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Dec
08
Bond Junk
Tags: Junk Bonds
This week completes another holiday tradition in Pennsylvania – deer hunting season.  You think I’m kidding - public schools close on the first day of deer hunting season in Pennsylvania, which runs about two weeks starting on the Monday following Thanksgiving. I have never been a deer hunter but do respect the passion / obsession of the sport.  It stirs the testosterone of a large contingent of our male population – that’s a good thing.  And, unlike bear, whitetail deer meat makes a fine bologna (if you are ever offered bear bologna, run the other way, it’s disgusting). I experienced a weekend in deer camp one season, which was an interesting social experience.  While there were some serious hunters in the cabin, there was also a fair...
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Nov
30
Flying On One Engine
I finally got around to watching the movie Sully last weekend (sorry, I'm not paying $30 for a movie ticket and popcorn to catch a new release).  It was at the top of my unwatched movie backlog and was excellent, but what else would you expect from an Eastwood-directed film featuring Tom Hanks?    The movie was based on the remarkable true story of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who championed a miraculous emergency landing of a fully disabled jet airliner on the Hudson River astride downtown Manhattan in January, 2009.  All 155 passengers and crew survived and were rescued within minutes of the forced water landing (Sully refused to call it a "crash landing"). On January 15, 2009, minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia airport,...
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Nov
22
Swiss Cheese
Happy Thanksgiving week.  Looking forward to visiting with our daughter Abby who is rolling in for some R&R from Pitt for a few days, staying just long enough for us to get re-adjusted to her presence before she up and leaves again. We have a micro-small family and so we don't experience the drama that many families dread on Thanksgiving day.  The best jokes about Thanksgiving center around family disfunction and overindulgence.  To wit: • "Thanksgiving is an emotional time. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they see only once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often." — Johnny Carson  • "I come from a family that considers gravy a beverage" - Erma Bombeck.  • "Thanksgiving is a magical time of year...
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Nov
17
Sayonara, Shingles
I am not a worrier by nature but admit to getting rattled recently when our trusted office cleaning professional was unable to work back-to-back weekends after contracting shingles.   Look, if the shingles can take down this tough self-employed business woman, I became quite concerned about Carrie's and my susceptibility to this horrible affliction. I have stories about the horror of shingles, but for whatever reason was not motivated to get vaccinated – until now.  Carrie and I both had the chicken pox illness, so we have the virus in our bones and the risk of shingles grows geometrically once you reach age 50. In my anxious state, we made a beeline to the CVS to get a shingles shot on a recent Sunday afternoon.  To my dismay (and good...
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Nov
10
Hershey Sensation
“If I wanted to watch grown men run around for ninety minutes failing to score, I’d just go to a nightclub”.  This was Jimmy Fallon’s joke during the last World Cup soccer tournament and it still makes me giggle. I never played soccer but have come to appreciate the skill, athleticism and conditioning of soccer players, men and women.   And also the passion (bordering on psychosis) of international soccer fans.  They make Philadelphia Eagle fans at Lincoln Field look like opera snobs in comparison.  As Joe Biden would say, world soccer is a “BFD” and I literally jumped off the couch (yelling at Carrie to get to the TV) a few weeks ago when the trailer to 60 Minutes featured a Hershey, Pennsylvania teenager referred to as the next...
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Nov
03
Trick or Treat
Last month I attended a thought-provoking seminar about the best practices when interacting with individuals dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one, a natural disaster or other personal trauma. The speaker – Amy Florian - is a professional psychologist, consultant and recognized expert on grief counseling.  She works with professionals to help them help their clients better deal with grief – and she was excellent. Unfortunately, as a financial planner, I am regularly in the uncomfortable situation of comforting clients in a moment of tragedy or crisis.   I think I am adequate in handling these situations, but I learned that I could use some more honing of my skills in this regard. The key takeaway is the need to empathize at...
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Oct
27
White Out
College football is pure stress relief for me and I am enjoying the current season.   My alma mater, James Madison University, is the reigning 1-AA champs, is ranked #1 in the nation and is sporting the longest winning streak in all of college football at eighteen games (jinx alert). My Pitt Panthers are rebuilding this year, but Penn State is on a roll - ranked #2 in the country in the 1-A flight as of this writing.  I had the good fortune to get invited by a good friend to attend the Penn State – Michigan game in Happy Valley last Saturday.   Penn State is regularly voted the #1 tailgating university in the country – and it's a well-earned title.  Their fans work hard to outdo themselves with elaborate tailgate parties every home...
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Oct
20
Happy Anniversary?
Hopefully you have seen the new Vietnam PBS special that aired a few weeks ago.  I have a history addiction, plus I am a big Ken Burns fan, so his highly anticipated new documentary raised high expectations – and it surpassed them. Before Burns' Vietnam, I professed to have a decent understanding of the Vietnam war and its divisive impact on the country.  I was way wrong.  This fair and balanced documentary masterfully weaves together a complicated, cynical and disturbing story; I better understand why our country changed permanently because of it. One of the most fascinating elements was the numerous interviews with North Vietnamese military officers, soldiers and citizens, which added a richness and humanity to the story. It turns...
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Oct
13
The Lockbox
York had an exciting visitor this week.  Steve Case, billionaire venture capitalist and founder of AOL, was in town as part of his nationwide "Rise of the Rest" tour, promoting start-up businesses and encouraging more venture capital investment in places like south central Pennsylvania, not just Silicon Valley.   Case toured a new robotics technology school and a fiber optic company in York.  He then presided over a "Shark Tank" style competition in Harrisburg with several entrepreneurs from Lancaster, York and Harrisburg.  The lone York contestant – Device Events – won the pitch and a $100,000 investment in the business from Case personally! Congratulations to Madris Tomas, the owner of Device Events for doing York proud.  May it...
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Oct
06
Into The Great Wide Open
A helluva week.  Poor folks starving in what is left of Puerto Rico and yet another horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.   And then the “heartbreaking” news that Tom Petty passed away suddenly of a heart attack. I can’t easily articulate the emotions stoked by devastating weather events and mass murder.  I can more easily wrap my mind around the loss of a rock music legend, an icon with whom you grew up like the brilliant Mr. Petty.  Carrie, Abby and I were all big fans. Have you noticed that aging rock musicians are dropping like flies?   Just last month, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, one the all-time great bands, passed (in his late 60s) and his death / career was so under reported in the press.    I’m speculating of course, but the...
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Sep
29
Harvey And Rocky
The Sutherland household is nearing the two-year mark rearing our pet tabby cats and business mascots, Harvey and Rocky.   My original scheme was to incorporate our young felines into our practice, have them charm clients visiting our office to enhance their experience – and then deduct their cat food and toys as a business expense. Ah, the best laid plans.  Carrie has concluded our neurotic cats were barn / feral born, because while they are friendly (to us), well-trained pets at home, they are ultra-introverted and won't tolerate strangers in the house, forget the same room.   A second problem is the surprising pervasiveness of cat allergies, so dander in the office is not good.   Lastly, they are complete home bodies and petrified of...
