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February 2017 Performance Review

March 3, 2017

Maybe it is the buzzy Snap IPO, maybe the daily stock market record highs, but we seem to be getting closer to that ole' irrational exuberance again.

U.S. stocks where the clear winners again in February, but risky global assets, from emerging markets to junkier debt, posted good numbers as well.

Our Conservative portfolio gained 1.60% in February and the Aggressive portfolio gained 1.12%. Benchmark Vanguard funds for February 2017 were as follows: Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFINX) up 3.96%; Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBMFX) up 0.66%; Vanguard Developed Markets Index Fund (VTMGX) up 0.99%; Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index (VEIEX) up 3.28%; Vanguard Star Fund Vanguard Star Fund (VGSTX), a total global balanced portfolio, up 2.11%.

The portfolios hung in there versus the benchmarks thanks to exposure to said emerging markets and junk debt. Shorts and our foreign bonds were the main drag, as were foreign non-emerging market stocks, which barely budged. We're just not taking enough stock risk in general to keep up with high-stock-allocation balanced portfolios like Vanguard Star Fund Vanguard Star Fund (VGSTX) have which is about 60% stocks, mostly U.S. It's worth noting that in down markets we don't fall as much as VGSTX either and have outperformed it with our aggressive portfolio since early 2002.

Hot areas for the month include emerging market stocks from India, China, and Latin American which is why iShares MSCI BRIC Index (BKF) was up 3.51% — just short of the U.S. Index. Other winners were iShares Mortgage REIT (REM) up 5.68% as investors flocked to riskier yield and a surprise 4.95% jump in Vanguard Utilities ETF (VTU) as utilites rebounded sharply without a major drop in interest rates.

For now, the mentality of investors is stocks will win and bonds will lose. The economy is still improving and fears of a pending recession have vanished. Upbeat inflation and employment data supports the rising stock picture, as well as the rising rate story.

The economy has finally become strong enough for the Federal Reserve to speed up the rate increases (and maybe kill all the fun in the process). This fear of rising rates has been around for quite some time now, but recently the fear has morphed into angst over rising inflation from of economic activity rather than Federal Reserve mischief.

It's possible stocks will continue to rise while bond prices decline and yields go up. We had near 1% dividend yields on stocks in early 2000 during the epic bubble, and over 5% yields on bonds when investors didn't care for bonds. Today the stock market yields about 2% while 10-year government bonds yield just shy of 2.5%. Heck, stocks could double and bonds fall by half. Or stocks could crash like they did they last time famed economist Robert Schiller's valuation measures were as high as today.

Sure, either a big rise or '29 style crash are unlikely, even if either happened it would likely end as badly as it did in 2000 when treasury bonds basically outperformed stocks for the next 15 years. It's more likely stocks will get a little more inflated but rates will stay near current levels.

Stock Funds1mo %
iShares Mortgage REIT (REM)5.68%
Vanguard Utilities (VPU)4.95%
Homestead Value (HOVLX)4.75%
[Benchmark] Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX)3.96%
Vanguard Value (VTV)3.58%
iShares MSCI BRIC Index (BKF)3.51%
[Benchmark] Vanguard Emerging Mkts Stock Idx (VEIEX)3.28%
Vanguard Europe Pacific ETF (VEA)1.06%
[Benchmark] Vanguard Tax-Managed Intl Adm (VTMGX)0.99%
Artisan Global Equity (ARTHX)0.74%
Vanguard European ETF (VGK)0.59%
iShares MSCI Italy Capped (EWI)-0.38%
PowerShares DB Crude Oil Dble Short (DTO)-1.29%
Vanguard Telecom Services ETF (VOX)-2.77%
ETRACS 1xMonthly Short Alerian MLP (MLPS)-3.69%
Proshares Ultrashort Russel2000 (TWM)-4.25%
Gold Short (DZZ)-6.20%
Proshares Ultrashort NASDAQ Biotech (BIS)-12.73%
Bond Funds1mo %
Vanguard Extended Duration Treasury (EDV)1.95%
Vanguard Long-Term Bond Index ETF (BLV)1.80%
Artisan High Income Fund (ARTFX)1.29%
[Benchmark] Vanguard Total Bond Index (VBMFX)0.66%
Vanguard Mortgage-Backed Securities (VMBS)0.48%
SPDR Barclays Intl. Treasury (BWX)0.30%