After receiving an MBA from Ohio State University in 1974, Maris Ogg worked in the fast-paced, testosterone-laden world of trading before moving to the analytical side at a bank trust company.
Now, as president and founding principal of her own financial advisory firm Tower Bridge Advisors, she has a lesson to teach her clients: watch and wait.
This approach may seem conservative when compared to her roots on the trading desk, where her old-boys-network colleagues were out every night drinking and had their own hooks for their coats at the infamous Harry’s Steakhouse near Wall Street, but Ogg learned a lot during those years, including the belief that what matters most is helping her clients sleep at night.
“The economy is just starting to transition from being stimulated by the government to being self-sustaining,” she said in an interview last years. Despite what many would have Americans believe, the financial industry is not back to normal. Until jobs and housing sales get much stronger and small businesses begin growing revenue and hiring again, investors can’t breathe easy. Yes, the stock market has bounced back from its lows during the 2008 financial crisis, but it isn’t clear that the U.S. economy is growing on its own.
For one thing, unemployment is still high and there is still a shadow inventory of houses, Ogg said. And there is still a fervor among investors bordering on the irrational.
Over the last couple of weeks the stock market has corrected itself, something Ogg sees as a positive. The fact is that before the recent stock market downturn stocks looked over-valued, she said. The correction brought the market back into undervalued territory, which, she said, is healthier.
“I think the market got ahead of itself, expectations got ahead of themselves,” she said. “We would expect that the recovery would continue but I think people’s expectations got a little high for where we were in the cycle and the issues we are still facing.”
The recent downturn of the last few weeks has spooked investors and financial advisors are finding themselves doing a lot more hand holding. “The decline of 2008 is still fresh in investors’ minds,” so they may sell stocks that advisors think they should hold because they get scared. “My philosophy is that you have to be able to sleep at night. You have to get clients to the point they can be comfortable with their asset mix. This is a period in which it takes some work on the part of advisors to help clients work through what they’re facing.”
Counseling skills are key, she said. And advisors must call their clients to keep calm their fears: “It’s a good time to talk things through.”
The good news is that the stock market downturn has brought equities back to an undervalued level. This means there is another year or two of earnings gains, Ogg said. And companies are in great shape.
Ogg doesn’t believe the chaos in South Korea or Israel will have a long-term affect on global markets, but she is concerned about the level of debt in the United States and abroad. “In the long run valuations will be impacted by the level of debt every country is dealing with, including the U.S.,” she said.
Ogg foresees inflation as well as slower growth in the next five years as the U.S. government starts printing money to pay down its debt with cheaper dollars. The result: those that will retire in the next five years will get hit hard by inflation. We are already seeing the warning signs, she said, with commodity prices rising. “That is really hard for those living on a fixed income,” she said.
Ogg said that she expects a turning point in the next 12 months as yields rise, making the equity market seem more attractive. “The difficulty right now is that interest rates are so low that people are trying to invest to make income so they are investing down in quality or towards equities and they get pushed towards taking more risks because the near term returns of money market funds are so meager,” she said. “All of these strategies add more risk to portfolios. Advisors need to really try to have a balance and try to grow income and not have too much risk.”
The next five years will bring lots of changes from a yield standpoint, from an inflation standpoint, and from a market standpoint: “It’s important for advisors to stay on top of these moves so they can shift portfolios accordingly,” she said.
This leaves a lot on advisors’ plates right now. “The old buy-and-hold probably won’t work this time,” Ogg said.
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