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Will the Rational Bubble Become Irrational?

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In my last article, “Riding the Rational Bubble,” I shared that given the economic conditions we have experienced over the last six years, financial bubbles could be developing. Alan Greenspan said, “Long-term economic stability with low inflation will result in a bubble.” If he is right, get ready for a financial bubble, because that is exactly what we have seen over the past seven years. Since 2010, the U.S. economy has been stable, with real GDP growing at an annual 2.2 percent average. Inflation during that period has been low, with the consumer price index growing at
1.7 percent on average over that same period.

However, bubbles alone aren’t necessarily damaging to an economy. Take the stock market debacle of 1987—late in the year the market tumbled 24 percent in one day, but fundamentally the economy didn’t change. Bubbles with leverage, on the other hand, can be dangerous.

Since the Great Recession, the U.S. economy has been stimulated by aggressive monetary policy, with little impact on growing the economy, yet perhaps with significant impact on stabilizing the economy. With the new administration, we will experience a paradigm shift moving from aggressive monetary policy and weak fiscal policy to the opposite—aggressive fiscal policy and diminishing monetary policy stimulus. Could this exacerbate financial bubbles and change rational bubbles to irrational ones?

At present, we see three potential bubbles worth watching: 1) sovereign debt, 2) the stock market, and 3) interest rates. At this time we think interest rates could be the first irrational bubble, with sovereign debt following suit if not dealt with over the longer-term.

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Sovereign Debt

The U.S. national debt is $19.8 trillion or 105 percent of our GDP. On the surface that looks like a bubble that will end badly. However, $5.4 trillion, or 27 percent, of that debt is intragovernmental holdings. Therefore, if evaluating debt held by the public, debt to GDP is only 75 percent.

This model has been the recent strategy to combat slowing economic growth around the world. Japan’s debt to GDP stands at 229 percent. Again, on the surface it seems like a bubble, yet 40 percent of their debt is held by the Bank of Japan. What matters is who owns the debt.

Professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff and economist Vincent Reinhart studied the debt- to-GDP ratios of advanced economies. Their conclusion was when countries have a debt to GDP ratio that exceeds 90 percent for at least five years, it has a negative effect on the economy. High levels of public debt are associated with lower growth. In total government debt, the U.S. passed the 90 percent debt- to-GDP ratio in 2010; but when we consider just the debt in the public’s hands, we still have a way to go.

The sovereign debt bubble has been developing over many years; I don’t think it will burst in the next few years, but do believe it will become more problematic. President Trump’s fiscal policy may deflate one bubble and exacerbate another. Lower taxes and regulation may jump-start corporate earnings and keep equity valuations in check. However, more than likely, it will increase the national debt. Sooner or later there may be a day of reckoning, but I have been in the investment business for 27 years, and over the years the common question has always been, “What about the debt?” In hindsight, perhaps the best response would have been, “So what about the debt?” The reality is that even though the economy grew and the debt levels increased, investors continued to make money.

The Stock Market

Since the beginning of 2009 to the end of 2016, the S&P 500 has moved up nicely—190 percent to be exact. But that alone doesn’t put it in bubble territory. When you analyze the valuation of the S&P 500, it is clearly not in bubble territory. In fact, I would argue that it is fairly valued. Today the market trades at 17.5 times forward earnings, far from the near 30 times earnings we saw in the tech bubble in the late 1990s.

Bubbles with debt are dangerous. Margin debt, or leverage in buying stocks, is now at previous peaks relative to GDP. If the market traded at a lofty valuation, along with this leverage, it would be a red flag, and an irrational bubble would be looming. That is not the case today as valuations remain rational.

Last year we were concerned with an earnings recession due to the contraction of oil prices and the U.S. dollar headwinds. In the first and second quarters of 2016, earnings contracted, putting the market’s valuation in question. However, earnings did rebound in the second half of the year, and we expect earnings growth for calendar year 2016 to be in the 2-4 percent range. This year, given the economy’s momentum, we anticipate corporate earnings to grow around 9 percent, not assuming any of President Trump’s growth initiatives. If President Trump is successful in implementing his proposed fiscal policy initiatives swiftly, the risk to our earnings forecast is to the upside. This should keep valuations in check and avoid an irrational bubble.

Interest Rates

The U.S. bond market has been in a bull market for more than 35 years. In 1981, the yield on the 10-year Treasury was 15.8 percent. Over the next 35 years, interest rates came down to virtually zero. In August of 2016, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.3 percent, partly due to loose monetary policy and quantitative easing. This has become an irrational bubble. Why have Fed Funds been at virtually zero with a stable economy growing at 2 percent? This is not solely a U.S. problem—global growth has slowed and the central bankers in Europe and Japan have pushed interest rates down to zero in an attempt to stimulate their economies, putting additional downward pressure on interest rates in the United States.

President Trump has suggested the economy will grow faster than 3 percent. We think 2.5-3 percent is more realistic. If the president’s forecast comes to fruition, inflation expectations will move higher, ending the longest bull market I have seen in my career. As long as we don’t experience a surprise inflation spike or runaway inflation, the Federal Open Market Committee will be able to manage this bubble deflation by moving short-term interest rates higher on a moderate glide path.

