world, and always coming back home, seeing this entrepreneurial mentality in America, and I’m not here as part of the Chamber of Commerce.

Patti: Right, right. [laughs]

Dr. Krosby: But I always just look at our companies, and what they do, and the leadership that comes out of that in terms of which company leaves the best debris. Most of them are American.

Patti: It is so interesting, and it’s that spirit. It is that energy, it is that one way or the other we’re going to get out of this.

Dr. Krosby: Yeah.

Patti: I think that is so important, because so much of this is psychology, right. Leadership is basically influencing other people with integrity, and moving them in a direction that you believe is the right direction. You’re not going to sit and just stew. We’re not going to circle the drain here. Let’s do something.

I do think that that is something that is unique, or put it this way, it’s something that is part of our culture. It’s part of our society, and I do think that that is what will help us. People are working all over the world trying to solve this problem, but I think that it is something where the American spirit is going to come out of this, and probably stronger than ever.

I think that the other thing that we want to think about, and I would be interested is, as we think about the United States versus other countries and are manufacturing and the things that we are learning about supply chain.

Do you think like we think about the medicines that are made in China, and the fact that they could really hold out on us, and say, “Well, we’re not going to get, we’re not going to send that stuff to you.” Like is that something that we should be thinking about?

Dr. Krosby: Well, I’ll tell you something else. This may surprise you, but you notice how you can’t get the disinfectants? I always say, “I’ll know when this is over, when I could go to the supermarket at 3:00 in the afternoon and find Clorox wipes on the shelves…

Patti: Right.

Dr. Krosby: …and no one’s fighting for them and they’re there. You’ll know that that hoarding is over. Everyone’s comfortable again. Well, what’s interesting is that in those disinfectants many of the chemicals come out of China, and the Chinese…

Patti: Oh.

Dr. Krosby: Yes, yes. The Chinese are actually having trouble getting back to production on it, and that’s one of the reasons you don’t see the shelves being replenished, even to get into the granular on this, but even toilet paper it seems to be coming back onto the shelves. About the drugs, yeah, the compounds for the drugs come from China. They come from India.

I do think that the supply chains even for the manufacturing companies. I think you’re going to start to see them come back to the US, and with that we’ll start to see manufacturing, which by the way and this is the saddest part, manufacturing had started to come back up. When we look at the numbers, there’s a line. It’s 50, right.

Below 50 is contraction, above 50 is expansion. We started to see manufacturing the Philadelphia fed story which is the manufacturing report in the Philadelphia, greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, starting to go so strong. Only the last report, obviously, came down dramatically. We were in that direction.

There was a manufacturing renaissance beginning in our country, and the hope is, the hope is that we’ve learned a lesson, and we start to come back. It’s going to be a little bit difficult, and it will be more expensive. After all, the reason they went out of the US was to save money.

Patti: Right.

Dr. Krosby: Well, look at how that help them now. I think then that will start to help create that middle class again that felt disenfranchised as the supply chains just left the US, went outside of the US for so many years. It may be painful in the beginning, as you break supply chains, only to start new ones.

I think that’s coming, and I think it has a bipartisan support, because if you remember, when Elizabeth Warren was running for president, her message was not dissimilar from President Trump’s message. She would say the same thing, “I want jobs here in America. I want Americans to be doing these jobs, and earning a decent wage.”

I think that is going to come, and I think that’s important, and it’ll be a secular change in our economy, just like a secular change in our economy was, and, unfortunately, there’s a problem today with it, is in the energy industry.

Patti: Yep.

Dr. Krosby: You know where we are, energy independent. When did you ever think we would be energy independent?

Patti: Exactly. Isn’t that interesting? What a great observation that that’s going to be, that could be a secular change.

Dr. Krosby: Yes.

Patti: I think you’re right. I think that the fallout from all of this, as painful as it is, is going to be at a secular, meaning a longer‑term, more permanent change in the way that we do things.

Dr. Krosby: Yes.

Patti: I’m all about the hope, Quincy. I really am, and I think about all of the people that are listening today, that may be unemployed. To be able to say to them, “There really is hope. There are going to be jobs that are going to come back, and there are going to be things that you’re going to be able to earn or jobs where you’re going to be able to earn a decent living, and be able to raise your family, and have all of the things that you want.”

It’s going to take some time but it’s going to come.

Dr. Krosby: Amen. I’m not here to sugarcoat the situation, but the bad times create a positive move for countries, and this is one of them. I think this particular problem that we had is going to have companies reevaluate, and say, “You know what. I’m coming back.” It started. As I said, it started. It actually had begun, and now we had this major dislocation.

Patti: And because of the dislocation, I can’t help but wonder if that’s not just going to accelerate the process.

Dr. Krosby: Yeah.

Patti: It’s easy to kind of keep on doing everything that you’ve always done. Inertia is also part of human nature, and these companies were making money, and they were growing. Everything was hunky dory, but in a way, a crisis like this, even in my own small business, it has made me kind of sit back and say, “Is this the way that we should continue to do things? Is there a better, faster…”

Everything that we do, just take a look at it and say, “How can we do things differently?” We’re already starting it, and guess what, it’s already working. Now, small companies are smaller, and therefore we can move faster. Bigger companies, it’ll take some time, but I think that there’s a lot that we’re going to learn from this. I think that a lot of good is going to come out of a very difficult situation.

Dr. Krosby: Yeah, no. I absolutely agree with you, and by the way, I just want to point something out. We go back a number of years now. We started to see companies actually leave China or cut their presence in China, and perhaps move to another country. So we would call it China plus one, China plus two.

But then, we started to see them come back onto the US [inaudible 49:43] and when asked about why, they just said, “There were too many problems. It got to be actually too expensive, when we started, and the transport, and problems. Then it was just easier to come back to the US.” That was what we called the beginning of a renaissance, was manufacturing.

Patti: Wow.

Dr. Krosby: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Patti: Oh, Quincy, I can’t thank you enough for being with all of us today. It has been such an honor. I got to tell you what an honor it has been to have Dr. Quincy Krosby on our podcast. You’re just so smart. I think we could talk all day long. So thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Krosby: Patti, thank you so much, and you know one thing, when I did join you, and it wasn’t that many years ago, after our initial meeting, but I just remember talking to your clients, and how lucky they are, and they said it, that they were so grateful to you because, I think it was after the 2008, 2009, a few years after that.

They all said you made them whole again, and you took care of them. That’s what we all need. I mean just talk about things that are changing, pensions. Where are pensions? We don’t get them. They depend on you, Patti, and you have served them. I just remember there was a line at the ladies room at the restaurant that we were in.

This was not the one, 20 years ago, OK. They were, yeah, they were telling me about how you got them through that horrible period in 2008, 2009. So this was a few years after that when I was there with Jason. So they’re lucky. They’re very fortunate…

Patti: Thank you.

Dr. Krosby: Yeah, yeah…Thank you.

Patti: It is having wonderful people like you and access to that incredible, beautiful brain of yours, as I said earlier and the intellectual capital that you represent. It helps us to do a great job. Hopefully, we are going to get out of this. Thank you for your support. Thank you for the phone calls and everything that you do at Prudential and for all of us.

By the way, while we’re doing this, I just want to thank all of you who are joining us today and listening to Quincy and I. These are really tough times. There’s so much information out there.

I can’t thank you enough for including us as part of your day and allowing us to make a little bit of sense out of what’s happening in the world around us. We have hope. There’s so much to be hopeful about.

We’re going to get through this thanks to people like Quincy Krosby. Just know that we’re here. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call us. We’re here for you. You can visit our website at keyfinancialinc.com.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy, and just know that we’re going to be better than ever after all of this. Have a great day.

Ep44: Candid Conversation with Alex Dryden, Global Market Strategist, at JP Morgan

About This Episode

In today’s episode, I have a most thought-provoking conversation with Alex Dryden who is a Global Market Strategist with JP Morgan. Alex shares his expertise and insight in explaining what he believes is happening right now in the markets that will undoubtedly affect not only future market activity, but future investor and consumer behavior as well. This is a climate of global economic change and uncertainty, but there are certain strategies that financial advisors should be taking on behalf of their clients right now to help protect and grow portfolios. Listen now to make sure you are on the right path to navigate these tumultuous times!


Patti Brennan: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the “Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Hey, everybody, let’s face it. This is a strange time right now.

We’re all feeling this ambiguous grief. We’re stuck in our homes, separated from others, and trying to fill the emptiness with things that give our lives meaning and joy. Before we even start, as you do, I just want to say thank you for including me in your day. I hope that you find that our time together gives you some practical understanding of what’s happening, and more importantly, some hope.

I have to tell you, I am really, really excited to have our special guest today. He is Alex Dryden, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan. He’s a frequent contributor on CNBC, and Bloomberg, and everything else in between. Alex holds degrees in international business, finance, and economics from the University of Manchester. Alex, welcome to the show.

Alex Dryden: Thank you very much for having me, Patti.

Patti: Now, here’s a deal, Alex. Before we get into the meat of this, many of my listeners already know this, but I want you to know that in my previous life, I used to be a nurse. I was an intensive care nurse. I want you to know Alex, the only reason I’m bringing that up is that I spent a semester in Manchester, England learning midwifery.

Now, I would imagine that it’s probably changed a lot since then. I would never trade that opportunity to learn about the healthcare system over there, socialized medicine, and how care is, or at least I should say was delivered back then.

Alex: I imagine it’s changed a little bit since then.

Patti: Just a bit. By the way, where are you right now? I think that you’re based in America. Where are you calling in from right now?

Alex: You’re right. I’m normally based in New York, but I was over in Europe for vacation when the travel ban came into effect. My visa gets me out of the United States but doesn’t get me back in. I’m currently camped out in London, waiting for the travel ban and the virus to disappear. Could be a while.

Patti: Wow. Is your family with you?

Alex: Yeah. They’re over here as well.

Patti: That’s good.

Alex: There’s definitely worse places to be quarantine than London, UK.

Patti: That’s terrific. Good for you. That’s terrific. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on. Really, I want to pick your brain in terms of what we should be thinking of in terms of our portfolios.

Alex, diversified investors have been waiting a full decade for interest rates to rise, small caps to outperform large caps, and international stocks outperform the US. Especially now, is there an argument to be made that none of these things are going to happen anytime soon? What do you think?

Alex: Good question. I think it’s a great place to start the broader discussion. Let’s maybe unpick some of those different areas. Firstly, with interest rates, I think investors need to get themselves into the mindset that we are certainly in a lower, even longer environment. If we go back a few years, the Federal Reserve were gradually moving rates higher.

We started to approach a level where interest rates in the United States at least, were starting to look a little bit higher than they had done post the financial crisis. That’s immediately been reversed as the virus has hit. The Federal Reserve have cut rates dramatically. Then they’ve also flooded the market with additional monetary policy support that has driven rates even lower.

We’re probably going to be living with the effects of this monetary policy response to the coronavirus for some time to come. I think investors need to get used to having lower for longer when it comes to interest rates.

You also talked a little bit about the small caps and their tendency to outperform large. I think that again will be a common part of the next expansion, is looking for better growth opportunities in some of those small‑cap names, I definitely think that will be part of the growth picture.

Finally, talking a little bit about where geographically should investors be looking. For much of the last cycle, the United States market completely outperformed much of the international environment. It’s important that clients understand why that dynamic was in place. For much of the last 12 years, we’ve seen the dollar rising versus many currencies around the world.

Whilst that’s great for any Americans traveling overseas, it’s a little bit challenging when you’re putting your money to work in a foreign currency, to have the dollar rising like that. Now, we actually think that over the next few years, the dollar will begin to weaken.

As the dollar goes from being your foe to being your friend, as an investor, we’re actually starting to think that maybe international equities will do a little bit better. We’ve got to be careful. Not all international markets were born equal. One area in particular that we think will outperform and do much better is emerging markets, particularly in the Asia‑Pacific region.

They have some really favorable demographics, a really powerful emerging consumer. As the dollar changes direction, we think they could do really well. I definitely don’t think that these trends that have been in place for a while, not all of them are going to stay put over the next few years.

Patti: I’m curious. What do you think would make the dollar weaken? Is it because of the amount of stimulus the Federal Reserve has put into the system? What’s the dynamic that goes on to make that occur?

Alex: You’re completely correct looking at the central bank. What we’ve seen happen over the last 10 years has been that the US economy has been growing quite quickly, especially relative to their peers overseas. Much faster than growth than we’ve seen in, say, Europe, the UK or many other developed markets.

When you’re the only game in town from a growth perspective, what that means is that your currency becomes more valuable. As it enhanced further, as the Federal Reserve have been the only central bank for the last few years that have really been able to get on and raise interest rates. What that does is it attracts capital into the United State and people start to purchase the US dollar.

The reason being is that if the Federal Reserve are the ones raising rate, that’s quite attractive for overseas investors and savers. If you go to somewhere like Europe or Japan, many of those central banks have close to zero or even negative interest rates. That’s really damaging if you’re a long term saver.

What a lot of European and Japanese investors have been doing has been moving into the United States, looking for a better rate to savings. That has pushed up the value of the dollar for the last few years, but in recent weeks, we’ve seen that relationship completely reverse because the Federal Reserve have taken rates all the way back down to zero.

What that will likely mean is that international investors who are currently camped out in the United States are probably going to say, “Well, actually, maybe it’s easier for me to go home because the benefits of me holding US‑based assets isn’t quite as useful as what it used to be.”

As they start to sell US Dollars and go back to where they came from, that should start to weaken the dollar gradually over the next few years. We do think that’s definitely a trend that will play out over the coming years ahead.

Patti: That is so interesting. It does. It makes so much sense, Alex. It really does make a good case for including the international equities and even international bonds in a diversified portfolio. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future, but we’ve got to take all of that into consideration and not necessarily rely on the last decade in terms of making decisions going forward.

With that in mind, what are your thoughts about index funds versus active management? Most of the index funds, for those of you who are listening, really focus on how big a company is. That’s called market cap weighted, versus active management where you have a money manager that is actually doing the stock picking.

Yet, when we look historically, again, the average fund manager hasn’t outperformed their index. Well, I’ll give you my thoughts after you answer, Alex. Just on the face of things, how can active management compete with the effect of large companies just getting larger?

Alex: Good question. Let’s just take a step back and consider active versus passive. The financial industry as a whole tends to divide themselves into two camps. They’re either all in on passive or they’re all in on active. We need to acknowledge it. There’s a time and a place for active management, and then there’s a time and a place for passive.

During, for example, boom years where the market is moving up quite considerably, that’s a great time for passive management in many different asset classes. We need to acknowledge not every asset class is amazingly useful when deploying active management. Sometimes, there’s a time to be passive. Sometimes, there’s a time to be active.

For example, in the US markets when things are looking good, then passive can tend to outperform, and the low fee are attractive. During periods of volatility, here is when there is dislocations in the market, such as what we’re experiencing at the moment. Having an experienced manager at the helm who can make sophisticated decisions, that can be helpful for managing the risk within the portfolio.

That’s when I tend to think about active, at least within the United States. Now, don’t get me wrong, as we start to venture away from the US equity market, I tend to favor active over passive. The reason being is that, as you go into the international markets, the benchmarks that you’re attaching yourself to and what you’re actually getting exposure to in your portfolios isn’t always amazingly great opportunities.

For example, in somewhere like Europe, some of the biggest sectors, it’s the banking sector. Now, we don’t really worry about the European banking sector like we did back in, say, 2012 and 2013, during the Eurozone Debt Crisis. It’s not the most profitable or exciting opportunity within the European market.

Therefore, we want to think that maybe that’s a good space to deploy some active management. The same is true within emerging markets as well. Again, the benchmarks aren’t amazingly constructive, and therefore active managers can dig around and find the best opportunities within the EM universe that may not have huge amounts of waiting within a passive benchmark.

That story becomes even more true if we step away from equity and into fixed income. That is really an opportunity where active managers can use some opportunity in their stance to be able to jump in and out of the most exciting names within the fixed income world. For me, when it comes to this active versus passive discussion, there’s a time and a place for both.

Investors need to be cautious during this risky, volatile period about just going along with the ride for passive management. For me, think about it carefully. Think about the opportunities for the long term, try and work out what suits you in your risk portfolios.

Patti: Alex, I couldn’t agree with you more. I didn’t want to tell you what I thought, but especially right now, as we look at some of the managers and some of the things that you guys are doing, it’s been really impressive. I think about also like the small cap area we talked about before.

A lot of people don’t realize that the Russell, the index for small cap stocks, even before all of this happened, 40 percent of the Russell Index, they had negative earnings. If you’re buying the index, you’re also buying companies that aren’t making any money.

I’ve always believed that just because I, Patti Brennan, who stands 5’3” can’t dunk a basketball, or that the average person can’t dunk a basketball, it doesn’t mean that anyone can’t dunk a basketball. I do believe there are people out there with access to CEOs, balance sheets, and really have a better understanding of a particular company or an industry. That can add some value.

You talked about fixed income, because I agree 150 percent in terms of how to manage a fixed income portfolio. Getting back to what we were talking about as we first started, with interest rates this low, and with companies that are struggling, states and municipalities who are probably not going to be able to balance their budget, how should we think of bonds in a diversified portfolio?

Alex: This is certainly a head‑scratcher. It’s one of the really big challenges, not just for the last few years, but it will be a big feature during the next expansion, especially now that many of the central banks around the world have cut rates even further. They’ve dragged down the yields of bonds.

Now, if you go back a couple of decades, government bonds really used to be this perfect asset class, where we could go to it not just for income and yield, but we could also go there to look for safety and diversification. It’s this perfect mixture of the two.

What we’ve seen happen since the financial crisis, and the unorthodox policies that many central banks have adopted, what they’ve essentially done is broken the bond market in two. They’ve forced investors to choose. You can hold government bonds if you like, and that provides you with diversification benefits, but the yield is very, very low.

Therefore, it’s unlikely to meet many clients’ income needs. Therefore, they’re forced to go elsewhere for income. We’ve now broken the bond market into two parts, income‑orientated asset classes that come with higher risks, or safer, more secure government bonds, but they come with much lower yields. What are investors meant to do about this?

Again, what we need to think about is careful financial planning when it comes to managing this particular challenge. What we need to be able to do is hold part of our fixed-income exposure in those secure assets that provide some diversification, some insurance against volatility elsewhere in our clients’ portfolios on one hand.

Then we need to carefully go about finding income opportunities elsewhere. Now, using that balanced approach between the two, we can try and solve for this problem. Let’s be clear, Patti, this isn’t as easy as what it used to be. The central banks have really made it challenging.

I urge investors to seek out professional help in order to try and navigate this particularly challenging problem. It’s only going to get worse during the next few years.

Patti: Wow. Alex, you are singing my song on that one. It ultimately comes down to the financial planning and to see how all of the asset classes can work together in such a way so that the portfolio itself is congruent with the longer‑term financial plan.

We can look at everything individually and micro‑manage that, but to me, the most important thing is how is this group of asset classes, how is this portfolio serving the client and what the client wants to do and needs to do? It’s really important, and I love the way that you broke the fixed income into the high‑quality government debt, that money that is your plan B if everything else is plummeting.

You always have that place to go for emergencies or for cash flow. Whether it be from the income, I think that we all have to be realistic that, with interest rates this low, the income component is not probably going to cut it. How do we create cash flow, which is a word that’s different than income? How do we create cash flow in a predictable and sustainable way?

I think the way you laid it out was brilliant, Alex. I love that, because we’re not allocating or putting 40 percent of our portfolio into something that’s not really going to do anything, but to maybe stage that part of the portfolio with the understanding that some of it is short‑term, some of it’s intermediate, and the rest of it’s longer‑term, rather than trying to predict.

Here’s a question. Is there any part of the bond market that we really should be focusing on, that you think, wow? You are one of the best managers, with one of the best companies in the world, and the most respected, if I may say, as a financial planner who, to be perfectly honest with you, as independent planner, I can go anywhere, I can work with anyone and recommend anyone.

J.P. Morgan just continues to come forward with really thoughtful, great answers to the problems that we’re trying to solve for our clients. In that fixed income area, what are you doing for your mom?

Alex: Absolutely, and obviously we need to think about the risk tolerances of each individual client and what’s appropriate. Right now, what I’m saying to clients is, now’s the time to be thinking about quality within our fixed income portfolios. How I’ve been positioning it is that, bonds are like bubble wrap that you put into your portfolios. When do I use bubble wrap?

I use bubble wrap when I’m trying to send a gift back to my mom in the UK, and I want that gift to turn up in one piece at its intended destination. Just a bit of padding and protection in case it hits any turbulence on the flight over. The same is true with investors and their fixed income portfolios right now.

What I want to do is try and find areas with quality, that I can just put into the portfolio to provide padding and protection, not just to bonds, but for the entire client exposure, so that if we do hit any turbulence, we’ve got that protection in place. For us, what that looks like is having a little bit of things like municipal debt, in part, where we think it’s appropriate.

Also, putting in some core US treasuries. Yes, it’s low‑yielding, but it does a good job of diversifying the portfolio. What we’re also looking at is high‑quality corporate credit debt, those companies that have the AAA credit rating, which is the highest credit rating that you can get.

Safe, secure firms that will be able to see through this disruption caused by the virus, and continue to honor their financial obligations. All of those sort of companies and opportunities put in together establish some degree of quality. What that does is just adds that bubble wrap, that padding and protection that we think is really important for weathering the challenges over the next few weeks and months ahead.

Patti: That makes sense in any environment, doesn’t it? To a certain extent, having a portfolio laid out just as you’ve laid it out for us today is just really good planning because we should always expect that things are going to happen that we’re not going to expect, and we can’t predict.

We don’t know if these things happen, and that bubble wrap can really protect our clients’ futures by making sure that everything isn’t going to break.

Alex: Absolutely. That sort of diversification benefit is a long‑term investment scheme. Regularly, when we talk to clients, they’re always chasing after the latest hot topic. I would encourage right now, after the volatility we’ve seen in the last few weeks, think about the discipline that can be brought around by having diversified portfolios.

It is more important than ever that we’re emphasizing that point, Patti.

Patti: I can’t think of a better time. I mean, we are living it right now. Companies that nobody would have ever thought would be in jeopardy of going into bankruptcy, whether it be the cruise lines, or airlines, or a company like Boeing, for crying out loud, Boeing, and yet they’re on fumes.

Those people, like us, and as you are advocating, who have diversified, who have gotten that professional management, and to be perfectly honest with you, and folks, those of you who have been listening to my podcast in the past, this is an area that we don’t play in the sandbox.

You either do it, or you don’t. In my opinion, the best thing that you can do is to accept the humility, as I have, over 30 years of trying. I accept the humility and understand that there are people out there that specialize this. They live and breathe it. They know the companies. They know their ability to maintain those payments because that’s what debt is. That’s what bonds are. It’s debt.

What companies and their senior management really emphasize having a strong balance sheet, lot’s of cash, and are ready for almost anything that might hit them? Those are the companies that have that mentality going in, are the ones that are surviving and doing just fine right now. As much as we think we might want to know, because it’s a household name, you just don’t know.

The people that live and breathe this stuff, like the Alexes of the world, they do know. They’ve done the research. They knew a year ago these companies, how they could sustain something like this. Again, this is pretty extreme, and that’s the whole point of diversification. Yeah, while they may have a bond with Boeing in their portfolio, they have 200 other issues that are just doing honky dory.

Here’s one more question for you, and I’m just curious because I know that you’ve been thinking about this, Alex. This is a really significant disruption in our lives. You and your team, how do you view the way that we are working now, the way we may or may not travel, how we relax, eating out, and how we’re even communicating? How do you think about the portfolios?

Should we adjust our portfolios accordingly? For example, should we be overemphasizing growth, which is that emphasis digital, pharma, and healthcare? Or, conversely, do you just think that everything is going to go back to where it was, two to three years from now?

Alex: I think it’s important to acknowledge that in the course of humanity, every now and then, we have these life‑changing events that cause fundamental rethinks amongst society about how individuals conduct business, how they work, how they spend their free time. I believe that the coronavirus has the makings to be one of those society‑changing events.

Therefore, we almost have to rethink many various aspects. We can probably spend the next hour coming up with a long laundry list of potential changes. Let me try and highlight a few areas, both amongst how consumers operate, but also how businesses are going to function.

Firstly, within the consumer, one of the biggest changes that we’re probably going to see is just how individuals spend their time and money. We’ll see large avoidances with crowds, going out and spending money in hard and fast brick‑and‑mortar retail stores, and instead favoring spending more money and time online. You’ll also see how people decide to spend their finances also shift.

One of the challenges that this virus has highlighted is quite how many individuals were actually struggling with very limited amounts of savings. There wasn’t a huge amount sitting in their bank accounts to meet sudden shocks and expenses. One of the things we’ll see during the next expansion is that consumers adopt a much more fiscally conservative approach to managing their money.

Operating more as a saver than a spender. That’s quite a dramatic change, so those shifts will be quite significant. On the business side of things, we’ll also see some changes. Firstly, businesses are likely to be much more willing to allow their employees to work from home, or work remotely.

Firstly, it’s great for them as they start to be able to cut down on expensive office space, allow businesses and employees to operate wherever they would like to do that. That more footloose, fancy‑free approach is going to involve some degree of infrastructure investments, and people building up some technological capabilities to allow that to happen.

I do think that this prolonged period of working from home or working remotely will have encouraged businesses to embark on those programs. Another big change that we might also see is, businesses are going to likely rethink their supply chain management over the next few quarters and years ahead.

One of the things that the virus has really highlighted is some of the challenges with having geographically diversified supply chains. For the last 30 years, we’ve seen significant globalization. That has brought many economic benefits, but it’s brought the challenge of having US companies operating supply chains that incorporate many other countries and regions around the world.

