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Boutique Fiduciary-Based Wealth Management


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Mader & Shannon Wealth Management's independence means we are free to focus solely on the needs and objectives of our clients.

We are committed to providing value to our clients and have structured our entire organization around this concept.



Portfolio Management


We define value in portfolio management as achieving yield and growth objectives with as little risk as possible while minimizing transaction costs and taxes. Active Money Management - The goal of active money management is to protect the client from major downtrends resulting from the collapse of an overvalued market, and still allow the investor the opportunity to participate fully in the growth in value and income that the equity markets have historically provided.

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Financial Planning


Retaining an independent financial professional is as important for planning as it is for portfolio management. Mader Shannon has no commitment to any product or service that will in any way conflict with the best interests of our clients. Our services are designed to offer objective advice and set reasonable expectations. We take the time to educate clients on suitable financial solutions, carefully exploring risk and performance expectations.

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Our Team

James W. Mader, CLU, ChFC Photo

James W. Mader, CLU, ChFC

Chairman and CEO
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James W. Mader, CLU, ChFC

Chairman and CEO

James W. Mader is founder & President of Mader & Shannon Wealth Management, Inc., an independent asset management and financial planning firm. He has been in the financial services industry for 46 years, where he spent the first 26 years as a marketing executive with two life insurance companies. In this capacity, Jim hired, trained, and managed thousands of financial services representatives.

He received the designations of Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Consultant from the American College of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania in 1977 and 1984 respectfully.

Jim is the past president of the Kansas City chapter of the Society of Financial Services Professionals He has served a 3 year term on the national board and has served for the past 5 years as chairman of their investment committee who oversees the Society’s trust fund. The Society is a more than 80 year old organization of credentialed professionals with over 11,000 members nationally. The organization is made up of financial professionals from accounting, insurance, investments, and law.

Jim is licensed in more than a dozen states for life, health, disability, and long term care insurance.

Jim has provided expert witness services for investment and insurance litigation for law firms in Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nevada.


George R. Shannon  Photo

George R. Shannon

Co-founder
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George R. Shannon

Co-founder
Portfolio Manager 2001 - 2016

George R. Shannon attended The University of Texas at Austin on a football scholarship, where he graduated with Honors. He then was accepted and attended the UT Austin Graduate School of Business MBA program for two semesters. George left the MBA program to join the Merrill Lynch account executive training program in New York, to become a Merrill Lynch Account Executive in Houston. After a year as a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch in Houston, George applied for the Ph.D. program in economics at the University of Texas at Austin, was accepted into that Ph.D. program and took graduate coursework in Economics for two years. While in Austin he was recruited by Rotan Mosle, at that time the oldest brokerage firm in Texas, well known for expertise in the burgeoning oil and gas business in Texas. For a time George both worked as a stockbroker with Rotan Mosle in Austin and pursued his Ph.D. at the University of Texas. During that time he also provided a market report on KVET radio at 5:15 am each weekday morning. George left the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas, eventually joining E.F. Hutton, and later was recruited for management training by PaineWebber. George went through the PaineWebber Management Training program in 1986, again in New York. George has since managed brokerage offices for major brokerage firms such as PaineWebber, A.G. Edwards, and Southwest Securities, Inc.

George brings to Mader & Shannon forty years of experience in the financial markets and the brokerage industry; an excellent formal education in accounting, economics, and finance; and a proven track record of investment analysis and portfolio management. George has an analytical appreciation of value based on fundamental analysis, and believes an appreciation of the liquidity of markets, coupled with an in-depth understanding of the history of asset category performance; provide important keys to successful portfolio management.

George believes three of the most notable recent academic articles concerning reasonable expectations for future financial market performance are the contrasting views expressed by "Valuation Ratios and the Long_Run Stock Market Outlook: An Update"† by John Y. Campbell and Robert J. Shiller: "Stock Market Returns in the Long Run"† by Roger G. Ibbotson and Peng Chen: and "From Efficient Markets Theory to Behavior Finance" by Robert J. Shiller.


Bret Guillaume, CFP® Photo

Bret Guillaume, CFP®

President
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Bret Guillaume, CFP®

President

Bret Guillaume joined Mader & Shannon as a Financial Advisor in 2004. A graduate of the University of Missouri - Kansas City, Bret holds the designation of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.