Conclusion

As economies and markets ebb and flow, financial bubbles come and go; they’re just part of the cycle. Many times it is difficult to identify bubbles until they pop. As a friend once told me, “All peaks aren’t bubbles, yet all bubbles have peaks.”

Conditions are conducive for bubbles to develop; we have to be mindful of that. Risk-based assets may perform well this year, and we remain cautiously optimistic. Yet, as always, we never lose sight of the risk that is present.

 

UMB Investment Management is a division within UMB Bank, n.a. that manages active portfolios for employee benefit plans, endowments and foundations, fiduciary accounts and individuals. UMB Financial Services, Inc.* is a subsidiary of UMB Financial Corporation. UMB Financial Services, Inc is not a bank and is separate from UMB Bank, n.a.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and contains no investment advice or recommendations to buy or sell any specific securities. Statements in this report are based on the opinions of UMB Investment Management and the information available at the time this report was published.

All opinions represent our judgments as of the date of this report and are subject to change at any time without notice. You should not use this report as a substitute for your own judgment, and you should consult professional advisors before making any tax, legal, financial planning or investment decisions. This report contains no investment recommendations and you should not interpret the statements in this report as investment, tax, legal, or financial planning advice. UMB Investment Management obtained information used in this report from third-party sources it believes to be reliable, but this information is not necessarily comprehensive and UMB Investment Management does not guarantee that it is accurate.

All investments involve risk, including the possible loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Neither UMB Investment Management nor its affiliates, directors, officers, employees or agents accepts any liability for any loss or damage arising out of your use of all or any part of this report.

“UMB” – Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. Copyright © 2017. UMB Financial Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Securities offered through UMB Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC or the Investment Banking Division of UMB Bank, n.a.

*Insurance products offered through UMB Insurance Inc.

You may not have an account with all of these entities.

Contact your UMB Representative if you have any questions.

*Securities and Insurance products are:

Not FDIC Insured * No Bank Guarantee * Not a Deposit * Not Insured by any Government Agency * May Lose Value


K.C. Mathews joined UMB in 2002. As executive vice president and chief investment officer, Mr. Mathews is responsible for the development, execution and oversight of UMB’s investment strategy. He is chairman of the Trust Investment, Asset Allocation and Trust Policy Committees. Mr. Mathews has more than 20 years of diverse experience in the investment industry. Prior to joining UMB, he served as vice president and manager of the portfolio management group at Bank of Oklahoma for nine years. Mr. Mathews earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Mathews attended the ABA National Trust School at Northwestern University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst and member of the CFA Institute. He is past president of the Kansas City CFA Society and a past president of the Oklahoma Society of Financial Analysts.



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Riding the rational bubble

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Don Ho’s famous song “Tiny Bubbles” went something like this:

Tiny bubbles, in the wine

Make me happy, make me feel fine.

Tiny bubbles make we warm all over

With a feeling that I’m gonna love you till the end of time.

Don Ho’s lyrics perfectly capture the way we typically feel about asset bubbles. Asset bubbles are formed when assets become over-inflated and prices rise beyond any real sustainable value. As asset bubbles are developing and asset prices are increasing, we feel fine and warm all over, buoyed by hope the bubbles never end. Unfortunately, they are typically followed by a crash. They don’t last until the end of time. Many empirical examples exist going back to the 1600s when “tulip mania,” a speculative bubble in tulip bulbs in the Netherlands, resulted in a collapse. More recently, the Dot-com bubble of the late 1990s burst when shares of Internet-related companies soared to astronomically high prices.

I spoke to CNBC about my take on this recently:

I also sat down with Gregg Greenberg at The Street to discuss asset bubbles.

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How to spot an asset bubble

Identifying bubbles can be difficult. Bubbles have historically emerged in periods of productivity where structural change enhancements and/or a low interest rate environment were present. Examples include the railway boom, the electricity boom and the Internet boom. So the question of the day is: Are we experiencing an asset bubble? Clearly we are not experiencing a productivity boom similar to those that have promoted bubbles in the past. However, we are experiencing the other end of the equation—historically low interest rates. Quantitative easing (QE) has failed to promote economic activity as expected, but it has driven interest rates to virtually zero for six years. Given that backdrop, asset bubbles are to be expected.

So are we in an asset bubble or is a bubble developing? I believe that a bubble is developing, caused by aggressive monetary policy around the globe. Presently the valuation of the market is rational, with the current price earnings (PE) ratio 20 times the last 12 months earnings and the current yield on the 10-year Treasury at 1.5 percent. Looking back, we now know there was a bubble in the equity market in early 2000. At that time the PE ratio was 30 times trailing earnings and the yield on the 10-year Treasury was 6.8 percent. Keep in mind that low interest rates and low inflation should support a higher multiple, so today 20 times trailing earnings would be defined as rational.

Can we ride the bubble?

There is vast array of academic research that would suggest the answer is yes. As asset bubbles form, many attempt to profit from the irrational exuberance of others, in effect promoting further growth of the bubble. I labeled today’s bubble “rational” because we don’t know the counter-factual argument. What if Ben Bernanke didn’t execute on QE? Would we have fallen into a recession? I don’t know; no one does and more importantly, it never happened. It appears to be rational that The Federal Reserve (Fed) would lower interest rates and keep them low for quite some time. In addition, by analyzing the global economy, one could conclude that low interest rates are rational and the bubble will remain in place for some time

When does the rational bubble become irrational?