When we see these viruses hit, that’s a big challenge as factories go offline. I think one of the things that we will see post this virus when the dust settles is businesses start to rethink how their supply chains are set up, and try and simplify them from a geographical point of view.

We also need to remember that, whilst it was only a few months ago, it may feel like years ago, but we were talking very much around trade tensions, they have not gone away entirely. Therefore, that, combined with the coronavirus, likely helps start businesses down this path towards simplifying the supply chain. That is just a few little nuts and bolts of maybe what we might see happen.

There will be much broader overarching discussions that we could do an entire new podcast on those topics, I think, Patti.

Patti: I’m sure we could. Wouldn’t it be great if you and I could fast‑forward five years from now and just simply look back and know exactly how all of this played out?

Alex: [laughs]

Patti: It would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Alex: Yeah, if I had my crystal ball working like that, that would be one benefit for all of us, I think.

Patti: You know what, Alex? While we can’t exactly do that, I will say that having you here with us today was a great runner‑up. I got to tell you, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, your insights, and your wisdom with all of us today.

Alex: Thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed the opportunity.

Patti: Folks, thanks to all of you for joining me as well. You all know me pretty well by now, and I know you know that I will always give it to you straight. There’s a lot that we don’t know yet. I believe there’s going to be a lot more uncertainty and difficult times. I do believe we are going to get out of this, and we’re also going to learn a lot in the process.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or want to know how to apply some of these insights that Alex shared with us today, please feel free to go to our website at keyfinancialinc.com. In the meantime, please stay safe, healthy, and by the way, sane.
I hope you have a great day. Take care.

Ep43: Financial Literacy – It’s Not Just for Adults!

About This Episode

April is Financial Literacy Month and today, perhaps more than ever, Patti is urging her listeners to be financially aware. In this podcast, she stresses the importance of teaching financial literacy to our children, starting at an early age. She is joined by fellow CFP, Mac Gardner. Mac is the author of “The Four Money Bears” and “Motivate Your Money”. Mac shares his research findings teaching children and young adults about the four things that you can do with money and talks about the app that is being developed to empower our young people with greater financial awareness.


Patti Brennan: Patti Brennan:  Hey, welcome to the Patti Brennan show. Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me today is Mac Gardner. Mac is also a CFP, and he brings to the table is something really unique. He’s written the greatest that I’ve read for kids to teach kids about money. Mac, welcome to the show.

Mac Gardner: Patti, thank you so much for having me. This is great. Not very often you can say that you’re being interviewed by a hall‑of‑famer, so I can check that one off my list.

Patti: Aw, well, thank you so much, Mac. That’s so nice. You, in my mind, are a hall‑of‑famer for the children out there who want to learn about money. I’m curious, tell us, let’s start.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How’d you get started, and what made you want to write a book for children?

Mac: “The Four Money Bears” books is actually my second book. My first book is titled “Motivate Your Money.” When I had my practice in Houston, it took me a few years, and I wanted to created something that would allow me to share what I jokingly call my Mac nuggets, or my little tidbits of being a financial adviser in the business for 20‑plus years.

I wanted to be able to share some of this knowledge with my clients, who are adults. I wrote that book. I gave it to clients. I gave it to prospects. About a year into it, one of my clients came to me.

She was on the board of an organization in Houston that supports children of color. She said, “Mac, I love your first book. It would be really neat, though, if you could maybe make something for kids.”

She said, “We never really any sort of financial literacy or guidance growing up. Would you be open to creating something that a child would understand and a child would appreciate?” I sat, I thought about it, and took some of concepts from my first book.

In my first book, I talk about the five steps to financial success. Plan accordingly, spend cautiously, save diligently, invest wisely, and give generously. Then I said, “OK, what could a child understand?”

Kids like bears, [laughs] so I created this book called The Four Money Bears. What it really does is it teaches children that there’s only four things you can do with money, spend it, save it, invest it, give it away.

Patti: I just love that. It is such a wonderful way to communicate the four things that you can do with money in such a simple, profound way. You mentioned financial literacy. I don’t know about you, Mac, but that almost sounds almost insulting.

We talk about Millennials and the fact that Millennials have the lowest financial literacy rate ever, and that a lot of kids graduating from high school and college really don’t understand how money works.

I think it’s wonderful that you’re out there getting the kids at a younger age, at the elementary school age, in such a way so that it’s not so intimidating. How did you drill down on that concept? Is it something that you’ve been thinking about? Do you have kids of your own, for example?

Mac: Yes, I do. I have three little ones. If they were all here right now, and I asked them, “OK, kiddos, what are the four things you can do with money?” They say, “We know, papa. Spend it, save it, invest it, or give it away. We know.” [laughs]

The book, interestingly enough, is the story of me teaching my children about the four things they can do with money. We jokingly in our house call each other Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and the Baby Bears.

That was a factor in developing the storyline as well. What was really interesting was I would have clients come to me and ask, “How can I start the conversation?” Patti, it was, “How can I start the conversation?”

I started doing some research on my own and realized that an Oxford study shows that a child’s connectivity or awareness with money actually starts by age seven. I said, “OK, how can we put something together where it’s fun and easy for a parent to sit down with their child?”

Especially a parent who never got the financial literacy, or the financial knowledge, or financial guidance ‑‑ we’ve got to find a new word for that, you’re right ‑‑ when they were younger. How do we get them a tool to sit down with their little ones and start the conversation?

I think that’s some of the best reviews that I’ve gotten from folks is the tool really makes it easy for a parent with a young child to start the conversation.

Patti: What I loved about the book, Mac, was the fact that it was truly a story, that the four money bears, they weren’t doing it all correctly in the beginning. Even Spender Bear, that’s obvious.

Spender Bear was spending all his money, but Saver Bear saves every dollar she earns. She’s always got money in her piggybank, in her closet, etc., but she doesn’t buy nice things or have much fun.

That’s not OK also. There’s a balance with that. Investor Bear invests all their money but runs into the same difficulties. Then Giver Bear gives it all away.

I love the fact that you integrated the four money bears and say, “Doing things all by themselves, in isolation, without consideration to what the other three bears were doing, doesn’t necessarily create the outcome of a great life.”

How you integrated that story to bring them together in such a way to create a balanced life, as it relates not just to money, but quality of life as well. I loved how you do that, and I think that’s terrific how you can explain that balance to kids in a meaningful way that they can understand.

Mac: Thank you. The idea of a budget was something that I was trying to get across. I do something when I present the book to elementary school students. I do something called the $100 bill challenge.

Patti: What is that? I heard about that. Tell me more about that.

Mac: I was trying to find a way…I’m a huge fan of public speaking, and I call it the three Es of public speaking. You want to engage, you want to educate, and you want to entertain. I was looking for a way to try to grab these young minds and grab their attention.

I said, “If I bring out a $100 bill, and I asked them, if I gave you this $100 bill, what would you do with it?” I really didn’t know what to expect, but an amazing trend started to happen. I would take the $100 bill, and I would ask them, “What would you do with it?”

Hands would fly in the air, “Oo, ah,” and, “Oh, I’d buy this,” or, “I’d buy that,” or, “I’d get this,” or, “I’d get that. Pokémon cards, sneakers, or something. Then I said, “Huh?” Then there would be the one child that raised their hand, and they’d say, “I’d put it in my piggybank.”

I said, “OK. I don’t think you’re being honest, but thank you for being different.” What it showed me, Patti, over the long run – and I’ve done quite a few of these presentations – is that children are wired, almost programmed, to consume from a very early age.

Patti: Boy, isn’t that interesting? That’s the influence of advertising, TV, and all that. I think it’s fascinating that that’s really what they were going to do with a $100 bill.

Mac: They would consume. They would buy. The two things, what it showed through this experience, or through these various experience, or numerous experiences, is that children are familiar with the concept of spending and saving.

However, the other two functions, which are investing and giving, the sense of altruism, weren’t really present. The thought process is, “OK, if there are only four things we can do with money, but they know what two of the four are, this is a good time to at least put into their awareness what these other two functions of money are.”

What investing is, and why investing is different from saving. I would use the analogy of the $100 bill and say, “If you went to a bank, and you put this $100 bill into a bank, a year from now, you’d have $103,” [laughs] especially in this interest rate environment.

Whereas investing, if you were to invest that $100, a year from now, you could have $200, or you could have $50. That’s the difference, is that factor of risk. You can potentially earn a lot more, gain a lot more, but you can also potentially lose money.

I try to find ways to explain and introduce this concept of investing at an early age so that now, these kids can go home and say, “Hey, you know what? Mom, Dad, I heard about this idea, this other function of money that it can make more money over the long term.”

That’s something that a lot of these children probably never had, especially if their parents never received that guidance themselves.

Patti: It’s interesting, because with my four kids, I tried to introduce the concept of delayed consumption. For them to imagine themselves, if they were six years old, were going through Kmart, and they would get what we call the gimmes.

Basically, we’d go through the aisle and say, “Mommy, can I have that?” I’d say, “Remember what the rules are. No gimmes.” I wanted to introduce the idea of the delayed consumption and to say, “When you’re 7 years old, if we don’t get this today, let’s think about what that could mean when you’re 7, 8, or 10 years old.”

Or, “Maybe when you’re 16 years old, like your other older brother, and think about maybe if we can save and maybe put this money into something, you could actually buy a new bike.” Again, adopting it to their future self and the importance of keeping that into consideration was really, really key.

I’d love to tell you that it worked with all four of them…

…but it did have impact. They still remember it to this day.

Mac: One of the more powerful phraseologies or terms I’ve heard – I actually heard this at a conference, the eMoney Conference last year – an adviser with young kids said she doesn’t say we can’t afford, she says, “We choose not to spend it on this.”

Patti: Oh, I can’t believe you…

Mac: To put that into your child’s mind.

Patti: It’s so interesting, because I can’t believe that you heard that at the eMoney Conference, because that’s exactly the terminology I’ve always used. It’s, “You know what? We could…”

Again, this is probably TMI, but growing up as one of seven children, to be perfectly honest with you, Mac, I grew up financially secure. There were a lot of things that we couldn’t afford. I didn’t want my kids to have that insecurity with money.

When we would go through those, the Kmart or what have you, I would basically say, “You know what? We could buy that today, but I don’t really want to do that. We don’t choose to do that. I’d like to save it for sometime in the future.”

Then we get into that conversation about what they’re going to be doing in the future, so we don’t choose to spend our money, instead of saying, “We can’t afford to buy that.” It’s OK in my mind for older kids to understand that there are limits to what a family can afford. At the younger ages, I think it’s probably premature.

Mac: Agreed, agreed. I like the ability through this book to open up conversations that probably may not have been had. One of the best compliments I think I’ve ever received about this Four Money Bears book is from a parent reading it.

Actually, several parents that have said, “Mac, thank you for not making this book too kiddie. Thank you for making this something where a parent can get something out of it as well,” while sharing the content with their kids.

We added worksheets in the back. There’s a budget in the back. They’re really neat tools that we’ve incorporated into it to really spur conversation and really make it an involved experience when talking about money.

Patti: Mac, it’s interesting, because you mentioned a parent talking to you about the book and how meaningful it was for her. We heard from people as well. Let’s take a listen.

“As a school librarian I’m always looking for ways that I can add to our school library collection both for students and for my teachers and the The Four Money Bears by Mac Gardner would be a great book to add to any library collection.” “The reason we are excited about this book is that it is aligned to the new math standards in the state of Texas and this is going to allow our students to be able to read about and learn about money in a different way.”

Patti: It’s interesting, because hearing from those parents and understanding our parents, what we were introduced to. I think it’s just such an important thing that we begin to bring this down to that next generation.

Mac, we were talking about eMoney. I think it’s really wonderful that they brought you to their summit. To be perfectly honest with you, I know a lot of people at eMoney – Ed O’Brien, Jessica, and Celeste – they have a very high standard for their speakers that they bring to their summit.

Anybody that speaks there, they’re speaking to the top financial planning professions in the country. Now, you were actually one of those people that was invited to speak there, weren’t you?

Mac: Yes, it was an awesome experience. What I love about it is eMoney’s mission is helping people talk about money. Their leadership team has been so supportive of our children’s financial literacy mission that you mentioned.

Ed O’Brien, who’s the CEO, Jessica Liberi, who’s Head of Product, and Celeste Revelli, she’s a director of financial planning. They’re all true believers in the power of financial literacy. They work daily towards eMoney’s mission to serve their clients.

They approached me last year and asked if I would be open to them created a one‑hour CFPCE course using The Four Money Bears. I thought about it, and I said yes, [laughs] I’d be more than happy, be elated to have that opportunity.

They said it would be in a breakout session, and I would present it at the summit in Austin. I’ll tell you, Patti, it was one of the proudest and most humbling moments in my career for several reasons. Number one, I don’t look like your typical financial adviser or CFP.

Patti: Welcome to the club, my friend.

Mac: [laughs] Again, I don’t look like the typical adviser, but they asked me to speak and share this knowledge in predominantly white male and female audience. Here I am, giving this, sharing this knowledge, and providing the guidance that I think can help parents with young kids

The folks at eMoney didn’t care what I looked like. They just knew that I had created something that could help a lot of parents, and it would resonate with the advisers, as you said, that are some of the top ones in the country and in the industry.

That’s really all that they cared about. That’s what mattered to them. I felt very blessed to have that opportunity to present and work with eMoney to help their clients have a better conversation and talk about money.

It was an awesome experience, and they’ve actually asked me to participate in future engagements, webinars, so on, and so forth. It’s fun to be able to go somewhere and feel that kind of value.

Patti: It’s interesting, because I’m also aware that you’ve actually been asked to be involved in the Fintech Bullpen, which is, again, a whole nother layer of opportunity that is being presented to you that isn’t really often presented to anybody else outside of eMoney and the fintech world.

Can you tell us a little bit about what the goal is and what you’re beginning to develop?

Mac: Sure. Folks who have read the book, they love the book. They’ve given it great reviews. Various states around the country, various advisers have utilized the book to help them.

One of the responses I frequently get is, “Mac, it would be really neat if there was a digital version of this. Is there an app for this? Are you working on some way to get this book out to young people through some sort of digital format?”

Patti: Wouldn’t that be awesome to have a gamification of The Four Money Bears? Wouldn’t that be amazing, because kids love games. The idea that you’re coming up with to digitalize the content and the concepts and make it fun for kids, it goes back to the three Es that you mentioned when you do public speaking.

You’re engaging them in a way to make that learning more permanent.

Mac: Yeah. The University of South Florida, of which I am on the advisory board of their personal financial planning degree program, they were presented with this Fintech Bullpen concept that I approached them with.

They said, “Mac, this is awesome.” The idea is to utilize the personal financial planning degree students and have them work collaboratively with the computer programming students at the University of South Florida, and make it a competition to get both worlds.

Get the fintech exposure for both sides and both students. Then I approached the leadership team with eMoney about this contest. Ed loved it, and Ed said, “We’d love to be involved,” because they are also working on gamification, but they’re targeting high school and college.

They really haven’t had any concepts that target elementary school. Ed loved it. He said, “We’re definitely behind it, and we’re going to support it.” Then there’s a company in Florida called Synapse, where they actually host these types of contests.

Patti: Mac, why don’t we take a step back? For the folks listening out there, let’s explain what the Bullpen is. I have participated in them. They are so much fun. For those of you who are listening, it’s basically a full day, and it’s a contest.

You have an objective, a goal, and you break out in teams. It is unbelievable the ideas that begin to come out. I just got back from Australia and New Zealand, Mac, it was amazing. There was a great speaker.

The speaker said each one of us is about five percent genius. Einstein was 25 percent genius. If we get 20 people in a room, that equals 100 percent genius. That’s the concept behind these bullpens, where we get people on teams, break it out, do the brainstorming, etc.

It is amazing some of the ideas that came out of the bullpens that I’ve participated in. Frankly, with eMoney, a lot of what we do with eMoney came out of some of the work that we did in the bullpens.

To take The Four Money Bears and apply that idea, I’m so excited about what that could do for our young people going forward and the impact that your book is going to make on children all over the world.

Mac: I agree. I mentioned to earlier in conversations that, when I published this book years ago, I really had no idea of the journey it would take me on. This mission to really just educate the future generation…

I heard a wise, I think it was Confucius, that said, “If your plan is for a year, plant rice. If your plant is for 10 years, plant a tree. If your plan is for 100 years, teach children.” My idea, this plan that we have, really is change the world and really change the way children look at money and how they are educated about it.

Ideally, we would love for the Fintech Bullpen to produce something or some things that we can provide to elementary school children, not just here in the state of the Florida, but across the country, and even potentially across the world.

I just feel blessed every day to help people as a Certified Financial Planner, and just work every day to help promote financial literacy and new ways to help expose children to making better financial decisions as a child so that they can practice healthy financial habits when they’re adults.

Patti: It’s wonderful. Mac, since you brought it up earlier, you talked about diversity and inclusion in the industry. Tell me more about that. Anything, from your experience over your career as it relates to that, or are you really focusing more on The Four Money Bears and getting it down to the children?

Mac: The number one goal, of course, is to educate the children, but thank you for bringing that up. I don’t know if you noticed, but the cover the book, four bears, they are all four different colors.

Patti: I love that. Love, love, love.

Mac: [laughs] Two of the bears are boys, two of the bears are girls. It was a definite nod to diversity and inclusion. The four bears are four different shapes.

I wanted there to be a subtle, or maybe not‑so‑subtle, nod to the fact that our industry and the advisers in it does not represent society from a perspective of advisers that are out there guiding people that look a lot different than the industry.

I’ll share a very quick story here. Years ago – you probably read investment news, but – I was reading through investment news when they introduced their first 40 Under 40. I was flipping through, and I was saying, “This is great. I’m glad that they’re bringing attention to an industry that is in dire need of younger people to get in to help more people.”

I’m flipping through, and I did not see…I saw very few people of color. I reached out to the editors, and I said, “Hey, could we not find maybe one or two people of color that could be included on this list?”

They asked if they could interview me for an article. They asked the reason why I believe there aren’t more people of color in the industry. I said, “Well, honestly, I think it’s a lack of education.”

If a child or young person doesn’t understand how many plays into their lives and the value of money, it’s hard for them to then realize that this is an actual profession that they can help other people do this themselves.

Short‑term, we want to help educate young people about what their money options are, what they can do with their money. Long‑term, what we would love to be able to see through this book is an increase in more diversity and inclusion in the financial advisory space.

There are more people of color and more women that are becoming advisers and becoming CFPs.

Patti: Wouldn’t it be cool if those young people could look back to The Four Money Bears that they read when they were five or six years old and say, “I want to teach other people about the four things they can do with money”?

That leads them into, to me, one of the most rewarding professions out there. It just the greatest profession. What an impact that you have on so many people’s lives. We get to do it. It’s a privilege.

For me, I wake up every morning, and I think, “Wow, I get to do this.” We’re going through a tough time right now in our country and in the world. People are worried. People are scared. What a wonderful position to be in to be able to give them perspective, give them comfort.

Mac Gardner, thank you for doing all of the above for us today and for our listeners. You’ve made a huge difference for so many people. Before we end, tell us, how do we get a hold of this book?

Mac: Sure. The book can be purchased on Amazon, [laughs] like many things. You can get it on Amazon. Or you can go to our website at www.thefourmoneybears.com. On the website, you can purchase the book.

We’ve also included some neat tools. I’ve created Bear Bucks that parents can print off of the website, for those parents who are looking to start giving their kids allowances and looking for different tools. You can also print off the annual budget on the website as well.

Two spaces to check out, if you’re interested, is definitely going on Amazon. Please lease a review. We’re very blessed, very lucky, we’ve had all five‑star reviews on the book so far. If you’re looking for other tools to help promote financial literacy, you can go to our website, thefourmoneybears.com.

Patti: A five‑star review on Amazon is not an easy feat. Congratulations, Mac. For those of you who are interested, we will put all of that information into the show notes. Go to our website. You’ll see everything in the show notes, this conversation, and the references that Mac just made.

Go out, get The Four Money Bears book. We’re ordering hundreds of them to give to our parents and grandparents to give to the kids, to begin having that conversation. Mac Gardner, thank you so much. You are my hero.

You are such a thought leader for our industry. Thanks for taking the time today to talk with me and talk with our friends who are listening out there. For those of you who are listening, again, go to the website.

Get the show notes. If you have any questions, want to give us a call, please feel free to do so. By the way, if you have any other topics, anything else that you’d like to learn about, let us know. We do these podcasts for you.

We’re really interested in making sure that it’s information that you want to learn about. Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mac: Thank you, Patti.

Ep42: Is COVID – 19 Driving the Economy into a Depression?

About This Episode

This is part two of a special edition series of the Covid – 19 Pandemic discussion with Gregg Stebben, a nationally renowned radio host, author, and journalist who has interviewed Presidents, Senators and professional athletes. In this episode, Gregg drills down his questions to Patti asking specifically if she believes our nation is headed into a Depression because of the current pandemic. Her answer and reasons for her answer may surprise you; tune in to find out why!


Patti Brennan: Hi everybody. Welcome back to the “Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me again is Gregg Stebben. Greg and I just had a wonderful conversation about how the coronavirus is impacting all of you listening today and watching today, and Americans in general. How is it affecting your view on your health, your finances, and your family?

We changed the way we do this podcast. Greg Stebben is an amazing interviewer. He has interviewed presidents, Mikhail Gorbachev. He’s interviewed actors, members of congress. I think last week he just did an interview with Marco Rubio. This guy is it when it comes to service journalism.

What a privilege it is to have him with us again today. Gregg, thanks so much for joining us.

Gregg Stebben: It is great to be here, Patti. I feel like you are going to be the one doing the service journalism today because you mentioned to me in an off‑the‑mic call and then in an email that what’s happening today in the economy because of the corona virus, you don’t think we’re headed for a depression.

I have to tell you, I want to hear every thought you have on this. I know lots of other people do too. Talk to us about that because I think it’s a great fear for a lot of people. Help calm our fears.

Patti: Certainly, there is when you hear on TV and read in the newspapers that unemployment is going to go up to 35 percent and that GDP is going to crash. You know what, Gregg? We should be prepared that that’s probably going to happen.

The world has stopped. This is the ice age. Nobody is going out of their homes. Nobody is really spending much money. It’s a very difficult time and a lot of uncertainty. Isn’t this what leads to a depression?

I do not believe that we are going to go into a depression. Yes, it’s going to be ugly. Yes, the market is going to continue to be volatile because it’s always volatile when there’s this much uncertainty. With uncertainty comes fear. People just don’t want to deal with it.

However, let’s all take a step back and compare what’s going on now, maybe what happened during the financial crisis, and then what happened in the Depression.

Gregg: Before you go on, I want to ask a technical question.

Patti: Sure.

Gregg: Is there actually a textbook definition of what a depression is versus what a recession is?

Patti: Recession is defined as two back‑to‑back quarters of negative GDP. I think a depression is when you have negative GDP for an extended period of time. That’s what we’re really worried about – is, how long is this going to last? What’s life going to look like afterwards?

Now, there’s a couple of really fundamental things that I want to explain to you. First of all, let’s first define commerce. Commerce is defined as the exchange of dollars.

If I provide a service to you, Gregg, you’re going to pay me some money. I’m going to retain my profit. I’m going to go and pay Doug. Doug is going to provide his service, sell me his goods, retain his profit. Basically, what we’re doing is we are exchanging dollars.

What do we have right now? We don’t have much exchange of dollars. There’s no revenue coming in. That’s really scary. Here’s the thing. Let’s go back to the Depression. Again, we had no exchange of dollars. Unemployment during the Depression got up to 25 percent. Isn’t this going to be worse because it could go up to 35 percent?

Here’s the difference. During the Depression, there was no such thing as unemployment insurance. If you lost your job, Gregg, you had no cash flow.

Now, it’s going to take a while for them to figure this out with unemployment, but not only are people going to be able to continue to get an income, that income is ramped up. You get not only the normal unemployment, but they’re adding another $600 per week.

By the way, it’s going to last for an additional 13 weeks to give people money to be able to continue to consume, pay their rents, and take care of their families.

That’s number one. Now, to compare this time to the financial crisis, unemployment also got up very high, 10, 11 percent. The problem with the financial crisis is it took a long time for people to get back to work. They didn’t juice up the unemployment insurance.

What they found was that during the financial crisis, they were too slow, and they were too timid. I found it interesting. Neel Kashkari did a great interview on 60 minutes two weeks ago.

I so appreciated his transparency because he came right out, because he was very much involved during the crisis, and he said, “We made the mistake of being very concerned about only helping the deserving.” He said, “The problem with that is our programs were too targeted. When you’re going through a crisis, you got to get the money out there.”

We need to get money out to the deserving and maybe even the not deserving and keep commerce moving forward.

Gregg: In other words, better to overshoot than be too preoccupied with hitting the target and the bullseye.

Patti: Exactly. You’re hearing that from so many different leaders. Inside government and even outside, we have to overreact. It’s very important.

We can always trim it back, but right now we have to literally flood America with cash and cash flow, number one, for the basic, fundamental things that we all need but also for confidence because when people are insecure, oh my goodness, they pull back even further. They don’t pay their mortgages. They don’t care about their FICO score. They don’t pay their rents.

We have to give them a feeling of confidence that we are going to get through it. That was the first thing.

Again, during the Depression, we did not have this thing called unemployment insurance. In addition, there was no such thing as FDIC insurance. If you had money in a bank and the bank went under, you lost all of your money.

What’s different about today versus the financial crisis in 2008 is that our banking system is in much better shape. Our banking system and the financial system is sound. What they did after the crisis from a regulatory perspective, the banks were screaming, insurance companies were screaming, “It’s too restrictive. We can’t conduct business. We’re not going to have the profits.”

