Market and Performance Update – With all this talk of recession and gloom in the stock market, it would seem that with the losses we incurred last year it would just continue into 2023, right? Well, so far, 2023 is shaping up to be pretty good. It is said that when the first month of the year gives us a good return, the rest of the year will be good, too! While I’m not sure about what the rest of 2023 will look like, as far as the stock market is concerned, I do know that January looked pretty good.

The Dow increased by 2.8%, which was pretty good. The S&P 500 returned 6.7%, which was even better. The Russell 2000 shot up by 9.7%, which was phenomenal, and the NASDAQ index returned a whopping 10.7%, in January alone. I know the world is not fixed. I know that crime is still running rampant, that we are still fighting a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine, that our WOKE educational system is still trying to sneak CRT training by the parents of school children, and that inflation is still running historically high. 

There are a whole lot of issues that need fixing in our beloved United States of America. The news media makes sure we all know what’s wrong. They put it right in front of our faces every day, all day long. And if that’s all we see, we can’t help but be pessimistic about the future of the country. But that isn’t all there is. We have everyday heroes hard at work, helping other people. If someone sincerely asks you to help them with some sort of task, you generally try to help them, don’t you. That’s the stuff that never gets reported in the news. But it happens much more often than the bad stuff that does get reported. That’s why I remain optimistic about the future. I believe that America is filled with good people doing good things for other good people. Yes, we know that there are those that want to change America in a bad way. But I believe there are more good people that want to change America in a good way. This will always be happening. There will always be this struggle. It was going on in 1840, when I was just a young lad, it was still going on in 1910, when I was in middle school, in 1968 when I was a young man, and it’s going on today, even though I’m an old man. In a hundred years I believe we will still be struggling to make this “a more perfect union.” 

Our individual influence in the world may be short and fleeting. We may not invent the next greatest thing. But what we can do is be good to one another, help one another, and be a good example for our children and grandchildren. We may not ever change the whole world, but we can contribute to making our little corner of it a little better.

Nature of Humans – As human beings, with these great big massive brains we have, we are always trying to get an advantage on the next guy. We want to be the first, but only after it has been tried and true. You see, we all want a sure thing. We want great returns on our investments, and we want them guaranteed. So, when something comes across our email and it tells us how we can get rich with no effort and with just a small contribution, we listen. We think to ourselves, what do they know that we don’t know? We want… boy do we want… to be true whatever it is they’re telling us. But it never is. I’m saying this because a sizable portion of my day now is spent unsubscribing from emails that come in that I never sought. I never wanted. I get them because I made a mistake ONE time, and it’s been haunting me ever since.

One day, several years ago, I got an email from a prospective client, saying he had received this email telling him about an investment that was getting ready to explode onto the scene. And it was only going to be available for just a few more days, then you would be locked out of this investment forever. It was a great story. See, this guy had accompanied Elon Musk to a hush hush meeting (That should have been the biggest clue right there. My friend, who had no special connections, had been a recipient of a blast email that went out to at least thousands of people about a hush hush meeting? Where’s the logic in that?). And in this meeting a brand new technology was revealed to those select few people who’d been invited. This new technology would revolutionize the cell phone industry, causing all our cell phone bills to go down to only $4.95 a month! 

It would put all the big cell phone companies out of business, and make rich the people who were first to invest in it. The name of the company? Just click here, it read. Well, that led to a video, a very poorly made one. On this video there was a person speaking, and the words, just the words he was speaking, appeared on the screen. No pictures, no person talking, just the words. It was like they wanted you to see the words you were hearing, which is exactly what they wanted. Studies have shown if you see AND hear words, you are more likely to remember them than if you just see, or just hear them. 

Since I really respected the fellow that asked me to look at the website and the offer, I wanted to give him an informed opinion, so I started watching the words as this fellow spoke them. It went on for 10 minutes and he had not said very much yet. At 15 minutes I clicked to see if I could speed the video up. Nope! I continued to watch and listen. It became 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 45 minutes long. And the spokesperson kept saying he would reveal the stock that was going to take off in just a moment. But he didn’t. I started to get frustrated that the video had sort of captured so much of my day when I had so much else to do. At 75 minutes I clicked out, still not knowing the name of this super-duper stock that would surely make me rich. I felt used and angry that I’d fallen for such an obvious come-on. But that video was only the beginning. Whoever it was that made that video was able to capture my email address. And he sold it, and sold it, and sold it. I kept getting all these “just click here” emails. What’s more, here all these years later I still get them. Every day, from many different companies. For awhile I would just unsubscribe from them when they came in. However, they found a way to get around that. When I would unsubscribe to their multiple-times-per-day emails they’d clog my in-box with, they would change the name of their company, along with the IP address they used, so it would slip through my filter and show up again. So, now, I still spend several minutes per day unsubscribing from their emails, then moving them to my mass mail box. And it’ll be that way until I change my email address. 