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Sep
22
Meeting Minutes
I attended an investment / planning conference in Dallas last week to work on our practice.   I try to fly Southwest Airlines whenever I can.  I rarely have a bad experience with Southwest (I will give them a pass for the ninety minutes I sat on the airport tarmac in a crowded hot plane after midnight waiting to deplane last year at BWI - who's perfect?). During the final descent on our flight home last week, a flight attendant announced there was a special guest on board and it was his birthday.   She said the man turned ninety-two years old today and this was his first-ever flight.  Of course, the entire plane erupts in rowdy applause and is poised to sing when the attendant remarks the special guest is in fact our pilot. Sure it's...
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Sep
15
What Dontcha Want?
There's a great scene in the recent modern western movie "Hell or High Water" in which two Texas Rangers walk into the T Bone Cafe, a dive diner in a dusty little Texas town for lunch. They sit down and a crusty old waitress waddles over and growls, "What dontcha want?".  Perplexed, the lawmen look at the menu and don't speak up fast enough to suit her and she barks:  "I have worked here forty-four years and no one has ever ordered anything but the T bone steak and baked potato.  So either you don't want the corn on the cob or you don't want the green beans as a side, so what dontcha want?"   The lawmen, in unison, meekly say "the green beans" and she repeats their order as "T bone steak, medium rare...". One mistakenly tries to change...
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Sep
08
Dirty Beer Glass?
Tags: LIBOR
Squeezed between two massive hurricanes, I trust everyone had a relaxing Labor Day weekend.  Carrie and I sure did.  We endeavor to eat hard shell steamed crabs at least once a summer and we finally indulged ourselves over the weekend with good friends. Now cold beer goes with steamed hard shell crabs like peanut butter goes with jelly.  I have been known to enjoy a beer when eating crabs and also when I am not.  So I recently read with keen interest the pervasiveness of dirty glassware at many watering holes that is tainting the taste of your favorite malted beverage.   Where has this information been hiding? Any number of contaminants, from cleaning detergent residue to fingerprints, often lace the insides of bar glassware.  They alter...
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Sep
01
Texas-Sized Risk – Management
The pictures coming out of Texas this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are horrifying. "But for the grace of God…" pops into mind as you watch these helpless people deal with the unfathomable. I know Texas does everything big, but the magnitude of the storm and the flood event is ridiculous - and historical.  After fifty inches (!) of rainfall in some areas of southern Texas, it is already being called the largest rain event in the history of the U.S.  What would Noah say? Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane, the fastest storm ever to move from tropical depression to Cat 4 hurricane status.  For perspective, Katrina destroyed the Louisiana coast in 2005 as a Cat 3 storm. Back to the bigness...
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Aug
25
Eclipse Investing
I enjoy The Big Bang Theory, the sitcom about the science nerds trying to figure out life outside of the laboratory.   Sheldon, Howard, Leonard and Raj – and their ilk- sure had their day in the sun (so to speak) on Monday with the total solar eclipse that brought national commerce to a halt for a couple of hours. On Monday afternoon, the curiosity got the best of me and I too stopped working and stepped outside to peer through sci-fi glasses and experienced a cool spectacle.  Unfortunately, central Pennsylvania witnessed only about 70% coverage and the shadow it cast didn't even match a normal cloud.  However, with pictures like the one below it must have been a sensational show if you were looking up along the path of the total...
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Aug
18
Want to Own a Toll Road?
I had a frustrating experience last week.  Carrie and I were having dinner in a restaurant, ran into a friend, made the mistake of mentioning the upcoming Pitt – Penn State football game and how excited I was for the rematch (Pitt won last year in an exciting finish).  He, like many Penn State football fans are prone to do, launched into a condescending diatribe that Pitt will be wiped off the field this year, how lucky they were to win last year and how Penn State views the Pitt game as an easy tune up game for their Big Ten conference schedule.  I could not get a word in edgewise and, if we weren't in a public setting, I'm thinking he would have screamed "WE ARE" in my face.  I love talking college football, but, honestly, it is not...
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Aug
11
Alternative Minimum Thinking
I made time to read a book on vacation that has been sitting on top of my reading stack since it was published last fall: "The Ground Swallowed Them Up", by Scott Mingus, Sr.  It is gripping history about the Underground Railroad and the central role that York County played in helping escaping slaves to freedom before the Civil War.  It is full of local human interest stories, both inspiring and gut-wrenching.  As I have attested before, acre-for-acre, more history has happened in York County, Pennsylvania than most anywhere in the country.  The Underground Railroad story is more evidence to the case. York County was a natural passageway for runaway slaves on their dangerous journey north across the Mason Dixon line to freedom (they...
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Aug
04
Summer School
I remember summers during college that involved painting houses, waiting tables and other menial jobs to replenish my spending money.   Times sure have changed.  Students today spend their summer taking classes towards multiple degrees, traveling / studying internationally and undertaking internships.  Some even work, although, to be fair, finding meaningful part-time summer work in this economy is much harder than a generation or two ago. I'm no fogey - I like the evolution of college summers.   While young people do need to develop a work ethic, the new summer regimen is not all play and it helps young people learn and mature even faster.  Our rug rat, Abby had this experience this summer.   A rising senior at Pitt, she was selected...
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Jul
27
VIXen
Did you catch the final round of the British Open golf tournament last Sunday?  What a wild, historical finish.  Jordan Spieth, the twenty-three year old American golf phenom (who looks more and more like the next Jack Nicklaus) led comfortably after the first three rounds. On Sunday, however, he felt the pressure – he posted four bogeys on the front nine to blow the lead and, then on the thirteenth tee, the wheels came completely off the cart. Spieth came to the 13th tee tied for the lead when he hit what the television commentator referred it as the worst tee shot in the history of tournament golf – ouch! Per the graphic above, Spieth hit his tee shot so far to the right of the fairway (1) that the ball hit a fan in the head that...
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Jul
21
A Man Is Not A Plan
Back from a great vacation – and, of course, a mountain of work.  That is the classic vacation conundrum, right? For years now, we have been fascinated watching an Osprey family raise their family from our porch overlooking a pond in Bethany Beach, Delaware.   This year's vacation was no exception.  In fact, I took the picture below of this handsome Osprey family last week.  If you look carefully, you can see the small heads of two fledglings just above the nest line. Also known as a "fish hawk", the Osprey is a super cool raptor and they are flourishing all over the mid-Atlantic (DDT almost wiped them out decades ago). The Osprey is one of a number of bird species that "mate for life".   However, when you drill down on this term, you...
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Jul
14
Random Summer Thoughts
Greetings from summer vacation.  I am taking some much needed R&R in Bethany Beach, Delaware this week (July 10th) to visit with family and good friends to recharge, so this blog note was written in the future. I am taking advantage of vacation to clear some random thoughts out of my head about an array of wealth management topics that seem important (at least to me) and hopefully are interesting for you to ponder as well. ·         Per J.P. Morgan, this decade has the chance to be the first since 1850 (before the Civil War!) without an economic recession – thirty months to go.  Furthermore, if the current economic expansion, now entering its ninth year, can hold on for two more years, it will be the longest growth cycle in US...