Guess what? Because of those regulations, our banks are in great shape. We don’t have an issue that is literally threatening the system that we all rely on.

I’ve got to tell you as a sidebar, yes, I’m worried. I’m a lot less worried today than I was during the financial crisis. That was, I thought, a lot scarier than today. I am very confident we’re going to get through this.

It’s going to get ugly. It’s uncomfortable. Our lives are different, but we’re going to get through it because the fabric of how we live life, and our economic system, and the way it works, that’s not being threatened as it was during the financial crisis.

Gregg: I want to ask a question about this, Patti. It actually refers back to a previous interview you and I did. We talked a lot about how good things could come out of this coronavirus crisis, not the same thing as saying we’re glad it happened, but it is happening. We have no control over that. Good things are going to come of it.

Could it be said that the soundness of our banking system today is a good thing that came out of the economic crisis or the financial crisis of 2008?

Patti: You better believe it. Absolutely, because again it comes down to confidence. The fact that we can be this confident about our banking system is a really good thing that came out of that crisis. I also think that the way that the government and the Federal Reserve handled the financial crisis is giving our current leaders a playbook.

When Ben Bernanke was doing these, he lowered interest rates. He did QE1, QE2, and QE3. Everybody was very uncertain because everybody was worried that that much liquidity sloshing around the system was going to lead to rampant inflation. Everybody’s brain started going back to the ‘30s when inflation was so incredibly high or the ‘70s when it got up to 14 and 15 percent.

That was a very bad economic outcome. At the time, everybody was very concerned about this. However, it didn’t lead to rampant inflation. This time, Jerome Powell could literally go on the shelf and pull these things off. This time, Jerome Powell didn’t do it onesie, twosie, threesie. He did it all at once.

He’s flooding the system with so much liquidity. It’s still going to take a little time for that to get through the economy, but mark my words, Gregg and everybody listening to this, it is going to work. It’s already working in the bond market. That is a really important thing.

The Federal Reserve has basically told us, “Look, we’re going to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get us out of this.” That’s important because the Fed, they can. It’s not QE1, 2, and 3. It’s QE infinity. As long as we know that, we can say, “OK. We’re going to work this out.”

Gregg: In our previous interview together, we talked a lot about your background. In a previous career, you were an ICU nurse.

I’m wondering if there’s an analogy to be drawn here between what happened in the 2008 financial crisis and what the Fed is doing today. It seems to me that sometimes when you go to the doctor, it’s such a bad thing, a virus perhaps. I’m not a doctor, so if I get this a little wrong, at least roll with the analogy.

Patti: I’m rolling.

Gregg: Sometimes, we try something and see how it works out. Sometimes, your doctor says, “We have to just kill it with antibiotics or kill it with chemotherapy. We have to do everything we got in our bag to kill it and kill it right now.” It sounds like there is a medical analogy here, how the Fed is behaving now versus how they behaved in 2008.

Patti: It’s a great analogy, Gregg. Think about it this way. If you go to the doctor, and the doctor diagnoses cancer, the doctor is also probably going to diagnose chemotherapy.

They’re probably going to tell you, “Look, this stuff is going to make you lose weight, throw up, and lose your hair. It’s going to be awful, but it’s the only thing that I know that can cure you.”

That’s what we’re going through right now. It’s very uncomfortable. We are getting our chemo. We’re getting this medicine. They’re doing it behind the scenes. I will tell you that, frankly, later on, not right away but be prepared a few years from now, our taxes are going to go up. Somehow, we’ve got to finance this.

Although, I think it’s pretty interesting that they’re talking about bringing back the war bonds. I don’t know about you. I’m finding, looking around, there’s a lot of patriotism that’s happening right now.

Even though we can’t hug each other, even though we’re not together like we normally are, there’s this basic human need to feel that presence of another human being. Granted, we can’t touch right now, but we want to touch in different ways. Americans are doing that right now.

I think everybody does understand that eventually we’re going to have to pay for this. This is what the federal government is there for. This $2.2 trillion bill they just passed is a very big deal. They’ve never done that. Guess what? They’re not done. That bill is 10 percent of our GDP. That is a huge deal between that and what the Fed is doing.

Now let me break this down for you because I think it’s important for everybody listening to know. The Federal Reserve, they can’t restart the economy. The Federal Reserve’s role is to contain the damage. The Treasury’s role is to restart the economy. That’s why you’re seeing two packages.

The Fed has their fire hose on. They’re putting tons of liquidity into the economy. The federal government has come out with this $2‑trillion package.

Now, most people believe because this has been so dramatic and deep that it’s really not a stimulus bill, it’s a relief bill. Guess what? It is going to provide relief to small businesses, to people. We’re going to get our checks eventually. We’ve got to just get through this period of throwing up and losing our hair.

Gregg: The cancer analogy becomes very useful here because if my wife came home today or one of your kids came home today and said to you, “Mom,” or to me, “Honey, I have cancer. It’s going to take 10 percent of everything we have to fight it,” I’m going to spend the 10 percent.

Patti: There you go.

Gregg: If it’s 20 percent, 30, but I’m going to spend every dollar it takes to kill the cancer. What you’re describing is a cancer on our economy.

Patti: You know what, Gregg? I love how you just took that one step further because, in the end of the day, I think that’s what’s going to happen. At wartime, it’s typically closer to 30, 40 percent. That’s what ended up getting us out of World War II.

As a sidebar to get back to the Depression, a lot of people believe that it was actually World War II that got us out of the Depression. You want to know what? Guess why? Because the government basically came out with all the spending. It was this wartime. They went through 30 to 40 percent of GDP to get us through the war.

Gregg: All of a sudden, there was jobs. There was a budget. There was a pressing need, like cancer, that, “We have to do this. We don’t have any choice. We can’t spend a lot of time talking about it. We just need to act now. Our lives are at stake.”

Patti: Exactly. That’s what’s happening now. Let’s put politics aside. We have to give credit where credit is due. These leaders, whether we like them or not, are actually finally, again, we say after three weeks finally, but they are coming up, and they’re rising to the occasion and doing everything that is necessary to get us through this as a country.

The other thing, Gregg, if I may say to take this, remember, let’s go back to the beginning of the show. We talk about commerce, the exchange of dollars. Why am I so confident that we’re not going to go into a depression?

Here’s another thing. Go back to the Depression. There was no such thing is Medicare. There was no such thing as welfare. To me, one of the biggest reasons is this pay‑as‑you‑go income tax that we all love to hate, that didn’t exist back then.

Here’s the deal. You did have to pay taxes. In fact, they were due in October. How did you do your taxes? You filled in the numbers, and you sent it in. Gregg, it is the Depression. What do you think compliance was like?

There was no such thing as a computer. The federal government was not in a position to do what they are doing today. They just weren’t.

They didn’t have the cash flow. We were not the reserve currency of the world as we are today. We couldn’t print money. We can today. It’s also been tested.

We, as human beings, are learning animals. Guess what? We’ve learned. Ben Bernanke got his PhD from Princeton because of his work studying the mistakes that were made during the Depression. He did exactly the opposite.

During the Depression, the Federal Reserve choked off credit. Hoover was influencing the Fed. It wasn’t a separate body as it is today.

Hoover was freaking out because he thought that having a balanced budget was the most important thing a government could do, and so the Federal Reserve choked off credit.

You ready for this, Gregg? Guess what? You know what they did during the Depression? Not only did they not lower taxes, they increased taxes because they didn’t have the revenue, because people weren’t compliant. They increased tax rates on the only people that were making any money.

The other thing is that prior to the Depression, the Roaring ‘20s, if you had a stock market account, chances are you had 90 percent of that account on margin.

Gregg: Yes.

Patti: Debt, especially as it relates to investments, is a really scary thing. What happened is when the market crashed in ‘29, everybody got these margin calls, which means that they were forced to sell their stocks maybe when they didn’t want to, and that’s what really led to the significant and permanent losses that were experienced in the Depression.

Today, you can’t do that. You can only go 50 percent on a margin account. Frankly, people aren’t doing margin like they used to because Americans in general, especially after the financial crisis, you should see the figures from the Fed. It’s amazing how Americans have reduced their debt load significantly.

They don’t have the mortgage debt going 90 percent on your home. That doesn’t exist anymore. The credit card debt has decreased. People aren’t going out and getting these car loans like they did. Household debt has plummeted. It’s really been a very, very good thing.

Now that’s the good news. The bad news is corporate debt has risen, so that’s something that we have to be aware of. Frankly, this crisis is going to catch a lot of those companies that were overleveraged, and most of them, or many of them I should say are going to fail.

As many of them that fail, there are going to be others that will thrive. We’re already seeing that. We’re hearing about companies that we never heard of before.

They are innovating. They’re coming up to the table. They are repurposing themselves, stepping up, making masks and ventilators and the PPE equipment that I, as an intensive care nurse, so needed when I was taking care of those patients with AIDS and other viruses, that not only saved my life but the lives of the people that I love.

People who are working in the hospital, my friends, they don’t have the equipment that they need. That’s the bad news. The good news is that companies are coming forward and providing it, even if it isn’t what they used to do.

Gregg: I want to jump in here for a minute. Let’s talk about that a little bit more. I, too, have been watching that phenomena and I’m fascinated by it. It seems to me that when companies like GM are forced…not forced. There’s not a gun to their head, I don’t think.

Forced because of circumstance to transition from what they’re normally accustomed to making – cars, to making ventilators or masks – I think one of the great outcomes of that for them as a company and for the people who work there is that they discover a nimbleness in their business and their capabilities that they probably never would have discovered.

Frankly, the lack of nimbleness was probably hurting them and was going to continue to hurt them over time.

It seems to me that even at a corporate level, this can turn out to be a blessing in spite of the fact that it’s also awful at the same time.

Patti: How insightful that is of you to realize that. I have four kids, Gregg. I will tell you that when they were little, I would force them to do their homework, and I would force them to study for their tests.

Gregg: Play the piano or the violin or the…

Patti: Exactly. They didn’t want to do it, but they did it anyway because they had to do it, like GM and 3M and those companies. They didn’t want to do it, but they were being forced…

Gregg: Maybe they did want to do it, but they never would have done it if they weren’t in dire circumstances.

Patti: Well, that’s a good point. Actually, we should give those leaders some credit as well. I think that they are being…Well, that’s a whole sidebar, but anyway.

You think about the kids. Now I will tell you, my youngest, I would force him to do his homework and all that kind of stuff. Guess what he discovered? He’s really good at math. He’s a senior in college. He’s majoring in economics. He’s acing those classes.

God only knows what his life is going to look like, and it all comes down to the fact that he did his homework. He learned Excel. He wasn’t intimidated with those very complex, 10‑page formulas that he had to do because he learned. He wouldn’t have known what he was capable of unless he had to do it.

Gregg: He listened to his mother.

Patti: Sometimes, Gregg.

Gregg: You’re bringing up a really interesting point, and I’m surprised we haven’t talked about this yet.

What is the impact of technology on whether we will or won’t? You’re making a very strong case for why we won’t have a depression.

How does technology play into all of this to enable us to avoid a depression under these circumstances?

Patti: It’s a good question. I think when you go back to the Depression, first of all, our population was much lower. There weren’t as many people.

This whole aspect of this shutdown, the isolation, it’s the technology that is allowing us not to feel that far apart. Again, even something we take for granted, like the telephone.

People didn’t have phones back then. You couldn’t talk to people over a telephone. What was that? That was just beginning to be mainstream, but it really wasn’t what it is today.

We’re doing this on a video. We can FaceTime the people that we love. We can actually conduct our business. Yes, I’m a small company, but frankly, we’ve got one of the largest wealth management firms in the country. We have not missed a beat because of technology.

That’s pretty cool. That’s why it’s very different. I think you’re right. Technology is making all the difference. It’s another reason why those companies are probably going to thrive.

Gregg: Well, and it’s also interesting that during the Depression, or even if you go back to the 1918 Spanish flu, if people had to stay home, there was no money being spent. I don’t know about you, but making me stay at home actually makes me spend more money.

Dollars can continue to flow through our economy even if we’re sheltering in place in a way that wasn’t even possible 20 years ago.

Patti: That’s exactly right. The dollars are just different, right? The spending on gasoline, for example, is down 50 percent.

We’re not driving. We’re not spending as much money on gasoline. That’s going to have an impact on that industry and the companies that operate in that industry.

On the other hand, look at Amazon. They can’t hire enough people. They can’t get the stuff that people want fast enough. Amazon’s going to do very well, as will the products that we all want.

There’s a lot to be said for retail therapy. I’ve been engaging in it myself, right?

Gregg: Oh, it’s not just me?

Patti: Oh, no. No, no, no, no. It is Americans, and that’s OK. You know what? That’s OK. Whatever it takes. We can all go outside and walk. I’ve met more people, Gregg, in the last three weeks than I ever did.

I’m not a walker. I will tell you, I’m not a walker. I’m not a meditator. Anybody that knows me, knows I’m not sitting still long enough to meditate, for crying out loud. Walking just isn’t fast enough.

Having said that, [laughs] I will tell you that I have just needed to get outside for fresh air because I’ve been cooped up in the house like everybody else.

I’ve met more people. Granted, we’re across the street, but I’m seeing the same people over and over again, now. It’s fun. It’s cool. Things are going to come out of this that are very good. We are connecting. That’s the most important thing.

Gregg: I want to ask you, really two last things. One is, is there anything more about your belief that…Are there any other thoughts you want to share with us about why we’re not going to enter a depression?

On top of that, I want to hear you talk for a minute or two about the conversations you’re having with your friends, your family, your clients, and your team members, about the other kind of depression.

How people can be concerned about money, but what I think you’ve done here, is really give people a lot of hope for all the things there are to be concerned about that, if there’s a sick loved one in your family, or a sick friend, or just in your community at large, because there’s a lot of people that are going to get sick.

Can you say a few words just to relieve the part of our brains that are worried about our money? You are very hopeful that it’s all going to work out. I’d love to hear you address that.

Patti: It is very interesting. My mom, one of the most…the wisest woman I have ever known, used to say to us when we would go through those bummed‑out periods, she’d say, “You know what? When you feel bummed‑out, go out and help somebody.”

Give of yourself. Whether it be your money, your time, your intellectual intelligence, your ideas, give it away. There’s a powerful thing that happens in our brains when we do those things. This is why volunteerism is so powerful.

Studies have shown, Gregg, that people who volunteer, that the impact on them physically, is equal to exercising four times a week. What happens is, when we do something for another human being without any expectation of anything in return, like what you and I are doing today, we’re not going to get anything out of this.

You have time for this like a hole in the head. I could be doing a few other things but we want to make a difference in the people that are listening. What is that doing to us physiologically? Guess what? Your dopamine is going through the roof, as is mine.

Our brains are secreting oxytocin. Dopamine is a feel‑good type of thing, as is oxytocin. It’s a wonderful feeling.

When we get that just general good feeling, it gets us out of our own skin. It helps us to realize that, “You know what, we don’t have it so bad.”

There are other people who have it a lot worse than us. All we have to do is reach out to another human being who maybe doesn’t have it as well as we do, and to remember that.

Keep that perspective. Don’t just keep the perspective, do something about it. That’s what I’m telling people.

Gregg: I want to thank you so much for this conversation. You have relieved me and many of my fears about what’s happening. The depth at which you’ve thought about this and shared those thoughts with us, I find to be very, very useful.

Patti, thank you so much for letting me come on your show and interview you.

Patti: Gregg, thank you so much. This has been a great exchange. You have a way of asking questions and pulling out of me stuff that comes from inside. We didn’t practice. I had no idea what you were going to ask me.

As I said in the beginning before we went on air, I said, “OK, Gregg, we’re just going to wing this, right?”

I hope that it was helpful to everybody listening. I’m so grateful to all of you for taking the time to listen to this today. If you have any questions, if you’d like more information. Why don’t I believe that we’re going to go into a depression?

Feel free to visit our website. Ask a question. Reach out to us. Call us. I’m happy to help any way I can.

Remember, that’s my brain on steroids. My dopamine receptors are going nuts right now. That’s what we’re here for.

Gregg Stebben is the leader in service journalism. I hope that when this is all said and done that people look back at this and look at us as we’re in the service of Americans as it relates to not just their wealth management, but also their health, and their family, and providing security in all areas of your lives.

Thanks so much for joining us today.

Ep41: Covid 19 – The Threat to Health, Wealth & Family

About This Episode

This is part one of a special edition series with Gregg Stebben, a nationally renowned radio host, author, and journalist who has interviewed Presidents, Senators and professional athletes. Gregg asks Patti the hard questions regarding the global pandemic the world is now facing. Covid – 19 is not just a health threat; it is turning the world economy upside down and threatening the safety of our loved ones. Patti’s professional background as an intensive care ICU nurse, coupled with being CEO of a nationally ranked wealth management firm, provides a unique perspective on the ramifications of this deadly virus.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the “Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or 20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Boy, that statement couldn’t be any more true than it is right now. We are in the midst of a really big crisis. This is really a scary time for everybody, not just here in the United States but on a worldwide basis.

Because we are in such a time of great change, we’ve decided to turn the tables on how we normally do things here on the Patti Brennan Show, and I’ve invited my good friend Gregg Stebben to join us as a guest host today.

He and I were having this really interesting conversation last week, and in the midst of the conversation, Gregg said, “You know, Patti, we should really be recording this.” I said, “Well, Gregg, you know what? We can.”

Today, what we’re going to do is we’re going to be talking about what is going on in the world, and what we think about what is going on in the world.

There is no better person in America who can pull this out of us than Gregg. Gregg has interviewed presidents, members of Congress. Last week, he just interviewed Marco Rubio, for crying out loud.

He is a leader in what is referred to as service journalism. This man has made it his life mission to write about and do radio shows on the things that we need to know. The way he does it is so unique. It’s not necessarily the things that he’s advising. He’s going out to the experts.

Again, not that I’m necessarily the expert per se, but for whatever reason he just wanted to say, “Patti, let’s have that conversation. Let’s record this conversation so that people in America can hear what you’re thinking and what you have to say and how you’re guiding your clients.” Gregg, thank you so much. Welcome to the show.

Gregg Stebben: Thank you, Patti. It is so great to be here. I hope I can live up to that introduction. It’s fascinating for me to be here with you. First of all, I want to share that you and I did an interview some months ago at an event that I think just went live on the Forbes Books website at forbesbooks.com. You and I really, I felt like, really bonded in a very deep way.

I remembered, as I was getting ready for this interview today, you told me something in that interview that I had forgotten. I’m not sure everyone listening knows. I think they should. That is not only are you the President and CEO of Key Financial, but in a past life you were actually a nurse working in ICU.

In a sense, given what are really the essential details of the coronavirus, it’s not just a health crisis, but it’s also causing a financial crisis. I can’t think of anyone I would rather be talking with than you.

Patti: Thank you, Gregg. That’s so nice of you. It’s been over 30 years since I donned my scrubs and stethoscope and face mask. At the time, we were facing different epidemics. It was the AIDS epidemic and toxic shock and things of that nature.

A lot of the fear that so many people are feeling today, that’s what we were feeling back then as well because we weren’t sure exactly how it was transmitted. All we knew was that we didn’t have a cure. That’s so scary for families and people who are going through it.

I will tell you, Gregg, that being in the ICU, watching, being that person who that patient counted on for literally their lives, sometimes not being successful at that, and watching them pass, usually all by themselves – again, it was a virus that we didn’t know how it was transmitted – it really gave me perspective of what’s important.

I know that you asked me this when we were together. How in the world do you go from being an ICU nurse to being a financial advisor, a financial planner? Yet so many of the skills that I used in the unit are what I use today.

As difficult as this is, I’m so blessed and grateful for having that background. The one thing that doesn’t change, Gregg, is the human body, our immune responses, the medicines that we have available or not available, the difference between bacterial infections and viral infections, why antibiotics work for bacteria but they don’t work for viruses, and what can work.

I’m so grateful for having that background and the impact on the human body. We can bring this into what we do for our clients in terms of not only how to keep themselves and their families healthy, which is really all that matters to me, but also to keep them financially healthy and to understand what the potential implications of the virus could be and what we’re going to do about it.

Gregg: What’s fascinating in that is that it’s at times like this that I think all of us – and I’m including you in that as well, even though you did spend years working in ICU as a nurse and now you are a financial advisor – I think it’s times like this that really force us to open our eyes and understand what is so important.

You just said that safety, security…and I imagine that your years working in the ICU and the years since working with your clients has given you an ability to make your team feel cared for, and also make your clients feel cared for in a way that you might not be able to do if you didn’t have being an ICU nurse in your background.

Patti: You know, it’s really interesting, Gregg. I didn’t think about this until last week, but I was thinking about our tagline. I can’t think of any better time to really look at that, and — you mentioned my team — and communicate it to my team. Who are we? What do we do?

We do wealth management with wisdom and care. That’s our tagline. That’s exactly what we do. Unfortunately, I’ve been through stuff like this before, whether it be from a health perspective or financial perspective. I started in the late ‘80s, went through the crash of ‘87, went through the ‘90s and the tech bubble, and of course the financial crisis.

I’ve been through several of these. I know what it feels like. It feels awful. I hate it, Gregg, but at the same point, I also understand that we are going to get through this. I understand what the Federal Reserve is doing, and what the government is doing, and I believe they’re going to be successful. We are going to get through this.

You mentioned the market. The market’s up big‑time today. Now, is it going to stay that way? Maybe not. We’re going to go through a period of volatility. This is a fear‑driven environment, whether it be related to our health or our money.

Fear goes both ways. When the markets were plummeting a thousand, 1,300 points, it was a fear of losing. Today we’re having the fear of missing out — FOMO, as my kids call it. People are worried that they’re going to miss out on the recovery.

The market is a forward‑looking mechanism. It’s one of the leading indicators. Unemployment is a lagging indicator, although the two of them are both crashing at the same time. We had a record last week of 10 million people, literally, applying for unemployment. That’s never happened before. It’s a scary time.

The market’s just trying to digest all this information, and the implications as it relates to the economy. We’re all at home. Everything’s shut down. How much longer are we going to be staying away from work, and what does that mean for our incomes? What does it mean for our portfolios? Are people going to be spending money the way that they used to?

Things are going to be different, Gregg, but different isn’t always bad. We just have to learn how to do different.

Gregg: One of the things I want to ask you about relative to the market itself, and I want to point out that we’re recording this on Monday, April 6th, at about 3:00 P.M. The market is up 1,200 points.

I want to timestamp this simply because things are changing so fast. By the time people are listening to this, you may have an idea of where the market’s going to be, and if you do, I’d love you to share it with us.

I have no idea, and I think most people have no idea. That leads me to my next question, which is, in this time of uncertainty, is what we’re seeing actually rational? Does it actually make sense? Will we be able to at least look back at it and say, “Oh, that does make sense”?

You just talked about the fear of missing out. Can you see some order to what’s going on right now economically?

Patti: You’ve asked, is the market rational when it’s plunging a thousand points, or 1,300 points? Is it rational? I would offer that it is, based on the information that we have right now.

Think about it this way — if I want to sell my home, let’s pretend that I throw $200,000 on my kitchen table. I go outside. I plant a sign right on my front lawn that says, “Home for Sale — Contents Included. Offer Expires 12:00 Noon Tomorrow.” 12:00 noon comes. It’s tomorrow, and nobody has put a bid in for my house. What do you think the value of my home is?

Gregg: I would have bid 200,001.

Patti: You’re a smart man because you know what’s on my kitchen table. Actually, nobody put in a bid for my home. What’s the value of it? It’s actually zero. Nobody wants it. That’s what’s happening in the markets today. It happened in the bond market. It happened in the stock market.

There were people who were selling, but nobody was buying. It’s a supply‑and‑demand thing. When there’s too much supply, what happens to prices? They plummet. That’s what’s happening right now.

The bond market is a whole different animal. That was scary two weeks ago. We have to give the Federal Reserve a lot of credit. Boy, they came in and literally saved the day. The Federal Reserve is the lender of last resort. Really, that’s what the bond market’s all about.

Bonds are debt. That’s how governments finance themselves, corporations finance themselves, and people do. That’s what a mortgage is all about. If I buy a bond, I’m the lender. If I have a mortgage, I’m the borrower. That’s what the bond market is all about.

What happened in the bond market is there were people who were saying, “I need cash flow. I need some money for my company or for operations.” Nobody was lending it to them. The Federal Reserve looked at that. It was literally the Ice Age, right back, all over again, in the bond market a couple of weeks ago.

They learned from the Financial Crisis that they can’t fool around. They plowed a trillion dollars into the market. It’s functioning perfectly now. A few glitches here and there.

Gregg: That’s a great sign of what we’ve been talking about, which is, is what we’re seeing actually rational. You just explained it in a way that makes complete sense. I want to make a transition here and ask, “What is it that you’re hearing from your clients about the economy today?”

Patti: Gregg, they’re scared. Everybody is scared. Nobody really knows the implications of this. The problem is you can’t manage what you can’t measure. We can’t manage what’s happening in the world because we don’t know how far this is going to go, how many people are going to get sick, and the implications on the economy.

The question that everybody is pretty much asking me right now is “Am I going to be OK?” That’s really what people want to know. There’s no magic bullet here.

Put it this way, over 35 years I have learned that you don’t have to predict what’s going to happen to win this game. It’s not necessary. What is necessary is to understand where are we today and make really good decisions based on the information that we do have. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be perfect for you because it’s based on your personal situation.

I will tell you, Gregg, we go into every day. We’ve been prepared for this moment because it can happen at any time. It’s because I’ve lived through these things. It started in ‘87. Then we went through the tech bubble and the Financial Crisis. Nobody saw those things coming either.

As a financial planner, we go into every day understanding that the markets can plummet. Our clients are trusting us to make sure that if it does happen, they’re still going to be OK. To answer your question, our clients are just checking in and saying, “OK, Patti. Are we still OK?” My answer is yes because we’ve reserved for this.