Again, history provides us some indication. For example, tulip mania manifested over four years and the “South Sea Bubble,” a British stock bubble centered on trading rights purchased by the South Sea Company in the year 1716, also lasted four years. Interestingly, Isaac Newton found himself caught up in this bubble and apparently lost money in the ensuing crash. His famous quote, “I can calculate the movement of stars, but not the madness of men,” sums up the irrational behavior in a bubble. Another famous example, Black Monday – or the stock market crash of 1987 – ended the bull market run that started in 1982. I always get a kick out of the November 1987 Time Magazine cover titled: “The Crash—After a wild week on Wall Street, the world is different.” I respectfully disagree. The world didn’t change because of a stock market debacle. Lastly, the Dot-com bubble I referenced earlier began in the late 1990s and developed over a five-year period. The bottom line is that history tells us most asset bubbles come and go within a three- to five-year period. Rational bubbles become irrational when valuations can’t be justified. I do not believe we are there yet.

Are we in an asset bubble?

Admittedly, the challenge in determining the duration of a bubble is defining the anchor points. When did the bubble actually begin and when did it end? Typically these anchor points are a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, it appears that historically, bubbles have lasted three to five years.

I know what you’re thinking: interest rates have been low for six years and the stock market has gone up since mid-2009. Does this mean we are in a bubble and will it burst? As I mentioned, it is extremely difficult to determine when exactly a bubble begins to develop. One key indicator to consider is that bubbles typically begin when we see an economic recovery turn into an expansion phase.

After the Great Recession in 2008 to 2009, the Fed lowered interest rates to stabilize the economy and right the ship. However, GDP growth has looked tortoise-like from 2010 to 2013 rather than showing a more robust economic recovery that could then lead to the development of an asset bubble. I believe the rational bubble we are in today likely began around 2014 when GDP held steady at 2.4 percent, followed by 2.4 percent again in 2015.

Stock market valuations have increased but are nowhere near levels we have seen them prior to past crashes. Interest rates are low and are expected to remain low for quite some time, yet inflation remains in check. It all appears to be rational. This signals investors to stay invested, buy quality companies and monitor the situation carefully.

Will the bubble burst?

The previous examples I cited were situations where a bubble has become irrational and eventually burst, though not all asset bubbles end badly. We may experience the frequent development of asset bubbles over the years, but most remain rational and eventually dissipate as the markets correct. This may be precisely the situation we find ourselves in today.

 

When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s website and go to websites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other websites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.

UMB Investment Management is a division within UMB Bank, n.a. that manages active portfolios for employee benefit plans, endowments and foundations, fiduciary accounts and individuals. UMB Financial Services, Inc.* is a subsidiary of UMB Financial Corporation. UMB Financial Services, Inc is not a bank and is separate from UMB Bank, n.a.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and contains no investment advice or recommendations to buy or sell any specific securities. Statements in this report are based on the opinions of UMB Investment Management and the information available at the time this report was published.

All opinions represent our judgments as of the date of this report and are subject to change at any time without notice. You should not use this report as a substitute for your own judgment, and you should consult professional advisors before making any tax, legal, financial planning or investment decisions. This report contains no investment recommendations and you should not interpret the statements in this report as investment, tax, legal, or financial planning advice. UMB Investment Management obtained information used in this report from third-party sources it believes to be reliable, but this information is not necessarily comprehensive and UMB Investment Management does not guarantee that it is accurate.

All investments involve risk, including the possible loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Neither UMB Investment Management nor its affiliates, directors, officers, employees or agents accepts any liability for any loss or damage arising out of your use of all or any part of this report.

“UMB” – Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. Copyright © 2016. UMB Financial Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Securities offered through UMB Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC or the Investment Banking Division of UMB Bank, n.a.

*Insurance products offered through UMB Insurance Inc.

You may not have an account with all of these entities.

Contact your UMB Representative if you have any questions.

*Securities and Insurance products are:

Not FDIC Insured  *  No Bank Guarantee  *  Not a Deposit  *  Not Insured by any Government Agency  *  May Lose Value

 


K.C. Mathews joined UMB in 2002. As executive vice president and chief investment officer, Mr. Mathews is responsible for the development, execution and oversight of UMB’s investment strategy. He is chairman of the Trust Investment, Asset Allocation and Trust Policy Committees. Mr. Mathews has more than 20 years of diverse experience in the investment industry. Prior to joining UMB, he served as vice president and manager of the portfolio management group at Bank of Oklahoma for nine years. Mr. Mathews earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Mathews attended the ABA National Trust School at Northwestern University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst and member of the CFA Institute. He is past president of the Kansas City CFA Society and a past president of the Oklahoma Society of Financial Analysts.



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Active, Passive or Complementary Investing?

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Most of the debate around passive versus active investing comes from those advocating for one approach over the other. We, on the other hand, believe they are complementary and not mutually exclusive. Based on our research, neither an all-passive, nor all-active portfolio, is the optimized portfolio. Rather, optimal appears somewhere in the middle. Blending both active and passive investing strategies can provide a more attractive risk-return profile.

