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STA Weekly Report – Capital Market Assumptions and their Importance

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Capital Market Assumptions and their Importance
Weekly Technical Comment
Weekly Snapshot of Global Asset Class Performance
401k Plan Manager

There are many ways to manage and view investments – active or passive, buy & hold or tactical, value or growth. These are all flavors of investment management styles and each have their merits. However, regardless of one’s view of how investments should be managed, one thing is constant – assumptions about capital markets are extremely important for making strategic asset allocation decisions, and it’s easy to see why.

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As seasoned investors know, capital market assumptions feed directly into how an investor may position a portfolio across asset classes. As Gary Brinson, Rudolph Hood, and Gilbert Beebower discovered in 1986 in a study dubbed “Determinants of Portfolio Performance”, asset allocation accounts for a large percentage of portfolio return variance. And although subsequent studies have estimated that asset allocation drives a lower percentage of returns than the 1986 study indicated, the numbers are still impressive and highlight the care that investors should take when making assumptions about capital markets into the future.

What must an investor make assumptions about to properly allocate across asset classes?

To properly allocate a portfolio across multiple asset classes, investors start by developing a view of the macro-economy. More specifically, investors may forecast GDP growth, interest rates, and inflation as these variables can have a meaningful impact on how different asset classes may perform over time.  Additionally, investors should account for and forecast returns, volatility by asset class, and of course correlations between asset classes with the goal of determining return expectations for each asset class. The table below is an example of what some of these return expectations and capital market assumptions may look like when published by a large bank.

Source: JP Morgan

As you can imagine, coming up with these assumptions is hard and complex work. Luckily, there are several providers of capital market assumptions that investors might look to for asset allocation guidance. They come from a diverse set of firms including wealth managers, investment banks, consulting and research firms, as well as family offices. Because each has their own approach to arriving at capital market assumptions, it is important for investors to study their methodologies closely before blindly allocating to asset classes based on any published numbers. Moreover, because there are so many providers of capital market assumptions, they should be compared to identify any large outliers that may suggest bias.

At STA Wealth Management, we survey the work done by a subset of the firms that publish capital market assumptions and then identify where our own views differ based on our internal research and due diligence. The idea being that with our additional review and analytical overlay, we can improve the assumptions and return expectations with the goal of incorporating those views into our strategic asset allocation across portfolios.

Another important point regarding capital market assumptions is that they need to be updated periodically. This can be done quarterly, annually or as market conditions change. At STA Wealth Management, we review capital market assumptions at least once per year which informs our strategic positioning but then also revisit and adjust those assumptions if any major market changes occur outside of the typical annual review. That said, even with the less frequent annual reviews, capital market assumptions and return expectations tend to closely track benchmark performance over longer holding periods. As an example, the table below shows the comparison of long-term capital market assumptions compared to the returns achieved by a 60/40 balanced portfolio as published by an investment bank over the last 17 years. While realized return data is merely a blend of long-term capital market assumption forecasts to the existing data, the key takeaway is that capital market assumptions can be effective at putting asset class returns into a realistically achievable perspective.

Source: JP Morgan

However, capital market assumptions are only part of what should be considered when constructing an optimal asset allocation. At STA Wealth management, we favor an approach that is highly integrated with financial planning. We use the same assumptions in our planning process as we use in portfolio construction so that client portfolios are allocated not only based on capital market assumptions, but also based on personal goals, investment time horizon, risk tolerance, and financial position.

Stock Market Resumes as Major Indexes Draw Closer to Summer High

The stock upturn that started last week when major stock indexes cleared their August trading range and 50-day averages gained momentum today. All three major indexes hit the highest level in more than a month.

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Chart 1 shows the Dow Industrials gaining 227 points (+0.85%) and drawing closer to its July peak. The Dow was led higher by Boeing (3.6%), Apple (+3.1%), and Caterpillar (+2.1%.). Chart 2 shows Boeing (BA) exceeding its July peak to reach the highest level in five months. Chart 3 shows Apple (AAPL) hitting a new high for the year and reaching the highest level since last October. Chart 4 shows Caterpillar (CAT) rising above its 200-day average to reach the highest level in more than a month. The stock is nearing a test of a falling trendline drawn over its April/July peaks.