Instead of going with Plan A, we’re going to go with Plan B. We have to adjust because things are different. Things have changed. We knew that they could. We’re ready. We just go to Plan B.

Gregg: Isn’t that part of why smart people create a financial plan in advance anyway?

Patti: I would hope so, put it that way.

Gregg: I was talking with…

Patti: I’m biased there, but yes, that’s the goal of a real financial plan. It’s not only if we continue doing everything we’re currently doing. What if this happened? What if that happened?

It’s not just what if markets crash. What if I lose my job? A lot of Americans are facing that today. You run that scenario. What if you lost your job? Would you be OK? What would you fall back on? Things of that. That’s where I think financial planning is so powerful.

Gregg: It seems to mean what you said, that obviously when you sit down with a client or anyone in whatever form they decide to do financial planning for themselves do it, you’re running scenarios in your head of the what‑ifs. As you said, what if I lose my job? What if this happens? What if that happens?

It’s not that you’re going to predict what might happen in those what‑if statements. It’s that you’ve planned for something to happen, whether it’s known or unknown. I never dreamed in my lifetime that we would voluntarily…I’m saying voluntarily. I’m not quite sure that’s the right word.

I never dreamed that a government would shut down its economy. I don’t know that many others thought about that either, which is part of the uncertainty of we don’t actually know how this plays out. Are we prepared for it? We have an awful lot of systems, as you’ve been describing, like with the Fed, that are designed to manage the unknown. In this case, what we’re looking at is the unknown.

Patti: It’s so true. Nobody could have anticipated literally a worldwide shutdown of life as we knew it. You’re right. It is a period of uncertainty, but there’s always uncertainty. The most important thing is to understand and to be humble enough.

I mean that from the bottom of my heart, to be humble enough to understand that there may be a period of time when we don’t know the answer right away and to have a scenario and know in advance what you’re going to do.

You mentioned me being a nurse. I really think it goes back to when I was an ICU nurse, Gregg. How often was I at the patient’s bedside? Everything was going hunky dory. I’m looking at their monitors.

I’m looking at all four lines, their CVP, all of the different ratios and things of that nature. Everything’s fine. Then all of a sudden, boom. They crash. We’ve got V‑tach or V‑fib or, worse yet, a flatline. All of a sudden, the crash cart comes in. We’re flooded with people trying to save this patient.

It’s exactly the same today. The most important thing is to know that it can happen every time and to have a protocol. What are we going to do? You don’t want to have to think through it while it’s happening. That’s when panic sets in. People do not make good decisions when they’re panicked.

Gregg: It’s one of the things that I imagine is happening with you, your team, and your relationships with your clients is that there’s a lot of questions coming up now that are not about the balance of the portfolio, but things related to the balance of the portfolio.

For instance, I was reading over the weekend an article in “The New York Times.” It’s actually, I think, an important enough article that I’m going to call it out. It’s what you should know before you need a ventilator.

I want to hear your take on this because of your experience in the ICU. I understood for the first time so many things about what happens if you need a ventilator that it made me hand the article to my wife on my phone.

When she was done reading it, I said, “I want to get it in writing that if I’m ever in a condition where they need to”…I think they call it intubate.

Patti: Yep, intubate.

Gregg: To put me on a ventilator. See how much I learned? “You have my permission not to do it, because I’m not sure the outcome is going to be worth it.” I imagine that many of your clients are now thinking about all kinds of aspects of their future.

Their health future, their financial future, their legacy, things like that. Are those the kinds of conversations you’re having with your clients as well?

Patti: Absolutely. Those are the questions that I’m encouraging with all of our clients. If I can just go to that article, Gregg, and maybe play devil’s advocate for you. I wouldn’t necessarily tell your wife not to let the doctors intubate you, because a ventilator is there to assist you with your breathing.

Isn’t it amazing that here we are an environment that’s something that we used to take so for granted, like breathing, now comes into question? We are worried about being able to breathe. Here’s the deal, a ventilator is intended to assist you, to allow your body to rest.

Breathing takes an incredible amount of energy. When you’re really, really sick, you don’t have the energy to do this thing that you and I are doing right now. That’s breathing. Here’s the thing about ventilators and being intubated.

It’s uncomfortable, so you need the medications. You need the relaxing, things of that nature. Also, what’s happening with this virus is that people are developing this thing called ARDS, acute respiratory distress syndrome.

That’s the scary part, because that’s hard to get out of. If you’re reading articles that say, “Be careful about intubated,” it’s because that a lot of people are developing ARDS. Guess what, Gregg? A lot of people aren’t. They’re getting off the ventilator.

By all means, don’t necessarily make a unilateral decision. You’ve got to rely on the medical professionals who are looking at your labs, looking at your ABGs. I won’t get overly technical.

They’re looking at your numbers and saying, “OK, we need to help Gregg out. This is temporary.” It’s like the stock market crashing. People want to sell their stocks right now, but I got to tell them, “Look, it’s temporary. We will get you through this. Don’t do anything rash as it relates to your portfolio.”

I would say to you, my friend, don’t do anything rash as it relates to whether or not you go on a ventilator. Let the medical experts make that decision based on the information they have and your condition at the time.

Gregg: I like how you related that. First of all, thank you for your advice and noted.

I’m going to have that follow‑up conversation with my wife about this. [laughs] I love how you related it, because we can all relate to the human body. It has a finite place in the world. I like how you related that to our finances and our wealth as well.

It actually makes me wonder, what’s this been like for you and your family?

Patti: Oh, thank you for asking. These are the times where it matters the most. My son just had a baby. The baby is a month old. Literally, they were down to one diaper yesterday, Gregg. They were told they cannot leave their home. This baby is too fragile.

I said, “I got you. Let me run out. I will go.” It took me two hours. This whole field that you are such a leader in, this service journalism, I think it’s so interesting. When would Patti Brennan ever have been watching a clip on how to disinfect groceries?

Yet I did over the weekend, and sure enough, I did the gloves. I did the mask. I went out, grabbed the diapers and a couple of other things for these kids.

Went over to their place and spent an hour disinfecting these groceries and said, “Look, here’s a couple of diapers. Let them sit out here with a Clorox on the outside. Let them sit out here for an hour or so, and then you can come out and get them.”

I didn’t see them. I waved to them. That was it. It’s just a whole different world, and that’s OK. The more education we can provide, the better, and the more perspective we can provide, the better.

I think that, to answer your question, it’s times like this when people will really step up. Hopefully, I’m stepping up for my family, my friends, my clients, and my team to be that person that they know they can count on, no matter what, whether it relates to their health decisions or their financial decisions.

Gregg: You said earlier that you were sure there would be some really good outcomes as a result of the coronavirus crisis. In a sense, you just pointed to some. Your own realization, I think, that in my normal life, I would not have been happy to go spend two hours to buy diapers.

I’m very happy to do it under these circumstances. What other kinds of good outcomes do you see for all of us, yourself included? How do you think life will change in ways that will enable us to look back on this and say, “Yes, it was horrible, but these great things came from it as well”?

Patti: I think there’s so many good things that are happening already, Gregg. This whole thing is changing the way people think about their money, and it’s changing the way they think about life, their family, and their friends.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Even within my own business, I have a small business. Let’s face it. I’ve got 25 full‑time employees. I will tell you that, when this thing first broke out, before it was really mainstream, I just told my whole team, “Look, stay home.

“We’ll all work from home. I’ll hook you up if you need printers, if you need monitors, if you need computers. You can work from home because your health and your family is more important to me than what you do for me and our clients.”

What’s really interesting about that is these 25 people have stepped up over, above, and beyond. They have reached out to every single one of our clients. They have done two cycles on our client portfolios.

They’re not working 9:00 to 5:00. I’m telling you, Gregg, they’re working 7:00 to 10:00. They’re doing it at different times of the day, which is perfectly fine, because they’ve got young children. That’s OK. I don’t care when stuff gets done. We just care that it does get done.

They’re being very creative in terms of how they’re approaching their day‑to‑day work lives. I think the other thing is that, for me, my heart is just so heartwarmed. You know me, Gregg. I’m a hugger. This is killing me right now.

What I’m learning is that you can give people hugs virtually. What’s amazing to me is I’ve talked to hundreds of people over the last three weeks, and I can’t tell you how — it sounds corny, but how — loved I feel.

Our clients, people are saying, “Patti, how are you doing? How are you holding up? We need you to be healthy. Are you OK?” People really care. The other thing is how grateful they are. It’s a wonderful opportunity to tell everybody in our lives.

What’s really cool is that we’re hearing it, too. “What a difference you’ve made in my life. Thank you for being in my life. You’ve made such a difference. Just knowing that you’re there makes all the difference in the world to me.”

We can say that to anybody. I can say that to you, Gregg. You’ve made a difference in my life already, because you’ve brought out and you’ve asked me questions that other people hadn’t asked yet. It’s really made me think.

We could talk about the economy. The economy’s going to be different. Again, different isn’t bad. It’s just different. We’re still going to be a service economy. We’re learning that we can do service from pretty much anywhere.

We can do it from our homes and do it quite effectively. We’re learning that maybe we should be doing more things like manufacturing here in the United States. Maybe we shouldn’t do this real‑time, just real‑time demand type of economy, where you keep supplies very low. Maybe that’s not OK.

What I think is also neat is what it’s bringing out in terms of creativity, in terms of innovation, collaboration, cooperation. I think it’s pretty cool that China’s sending ventilators to the United States.

Yeah, we might be mad at them for some reasons and vice‑versa, but at least the world is trying to come together to fight this enemy, this virus that is one‑tenth the size of a bacteria. It’s a very small, little organism, and look at the havoc that it is wreaking in the world.

We’re all fighting against the same enemy. I think that’s a wonderful thing.

Gregg: It completely changes one’s view of what’s happening. I think, for most of us, we look out the window or look on the Internet, and what we see is a lot of information that confirms our greatest fears.

What you’re suggesting is…In fact, I’m realizing you sent a newsletter out, and I’m going to quote it, because I was so struck by something you wrote there.

Patti: Uh‑oh. What did I say?

Gregg: No, it’s great. You said, “Remember, you can’t have courage without fear. It’s OK to feel that.” Even the human side of our relationships, sometimes – maybe not for you, Patti Brennan but for many of us – it’s scary to tell someone that they’re important to us.

What you just said is perhaps they’ll find the courage to have more of those conversations because of the coronavirus, and that may change our lives forever. It might not have ever happened had the coronavirus never happened.

Patti: Can you image what that would be like if everybody just felt the fear, felt uncomfortable, whatever it might, and looked into the eyes of another human being and said, “You’ve made a difference in my life. Thank you for being in it. I love you.”

Can you imagine what that would do? We’re all better of the people who surround us. We are all better. We’re changed forever by the people that we know and the people that we meet. We can have an impact on everyone around us.

Let’s just embrace that for a moment and think about how can we use this terrible time to influence people in a positive way.

I always talk to my team. I say, “Our role in our clients lives is to influence them with integrity.” We never know for sure exactly what’s going to be the right thing to do.

We use our very best judgment and understand that they’re counting on us to exercise that judgment that is in their best interests, whether it be for cash flow decisions or how to put my kids through college or how, given everything that’s going on in the world, can I afford to do this.

By the way, Gregg, like we were talking last week when we were on the phone, when I was a nurse, when I was sitting at the patient’s bedside, I wasn’t just holding their hands. Yes, we do that. Yes, we explain. Yes, we comfort. You know what we do even more? We act. It’s like the doctors are the architects. The nurses are the builders.

They come up with the plans, frankly a lot with the nurses’ input. It’s up to the nurse to execute, to make it happen. One of the things that I think is important and maybe the subject of another conversation with you is what should people be thinking about right now, what are the action items that they should be considering.

We won’t go into it right now, but it is important to really step back and say, “OK, should I be taking the required minimum distributions if I don’t have to? Should I be filing my taxes right now, or should I wait? Should I be making those IRA contributions now? What about a Roth contribution? The market’s way, way down. Isn’t that a good time to do a Roth conversion?”

Well, maybe, maybe not because under the new law, you can’t recharacterize it. You can’t take a mulligan. That really should be a much more thoughtful and deeper dive because it could expose other income to taxes when it wouldn’t have been subject to taxes. This year, tax planning, Gregg, is going to be amazing.

I’m so excited. The nerd in me is coming out right now. There is so much tax planning and really fun stuff where people can save a ton of money. I’m not kidding you. A ton of money. It just has to be thoughtful. We’ve got 10 things, action items, that everybody in my team is talking to our clients about right now, today.

Gregg: As much as people hate the coronavirus [laughs] , they do love to save on their taxes. You’re saying that because of the coronavirus, there may be some really powerful, effective ways to save on your taxes. Not that you would wish for one and be willing to accept the other, but the other is here. We can’t do anything about it. As you said, let’s make the best of it.

Patti: You know what? It’s here. It happened. What are we going to do about it? We look at it on an individual basis. It’s interesting. It’s very important for all of us to recognize that things are going to be different.

One of the things that’s going to be different is taxes are probably going to go up. They have to. We’re going to have to pay for all of this relief that the government is providing. It is important. They need to do this. Again, I keep on talking about future podcasts. This is what you and I do, Gregg.

There’s so much to talk about. One of the things is aren’t we going into a depression. They’re talking about unemployment rate of 34 percent. During the Depression, unemployment got up to 25 percent. Whoa.

Doesn’t that mean that we’re going to go into a depression? With the stock market crashing, it’s going to crash even further. I do not believe that we will ever go into another depression. We can talk about that at another time.

Gregg: Can I make a suggestion? There’s many things here we could talk about. Could I suggest that we do a follow‑up conversation specifically to talk about whether we’re going to have a depression or not?

Patti: OK. You’re on. I will do that. I will commit to that. I agree with you. It’s important for people to know.

Gregg: I actually want to wrap this up with a thought. I want to get your take on it, both as someone who was once a nurse in the ICU, today the President and CEO of Key Financial. That is I’ve always thought that perhaps one of the functions of death is to remind those who are left the importance of living.

I wonder if you think that’s a suitable analogy for the economy as well. The economy is not going to die. We just said we’re going to have a follow‑up conversation about whether we’re going to go into a depression or not. The economy is not going to die. In the same way that I think death reminds people to live, when you watch someone go through a near‑death experience, it also reminds you to live.

Do you think that one of the good outcomes of this is that people will begin to look at the economy and their lives in relationship to the economy and their lives in relationship to their wealth with fresh eyes and perhaps really be reborn financially and with respect to their relationship with wealth?

Patti: Boy, what a powerful statement that is. You’re absolutely right. I do believe it is going to make people think differently about their wealth, think differently about their money. At the end of the day, when you look at a portfolio it’s just shares. It’s just values of companies in America and the world. It is just a bond. You’ve lent somebody money. They’re going to pay you some interest.

At the end of the day, values can fluctuate. Does it change your life? No. The fluctuation isn’t going to change your life unless you do something to realize that loss.

Gregg: Maybe it does change your life because of the values that are driving it, the why, what’s it for. I’m creating this wealth because I have a grand vision for how I’m going to use it. That could change my life and the lives of many others.

Patti: Absolutely. Wait till you see what this is going to bring out in terms of people’s generosity. You’re seeing it already. People are making donations to the hospitals. People are helping others.

There’s an amazing commercial. I’m just going to call it. Literally, it’s by Walmart. It was on last night. Ed and I were just mesmerized by this commercial. It was a beautiful commercial about Americans coming together. We’re going to see more of that. People are going to view their wealth as a means.

This is the way it always should have been viewed, as a means for their own security, their peace of mind, but it has also got incredible legacy implications in terms of what can we do with what we’ve accumulated to make a difference in the lives of other people. That is a beautiful thing.

Gregg: I can’t think of a [laughs] better place to end this, Patti. Thank you so much for inviting me to come on your show and interview you. It’s really been a pleasure. It’s been an honor.

Patti: Gregg, thank you so much for taking the time. Talk about honors, it’s amazing. I am nothing close to the people that you normally interview. What a privilege it is to have you today. Thanks to all of you who are listening. These are really difficult times. I know that you could be watching or listening to something else, but you chose to be with us today.

I hope you found this to be a good use of your time. We are going to do more of this. Gregg and I are going to reconnect. We’re going to talk about why I don’t believe we’re ever going to go into a depression. I’m going to list the reasons rationally why.

In the meantime, if you have any questions feel free to go to our website. It’s at keyfinancialinc.com. Leave us a message. Ask a question. Call us. We’re here to serve you. Thanks to Gregg Stebben, today we’ve been able to do that.

Gregg: Thank you, Patti.

Patti: Have a great day.

Ep40: America’s Student Loan Crisis

About This Episode

At the release of this episode, America has entered its first bear market in over a decade. Investors all over the country are watching the market volatility and choosing their next moves very carefully – hopefully under the guidance of a seasoned financial advisor. But at the same time, life continues to go on and college seniors are set to start graduating in a month and high school seniors have their eyes set on starting their collegiate adventure in the Fall. An overarching fact over all of this is, as many of our college seniors graduate, they will be entering into the reality of paying back loans that have now totaled $1.6 TRILLION in the U.S. In part one of a two-part series, Patti sits down with Peter Sims, the President of PayForEd, a software company that specializes in developing strategies for setting up and paying back student loan debt. They discuss how the student loan crisis got to this point and what steps students and their parents should be taking now to minimize their risk.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Hey, whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Joining me today is Peter Sims. Peter is the president of PayForEd.

Today we’re going to be talking about the student loan crisis, and how we as American parents can look at this question of putting our kids through college, and what is the most cost‑effective way of financing that. Peter, welcome to the show.

Peter Sims: Thank you for having me.

Patti: Thank you so much for coming today. It seems like every other day I see a new headline about the student loan crisis. While we have boots on the ground and we see it every day, is this thing overblown?

Peter: Patti, I asked myself the same question when I entered into this field a couple of years ago, from being in the financial services for 30 years. Is it really a crisis? Not only is it a tremendous crisis right now, but it’s growing. Currently it’s $1.6 trillion. If I go back to 2005, we were a little over 500 billion.

Patti: I was going to say. That is really fast. The last time I looked at it, it was $1.2. It’s $1.6 now?

Peter: $1.6 trillion, and it’s affecting nearly 50 million people. What the scary thing about it for me is, we’ve got 59 million people in secondary and educational schools. That’s going to keep on growing.

Patti: Oh brother. It’s getting worse before it’s getting better?

Peter: Correct.

Patti: And you know, folks, this is a really important issue because here we are in an election year. As we all know the candidates are talking about it – it’s really a popular topic. Rightfully so because it’s affecting so many people. It’s really good to have you here today, Peter, because I think that your company focuses on the solutions.

Peter: Correct, and Patti, you made a great point. There’s over 137 different forms of legislation mentioning student loans, student loan repayment, sitting in the legislative bodies as we speak. As we’re going through them, it could be added on, but it is a complex situation that we need to find a solution for.

I think that it’s not only a solution for the current debt, but we’ve got to start preventing it. If you think about a medical situation, yes, you want to cure the current epidemic that’s out there, but don’t we want to prevent it?

Patti: Yeah, absolutely.

Peter: That’s where we come in.

Patti: What I thought was interesting as I was doing the research today for the show, I was really fascinated at some of the statistics out there as it relates to graduation rates.

I have four kids Peter, and I know that you have…How many kids do you have?

Peter: I have four.

Patti: We’re eight between the two of us.

Wow. We are totally contributing to this crisis. I can tell you, when the Brennan household and the Sims household…what I thought was fascinating was that the graduation rates aren’t what you read about in the glossy brochures or the dog and pony shows that they put parents through when you’re taking the kids around at different schools.

Peter: It is absolutely mind‑blowing at this point of time. If you look at the four‑year schools, the graduation rates are less than 40 percent in four years. You’re also talking about graduation rates of less than 60 percent in six years. Here’s where it becomes extremely troubling for me. Transfer rates are around 35 percent.

Patti: Now, why is that?

Peter: When people first go into a university or a college, and you saw that glossy brochure that you looked at, it is a wonderful choice. Think about it from a parent’s standpoint, it’s emotional.

You’re so glad that your child is going but what you didn’t really think about is how are you going to fund year two, three, and four? Financial situations end up being a large part of the transfer process.

Also, the way kids are looking at schools these days. Years and decades, and decades ago, we visited schools, then apply. Now, it’s reverse. People apply and then go visit the schools that they’ve done a research on. Not knowing the school, not knowing the financial aspect, or the outcomes of your decision, leads to the transfer rates.

In addition, too, you’ll also have people changing majors at a more rapid pace than ever before. I saw a recent statistic last week, that 50 percent of the students are changing majors at one point in their educational journey.

If you really look at the statistics — I was on a conference call last night – that applications are up, and admissions are down. That’s one of the reasons why we see the tuitions increasing at the rate that they are. College tuition, believe it or not, is up 1,400 percent since 1978.

Patti: Wow.

Peter: That’s four times more than inflation.

Patti: The graduation rate is really an important thing that we all have to keep in mind. I told my kids…My oldest took longer than four years to go through school.

The other three, I said, “OK, here’s the scoop. We’ll help you the first four years, after that you’re on your own.” You know what happened? All three graduated in four years.

Isn’t that interesting? You know what? You also think about the universities, it’s a business, right?

Peter: It is absolutely a business.

Patti: Their job is to get students, put students in seats and keep them there.

Peter: Yes.

Patti: They want to keep them there for that fifth and sixth year.

Peter: It’s not hurting them at all for that person to come in, in particular, the people that are, say, full pays, or the people that are funding their education through loans. Getting a loan is quite easy to do in the federal system itself.

Patti: Is that why you think the crisis is growing so quickly because it’s so easy to get these loans?

Peter: I think that’s absolutely one of the reasons. We talked about one, is that the tuitions are increasing very rapidly. We see people staying in school much longer. Now it’s the access to capital through the federal government which makes it easier to pay for those additional years. It’s adding on.

If you really look at it too, the way in which the loan structure is out there, it’s complex, and people understand it. If you don’t understand it, you just push it off to the side.

I always say that what we have to stop is the current strategy of hope. Hope has been the strategy [laughs] for many, many parents that are out there, “We’ll figure it out later.” Well, later is now because it’s affecting yourself. It could be affecting the parents, the grandparents, and most importantly, the students.

Patti: Absolutely. You think about the domino effect of kids graduating with $50,000, $100,000 of student loan debt. As we really think through this, and you and I both know, that has had an incredible economic effect on our country.

You think about the last 10 years and the slow growth of economy that we’ve experienced. You wonder, did one cause the other, or is one a contributing factor?

These kids are graduating with six‑figure loans. They often then put off decisions that you and I might have made, getting married, buying their first home, having children. That has a trickle‑down effect, doesn’t it?

Peter: It absolutely does. If you are thinking about the direct economic impact, think about student loans. It’s growing faster than credit card debt, mortgage debt, and most of the debt that’s out there.

You mentioned some of the situations. You graduate with 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars’ worth of loan. You’re not able to put money away for a house so that affects the housing market. The housing market is cyclical in which people buy and sell houses. If you take buyers out of the marketplace, that affects it.

You talk about the situation where the entrepreneurship. If you’ve got $50,000 worth of loans, how are you going to start your own business? America was built on small business owners, so we’re taking that out of the factor.

We also have the next scenario of retirement. What I mean by that is, say a parent is taking money out of their retirement plan to pay for education…

Patti: A big no‑no, folks.

Peter: Big, big no‑no. All of a sudden, they’ve got to stay and work for an additional two, three, four years.

How does that affect the economy? It affects the economy in one way, directly is that the company now is going to have to pay healthcare benefits for an older person which is going to affect their bottom line, which is going to affect their staffing and the way in which they grow their business.

Little decisions are affecting the economy across the board. It is truly amazing how much of an impact that we’re seeing now, and that more importantly, we’re going to see in the next 10 years.

Patti: When you really think about it, think about that older worker staying in that job, and we’ve got these kids that are graduating from college, and they’re not getting promoted because guess what? The opportunities for growth within the organization aren’t there because people are staying longer.

Peter: Very, very true. That means what? They job hop. The average person stays in the job less than three years now. It’s probably close to 2.3, 2.4 years. How does the company invest in someone that’s only going to be around so long? That affects the productivity of the company. Where are we going to be?

Patti: Exactly. What about graduate school? I have a lot of friends who are physicians, attorneys, etc., and they’re graduating with a debt of $200,000. Especially in the physician market, a lot of physicians aren’t going into private practice anymore.

Their incomes are limited. They’re being employed by hospitals. It’s a wonderful opportunity and they’re doing their life’s vocation, but they’ve got this thing hanging over their head. It’s a very different professional career path than it used to be.

Peter: Patti, that scares me the most. Three reasons, why. One, more and more companies are requiring a graduate school degree to move forward in their companies, which is in the business world, a growing situation. You think about medical school, doctors, teachers, education, in your master’s degree at that point of time. That is only going to keep on increasing the debt.

However, you’ve mentioned numbers of 200,000. I had a conversation with someone in Philadelphia recently, that the average debt coming out of some medical schools is much more north of that, $300,000. Does that deter a qualified candidate becoming a doctor? Think about where we are as a nation if we lose our doctors and our teachers.

Two areas that need a graduate degree, it’s becoming much more expensive. Even on the loan front, graduate school loans cost about 500 basis points or five percent, more than undergraduate loans.

Patti: I didn’t realize that. Wow.

Peter: As a strategy, some people say, “Well, we’ll pay for undergraduate and graduate school is on you.” You might want to rethink that strategy with your advisor, because it’s much more expensive to borrow money later on.