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Read our full perspective by clicking here or learn more about our Private Wealth Management division. See what we mean when we say, “Your story is our focus.


K.C. Mathews joined UMB in 2002. As executive vice president and chief investment officer, Mr. Mathews is responsible for the development, execution and oversight of UMB’s investment strategy. He is chairman of the Trust Investment, Asset Allocation and Trust Policy Committees. Mr. Mathews has more than 20 years of diverse experience in the investment industry. Prior to joining UMB, he served as vice president and manager of the portfolio management group at Bank of Oklahoma for nine years. Mr. Mathews earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Mathews attended the ABA National Trust School at Northwestern University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst and member of the CFA Institute. He is past president of the Kansas City CFA Society and a past president of the Oklahoma Society of Financial Analysts.



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Corporate Earnings and Fidget Spinners

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What do corporate profits and fidget spinners have in common?

Happiness.

While parents may never understand fidget spinners, kids sure love them. Trendy toys make kids happy, even if we don’t understand the intrigue. While we expect fidget spinner fascination to wane and follow the path of prior fads, such as the pet rock, Furbys and silly bands, we expect the opposite of corporate earnings.

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We believe corporate earnings are moving to trend status and have the staying power to grow for the next eight quarters. And this will translate to happiness in the market. Stock markets do well when corporate earnings are stronger than expected, as earnings are the lifeblood of the market.

July 10 marks the unofficial start to second quarter earnings season, and we expect earnings growth momentum to continue based on the following data.

Shift from Earnings Recession to Earnings Expansion

Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2014, corporate earnings evaporated, starting an earnings recession that lasted until the third quarter of 2016 when earnings finally posted a slightly positive gain.

The first quarter of 2017 recorded strong earnings growth of 17.8 percent and sales growth of 8.5 percent. Wage inflation, commodity costs, margins, and share repurchases boosted (and will continue to boost) earnings growth.

Additionally, easy year-over-year comparisons helped these numbers, as earnings declined 5.0 percent last year during the same time period.

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Industries We’re Watching

Technology and finance sectors are expected to have the highest growth rates among all S&P 500 sectors.

  • Strong demand for cloud-based services and cell phones are leading growth for technology.
  • In the finance sector, the recent increase in interest rates bode well for banks as expanding margins can make more profit on the money they lend out relative to their interest paid on deposits such as checking/savings accounts. Additionally, higher rates should help offset weaker than expected loan growth trends.

Key Drivers: A Look Ahead

Sustainable corporate earnings growth is driven by economic activity and GDP growth, and corporate earnings are highly correlated. Economic global growth continues to improve, with China and Europe’s economic data showing signs of green shoots, and we see a pick-up in domestic growth as well.

We expect second quarter earnings to increase eight percent and revenue growth to grow four percent.

Timing the Earnings Tailwind

The promise of fiscal stimulus is a tailwind for corporate earnings. Tax reform, reduced regulation and infrastructure spending have the potential to increase earnings by 10 to 15 percent.

However, there are two issues with fiscal stimulus. The first is timing—how quickly will things develop? Given current conditions, it appears this will be a 2018 event.

Secondly, fiscal stimulus has a short-term impact on economies and markets. Historically, when you are late in an economic cycle like we are now, fiscal stimulus is effective for only four or five quarters.

Therefore, while potential fiscal stimulus is positive for the long-term, investors will have to exercise some patience and understand that they may be shorter-lived when they are realized.

The Broader View

We have a positive view on the economy and expect GDP to grow at 2.2 percent in 2017. Over time, S&P 500 revenue growth has had a multiplier of 1.5 times GDP growth. This GDP multiplier, plus an expected rebound in oil, supports our 5 percent revenue growth for 2017.

All things considered, we believe the next few quarters of corporate earnings are going to be a trend that will bode well for the markets. Meanwhile, children will continue to play with their fidget spinners – or the next greatest fad – and everyone will be happy.

Follow UMB‡ and KC Mathews‡ on LinkedIn to stay informed of the latest economic trends.

Interested in learning more about our Private Wealth Management division? See what we mean when we say, “Your story is our focus.

When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s website and go to websites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other websites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.


K.C. Mathews is executive vice president and chief investment officer, Mr. Mathews is responsible for the development, execution and oversight of UMB’s investment strategy. He is chairman of the Trust Investment, Asset Allocation and Trust Policy Committees. Mr. Mathews earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Mathews attended the ABA National Trust School at Northwestern University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst and member of the CFA Institute.

Will Reese is a senior securities analyst for the Private Wealth Management division at UMB. He has an Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Kansas and a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in finance from Avila University. In his role, Will monitors and maintains departmental equity working lists, recommends stocks for external clients, and provides equity research and analysis for internal customers.




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Reality TV vs. reality — America is watching

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Reality TV has become popular, to say the least. Apparently we enjoy watching people be voted off islands, on the hunt for love and get fired on national television. Included in this group is our new president, who was the host of The Apprentice for a number of years.

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However, since the January inauguration, President Donald Trump is now faced with reality, which does not include retakes, professional editing and an audience who enjoys both failure and success.

