This year, our company toasted the holiday season in our now-familiar Zoom configuration, acknowledging all that wasn’t, while raising a glass to all that was in 2020. Our CEO Steve Savage offered reflections and a toast accompanied by Managing Director Alice Lowenstein’s review of the year for Litman Gregory. Here are excerpts of their remarks along with some of our favorite 2020 observations from the advisory team.
A TOAST TO BID 2020 GOODBYE
“It sure has been a strange year, with COVID wreaking havoc on people and economies around the world, a huge partisan divide in a country we all love that is called the United States, long stretches of isolation, having to learn new ways of doing things including how we work—it has a surreal feeling. I can’t even count the Christmas cards I’ve received with some variation on the theme of ‘good riddance to 2020’.
But this is a toast, and in looking back on the year I think it’s worth considering the contrarian view as we so often do as investors. The suffering that 2020 has brought can only be regarded as something we never want to see again, and nothing changes that. But it is also true that times of stress, disruption and pain strengthen our bond as we address our challenges together with resolve, ingenuity and love. As we approach the holidays that is a message worth remembering.”
THE YEAR AT LITMAN GREGORY
Each of us in ways big and small has had to find our own adaptability, resilience, and tenacity. Maybe even surprising ourselves with our own capacity. Here at Litman Gregory, we saw this every day, in all the ways we showed up for clients and coworkers. We found ways to be resourceful, dig in and work together, and we accomplished a lot. Some highlights:
As a business headquartered in California, which was very early in effecting a broad stay-at-home order, we quickly shifted all of our operations to remote status in mid-March. We got used to instant messages, phone calls and Zoom meetings and it’s likely some level of flexibility will remain part of our culture—particularly given the reality of commuting in Northern California.
When we do return in force to our physical workplaces, we will be in a brand new space for our Larkspur-based team thanks to an office move (just down the street). We look forward to welcoming clients when it is safe to do so.
We continued to advance essential strategic projects despite the lack of face-to-face coordination: At the close of 2020 we will be nearly complete in a four-year project to transition our portfolio accounting, client reporting and trading systems into an industry-leading integrated system. Clients saw the results of our upgrade in portfolio reporting capabilities starting in late 2016 and with our online portal launch in 2018. And while migrating our trading function will be invisible externally this shift builds efficiency and ensures long-term support for this vital function.
This year, one driver of trading was market volatility. As the early weeks of the pandemic saw a sharp global stock market drop as economies ground to a halt, we took advantage of lower valuations to add equity to our client portfolios and throughout 2020 we undertook tax trading to harvest losses wherever possible. More broadly, we worked with individual and family clients to apply the most useful provisions of the CARES and SECURE Acts alongside our more strategic tax and charitable planning.
In a year when there were too many urgent needs and important causes, we were inspired by the generosity we saw in our clients’ charitable support and legacy planning and in their involvement of younger generations in family philanthropy. The nonprofits whose endowments and foundations we advise were resolute in fulfilling their missions in the face of so many unanticipated needs and pressures.
Concern for our broader world has also led to an increasing number of conversations with our clients about sustainable investing. We are equipped today to work with clients in determining the role ESG-oriented investments will play in the portfolio and we expect this to be a continuing high priority for our group as the quality of opportunities improves in this rapidly growing area.
And within Litman Gregory, we saw increased participation in our charitable program as individuals across the firm donated funds to help families and communities impacted by the economic downturn, the California fires, and the ongoing struggle for true equality. A match campaign from our cofounders joined with our corporate match tripled the impact. And as an organization we were honored to continue our charitable partnerships, focused on ending family homelessness, supporting employment, and ensuring personal safety throughout our local region.
A CLOSING WISH FOR THE NEW YEAR
“To the year 2020, we take the lessons you have forced upon us and we carry them forward, with appreciation for the very many things that are wonderful in our lives, that are so easy to take for granted, and that you have reminded us we shouldn’t because literally anything can happen in this crazy life and crazy world of ours. So we’ll take it for all that it is, but like everyone ringing in 2021 will be the most welcome new year in a long time.”
We leave 2020 with an even greater sense of gratitude to our clients for the continuing trust and support, and for allowing us to advise and guide them toward their unique definitions of financial success.
— Litman Gregory Advisory Team
Our Thoughts on the Silicon Valley Bank Failure
Recent problems in the banking industry have increased uncertainty in the financial markets. On behalf of our clients, we have taken a close look at the situation and assessed the potential consequences. In this post we summarize the circumstances at Silicon Valley Bank that led to its failure, describe the broader implications, and review what we see as minimal impact for our clients and their portfolios.
Insight Newsletter—Winter 2023
Our Insight Newsletter is now available. Included in this edition: Investment Commentary Research Update: Trend Following with Managed Futures Tax Planning Opportunities from
Research Update: Trend Following with Managed Futures
The evidence of the long-term value that trend-following managed futures bring to a balanced portfolio is compelling, even though there are shorter periods where sharp see-saw patterns can lead to disappointing returns. However, in a year like 2022 that saw significant declines for both stocks and bonds, managed futures experienced large positive gains and were one of the only asset classes to provide meaningful downside protection. This research update serves to address many of the questions that we receive about this interesting investment strategy.