Prior to joining the firm Bret held the position of Trader with JPMorgan in Tampa, Florida. Prior to JPMorgan, Bret traded options as an independent Registered Representative. Before entering the financial services industry Bret spent several years as a technology consultant for Andersen Consulting and CCP Global.

Bret is Past President of the Kansas City chapter of the Society of Financial Services Professionals. The Society is a multi-disciplinary organization made up of financial professionals from accounting, insurance, investments, and law. Bret is also a member of the Financial Planning Association.


Kyle Sanders, CMT Photo

Kyle Sanders, CMT

Chief Investment Strategist, Portfolio Manager
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Kyle Sanders, CMT

Chief Investment Strategist, Portfolio Manager

Since joining Mader Shannon in September of 2011, Kyle Sanders has worked in the capacity of Assistant Portfolio Manager, Investment Strategist and Equity Research Analyst.  He formed a keen interest in financial markets at a very young age and has fully committed himself to the portfolio management profession. 

In his time with Mader Shannon, Kyle has gained an appreciation for not just the mechanics behind the implementation of the Mader & Shannon Total Return Strategy, but also the client-centric approach that sets us apart. As Chief Investment Strategist and Portfolio Manager, Kyle is dedicated to advancing Mader Shannon’s mission of positive client outcomes and excellent risk management.

Prior to joining Mader Shannon, Kyle held positions in retail banking and commercial mortgaged backed security (CMBS) servicing.  He attended The University of Missouri-Kansas City where he attained dual degrees; Bachelor of Science - Accounting and Bachelor of Business Administration - Finance. During his time at UMKC, Kyle served in both leadership and liaison roles in various student and alumni organizations.

Kyle was awarded the Chartered Market Technician (CMT) designation, and he is continuing his education by actively pursuing the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.  Kyle is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as an Investment Advisor Representative.

Austin Harrison, CFA, CMT Photo

Austin Harrison, CFA, CMT

Investment Strategist, Sr. Equity Research Analyst
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Austin Harrison, CFA, CMT

Investment Strategist, Senior Equity Research Analyst

Austin Harrison began his professional career at Mader & Shannon in 2015 and now serves in the capacity of Investment Strategist and Senior Equity Research Analyst. As a member of the portfolio management team, his role includes the research and analysis of publicly traded securities and their related economic trends, from both fundamental and technical perspectives. He also performs various account management functions within the firm.

Austin graduated with honors from Benedictine College with degrees in Finance and Accounting. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) charterholder, a globally recognized, graduate-level credential that provides the strongest foundation in advanced investment, analysis, and real-world portfolio management skills. Austin is also a Chartered Market Technician® (CMT) charterholder. The CMT designation demonstrates mastery of a core body of knowledge of investment risk in portfolio management and is the preeminent designation for practitioners of technical analysis worldwide. He is also registered with the SEC as an Investment Adviser Representative

CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are registered trademarks owned by CFA Institute. CMT® and Chartered Market Technician® are registered trademarks owned by CMT Institute.


Taylor Graham Photo

Taylor Graham

Paraplanner, Client Services Coordinator
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Taylor Graham

Paraplanner & Client Services Coordinator

In April 2016, Taylor Graham joined Mader & Shannon as the Client Services Coordinator. Taylor oversees client relationships for Mader & Shannon, expertly guiding families and organizations through their engagements with the firm and continuously delivering upon our commitment to serving the best interests of our clients. She also plays an integral part in Mader & Shannon’s financial planning processes including gathering client data and building retirement projections. {due diligence, facilitating comprehensive, rigorous assessments of clients’ existing financial advisors.}

Taylor graduated from The University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Taylor is also a member of the Financial Planning Association.


Portfolio Management

At Kansas City's Mader & Shannon we define value in portfolio management as achieving yield and growth objectives with as little risk as possible while minimizing transaction costs and taxes. 

The goal of active portfolio management is to protect the client from major downtrends resulting from the collapse of an overvalued market, and still allow the investor the opportunity to participate fully in the growth in value and income that the equity markets have historically provided.

Active Money Management

History demonstrates that although stock prices move erratically on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis, market averages experience long term trends with respect to intrinsic value. Understanding the state of the markets with respect to this persistent trend of overvaluation or undervaluation is the primary key to implementing an effective active management investment strategy. 

The basic strategy of active money management is to reduce the risk associated with bull markets during periods of overvaluation, and to be opportunistic during bear markets that persist during periods of undervaluation. This combination enables clients to fully participate in the long-term capital growth the markets have historically provided. 