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Jul
07
Thank You Notes
He is not everyone's favorite cup of tea, but I really like Jimmy Fallon as host of the Tonight Show.  One of his funny recurring memes is the "Thank You Notes" segment in which he extends gratitude for many unusual things.  For example, Fallon writes "Thank you urologists and proctologists for being the number one and number two doctors in the world".   And "Thank you, moss, for being toupees for rocks".  By the way, for geezers like me who don't see 11:30PM anymore, there's a Tonight Show app to watch during waking hours. Tonight Show Thank You Notes Turning the corner into the second half of 2017, after yet another stellar leg of this historic stock market run in 1H17, I too am feeling gratitude, so let me write a few "thank you"...
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Jun
30
Elder Care Landmine
This week's blog marks the end of two full years of our weekly notes composed for our valued clients, friends and supporters.  We posted our first blog note during the first week of July, 2015.  Since then, our notes have covered an eclectic brew of wealth management topics; we do appreciate the nice feedback we routinely receive on our commentary.  We are just getting warmed up, so look for our mid-year investment outlook blog next week to kick off year three. And visit our website at www.harvrock.com and select the Wealth Chatter link to see the full archive of all our past blog posts, catalogued by subject. While visiting our website, click the tab labeled Planning Concepts and find reams of financial planning summaries...
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Jun
23
Two Men And A Tractor
I don't know about you, but self-promotion does not come naturally to me.  However, in this age of social media, a business owner cannot afford to not devote quality time on new ways to market their business and effectively reach their target prospect audience. Social media is changing traditional marketing and business owners are being forced to reinvent their marketing strategies and that certainly applies to our wealth management practice.  We now have a good website (see for yourself at www.harvrock.com), social media pages, weekly blog post and now……a video commercial!   You want a tough project?  Try to assemble a thirty-second commercial about what you do and why someone should hire you to do it for them.   Talk about focusing...
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Jun
16
Millennial Finance
Did we ever have an excellent open house event at our office in downtown York last week.   We used the excuse of adding our two new team members – Mel and Bryce – to throw an early summer party getting out in front of all the high school graduations and vacation season. The original plan was an outdoor affair in our courtyard, but, despite promising weather forecasts to the contrary, we had an old-fashioned rain-out.   Our back up plan was to move the party inside, spread out among our office, hall and building lobby, which we did and it turned out just grand.   We hosted seventy clients, friends and professionals; everyone seemed to have a really good time.   A big thank you to everyone for their support. Even better, at the event I...
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Jun
09
What the Hell is Bitcoin?
Tags: Bitcoin
How about the news this week from the owner of the Three Mile Island ("TMI") nuclear power plant that it is slated to close in 2019?!  I was just a teenager in Virginia when one of TMI's nuclear reactors partially melted down in March 1979.   I remember paying close attention to the near-disaster and there was an international spotlight on South Central Pennsylvania for a spell.  TMI represented the most serious nuclear accident in history – until Chernobyl and the Japanese tsunami incidents eclipsed it. The story of the TMI nuclear accident is stranger than fiction, full of melodrama with many actors displaying various degrees of competence.   Bruce Springsteen even wrote an excellent song about the stress of the forced evacuation of the...
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Jun
02
Worst Retirement Ever
"I went to a place to eat.  It said 'breakfast any time.'  So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance." "Why is it a penny for your thoughts, but you have to put two cents in?  Somebody's making a penny." I've been getting into astronomy, so I installed a skylight.  The people who live above me are furious." One of my favorite stand-up comedians is Stephen Wright.  His sardonic, arid-dry comedic wit makes you laugh and think at the same time.   All the jokes in this note belong to Wright, which are strategically placed to help lighten up a serious topic:  successfully timing your retirement. As a retirement planning specialist, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to best help folks financially prepare to pull the rip cord...
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May
26
Memorial Day
Tags: Medicare
If you are reading this note on or around Memorial Day, I hope you are enjoying a relaxing holiday weekend. My understanding of Memorial Day as a perfectly timed long weekend forever changed when I had the opportunity to visit the D-Day invasion beaches at Normandy France a few years ago.   Right after high school graduation, my daughter Abby smartly asked us is if she could join some fellow honor choir members travelling to France to participate in a 75th D-Day anniversary commemoration.  Her mother and father said yes but insisted on tagging along.   Abby and six hundred other ad hoc choir members performed a choral concert at La Madeleine, a magnificent church in Paris that Napoleon constructed as a temple to his army.  The next...
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May
19
Whine And Cheese
Tags: Puerto Rico
Carrie and I survived I-95 and visited close friends in Richmond this past weekend.  We are Virginia natives, but it was our first trip to Richmond in over thirty years (!) and it is much nicer now than I recollect.  It is a vibrant city with a unique history and I look forward to a return visit soon. As part of our sightseeing, I was on a quest to see the grave of Dr. Daniel Norton located in a Richmond cemetery.  While micro-brewery stops waylaid the mission, I did find this picture of his tombstone online and spared my hosts the tedium of searching a cemetery for a single tombstone. Why would I have an interest in seeing this dude's unremarkable gravesite you ask?  Well, I read a rather remarkable book a few years ago – The Wild Vine...
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May
12
French Toast
Tags: France
I watched the Kentucky Derby last weekend with renewed vigor.   Mel, one of our new team members, has a sister who owns a horse boarding / training farm in Lexington, Kentucky.   One of the pre-race favorites, Irish War Cry, was boarded on her farm as a colt and it made the race all the more interesting Fortunately, I did not wager on the handsome steed because he finished a disappointing tenth.  It rained most of the day pre-race and the track was a sloppy mess.   Almost Dreaming jumped to the front of the pack early and pressed on to win an exciting race. Mel later learned that Irish War Cry had not run on a sloppy track and / or did not like the track conditions.  Which, of course, impels a reference to the classic Seinfeld scene...
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May
05
Mea Culpa
It seems like spring pollen allergy season is getting worse every year.   I am fortunate not to have allergies, but wife Carrie and daughter Abby sure do and they seem to be suffering at new levels this spring.  Sure takes the fun out of blooming flowers and trees. And I was recently speaking with one of our clients, who happens to be an orthodontist, and asked him why is it that every other kids’ mouth these days has a mess for teeth and needs braces. His answer was interesting:  The human mouth is genetically getting smaller, but teeth, which were designed for biting meat off woolly mammoth bones, are not and thus can easily get misaligned.    While human evolution has been a boon to his practice, a budding technology is buffeting...
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Apr
28
A Dropped Socket
I settled into my recliner one evening this week to watch one of my favorite shows, American Experience on PBS, and return some e-mails – and was quickly forced to put the laptop down and watch a surreal story unfold that I had never heard before – the explosion of the Titan II missile in Arkansas in September 1980.  It was a scary near-miss nuclear disaster that made Three Mile Island (which transpired just eighteen months prior) look like a picnic. The story was reported on at the time, but the Air Force worked feverishly to cover up the details and the whole story is not well known. Do watch the show - titled Command and Control - released this past January, but let me pique your interest with a digest.  One of eighteen...
