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The Man Behind the Curtain: Welcome to Oz, Folks

If you just started paying attention to the news recently, you’re probably wondering what exactly is going on here: trade tensions, yield curve inversions, near-miss geopolitical crises...oh my! But the stock market continues to march up the proverbial “wall of worry,” albeit with some recent volatility, as the whirlwind of concerning news events unfold at an exceedingly fast pace. Yes still, it would almost seem that someone, or something, is operating behind the scenes to keep the façade of a harmonious investment market in play.

It is true that the length of the current bull market in the US is hitting a record, and akin to an aging human, it would be reasonable to ask the question: “when shall poor old Mr. Market bite the dust?” Fortunately, we were taught at an early stage in our investment careers that “a bull market doesn’t die of old age, it dies when the Federal Reserve takes it behind the woodshed and…” (we’ll save you the gory details).

Our last letter already addressed the interest-rate setting activity of the Federal Reserve, so we’ll spare you from the agony of reading about yield curve inversions again, but we will comment on one thing: and that is how much of a 180-degree turn the Fed has made over literally just the last six months. We went from being on pace to raising short-term rates to “normal”1 levels (thus indicating the US’s ability to sequester itself from the life-supporting stimulus of the post-recession decade), to cutting rates last month for the first time since 2008. This is essentially a tacit admission by the Fed that the tightening had gone too far, and that the economy is not as strong as thought, thus meriting a decrease in short-term rates to bring the punch bowl back to the party (because no Fed Chair wants to be the party pooper, just ask Alan Greenspan).

And here we are, back to being party animals, it seems. Yet, there is something still quite unsettling lately: ongoing trade frictions (namely, the Sino-US relations). We don’t think we need to spend time convincing you that trade wars aren’t good for either contender, but the truth is that while some businesses will be disadvantaged, others will actually benefit. The stock market seems to be “pricing in” a relatively higher probability that a deal will get done eventually2, which is why we recommend just buckling your seatbelt in case the ride is longer and bumpier than expected. But of course, there is always a risk of a miscalculation by either side and we drive right off the cliff of enacting tariffs (possibly on up to $300B of Chinese imports, but this could also apply to the EU, Mexico or Canada as well). What we have to say here is that we are glad to be individual stock and bond pickers, and therefore, have the advantage of evaluating our exposures and potential risk, company-by-company, in case this were to occur. Rest assured, having a dedicated research and investment management team allows us to continue being diligent about evaluating and mitigating risk.

Another market concern that seems to get a lot of people nervous is politics. With 2020 being an election year, the campaign cycle is coming out of the gate in full force. Politics continues to become more and more polarized and it’s no wonder why some people are nervous about where the next round of leadership could take our country. What we will say is that when it comes to the stock market, political inactivity sometimes creates the best foundation for market gains. Even a split government can be positive – as gridlock leads to less uncertainty. Uncertainty regarding the direction of policy is one thing that stifles business investment and growth. But the reality is that there will probably always be a certain degree of unpredictability; and even if new policies are technically “less positive” for businesses on a whole, at least those things can be planned for and managed around by savvy companies. Again, our ability to evaluate individual company strategies is an advantage when the world constantly shifts around us.

Lastly, when it comes to things that might keep investors up at night, the recent influx of “hot IPOs” (Initial Public Offerings) is reminiscent of the 2000 Dot-Com Bust when less-than-profitable (we’re being generous) companies could reap millions of retail investment dollars just by adding “.com” to their name (now the trick is using terms like blockchain or cryptocurrency). While we continue to hold our view that participating in these IPOs at issuance tends to work out better for the founders/early investors and their helpful investment bankers (on average), many of these companies do seem to be more viable than their dot-com-era counterparts (with some notable exceptions, of course). This is partly because many have a more established track record as private companies before going public. Nonetheless, it is still something to watch as the frothiness becomes more apparent.