Active portfolio management does not conflict with the concepts of long term investing. Most of our clients are in fact long term investors dependent on income and growth from their portfolios. 

Take a tour of our Trading Room



Mader & Shannon Offers 529 College Savings Plan Management Through TDAmeritrade

 Mader & Shannon manages 529 College Savings plans on the TDAmeritrade platform. The plans are sponsored by the State of Nebraska and Union Bank & Trust Company serves as the Program Manager.

The benefits for our clients are as follows:

  • Mader & Shannon can continuously monitor the plans and make allocation changes periodically through primarily Vanguard funds (currently the IRS restricts changes to twice a year).
  • Tax parity laws in some states (including Missouri and Kansas) make the state tax deductions available even though the plan is in Nebraska.
  • Eligibility for tax-free withdrawals for qualified higher-education expenses applies to any nationally accredited school, not just those in Nebraska.

 

Contact Bret Guillaume at 816.751.0575 or bret@madershannon.com to open an account or transfer an existing 529 balance.
For more information on College Savings Plans visit www.collegesavings.org

Philosophy

At Mader and Shannon, we believe that an effectively implemented active management strategy can help clients achieve reliable upside participation while also providing excellent downside protection.  By dampening the volatile swings in the market, our strategy seeks to provide both a sustainable long-term rate of return as well as peace of mind to our clients.


Strategy & Daily Routine

We take a top-down approach to asset allocation and a bottom-up approach to security selection. We monitor global economic indicators like GDP, employment, wage growth and a host of survey data to determine overall economic health.  Interest rates, currency dynamics, and inflation are direct inputs to the valuation of markets, and must be incorporated to a comprehensive global evaluation. Finally, an appraisal of the fundamental health of broad indices like the S&P 500 aids in our assessment about the overvalued or undervalued state of markets.

From that baseline, we select securities that we believe provide the best risk-reward opportunity in the current economic environment. We seek to invest in companies that have good fundamental prospects and are, in our opinion, undervalued. Company-level research centers around earnings and revenue growth, valuation multiples, cash flows, and balance sheet health. Our investment universe consists only of highly liquid, exchange-traded securities.

Because we are an active manager, our outlook and positioning are flexible and dynamic. The only responsible way to make investment decisions is to base them on the most up-to-date and accurate information available. Our task each day is to gather market-related news and data, use it to develop an investment thesis, and then decide whether our current portfolio is ideally suited to perform in a given market environment. Such a task requires discipline, and over the years we’ve developed a daily routine that helps us accumulate and digest an unrelenting supply of information.

The Kansas City Trading Room opens an hour and a half before the US exchanges each morning. By that time, we are already up to date on the developments in Asian markets overnight, how the European markets are trading, and where the U.S. indices are expected to open.

Our first task on site is to download the previous day’s transaction and position data from our custodian. Once imported into our portfolio management accounting platform, we can generate performance and view holdings at the firm, strategy, and client levels.  The integration of the accounting platform with our Bloomberg and Level-2 quoting systems allows us to aggregate our discretionary assets and constantly monitor them on a tick-by-tick basis, each and every day.

By 8:00, our portfolio management team has scanned our various research platforms for developments on current or prospective holdings.  We then discuss our findings and develop our expectations for the coming trading session. If any team member believes a portfolio change is needed, that too is discussed, and before the opening bell rings, we have a plan for the day. From the opening bell, until the market closes at 3:00, the Trading Room constantly monitors holdings and the markets, regularly meeting throughout the day to discuss ideas and potential adjustments. 

The Mader & Shannon trading room operation is an intense environment staffed by dedicated professionals who relish the daily opportunity to help clients achieve their financial goals. 

As a wholly transparent money manager, we regularly host current and prospective clients in the trading room for market reviews and strategy orientations.

Wealth Management

Simply put, wealth management is the process of a team of experts providing the highest quality of financial products and services to improve the financial health of client.  In other words, it is the delivery of a full range of services tailored to solve for a specific financial objective or goal.

Wealth management incorporates a full suite of services that include financial planning, portfolio management, tax services, retirement planning, and estate planning. This provides a holistic approach allowing each scenario to be analyzed from every angle to achieve a successful outcome.