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Apr
21
More of Everything
Congratulations to all my accounting / tax friends on completing another tax season this week.  I read a great quote this week: "If you want to teach your children about taxes, eat 30% of their ice cream".  One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is when Jerry and Elaine are flying somewhere and Jerry gets upgraded to first class while Elaine gets stuck in coach.  While poor Elaine is mired in misery, Jerry gets seated in luxury next to a super model.  They enjoy hot towels, cocktails, a fine dinner and a hot fudge sundae together.  When asked by the flight attendant if they need anything else, in exultation, Jerry blurts out "more of everything"! "More of everything" fits the headline news this week that New York signed into law the...
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Apr
14
The Problem with Average
This is my first book report in quite a while.  I have a client, let’s call him “Alan”, who sees the world like I do.   He recently endorsed a new book – The End of Average by Dr. Todd Rose - and I am better for having read it.   Let me share the crux of the book’s message and how it connects with the financial planning work we do for our clients. The book starts as a history lesson (shocking I would find that interesting, I know) and a great anecdote.  Right after WWII, the US Air Force was testing new fighter jets and dealing with a spate of unexplained crashes – seventeen in just one day! – that were perplexing to the brass because it was not due to mechanical failures. Backing up, starting in the 1920s all military jet cockpits had...
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Apr
07
Don’t Get ROB’d
The start of the 2017 baseball season this week has inspired me to reveal a personal secret, so long as you as you keep it between us. This Saturday (April 8th) I will participate in the 29th annual Equitable Rotisserie League fantasy baseball auction.  I am one of the eight founding members (of twelve team owners).   Equitable was the name of the bank in downtown Baltimore at which a gaggle of geeks working in the bank's accounting department formed our fantasy league back in April, 1989.     For the uninitiated, Rotisserie baseball is the original fantasy sport.  We are purists, hueing to the original Rotisserie handbook rules as closely as possible.  And it does interfere with team loyalty.  I have been a diehard Orioles fan for...
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Mar
31
Addition By Addition
I have always liked the maxim "addition by subtraction" – rid yourself of toxic people or things around you and it can allow you to regain your mojo and prosper again. Well, Harvest Rock Advisors is building on our momentum by adding more talent to our team now, not later. The "subtraction" will hopefully come from lifting the ceiling of complexity that is settling over our practice as we strive to serve clients well, build our brand as a premier local wealth services firm, grow, and better manage the mind-boggling number of tasks it takes to run a boutique independent wealth services firm these days. Earlier this month, two fellow Cambridge Investment Research professionals, Mel Trumble and Bryce Schafer joined the Harvest Rock...
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Mar
24
Epic Fail
Did you see happen to see the news about the Wheel of Fortune episode this week now being referred to as the "epic fail".  Well, at least in the game show world.   In this particular show, the word puzzle game was the classic Broadway play and movie "Streetcar Named Desire" and contestant "Kevin" was in the driver's seat.  He had the wheel, had just correctly guessed the penultimate letter in the puzzle and was down to one spin to guess the final letter.  All that was left to solve the puzzle was an unguarded layup – the "M" in "Named".  So what does rocket scientist Kevin do?   After a nice $650 wheel spin, he announces with confidence the letter "K" - A Streetcar Naked Desire".  After the next contestant slam dunks the letter "M" for...
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Mar
17
Ransomware
I am sadly running low on life milestones to celebrate with our daughter Abby; we just celebrated a major one last Sunday – her 21st birthday.   Now, as (bad) luck would have it, her birthday fell on the Sunday at the end of her spring break.  So Carrie and I did what any immature parent would do:  We followed Abby back to Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon so she could buy us a drink!  We had a fun twenty-hour jaunt across the commonwealth and back celebrating her rolling passage into adulthood.  A regular theme of the parental guidance we have conveyed to Abby references Woody Allen's famous quote: "80% of success (in life) is just showing up".   In other words, get out and put yourself in public situations to create opportunities for good...
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Mar
10
Less Is More – Winning Investment Defense
Last week we had the privilege of hosting leaders from the York County History Center at our office to share the organization’s vision to erect a grand new history museum in downtown York.  It was an intentionally small group of professionals and engaged citizens in the community; it turned out to be a nice evening all around. At present, “YCHC” owns and manages a couple-hundred thousand square feet of museum space across multiple facilities around the city—on par with a major U.S. city - but it is sprawling and woefully inefficient to maintain. As part of their strategic plan, YCHC purchased the old MetEd power steam plant downtown and is poised to start a capital campaign to construct what should become one of the more interesting...
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Mar
03
IRA Bloopers
Maybe I'm getting out more or perhaps it was a boon year for good movies, but it seems there was more interest in the Academy Awards show this year.  I heard of red carpet parties and plenty of discussion handicapping the Oscar candidates.  And that was BEFORE the epic ballot screw up.  During the show last Sunday night, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (forever "Bonnie and Clyde" to me) were on stage to announce, arguably, the most prestigious Oscar award, Best Picture.  Beatty opened the sealed envelope, looked befuddled, hesitated, consulted with Dunaway in confusion and then they tepidly declared La La Land the winner.  As the elated La La Land team bounded up on the stage and accepted the honor, the producers soon realized the...
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Feb
24
Climatology
How about this weather?   We didn’t make any cold weather escape plans this winter and it looks like we won’t be penalized for it.   Once baseball spring training has begun, any cold snaps and/or snow events are much easier to tolerate. I often use a good weather metaphor in our practice:  as an investment advisor, I serve as an investment climatologist more than a weatherman.   The definition of climatology is the science of studying weather conditions averaged over a period of time. We analyze the investment climate in terms of economic, fiscal, monetary, financial, political and other macro-level factors to help make decisions about the direction of future investment patterns, shifting our focus away from the daily capital market...
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Feb
17
Dippy The Dinosaur
Last weekend we made our regular pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to visit our daughter Abby at Pitt and play in our favorite city. Abby now works at the Carnegie Art and Natural History Museum.  We got a private tour of one of the premier museum complexes in the country and stumbled on the story of Dippy the Dinosaur, another interesting chapter in the storied life of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie's epic bootstraps story, a Scottish immigrant rising from abject poverty to become one of the richest men in history, reads like fiction.  By the way, at its peak value, in today's dollars, Carnegie's net worth dwarfed the fortunes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. After building the world's largest steel company, Carnegie sold it to JP Morgan for a...
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Feb
10
Ringling Brothers And The Dow
I was saddened (but not surprised) about the recent news that Ringing Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is shutting down after 133 years.  The circus was formed by the Ringling family in Wisconsin in 1882.   It merged with the Phineas Barnum's circus in 1884 and became a cornerstone of Americana for generations. I recall seeing the Ringling Brothers circus as a kid and we enjoyed taking our daughter Abby to see it as well – good solid family entertainment. Cash flow troubles due to high operating costs, changing consumer tastes and hectoring from animal rights groups all have been cited as adverse business factors that lowered the curtain on Ringling Brothers, but the back story is more revealing.   The phenomenal success of Cirque...