My recommendation to you is, if you get an email from some entity you don’t know, claiming to have the next new thing that’s sure to make you rich, and all you have to do to find out what it is is to click here, save yourself hours of headaches and don’t click on that button. Just leave it alone. Don’t be curious. Click out of that email and delete it. You’ll never know the frustration you will save yourself. And that’s the point.

The Numbers of Things –

·      Rising inflation and the increases in the cost of living have caused individuals to push out their expected retirement age by almost 3 years. According to a survey by Nationwide, the average expected retirement age has increased from 65.4 in January of 2021 to 68.3 in August of 2022.

·      Rising asset valuations in 2021 accounted for about 20% of the drop in the labor force participation rate (LFPR). In 2022, that trend reversed and the LFPR increased. The key driver, accounting for 36% of the increase, was Americans over the age of 55 who saw their net worth decline by an average of more than $100,000. (source: St Louis Fed)

·      After the first 7 trading days of 2023 there were 205 stocks in the Russell 1000® with YTD gains of 10% or more. In the entire year of 2022, there were only 166. (source; BeSpoke)

·      New data from the Census Bureau and the National Association of Realtors reveal which states have been the biggest winners (and which the biggest losers) as the nation’s population continues to shift. Florida topped the 2022 net migration chart with an influx of over 300,000 people choosing to call the Sunshine State their new home. Florida was followed by large increases in Texas (up 231,000) and South Carolina (up 84,000). The biggest losers were the states of California (-343,000), New York (-300,000), and Illinois (-142,000).

The Adventures of Mark, my good friend from Athens, GA – Mark is taking the month off. Instead, he sent me this story about his best buddy, Forrest Gump.

The day finally arrived: Forrest Gump dies and goes to Heaven. He is met at the Pearly Gates by Saint Peter himself. The gates are closed, however, and Forest approaches the gatekeeper.

Saint Peter says, “Well, Forrest, it’s certainly good to see you. We have heard a lot about you. I must inform you that the place is filling up fast, and we’ve been administering an entrance examination for everyone. The tests are fairly short, but you need to pass before you can get into Heaven.”

Forrest responds, “It shore is good to be here Saint Peter. I was looking forward to this. Nobody ever told me about any entrance exams. Shore hope the test ain’t too hard; life was a big enough test as it was.”

Saint Peter goes on, “Yes, I know Forrest. But, the test I have for you is only three questions. Here is the first: What days of the week begin with the letter ‘T’? Second, how many seconds are there in a year? Third, what is God’s first name?”

Forrest goes away to think the questions over. He returns the next day and goes up to Saint Peter to try to answer the exam questions.

Saint Peter waves him up and asks, “Now that you have had a chance to think the questions over, tell me your answers.”

Forrest says, “Well, the first one, -how many days of the week begin with the letter ‘T’?” “Shucks, that one’s easy; that’d be Today and Tomorrow!”

The saint’s eyes open wide and he exclaims, “Forrest! That’s not what I was thinking, but … you do have a point though, and I guess I didn’t specify, so I give you credit for that answer.”

“How about the next one” says Saint Peter, “how many seconds in a year?”

“Now that one’s harder,” says Forrest. “But, I thunk and thunk about that, and I guess the only answer can be twelve.”

Astounded, Saint Peter says, “Twelve! Forrest, how in Heaven’s name could you come up with twelve seconds in a year?”

Forrest says, “Shucks, there gotta be twelve: January second, February second, March second….”

“Hold it,” interrupts Saint Peter. “I see where you’re going with it.”

“And I guess I see your point, though that wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’ll give you credit for that one too.”

“Let’s go on with the next and final question,” says Saint Peter, “Can you tell me God’s first name?”

Forest says, “Well shore, I know God’s first name. Everybody knows. It’s Howard.”

“Howard?” asks Saint Peter. “What makes you think it’s ‘Howard’?”

Forest answers, “It’s in the prayer.”

“The prayer?” asks Saint Peter, “Which prayer?”

“The Lord’s Prayer,” responds Forest: “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name…”

May your blessings be many and your sorrows be few, may you rise each morning with more sunshine in your heart than in the sky, and may all your hallelujahs be multiplied.