Market Minute on Finance Friday

For investors hoping to generate income from their investment portfolios, the phrase “low-yield environment” continues to characterize the outlook.

Translating that investment speak in to something most people can relate to basically means that interest-bearing investments aren’t paying much these days. Checking accounts, bond funds and other low-risk fixed-income investments just aren’t offering returns that make anybody happy.

In order to achieve higher returns, investors may need to take more risk or extend the maturity of their holdings. On the risk side, this can mean investing in more aggressive bonds, such as those with a lower credit rating. On the maturity side, this can mean buying bonds that mature in 20 years instead of 5 or ten. In both cases, lower-quality bonds and long-term bonds generally pay higher interest rates than higher-quality, shorter-term issues.

While evaluating risk and reward in context of your investment goals is something equity investors consider all the time, it is just as important to fixed-investors.

Market Minute on Finance Friday

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The week started with a focus on an improved employment picture, but this positive tone gave way as investors digested early earnings releases from the Industrials sector. While the numbers weren’t bad, a weak outlook on demand from China set the tone and markets slid. A downgrade of Spain’s bond rating didn’t help. That noted, many experts believe the downgrade may propel the country’s leaders to request assistance, which would be viewed positively by the markets.

As earnings season progresses, the market will focus more on the outlook for corporate profits than on the numbers for the quarter. Stock prices, buoyed by central bank actions are now facing the headwind of a declining business climate, election year uncertainty and ongoing eurozone pressure.

Clarity is what markets seek. We hope to achieve that clarity in coming quarters. However, the current state of affairs highlights the importance of long-term planning and the folly of trying to figure out what the markets will do on any given day.

Market Minute on Finance Friday

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stealth as “the act of proceeding furtively, secretly, or imperceptibly.” For four years now, the U.S. stock market has been in “stealth bull market” mode. From the closing low of 676 in March 2009 through the end of September 2012, the value of the S&P 500 Index has increased by 113%, an annualized return of almost 24%.

But ask the typical investor if they’ve enjoyed the last four years, and they will probably say “no.” Instead, they are likely to dwell on the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s, a depressed housing market, a labor market that can’t get any traction, and the country’s loss of its AAA credit rating.

Globally, investors have had to endure recurring financial spasms and fears of contagion from Europe, slowing economic growth, natural disasters and countless episodes of social and political unrest. Looming elections and fiscal retrenchment in the U.S. as well as rising political tensions in several parts of the world are likely to add to investors’ anxieties.

And yet, despite all the background noise, investors who have stuck to a well-designed strategy and disciplined process over the last several years have been rewarded. The fact that this remains one of the least-loved bull markets in history may mean that patient, long-term investors will continue to enjoy success.

Celebrating Milestones and Setting Goals

In the summer of 2010, I set a goal to run my first half marathon that September. This race was going to be a mid-life gift to myself, as it would be the day after my 42nd birthday. I’d been running for 25 years, so it seemed appropriate that I celebrate that milestone by doing something I had been thinking about for years.  Since “thinking” doesn’t equate to accomplishing, I registered and immediately implemented a training program.

That previous February I started working at MaxOut Strength Studio in Limerick. As a result of that strength training workout, I felt stronger and faster than ever. Honestly, my only goal was to run the entire 13.1 miles and cross the finish line. Which I did!  So, it was time to set another goal, and no, it was not a full marathon.  Instead, I registered to do the Tough Mudder in April 2011 with a team. Knowing that I had set this goal with 11 others was encouraging.

The Tough Mudder is not your average run or muddy obstacle course race. As the website states, these events are “hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. With the most innovative courses, half a million inspiring participants, and more than $3 million raised for the Wounded Warrior Project, Tough Mudder is the premier adventure challenge series in the world.”

Tina with family and friends at a local 5K

As the date neared and I watched videos of the obstacles, I started to get nervous, but there was absolutely no way I was going to back out!  So, I just kept training and made my mind up, I was going to finish no matter what.

The morning of the event I ate a good breakfast, hydrated and kept telling myself that yes, the Tough Mudder was going to be challenging, but that I had set the goal and I was going to make it fun!  The first 4-mile stretch of running up Bear Creek Mountain wasn’t so bad.  Then the obstacles started, and I was already freezing due to the cold water and mud, which was part of many of the obstacles. It was time to “walk the plank”, which meant jumping straight down from a 15-ft. high platform into 34 degree water. I was beyond scared, but my team was there and we all decided we were doing it!  I jumped, immediately lost my breath and panicked as I came to the surface.  I was never so cold in my entire life and could barely move my limbs to swim back to shore. But with a little help (sometimes we all need that), I was able to make it, and go on to finish the course.

Tina with a group of friends at a recent Tough Mudder

I accomplished what I set out to do, and the Tough Mudder experience definitely reinforced my belief that I can do whatever I set my mind to, and I overcame some fears in the process.  Since that event, I’ve completed two more Tough Mudders!

Tina Trager started running at the age of 16 and has been working in the fitness industry since 1992, most recently as Regional Manager for MaxOut Strength Studio. She jus turned 45 in September and has two children, son Cameron (age 16) and daughter Olivia (age 11). She enjoys running, cycling, yoga, and stregth training. She started cycling approximately 19 months ago and just completed her second MS City to Shore Ride (178 miles over the course of 2 days). She loves encouraging others to set fitness goals and helping them to meet and exceed them. 

 Tina after biking 178 miles over two days in the MS City to Shore ride.

 Tina after biking 178 miles in this year’s MS City to Shore ride