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Feb
03
Ode to the Oracle From Omaha
This week I attended an investment conference and was re-introduced to a funny financial planning video that that is too good not to share.   A Day in the Life of a Financial Planner Unfortunately, I have met this cartoon prospect profile more than once.  It rings true to me and is a sad commentary about we are not teaching our kids financial life skills in high school and that personal finance is not a required part of a liberal arts college curriculum.   This past Monday, HBO aired a most excellent documentary on the life of Warren Buffett, arguably the greatest investor of all time.   Mr. Buffett, his family and lifelong business partner Charlie Unger were all interviewed in depth, telling Buffett's story in a very personal way....
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Jan
27
Arrested Development
One of the all-time funniest television sitcoms is Arrested Development.  First aired in 2003, it ran for three seasons, took a hiatus and Netflix rolled out a fourth season in 2013.  Good sitcoms are stress relief for me and I'm now re-watching this laugh-a-minute series; I am also jazzed about the announcement of a new fifth season that will air later in 2017.  My favorite segment features Scott Baio playing attorney Bob Loblaw (say that several times fast).  In one hilarious scene, he states that he must stay home one evening to compose his Bob Loblaw law blog. Bob and Barb Loblaw is now our official sample client in our financial planning practice.    A shout out to my daughter Abby for introducing me to the show a couple years...
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Jan
20
Hot Chocolate Investing
I ran across a funny headline on the newswire this week about a new scheme by the most nefarious investment con man in history, Bernie Madoff.    Madoff has been busy in prison, crafting a strategy to successfully corner the market for hot chocolate inside the North Carolina federal prison in which he is serving what is, for all intents and purpose, a life sentence. Per the report, Madoff, nearing eighty years old, purchases every pack of Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix in the prison’s commissary and then sells it in the prison yard at a tidy profit.   Per one source, “if you want hot chocolate, you have to go through Bernie”.   Federal prison is the ultimate regulated environment and yet capitalism still can’t be snuffed out – funny....
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Jan
13
National Champs!
The blog title is not what you may think.   I know, there was a helluva NCAA 1-A football championship game this past Monday night, with Clemson beating Alabama in thrilling fashion.  The OTHER major college football championship game, however, was played last Saturday in a Dallas, Texas featuring my alma mater, James Madison University.    JMU handily beat Youngstown State 28-7 and was crowned 2016 1-AA national champs.  Their only loss this past season was to 1-A North Carolina and they dominated their 1-AA opponents all year.   My wife Carrie, daughter Abby and I all flew to Dallas to attend the game and it truly was a memorable experience.   Well, except for tailgating at 8:00AM in ten-degree weather – in Dallas!   The scene on...
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Jan
06
Hindsight is 50 - 50
I trust everyone is off to a nice start to 2017; all the best to you and yours for an outstanding year. Not sure about you, but I enjoy a good malapropism and a mixed metaphor.  There is actually a term – malaphor – to describe the fusion of these two forms of jumbled English.   “Is a bear Catholic?”, and “Fish or get off the pot” are a couple malaphors I like to utter to draw an amused response.   The king of the malaphor was, of course, the great Yogi Berra.  Here’s a just a couple of his pearls: “We made too many wrong mistakes.” “He hits from both sides of the plate.  He’s amphibious.” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” But my all-time favorite comes from Magic Johnson, the hall-of-fame basketball player....
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Dec
30
Is It Debit or Credit?
Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season.  In this final blog post of the year, I, like many, officially put a fork into 2016 – what a wild and woolly year.   Despite some stiff industry headwinds, we eked out a solid year in our practice, with nice growth, some compelling new wealth solutions and an enhanced client service model – but it was pockmarked with a lot of needless frustration caused by goofy industry forces.   We did suffer one last personal zinger to end the year.  Our daughter Abigail is an art / history major at Pitt and this fall she landed a sweet job at the Carnegie Art Museum, one of the finest museums in the country.   The proud parent part is all well and good, but not the part where Abby had to leave York...
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Dec
19
Trump Bump
Some of the best times are the unscripted ones.   Last Friday, Carrie and I ran down to our alma mater, James Madison University, to watch JMU host a NCAA quarterfinal playoff football game.  After JMU thrashed their opponent 65-7, we stayed overnight and worked our way back to York, but we were not in a hurry.    UPDATE:  JMU is playing in the 1-AA national title game on January 7 after trouncing #1 North Dakota State—go Dukes! I have always wanted to visit the Cedar Creek National Battlefield in Middletown, Virginia, located in the northern Shenandoah Valley, just south of Winchester.  I convinced Carrie to swing by for a "quick" visit on the ride home.  Cedar Creek was a pivotal Civil War battle fought in October 1864, barely won...
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Dec
09
Domicile Planning
We took a detour returning from a Pitt game this fall and stopped in to visit Fallingwater for the first time.  Fallingwater is the famous mountain home designed and erected by the renown architect Frank Lloyd Wright during the Depression.  It is located about 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in a picturesque corner of Pennsylvania.  As the picture I took below will attest, it is definitely worth a visit.   In fact, I learned that Fallingwater is on the Smithsonian Institute's list of "28 places to visit before you die" - I don't disagree. After dragging my wonderful wife to a cold football game the night before, my goal was to rebuild some spousal points by spending the morning touring a vacation home museum - without complaint....
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Dec
02
Unaffordable Care Act Planning, Part II
Tags: ACA; Obamabcare
I wrote about the looming 2017 individual health insurance plan crisis a few weeks ago – and was too optimistic.   If you have individual health insurance and have not focused in on your 2017 coverage, run to your computer now and visit Healthcare.gov to get up to speed - the enrollment deadline for individual coverage starting January 1st, 2017 is December 15th. Health insurance premiums for 2017 Affordable Care Act ("ACA") health plans were published for South Central Pennsylvania last month and the rates are worse than awful.  My sense is that, for some reason, our region fared worse than other Pennsylvania insurance markets, especially Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  Despite our reputation as "Pennsyltucky", South Central...
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Nov
23
Thanks Gifting
With all due respect to the Pilgrims and their abundant autumn harvest of 1621, the Thanksgiving holiday (my favorite) traces its formative roots to York.    To be sure, the first national day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed by the nation's first organized government in York (towne) on November 1st, 1777, to be celebrated on Thursday, December 18, 1777. The proclamation was composed by Continental Congress member Samuel Adams, better known as the "Father of the American Revolution" (and a pretty good beer brand).  It advocated a day of public thanksgiving among all the states in the confederation to celebrate the key military victory over the British at Saratoga, New York in October 1777. On December 18th, General George Washington...
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Nov
18
Remember Marcellus Shale?
I took a fun field trip to visit a natural gas well pad last week in Western Pennsylvania.  It was a nostalgic trip for me to revisit a gas well site, more on that below. I took the picture shown below last week during my visit to see operating Marcellus horizontal wells on a well pad fifty miles north of Pittsburgh.  Shown are three (of four) lateral gas well heads (the red apparatus is the wellhead and is called a "Christmas tree").   Each lateral well extends out more than one mile from the well pad!  Horizontal drilling has been aptly coined "squeezing gas from a rock". These wells sit on a five-acre pad which can collectively drain up to one-thousand acres of natural gas.  Horizontal drilling is more aesthetically friendly than...
