Looking for Clarity

Sometimes when doing research for these posts I stumble across an information goldmine. Case in point, the Ethics Unwrapped project from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

I was searching the web for a concise definition for "conflict of interest" and found this collection of short videos and educational resources. The content covers personal and professional ethics and does so in a way that's fun and easy to digest. If you have some time and are curious, I'd highly recommend perusing the website (a link follows at the end of this post).

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The Search for Silver Linings

It can be hard staying positive amid what can seem like an onslaught of negative news. Whether it's the stock market, politics of the day, or even the horrible tragedy in Pittsburgh this past weekend, finding the silver lining can seem like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Through yesterday this has been the 8th worst October for stocks since 1928, with the S&P 500 down almost 10% and the Dow down about 9%. 1929 and 1987 both saw 20+% declines in October, while '08 saw a 17% drop. So, I guess the silver lining is that it can always be worse?

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Volatility is Normal

As you are no doubt aware, last week was a wild one in the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the index most widely quoted in the media, fell about 5% over two days before eventually ending the week on a positive note. The index ultimately declined a little over 4% for the week.

Other indexes did worse while some fared better. The index for small company stocks, which had been on a bit of a run lately, dropped over 5% last week. Emerging markets, the worst performing asset class this year, did better, only dropping about 2%. Bonds, which had been lagging all year, largely did their job and held their value, increasing a fraction for the week. In short, returns were all over the place while being generally negative.

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Picking Out the Good Stuff

These are anxious times for many of you, I know. The stock market has been volatile lately and other news you're hearing may make it seem like things are going from bad to worse. There's good information out there, but sometimes we have to look for it.

We learned last week that our economy is continuing its strong run of over eight years of job growth. Our economy isn't perfect, of course, nobody's is, but the current 3.7% unemployment rate is near the lowest in history.

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Updates to Social Security & Medicare

A couple of weeks back we learned about some important updates regarding Social Security and Medicare. I had meant to write about them at the time but, as happens every now and then, the markets turned volatile and took precedence within these posts.

While I'll address the updates below, here's a quick note from my research partners at Bespoke Investment Group. The note came out last week on the anniversary of so-called Black Monday. The important takeaway is, as the saying goes, "it's time in the market and not timing the market" that pays the most over time.

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The Expectations Game

Managing our expectations is a hard thing to do. Should we lean negative so we're never disappointed, or should we always expect the best and revel when life goes our way? How does this impact our happiness? While people tend to put themselves firmly in the pessimist or optimist camp, can there be a middle ground where we try to set realistic expectations?

I've always liked the quote from Tom Magliozzi, the late co-host of the long-running NPR show, Car Talk, "Happiness equals reality minus expectations". The so-called Happiness Equation has been written and talked about a great deal and can be useful for investors, or anyone for that matter, when setting expectations in uncertain environments.

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