But, his new job does include balancing an active audience’s perceptions and actual reality, particularly as it relates to the economy and some of his key initiatives.

Paradigm Shift

Trump has suggested a paradigm shift by stimulating economic growth through fiscal policy and government spending, rather than relying on monetary policy and lower interest rates. While economic fundamentals have been improving for several quarters, contributing to positive public perception, Trump’s proposed fiscal policy stimulus will have a relatively minor impact on long-term economic growth.

The empirical evidence suggests that when the economy is at full employment, any fiscal policy stimulus will have a temporary impact on growth, four to six quarters at best. In reality, fiscal policy stimulus does one thing on a long-term basis – it increases the national debt.

Tax Cuts

The president, along with others such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has suggested tax cuts will pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Yet, there is no evidence to support this idea. Rather, historical reality suggests cutting taxes will increase the federal debt burden.

Former President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s and former President George W. Bush in the early 2000s both cut taxes, yet there is little evidence that economic activity improved.  However, we do know the national debt mushroomed in both cases.

Repatriation of Foreign Profits

Believe it or not we have been here before. In 2004, the American Jobs Creation Act was passed. Part of the plan covered the repatriation of overseas profits at a reduced rate of 5.25 percent. In 2004, five companies, primarily pharmaceutical, dominated the almost $1 trillion foreign profit stockpile.

Only one-third of the total cash came back to the U.S. Most of the money went to repairing corporate balance sheets and rewarding shareholders with share repurchases. $18 billion did go into the U.S. Treasury’s coffer. The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan think tank, said the program was an ineffective means of increasing economic growth.

Today, the reality is that a small number of technology companies dominate the $2.5 trillion cash balances overseas. If offered a tax reprieve on repatriating foreign profits, history tells us the same behaviors will result—higher dividends and more share repurchases, which, I believe, will not materially impact the economy.

Multiplier Effect

The multiplier effect is a phenomenon where given a change in a particular input, such as government spending, a larger change in an output occurs, such as gross domestic product (GDP).

We are about to see a paradigm shift in the U.S.—moving from monetary policy stimulus (interest rates) to fiscal policy stimulus (government spending).

The million dollar question is, “Will it promote economic growth?” The Congressional Budget Office provides historical analysis on the efficacy of fiscal spending. The multipliers show that any form of increased government spending would have a higher multiplier effect than any form of tax cuts.

Economic Reality

There are two primary drivers of long-term economic growth, labor force growth rate and productive gains. Labor force growth rate in the U.S. is approximately 1.2 percent. Non-farm productivity year-over-year growth is 1.1 percent. Add them together, and you have a 2.3 percent trend GDP over the next few years. We could realize one or two quarters of 3.0 percent or greater GDP, but it’s not sustainable.

However, this is not a doomsday conclusion. If we do experience trend GDP between 2.0 and 2.5 percent, it will allow companies to grow revenues and earnings. This in turn will support higher stock prices.

Political Process Reality

Trump’s term has really just begun. And what many reality television enthusiasts, and the president himself, may be finding out is that reality TV can be fun to watch, but the reality of the political process may not be.

Follow UMB‡ and KC Mathews‡ on LinkedIn to stay informed of the latest economic trends. Read other recent commentary on umb.com.

Interested in learning more about our Private Wealth Management division? See what we mean when we say, “Your story is our focus.


K.C. Mathews joined UMB in 2002. As executive vice president and chief investment officer, Mr. Mathews is responsible for the development, execution and oversight of UMB’s investment strategy. He is chairman of the Trust Investment, Asset Allocation and Trust Policy Committees. Mr. Mathews has more than 20 years of diverse experience in the investment industry. Prior to joining UMB, he served as vice president and manager of the portfolio management group at Bank of Oklahoma for nine years. Mr. Mathews earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Mathews attended the ABA National Trust School at Northwestern University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst and member of the CFA Institute. He is past president of the Kansas City CFA Society and a past president of the Oklahoma Society of Financial Analysts.



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The Evil Airline Phishing Attack

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Imagine clicking on an attachment in an email confirmation for an online purchase or hotel reservation and being greeted by an urgent pop-up that reads, “A virus has been detected due to suspicious activity. Click here to run a diagnostic on your computer hard drive.” Seems like good advice, right? Before clicking OK, you might want to learn more about a new email phishing scam.

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Known as the evil airline phishing attack, this scam is a two-wave social engineering scam that attempts to take over your computer and steal sensitive personal information—or both— potentially leading to identity theft or damage to your computer. What makes this especially alarming is that recent research says this scam is successful about 90 percent of the time‡.

The scam targets individuals who frequently book travel or shop online and are familiar with receiving email confirmations on purchases or bookings. Like other phishing scams, cybercriminals research online and offline before sending these authentic looking emails. The subject line will look something like this:

When the victim receives the email, the two-wave phishing attack begins:

  • First wave: Opening the message signals to the cybercriminal that the email address is authentic and has been received by a real person.
  • Second wave: Inside the email is an authentic-looking attachment such as a .pdf or .docx file. This file is masquerading as a travel confirmation or purchase receipt with malware‡ embedded in it. If the attachment is opened, the malware springs into action impacting your data and computer.

