Due to the imminent impact of Hurricane Irma, Allen & Company will be operating under the protocols of our contingency plan. You, our clients will still be able to reach your Financial Advisor by email should you have business to conduct. All three of our branches will be physically closed on Monday and Tuesday due to power outages. We value our relationship with you our client family and our associates and their families. We hope you are safe in the aftermath of this storm Thank you for your understanding, we will reopen when it is clear and safe to return to our offices. In the meantime, all updates will be posted to this website.

 

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Given a heavy workload and some down time thrown in, I’m barely under the wire for this to be an August column rather than a September column. As I write I’ve seen the news reports of Hurricane Harvey hitting the Texas coast and flooding Houston and other areas. The cost to human life and lives hasn’t begun to be measured yet, but it is certainly devastating. Our hearts and prayers go out to those suffering such loss.
I fear for New Orleans as well. Should there be a little jog in the storm path in the next 24 hours, it could bring renewed devastation to The Big Easy 12 years after Katrina. Does it seem like 12 years to you? It doesn’t to me. Life seems to be spinning with the speed of a tropical storm, and just as inexorable.
Clients have asked me what effect the storm will have on the stock market. As I write this, oil stocks are down and gasoline is up at the pump. I heard today that if Houston’s GDP was measured against countries; it would be the 27th largest in the world. While it would have severe impacts to the US and world economies if the Houston economy were disrupted over the next year, the ‘experts’ are talking about economic recovery being measured in weeks.
The economy should be just fine and not rocked by the recent storm. The market should not see significant impacts either. But one never knows what will change market sentiment. Such is the nature of investing. The market, as we know, will continue to defy predictions.
I’m also asked if the political storms in Washington will affect the markets. Brian Wesbury, Chief Investment Officer of First Trust Portfolios, L.P. is a great friend of Allen & Company and has provided lots of insight over the years into what drives the economy and stock markets. His take on what I call the “Washington Shenanigans” is worth a listen: Click here to watch the latest Wesbury 101 – Political Games and Stocks.
You may recall what I wrote late last year: “the stock market would probably respond to the presidential election with an uninspired “meh” with gridlock to follow.” Clearly the US equity markets have been much more positive from November 2016 to August 2017 than a blasé “meh”, but gridlock, just as clearly, reins.
These two storms, the hurricane on the Gulf coast of Texas and the fussing and finger-pointing in Washington, remind me of a quote from the Jeff Goldblum character in that dinosaur movie. He said something like “nature finds a way” or “life finds a way.”
Yes it does, doesn’t it? Whether it’s calamity caused by natural forces, or man-made disasters planned or inadvertent, life does find a way. After the clouds pass, the sun eventually comes out, and the grass blooms anew. How long that takes, we just don’t know, and I don’t think we’d be any more content if we did.
I do know the clouds can last a long time. In case I had forgotten, I was reminded during a recent reading of a novel of the dustbowl years. “Whose Names Are Unknown” by Sanora Babb reinforced perspective about suffering and poverty in a seemingly never-ending season of drought. Some people in Hurricane Harvey’s path will have their lives changed forever in ways that will leave behind heartbreak and despair, never to recover.
But for most of us, life will go on. As we think about how these ‘storms’ affect us – our life choices and core values, our beliefs, our hopes and dreams, and yes, even our investments, we would be well served to remember to separate ourselves from the noise and stick to our principles that brought us safe thus far. Sending a dollar or ten to storm relief wouldn’t hurt either.
Take care of yourself out there. There will be storms. And new dawns.

“What are we, a mile from the sun?” asked Lawrence Bourne III in one of Tom Hanks’ lesser films. Hanks played Lawrence, a spoiled rich kid that inadvertently gets himself enrolled in the Peace Corp and shipped off to the tropics.   The only thing I remember about the movie was the Hanks character getting off an airplane with the temperature reaching for the 100s and the humidity over 90, and asking that (presumably) rhetorical question. That, and John Candy playing the lovable lug loser he did so often, “Hi, Tom Tuttle from Tacoma!”

Have you been outside this month? It is hot, Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer as Roosevelt the weather reporter hot. They tell me the Southwestern United States is worse, but it’s a “dry heat”. Yeah, so is my oven, but I don’t want to vacation there.