Typically, a wealth manager acts in a consultative manner and is focused solely on the client’s behalf. A wealth manager should be a fiduciary, working only with the client’s best interest in mind. Upholding the standard of a fiduciary in the financial service industry must include putting a clients’ interests before your own, acting in good faith and providing all relevant facts to clients, remaining free of conflicts of interest, and ensuring the accuracy of advice given.

Accomplished wealth managers should also hold credentials within the industry such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®), and Charter Financial Analyst (CFA®). The criteria that one must meet to hold these designations demonstrates not only their competency but their commitment in that respective field.

Here at Mader Shannon, we believe it is crucial to understand our clients and what is important to them. The services we provide are structured around our client’s investment objectives and tolerance for risk. We take the time to not only identify but understand our client’s aspirations. We then analyze the information and engage other professionals when appropriate to develop suitable recommendations. Our work is far more comprehensive than simply providing investment advice.

Our services are designed to offer objective advice and set reasonable expectations. We educate our clients on the suitability of our financial solutions, carefully exploring risk and performance expectations.

Typically, when a wealth manager acts in a consultative manner and is focused solely on the client’s behalf they are considered a fiduciary financial advisor. A fiduciary is a person or legal entity that has the power and responsibility of acting for another in situations requiring total trust, good faith and honesty.

Acting as a fiduciary has a very important meaning within the financial services industry. Much has been debated and written as the industry struggles with a self-imposed standard of care. It is often assumed that when choosing a financial advisor, they are all required to do what’s in the client’s best interest, but that is not the case. There are those that are held to a higher standard, and those that are not.

A fiduciary financial advisor is an investment professional who is licensed with the SEC or a state regulator and who are legally required to put their clients’ interests before their own. Having a fiduciary duty to your client should eliminate conflicts of interest and theoretically make a fiduciary’s advice more trustworthy. It is Mader Shannon’s obligation to uphold this standard as an SEC registered RIA (Registered Investment Advisor).

In addition to regulatory bodies requiring a higher standard of care, all the principals at Mader Shannon hold designations that, within their Code of Ethics, require that they adhere to or go beyond the fiduciary standard of care. Fiduciary financial advisor’s often hold credentials within the industry such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®), and Charter Financial Analyst (CFA®) all in which require that professionals act within this standard.

The luxury of being able to maintain our independence translates into a better relationship with our clients. Being able to think and act strategically in the interest of clients and not beholden to a parent company allows Mader Shannon to offer a more fiduciary centric service. Being a fiduciary financial advisor affords our clients a higher level of transparency in the way we provide our service, and perhaps more importantly, in how we are compensated for our service.

The following articles provide additional information on fiduciary standards within the industry as well as questions to ask and things to look for when choosing a financial advisor.

        From U.S. News and World Report:

https://money.usnews.com/investing/investing-101/articles/what-is-a-fiduciary-financial-advisor-a-guide-to-the-fiduciary-duty

        From CNBC:

https://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/16/is-your-advisor-a-fiduciary-chances-are-you-have-no-idea.html

 

Retaining an independent financial professional is as important for planning as it is for asset management. Mader Shannon has no commitment to any product or service that will in any way conflict with the best interests of our clients.

Our services are designed to offer objective advice and set reasonable expectations. We take the time to educate clients on suitable financial solutions, carefully exploring risk and performance expectations

Our Planning Services

We provide the following services for helping clients achieve their financial goals:

  • Comprehensive Financial Planning
  • Asset Management
  • Complete Portfolio Analysis/Review
  • Pension Plans
  • Company 401k Plans
  • 529 and Education IRAs
  • Qualified Plan Rollovers
  • Retirement Cash Flow Planning and Projections

 

Society of Financial Service Professionals Member

Financial Planning Association (FPA) affiliation


Why an Independent Agent?

There are two types of licensed agents in the life and health insurance industry: a “captive agent” representing one company and an “independent agent” representing multiple companies. Independent agents are also commonly referred to as “brokers”.   Captive agents are limited to the products offered by their company while independent agents can select from countless products to fit a clients needs. Obviously, an independent agent is most often going to offer more suitable solutions.  

In addition to a professionals independent status, it is important the representive be licensed to offer advice on securities, tax planning, estate planning, to tailor the most suitable solutions.   This becomes important for two reasons. Any good financial plan starts with a careful assessment of a person’s objectives, income, assets, and potential inheritance. Unfortunately most insurance agents are not licensed, trained, or qualified to do financial planning, instead they are trained to be transaction driven for commissions rather than driven by the customer's best interest.   Sales activity, with little regard for suitability and actual customer objectives, is counter productive and gives the industry a bad name.