Weekly Global Asset Class Performance

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at


STA Investment Committee
Luke Patterson, CEO & Chief Investment Officer
Andrei Costas, Portfolio Manager
Nan Lu, Senior Portfolio Manager
Robin Chan, Senior Trader

Most Business Owners Have No Succession Plan or Exit Strategy

By Scott A. Bishop, MBA, CPA/PFS, CFP

Are you a business owner without a complete and coordinated Succession Plan?  If so, please attend our workshop on September 26, 2019 (invitation via the link or below):

Invitation:  Succession Planning and Life After The Sale

For decades, vast wealth has been created for millions of Americans through growing private businesses. However as business owners, especially Baby Boomers, reach the later stages of their careers, a new study by US Trust shows that the majority do not have a formal succession plan or Exit Strategy.

U.S. Trust recently released its 2016 US Wealth and Worth Survey, which sampled a group of millionaire business owners with at least $3 million in investable assets.  In this study, nearly two-thirds of business owners do not have a succession plan (which could include either a sale or transfer of the company). Since most of the business owners rely on their businesses for income, the lack of such planning means that their main source of income could be in jeopardy.

Additionally, the results showed many owners have failed to think about the future of their businesses beyond their own lives. Only 16 percent plan to pass the business on to their families, and 63 percent of older business owners (those over

50) have no formal succession plan. In addition, the majority of business owners have not formulated a strategy for ensuring the highest possible valuation of the business or its continuity beyond the life of the current owner.

Many business owners, whose finances and identity are so closely tied to their

companies, simply don’t want to think about giving them up. According to the report, three-quarters of the millionaire business owners founded their companies and only 8 percent inherited them. Thus, most are first-generation businesses.

Without a plan, many may intend to simply work well past retirement age.

Many entrepreneurs never plan to stop working or they wait until they are ready to retire (not a good plan – what if the unthinkable happens). Others have a plan in mind that they may or may not have even communicated to key stakeholders, but leave its execution to chance by not formalizing it. In my experience not having a formal plan leaves a very low likelihood of an optimal transfer or sale of the business.

In my 20 years of experience, I find that succession planning is a crucial part of long-term business planning that helps prepare for a smooth, strategic exit by the owner or for an unexpected change in circumstances, such as illness, disability or divorce.

Five Key Elements of a Succession Plan or Exit Strategy

The benefits of a thoughtful Succession Plan or Exit Strategy are vital to all stakeholders, whether they be the founder, the employees or the clients who have placed their trust with the firm. When they’re ready to transition, the business owners are uniquely positioned to capitalize on the value of the firms they’ve built.

The majority of business owners I work with are focused on ensuring that the businesses they’ve built will endure—they want to create a lasting legacy. But they are not always sure how to pursue that goal – especially when there is just one owner (with multiple partners, I find that it can be a little easier…but not easy).

It’s for that reason, I believe that business owners need to think through five key considerations necessary to create a successful plan and exit strategy. These elements will benefit the company’s owner(s), whether their goal is internal succession, external succession or a combination of both.

1.  Create a Clear Vision

The initial challenge business owners face when developing a plan is to actually understand where to start. There must be a willingness to look closely at personal and professional goals, and an ability to look impartially at the value of their company. Rather than asking what a successful succession plan looks like, a better question for the founding principals would be to ask themselves “What does a successful transition look like—for me?”. Getting to that answer requires personal reflection and careful consideration. Please note that if there are multiple owners, each owner’s goals need to be accounted for. Setting personal, professional and firm-related goals will help create a clear vision for the owners and the firm, as well as an improved peace of mind for employees, clients and other stakeholders.

2.  Determine The Business Valuation

There are many approaches to determining a firm’s value. But operating cash flow (typically viewed as Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization or EBITDA) is the common denominator used to establish fair value. Unlike book value, revenue or net income, cash flow is the best indicator of company profitability and overall operating efficiency. Prospective buyers want to see dependable, growing and predictable flows. Quality of cash flow matters, too. Buyers typically pay a multiple (or measure of equity or firm value relative to revenue or earnings that it generates) based on the quality of cash flow and its growth rate.  Companies will fetch  top  dollar  for  such  things  as  a  stable  client base; revenues that are overwhelmingly from a recurring business; a track record      of growth and strong margins; and a core group of professionals who are committed and incentivized to operate the firm as the founders reduce their responsibilities and ownership stake (a.k.a. Key Employees).

