Monthly Archives

July 2019
  • Creating Your Nonprofit’s Investment Committee

    Foundations and non-profits are busy organizations with a myriad of tasks and goals. Often these organizations are filled with smart individuals with specific talents and backgrounds that make them ideal for the job at hand. 

    However, not all foundation board members or employees are actually well-suited for overseeing the management of the organization’s finances and investments. The importance of overseeing your assets cannot be overlooked. Your endowment is a key driver of your nonprofit’s survivability and future growth. 

    So, how can foundations and non-profits create a responsible investment committee to ensure a sustainable future? 

    The first step in creating a good group of individuals to oversee your finances and investments is to appreciate how important this committee is to your future. While it may seem easy to collect various individuals from within your organization who seem like they will be good “team players,” this method is usually a mistake. Each member of the finance committee should be selected carefully without exception. 

    In addition, there should be a written investment committee charter that authorizes its formation, purpose, roles, and responsibilities, as well as its meeting schedules.

    In selecting individuals to be on the investment committee, it is best to have at least one person with some experience in the financial / investment field. While the other members need not have direct experience, they should demonstrate a willingness to learn about investing through meetings and outside resources. 

    Every member of the investment committee has a fiduciary obligation to the organization. This requires many important character traits such as high moral character, the commitment to avoid conflicts of interest, a deep knowledge of the foundation’s mission, and of course the ability to attend all meetings. A member with a great background in investing, but who rarely attends meetings, is less than ideal. 

    To ensure your investment committee stays true to their fiduciary obligations and charter, it is highly recommended that they hire an outside investment manager. In doing so, they can bring in a team that can telegraph the current financial market conditions and can serve as a well-seasoned sounding board for questions and thoughts from the committee. Hiring an outside investment manager also goes a long way to fulfilling the committee’s fiduciary obligations. As with hiring any outside counsel, the committee should have well-planned criteria for this selection and a process to monitor the adviser.

    Members of the investment committee are often exposed to differing opinions about the state of the economy or the direction of the financial markets. Some of these thoughts and media opinions can rightly be debated.  However, a good committee member needs to bring an open mind, a willingness to listen to the professional investment manager, and above all be non-argumentative. A careful balance of open-mindedness and curiosity usually does the trick!

    In the end, a well-formed investment committee will put the odds in your organization’s favor to ensure better communication with the board of directors, to fulfill your fiduciary responsibilities, and to generate successful long-term investment results for a sustainable future.


    The Sustainable Endowment was written for executives and board members of small- to mid-size U.S.-based nonprofits, charities, or foundations. Running a nonprofit requires specialized knowledge and skills, especially regarding foundation management and investing your endowment so it remains sustainable for years to come.

    This book walks you through the basics and best practices of what you need to know to be successful.

    Order your copy today on Amazon



  • Dances with Bulls… & Bears

    Late Cycle Opportunities and Risk

    As we enter the second half of the year global stock indexes have exceeded almost every strategist’s expectations. This powerful advance has just slightly erased the entire steep decline of 2018. It is unusual since it hasn’t been based on any strong underlying themes. In fact, stocks have rallied into declining economic growth and corporate earnings, a tariff war, and a Federal Reserve which has become concerned about the potential for a recession. So what gives? Is the stock market vulnerable? Is there more upside left? I would suggest a little of both.

    During the later stages of an economic expansion, stocks often stage a “super rally” before running into trouble. Investors who recall 1999’s astonishing advance just before the 2000-01 bear market (-50% for indexes) can attest to this phenomenon. Like today’s rally, ‘99 came after a significant warning decline in ‘98 (Russian debt crisis). That decline was quite similar to the mini bear market of last fall. Late-stage rallies like today or others in history can go on longer and higher than investors expect – usually on less than perfect economic and earnings growth – and can be tricky. Our human behavior doesn’t want to miss a stitch of any upside, but we also don’t want to be vulnerable to a significant decline. There are several ways to play this scenario.

    So far my strategy for this late stage rally has been to have less stock exposure. Sacrificing some upside to mitigate risk and adding to stocks only on market corrections and or when we find unique situations. At this point, your portfolio is 2/3rds invested as opposed to 100%, but given that the Federal Reserve may lower rates to “save the market”, what if the late-stage rally lasts another year?? Should we be more invested? Yes, but only during market pullbacks.

    As long as you add stock exposure during market corrections, as I suggested did in May, you are assured of taking less risk and getting your portfolio closer to index-like returns over time. Each time indexes trade down, your portfolio holds up better and your opportunity to add stock presents itself. It’s a “dance” of sorts and I know this process can test the patience of the most aggressive, growth-oriented investor, but historically it has worked. When I say it worked, I mean it gained return while managing risk.

    Over the next few weeks, I will be in the thick of earnings reports for the second quarter. I believe these earnings will be less than expected and coupled with continually weaker economic data and tariff pressure. Investors should expect a normal market pullback from current levels and use such a pullback as another opportunity to add stock exposure.