A true independent financial planner must be licensed and have advanced training in many disciplines. Unfortunately, most insurance agents/financial advisors are only licensed to sell insurance, annuities, and mutual funds. Such limitation would make comprehensive planning difficult and expensive compared to a more comprehensive approach by an independent financial planner who works in a fiduciary capacity, or solely in the clients best interest. Such a professional is focused on plan design, researching suitable solutions, and performance, versus being product and transaction driven.

Mader & Shannon Wealth Management has always worked as a fiduciary putting our client’s needs first at all times.

Life Insurance As An Asset and/or Retirement Supplement?

In the current environment of low interest rates and bond yields one might ask, “How about life insurance as safe money investment?” For 99% of the 800 plus insurance companies a reliable investment return is not likely. However, a few top rated companies have produced internal rates of return (IRR) in the plus 2% range ten years out and plus 3% range 20 years out.

These returns won’t compete with the S&P 500, but keep in mind, there is a death benefit value permanently attached to this investment. Therefore, one can own a life insurance contract that is an asset as a conservative investment and at the same time provide a significant death benefit. In addition, properly managed, this asset can work favorably as a supplement to retirement.  

To sustain a suitable outcome using this strategy working with a professional independent agent is a necessity for a number of reasons. Insurance policies are long term, complex legal contracts with both guaranteed and non-guaranteed provisions which you would want fully disclosed and understood. You must pick an insurance company that has the financial strength and history of supporting a contract of this type. In addition, you want to thoroughly understand the taxation of life insurance proceeds since the are different from other investments.  

Like most successful investments, this investment requires management by a knowledgeable owner and a qualified professional. In this case, an insurance professional and a qualified investment advisor should be utilized for the life of the contract. To summarize, a well designed and managed life insurance contract, issued by a top rated company, can serve as key building block to a sound financial plan.

Types of Insurance

Term Insurance vs. Permanent

There are two basic forms of life insurance, term and permanent policies. Each one breaks down into subcategories based on different options designed to meet the needs of the consumer.

Term Life Insurance

As the name implies, term life insurance is issued for a specific period of time from one year to age 100. The purpose of term insurance is to cover a need within the issue period such as protecting an income stream while raising a family, or to pay off a mortgage or business debt in the event of an untimely death. Some term insurance policies offer a guaranteed conversion feature. This policy provision guarantees that the policy owner can convert the policy to a permanent insurance policy at the same underwriting status as assigned to the term policy. Consequently, term insurance can be utilized to fulfill a current insurance need at a low cost until the need for insurance diminishes or cash flow is available for permanent insurance.

Permanent Life Insurance

Permanent life insurance is designed and priced to pay a death benefit or be surrendered for the cash value when the insurance is no longer needed. There are three types of permanent life insurance: whole life, universal, and variable universal life.

Whole Life is the oldest of these policy types. It features guaranteed minimum premiums, guaranteed minimum interest rates credited to the cash value, and guaranteed death benefits payable at death. Whole life issued by a top rated company can still be a very good value even though it is not as flexible as the more recent policy types.

Universal Life

This policy type is a product of the computer age and is often referred to as Flexible Premium Adjustable Life. Due to the capacity of computers to conduct and maintain countless calculations, actuaries are able to expose the moving parts in a life insurance policy. Interest crediting rates, mortality costs, even expenses and premium taxes can be illustrated with ease. This allows for flexible premiums and face amounts, along with interest rates that reflect current portfolio yields. For the first time, policies could be designed to better fit changes in insurance needs and family budgets.

Universal life policies illustrate two interest rates, the “guaranteed minimum” and the “current” rate. The “minimum” is a contract guarantee while the “current” is credited as a product of the insurance company’s return on assets. The current rate is the basis for the “projected benefit” column in the illustration. It is important to understand that the cash values of the whole life and universal policies are invested as a general asset of the insurance company until surrendered or paid as a death benefit, therefore the financial strength of the company is very impotant.

Today the most popular feature of universal life is the guaranteed death benefit feature. Although this feature is only available from a handful of the strongest companies, it provides the lowest cost guaranteed benefit ever offered in a permanent life insurance policy. In addition, these guarantees can be structured for varying life expectancies.