Patti: Very interesting. It’s this whole thing. It’s a web of complexity. You’ve got all the different loan programs, whether Parent Plus, Stafford, all of these different programs. I will tell you because I have your software, thank goodness, because your software helps us to really differentiate and optimize this whole question of how do we finance the education of our family?

You go into that and let’s talk about the different types of loans. Let’s break it down, Peter, between the federal loan programs and private loans. What’s the difference between the two?

Peter: From a basic standpoint, the federal loans are issued by the government themselves, private loans or private sector loans that are there. There’s three main differences that are out there. One would be the interest rate. Private loans, sometimes you qualify for a lower interest rate depending upon your creditworthiness.

The second factor is the amount of money that you can get on a private loan can be higher than a federal‑government loan. The biggest difference is the flexibility. Flexibility of the federal loan is much better. If you T‑charted it, it really depends upon your situation and that’s one of the solution is.

Too many people talk about generalities, in regards their college planning, funding, and student‑loan repayment. You have to take the approach of, it has to be customized towards yourself.

We’ll go back to our other comment that you made, people going into different schools. If I’m in the same situation or my child’s in the same situation as my neighbor, and they got into ABC school that’s out there. My child’s going to get in. No, it’s much different depending upon your situation and what the school wants.

My biggest suggestion to everyone out there, is you need a customized solution to make the right educated decision.

Patti: That’s what real financial planning is all about, customized solutions that are geared towards the needs of the family. We’re not necessarily looking at things, in this silo of college education. How does the college education decision affect other areas of a family’s financial life? It really has to be holistic.

Here’s a question for you. I’m going to tell you what a parent said to me recently. We were talking in the conference room, and he referred to college these days as adult daycare. It begs the question, is college still worth it?

Peter: Yes, it is. From a basic fact people make twice as much money. A recent study that came out, twice as much money of a lifetime having a college degree, than a high‑school degree and more money as a graduate degree. What you do with that degree is another different story at this point of time.

Is education worth it? Absolutely. Is the daycare comment warranted? Yes. It’s in association with five, six, seven, eight years of education. I know a good friend of mine took his decade‑long educational route, but that could be qualified as daycare.

I personally believe that all parents should think about the fact of taking out a federal Stafford Loan, for the mere fact, that their skin in the game for the student themselves. If they have the assets to pay, put that into a plan. When they graduate in four years, pay off the loan.

If they have the knowledge that, that loan is on them, it might take away a little bit of that daycare scenario.

Patti: Absolutely. It is an important point that you bring up, because when they do have skin in the game, they do understand they’re involved in the process. We sit down with these families and the kids to talk about the different alternatives and give them real numbers and what it’s going to mean for them, once they graduate.

If you go to this school, here’s the financial ramification. If you go to school B, here’s the ramification. One campus might be more beautiful than the other. Ultimately, what do you think you really want to do? Does the college provide a good depth and breadth of alternatives?

We don’t necessarily want to encourage the kids to, as Peter Sims says, make your own major. I want to take a little bit of this, a little bit of that. At the same point, we also want to recognize that a lot of kids don’t know what they really want to do.

I remember having a conversation with my daughter when she was a sophomore in college and I had, we call, the “deep and real.” We’re having a deep and real and to Carrie, I said, “You know, Carrie, communication, tell me what that means to you? What do you see yourself really doing with that? By the way, if money wasn’t an object, what do you really want to do in your adult life?”

That was an amazing conversation. It opened up a wonderful thought process for her. She’s up in Brooklyn, New York now acting. Who would have thought? It’s very interesting because that degree in communication was focused on writing skills. She’s written an entire movie, she’s producing it, she’s directing it, she’s starring in it.

Talk about communication. You can’t get much better than that, right?

Peter: Absolutely.

Patti: It’s a very interesting thing, in terms of, having that conversation with our kids. It’s not only about the money, but what they see themselves doing and what their unique gifts are.

Peter: Patti, first of all, thank you for doing that with your clients. There’s not many people across the country, who are advisors, that do that. They have to do that.

One of the most effective questions that I’ve ever seen an advisor ask, “Why? Why do you want to go to school?” That starts narrowing down the situation, not if you’re going to go south, north, west. Why do you want to go to school?

I do believe advisors need to help families start getting a path of that university. The idea of trying to figure it out when you’re in school, that might be OK, when school costs about $5,000. Now we’re talking about quarter of a million, half a million, a million. That’s a lot of money to try to figure something out.

Advisors need to be that third party in helping the families understand, what you said, financial outcome.

Patti: It’s OK also, not to go to that four‑year college down south, or across the country. It’s OK to go to a community college or, better yet, a trade school.

I will tell you Peter and folks in the audience. I will tell you with all of my kids, especially my daughters, I said “You know what you don’t have to go to college. Yes, I want you to get a college degree eventually. There is nothing wrong with trade school, go be a plumber.”

Can you imagine a young woman showing up at your front door to help you with your plumbing? They’d kill it.

Peter: Patti, my guys, I have four. I’ve got a 17, 15, 13, and 11‑year old. When I think about the future of education, I also think about the society we’ve grown up in. I’ve got three boys and a girl. I came from a very large family of seven children. We were kicked out of the house, and we actually, believe it or not, rang a bell to come home for dinner at that point.

Today’s society is so structured. Think about athletics. They’re structured, there’s not very many pickup games. The reason why I mentioned that is that they haven’t been able to explore their own individuality. When you mentioned community college, that’s the first step in adulthood without sending someone off at that point of time. I’m a big believer in the future of 2+2+2.

Patti: I love that. You told me about this, Peter. I think it could go viral.

Peter: Two years of community college to make a better understanding of what you want to focus on, but not taking the financial repercussions of some other decision that you make. Two years to really focus upon what your major is going to be, and then the advanced degree in grad school.

I think if you take a mature approach in looking at what you really want to do, that’s an excellent solution. I’m sure if my 17‑year‑old hears me say this, he might not be happy with me. That’s the discussion that need to happen. I think that more people need to help families, advise them on the financial situation. You’ve gone through it. I’m going through it. Making that choice for college is emotional.

Patti: So emotional.

Peter: I’ve heard you talk about, what’s the problem with making an emotional decision with your investing?

Patti: Yeah. It’s a loser’s game. It creates impulsive decisions that often people look back and say, “Why did I do that?” There’s a lot of remorse with that. Unfortunately, with this, it follows these kids and these parents for years. 10 years, 15 years, this debt is hanging over their heads. I think it’s even worse because a lot of kids are graduating and they’re underemployed.

Peter: Yes.

Patti: They’re not even earning the income to be able to manage it.

Peter: No. It becomes very, very…not only financially it’s a hardship, but it’s also emotionally discouraging to them. That’s a repercussion fact down there, at that point of time. Having a third party or second opinion come into the conversation is much more powerful.

Advisors need to understand educational planning like you do. It’s just like retirement planning, if you come down to the basics, accumulation, and distribution, and then maybe legacy. It’s the same thing with educational planning. There’s accumulation, distribution, and maybe legacy, if there’s a 529 moving on at that point of time.

However, one of the things that I’m asking people to think about when they’re talking to their clients, is you need to break down that stigma that if you have debt you’ve failed. Hey, at this point, if you looked at a college cost analyzer…and I’ll use just basic data. $2,500 goes into an account, you put $250 away a month, at an eight percent rate of return historically.

You might think as one child, you funded an education for your child. You might have funded maybe a third of it, or a quarter of it. It’s not a matter of saying, “OK. Am I going to have to take debt?” It’s, how do you want your financials to be structured? Start planning for it now.

Patti: How does your company, how does PayForEd help people, help parents, or advisors, or even companies help their employees, for example, manage the debt that they might have accumulated? Tell us more about that.

Peter: In a simple way, we provide transparency and simplicity to a complex process. We give you the information and education that you need to make decisions. What does that mean? I always use a simple term. Think about TurboTax. TurboTax for education student loan planning.

You put your input in, but it’s customized to you, and it gives you a strategy at the end on how to pay for it. We help people make these simple decisions that they might not have access to right now. It’s very difficult to get the information you need because there’s so many different parts that you’re pulling on, and then it becomes overwhelming. What happens? You don’t do anything.

Patti: Isn’t it true? I think you told me there are 128 ways to pay back a student loan.

Peter: If there’s a married couple and both have student loans, and they’re entering the workforce, there’s 126 different options you can choose from.

Patti: OK. OK, I overstated by two. Isn’t it amazing?

Peter: Hey, listen, we could be at 130 by the time this legislation gets done.

Patti: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Wow. It is amazing.

I will tell you, as the owner of your software, thank you so much. It does break it down and make it so easy for us to look at the options and optimize it for each individual family.

It’s a great, great tool. Peter Sims, I could be here all day talking with you. You’re so much fun with not so fun topic, by the way.

Peter: [laughs]

Patti: I got good news for everybody listening, we’re bringing him back. Stay tuned, because in the next episode Peter’s going to join me again.

We’re going to break down the tools available to get the real skinny on graduation rates. We’re going to be looking at the different universities, public university versus private.

It’s not always what you see. It’s not always what’s on the piece of paper.

Peter’s going to walk us through the FAFSA form. What does that really mean? Who should be filling it out? Should you bother, etc.?

It’s going to be a great, great show. Please join us for the next episode.

In the meantime, Peter Sims, I can’t thank you enough for being with us today. Thank you for your input, your wisdom, everything that you’re doing.

I know you’re doing some work down in Washington. Oh boy, help us solve this crisis, Peter.

Peter: Thank you so much for having me. I look forward to coming back.

Patti: Thank you. To all of you, thank you so much for joining us today.

If you have any questions, if you would like to learn more about the student loan crisis or how you can apply what you’ve learned today, and the tools that Peter and I are talking about, go to the website, put in a question or give us a call.

We’re here to help you. Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Ep39: Coronavirus Correction

About This Episode

As of the taping of this episode, the market is down 17% and the Coronavirus has put a scare into almost everyone! What will the impact of a 20% drop in oil prices have on world economies? Patti addresses these very hot topics with her Chief Investment Officer, Brad Everett. They discuss the cause and effect of this week’s market reaction and how investors should be making decisions on their portfolios. History will reveal some answers, but investors will still need to take a hard look at some opportunities that are now arising. Patti and Brad explain what those are and what the proper course of action should be.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Joining me today is Brad Everett. Brad is Key Financial’s Chief Investment Officer, and today we are going to be talking about the coronavirus correction.

Folks, we are in a correction. It’s happening right before our very eyes, and because of that, we’re going to fast track this podcast, so that you get the information in a timely manner and understand the impact that it might have on your portfolio, as well, as your overall financial plan. Brad, welcome to the show.

Brad Everett: Thanks, Patti.

Patti: What are we doing? What are we thinking, and, frankly, what are we doing about it?

Brad: I think in reality, we probably have no idea what we’re doing. Every time a virus comes along, it’s a new strain. It’s a new strand. You start from scratch with a vaccine, and you see how it goes.

There’s patterns from past viruses and past pandemics that you can hope work out the same way or even easier, but you just never know for sure. The market hates uncertainty.

Patti: That is for sure. As you know, I was traveling last month in Australia and New Zealand, and it was very interesting in those conversations I was having overseas. They said the virus probably didn’t really cause all this. It was just the spark that lit the fire.

I thought it was an appropriate metaphor, considering I was in Australia, and there was a lot of dry timber around. They hadn’t cleared out the timber, and in using that as a metaphor, the dry timber for our markets was the valuations.

We were getting pricy when it comes to price‑earnings multiples and valuations, so that’s the dry timber, you get any little bit of uncertainty that’s going to throw that spark, and voila.

Brad: Right. I always think correction is such a funny word. That infers the market wasn’t correct before, and after it’s fallen, it’s now correct. We don’t call it a correction when it goes up 10 percent, only when it goes down.

In this case, you could argue that if we’re in the middle of a momentum market, everybody was just afraid of missing out on more equity returns than maybe we have return now, whatever the reason. It just happened to be the coronavirus that gave us a little bit of doubt, and now we’ve returned to some kind of normal overall equity valuation.

Patti: That’s a really good point because we definitely saw the impact of last year’s rise in the market, and people were feeling a little left out. Even though a balanced portfolio created a really nice double‑digit return, there were some people who had been worried, moved into cash, and felt really bad that they didn’t get to participate in last year’s market.

Fast forward, here we are. You look at the multiples, and multiples are really about average, in long‑term average for price‑earnings results, so is it a correction or is it more of a normalization?

The real question and the uncertainty that we’re seeing today with the 1,700‑point drop in the Dow and S&P is way down, etc., is, that whole formula is based on earnings. What’s going to happen with earnings, going forward?

Brad: Sure. I think in reality, today, the coronavirus has taken a real back seat in the news to dropping oil prices, and maybe things that have a little more direct consequence on the economy that we can measure a little better.

Patti: Let’s talk about that a little bit, Brad, because everybody has their opinion in terms of the virus, and how long this is going to last, and is it going to be a multiyear issue for us, or how quickly can we get a vaccine? I thought it was interesting to hear that the composition of this particular virus is very similar to SARS. What is it, 86 percent?

Brad: Yeah, that’s the stat I saw. It’s genetically 86 percent the exact same thing as SARS. I think you would hopefully argue that researchers have quite a head start on this one, so hopefully it won’t take so long.

Patti: We had a vaccine for SARS, right? There was a vaccine that was developed. It was never used though, right?

Brad: Never needed. It ran its course, and before it was…I think part of the timing, you could have a vaccine tomorrow, but then by the time you give it the requisite number of testing and figure out a way to make 50 million doses, it takes some time.

Patti: Yeah. Look at the problem we’re having with getting the testing kits, right? It’s just there’s a delay of even determining exactly who is actually infected. We look at the statistics, and it’s scary. I think that David Kelly actually had a webinar this morning, and he said this is not like the normal flu. It is more virulent.

At least as we look at the statistics as they are today, I think it can be argued that, can we really depend on what China is coming out with in term of their data? He mentioned that maybe that looking at Italy and South Korea would be a more reliable, credible source to determine just how virulent this thing really is.

Brad: Yeah, there’s plenty of ways to manipulate the stats. I think that people that we know would argue against overthinking the coronavirus, would say many more people die from the flu, so this is not that big of a deal. Many more people die from car accidents, and homicides, and heart disease, and everything else.

It’s how fast is it spreading? How contagious is it and what is the mortality rate once you have it? I think those are important numbers that, technically last week…It’s horrible if anybody dies from it, but in the grand scheme of things, probably a low total number of people.

The question is, how fast does it spread? How easy is it to give it to someone else, and what’s the risk to that person once they have it? I think they’re all important things to think about.

Patti: Equally as important is, what are people doing in their lives? Are people hunkering down and staying at home, and what’s happening in places like China? While I was overseas, I thought it was interesting to learn about the metrics that many of the money managers are using to determine whether or not there’s actual economic activity in China.

They were looking at satellites, at traffic patterns in different cities. They were looking at the pollution index. I thought it was fascinating that the pollution index in China has plummeted because factories are offline.

It is interesting, some of the things that they have to look at to get the real story out of China, because they don’t really feel like they are getting it from their government.

Brad: They had to do their own research.

Patti: Italy and South Korea, though, are far more transparent. Northern Italy is really getting hit hard, and I think that for us here in the United States, some of the measures, to your point, they’re not kidding around here in the United States. I think South by Southwest was canceled. A lot of things are being canceled. Most corporations are saying no international travel.

Brad: It’s spring training time in Florida for baseball, and baseball players are pre‑signing baseballs to be handed out or thrown out, rather than standing in front of the crowd live‑signing balls. It’s all done ahead of time so they can just be handed out to fans and…

Patti: It always ends. Let’s go back to the timber. We were talking about the timber. This is the spark. What else is going on? You mentioned oil, and I think that’s really important for our listeners to understand that the impact of a 20 percent drop in oil prices in one day.

Saudi Arabia is, let’s use the word exploiting what’s happening in the world, because they’re ramping up supplies significantly. They are cutting prices. They’re offering a 21 percent discount on the price of oil to their trading partners with the goal, Brad, fill in the blank.

Brad: I think what happened is, they learned about how Wawa came to dominance in Pennsylvania by opening a store, charging very low prices for sandwiches and gas until all your competitors are gone, and then you raise prices back up to above where they were before. Saudi Arabia heard about Wawa, and they’re trying to copy the same business model.

If you have at the same time that production is spiking, and you are offering incredible discounts on the supply that you’re already are selling to preferred trading partners.

A barrel of oil is down in the 30s again, and you think of all the research and development that companies in the United States have spent to get oil out of the ground. Those are very long‑term projects. You lease an area under the ground or you own the area under the ground, and it takes a long time to get enough oil out.

You have to have some kind of projected price to make that project profitable, and if oil is down, I’ve heard numbers that say that Exxon Mobile needs oil at $75 a barrel to have any kind of free cash flow at all. Maybe Exxon has the balance sheet to withstand this, but there’s a lot of small upstream companies that will not be able to withstand this.

Patti: Let’s take that one step further. What is the problem with lower oil prices? What’s the big deal? We see it at the pump, that means that I could fill up my tank for a lot less money. That gives me excess cash flow, theoretically, I can go out and spend it, but people are very worried about the impact of these lower oil process. How come?

Brad: You try to think of it as like a zero‑sum game, right? If every time you fill up the tank, you save three bucks. That’s fine, multiplied across whatever, 130 million drivers in the United States, or whatever the number is.

The other side of that is, any of those companies that shut down are laying people off. You might save three bucks, but they lost their entire income. Unemployment creeps up. Everything is zero‑sum, the sum of all our savings equals somebody’s loss. That’s the risk, I would think.

Patti: It goes back to, we’re confusing correlation with causation. The virus didn’t really cause this. There may be some sort of a domino effect that occurs here, and definitely certain industries are going to be affected.

The airline industry is feeling it. Certainly the cruise lines, when leaders of our country come out and say, “Don’t go on a cruise,” wow, that’s going to hurt your business. It’s definitely going to hit pockets of the markets.

Brad: Banks, you mentioned.

Patti: Banking industry, you get to these very, very low, literally record low interest rates. The 10‑year bond today is trading at about a half a percent. We’ve never been that low. Is that unbelievable?

If you could panic about anything folks, panic about refinancing your mortgage. Panic about looking at your loans and saying, “Gee, what can I do to cut my payments?” because now’s the time to do it.

Brad: Where’s the opportunity for you as a family, or a household, or a person.

Patti: Exactly. Looking at these things holistically and figuring out, “OK, this is going to be tough.” It could be tough. We don’t know. Most people don’t really expect a V recovery, meaning this thing is going to bounce back.

Last week was tremendously volatile, with down days over 1,000 points, up days of 1,300 points. That kind of volatility is crazy in terms of how to figure it out. By the end of the week, the market ended up flat for the week. During times like this, you do not want to play in that sandbox. It is dangerous.

Most of you listening, you’ve heard this before. You’ve got a long‑term plan. Chances are, hopefully, you’ve followed the prescription of, make sure you have plenty of short‑term bonds, cash, money that will get you through the next two years, three years.

I don’t know that this is going to last that long, but if you don’t need that kind of buffer, it might be a great opportunity to get some of that money working, the old buy low phenomenon. As long as you don’t need the money for a period of time, you would probably look back at this period of time and say, “Wow, I’m really glad I did that.”

Keep an even temperament about this. If it really worries you, I’m going to pull out the nursing jargon that I use, go into the coma. Do the coma thing.

I think that if you do so, when you wake up, you’re going to be happy that, A, you didn’t’ sell anything, because I do think that you’ll regret that, and B, if you or your adviser were able to take advantage of this because you had that buffer, I think, that you’re actually going to wake up quite happy.

Let’s talk about the economy, because we’re looking holistically. Think about people listening. Should they be worried about their jobs, for example?

Brad: It never really is that smooth. I think there is certain industries that would suffer more than others. Energy, I think, as we discussed, is…

Patti: Vulnerable.

Brad: It’s going to be a little scary there, but even in that, it’s not so cut and dry. What are the companies that have the balance sheets to withstand it? It could affect anybody.

You could work at a mall and you could work for a store, that if people are afraid to go to the mall, you might have a rough go of it. Even at the mall, some businesses are barely getting by, and other ones cannot make money for years and still stay in business.

Patti: That was happening already, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that this whole situation is causing that.

I think the other thing to keep in mind is that for many companies, for many industries, they were having trouble finding workers. If you’re already below capacity as it relates to being able to provide the goods and services that you want to provide, you’re probably not going to lay a bunch of people off because you need everybody that you have.

In fact, you needed more, but you couldn’t find those skilled workers, but as with anything, you’ve got to be ready for these outliers.

You’ve got to be ready so that for those of you who are working, have concern about your position or your jobs, these are the times where you’re going to be happy that you did what a lot of people didn’t want to do, which was rebalance last year and understand that the market was going up, and up, and up, and it did even in the beginning of this year, but we rebalanced anyway.

You do these things when you don’t think you should. You don’t think you have to. Do it anyway, because that’s when it’s even more important.

As it relates to all of that, let’s talk about tax planning opportunities that a correction of 17 percent presents. Can you talk to the folks, remind them, how does tax loss harvesting work?

Brad: Tax loss harvesting is an opportunity to book an unrealized loss. Like if you hold…We’ll just make up an example, you have a small cap value fund. You spend $20,000 on it. The market goes down 15 percent. You now have $17,000 in this fund. We want to still maintain the same risk profile. We want you to be exposed to the same things.

We still want you to have small cap value in your portfolio because we feel that it’s a good place to be for the next decade, but we can book the loss by selling that holding and just taking the proceeds and reinvest it in something in the exact same asset class, so you never actually even spend a day out of the market.

You’re still exposed to small cap value one and stage two, but you’ve banked this $3,000 loss that you can use. It can either offset other gains, or if you don’t have other gains, then you can take it against your income at tax time.

Markets go up and down, you gain or lose money in…It almost seems like it’s just all this mystical up or down $3,000 today, but you can actually concretely take that loss and still be in the exact same position because you’ve just replaced it with something very similar.

Patti: In other words, if I hear you right, Brad, you’re basically asking Uncle Sam to offset a third of your losses.

Brad: Yeah.

Patti: In other words, on $3,000, you’re going to get $1,000 back on your tax return.

Brad: Exactly.

Patti: It’s just a different way of benefitting from what unfortunately does tend to happen in markets over time. You said $3,000, but let’s be real. What if it’s $30,000? How does that work?

Brad: It does the exact same thing.

Patti: Exact same thing, so basically let’s pretend for a minute that we don’t have a gain. You’ve got this $30,000 loss. There’s a limit of $3,000 per year that you can use against ordinary income.

Brad: Yeah.

Patti: Does that mean that we’ve got a $27,000 loss that goes completely wasted? A, you can take gains in holdings that held on to the gains, and you’ve been wanting to reduce your exposure there. That’s number one.

Let’s just assume that there aren’t any gains. There isn’t any opportunity. How will you talk about this carrying forward losses? How many years can you carry forward losses and use them in the future?

Brad: Forever.

Patti: Forever.

Brad: Yeah, assuming you live forever.

Patti: Which is a good point, you can’t take it at death, which actually is an important thing, because we do have clients who are older.

If we are banking losses, we want to recognize the fact that that, hey, you’re not going to be able to use this once you’re no longer above ground. We want to make sure that there are some gains to offset, so you’re taking advantage of this tax deduction.

Let’s bring this back to the virus, this is about coronavirus correction, so we’re in this correction. Maybe today might mark the first bear market that we’ve had since 2009. Yes, the coronavirus may have been the trigger. I think it’s been fascinating to read some of the articles, as I know you have, comparing it to the Spanish flu in 1918, right?

Brad: Right.

Patti: In 1918, on a worldwide basis, there was this horrible, horrible flu. Ironically, it was called the Spanish flu, but it did not originate in Spain. It was just that Spain was a neutral country at the time, and so during that period of time, the war propaganda and that sort, there wasn’t the independent journalistic approach that we have today in most countries.

Brad: That can’t be true.

Patti: It is true, Brad. I’m telling you.

Brad: It was worse than today.

Patti: Yeah, it was worse than today. Think about all the stuff they were talking about. Anyway, that’s a whole different subject. Going back to that, what happened during the Spanish flu was anywhere from 50 million to 100 million people died from the flu, and so a lot of people are making this comparison because that too was very virulent.

It was easily spread, but it was a different world then. We didn’t have the healthcare that we have today. We didn’t have the government shutting things down as we do today, and the plans. World Health Organization has had these plans, “If this happens, we do A, B, and C.”

In many respects, there is no comparison. For me, the only thing that we want to be cognizant of, and I mean this as a nurse, the resistance to antibiotics, people aren’t necessarily dying from the flu. They’re dying from secondary infections, typically pneumonia.

People with respiratory illnesses or where their immune system is compromised, that’s who is most vulnerable, and it is the resistance to the antibiotics that have occurred that makes this scary on the other end.

For anybody who is 60‑year‑old or what have you, I think it’s also interesting, and you brought this up earlier, the fact that in 1920, the average life expectancy was what, Brad, about?

Brad: I think between 50 and 55.

Patti: Literally, in 1920, you in your 40s would have been considered elderly.

Brad: Yeah, I should be retired and sitting on my front porch every day.

Patti: Don’t even think about it. We need you here.

Brad: Another year or two.

Patti: In your dreams. It is different. Life expectancies were much shorter, but it’s something that we’re watching. The numbers are, and you probably know this already, we don’t know what the real numbers are. So many more people probably have it that haven’t been tested, probably will never get tested.

They’re in their home. They’re dealing with it. They might not have symptoms, or very mild symptoms. It goes away, so the ratios are skewed.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with the virus itself, but we do know a couple of things. First of all, it is a fact that economies throughout the world have slowed down. There is not as much economic activity. Dollars are not exchanging hands here in the United States or globally, so that’s one thing we do know.