    You can continue to gain profitability in this late-stage bull market, but it is a riskier environment and one that requires you to be aware of downside risk. Keep in mind that should stock prices begin to fall more than normal, you should be willing to reverse your “dance” pattern, reduce stock and sector exposure, and continue to have stop-loss orders to fend off a catastrophic loss.

    I hope this short update is helpful as we head straight into the earnings reporting season and provides clarity on our opportunistic view of the markets.

    The Sustainable Endowment was written for executives and board members of small- to mid-size U.S.-based nonprofits, charities, or foundations. Running a nonprofit requires specialized knowledge and skills, especially regarding foundation management and investing your endowment so it remains sustainable for years to come.

    This book walks you through the basics and best practices of what you need to know to be successful.

    Order your copy today on Amazon

  • “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road?”

    Fed Pivots, Trade War Ensues and Earnings Loom

    Over the past 18 months, global investors have experienced a number of crosscurrents which created quite a bit of drama, yet yielded little upside in global stock markets. For those less invested during this strange period, there has been little missed opportunity. During the past year and a half I have witnessed stock indexes attempt new highs not once, but three times, without success.

    I find this current fourth attempt of interest, since it is in the face of impending earnings results, well-documented slowing economic growth, trade wars and an inverted yield curve – all of which has caused the Federal Reserve to finally agree that we may have veered off “the yellow brick road” as they now consider lowering interest rates. If and when the Fed reduces rates, will it be too late given the well-publicized weakness in so many economic indicators? And what should investors anticipate for the second half of this year?

    Source: Bloomberg

    In many of my previous Strategy Updates, I have emphasized the importance of data: economic and corporate profit growth is essential for meaningful stock market returns. However, a third prong – policy – has played an increasingly important role in financial markets as evidenced by trade wars and the Federal Reserve. Has our path to generating great long-term returns changed? Should we say, “Goodbye yellow brick road?” I think not.

    Trade wars pose a significant risk to global financial markets as companies are forced to rethink supply chains, which impacts margins and ultimately profitability. With earnings season right around the corner, there are already a few companies like Broadcom and FedEx reporting poor quality earnings with explicit citation of geopolitical uncertainties – namely the trade war! It will be interesting to see if these reports are the “canary in the coal mine.” We continue to believe that this trade war must be resolved in order for this market to resume a longer-term uptrend.

    Jerome Powell and his colleagues at the Fed have pivoted their policy from just short six months ago, which has led investors to price-in rate cuts by year’s end. The purpose of lowering interest rates is to stimulate an anemic economy and inflation rate while attempting to counteract the inverted yield curve, which has historically preceded recessions. However, the idea of cutting interest rates so soon and so aggressively suggests that the US economy and moreover global economies are not on firm ground – a view we have had for some time now.

    We certainly do not want to “fight the Fed” if they do decide on a more accommodative policy path like European counterpart, Mario Draghi. However, simply flooding the stock market with additional capital is a bandage on a ten-year wound, which has never fully healed post-2008. The Fed’s lack of tools – specifically the inability to cut rates further from an already low level – leaves the global economy particularly vulnerable as we go forward. This is why I stand prepared to thoughtfully add stock exposure if the Fed acts as the markets want, yet keep on hand risk management tools, such as stop-loss orders and sector management if simply lowering rates does not get this economy back on track.

    While both global economic growth and earnings quality have decreased over the past few quarters, they are still positive (particularly in certain sectors), which bodes well for businesses with consistent revenue models – think goods and services you cannot live without! These are the types of companies we want in your portfolio. The better than expected index performance in defensive sectors such as utilities, consumer staples, and healthcare this year has validated my thesis.

    A lower interest rate environment would also offer more interesting opportunities in the public real estate market (REITs) and select business models. I am cautiously optimistic that the backdrop of low inflation, an accommodative Fed and resilient economic and earnings data will get this market back on track. I expect several corrections along the way as policymakers and companies alike navigate this new landscape and we should stand prepared to thoughtfully add exposure to sectors and companies performing well in this environment. Should trade talks continue to break down, the Fed acts too late, or corporate profits and economies deteriorate further, be well prepared to weather the storm.

    When there are periods of conflicting asset prices and data, I tend to err on the side of caution, as protecting capital in bear markets allows you to better reach your long-term goals of retirement, spending policy guidelines, or next-generation legacy. In that spirit, continue to look for further evidence of better earnings quality, economic growth, and trade resolution before becoming significantly more invested with your portfolio. I think such a period may come sooner than most investors think.

    I hope you find this update helpful.

    The Sustainable Endowment was written for executives and board members of small- to mid-size U.S.-based nonprofits, charities, or foundations. Running a nonprofit requires specialized knowledge and skills, especially regarding foundation management and investing your endowment so it remains sustainable for years to come.

    This book walks you through the basics and best practices of what you need to know to be successful.

    Order your copy today on Amazon