Variable Life and Variable Universal Life

Variable policy cash values are not an asset of the insurance company and are managed as a separate asset in select funds much the same as a 401(k) portfolio is self managed. Although the insurance company is the custodian of the funds, the policy values are segregated from the general assets of the company and not subject to their creditors in the event of insolvency.

There is a critical difference however from managing a 401(k) allocation versus a variable life allocation. Variable Life policies have significantly higher expenses due to monthly insurance costs. As a general rule, monthly expenses of 2% to 4% or more are charged for insurance and administration costs. Consequently, a 10% return for 401(k) allocation could net one-half that in a VUL policy with a similar allocation. As a result, asset management is more difficult with variable policies than a typical 401(k) or an IRA. We recommend two rules of thumb for successful VUL ownership:

First, over fund the policy in the early years to maximize tax free growth inside the policy. Second, manage the portfolio as a sophisticated investor or retain a professional asset manager to assist you.

The obvious benefit of variable universal life is that assets can be grown in a most favorable tax environment, which, if successful, can reduce long term insurance costs or grow the tax free death benefit to larger amount than the original amount. However, there are no guarantees and the margin for investment failure is narrow. One must weigh the risk of investment results in variable life policy against the guarantees offered by competitive universal life policies.

How Much Insurance Do I Really Need?

In the vast array of information regarding life insurance there seems to be no one consistent way of determining how much you need. We believe client's should take part in determining what's necessary and understand the process rather than rely on internet 'calculators'. The following article was written by Brian P. Daley CLU. It was published in the Society of Financial Service Professionals' Life, Health & Disability newsletter, of which Mr. Daley is the editor.

Four Simple Steps

Step One

Determine the amount of annual after-tax income your survivors will require to maintain their current standard of living if you were to die today.

Step Two

Subtract from that amount the annual after-tax income earned by your surviving spouse if your spouse plans to work outside of the home if you were to die today. The difference is the family's annual shortfall.

Step Three

Divide the family's annual shortfall by 5 percent, as we assume that over the long term your survivors will be able to earn somewhere around 5 percent net after income taxes, transaction costs, and management fees on whatever cash they have available for investment after your death. (One may select 3 percent, 4 percent, or even 7 percent for that matter, but 5 percent is generally fair).

The resulting figure is the approximate amount of cash required, from whatever sources, at the time of your death to provide sufficient annual income without invading the principal until the eldest child is ready to begin college.

Step Four

Adjust this amount to reflect your unique and specific circumstances.

For example:

Will the surviving spouse's career plans or income needs change significantly following your death?

Will your spouse be receiving any imminent inheritance or income from elderly parents or from another source?

Are the children's education costs already fully funded, or are they beyond school age? Is there a special needs child who will require lifetime care?

What is the likelihood and what are the probable financial consequences of remarriage?

How long will it be until the surviving spouse will have access to tax-qualified monies such as 401(k) assets?

Such factors can increase or decrease survivor's dependency upon income from the estate and, therefore, are appropriate for you to consider when estimating the amount of coverage required by your survivors.

An Example: Assume a survivor will require $100,000 of annual after-tax income and that the spouse does not work outside the home. Dividing $100,000 by 5% equals $2 million. Thus a principal of $2 million would be required to generate uninterrupted annual after-tax income of $100,000. Depending upon your age and circumstances, the principal might be comprised of qualified and/or non-qualified investments, partnership capital, trust funds, and any current group or personal life insurance proceeds. The difference, if any, between the $2 million and the total of these other monies is the amount that may be necessary to make up through the purchase of new individual life insurance.

Portfolio Management Newsletters

Second Quarter 2021 Market Update

In this quarter’s update, we take a deep dive into the economy’s health and present our third (and far from final) installment of our inflation series.

Economic Health Check

Baseline statistics are critical to describing the status of a thing relative to itself.  Absolute analysis measures a thing versus a qualitative estimation of good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable, or simply normal/abnormal.  Conducting these types of studies helps us understand the world around us.

For economic data, pre-pandemic levels serve as the baseline of where we started.  Extrapolated trends from the 2010-2019 expansion make for a visual of where we would now be, had the pandemic never occurred.  We’ll make the leap of faith that, on an absolute basis, the prior trend was favorable.

Has the data recovered its baseline?  Is the economy back on track?

A Few Notes on the Data

Economic data is great – but it has limitations.  So before we get into the actual data, let’s review a couple of caveats. 