After Dad died five years ago, my siblings and I elected to let the U of F football tickets go after 50 years. It was hard to let go of so many memories, but not nearly so hard to let go of sitting in the 1:00 early September Florida sun with 85,000 other overweight, overheated alumni.

You’ll have to tell me if it’s age, too many days at the desk in air conditioning, or climate change, but this heat is hard to tolerate anymore. Summer used to be my favorite season. I still enjoy it, but I do like a little breeze and some shade to go with it now. But at least we have hurricane season to look forward to … or not.

So far, you may be wondering what this column has to do with investing. I haven’t been able to find anything yet either, but maybe it’s taking shape.   Although, as Sigmund Freud didn’t say, ‘Sometimes a weather discussion is just a weather discussion.”

But despite the heat, people from all over the world are flocking to the Florida theme parks. I heard a news story that said Disney World had increased ticket prices, only to see attendance increase. The number of people that will take kids in strollers to the Orlando parks in the middle of summer is a constant source of amazement to me. I’m not critical mind you, I’m happy for the people and the parks, but the parks start to lose their magic for me somewhere in the high 70s – temperature and capacity percentage both.

Although I’m skipping the parks this season, I am doing my part to celebrate the time honored family vacation. This year, since all the little urchins are grown and gainfully employed, time off is at a premium so it’s just a few days at the beach. I’m taking the whole crew to Vero. We’re going to the east coast since that’s what my parents and grandparents did for me. Those granddaughters of mine are just the right age for playing in the surf and pathetic attempts at sand castles.

So there we are. I found an investment theme after all.   It’s about giving back. We started with Tom Hanks joining the Peace Corp and somehow got to keeping family traditions alive.

My siblings and I had a text-based discussion about our ancestors just this past weekend. My sister has done the research on the websites and in the graveyards to identify people going back about four generations. Before that, it’s pretty much a mystery.   It occurred to me that so many of us work so hard to make our ‘mark’ and except for a famous few, we tend to disappear from memory in a just a few generations.

Realizing this, it seems that maybe I don’t need to join find a cure for the incurable or even join the Peace Corp to be a person that makes a better world. Maybe, going outside in the heat and teaching a grandchild to ride the waves on a raft, to tie a fish hook, to earn a dollar and to save one too, how to cook for one or twenty, and how to be a family, maybe these, and a few more, will do.

And, oh yes, if you’re doing the same this summer, remember have a little fun while you’re at it.

My Sirius radio preset channels are a rather eclectic lot: I have the 60’s, Willie’s Roadhouse, Jimmy Buffet, the Metropolitan Opera, College Sports, Fox Business News and newly added to the lineup, the Beatles channel. I wish they had a history or book channel; something like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, only without the random profanity that makes me cringe every time someone spews a most vulgar, and most unnecessary, spate of vulgarisms.

But today I’m thinking of my one channel dedicated to the country music genre. As I was scrolling through the channels last week trying to find something to soothe the frazzled noggin, I came across George Jones singing, “The Bartender’s Blues.”   Here are a few lyrics (penned by James Taylor!) for all the working people out there:

“Well, I’m just a bartender

And I don’t like my work

But I don’t mind the money at all”

Ha! Isn’t that a great line?   I always quote it when people complain to me about their jobs. Have you ever noticed how many people complain about the job they have, and then fall into desperate panic if they lose said job? I understand, it’s human nature to grouse.   Remember the Israelites in the wilderness? They longed for the good old days of slavery in Egypt because there, at least, they “had all the cucumbers, melons, onions, leeks and garlic [they wanted].”   Really? Leeks?

But to today’s point, and to why a Financial Advisor would be referencing George Jones, I must turn to Ben (“Ben” sounds better than “Benjamin” when paired with a Nashville old-school artist) Franklin, alias Poor Richard of Almanac fame.   “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Ben and George, George and Ben, separated by a pair of centuries, had a lot in common. They were ‘accomplished’ womanizers and purveyors of strong drink, but that’s neither a topic we wish to examine today, nor attributes we wish to encourage.   Really, I mean it: stop that!   If for no other reason (and there are plenty) it will make your finances a mess to travel that “Lost Highway.”