The goal of these cybercriminals is to:

  • Trick you into clicking links and opening attachments which can secretly infect your computer or device
  • Access and steal your information (e.g. usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, etc.)
  • Make transactions, file fraudulent tax returns, use you or your children’s identity, share sensitive medical data with other hackers and a variety of other activities

How can you help protect yourself?

  • First defense: Desktops, laptops, tablets and even mobile devices are at risk of this attack. Install antivirus protection on your electronic devices (including tablets and mobile phones) and keep your hardware and software updated.
  • Second defense: Never click on links or attachments in emails you aren’t expecting. If something looks “phishy,” it probably is. If you have questions or concerns about any electronic communication, go to the company’s website to confirm details or contact them directly.
  • Final defense: Communicate with your coworkers, friends and family. One of the best ways to keep from falling victim is to ask questions, open dialogue and stay informed.

For more information to stay cyber aware, visit UMB’s Security and Privacy page.

When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s website and go to websites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other websites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.


Ms. Flores serves as senior vice president and Chief Information Security Officer, providing oversight of UMB’s information security and privacy programs. She joined UMB in 2010 and more than 15 years of experience in information technology and information security. She attended Kansas State University with a focus on management information systems and is a Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).



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7 Tips to Prevent Tax ID Fraud

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As the 2017 tax season gets underway, it’s a good idea to take extra precaution to prevent exposure to tax fraud. As we saw in 2016, criminals are using new and innovative methods to try to gain your trust or scare you into lowering your defenses and making a costly mistake. These tactics have continued‡ into 2017.

Tax identity fraud takes place when a criminal files a false tax return using a stolen Social Security number in order to fraudulently claim a refund. Identity thieves generally file false claims early in the year and victims are unaware until they file a return and learn one has already been filed in their name.

To help prevent tax ID fraud, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ‡ and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ‡ offer the following tips:

  • File early – File your tax return as soon as you have all of your documentation giving criminals less time to use your information to file a false return.
  • File on a protected Wi-Fi network – If you’re using an online service to file your return, be sure you’re connected to a password-protected personal network. Avoid using public networks like a Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee shop.
  • Use a secure mailbox. If you’re filing by mail, mail your tax return at the post office or an official postal box instead of your mailbox at home. Some criminals look for completed tax return forms in home mailboxes during tax season.
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  • Find a tax preparer you trust. If you’re planning to hire someone to do your taxes‡, get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before handing over all of your financial information.
  • Shred what you don’t need. Once you’ve completed your tax return, shred the sensitive documents that you no longer need and safely file away the ones you do.
  • Beware of phishing scams by email, text or phone. Scammers may try to solicit sensitive information by impersonating the IRS‡. Know that the IRS will not contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, they will contact you by mail first.
  • Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for W-2s, tax refunds or other mail containing your financial information. If you don’t receive your W-2s, and your employer indicates they’ve been mailed, or it looks like it has been previously opened upon delivery, contact the IRS immediately‡.

If you believe you’re a victim of tax identity theft or if the IRS denies your tax return because one has previously been filed under your name, you should:

  • Alert the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490
  • Respond immediately to any mailed IRS notice and complete IRS Form 14039‡, Identity Theft Affidavit
  • Contact your bank immediately, to determine if any accounts have been opened without your permission or if your current accounts have been tampered with
  • Contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records:
  • Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper

More information about tax identity theft is available from the FTC at ftc.gov/taxidtheft‡ and the IRS at irs.gov/identitytheft‡. To learn more ways to keep yourself protected online, visit UMB’s Security & Privacy page.

Content adapted from the American Bankers Association (ABA).

When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s website and go to websites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other websites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.


UMB Financial Corporation (Nasdaq: UMBF) is a diversified financial holding company headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., offering complete banking services, payment solutions, asset servicing and institutional investment management to customers. UMB operates banking and wealth management centers throughout Missouri, Illinois, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arizona and Texas, as well as two national specialty-lending businesses. Subsidiaries of the holding company include companies that offer services to mutual funds and alternative-investment entities and registered investment advisors that offer equity and fixed income strategies to institutions and individual investors.



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How investors keep calm and carry on amidst turmoil

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It sounds so easy: buying low and selling high – yet in practice it is very difficult. Why? When stocks are low (attractively-valued), there is often something happening to shake our confidence in the markets and question if we should even consider owning such risk-based assets.

What shakes investor confidence?

  • economic recessions
  • military conflicts
  • terrorist attacks
  • health epidemics

Obviously with all of the unknown factors with these events, investors find themselves questioning how long they will last, how they could impact economic fundamentals and ultimately, how to respond when the stock market reacts.

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Military conflict

The difficulty in buying low always comes down to timing. World War II serves as a perfect example.

The United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  As expected, the stock market sold off.  One school of thought is to return to buying stocks when we receive the “all clear” signal, which perhaps would have been when Japan formally surrendered on August 2, 1945. But if we were looking to buy low, historical data indicates the time to buy would have actually been long before the war was over.

The bottom of the market actually occurred on April 27, 1942. At that time, the S&P 500 was at 7.61. When the war ended in 1945, the S&P 500 stood at 15.5. This means investors had an opportunity to more than double their money in the middle of a war. It seems buying stocks was not top of mind after the United States bombed Tokyo.