We do know that oil prices have plummeted. We also know that we were probably vulnerable already to a drop in the market because valuations were stretched.

What we don’t know is how long this is going to last. What we don’t know is the impact of the election. What we don’t know and never know is where we’re going to be next week, in three months, a year from now, even three years from now.

However, from a practical perspective, I believe in my heart of hearts that 5 years from now, 10 years from now, we’re going to look back at this and say, “Wow, it was really rough while we’re going through it, and it was scary, both from a personal level as well as a financial level.”

If we keep our heads level and understand that this is long‑term, and we understand that there’s a longer‑term, a really good financial plan that’s solid, you’re going to be OK, right?

Brad: Yeah, it makes sense.

Patti: Folks, thank you so much for listening. I hope that it’s helpful. Brad Everett, thank you as always for your very practical, right to the bottom line guidance and advice. I appreciate how proactive you and the team are today. It’s reaching out to people.

We know the people who are on cash flow, and we know the people who have a balanced portfolio probably won’t need the money, and we are treating each individual and each family very differently, given what’s happening in the markets today.

Patti: Thanks to all of you for joining us today. I hope this was helpful. Always feel free to give us a call any time if you’re worried. If you’re thinking about these things, if you want to know the impact of your personal situation, go our website, send us a note.

We will be happy to talk to you over the phone, bring you into the conference room. There’s no charge for that. This is why we exist, www.keyfinancialinc.com, that’s how you get a hold of us. Thanks so much for joining us today. I am Patti Brennan. I hope you have a great day and a healthy year.

Ep38: Social Security Speed Dating

About This Episode

There is a new bill that has been proposed by our nation’s lawmakers that could possibly create the social security reform that Americans have been waiting for. Patti dissects the pros and cons of this bill with her Chief Planning Officer, Eric Fuhrman. They identify the unique tax optimization strategies that all Americans can benefit from, as well as explaining the nuances of the bill that need to be understood for specific age demographics. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to save money on taxes or earn more in benefits received, if this bill is passed!


Patti Brennan: Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “The Patti Brennan Show.” Hey, whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives. Joining me today is Eric Fuhrman. Eric is our Chief Planning Officer. Again, you’ve made the commute, haven’t you, from your desk over to our podcast studio?

Eric Fuhrman: Yeah, all of about 50 feet. It’s an arduous journey to get here, but I made it. I couldn’t be happier to be here today with you, Patti.

Patti: Nothing is going to stop you.


Patti: No snow, no sleet, nothing, right?

Eric: That’s right. Uphill both ways to get into this podcast studio.

Patti: You know what? Do we have an exciting topic. It is Social Security speed dating.

Eric: I would say more than exciting, Patti. I think we’re going to start out 2020 with a bang. If you’re going to do it right, you’ve got to start off with Social Security, which there’s no more topic that’s bigger than that.

Patti: I hope it’s OK to do this, the speed dating thing. I never know what’s OK to say and what’s not OK. We’re going to hit the ground. We’re going to do this, Eric, because there’s a lot to talk about in a short period of time.

Eric: It sure is. This is a big topic. People out there are busy. We’re busy. We’ve got to make sure we cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

Patti: The most important thing as you guys listen to this podcast today is that, especially towards the end, we’re going to be talking about a new bill that has been proposed, that is really getting some traction.

Eric, we get the question all the time. Is Social Security actually going to be there? If this thing goes through, it will be there. We want to talk about what it’s going to mean in terms of your paycheck, your income taxes, and how much you’re going to have to contribute.

Eric: This is really the first major revision since, I want to say, maybe it was 1981 or 1983. I forget exactly. That was the last time Social Security really had a major reform that took place. A lot of exciting stuff in there that really is meant to basically preserve this program for the next 75 years.

Patti: They’re projecting out – it’s really hard for me to actually say this – the year 2100. How about it?

Eric: We won’t be around to see it, I don’t think.

Patti: You might be.


Patti: Let’s first talk about the filing strategy. A lot of the strategic things that we used to do, we can’t do anymore, but there’s still some really interesting opportunities and planning implications for everybody that’s listening today.

Eric: Really, there’s basically for most people out there – we can’t say for everybody because there’s a lot of unique situations – but for most people, there’s really a two-track filing path that you can take. Really, the first one you have to think about, this is all driven by the year you were born.

For those that were born before January 1st of 1954 have a unique track that they can take, where some of these advanced filing strategies are still available, versus those who were born after January 1st of 1954. Then, at that point, there’s a very limited number of options that you have to consider.

Patti: There are still some options. Let’s talk about the first one. This is the restricted application. Again, we’re in 2020. It really is relevant for those people who were born between January of 1951 and January of 1953, right?

Eric: Right. This subset of people will still be younger than age 70. Benefits can’t be delayed beyond age 70. They’re going to be old enough to file for benefits where there’s no reduction because you’re under full retirement age.

Patti: I suppose you can file later, right, after age 70? Just there’s no advantage to that.

Eric: That’s a great question. I don’t know why you would wait any longer. It’s like leaving money just sitting on the table. Actually, I’ve never heard of anybody waiting that long. I don’t know if the Social Security Administration calls you up and lets you know…

Patti: Would that be nice, huh?

Eric: …or they just automatically start paying. Good question.

Patti: Given the fact that in our office here locally, you pretty much have to go first thing in the morning and plan to be there all day long. I have a feeling that on top of the meetings and all of that, they’re not actually making phone calls out to remind people to come and collect.

Eric: I would doubt it. I would say I’ve gone along with several clients, as you have, to the Social Security office. Not a fun place to be. Regardless, you’re probably right on that one.

Patti: Let’s go over this restricted application. It’s really applicable for people who are pretty much the same age. If there’s a wide dispersion between ages, one spouse versus the other, it probably doesn’t work quite as well. Why don’t you walk everybody through it?

Eric: Again, just as you pointed out, this is assuming you and your spouse are roughly the same age as one another and, again, both of you are eligible, meaning that you’re full retirement age. Essentially, the idea would be is, if you have two spouses, one in the household is the higher earning spouse, and then you have another spouse that has a lower lifetime earnings.

The concept of the strategy is basically the lower earning spouse, assuming they’re full retirement age, would file for benefits to start receiving their regular benefits based on their lifetime earnings. As soon as they have officially filed, that then allows the higher earning spouse to go and file but file a restricted application to just receive their spousal benefits alone.

Patti: When you say higher earning spouse, it doesn’t mean that they’re still at work. It just means that over their lifetime, they earned more money.

Eric: Exactly right. If you looked on your Social Security benefits statement, which are basically electronic nowadays, if you compared the full retirement age benefit amount between you and your spouse, say at age 66, the spouse that has the higher benefit wants to delay that benefit.

Essentially, as you delay benefits from 66 on to 70, you get something called a delayed retirement credit. That delayed credit mathematically has a higher value when it accrues on the spouse that has the higher lifetime benefit.

Patti: The best part is you’re both receiving some form of Social Security. You’ve got the cash flow coming in from that.

Eric:It’s a fabulous way. One spouse is receiving benefits. The other spouse is basically getting paid to wait, and there’s an investment component because that delayed retirement credit is roughly eight percent that they’re earning on delaying benefits.

Patti: There’s no risk.

Eric: Exactly right. You could always stop and turn it on at any point in time. You’re not committed to this idea of delaying until age 70. You can turn it on at any point that you would like depending on your circumstances.

Patti: Let’s take it to age 70. What happens then? What has to happen?

Eric: What would happen then is the one spouse that was receiving a spousal benefit then switches over to their higher benefit. If you were, again, full retirement age is 66, your benefit from 66 to 70 has now grown by 32 percent. Now you will switch over to your higher benefit.

Then there’s a nice little ancillary benefit, which is basically the spouse with the lower benefit might actually get a bump up. Again, they’re always going to get the higher of the two, their own or 50 percent of the higher earning spouse when that spouse was age 66. It’s possible even the lower earning spouse could see an increase as well as the higher earning spouse.

Patti: Because they waited till age 66 or full retirement age, there’s no disadvantage. There’s no penalty. They’ll get 100 percent of whatever they’re supposed to receive, the higher of the two.

Eric: Exactly right. You can continue to work as well. Once you’re full retirement age or over, there’s no earnings limitation. You can earn as much as you want. Your benefits won’t be reduced.

Patti: That’s excellent. Let’s talk about for those people who were born after that date in 1954.

Eric: That becomes a little easier in terms of your decision because the restricted application is virtually dead at that point. That might not be the best term. It’s essentially gone. Pretty much, when you go to file for benefits, there’s no way to get a spousal.

You’ll still earn delayed retirement credits if you wait beyond your full retirement age, but, again, you cannot have this arrangement where you’re essentially getting paid and earning the eight percent delayed credit.

Really, it just comes down to the idea of if you have financial assets, if you have longevity and health on your side, then the odds would suggest it’s probably a pretty good idea to delay benefits.

If you need the income, if there’s a health issue that might have some impact on longevity, then you might want to consider turning the benefit on as soon as you’re eligible or as soon as there won’t be a reduction.

Patti: There is one exception to this rule, isn’t there, Eric? Let’s talk about.

Eric: Yes. Again, just keep in mind you have to run the numbers here. Anything we’re talking about today, you’ve got to run the numbers or find somebody that can run the numbers for you that’s qualified to do this.

Let’s say, for example, you have a child, an adopted child, a stepchild, or let’s say a dependent grandchild that you’re taking care of. That individual can also qualify for benefits on your record as long as they are under the age of 18 and a full time student.

Patti: Let’s walk through this for a second. That’s a fascinating planning technique or a wonderful opportunity that people may not realize. Let’s say, unfortunately, because of the opioid crisis, we actually know several families where the grandparents have taken over the care of the grandchildren.

What you’re saying here is that they can begin to receive an additional benefit as long as that grandchild is under the age of 18, based on the grandparent’s Social Security.

Eric: Exactly right. Again, you’ll have to go and look at your numbers. Everyone’s Social Security benefit statements will lay out your benefits. Underneath that, it will also lay out benefits that are available to, say, a minor in the event of disability, death, things like that.

Patti: The most important thing, folks, that you should know is that doesn’t reduce the amount of the grandparent’s benefit. It literally is another cash flow that’s coming into the household.

Eric: Here’s something interesting as well with that. Let’s say your child is pick an age here 15, 16 years old. Let’s say they work. There is an earnings test, but the earnings test only applies to the child’s benefit. It has no impact on the grandparent’s benefit.

Just keep in mind we want to encourage them to go and work, but they can still receive benefits. If they are of sufficient earnings, it wouldn’t impact your benefits. It would only impact the child’s benefit.

Patti: That little tidbit is really important. It just goes to show you, to your point earlier, that you really have to go and run the numbers. There are some unintended consequences of something that you would want to encourage. That is go out and get a job and make as much money as you can.

Eric: Responsibility.

Patti: Just be careful about how much is enough. Let’s go through this next thing, called the redo strategy. I call it the…

Eric: The oops strategy. [laughs]

Patti: Or a mulligan. How does that work, Eric?

Eric: You have to consider you have a couple options. Let’s say you, for one reason or another, have filed for benefits. Then you come to the realization that maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Is there a way that I can undo this decision?

The question is you always have options that you can consider, but the timing is really relevant here. If you make an election within 12 months of filing, you can actually withdraw the Social Security benefits.

Now the issue with that is let’s say you started benefits for nine months. You decide it was the wrong decision. You want to withdraw your application. At that point, you have to repay all the benefits you’ve been receiving.

Patti: At no interest though. No interest or penalty, right?

Eric: That’s a very good point. Right. Also, you have to consider if anybody else on your record, say a spouse or, again, a minor child like we just talked about, you will also have to repay the benefits for them as well, and those individuals have to consent in writing that they’re OK with this.

Just keep that in mind. The redo is if it’s less than 12 months, you can stop your benefits, pay everything. You just have to pay everything back.

Patti: Why would people do this? What would be the advantage for them to pay all that money back and take that mulligan?

Eric: You never know. There could always be a change in circumstances, where prior to something happening there could have been a real need to start benefits early. Then conditions on the ground change. Maybe it wasn’t as relevant as it was before.

Basically, you have to remember. Starting benefits early there’s basically almost a seven percent per year reduction in benefits. Somebody starting benefits early could see a 20, 25 percent lifetime reduction. If you have longevity on your side, that could cost you serious money if you end up living a very long life.

Patti: Whether it applies to the mulligan or the strategy we’re about to talk about in a second, I find that a lot of people, they think that they want to retire. Then once they do retire, they’re like, “Wow. This isn’t really what I thought it would be.” They find themselves bored, unchallenged, a loss of purpose.

They want to go back and get another job. They started Social Security. They’re getting the income. Then they go back to work for a company or start something. They start making some real money and think, “Well, I don’t need all this cash flow. By the way, I could give the Social Security back because I don’t really need it.”

Eric: You know what’s so fascinating about that, is that we can talk to that from real-world terms. How many meetings have you sat in where, over the years, we’ve had long term clients, where all they wanted to do is just know that they could? Then they finally got there. It wasn’t what they thought. They realized they like being productive and adding value.

Patti: For those people who we’ve worked with, it’s really fun to see how they figure out that next season of life and how they find new purpose, whether it be another job or in consulting or what have you. They don’t have to go back to that corporate…

Eric: Daily grind, right?

Patti: Exactly. That’s a lot of fun. As part of that counseling, we say, “OK, you elected Social Security. Let’s just go ahead and figure a way to take this mulligan. We’ll pay it back.” Again, you can refile any month of any year. It’s a heads you win, tails you break-even type of transaction, right?

Eric: Right. To bring this back full circle, to your point, what if this occurs beyond that 12-month window where you can do the redo? You still have other options. These are interesting.

The first one is basically go back to work. If you’re under the full retirement age, there’s going to be an earnings limit. If you go back and you earn more money – again, we’re doing this because we want to eventually, your Social Security benefits will be reduced.

Take a peace of mind in the fact that Social Security will give you credit for any of those benefits that you did not receive because of working. That will come back to you. You’ll get a credit from Social Security once you reach full retirement age. All is not lost.

Patti: All is not lost, but that does take time. That takes time over your lifetime. The takeaway is first and foremost, understand what the earnings limit is before you go back to work. If you’ve done so, if you collected Social Security early before full retirement age, you decide that you really do want to go back to work.

You’ve got to make sure you don’t earn over a certain amount of money. Again, to your point, Eric, it’s OK. You’ll eventually get that money back. At least you want to know the rules of the game before you go ahead and do something like that.

In that case, maybe Plan B would be rather than continuing to receive Social Security and have that income limitation, let’s say that you could go out and make $70,000 a year but you’re getting Social Security. If you make that kind of money, you’re going to have to give some of it back. At that point in time, they can suspend their benefit, right?

Eric: Yeah. Another option…This would be regardless of, say, whether you went back to work or not. It’s interesting. I feel like it doesn’t get a whole lot of press, I guess. Which is let’s say you started taking benefits early. Now, you’ve finally reached your full retirement age. Let’s say it’s 66 or 67.

At that point in time, you can actually elect to suspend your benefit. Then you start accruing that eight percent credit. Just think of an example here where, let’s say, somebody started at age 63. They had a 20 percent reduction in their benefit because they started early.

Let’s say they get to age 66. They defer their benefit for basically the four years between 66 and 70. They can actually increase their benefit from that point, where it would actually be worth more than what they would get at, say, age 66 because they’re receiving that eight percent credit. Again, the other important point here is you don’t have to pay any of your benefits back.

Patti: That’s key.

Eric: You don’t have to pay any back. It’s just strictly getting to age 66, suspending. Then you start accruing that eight percent benefit again. That’s another interesting way that you can undo maybe a decision that you regret.

Patti: A decision that you made, that maybe you look back and say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t.”

Eric: Just keep that in mind. Also keep in mind too if you do that, again, anybody receiving benefits on your record would also see them suspended as well.

Patti: Although somewhere I saw except for an ex spouse.

Eric: Anyone out that’s been divorced, as long as it’s been more than two years, then you don’t have to worry. Some of these decisions won’t affect you if you’re receiving benefits on an ex spouse’s record. Great point.

Patti: Now we’ve talked about that, what about the concept of retroactive benefits? Let’s say that you waited on Social Security. You decide at age 68, “I’m going to go ahead and just start Social Security now.” When you go to the office, the wonderful person says, “By the way, we will give you a check for the last six months as a lump sum.” What do you think about that idea, Eric?

Eric: It’s interesting. A lot of people don’t know of this concept of retroactive benefits until they actually go and file. They didn’t file exactly when they would have been eligible to receive benefits, they waited for one reason or another.

Social security is dangling this carrot in front of you, this bag of money, if you will, and who doesn’t like that, that they could receive the prior months of benefits? What’s important to realize about retroactive benefits is that it only pays for six months.

Let’s say you were eligible at 66, you walk in at 66 in four months, you can get a retroactive benefit to pay you those benefits you were to receive for the four months that you’ve been eligible. Let’s say you were eligible at 66 for benefits, you don’t file until 67, the retroactive benefit again will only be for a six month period. That’s the limitation.

Patti: There are times when you maybe don’t want to take that lump sum, though, aren’t there?

Eric: Right. That carrot that they’re dangling in front of you, you have to think about the long term consequences of that decision. It all comes around what our expectation for life expectancy is.

The basic fact is when you think about those benefits, because you filed late, you’ve been accruing delayed retirement credits. A six month retroactive benefit has the impact of increasing your benefits by four percent for the rest of your life.

Just keep in mind that if you have an average to above average life expectancy, that that retroactive benefit could actually cost you a lot more in terms of what you could receive over your lifetime by taking that.

Sometimes, as long as we’re talking about your own retirement benefit, genuinely it might be better to forego the retroactive benefit and make sure that you’ve earned that delayed retirement credit, because it could be a lot more valuable.

Patti: I’m going to tee this one up, because you just did. Now, as long as we’re talking about your own benefit, what about a spousal benefit? How about if they go back, go in, and you’ve delayed, etc., and your spouse has also delayed? Should they also say, “Thanks, but no thanks” on that lump sum?

Eric: Patti, that’s an excellent point, because spousal benefits or survivor benefits don’t accrue the eight percent delayed retirement credit. You should always accept…

Patti: That bag of money.

Eric:Y eah, that bag of money, the retroactive benefit on spousal or survivor benefits, because there is no delayed retirement credit that applies there.

Patti: Very interesting, so just know the rules of the game before you go into that Social Security office. That is really great information.

Now let’s talk about this wonderful new piece of legislation that has been proposed called H.R. 860, very technical name, right?

Eric: Yeah.

Patti: It feels like the SECURE Act that just passed. We heard about it for a year or so, and then it died down. It didn’t seem like it was going to through, and then, lo and behold, all of a sudden at the end of last year they push it through.

The SECURE Act is going to affect everybody listening to this podcast. We won’t go through all of it, but the real big one is that required minimum distributions which used to have to occur at the age of 70 and a half or begin, that’s now delayed until age 72.

You’ve got 2 extra years theoretically, before you start taking a certain amount out from your 401(k) or IRA or any retirement plan. Right?

Eric: Right.

Patti: That’s what the SECURE Act is all about. We’ll do another podcast on that, because it has some other implications for your beneficiaries.

I wanted to bring that up, as we talk about this legislation that has to do with Social Security, because those two can go hand in hand in terms of some really, really interesting planning opportunities.

Eric: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. I sit there, and we think back over the last couple of years, and it seems like so many major things, whether it’s changing the Social Security filing strategies, the SECURE Act, or this piece of legislation, they almost seem to come out of nowhere.

They don’t seem to receive any kind of attention, and then all of a sudden they’re passed, and there’s major changes that affect everybody.

Patti: Even think about the law that went through at the end of 2017, nobody thought that was going to go through, and then, boom, it happened. Corporations are now paying a lot less tax, many people are paying a lot less tax. Never say never.

Everybody’s been worried about Social Security, and it doesn’t seem like there’s been the political will to do anything about it. Well, [indecipherable 22:27] you hear some of the things that they’re looking at doing as it relates to this, because it could really solve the problem in maybe a way that isn’t nearly as painful as we had all feared.

Eric: I think what’s always important is just keep in mind this is not law yet, so anything could still change. This is just a recent example or some of the things that are in this existing bill.

The first thing that people should be aware of is that basically there’ s a proposed increase in benefits across the board. There’s big important distinguishment with average, but the average person would see a two percent increase in their benefit. Keep in mind that average is not evenly distributed.

People that might have had lower lifetime earnings will probably see a higher increase than two percent, whereas people that have historically been on the higher end of the income scale will probably see less than the two percent increase in their benefit. Overall, across the population of all these recipients, average benefits will increase by about two percent.

Patti: Let’s stop there. The two percent doesn’t sound like much to me, so let’s put that out there.

It’s not a cost of living increase. It’s just a one shot, one time perk, if you will, of an increase in the benefits. From there, whatever the cost of living increase, as that occurs, that’s also going to increase your benefits over time.

Eric: Yeah, you’re right. It’s basically the way that they calculate benefits. We won’t get into the weeds of that, but basically the way in which the calculation is done will change, and that’s what’s leading to this increase for folks.

Patti: The cost of living increase and the way that it’s calculated actually is a potential benefit to everybody listening. It has to do with how they calculate inflation, right?

Eric: Yeah. Basically that cost of living increase, everyone gets the letter from Social Security informing them of their benefit for the coming year.

Patti: They tend to evaporate in thin air, because Medicare premiums go up more than whatever it was the Social Security increase. A lot of people don’t really feel that in their pockets. Let’s put that on the sideline, because maybe the way that they calculate COLAs will help in that area. Sorry, Eric. Go right ahead.

Eric: I was just going to say right now the way Social Security receives the COLA is based on what’s called the CPI for urban and clerical workers. This is the expression of average price increases for people across the country.

There’s a different CPI index, CPIE, which is basically used to essentially illustrate cost increases for those who are over age 62, so things like medical and shelter expenses are more heavily weighted. That tends to increase faster for individuals in that cohort.

The discussion is using CPIE rather than the normal CPI, because they feel that might be more representative of how people on Social Security benefits actually experience cost of living increases.

Patti: Last year, if the increase for Social Security was 1.8 percent, then it’s reasonable to think that the CPIE would have been 2.2 percent. It can be meaningful, because it’s a compounding effect over time, too.

Eric: Yeah, yeah. Exactly right.

Patti: That’s interesting. We’ve got the cost. What about the minimum benefit? That’s interesting, especially for people who may have had more modest incomes over their lifetimes. That’s important, because there’s a new floor, if you will, in terms of how much you can receive.

Eric: Exactly right. For those individuals that were in the lower income bracket, Social Security is going to replace a much higher percentage of your income in retirement.

The idea here is that you’ve accrued benefits based on the Social Security’s calculation, but there will also be a minimum benefit, which basically takes 125 percent of the federal poverty level.

When you get to retirement, you’ll get either your own benefit or this new minimum benefit if your lifetime earnings were low, and that would be higher. That’s a benefit there.

Patti: Folks, for those of you listening, that minimum benefit from Social Security is now going to be $15,612. I say now if this thing were to go through as it exists. That’s important, because we want to lift everybody in our society, and income and cash flow is one way to do that.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely right.

Patti: Fine and dandy, all these nice little perks. How are we going to pay for this, Eric?

Eric: The quintessential question, right? [laughs]

Patti: Yes. All fine and dandy. Free college for everybody in America, but how are going to pay for it, right?

Eric: Going to have to be paid from somewhere, remember? Someone’s income is usually somebody else’s expense. That tends to be how it works.

Right now, what they’re proposing is there is basically a taxable wage base that Social Security taxes apply to, if you’re, say, a w2 employee or so forth. Right now, for 2020, you pay Social Security taxes in the first $137,700 that you earn. Every dollar after that is no longer encumbered by a Social Security tax.

Patti: By the way, folks, your employer matches that, so you pay half, your employer pays half.

Eric: Right. Now there is a proposed second tier, where the first 137 is taxed, then you don’t pay anything, but for the one percent of individuals in this country that earn over 400,000, then a Social Security tax will come back in on any income above 400,000.

Patti: There’s a doughnut hole then. Is that a way to look at it?

Eric: I like the term.

Patti: Got to compare it to something we already know, right?

Eric: [laughs] Yeah, I like it.

Patti: We got the doughnut hole. Between the 137,700 and 400,000 no Social Security will be taken out of your income or your employer’s. Over 400,000 you’re back to paying Social Security tax.

Let me play devil’s advocate. Let’s say that you’ve got somebody, and they’re in that income bracket or above. How is that going to be dispersed among our population? Does that go to everybody from the top tier 400,000 and above?

Eric: That’s an interesting point. The worry would be is it a grab to find a way to shore up the system and pay for it by taxing people in the highest income bracket?

Our understanding of the way it is currently designed is that anybody that second tier tax would apply to, all of the benefits that you pay into will accrue to those individuals that pay it.

It’s not like just extra money going into a fund that’s dispersed against all recipients of Social Security benefits. Anyone that’s a subject to that tax, that tax does come back to those individuals that were subject to it. Great point.

Patti: It doesn’t feel like that alone is going to be enough. There must be more to this bill to pay for this, right?

Eric: Yeah, yeah.

Patti: What else is going on? Of course they’re going to have to increase the taxes for all of us. Is that right?

Eric: Yes. Social Security gets its funding primarily from payroll taxes. Basically with those who are working pay in to, basically, fund the benefits for those who are receiving. Right now the payroll tax is basically 12.4 percent, that’s 6.2 for the employee, 6.2 for the employer.

The discussion is they will increase that by one percentage point, from 12.4 to 13.4, but that increase is going to be phased in over a 10 year period, so it’s not just going to happen all at once. It’ll be very subtle, you probably won’t even notice it for the most part.