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Nov
11
Earthquake
On Election night, I had a nice dinner out with my wife Carrie and settled in to watch the election results.  I had no interest in witnessing the expected coronation of Hillary Clinton.   I considered the presidential race to be officially over after the Republic convention last July and had resigned myself to years of enduring Bill Clinton's indiscretions and endless Clinton Global Foundation congressional hearings. For the record, I voted early Tuesday but left the top ballot blank, out of utter contempt for two awful choices and instead turned my attention to the down ballot contests. My interest Tuesday evening was focused solely on the outcome of the tight US Senate contest.  From an economic / investment point of view, divided...
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Nov
04
Unaffordable Care Act
It has been a paradoxical week for the Cubs.  They finally won the World Series in an epic series this week, which brought great joy to the city of Chicago (which could use some good news). But sad on another level because their championship drought is no longer a national phenomenon.   The Cubs are now just a team that has a pedestrian one championship in 109 years – big whoop.   Anyone want to buy my Cubs cap?  It truly has been a sad couple of weeks for many folks receiving their 2017 individual health insurance premium notices.  If your current policy is not cancelled for 2017, the premiums are likely spiking to dizzy new heights, as many feared would happen earlier this year. They say your first wealth is your health.  Indeed, it...
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Oct
27
Lovable Losers
What a terrific World Series matchup this season.  The two teams, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, who have played a combined 174 seasons without a World Series championship, square off this week in the 2016 World Series.  One of these historic streaks must come to end soon. The Cubs hold the most ignominious record in all of sports, the longest non-championship streak, which now stands at 108 years.  In fact, the Cubs last won a Word Series in 1908, six years before their home field, Wrigley was even built – remarkable. Cleveland has been inept in its own right, last winning the World Series in 1948.  One player from the Cleveland team is still alive giving interviews about the ’48 Series – at age 95! The Cubs’ multiple...
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Oct
21
Have You Seen My COLA?
Hope everyone is enjoying the nicest Indian Summer weather I can remember.  There's no finer place to live than south central Pennsylvania in the fall.  And my Pitt Panthers are an entertaining 4-2 this season, but away games at Clemson and Miami loom in November (gulp). For the second consecutive year, however, October has brought anguish for senior citizens eager for an upward adjustment in their Social Security benefit checks in 2017. This week, the Social Security Administration announced the 2017 cost of living ("COLA") benefit increase for 2017 and it's an ugly 0.3%.  This comes on the heels of a 0.0% increase for 2016.  Wasn't 0.0% Bluto's grade point average in Animal House?  Neither is good. COLA escalators on Social Security...
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Oct
14
Elvis Meets Nixon And Living Trusts
I had the pleasure of seeing the new movie Elvis and Nixon several weeks ago and give it five stars for its historical entertainment value. This is one of those movies that would have been decidedly stupid if Elvis had not actually pulled up to the White House gate, hopped out of his limousine and insisted on hand-delivering a private note to President Nixon asserting it had national security implications.  Elvis actually did that very thing in December 1970. It turns out Elvis was concerned about the drug epidemic enveloping the nation's youth at the time and he wanted to be appointed a "federal agent at large" (I'm not kidding) and go undercover to help interdict the drug trade.  Without giving away the entertaining back story, Elvis...
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Oct
07
Bad Behavior
Tags: investments
There is so much positive momentum happening in downtown York right now.  Everywhere you turn there is private investment underway all over the central business district. Just this week, the Yorktowne Hotel was awarded a ten-million dollar state grant to help fund a major renovation project.  New apartments, retail, restaurants and microbreweries are sprouting up all over downtown and there is a palpable enthusiasm afoot. When we were looking for our new office location back in the summer of 2013, I was determined to find space that was unique, that ideally enhanced our client experience.  I really liked the idea of a downtown office, but private client parking was non-negotiable. So when I saw our current office, I was sold at first...
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Sep
30
Election Investing Musings
Last weekend, Carrie and I took off to our happy place, the Delaware shore, for a couple days of late summer beach decompression time.  Or so I thought.  I was having a nice weekend until we came out of a restaurant Sunday afternoon in Dewey Beach to find a parking ticket on our windshield - for parking in the wrong direction in a parking lot space!  It was a $30 citation and I was fit to be tied.  The parking lot was half-empty, there was no signage and I have parked in a similar fashion for over thirty-five years without an issue. What the #?!*) is the deal with reverse parking in a parking lot?   I did some homework and learned that parking the wrong way on a street is in fact considered a safety violation at night due to the rear...
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Sep
23
Get the Sensation
I had the privilege of joining the board of directors of the York County History Center this month.  YCHC is a well-run, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of York County, Pennsylvania.  That's no small task - York County has a rich and diverse story dating all the way back to 1741.  As a bona fide history geek, I am excited to help lead the organization to accomplish a major capital project over the next few years, important both to the organization and the York community.  Check out their website at yorkhistorycenter.org and consider a membership. Here is yet another history nugget about York.  It is often referred to as the nation's snack food capital, with a long history of food production,...
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Sep
15
Don’t Waste Youth On The Young – The Magic of Compounding
Can you believe it has been fifteen years since 9-11?   It seems like yesterday we were living out a horrific, out-of-body experience on a late summer Tuesday morning.  Is it me or does every September 11th seem to record beautiful weather, just like that fateful day fifteen years ago?  This past Sunday the 11th was another glorious weather day, at least in Pennsylvania. The generation prior to mine all knew their precise location when they got word that President Kennedy was assassinated.   My generation knows their precise location when we got word of the first airplane hitting the North World Trade Center tower at 8:46 on 9/11/01. I was sitting in a professional education seminar at a hotel in Harrisburg when someone opened the door...
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Sep
09
Bracketology
I knocked off two travel bucket list destinations in one trip last week:  Hilton Head Island and Savannah.  I highly recommend them both, for different reasons. Hilton Head is a beautifully designed, relaxed beach resort noticeably lacking the commercial tackiness of many mid-Atlantic beaches.   It would make a wonderful retirement nexus, but the summers are Florida-brutal hot, so keep the Pennsylvania bungalow. Savannah is a beautiful city and reeks of history.  It is a port town founded in 1733, eight years before Baltimore's Fells Point (my favorite port).   It is a convenient Uber ride from Hilton Head so you can better "participate" in their colorful bar/restaurant district.   Many of the watering holes are housed in old cotton...
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Sep
02
Pushing On A String
Tags: economics
Quick, name the American who just won the decathlon at the 2016 Olympics this month for the second consecutive time?   Ashton Eaton is the trivia question answer and the lack of media attention regarding his remarkable accomplishment in our sports-obsessed society is downright odd. I admit that I can't muster up interest in the Olympics like I used to.  Partly due to my waning interest in spectator sports in general (still love my college football), but also the corruption, the drugs and outright silly number of "sporting" events.  Dressage is a sport, but not baseball?   Give me a break. Still, Eaton's accomplishment is astounding.   Only two other men have won the Olympic decathlon in back-to-back in its modern form (1912), the first...