  • The first limitation is timing.  It takes time to collect, refine, and publish data.  Typically, governmental data is reporting on a period that occurred 1-3 months ago. 
    • Last year, that data lag made economic data essentially useless.  This year, it’s less of an issue.
  • The second limitation is seasonal adjusting.  To make month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter data comparable, statistics publishers will typically apply a seasonal adjustment. 
    • The canceled spring/summer in 2020 and subsequent staggered reopening(s) in the fall/winter/spring will continue to cause distortions in seasonally adjusted data for quarters to come.
  • The third issue at odds with our faultless review is what economists call ‘base effects’ – a fancy way to say that if you measure something against a previous period with a depressed value (base), measurements taken off that base will be distorted.  For example, if you had 2 apples a year ago and now have 4 apples, you can confidently say that you doubled your apples.  Great news!  But, what if one year and three months ago, you had 7 apples…?  Your 100% apple growth looks impressive, but you’re still missing quite a few apples. 
    • Base effects are starting to run their course, but be wary of them (especially in the media) for the remainder of the year. 

We’ve taken great care to limit these distortions from our analysis. 

The Headline Data

As economic data sets go, the ‘granddaddy of them all’ is unquestionably Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  It is the most inclusive measure of a country’s productive might.  The end of 2019 represents the last unadulterated piece of data we had before the pandemic.  In that period, the US economy produced $21.7 trillion in goods and services.  If the economy were to have continued the 2012 - 2019 trend of +4.2% annual growth, 2021 would have delivered a GDP of $22.6 trillion (dotted trend line).  Amazingly enough, 1st quarter GDP recently logged a reading of $22.0 trillion (green line)

So, just one year after the sharpest economic decline in our lifetime, the United States economy, in the aggregate, has exceeded its baseline year (2019) and is on track to regain its previous growth trend by the end of the year.  Note that activity after the past two recessions (2001 and 2008) was only ever able to recover their baseline – not its pre-recession trend.

German GDP is having trouble regaining the previous high and previous trend.  The rest of the Eurozone is not dramatically different.  The conventional wisdom is that additional measures to curb the spread of the virus dampened consumer spending in Europe.  Much of the data in Europe closely resembles that of the United States from about 6-8 months ago.

GDP in China has fully regained the pre-pandemic baseline and is making progress towards the previous trend.  A lack of broad consumer restrictions and a global supply chain starved for inventory have provided China with an excellent opportunity for growth.  While it is unlikely the Chinese economy will fully revert to the +11.1% nominal growth trend that persisted over the past decade, it’s tough to view their current trajectory negatively.

United States Retail Sales

The US Consumer is an awe-inspiring force.  When they’re happy, they spend.  When they’re sad, they spend.  Heck, even when they’re dead broke, they spend.  So, it should be no surprise that when you hand US consumers money – they will spend it. 

And spend it, they did.  US Retail Sales regained their 2019 peak before the end of 2020 and are now nearly $1 trillion above the previous trend.  Direct payments from the CARES Act(s) were the main driver of the consumption boom.  We expect a reversion towards the previous trend in the coming months, although stable wages and unemployment statistics should keep that reversion from turning into a dramatic contraction.  When you hear headlines of ‘falling’ consumer spending in the coming quarters, remember this trend line. 

Financial Position

The statistics above are nominal or income statement type accounts – they measure $ spent, things made, etc.  And they start at 0 at the outset of every new period.  Measurements of financial position are additive – they are constantly adjusted by increases/decreases in nominal statistics.  The following data relates to the ongoing economic standing of the US Government, Corporations, and Consumers. 

US Labor Market – Total Persons Employed

Relative to the last two recessions, the labor market has experienced a violent recovery.  Demographic trends may limit our ability to resume the 2010-2019 trend in employment.  However, the census has estimated that the US working-age population will exceed 180 million people in 2030.

Lingering pandemic impacts on employment include early retirement, enhanced unemployment benefits, and child/elder care.  While it’s disappointing that a full employment recovery has yet to occur, let’s be mindful of silver linings.  First, slack in employment can fuel future economic expansion (and we’re headed the right way).  Second, since the Federal Reserve is almost solely fixated on getting back to full employment, they are more likely to keep interest rates low – which is a fundamental prerequisite to financial stability.   