So where I am going with this you ask? Well, in the first place some of you expressed a distinct lack of whimsy in my columns recently, and complained of too much politics and too little of my “free association” trains of thought.   As Grandma said, “Be careful what you ask for.”

George Jones sings on:

“I’ve seen lots of sad faces

And lots of bad cases

Of folks with their backs to the wall”

I think Ben Franklin was thinking of these same types of “sad faces with their backs to the wall” when he was encouraging people to spend frugally and save vigorously.   If we are not already, we need to start that lifestyle today to avoid ending up in a George Jones’ song in retirement.

“Now the smoke fills the air

Of this honky tonk bar

And I’m thinkin’ ‘bout where I’d rather be

But I burned all my bridges

And I sunk all my ships

And I’m stranded at the edge of the sea”

Now that verse right there is about the saddest word picture I ever did hear. So be a Ben Franklin devotee, and not someone stuck in a sad old tune: build some bridges, save some pennies and dollars too, keep your boat in fine trim and set your sights upon the horizon. Then sing your own song.

Who-hoo, or as my friend Martha says, “Wooty-hoo!” She’s very Southern.

Why am I celebrating with such reckless abandon? My daughter just graduated with a doctoral degree in pharmacy!!!   She has a job. She’s moving out. I get a pay raise (in theory, at least).

Now to be a little less glib and a little more serious, it is a great milestone in both our lives. My son graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering last December as well. I am so pleased they have chosen two great career paths with job possibilities all over the country (world?). The third little nestling has been out on her own for some time working as a nursing aide while going through an RN program; her husband has a new job as an electrician and he is very excited about it.

Thirty years or so of blood, sweat and tears (not the old R&R band, but I did listen to “And When I Die” more than a few times through the years…as well as “You Make Me So Very Happy”). What a long strange trip it has been, and pardon me if I stop at this waypoint to enjoy the scenery.

These successes in my children’s lives give me such a great feeling. Many of you have graduates too, I’m sure. High school, college, and post graduates are in all my newsletters and Facebook communications. There’s even a kindergarten announcement or two as well. I hope you are enjoying a celebration, too.

For those of you who are looking down the road towards post-secondary education, you’re probably asking how, on earth, are you going to pay for it. To quote one more old tune from my youth: “It ain’t easy.”

I, like many, struggled with the question of where to put my savings dollars in my kids’ early childhood.   It is hard to know what the priority was between saving for retirement, paying the mortgage, or funding future education.   There is no clear general answer to this, but I will offer some guidelines that may be of help.

First, let’s not assume everyone needs a four-year college degree to “get ahead.”   The traditional trades are an excellent career path for many and now they are open to both genders as opposed to the expected gender roles of the 20th century. The country is facing a shortage of welders, plumbers, electricians and a/c technicians. It’s hard work and necessitates one having disability insurance in case physical health issues dictate a short working life. Two years at a junior college with some business courses wouldn’t hurt either.

But as to the question of what to pay first, and how to allocate those savings dollars in our early working years…I am a big proponent of paying yourself first. Obviously this isn’t absolutely literal, the government needs to get their taxes off the top or they will put you in the pokey. And if charitable giving isn’t high on the list it has a way of dropping off entirely.   That said, however, I have always encouraged my kids to save 10% of every dollar they receive from work, gifts or windfalls from the sky.   I think the first place to put these dollars is your 401(k) at work or in an IRA.   Next up for me was some college savings; in Florida we have the state-sponsored Florida Prepaid College Program. I bought it for all three of my kids and it was a great choice for us. It was not enough, however. The living expense of kids away at college was a drain on the mythical “discretionary income” for about a decade. A child to Pharmacy School for a doctorate (that’s eight total years of college) was an expense I did not foresee.   Graduate school was expensive…try $22,000 a year (+/-) in tuition on for size. Ouch.

And then the third choice for me was to pay the mortgage. This meant a couple of things to me: it meant I bought less rather than more house initially, it meant deferring car purchases, house renovations and other large outlays; it meant smaller vacations; and so on. We made lots of mistakes. We disagreed as a family on choices along the way.   But today we have arrived.   It’s a nice view.