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Aug
26
Back to School
Some of you may recall the gnashing of teeth in a recent blog note about having to move my daughter Abby into her new upper floor college apartment in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. Well, I'm happy to report we successfully pulled off the move last weekend without damaging the moving truck, aggravating my heel spur, pulling a muscle or suffering heat stroke.  One more fun digression before getting back to work. I was recently tipped off that the outfield wall from Forbes Field was still standing on Pitt's campus and I went looking for it after my moving gig was complete.  Sure enough, I found it next door to Pitt's business school, a few blocks from Abby's apartment.  For baseball fans, aside from old Yankees Stadium, Forbes Field rivals...
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Aug
19
Does new DOL Fiduciary Rule Spell SOL?
Glad to report that I made it out and back to Chicago for Cambridge's annual advisor conference last week alive – literally – without incident.   Two days before I arrived was the bloodiest day in Chicago history, with nine murders and over forty others shot.   Chicago is one of friendliest, most interesting cities you'll ever visit and it is disquieting to watch it degenerate into such extreme volumes of violence, especially this summer.  Folks above my pay grade will need to figure out how to stem the unspeakable violence occurring in Chicago - and other cities as well.  Sadly, this is the consequence of inexcusably bad leadership.  For decades, city leaders have abandoned economic policies that retain businesses and attract new ones,...
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Aug
15
Blinded By Science
Looking forward to travelling to Chicago this week to attend Cambridge's annual advisor conference.  The event is loaded with useful presentations and should be a solid return on the time/expense investment.  I fully expect to gather a handful of really good future blog topics and cap the conference with my second visit to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs. This time the team is really interesting, not just the ballpark. I attended (virtually) a different conference recently and one presentation really caught my attention:  trends and breakthroughs developing in the biotech industry. Advances in computer processing technology have fostered remarkable advances in biotechnology, especially over the past decade, with even more promising...
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Aug
05
The Business of Franchising
Omniscient Donald Trump is now dispensing investment advice.  He appeared on television this week advising all Americans "to get out of stocks, just like I did", due to the Federal Reserve's monetary policy.   Really?  Of course, his next comment was the stock market "would go great" if he were elected (oddly, he did not refer to "yuuuge" stock market gains).   I suspect, however, the exact opposite stock market reaction would occur if he does prevail. Not to be outdone, the other knucklehead candidate went full socialist last week, promising "free everything" to everyone", this time espousing free college education for all.  But why stop there?  Why not guarantee a 4.0 GPA?  Graduates would be guaranteed $100,000 salaried jobs, a...
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Aug
01
Retirement Red Zone Investing: The Sequence Consequence
We had a smashing experience last weekend at a family wedding in Virginia.  I know, the typical family wedding is uninteresting, often an obligation, but this one was an unforgettable exception to the rule. The bride and groom were determined to host an unconventional wedding and throw a memorable party, and they succeeded - in spades.  The wedding festival was a two-day outdoor extravaganza, held on Montalto, the mountain top overlooking Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate.  Flip flops and shorts was the appropriate attire. Four excellent bands performed over the two-day party, but the highlight was C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band.  They are acclaimed as the nation’s premier Zydeco band, a genre of French Creole blended...
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Jul
22
Great Depression Versus Great Recession: Same or Different?
Just finished an excellent book while on vacation:  The Great Depression, A Diary by Benjamin Roth (good grief, who would read such a downer topic to relax?).    Roth was an attorney raising a family in Youngstown, Ohio in 1929.  He diligently wrote diary entries chronicling the devastating impact of the Great Depression on Youngstown from 1929 until the start of World War II in 1941.  It is written as a running list of chronological anecdotes about the personal devastation he witnessed in his hometown, but also offers astute perspective about the machinations of a government flailing to address a national economic crisis spiraling out of control. There's been much commentary contrasting the Great Recession that started in 2008 with the...
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Jul
18
QLAC: A Shiny New Retirement Planning Device
Hope everyone is finding time to enjoy this exceptional run of nice summer weather.  I have been doing muscle building exercises preparing for the day next month that every college parent dreads:  moving our daughter Abby into her first off-campus apartment.  The law of averages would suggest that some college students actually do secure a first floor apartment, but I have never met such fortunate families.  Instead, everyone seems to share my upcoming predicament:  moving stuff into an upper floor apartment unit with no elevator and old, steep, narrow stairwells without air conditioning. Anyway, the fun part of the first apartment project has commenced this summer, which is preparing Abby for an exciting new life phase.  Part of the...
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Jul
07
2016 Mid-Year Review and Outlook: 3rd and 9….
I know it’s not football season yet, but our midyear 2016 outlook must be composed in July, not September and I am need of a good metaphor for this blog note.   So play along with me and picture a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh on September 10th, 2016.  My Pitt Panthers are playing arch rival Penn State Nittany Lions at Heinz Field and it is a doozy of a college football game. It is early in the fourth quarter and Pitt has the ball at midfield in a tight game.  Pitt is winning (of course), but the final outcome is very much in doubt.  It is now third down and nine yards to go for a first down.  Suffice it to say it is critically important that Pitt’s offense converts the third down play, to keep the drive alive and score again...
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Jun
30
Social Security Retirement Benefits: 70 Is The New 62
Sick of Brexit yet?   I haven't seen such a blitzkrieg of headlines and analysis on this topic in well, forever.  I asked a (normally) well-informed client last Thursday (the day of the referendum) how he felt about the United Kingdom voting to exit the European Union; his response was classic, "what vote?"     I don't know about you, but I am fatigued by talking about global disfunction, so let's put on an old comfortable shirt this week:  Social Security retirement benefits. Trivia question:  What percentage of Americans, who first become eligible to start (non-survivor) Social Security benefits at age 62, indeed take those benefits at the earliest possible age? The answer, per the latest Social Security Administration ("SSA") data,...
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Jun
24
Brexit!: Is The Eurozone Brisket?
I was channel surfing the other night and stumbled on the one of my favorite all-time movies, A Fish Called Wanda, and put down my laptop for two hours of stress relief.  It is one of the funniest movies ever and a John Cleese (Monty Python) masterpiece.  It pokes hysterical fun at the prim and proper British, a timelessly funny topic. Speaking of the Brits, yesterday was an important, historic day (it remains to be seen if it proves to be a historically important day).  Europe got hammered yesterday by a firestorm that rolled in off its western coast – Great Britain ("GB").  In a shocking outcome, GB voted to leave the European Union ("EU") – coined "Brexit" - by a comfortable (52% - 48%) margin.  As Joe Biden would put it, this is a...
