Look Around

We knew the upward streak of consecutive positive weeks couldn’t last forever and last week saw investors pulling in their bull horns and retreating to the sidelines with the S&P 500 Index down 2.2% and the NASDAQ off 2.5%. Weaker economic data from China, Europe, and parts of the U.S. was largely seen as the largest factor for the pullback. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a good start early in the week as the terrible Boeing aircraft crash in Ethiopia will put pressure on the Dow Jones Average with several countries postponing flights and taking necessary precautions until facts and conditions are known. In addition, the potential U.S/China trade negotiations are stalling in the minds of traders which could allow more downside without the support of strong earnings announcements.

On the positive side of the ledger if you watched 60 Minutes last night you would have heard Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman, speak in terms of patience and feeling no urgency to change policy for the foreseeable future and therefore allowing investors to remain calm about the possibility of more rate hikes over the next six to nine months. With Powell’s viewpoint and recent commentary from Mario Draghi, European Central Bank president, indicating emphatically that he will not push European rates higher in the face of weaker data in Germany, Italy, and frankly most of Europe. From my perspective, this pause and relative calm regarding interest rates tells investors they can rest comfortably with their electric and telecom utilities along with other higher yielding stocks and bond proxy investments without the fear that a sudden rate rise will wipe out positive returns.

Turning back to the 60 Minutes interview with Powell, you may have heard his remarks from the question regarding the biggest threat for financial markets going forward. No it is not another financial crash due to bad loans and weak underwriting standards for mortgages and other packaged loan products; it is Internet Security. Powell commented and I agree wholeheartedly that this threat is real and in the best case is a “work in process”.

Importantly, I attended the 2019 RSA Cyber Security Conference in San Francisco last week with 50,000 of my fellow participants attending dozens of informative sessions about very specific cyber security threats and innovations. I came away from the conference with the knowledge that the bad actors/nations possess the same technology and expertise to damage everything from our personal computers to the industrial infrastructure of every major system, port, and airport with malicious viruses and threat actions. The good news is that more and more of our best companies are working together to defend networks and protect our data. However, this war and believe me this is a war of potentially huge consequences is real and will be a topic we hear about more frequently over months and years to come. Think about it. We are becoming more and more dependent on our cell phones, iPads, personal computers, and internet (such as turning down your home thermostat from a cell phone app) that it provides an opportunity for security breaches that could affect your personal and potentially your financial life.

These threats are real and costly to combat. This is why I believe investments in cyber security companies is a necessary technology component for most portfolios. Large companies like Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Verizon, Alphabet (Google), and Facebook and our best banks are spending tons of money on cyber security. Furthermore, pure play cyber security focused companies like Palo Alto Networks, CyberArk Software, Fortinet, and FireEye are working continuously with global companies around the world to prevent cybercrime and costly breaches. I will be looking for other investments that provide services and products that protect businesses and consumers from the bad guys with bad motives.

Have a great week,

Roger N. Steed

March 11, 2019

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