Now let’s take a look at a more recent situation: the Gulf War in 1991.

In August of 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. got involved immediately by building up troops in a deployment called Operation Desert Shield. The combat phase, Desert Storm, began January 16, 1991 and the war ended shortly after that on April 6, 1991. In this conflict example, the S&P 500 bottomed in October 1990, again long before the conflict was resolved.  At that time the S&P 500 was at 295, and by the end of the war it was at 378, or up 28 percent in less than six months.

The time to buy is when uncertainty is peaking and emotions are running high. If you have found yourself fearful of the market reaction during military conflicts in the past, I suggest you look at historical data during times of military conflict as a starting point before making any dramatic investment decisions.

Terrorism 
Terrorism has plagued the globe for many decades. One might think that terrorism would have an impact on financial markets, but it actually does not. History tells this story as well.

One of the worst acts of terrorism on American soil occurred on September 11, 2001. In addition to the catastrophic loss of life, the twin towers of the World Trade Center, considered the most important financial hub in the United States, were destroyed. This caused the financial exchanges in New York to be closed for four trading days, the longest shutdown since 1933. On September 17, 2001, the first day of New York Stock Exchange trading since the attack, the S&P 500, expecting chaos, lost 684 points or 7.1 percent – the largest loss in history for one trading day. By the end of the week, the S&P 500 was down 11.6 percent.

Many expected the markets would be down for several months. However, it took only 30 days for the Dow Jones, the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 to regain their pre-9/11 price levels.

As I mentioned, some industries may sustain a more material impact. The airline industry suffered significant losses after 9/11 as the fear of additional hijacks escalated. The major airlines saw their stock prices tumble approximately 40 percent at the opening of the market on September 17. Steep declines also hit the travel, tourism, hospitality, entertainment and financial services industries.

But even as the number of terrorist attacks rise, it appears the markets have learned that they don’t change the fundamentals of the economy.

Unfortunately terrorism is now part of our lives.  My point is not to desensitize these issues, but to strictly investigate the economic data and market action around these events. It is clear that, at least historically, terrorism does not change the fundamentals of the economy. It may have a material impact on specific industries, but much of that has proven to be temporary.

Health crises

From time to time the human population becomes concerned with potential healthcare scares or epidemics. In 2013 an Ebola outbreak in Africa began. In September 2014 the CDC confirmed a case of Ebola in Dallas. Once again the markets sold off and recovered to pre-event levels less than 30 days later. I caution you to keep in mind when analyzing these events and market reactions that other variables will always concurrently impact markets. Market action is a function of the news of the day. The question is: what news is nothing but noise and what news changes the underlying fundamentals?

You may have news of a terrorist attack and favorable earnings reports on the same day. And while the market will react to uncertainty in the short-run, only a change in the fundamentals will cause a long-term market reaction.

Buying low can be difficult, but selling low becomes easy when investors erroneously react to events without knowing what truly impacts markets and companies’ fundamentals. Perhaps the most profitable strategy is to invest in great companies and continue to deploy capital into the markets when there is a high level of uncertainty. As Warren Buffet who once said, “The best time to buy a farm is in a drought.”

When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s website and go to websites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other websites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.

UMB Investment Management is a division within UMB Bank, n.a. that manages active portfolios for employee benefit plans, endowments and foundations, fiduciary accounts and individuals. UMB Financial Services, Inc.* is a subsidiary of UMB Financial Corporation. UMB Financial Services, Inc is not a bank and is separate from UMB Bank, n.a.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and contains no investment advice or recommendations to buy or sell any specific securities. Statements in this report are based on the opinions of UMB Investment Management and the information available at the time this report was published.

All opinions represent our judgments as of the date of this report and are subject to change at any time without notice. You should not use this report as a substitute for your own judgment, and you should consult professional advisors before making any tax, legal, financial planning or investment decisions. This report contains no investment recommendations and you should not interpret the statements in this report as investment, tax, legal, or financial planning advice. UMB Investment Management obtained information used in this report from third-party sources it believes to be reliable, but this information is not necessarily comprehensive and UMB Investment Management does not guarantee that it is accurate.

All investments involve risk, including the possible loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Neither UMB Investment Management nor its affiliates, directors, officers, employees or agents accepts any liability for any loss or damage arising out of your use of all or any part of this report.

“UMB” – Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. Copyright © 2016. UMB Financial Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Securities offered through UMB Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC or the Investment Banking Division of UMB Bank, n.a.

*Insurance products offered through UMB Insurance Inc.

You may not have an account with all of these entities.

Contact your UMB Representative if you have any questions.

*Securities and Insurance products are:

Not FDIC Insured  *  No Bank Guarantee  *  Not a Deposit  *  Not Insured by any Government Agency  *  May Lose Value


K.C. Mathews joined UMB in 2002. As executive vice president and chief investment officer, Mr. Mathews is responsible for the development, execution and oversight of UMB’s investment strategy. He is chairman of the Trust Investment, Asset Allocation and Trust Policy Committees. Mr. Mathews has more than 20 years of diverse experience in the investment industry. Prior to joining UMB, he served as vice president and manager of the portfolio management group at Bank of Oklahoma for nine years. Mr. Mathews earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Mathews attended the ABA National Trust School at Northwestern University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst and member of the CFA Institute. He is past president of the Kansas City CFA Society and a past president of the Oklahoma Society of Financial Analysts.