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Jun
17
Below Zero: The Curiouser and Cursiouser World of Negative Interest Rates
Muhammad Ali passed away earlier this month from Parkinson's disease.  I grew up in the '70s when heavyweight boxing was a wildly popular spectator sport (where did it go?).  Ali was the undisputed giant in the sport, an amazing athlete and overall larger than life figure.  After his storied boxing career, he toned down his controversial act and became a respected humanitarian. As it turns out, comedian Billy Crystal was a close friend of Ali's for over forty years.  Crystal eulogized Ali at his funeral last week.  Do visit YouTube and marvel at Crystal's extraordinary tribute to his friend, sharing some funny and poignant personal experiences (including a classic Howard Cosell impersonation).  The fact that Crystal is Jewish and Ali was...
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Jun
09
Medicareless
Last fall, during the 2016 Affordable Care Act health insurance enrollment season, the best family (of three) health insurance policy we could purchase now costs us $12,000 in annual premium and the Swiss cheese coverage is subject to a $12,000 family deductible!   At least our plan is eligible for a Health Savings Account, whoopee. I am a CFP® professional, yet even I occasionally harbor dark thoughts about dropping our health insurance altogether, pay the modest penalty, then sign up for health insurance once really sick and utilize the hell out of the medical system.  That would be an irresponsible choice, but you can't blame one for trying to plan a way out of this current health insurance crisis. As the ACA health law slumbers in a...
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Jun
02
Trolling for Dividends
Tags: investments
I had the good fortune to attend a business breakfast last week and the subject was a profile on the York Water Company ("YWC").  As a history geek who manages investments for a living, I was blown away by YWC's storied history. As it turns out, YWC is the oldest investor-owned utility in the nation!   Founded in 1816 to fend against devastating structure fires in town, YWC is hailed as the nation's first public-private utility enterprise.  Despite its successful history, YWC remains a peculiarly small utility company, providing drinking/potable water only to portions of York County. The story gets better:  YWC has paid a consecutive cash dividend for two-hundred years, the longest streak in US history!  (I am forced to restrain the...
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May
27
“Elderhood” Planning
I attended the 2016 annual meeting for the York County Community Foundation this week and heard a provocative presentation by Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatric physician and internationally recognized expert on aging.  His entertaining message was a plea to embrace your own aging and to respect the wisdom and life experience of the elderly.   Thomas has pioneered an acclaimed communal living alternative to the institutionalization of the elderly and actually coined the term of this week's note – elderhood – the phase of life ensuing the rat race known as adulthood. While I agreed with his narrative, in fact he made this old codger feel wiser and more worthwhile, as a financial planner, I come at elderhood from a different angle.   We must...
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May
20
Deflating The Disinflation Myth: Personal Inflation is Real
We shook things up a bit this year recognizing our clients' birthdays.  Instead of a card, we are sending a report with trivia describing life in the US in their birth year.  One of the features is a price list of some popular consumer items back in the day. The report has been well-received and is stoking some fun conversations.  At a recent meeting, one client, now in his 70s, shared a picture and receipt for the fine looking new 1957 Pontiac sedan – purchased for $5,600!   I could not come up with a finer example of the financial impact of compounding inflation over time. The simple definition of inflation is that it is a measure of the decrease in purchasing power of money over time.  The consumer price index (CPI) is the US...
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May
13
A Prince Of An Estate Plan – Not!
estate planning; wills
2016 is shaping up to be remembered as the year of musician mortality.  Accomplished musicians across all genres are falling like rocks, to the point of ridiculousness:  David Bowie, Glenn Frey (Eagles), Merle Haggard, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Keith Emerson (Emerson Lake & Palmer), Billy Paul (remember "Mrs. Jones"?), Maurice White, awesome lead singer of Earth Wind & Fire and even George Martin, the fifth Beatle.    The biggest musical star to succumb, however, is Prince Rogers Nelson, who passed suddenly just a few weeks ago at the prime age of 57.  A message to Van Morrison:  take your vitamins! While not a raving fan of Prince's music. I will admit that a couple of his songs are guilty pleasures.  Music is a business, so I do admire his...
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May
05
Your Most Important Asset
disability insurance; social security; risk management
Next week marks thirty years (!) since my college graduation.  It seems like just yesterday I was a 175 pound, freshly-minted accountant sporting a cheesy '80s style mustache.  I blinked and thirty years have elapsed and sixty pounds have been added to my frame – how? By the same token, after several successful careers, I have found my niche as a Certified Financial Planner®.  I bring thirty years of experience, a graying (but still full) coif and much wealth management wisdom to the table each time I sit down with a client – and I can still see my shoes! You may have noticed an eye-popping headline last month:  Per a new Federal Reserve study, in the event of a financial emergency, 47 percent of Americans would have trouble coming up...
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Apr
29
Gold Humbug
Tags: gold; investments
gold; investments
Helium walks into a bar and the bartender says "We don't serve noble gasses in here" - but Helium doesn't react.  Okay, someone had to giggle.  How about this one:   Two chemists go into a restaurant.  The first one says "I'll have an H2O."  The second chemist says "I'll have a H2O too" - and then dies.   Someone stop me, please. Writing a pithy note about gold investing is a tall order – what a complex asset – but I'll take a stab at it.  By the way, silver is a separate topic for a future blog. Gold is a precious metal that has been highly prized for thousands of years and for good reason.  It is malleable, ductile and lauded for its lustrous color.   It doesn't rot or rust, can be mixed with other metals and maintains its desirable...
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Apr
22
Wealth Transfer Wave: Retirement Assets
financial planning; inherited IRA; retirement planning
Decades of cumulative IRA contributions, 401k deferrals, employee match dollars, profit share contributions and rollovers, all advantaged by long-term tax-deferred growth, plus the demographic bulge of aging retirees, have coalesced to create a massive wealth transfer phenomenon now playing out – inherited retirement assets. We have a growing number of clients who are inheriting retirement accounts from their parents and the financial windfall can easily turn into estate transfer and income tax problems if mishandled.    In fact, retirement assets are where income tax and estate transfer planning intersect; simple mistakes can lead to substantial adverse income tax consequences down the road for the heirs. The cardinal estate-transfer...
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Apr
15
Woe Yield
investments; stocks & bonds
A mathematician, an accountant and an economist all apply for the same job at the Federal Reserve.  The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks "What does two plus two equal?" The mathematician replies unequivocally "four."  The interviewer then calls in the accountant and asks the same question, who answers "on average, four - give or take ten percent - but on average, four."  Then the interviewer called in the economist and poses the question again.  The economist gets up, locks the door, sits down next to the interviewer and says "what do you want it to equal?" The green eye shade economists at the Fed have been running an experiment in monetary policy the past ten years.  In started in earnest in 2006, when signs of the...
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Apr
07
Tenants, Toilets and Trash
investments; real estate; REIT
Just returned from a conference with a timely update on investment real estate.  It seems that after a healthy market correction over the past eighteen months, many real estate portfolios are now trading at a discount to their fair value.   I have long advocated investment real estate as part of a diversified investment strategy.  Often referred as the fourth asset class – after cash, stocks and bonds – investment real estate has an impressive track record of generating solid risk-adjusted return over decades. The problem lies in the definition of investment real estate.   A common mistake is viewing your home as an investment.  Sure, there have been inflationary periods and housing bubbles that have driven the price of home real estate...
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Apr
01
Alternative Capital