Patti: It’s something that everybody is – there’s outcry – “You’re increasing our social security taxes, yada, yada, yada.”

But really, when we put a calculator to all of this, up to 137,700 basically what it means is an extra $688 per year for the employee and another $688 for the employer. It’s not hugely dramatic to shore up the system for another 75 years.

Eric: The arguments to shore up Social Security have always been the sooner you do it, the less drastic the change has to be. Seems pretty sensible in terms of what they’re doing.

Patti: I like this third one, Eric. Folks, just listen up. This one has very important implications for everybody listening today.

Eric: We’ve got to save the best for last, right?

Patti: Of course.

Eric: Always. I agree. There are so many downstream effects of what this might do if it ends up passing. Right now, you may or may not pay taxes on your Social Security benefits. Some people pay zero. Some people, 85 percent of their benefits is included for taxation. They use this formula called provisional income.

Basically, right now, for the most part, if you’re married filing jointly, as long as you’re modified adjusted gross income, or what they call provisional income, is above $44,000, 85 percent of your benefit comes in for taxation.

Patti: Let’s just be real here. Most people are paying taxes on pretty much most of their Social Security, especially people who are over 70 and a half or, now, 72. Your required minimum distributions are boosting your taxable income. Most people are going to be paying taxes on their Social Security. Is that fair to say?

Eric: Absolutely. It all depends on your situation, where you’re getting income from. Yeah, a lot of people do pay taxes. A lot of people say, “Well, I paid taxes to build this benefit. Now I’m paying taxes on the benefit that I’m receiving.”

Patti: So much for the Boston Tea Party. Double taxation is unconstitutional. That’s another subject for another day.

Eric: I was going to say the big thing here is that they’re talking about raising that limit. If you’re married, filing jointly, now your benefits will not be taxed until your modified adjusted gross income is above $100,000. That is a game changer in terms of planning opportunities and things you can do.

Patti: It is absolutely huge, especially because a lot of people, their Social Security could be $50,000, $60,000 at that point in time. It’s a very big deal. It really allows for a lot of interesting tax planning.

Eric: I would say so much when we do our analysis for whether a Roth conversion makes sense, so much of it is predicated on the fact that every dollar we convert in Roth money to get it into this tax free environment could potentially basically bring in more Social Security benefits which will be taxed.

You’re getting this Social Security benefit that isn’t being taxed. Now it’s being taxed because of the conversion. It’s really a difficult thing to justify.

Patti: It’s an unintended consequence. Just to frame this, the Roth conversion idea works like this. Let’s say that you have money in a 401(k) or an IRA. You’re looking at, “Gee, I don’t want to have to pay 25 or 30 percent tax on this when I’m 72 years old. Is there a way to get this into an environment at a cheaper overall tax cost and then from there let it grow tax free?”

There’s a period of time after someone retires where chances are you might be in a 12 percent tax bracket. I’d much rather pay 12 percent than 25 percent. Wow, you’ve cut your taxes in half in that scenario, just to keep it simple. It’s very difficult under the way the Social Security rules work right now because by doing that we’re exposing more money to more Social Security to taxes.

Eric:Where it wasn’t being taxed before.

Patti: You need software. You need people to really do the analysis to figure out whether or not this works. Fast forward, this new law comes in. Wow, all of a sudden you need $100,000 of income before taxing Social Security is even a consideration. More people are going to be able to do Roth conversions, which is interesting.

It makes me think. Now that I’m thinking about this, Eric…We haven’t talked about this. Our federal government, they’re not really that stupid. They need revenue. They want revenue sooner versus later.

Why don’t we give people an incentive to do Roth conversions so that we can get the taxes on that money sooner instead of waiting until they’re 72? More people do Roth conversions. The federal government gets more income. You see the domino effect.

However, Roths are powerful. The government, unfortunately, is often also very short sighted. They’ll get their money up front. It’ll be at a lower rate. More importantly, on the Roth, that now grows tax free for the rest of your life and for a portion of your family’s life, the people who are inheriting it.

Eric: The really key point here is that if this goes through, there’s the opportunity to do significant Roth conversions without having the diminishing effect of pulling Social Security in for taxation. Paired with the SECURE Act, now we have an additional 18 months or so that Roth conversions can be done because required minimum distributions have now been pushed back.

Patti: This is what in our office I hope it doesn’t offend anybody this is what we call a BFD. This is a big deal.

Eric: [laughs]

Patti: You really want to know once this thing goes through. By the way, we’re talking about Roth conversions. The other way to look at this is if you’ve got a few years and this thing goes through, maybe you do a Roth conversion one year.

Let’s say that you have a security, a stock from the company that you used to work for. It’s got a huge capital gain. If you’re in a 12 percent tax bracket and you sell that, up to a certain point, then there is no out of pocket outlay.

Whether the Roth conversion makes sense or for risk management purposes selling stock that has appreciated a lot or even just rebalancing the portfolio, those are judgment calls year to year. More people are going to have those opportunities.

It’s all about the planning, the planning opportunities. Comes down to Social Security. Comes down to cash flow. What do you need? When do you need it? That’s financial planning 101, right, Eric?

Eric: Exciting stuff. It’s what keeps me getting out of bed every day.

Patti: Me too, absolutely. It’s going to keep me getting out of bed for many years to come.

Eric: You got it.

Patti: Thank you so much, Eric. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks to all of you for listening. This has been really important information. We will keep you posted as we learn more about this new law. It will affect everybody listening.

If you have any questions, please go to our website. Any ideas, any things that you want to hear about, we’d love to hear from you. Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. I hope you all have a great day.

Ep37: Sterling Shea – Barron’s Global Head of Wealth Management Discusses Industry Trends: Part 2

About This Episode

Sterling Shea, Global Head of Wealth Management for Barron’s and Dow Jones, continues his discussion with Patti regarding the industry trends he is seeing. What differentiates the nation’s Top Advisors from others? What is the client experience that is to be expected in today’s market? Is the economy heading towards the bear market everyone seems to be talking about and if so, how does he see Top Advisors navigating these waters for their clients? In part two of the two-part series, Patti and Sterling break down the industry trends that he is seeing and what investors should be looking for in 2020.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to “The Patty Brennan” show. Hey, whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for all of you who want to protect, grow, and really use your assets to live your very best lives.

Coming back to join us is Sterling Shea. Sterling is the head of Global Wealth Management at Dow Jones and Barron’s and boy, for those of you listen to the previous show, it was a terrific show, you know, we usually keep these about 20 minutes and then about 30, 35 minutes, we’re still talking.

This is going to be a further conversation on the topic that we were discussing, not just from a market perspective or some of the mistakes that investors are making, but also the trends in what Barron’s sees going forward over the next 10 or 20 years. Sterling, thank you so much for joining us.

Sterling Shea: It’s always a pleasure to spend time with you, Patti. Thank you for inviting me.

Patti: It’s a blast and it’s so important for everybody to hear some of your thoughts as it relates to not just the advisory business, but the difference that advisors can make for their clients, and some of the mistakes that Barron’s has been noticing in terms of what people are doing with their money.

Sterling: I think it’s an important topic to discuss, particularly if this is in fact, a late stage of the investment capital market cycle. If you think about the way investors tend to behave and the decisions that they make, we think it’s particularly important for people to get good counsel and good advice now.

Traditionally, in the American investment markets, bull markets, last on average seven years out. We’re about 12 years, probably 11 years into this one at this point. Inevitably, you’re going to see that capital market shift. That shift tends to happen with catharsis and a significant downturn that leads to shock, bad decisions, negativity, and fear, frankly.

Typically, the end stage before that is one that’s about greed. We’re not seeing that now. If you wanted to argue the inverse that this market will continue to go, historically, bull markets have ended in euphoria. I know about your friends, but not too many of mine are feeling euphoric right now.

That would argue that as long as there’s a wall of worry to continue to climb. That the market can perpetuate its gains. At the same time, inevitably, markets are cyclical in nature. We will, it’s not an if, it’s a when, will you feel that sharp downturn, fear, and uncertainty.

Volatility is likely looking at the decade to come to be higher. Returns across all asset classes are likely to be lower.

Investors need good counsel, good advice to stay the course, stay diversified, not just in terms of their investments with their broader financial diversification and avoid concentrations.

Patti: It’s an excellent point. We were talking earlier and on break, I go in, we go into every day of every year, assuming that the next terrible bear market is starting today, especially for those people who are living on their portfolio, receiving income, they’ve got tuition payments or they’re in retirement, we’ve got to make sure there’s plenty of buffers so that they can weather that.

It’s about managing those expectations. Just as you said, it’s not an if, it’s a when. Understand it’s going to happen. We even quantify it.

Sterling will say, “Hey, if you have a $2 million portfolio and $1 million is in equities or stock funds, you should expect to lose anywhere from $300,000, $400,000. It could be that high. Understand that it can happen. It might happen, and you’ll still be OK.

Sterling: Right. It’s the idea of trying to avoid buying high and selling low. You want to see through market perturbations with a diversified portfolio, with the understanding it’s going to cycle a bit.

I would also say that that one of the mistakes that investors make is often, sometimes, particularly among younger families, they’re too conservative. They think, “I want to be very safe with my money. As a young family with a very long time horizon, I’m going to pick very conservative investments and make very conservative decisions.”

In fact, you’re not going to participate enough in market movement. That power of compounded interest over time, it can be such a tremendous builder of wealth. To do that, you have to participate fully in markets. You need to stay invested, and that they’re being overly conservative.

Patti: Financial security is often, people use that terminology to say, “I want to be super secure. I want to be super safe,” and the opportunity costs. I often tell people, Sterling, don’t confuse stable with safe.

Think about the next 20 or 30 years and retiring and not having that extra cushion, that extra million or $2 million that you could have had if you had just had a well balanced portfolio, tweaked it from time to time. We are not market timing, and that’s important for everybody to understand.

Even though you and I both believe that there’s going to be a bear market, we don’t know when that’s going to happen. Let’s not pretend to know something that nobody can possibly know.

There are too many factors that influence that, but we just have to understand the fundamentals of why stocks go up. Those fundamentals may not be the same today as they were 12 years ago. Let’s be realistic about this and make decisions that are right for you and your family.

Sterling: Absolutely. That’s the key point, that you have a talented financial advisor that’s deeply understanding the individual nuances, needs, risks, and investment objective for a given client family. It has to be anchored in that comprehensive financial planning.

The best portfolios as we see them are inclusive of alpha, beta, non correlated asset classes, including alternatives, a wide range of different investments. But that mix should be dependent upon the individual nuanced needs of that given client family and their investment objective and risk tolerance.

Patti: To me, the most important thing is to be able to explain it in words that clients can understand, “Gee, if the market went up 20 percent how come I didn’t get 20 percent.”

Well, here’s why. Here’s what we believe. Over time you get that compounding and that works in your favor that you want to build upon that base as much as you possibly can each and every year, rather than experiencing the massive ups and downs. It’s a matter of education, right?

Sterling: Absolutely. A smarter client’s a better client. Anything the advisor can do to help empower clients to better understand what’s happening, what is the machinery of that investment output, it’s in everyone’s best interest.

Patti: For those of you who are listening today, probably as you meet with your advisors, Sterling and I both agree there are a lot of good advisors out there. That as things are occurring, it’s so important not necessarily to react, not necessarily to make a judgment about the advisor. Understand that it’s about the environment.

The key here is to make sure that you have a good understanding of not only what’s happening and why it might be happening, but what anybody should be doing about it or maybe not doing about it, right?

Sterling: Yeah, trust is vital. You have to have someone who you feel very comfortable completely opening up on your family situation. If you’re holding things back from your advisor, it’s like holding things back from your doctor. It’s not going to have a good outcome.

To be a better client, you want to be empowered. You want to have your advisor help you understand with full clarity what’s happening in money, why it’s happening, but there has to be that trust. There that has to be that clear line of communication. It should be a multi generational engagement with the advisor.

It should be the entire family, both spouses coming together to give the advisor as much information, as much opinion, as much feeling, everything that can be wrapped into their comprehensive financial situation.

It’s the advisor’s job, not just to manage simply the investment portfolio, but to weigh in on estate planning, multi generational wealth transfer issues, philanthropic planning, all of these different aspects of your financial life.

The more information that you can provide that advisor, the greater the likelihood that they’ll be able to craft the ideal solution to lead to the highest probability for a good outcome.

Patti: Your point is such an important one because family dynamics are so unique to each individual family, and to understand those family dynamics and to take the time to listen and understand and meet with the kids.

Boy, Thanksgiving and Christmas is the busiest time of year because we’re meeting with these kids, whether they’re in college or they’ve got some time off so that they understand that if something happens to mom and dad, we’re going to be here, it’s going to be seamless and we’re looking out for everybody.

Sterling: That’s also an interesting trend we’ve seen in the wealth management industry. Those teams that are attracting a greater number of clients and client assets, have diversity within them. There’s gender diversity, there’s age diversity. It’s a team of advisors meeting with multiple multi generational engagements with the clients.

Patti: There’s a lot to be said for that because I could meet with a young couple who just got married and give them advice, but it’s quite another thing for Michael or Eric to meet with them. They’re the same age, they’re in the same boat, and they can relate on a one on one basis to the things that they might be going through.

Sterling: Yeah. The more information they get, the more they can better analyze what is the intent of that wealth, what is the investment objective, what goals are they trying to meet. The better informed the advisor can be, the more information they have to craft a better solution set.

Patti: I think that ultimately, we literally can craft our solutions based on the demographics of the clients, their kids, etc. Speaking of which, let’s talk about demographics in the industry because as I just alluded to, we’ve got different people here on the team who are experts in different areas and we try to pair up accordingly.

Tell me, a little bit more about what’s happening in the industry in general?

Sterling: Yeah. It’s a concern of ours that there’s a dearth of young talent coming into the industry for a multitude of reasons.
Even right now if there was an upswing of young people wanting to come into wealth management, there’d still be an hourglass effect. The average age of a financial advisor in this country is around 57.

There are more CFP, Certified Financial Planners over 70 than there are under 30.

Patti: OK, everybody, I am not one of them FYI.

Sterling: Yeah, but it’s a problem. There’s only about 16 percent of the industry that are women. Ethnic diversity is sorely lacking as well, while new pools of capital and wealth creation are happening in ethnic communities.

You’re seeing these emerging pools that are going to matter deeply to the American economy moving forward that aren’t being adequately addressed within the industry. There’s a need for greater diversity.

There’s a greater need for young people coming in. We’re seeing pockets of that happen across the industry, but by and large it’s not. It’s going to create an environment where they’ll be far greater need than there are a number of advisors.

That’ll be a good thing for a small number of forward-thinking advisors who have built scalability into their business which will allow them to service and provide meaningful advice to a larger number of clients, but that’s a smaller number of advisors that are practicing now versus the bulk of the industry.

Patti: That’s interesting. Why do you think that is? Sterling, why aren’t young people coming into the industry?

Sterling: I’ve talked about this before. There’s a couple of different reasons. Either they incorrectly perceive it to be a sales business or they believe somehow incorrectly that financial services is in some way corrupt or they had zero exposure to financial literacy.

I think those factors over time, with more education, with more knowledge, with more exposure, it’s a great business. You can make a great living, you can help people, and you can build a great business at the same time. I think over time it will correct, but right now the industry is facing that demographic crunch.

Patti: You weren’t involved in this conversation at the Hall of Fame reception, but we were having a conversation with a group of us and it was telling to me that the observation is that the young people want to go in to investment banking versus financial services. What they don’t realize is, there are a lot of similarities between the two.

Just the words that we use and how we explain what different career paths they’re all about, it can influence these young minds who may be much better served and have a greater career potential and just a wonderful life doing one versus the other.

Sterling: Absolutely. There are so many facets of wealth management. It’s hard to pigeonhole it around one particular type of business or type of activity. The functions within a business like yours include financial planning.

They include capital markets and investment management, portfolio construction that also includes business fundamentals, the ability for you to market, grow your business, allows you to have the opportunity to strategically reinvest in at higher better people, create better client outcomes. It’s a vital function.

No matter what you’re into as long as you like the idea of being involved in financial services, there’s a role or a function for you related to wealth management. A particular area that I think there’s going to be huge growth moving forward is around technology.

As more FinTech, Financial Technology, becomes available for advisors to implement within their business, the importance of people who understand technology and how that can overlay with human advisors to merge the digital and analog experience, that will be profound.

There’s a huge opportunity there as well where we just need to get the word out, and so more young people can understand all these different facets. Being an advisor doesn’t mean one thing. It could mean a whole lot of things.

Patti: That’s such an important point, the technology aspect of this business. One of the headwinds in any business, especially, this business, it’s labor intensive.

Sterling, if we are going to do this right, you need bodies and you need smart people who understand not only how to a read a tax return, but also strategic ideas that can make a difference there versus portfolios construction versus estate planning, and helping a business owner transition their business to the next generation or to their employees.

There’s so many different things that we all have to know. Those pockets of opportunity exist in any firm that’s looking at providing real financial management, wealth Management on an ongoing basis.

Sterling: Yeah. That’s what we tell advisors. The advice that we give to advisors is, you have to find ways to drive efficiencies in your business. You have to create scalability. If in the future as an advisor, your business is going to be predicated on your ability to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with clients, you have to create efficiencies and processes across the business.

Technology can be a huge lever there. As you’re applying technology both to the back of the house solution so to speak, portfolio construction, tax planning, all of these multitude of different functions that exist and in the front of the house, to create mobily, served, client communications, digital aggregation of client assets, all of these different facets to enrich the client experience.

It takes someone who is cognizant on the way that technology can be built into a business.

Patti: It’s a great point. 10 years ago, 15 years ago, when we wanted to update a financial plan, we were basically starting over, re entering all the data, etc. I made the investment years ago to invest in a platform where all of the assets are being updated every single night.

We have alerts and alarms so that any issues bubble up to us, so that we’re always aware of both the risks and opportunities for every individual client and their family. That’s made a huge difference because, again, ultimately, it’s about the client experience and their outcomes.

Not only are their outcomes improving because of this software and this major investment, but also our ability to help more people is greater as well because it takes less time, it’s less manpower. Yes, I have a lot of employees, but it just allows us to serve those people and it’s the technology that ultimately makes the difference.

I think for advisors who may be listening, to also share that with the clients so that they can see it. That’s where the client experience really comes into play.

To say, “Hey, on my phone I’ve got this app that Patti put together for me. I can log in anytime day or night, see where I stand, and see how I’m tracking”. It’s just a wonderful thing to be able to provide to our clients that we didn’t have 10 years ago.

The technology is just getting better and better and better.

Sterling: Yeah, absolutely. There’s going to be more and more need for that.

Also, another area where we’re seeing growing interest in applying technology is around cybersecurity. Huge area of importance for advisors to think about, but there’s great technology emerging for advisors to utilize to help reduce the risk.

Patti: Well, Vince happens to be in this room right now. He is my cybersecurity guru. Believe me, every computer, every phone, everything has his software on it that really keeps and protects us.

The firewalls. I don’t know. With Vince, I think we probably have 10 firewalls, but that’s important because it’s important for me to know that a client’s information is secure and it’s important to the clients too. It’s a weird world out there, isn’t it?

Sterling: Well, it gets back to this notion of growth. The importance of growth for an advisor’s business because it affords you the opportunity to reinvest in processes. To hire someone like Vince to look after cybersecurity.

To have a chief technology officer that’s implementing the software and systems that can drive those efficiencies in your business. To hire better people, better technology, growth is necessary for that.

Patti: What it does, at least for me, Sterling, and hopefully this is…ultimately at the end of the day, is how does the client benefit? How does the client benefit? There’s more transparency. They always know where they stand and to be perfectly honest with you, it frees my time up.

Where I have more time to do what is the most important thing and that is talking with everybody, meeting with clients and really making a difference on an ongoing basis all the time. A lot of the work that we do – and I think you’ve seen this in your research – a lot of the work that we do, clients will never see, but that’s the point, isn’t it?

Sterling: Yes. It’s the multitude of things you’re doing behind the scenes to make sure that they’re having an optimal position for their investments from a tax standpoint, from estate planning standpoint, wealth transfer. All of that requires so much work in the background that often clients don’t see, but it’s necessary work to create that positive outcome.

Patti: What I think is terrific, if I may say, and this is not anything you’re expecting me to say. What I have noticed over the years that I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with Barron’s is what you guys have done to elevate the standards for the industry.

Just by talking the way you’re talking now and for giving those speeches that you give at your conferences, the people in the audience and the industry is listening because you have that vision. You have access to all the data, the algorithms, and you have this way of articulating it, such that you create this image of something that we all want to be.

It’s just inspiring, Sterling. I know that you didn’t expect me to say that, but I appreciate all the hard work. You travel all over the place, you’re meeting with advisors and their firms and just saying, “Hey, here’s what we’re noticing and here’s not only the people that are growing but here’s why,” so that we can craft our businesses.

I often tell the story of one conversation I had in Florida with another advisor. It was just when I was getting involved with Barron’s. She shared something with me that has made all the difference in my business.

It was something in terms of how she measures her own progress, and the way that she measured her own progress was new money. Folks, I want you to know, I don’t care about that. What I care about is, are we taking care of our existing clients? I always was hyper focused on retention, take care of our existing clients.

As you know, Sterling, I closed our doors in 2009. We did not accept new clients because I just wanted to make sure that our existing clients were OK. We needed to get them through it.

In this conversation, the new money idea was like, “Wow.” She told me, “I brought in so much new money, what have you.” I said, “Well, how was retention?” She said, “Our retention was still really great.” Those two metrics are something that I have been measuring ever since.

When you leave today, remind me to show you our board. There’s a number on it. It’s the new money. The reason why I think it’s relevant is because if we’re doing a good job, then people are going to feel comfortable when they retire.

If they’ve got money to invest, they’re going to add to their existing portfolios. Then that says something. If they are happy and they’re telling other people, then they’re referring their friends and colleagues. The most important number that I measure will always be retention.

We are almost 100 percent, we’ve had a couple people pass away…but we don’t lose clients because to me, our clients are the most important thing, and that’s something that you guys look at too.

Sterling: It’s great that you do that. Thank you for the nice words. I appreciate that. It makes me feel proud about what we’re trying to accomplish at Barron’s. It’s not growth for growth’s sake, it’s growth for the sake that it affords you the opportunity to strategically reinvest in your business, hire better people, get better technology.

It’s a robust business that’s attracting the best talent in the community, as well to come and work for you. It’s a vital barometer of the vitality of your business and your ability to continue to drive better client outcomes and to provide good advice. It has to be a robust, thriving, growing business.

One metric managing it as a CEO is around, that net new inflows and it speaks to the businesses’ ability to attract, win and retain long term client assets. That’s a key facet that we look at in our ranking methodology, that organic growth component that advisor’s able to exhibit over a long period of time.

We don’t want to reward salesmanship because if money’s coming in the front door, but it’s going out the back door, there’s an empirical tell to that as well. What we want is advisors who are organically attracting, winning and retaining long term client assets.

Patti: You know the one thing we don’t measure? Is the money that is being distributed out. I don’t care. That’s what we’re here for. My goal is when clients invest money that when we return it to them, we’re giving them more. Period. End of discussion.

How much is going out doesn’t matter. That’s our business model. That’s what we’re supposed to do. It is important to your point though, that as a company we do attract new assets because we do need that scale.

If we don’t have that, then I can’t hire the attorney that I just hired, so that I can talk to him about this trust that I’m reviewing to make sure that what I’m reading is what is the case, and how the kids would be affected by the words that are in this paragraph. It’s wonderful to be in a position to be able to do that.

I’ve always believed real financial planning is very labor intensive, and honestly, it’s quite expensive. A lot of people might not realize everything that goes into this business. You mentioned in the previous podcasts, the cost of regulation and what we have to do to maintain compliance.

I think compliance is good business because it forces us, not that I need to be forced, but it forces us to have good business operations, good checks, and balances, and run a good clean business with full transparency, etc. That’s what the regulators ultimately want.

Again, this is an aside, but we go through audits. I have an attorney, we go through mock audits every year, but we were audited by the SEC.

Sterling: As all advisors are.

Patti: Exactly. It was a very interesting experience because it was much more of a collaborative. They were surprised how much I was interested in, “Tell us what we’re doing right. If you see anything we need to improve, just let me know and we’ll do it.”

They gave us a couple of ideas in terms of systems that make that process of the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual compliance protocols much easier, and I appreciated that.

Sterling: Think about record keeping as one example of an area where technology can greatly help that regulatory compliance factor. A record keeping’s grown enormously complex in the digital age. Just having insight and getting guidance on how to manage that in a less time consuming way is vital.

Patti: Sterling, I just want to thank you so much for everything that you have done. I want to thank you for being on this podcast today and for making the trip down from New York. All I can say to you is, please keep up the good work because you’re making such a difference for Americans by giving them access to great advice.

Whether it be with Barron’s digital or the Barron’s in education, or for letting them know that there are great advisors in their state that they can help and make a difference, a good advisor will pay for themselves. I believe that.

It doesn’t always happen, but a really good advisor could really make a difference and help Americans accomplish their goals at a time, going forward, that it might be much harder than it has been in the past.

Sterling: Patti, we still believe good advice can save the world.

Patti: Absolutely.

Sterling: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure being here.

Patti: Let’s go save the world together, Sterling.

Sterling: [laughs]

Patti: Thank you so much for joining us. For all of you, thanks so much for being with us today. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Any questions, go to our website at keyfinancialinc.com.

Until next time, I am Patti Brennan. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much for telling other people about this podcast. We’re here. Literally, my goal is to make a difference in your life and the lives of the people that you care about most.

