2020: Good, Bad, and Ugly

I am receiving holiday cards in the mail each day. One of my favorites states “Good Riddance 2020”. While I wholeheartedly agree, it got me thinking about all that has happened this year. And you know what? Not all of it was bad, not by a long shot. So here’s my summary of what happened in 2020; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Except I will list them in reverse order because my friend Charlie Henneman taught me that you should always start with bad news and end with good news.

The Ugly

35% Decline in Six Weeks – I tell clients that the stock market falls 30%, 40%, even 50% from time to time. We know that there will be bear markets. What we don’t know is when they will happen and what will cause them. I never thought I’d see it happen as quickly as it did between late February and the end of March. Even though I wrote about it being a buying opportunity, encouraged clients to invest cash on the sidelines, and bought more stocks in my personal accounts, I admit to having my own Bill Ackman style meltdown in late March. It was a terrifying market decline.

Depression-like, Record Economic Data – 25 million jobs were lost overnight when the pandemic forced closures of nonessential businesses nationwide. Who can forget the historic New York Times cover showing unemployment data that was literally off the charts? They had to repeat a similar cover for the decline in second quarter GDP. We saw economic data that was as bad or even worse than the Great Depression. I never thought I’d see anything worse than the great financial crisis. I was wrong.

Lockdown – Working from home is one thing. Working from home with a newborn baby and a three-year old is a new form of torture. I founds myself making the same terrible choices that many professional parents made this spring. I let my son watch hours and hours of Youtube videos of children playing with toys. I took phone calls in my car, in the bathroom, and in closets, so that I could have peace and quiet. I am so lucky that my daycare reopened in mid-May.

The Bad

Arguing About Masks and Facts – This probably belongs in the ugly category. I was very surprised that the pandemic failed to bring Americans together to fight a common enemy in Covid-19. I wrote about the politicization of all things Covid here. Remember the hydroxychloroquine / remdesivir debate between Republicans and Democrats? Insanity. I still cannot believe we are arguing about whether masks should be universally worn in public. Americans really showed our privilege and inability to deal with adversity this year, and the world was watching.

Investors on the Sidelines – There were two types of investors with cash on the sidelines this year; this who were nervous last fall and those who sold during the downturn. In March, I tried to call a few investors I spoke to in late 2019 who told me they were worried about the market being at all-time highs. None of them returned my call. I doubt they bought any stocks when they were lower. Since the spring, I’ve spoken to several investors who sold during the crisis. I get it. I was also terrified. The problem with trying to time the market is that you have two chances to be wrong, when to get out, but more importantly when to get back in.

Isolation – I was looking forward to the CFA Annual Conference in Atlanta, our company retreat on Long Island this summer, and the 2nd year of WealthStack in southern California. I haven’t been on a plane or seen any of my co-workers in person since November 6, 2019. I know grandparents who haven’t seen their grandchildren in over a year. Some haven’t met babies born this year. Humans are social creatures, and we need our interactions back. I can’t wait to start seeing people again. There will be lots of hugs. You’ve been warned.

The Good

Staying Invested Paid Off – If you told me in April, that the market would be up double digits by mid-December, I would have laughed in your face. I was prepared to guide my clients through a multi-year downturn. I knew staying the course was the right advice, I just never imagined the reversal would happen so quickly.

New Clients – I had a record year in terms of working with new clients. More people read financial blogs, listen to podcasts, and consume financial media when the market tanks. Members of my firm are creating some of the best financial content in all of these areas. Our efforts led to a record number of inbound inquiries of potential clients. I was lucky to draw the names of eleven people who are now new clients, and there may be a few more before year-end. Putting together the pieces of each financial puzzle, and helping them invest to achieve their goals, is what gets me up in the morning.

The Book – Our CEO Josh Brown called me in March to ask if I had time to write a chapter for a new book project that he and Brian Portnoy were putting together. I didn’t have time, but I found some. I am so honored to be included in, How I Invest My Money, along with twenty-four other rockstar financial professionals. Reading their chapters on investing and life was pure joy. I had to chuckle when mailing the book out to clients. I wrote that I invest in exactly the same way as they do in their portfolios. What a beautiful symbiosis.

My Daughter Anne – The highlight of my year was the birth of my daughter Anne in early February. Having young children reminds me that the world didn’t stop in March. She is almost walking now, and this week she started clapping her hands. It’s incredible. I planned to work from home this year before the pandemic began. But the pandemic has given me permission to never spend a night away from her in her first year. In so many ways, the worst the that happened this year has been a blessing for me.

 

I wish you all a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season. May we all be together again in person in 2021!

 

 

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