Many firm owners may either want a quick exit or may want to retain a degree of control in a transition – either can also impact valuations. It’s worth considering bringing in a valuation specialist or transaction intermediary to review the mix of goals, revenue streams, expense structure, legal structure, finances, clients and other available information. A specialist can help ensure that a fair and realistic firm valuation is achieved. While there are many approaches to valuation, attributes that are always considered include risk, scalability, growth, and cash flow quality. It is also time to clean up the books. As any valuation is dependent on EBITDA, it is important to make sure that the books and records are in good shape. For that, I suggest a review and/or audit by your CPA firm.

3.  Maximizing Value

Buyers place a high value on business continuity—assurances that clients and key employees will remain in place once the firm begins its transition. Clients who can easily follow disengaged staff out the door are an obvious risk to a successful transition. This risk can be mitigated by hiring key employees and professionals who are a good long-term fit and by creating a compensation strategy with incentives that help employees share in the firm’s success. Creating a structure that allows key employees to participate in ownership is a powerful value driver in successful business succession planning.

Firm value is also enhanced by institutionalizing client relationships—which means ensuring that clients are connected to the firm rather than to any individual employee (or even the owner). Additionally, firms can reduce risk and maximize value by documenting all processes, including compliance procedures and contingency plans. Firms that demonstrate systematized business practices will yield higher valuations than those without this level of transparency.

4.  Maximize Scale

Efficiency is another key value driver. It’s worth exploring ways to facilitate growth without adding fixed overhead. Not only do strong margins benefit owners in the short term but they can also serve as a platform for future firm growth—always appealing to prospective buyers. But there’s an important distinction to be made here: While the efficient operation is desirable, being lean to the detriment of staff workload and compromised client service is not. Buyers aren’t necessarily seeking a bargain, but they do want lower transaction costs per unit of revenue. Efficiencies can be created, for example, by automating workflows to streamline operations and by creating a segmented service offering that fits the revenue profile of each client segment. Creating proportionally lower costs will equate to higher margins and drive EBITDA and possibly the multiple you receive even higher.

5.  Demonstrate Consistent Growth

Buyers will pay a premium for firms that are rigorous about new business development and that have an effective customer growth strategy. The most sought-after companies have multi-tiered growth strategies that utilize customer referral, cross-selling (where possible), marketing, and public relations programs to capture customer revenue opportunities from a number of different channels. Successful firms tend to have well-documented business development compensation and incentive plans in place for the entire staff, to ensure that everyone has a vested interest in the firm’s growth.

Today’s business owners have spent their careers building firms on a foundation of successful relationships, the entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to grow and expand. Establishing a succession plan that secures their firm’s legacy beyond the founder’s working life is critical not just to their firm and their clients but also to the long-term success of the next generation of leadership. The succession planning process can take as many as five to 10 years to establish and implement—and there’s just one chance to get it right…having a plan that works for you, your family, your employees, and all stakeholders.

Understanding the many factors that influence a succession plan is the first step. Business owners who take the long view by starting to address their risks, scalability, growth and cash flow, will see their efforts pay dividends when it is time to implement their exit strategy (whether solicited or unsolicited).

If you want to hear more on these ideas, check out two of my interviews from my radio show, The STA Money Hour (on 950AM KPRC Radio, weekdays from 1 pm to 2 pm Central Time):

Interview:  Alex W. Howard, CFA, ASA

Interview: Jennifer Mailhes, CPA

Important Disclosure:
Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by STA Wealth Management, LLC), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from STA Wealth Management, LLC. Please remember to contact STA Wealth Management, LLC, in writing, if there are any changes in your personal/financial situation or investment objectives for the purpose of reviewing/evaluating/revising our previous recommendations and/or services. STA Wealth Management, LLC is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the newsletter content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the STA Wealth Management, LLC’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees continues to remain available upon request.


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