US Debt

As a country, we have a lot of debt.  Over the past 50 years, we’ve grown our country’s debt at roughly +10%/year.  While this can be an angsty and politicized topic, it cannot be omitted.  The tough love of the situation is this: both political parties have contributed to the ever-expanding obligations. Here’s the data:

Since the pandemic, the US Government has increased its total outstanding debt by roughly $7 trillion.  Yet after an increase of that magnitude, you may find it surprising that the cost of servicing that debt is lower now than at the end of 2019 (red line below).

The weighted average interest rate on the current debt is about 1.5%, effectively an all-time low.  However, if interest rates went to 5% on the outstanding debt, interest costs would exceed $1T/year (top blue line).  If it feels like we’re emphasizing interest rates excessively in these notes, this is why – things get ugly in a hurry if borrowing costs spike.

In the face of pandemic-related uncertainty and low interest rates, companies also joined the credit binge – taking total borrowings to $11T from just under $10T in 2019. 

Just like the Federal Government, companies secured extremely low interest rates.  But unlike the Federal Government, many large companies had pandemic-related windfalls and are sitting on vast piles of cash and liquid assets.

Relative to those liquid assets, large companies have never been in better financial shape.

We’ve already established that the US consumer has been spending like crazy, but how are their balance sheets?  Did they load up on debt during the pandemic? Surely some folks did, but consumers used the pandemic to upgrade their financial position in the aggregate. 

Consumer credit remained stable throughout the pandemic, while balances on credit cards/lines were paid down.  Banks around the country are also reporting fewer delinquencies and fewer charged-off accounts.  Relative to disposable income, the cost to service outstanding debts has never been lower.

In response to a question about the health of the US consumer in JP Morgan’s 2nd quarter conference call, Jamie Dimon feverishly responded:

“The pump is primed. The consumer, their house value’s up, their stock value’s up, their incomes are up, their savings are up, their confidence is up. The pandemic is kind of in the rearview mirror, hopefully nothing gets worse with it. And they’re rearing to go."

 Conclusion

When it comes to economic data, the pandemic was, in many ways, the recession that never happened.  Typical recessions arise from a deleveraging economy as corporations and consumers default on debts and production/employment/consumption fall.  Unchecked, a vicious self-sustaining cycle can occur, much like what happened in the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis.

Instead of allowing consumers and corporations to bear the immense burden of economic shutdowns, the government absorbed the liabilities of the private sector.  Late last year, we dubbed this new financial regime the era of Policy Coordination.  And whether you love it or hate it, it’s where we are, and so far, it has worked.

Low interest rates are the main prerequisite for continued economic stability.


Inflation - Part III

We continue to keep a close eye on inflation readings.  Higher inflation rates could derail accommodative central bank policy and potentially raise long-term borrowing costs.  In our last newsletter, we closed our inflation segment by pondering the future path of prices.

"As the year progresses, wholesale price increases will filter through to consumers, at which time we will enter the next chapter of our inflation experience. By then, our main question will likely have evolved from 'How long will commodity/supply chain issues linger?' to 'How sticky/permanent will consumer price increase be?'"

Wholesale price increases have certainly made their way through to consumers, but supply chain inefficiencies and shortages are ever-present.  Consumer Price Index (CPI) charts below show the decomposition of monthly data. Pandemic-related items are driving the truck.


Speaking of trucking… Freight rates are a great way to track supply-chain inflation related to inventory restocking. 

The good news is that we’re probably near the beginning of the end on supply chain issues, and the calendar will start to be a bit more forgiving on year-over-year comparisons.  That means that inflation rates may be in the process of peaking.  What it does not mean is that prices will broadly revert to pre-pandemic levels. 

Whether that soothes you or not is a good litmus test for whether you’re an economist or not.  Economists focus on the rate of inflation.  Normal people tend to be more interested in how much money it takes to buy goods and services. 

Below, an 80 year history of the yearly change in inflation (upper chart) and the actual price level (lower) is segmented by different inflationary regimes.

You’ll note that previous transitory ‘bumps’ in inflation occurred immediately after recessions/shocks, which makes the Federal Reserve feel better about this spike.  You’ll also probably notice that the trend in the consumer price index is steadily higher over time, which likely makes you feel worse.

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Mader & Shannon Wealth Management is located just East of the Country Club Plaza.

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4717 Grand Ave. Ste 800, Kansas City, MO 64112, USA

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1.800.838.9988 / 816.751.0585

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