If you liked what you heard, share it with others, share it with your advisor. We’re here to make Americans financially secure. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Ep36: Economic Forecast for 2020 and a Look Back at 2019

About This Episode

With another year under our belt and a new decade beginning, Patti sits with her Chief Investment Officer, Brad Everett, CFA and reviews some of the key market events from 2019 as they look forward to 2020. What should investors be most concerned about and are we headed for a market downturn? Are other global economies leading indicators in what can happen here in the US? Patti and Brad break it all down in their forecast for the new decade!


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the Patti Brennan Show. Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best life. Joining me today is Brad Everett. Brad is our Chief Investment Officer here at Key Financial.

Brad, thank you so much for making the trip.

Brad Everett: Hey. Good morning, Patti. I work about 15 feet away, so today I had to leave about 30 seconds before I had to be there.

Patti: That is one heck of a commute, Brad.

Brad: We have a nice studio here inside of Key Financial. I had to walk around a delivery of printer paper but it’s a pretty convenient trip.

Patti: It’s plug and play. Folks, for those of you who are listening today, we have wonderful privilege of having this studio that has been built in here, right here at Key Financial.

It allows us to really come in here whenever timely issues are coming about. We can just come in here, have a conversation, and share with all of you. Thanks so much for tuning in.

Brad, today, we’re going to talk about the backdrop going into last year, what happened, and then what do we expect going forward. You’re just coming back from a bunch of conferences. I’m really interested to hear what you’ve learned from other experts throughout the nation.

Let’s first talk about what was going on this time last year. 2019 wasn’t supposed to happen, was it?

Brad: Yeah, it’s hard to understand 2019 without talking a little bit about 2018. If you remember, the first three quarters of 2018 were wonderful. Everything was up, up, up, up and up.

Patti: Rosy.

Brad: Then you go into the fourth quarter where you have what had been two years of rising interest rates completely reversed, daily talk about trade war and tariffs and things like that. The corporate tax cut, which this giant, single one time boost in bottom line profits.

Patti: That’s a really good point. That’s like a shot of adrenaline, increased profits. What do the companies do with the money? That’s the question that I always ask is, growth has to be sustainable.

Here they have a wonderful shot of higher profitability. That would warrant higher stock prices, right?

Brad: Sure.

Patti: What do you do the next year?

Brad: I guess all of these businesses that had this one time boost of cash at the end of the year get to make a decision for what the highest and best use of that cash is.

Do we give everybody a raise? Do we hire more people? Do we build a factory? Do we put R&D into a new product, or do we give it back to shareholders?

I think that tended to be a pretty popular choice, was to buyback stocks, and you can do a one time cash dividend. Almost the same thing would be to buy your own shares and drive the price up that way.

Patti: You drove up the price, fine and dandy, but then you go into the next year, which is 2019. Of course, the stock market is going to take a look and say, “OK, Apple and IBM and all you wonderful companies, what have you done for me lately? I need more, and more, and more.”

It would be reasonable to say, “I’m not sure what I can do to give you more earnings.”

Brad: Yeah, buyback doesn’t generate any kind of future growth prospect.

Patti: Yet, earnings did come in higher last year. It is really interesting how resilient our economy has become. Now, manufacturing hasn’t done so hot.

Brad: Right.

Patti: That was on the decline and that would warrant what happened in 2018. Through the year, then we had this thing with the yield curve.

Brad: Sure.

Patti: This terrible, awful thing that everybody is worried about, the inverted yield curve. All the drama, and yet, the stock market continued to power ahead.

Brad: Yeah, absolutely.

Patti: One more thing, the United States President gets impeached. Again, everywhere we looked, it was bad news, no matter what you looked at. What does the market look at, and why does it power forward when all that bad stuff is going on?

Brad: Sure. That’s a great question. [laughs] I wish I knew the answer.

Patti: Actually, it’s so interesting. This is why, Brad, you’re so good. We don’t know the answer, do we?

Brad: Right, or certainly, what’s going to happen, and what it means for the next three months or six months or a time period so short.

Patti: Exactly. The most important thing that we believe, and I think what you’re saying is, nobody understands why markets do something over short periods of time. Fundamentally, longer periods of time, and we’re talking years, folks, markets do make sense.

Brad: Yeah, and I think you could probably go back and show that the market almost always reacts to short term news.

Patti: That’s a good point. Going back to 2018, that massive drop of almost 20 percent was pricing in a recession.

Brad: Yeah, it just hasn’t happened yet. Now, we’re almost pricing perfect news for the future. Evaluations are so high. It feels like nothing could go wrong.

Patti: We talked about headlines, and we talk about the media, and all the negativity, etc. I think it’s fascinating that one statistic that you got from the conference about the “New York Times” and the fact that they had 80 articles about a pending recession in August alone.

Brad: When the yield curve flipped, they apparently had 80 articles about a recession that just hasn’t even happened yet.

Patti: That was in 2019. The market was already doing well. What else do you think led to the market doing really, really well? We’re going to talk about whether or not that’s unusual, anyway.

Brad: Again, there’s a tremendous overreaction in the short term. When you look at the returns in the market, you just have to spread them out. If you look at 2018, great start to the year, terrible end. Most moderate portfolio is probably down a little bit.

If you include a great 2019, if you smooth that out, you’re probably seven percent a year, eight percent a year. You can do that over decades too. If you look at the 2000s, you have this last flat decade on the S&P. If you look at 2010s, they’re averaging 13.8, 13.9 percent. Amazing what the average of that is. It’s just less than seven percent.

Patti: How about it?

Brad: Year to year, it’s really tough to pinpoint exactly how the market’s going to react to everything. 2019 wasn’t out of the ordinary. I saw a stat that, in the last 93 years, 34 of them, the S&P earned 20 percent or more.

Patti: That’s pretty traumatic. A third of the time it earned.

Brad: It’s really not uncommon.

Patti: Let’s look at the other side then, Brad. How many times did it lose 20 percent or more?

Brad: It’ll be six.

Patti: Out of 94 years, that’s amazing. A third of the time, it’s up over 20 percent. It’s only lost more than 20 percent, six times.

Brad: 74, 75 percent of the time, the market is up, the S&P in particular, in this 93 year sample. If you think of, call it 70 years that the market was up during that time, 34 of them were up 20 percent. Over the years that the markets up half the time it’s up 20 percent or more.

2019 is not extreme. It’s not out of the ordinary. It’s not very uncommon at all.

Patti: Yet, to your point, it’s priced for perfection right now. We have to be cognizant of that. Just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen certainly going forward as well. We always get back to the fundamentals in terms of “Price for perfection. What does that actually mean?”

Brad: Just an extreme optimism. What is on the horizon that could actually go wrong? You might be underestimating some of those risks.

The starting point is a really important input, it’s hard to look at the next 10 years and say, “Starting where we’re starting, could we possibly duplicate the past 10 years?” You would think that’s a pretty low probability.

Patti: Well, we will get into the predictions. Far more relevant would be looking around the world and looking at what our Federal Reserve is doing versus the ECB, etc. Seems like the Fed is on pause?

Brad: Yeah, it does seem so.

Patti: Last year’s quick turnaround, the Fed pivot. How unusual is that?

Brad: Very unusual. I don’t recall any times where that’s happened like that.

Patti: We’re laughing, you guys, because we were talking about this before when we went on air and we said, “Brad, it’s crazy that the Federal Reserve decreased interest rates, and we didn’t even have a recession.” It’s very, very unusual for them to do that that quickly, without a crisis going on.

Brad: They would tend to weed it out and see, rather than just immediately switch strategies that way.

Patti: You wonder whether or not President Trump mocking the Federal Reserve and pushing them had anything to do with it.

Brad: Nobody wants to be mocked on Twitter. I don’t.

Patti: I wouldn’t want to get in his way. No way.

Let’s talk about the Federal Reserve. You were talking about one of the conferences and somebody was saying that, “Quantitative easing was more like a steroids.” It wasn’t really like medicine.

Brad: Right. I think the idea being, back to what we were talking about before, did they put a boost into the economy that just can’t be compounded or sustained? I don’t know. What do you think?

Patti: I disagree with that, completely. I disagree because what the Federal Reserve did when they lowered interest rates and introduced this new tactics called quantitative easing, did it feel like it was a Wizard of Oz moment? Maybe, maybe not.

What I think it really did was shore up confidence. They were there to save the day. So the American consumer said, “OK. I’m going to breathe a sigh of relief and I’m going to go out there and spend money again,” which is really what they needed to do.

Brad: We’re really relying on consumer spending now, which, obviously, starts from consumer confidence. That is certainly an important input.

Patti: Let’s talk about this concept of Japanification. Everybody is worried that because Japan has been in this 30 plus year of decline…I started in the ‘80s, Brad. I was over in Japan.

At that time, everybody was worried that Japan was going to take over the world. At one point, they bought Pebble Beach Golf Club. They were buying things in New York City as well.

This concept of Japanification is a scary one, because back then, if you look at the Nikkei index, it was at 1989, it peaked at 39,000 yen. It is still 39 percent below where it was over 30 years ago. I have to double check my math, but that would really give us a very low Dow Jones if that ever happened here in the United States.

Brad: Even if it happened, it’s scary enough if it happened instantly and started growing back. This is 30 years later, it’s still down there.

Patti: Exactly. It is pretty scary. Just to give you an idea, folks. In 1989, our Dow Jones closed at 2,590. We are close to 28,000 now.

Brad: 10, 11 times more.

Patti: It’s crazy. Yet, they are 40 percent below where they were then. That just gives you a feel for the dramatic difference in two very developed nations.

That is also what everybody is worried about because Japan was hit with deflationary spiral that they couldn’t get themselves out of. They have negative interest rates.

Europe now has negative interest rates. People worry, “Europe is next. Then maybe the United States is coming close behind.”

Let’s talk a little bit about that whole concept of Japanification and really brainstorm. Do you think it could happen here? Is that something that we should be worried about?

Brad: The thing that comes to my mind that one of the major things they’re suffering from is demographics. They’re just a workforce that’s not growing, declining probably. Inflation that has been stuck very low for very long time.

Patti: Let’s talk about that. Everybody things of inflation being bad. By itself, it is bad, but this whole concept of inflation, what happens to a consumer in a deflationary spiral?

Brad: Sure. If you were a consumer that wanted to buy a new sweater and you knew it was on sale for the next week, you would rush to buy the sweater. But if you knew that the price of the sweater was going to be the same or cheaper six months from now, you might just wait. There’s no urgency to spend money.

Patti: Which is different than what we have here. Everything is always on sale. Hurry up. You see it in the department stores. You better get it now. Otherwise the sale is going to be over, so people do tend to consume it.

Brad: Yeah, absolutely.

Patti: I think that the demographics are fascinating also. I think it’s important to consider just where the government stands in terms of its ability to help, because clearly decreasing interest rates isn’t enough, is it? There is a question as to whether or not it even worked. What’s the next step?

Brad: There’s two major components in the GDP growth. Productivity growth and population, or workforce growth. I think productivity seems to come in first. You invent a car and people can drive farther and quicker to work. You have a computer and it comes with another burst.

Productivity doesn’t skip along at two percent. Not every worker is just exactly two percent more productive every year than they were the year before.

Patti: That’s a really good point, Brad.

Brad: There’s something that comes along and shocks it up, and then it kind of stays the same forever. The thing that seems to be the most pliable would be demographics. In our case, it’s a little different.

We have some political battle that we need to figure out, some kind of legal immigration. As long as United States citizens are having kids at a very slow rate, we need to replace employees somehow. We’ve got to figure out a way to do that in a productive way.

Patti: What’s the replacement rate that is required in order to keep an economy growing?

Brad: Oh, jeez. I think 1.7 per household or 1.8 per household or something like that. It’s not 2, but…

Patti: We’re right at that point, right?

Brad: Pretty close or just below.

Patti: Whereas Japan and Europe is a little bit below that. They’ve got some issues when it comes to demographics because younger people buy more stuff. They need more things, etc., versus people who are retired and older. They need more services, yes, but they don’t need the goods. Who’s going to manufacture? It has a real domino effect, doesn’t it?

Brad: Yeah. I don’t think it’s permanent in our case either. This might be a place where we differ from Japan. We’ve got a block of millennials that’s probably larger than the baby boomers. They’ll have kids. They’ll have lots of kids. That’s a workforce in itself, but their kids aren’t going to start working for another 20 years.

Patti: So there’s going to be a lull?

Brad: Yeah. It’s not something that you can never pull yourself out of. It just could take a little bit.

Patti: That’s interesting. In the meantime, in order to avoid that from happening, an economy can lower interest rates or they can have some fiscal stimulus. Get the government start spending some money. That certainly helped during the depression.

The problem is that Japan is not in a position to do that. They are the second highest developed country relative to death to GDP.

Brad: What did you tell me? It was 235 percent or something?

Patti: Yeah. It’s a crazy number. 234 percent, whereas Germany is at 59 percent. Germany is in a much better place to spend some money to get some things going and get growing again.

Brad: You would think they even have a better borrowing capacity than we do and a lot of the European countries.

Patti: They certainly do, because we’re at 106 percent. We’re not Japan, but we’re certainly not Germany. They are in a position to be able to get their economy out of it if they just have that political will to go ahead and allow the debt to grow a little bit just to get things moving.

Brad: Has that been part of the conversation? Is that being addressed?

Patti: Yes and no. I think they are still in this mentality of back to the depression and the breadlines and stuff, they don’t want inflation. I think they’re beginning to realize that deflation is actually worse. We know how to get out of an inflation, it’s the deflation that is really very challenging.

It’s really hard at this point to increase interest rates. It’s just not happening. They’ve got to do something else. They’ve got 19 countries over in Europe that all have to agree on this.

Brad: Right.

Patti: It can’t all be Germany, even though Germany is the largest. There are some things because of that alliance, in terms of exporting to other nations, exporting back to the United States. There are solutions. Again, it comes down to the will.

Brad: Right.

Patti: We’ve talked about that. Now let’s talk about India. India’s an interesting country, isn’t it?

Brad: Sure. It could be volatile, it could take a long time, but they’re a bright spot.

Emerging markets are interesting. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Developed nations have implemented the things that it takes to become a developed nation.

The technology exists. The ideas have been proven to work or not work. With an emerging market, it’s just a case of implementation. You just have to get the money, and the tools, and the labor force trained. You just have to get them there.

Patti: The one statistic that you shared with me, in India there are a billion people getting skilled.

Brad: Yeah.

Patti: That’s pretty dramatic. Again, skilled workers is a huge driver for GDP, isn’t it?

Brad: Yeah, absolutely. Think of the brains that are there. I’m always fascinated by this stat, the top 25 percentile of intelligence in India, just the smartest quarter of people, is larger than the entire United States.

Think of the potential that’s there to create wealth and productivity.

Patti: Right. To take that one step further, we think in terms of capital and getting them the tools, right? A billion dollars of capital in the United States is one thing. A billion dollars of capital in India is quite another.

Brad: Yeah, because you’re starting from a lower denominator. Absolutely.

Patti: The leverage that could produce in terms of the growth in India, and what that could do. There are different pockets in the world that really do present some interesting opportunities.

Brad: Absolutely.

Patti: I guess it depends on their willingness to bite the bullet, spend the money, and really jack things up a little bit.

Brad: Yeah, there are different intricacies of each one. The legal systems aren’t the same, the political atmosphere is not the same. There’s a lot of stuff to work through.

Patti: So, we’ll be volatile until they do, right?

Brad: Sure, yeah. Absolutely.

Patti: Brad, let’s take the last five, ten minutes and talk about what’s happening in 2020 and the presidential election.

Brad: Sure, I guess there’s a lot of ways to think about it. Obviously, it’s a polarizing time, you would think. It’s interesting, Phil Camparelli used a Joe Torre line. He said, “Every season, a team wins 50 games and they lose 50 games, it’s the middle 62 that decides how the season ends.”

That’s an incredible political metaphor. In any election, 35 percent of people are always going to vote Democrat, it doesn’t matter who the candidate is. 35 percent of people will vote for a Republican, it doesn’t matter who the candidate is.

There’s a group of people in the middle that is not so one sided, either way. They’re willing to rethink it every year, they have specific issues that they care about at the time, and they pick the person that they think is most capable of solving those problems at any given time.

The question is what are they going to do, right?

Patti: If things are stable, that middle group, they’re fully employed, they’re making money, their 401k is going up. The question is, and we always go back to that quote, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Right? It’s the economy, the economy, the economy.

Trump is not stupid, right? He didn’t get there without something going on upstairs. He knows that trade wars are bad.

Brad: Yep. War with Iran is bad. All the things that could propel you into recession, I think you would probably try to avoid for the next few months.

Patti: As we record this, here it is the middle of January 2020, we don’t even have enough time to go into a recession.

Brad: Yeah, by definition I guess you have to wait two full quarters of data, so you would never have enough time to get the information that you get officially say that you’re in a recession.

Patti: I think we can all agree this hasn’t been the standard presidential style. The leadership style is very, very different.

Even though the economy is humming along quite nicely, tax rates are low, things are doing very well, there seems to be a group in our population, that are saying, “We just have to get rid of this guy.”

It seems to be more for personality, his personality traits, and Twitter, and all that kind of stuff. The question is, are there enough of those people in the middle to sway the election one way or the other?

Brad: Right. Yeah, it’s hard. I guess the way I tend to think about it, and this may or may not be true, but it feels like that group in the middle would prefer stability, like the same thing. What’s the last one term President? Was…

Patti: George Bush?

Brad: …Bush. Yeah, right. There is a tremendous boost for an incumbent against a challenger. It’s very rare that that person loses.

Patti: At the end of the day, Brad, does the President really matter?

Brad: I tend to think that the President is our PR man. He is the PR man for the country.

Patti: Oh, boy.

Brad: You think a business cycle is far longer than any President’s term.

We hit a bottom in 2008 and 2009, and this economic growth isn’t because of Obama. It’s not because of Donald Trump. It spanned both of theirs. It spanned a Democrat and a Republican.

The economy does what it does. The business cycle does what it does, and it’s going to go on despite whoever’s in the White House.

Patti: Let’s wrap this up and think in terms of action items. Given this, given 2020, what’s already…We look back, 2019 was a great year.

2020, we’ve got some headwinds, we’ve got some international conflict, the presidential election. Things seem to be humming along, but we shouldn’t get complacent, right?

Brad: Yeah. I think this should just serve as a reminder that the stock market is a volatile place to be invested. It’s intended for long term money.

If you need money in six months, we shouldn’t be trying to figure out what stocks are going to do, anyway.

Patti: Exactly. Bonds, don’t give up on bonds, but don’t expect bonds to do what they did in 2019.

Brad: Yeah. You’re not going to get a result net worth of 15 for very many years in a row.

Patti: Yeah, that’s not supposed to happen. That’s not a typical return.

Again, we just go into these things assuming coupons, two, three percent, we’re happy with that. It’s a nice buffer.

Not great for income if you’re really looking at it as an income oriented strategy in retirement, but it’s important to have that, as well.

Brad: Yeah, you’re exactly right.

Patti: Well, Brad, thank you so much. This has been fun.

I know you’ve got a long commute home, back to your seat. Hit the pavement.

Thank you so much for joining me. Thanks to all of you for joining us as well.

If you have any questions, please feel free, go to our website at keyfinancialinc.com. If you want a transcript of today’s show, it’s all there.

Until next time, I’m Patti Brennan. I hope you guys have a great day.

Ep35: Top Estate Planning Tips with Bob Cohen

About This Episode

Patti welcomes Estate Planning Attorney, Bob Cohen, a partner with Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco to discuss his best recommendations for clients looking for estate planning assistance. Bob will explain which documents are key in protecting your assets for your loved ones – whether you have millions of dollars or not! Listen now to learn about the benefits of living in Pennsylvania and working with professionals that understand the state and federal tax liabilities involved in estate planning.


Patti Brennan: Hi, everybody, welcome back to ‘’The Patti Brennan Show.” Whether you have $20 or $20 million, this show is for those of you who want to protect, grow, and use your assets to live your very best lives.

Folks, that introduction is an introduction I do for every podcast and as you listen to this one in particular, you might think “Oh, that doesn’t apply to me, I don’t have millions and millions of dollars.” OK, stay tuned in because what Bob Cohen has to talk about applies to everyone.

Bob, welcome to the show.

Bob Cohen: Thank you, Patti.

Patti: Why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about your background, whatever got you into this field of estate planning you don’t know that I’m going to about to say this you all should know, he’s one of the most respected estate planning attorneys in the Philadelphia area.

When it comes to this, he is the best, or one of the best. Thank you so much for joining us.

Bob: Thank you for that kind introduction. By way of background, I’m an attorney with Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco. I’ve been with the firm about 17 years. I’m a partner in the firm and I head up our estate and tax practice group.

I got into estate planning about 20 years ago. It was transitioning from doing litigation actually, into estate planning for more of a work life balance, believe it or not, because litigation required me to travel all over the country.

I had small children at the time and wanted to find a practice area that would allow me to utilize not only my skills as an attorney but my prior skills as a CPA and a former controller for our division of a Fortune 500 company.

Patti: OK, so you’re one of those guys that has more letters after your name than in your name, right?

Bob: That’s true.

Patti: I do think that your litigation background probably serves you, if in the event that you’re face to face with the IRS trying to argue a particular strategy and justify certain deductions.

Bob: I do a fair amount of federal tax controversy work and some state tax controversy work as well. In fact, I’m in the process of settling a case right now that’s scheduled to go to trial in January. The good news came out this morning that it looks like we’ve reached a settlement with the IRS on this matter.

Patti: Good for you.

Bob: Needless to say, the client’s very happy.

Patti: Yes.

Bob: That’s always our goal. To try to have a client have a good outcome.

Patti: Yeah, minimize the out of pocket cost. That is terrific and good to know that we’ve got that in your background. Let’s talk tax.

Bob: Sure.

Patti: Let’s talk a little bit about the federal estate tax, where it stands today, where it might be headed, and really, who needs to worry about it? Who needs to care about it?

Bob: If we take a little step back and we look at history for a very long time, the federal estate tax was a $600,000 exemption that most people had in that estate kind of dormant for a very long time.

The last 10 years or so, it’s had wild gyrations in terms of going up to $5 million, it went up to $10 million. For one year there was no federal estate tax at all.

More recently, we’ve been dealing with a more concrete law which says, “We currently have $11.4 million of federal exemption available to each individual.” That’s a lifetime exemption for both gift tax and federal estate tax.

Patti: In English, each individual can leave $11.4 million to the next generation or to people that they care about. They don’t have to worry about a federal tax of…Is it 40 percent?

Bob: It’s 40 percent on the excess over the exemption amount that is available. The exemption amount, again, has fluctuated. That $11.4 million is actually a number that has escalated based on inflation, but it is currently at $11.4 million for 2019.

It is an interesting law in that it is set to sunset at the end of 2025 and revert back to a five million dollar exemption. Therein lies the interesting planning opportunity for many clients.

Many say, “We don’t have anything close to $11.4 million,” or for a married couple, $22.8 million. Why do I need this?”

You may have five million or six million. If you are fortunate enough to live long enough and these laws revert back to the lower limit, you may suddenly be faced with a planning issue.

The opportunity exists right now to do some planning, providing flexibility in the estate plan documents so that you will have the ability to make decisions at a later date and some today.

For example, if you have a married couple who has $12 or $14 million they say, “We don’t have $22.8 million, we’re safe. We don’t have to do anything.” They may want to look at their lifestyle, determine what their needs are.

I always say, determine what your needs are first because you don’t want the tax tail wagging the dog, right?

Patti: Agreed.

Bob: We all want to save taxes but we don’t want to put ourselves in a financial situation that we don’t like, merely to save tax dollars.

Patti: There’s nothing worse than looking back and saying, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” Because in estate planning, once you set it up, it’s usually irrevocable.

Bob: That’s correct. Most of these types of planning, you do make an irrevocable type of decision in order to gain the tax advantage.

Patti: Some of the things that you and I’ve done together, I love the fact that you build in so much flexibility so that maybe husband and wife aren’t necessarily losing access to that money right away, or over the survivor’s lifetime, and that’s called the Survivor Lifetime Access Trust.

That’s a pretty neat planning tool that can take advantage of this, maybe inflated exemption, without losing access to the money that you might need later on.

Bob: In this situation, we’re talking about what we call Spousal Limited Access Trust. Assets are being transferred, but during the surviving spouse’s lifetime, has the ability to reach in, dip into those assets and utilize them when necessary.

Patti: That’s terrific.

Bob: The other thing that I wanted to mention, it’s important to develop the flexibility in these documents because there are multiple ways to take advantage of the exemption.

For example, there’s this concept called portability, where a husband and wife, a married couple…Today, we have same sex marriages. A married couple has the right to transfer any unused exemption to their surviving spouse.

Patti: If I hear you right, let’s go through a real case example. Let’s say husband and wife have five million dollars, don’t really need a estate planning, etc., but they have access to this portability clause. Husband passes away, wife wins the lottery.

Now, all of a sudden she’s got $20 million. Because they have the portability clause, she can actually leave a lot more to the next generation, right?

Bob: Right. We still have the concept of unlimited portability, if you will, between spouses. That’s not always the best type of planning, because if you just leave everything out right to your surviving spouse, when the second to die, that surviving spouse, could end up with a highly taxable estate, when much, if not all of it, could be eliminated or minimized by doing some planning.

We typically recommend to clients in that range of asset wealth to develop portability in there but also to allow the spouse to do what’s called a Disclaimer Trust, so that at the end of the first person’s lifetime, they get to get a second bite at the apple, so to speak, and they can look at what the current laws are.

They can look at what the health and needs are of this surviving spouse. They can make a decision as to whether or not to take some of those assets and fund a Credit Shelter Trust, put it away for the next generation, and avoid tax on it on the second to die.

Patti: Therein lies the flexib