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Be safe, secure & informed

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Banking, socializing, shopping online and downloading apps make life more convenient and help us stay connected. But that convenience also gives cybercriminals more opportunity to take over our email and bank accounts, and infect our computers or steal our identities. Did you know consumers globally lost $158 billion to cybercrime in the past year? In the United States alone, the figure is nearly $30 billion. These cybercriminals are becoming savvier and sophisticated, making it even more important for you to know how to stay safe and secure online.

We want to do our part in helping you stay informed when it comes to online banking. That’s why we recently created our Security and Privacy Resource Center where you can go for tools and resources to help protect yourself online.

Go to the Security and Privacy Resource Center>>

UMB Security Resource Center

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You can use the Security News & Alerts section to help you stay up-to-date on the latest in cybersecurity and best practices. Here are even more resources and guidance on staying safe:

  • How UMB protects you: explains our strong commitment to your security and details of how we protect you when using our digital products.
  • How to protect yourself: provides you with best practices for mobile devices and other online activity.
  • Preventing identity theft: describes how identity theft occurs, steps to prevent identity theft and what to do if you become a victim of identity theft.
  • Privacy notice: provides you our most current detailed privacy notice.
  • Protect your business: provides our small business customers with 10 common security practices and resources for reducing security risk and the likelihood of fraud as well as information about popular fraud schemes such as the Business Email Compromise (BEC).
  • Report fraud: provides you a quick list of how to report fraud for:
  • ATM, debit card, or checking fraud for business or personal accounts
  • Credit card fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Suspicious phishing emails

We hope this provides you useful and meaningful information that you can use in our ever evolving digital world.  

Be sure to bookmark the Security and Privacy Resource Center so you can easily check back for updates to this new and expanded content.

When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s website and go to websites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other websites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.


Ms. Flores serves as senior vice president and Chief Information Security Officer, providing oversight of UMB’s information security and privacy programs. She joined UMB in 2010 and more than 15 years of experience in information technology and information security. She attended Kansas State University with a focus on management information systems and is a Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).



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Associate fraud: who they are and why they do it

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We shared this information with you a couple years ago, and unfortunately are finding that fraud remains a hot topic. So here is a refresher on how to detect and avoid internal fraud. Be sure to check out our other blog posts on the topic of fraud.

 

He looks like a typical associate. She could be a 20-something or a person in her fifties. He could be the person you eat lunch with every day. The truth is that you can’t pick out this person from the crowd. She is committing associate or internal fraud in your company and doesn’t look any different from the rest of your co-workers. He makes sure he blends in.

So what should you look for if you suspect one of your associates is committing fraud?

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What to look for

  • A disgruntled associate who is vocal about their unhappiness with the company. They often use this as an excuse to commit fraud.
  • An overly enthusiastic associate who consistently ask questions about processes and procedures that will help them steal from the company.
  • A seemingly harmless associate with no apparent agenda. Their behavior won’t be as easy to spot as the first two. Having audits and checks/balances in place will likely help you catch them.

How they do it

These are not always tell-tale signs of fraud, but those who commit internal fraud are likely to:

  • Always be willing to take on additional tasks that could lead to fraud and have nothing to do with their current duties.
  • Learn as much as they can about company systems to use in conducting fraud. Systems can include but aren’t limited to: accounting, accounts payable/receivable, payroll, bank account access. They will look for weaknesses in policies or procedures.
  • Earn management’s trust with regard to the most vulnerable parts of the company.

Once they gather the necessary information and gain the trust of the company leaders, they will begin their plan. This could be creating “ghost” associates in payroll or diverting funds to a new account for a fake vendor.  A click of the mouse and the associate can send e-mails on behalf of the company or executives  requesting wire or A.C.H. transfers from their bank account.  Sometimes it’s as simple as stealing money directly or even selling confidential company information on the internet.

Why they do it

The best example of why an associate will commit fraud is described by Dr. Donald Cressey as the Fraud Triangle Model, a tool for assessing the risk of fraud. Cressey was a criminologist who studied embezzlers.

Fraud Triangle

  • Pressure is often financial and usually stems from addiction, living beyond one’s means, major medical expenses or gambling losses.
  • Rationalization is the explanation why the theft is not really wrong. Some associates tell themselves that it’s a loan and will be repaid. Others feel they are not paid enough and deserve more.
  • Opportunity is the opinion that a fraud can be committed without being caught. The thief sees poor internal controls, poor supervision, poor “tone at the top” or a combination of these.

Some of the best ways to avoid internal fraud is to set up regular, thorough audits and reviews of processes in your company.  Make sure associates have an avenue to report instances of fraud, such as an anonymous hotline.  Establish the ethical tone at the top where executive management or business owners set the tone for ethical behavior within your organization as a top priority.


Dennis Knop is a vice president and external corporate fraud investigator of UMB Bank, n.a. He has worked for UMB for 20 years, and 14 years of that in fraud investigation. He has a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Mr. Knop is a Certified Fraud Examiner and currently serves as the chairperson of the Midwest Financial Fraud Investigators Group in St. Louis, Mo.



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