So perhaps there isn’t a benevolent puppeteer keeping the market chugging forward while the world seems to be falling apart – the truth is that the global economy is actually still humming along, albeit at a relatively slow rate. And while there is plenty to be worried about, new risks are constantly presenting themselves in the marketplace. It’s usually the risks that we haven’t thought about that catches us by surprise and causes disruption, as the market does a pretty good job weighing the probability and impact of most known risks. So, our job as investment managers is to constantly navigate through the world of uncertainty by establishing the right balance of risk and potential reward for our clients’ portfolios while always seeking to buy the highest quality investments available. This, in addition to proper diversification, is the right defense for managing risk. We are pleased to do this hard work for all our clients and will be ready to help you navigate through any curve balls the market throws our way.

Thank you for your continued trust and confidence. Please feel free to send us a message or give us a call anytime. Enjoy the rest of the summer!


Norris, Perné & French

1 If we could bold quotes we would, as “normal” is something that we’re not sure anyone understands now.
2 A strong case can be made that President Trump would like a deal by the 2020 elections, but also that China would love for this negotiation to be unresolved until after that date in case the next administration is more amenable on terms.

  ftJune 27, 2019 – Norris, Perné & French (NPF) is pleased to announce it has been named to the 2019 edition of the Financial Times 300 Top Registered Investment Advisers (RIAs). The list recognizes top independent RIA firms from across the U.S.

This is the sixth annual FT 300 list, produced independently by the Financial Times in collaboration with Ignites Research, a subsidiary of the Financial Times that provides business intelligence on the asset management industry.  The Financial Times is an international business newspaper headquartered in London with over five million readers.

Food From The Heart

On June 17, NPF team members gathered with 751 other volunteers at Van Andel Arena for Heart of West Michigan United Way’s fourth-annual Food From the Heart. In two hours, volunteers packed more than 150,000 nutritious meals that got distributed to food pantries and other hunger-relief agencies throughout Kent County.

marilee dan partner

Norris, Perné & French (NPF) is pleased to announce the appointment of two new partners: Strategy Lead/Portfolio Manager Marilee K. Bartl and Portfolio Manager Daniel J. Lupo were welcomed into the firm’s partnership on January 1, 2019.

“I’m excited to be a part of the incredible legacy here,” says Dan, who joined NPF as a Research Analyst in 2012, eager to delve into the traditional, long-term investment philosophy that has guided the firm since 1933. As his responsibilities expanded and evolved, he came to appreciate the role of local ownership in perpetuating this approach.

On November 9th, NPF team members Tyler Bosgraaf, Chad Dutcher, Glenn Hefner and Dan Lupo attended the Grand Valley State University Scholarship dinner as part of our endowed scholarship in the Seidman School of Business finance department.

GVSU Scholarship Dinner

We are pleased to introduce you to Glenn Hefner, the newest member of the Norris, Perné & French (NPF) team. Glenn joined the firm in August 2016 as Portfolio Manager.

As NPF grows and diversifies its investment opportunities, we continue to make strategic talent acquisitions that complement and extend our strengths. Glenn’s institutional investment experience and international perspective will benefit our company and our clients in many ways.

Norris, Perné & French (NPF) is proud to announce the promotion of Daniel J. Lupo to the position of Portfolio Manager. Dan joined NPF as a Research Analyst in October 2012 and he assumed his new duties in July 2016.

“My passion is in the investment selection process,” says Dan. “But I also like working with people to help them realize their financial goals. As a Portfolio Manager, I get the best of both worlds—I’m able to draw on my research experience to help clients better understand the investment strategies that address their unique needs.”

The team at Norris, Perné & French (NPF) would like to introduce you to Marilee K. Bartl. Marilee joined the firm on September 28, 2015 as Managing Director, Portfolio Manager.

As NPF’s client base multiplies, we continue to seek talented professionals who will strengthen and deepen our competencies in key areas.

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Our Mission: Partnering with our clients to grow and preserve their wealth through clear, sound, and trusted investment counsel.