The following is an email letter sent out to clients on March 15, 2020. We are documenting this here for the benefit of those who are not (yet) clients as an example of how we believe an advisor should communicate with the people they serve.

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Hello –

A whole lot has changed since my update last week. it’s hard to believe that was just seven days ago. With local schools closing and runs on TP and other staples, stress is up for both of us. While it would be nice if we could just turn the stress off, that’s not realistic. The most important thing right now is to limit that stress by understanding and managing the situation.

MANAGE STRESS

Right now, that means making the time for sleep, healthy eating, proper hygiene but also time for each other. Social distancing requires physical separation. It shouldn’t also mean personal isolation but it will take intentional effort to overcome that natural tendency. Similarly, attention to the financial side of your life should also be maintained – not necessarily heightened as the media hype might incline.

As such, if we haven’t spoken recently, I welcome your request to set an evening call to chat. You can use this link: https://www.meetingbird.com/l/altus/wc30. As I said last week, “I’m here for you,” always happy to listen while also willing to share insights from our research or my 20 years helping clients through storms of the past.

STOP vs LIMIT

There is a huge distinction between trying to eliminate/stop/contain/ignore a problem and accepting the problem exists, understanding it and figuring out how to manage the downside. That distinction runs through several narratives – the coronavirus, investment management and general wealth health and that’s what I’ll explore in this email.

A pandemic (like most else in life) is a process. We are still in the very early stages of that process, especially in the U.S. where we have only this week started testing (finally). Our lives will (continue to) change as this process unfolds. I would expect the number of cases in the U.S. to skyrocket as the virus is already in the states and probably has been here for over a month. We’ll just be (finally) tracking its presence more accurately.

With increased testing, the headlines are likely to be alarming. I get daily notices from the Boston Globe. On one day earlier this week, I received two email “alerts,” one when the number of official Coronavirus cases in Massachusetts hit 96, and another a few hours later when it hit 98. Those are not typos. What kind of alarm will they sound when we add a couple zeros – to 1000 cases in the state or (possibly) even 10,000 cases in the state (note – by mid-April Massachusettes was seeing 2000 new cases a day and the death toll was in the 90’s per day)? Multiply that by 50 states. How will markets respond?

Your guess is as good as mine but fear has gripped the markets. We saw 5 greater-than 5% change days in a row on U.S. equities last week – three were down and two were up. 2 of the 3 down days were nearly 10% losses. And losses were across the board, not just U.S. equities. This is what happens when fear grips a market – everything goes down.

PORTFOLIO UPDATE

So how did we do with your investments? We lost some money – close to 10% over the whole week. We did have to close some positions, those sales triggered by lower-lows and lower-highs. There are a few more asset classes that will probably be closed this week once we see a confirming lower high from the bounce on Friday.

We are now 12.5% below the peak in February and about 10% down year-to-date. That is NOT ideal in my book as I hate losing money, EVER. It is, however, better than the alternative which would be accounts that are now down 20% from their peak in February and 16% off for the year – and that after a 9% run up on Friday. For our strategy, the worst is behind us as we are past the inflection point (going from an up trend to a down one).

We’re out to limit losses. We know we can’t prevent them completely. Still, with this market and being in the early stages of a pandemic, diligence and adherence to the policy is critical. This past week, we ran the analysis several times a day with a daily wrap up and deeper dive into the data each evening. I’ll continue to devote the time necessary to stay on top of events and market repercussions as well as to execute our strategy on your behalf.

But investments are just a small part personal finance, your financial plan and life. Let’s explore this “Stop vs Limit” concept as it applies to other equally important stuff …

ADDITIONAL NOTES ON COVID-19

A disease like this brings out the best and worst in people. There is a lot of good information out there and hopefully, with more widespread testing, the data will be more realistic than what we’re seeing today. It won’t be prettier, but truth has power and knowledge gives us all the ability to act responsibly rather than ignorantly.

I want you to be aware of some scams and hoaxes out there, some of them quite dangerous. Be sure to get your information from reliable sources. Be extra-careful with web links shared in social media or over email. Some coronavirus tracking sites track more than the virus. They also deposit malware or tracking software in your computer.

Also, mis-information about Covid-19 and how to protect yourself runs rampant on the web. You can’t go wrong with the Center for Disease Control website. My favorite place to start is https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html and click through links from there.

WEALTH HEALTH PRACTICES

A quick summary of best practices:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and regularly.
  • Do NOT touch your head or face unless you just washed your hands.
  • Practice social distancing – 6 feet of physical separation.
  • The virus is transmitted through droplets from a sneeze or cough that can live on a surface (counter, desk, pen) for a prolonged period of time.
  • Clean and Sanitize surfaces regularly. Links for products and or solutions that DO work on the virus are available through the CDC website.
I’ll reiterate three of my own –
  • Manage stress as much as possible. Use yoga, meditation or just breathing. Take time off to enjoy something fun every day.
  • Limit sugar intake. Stress and Sugar both compromise your immune system.
  • Supplement Vitamin C as doing so can strengthen your immune system.

NOTES ON FLATTENING THE CURVE

Sporting events being cancelled or going fanless, conferences being cancelled, universities going virtual, schools closing and more – these are all attempts to slow the spread of the virus. I don’t believe the media has done a great job of being clear that this will NOT contain the virus or protect us from seeing substantial infection rates. Those numbers are certain to skyrocket once mass testing takes place.

What these efforts WILL do is slow the number of new cases that will hit our medical services community at the same time. An overwhelmed medical system is THE problem with a pandemic. If too many people get sick at the same time and all demand medical care at once, the truly at-risk patients (older with respiratory issues already) will not get the care they need to survive and the death rate will skyrocket.

An article at History.com (https://www.history.com/news/spanish-flu-pandemic-response-cities) outlines the tale of two cities – Philadelphia which held a parade as the Spanish Flu of 1918 was spreading and St. Louis which effectively slowed the transmission of the disease through actions similar to what we’re seeing today – no parade and no large gatherings. Philly’s hospitals were overrun with sick people and many died without getting any medical attention. St. Louis’s citizens fared much better.

Cities and states are getting on the bandwagon to flatten the curve – better late than never. Hopefully, this will slow the ramp up of the disease in the U.S. to a level that our medical facilities can handle. We spent the last month in denial. There was a lot of talk about “containment” and almost not talk about “management.” That was a serious policy error. I can only hope that our citizens don’t pay the price. Either way, buckle up. The ride has only just begun.

Take care and, by all means, schedule a call if you want to chat. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in Wealth Health,

John

Wealth Health – Wellness For Your Wallet

John D. Buerger, CFP® MSFS
Wealth Coach / Financial Planner