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Optivest Updates

US & World Economy –

2011 was a wild year for the economy and financial markets. Optimism and continued growth early in the year gave way to fear and double-dip fears in the fall, only to end the year back where we started. (The S&P 500 Index was up 0.003% but the average US Stock fund lost about 3%). The rest of the world did not fair as well: Latin America -22.2%; Europe -15.2%; China -20.2%; India -39.1%. Remarkably, despite continued negative headlines, no country is currently in an announced recession. In fact, worldwide growth appears to have picked up in the forth quarter, especially in the US where auto and retail had their biggest gains in years. The S&P 500 will report not only record earnings, but earnings 15-20% higher than their 2007 peak.

US & World Economy –

The US economic growth stalled over the summer as consumer confidence dropped to a 30 year low amidst the disappointment of watching a nearly nonfunctioning Congress and the first time ever downgrading of our government debt. This has led economic forecasters to increase the likelihood of a recession to 50/50, produced sharply lower worldwide stock prices and reduced earnings estimates. Inflation fears have also receded and interest rates were driven to multi-year lows. All of which has left US consumers a bit shell shocked as they continue to deleverage to shore up home finances and trim spending, while the stock, corporate bond and commodity markets had their worst quarter in almost three years.

US & World Economy-

The US economy, along with much of the world, has been experiencing an easing in the pace of recovery growth. This is common in post-recession rebounds and usually lasts 4-6 months unless accompanied by tightening from the Fed (fortunately, the US Fed is still very accommodating with low short-term interest rates). Recoveries are usually uneven. Our housing market and bank lending industry are the largest laggers inside the country and euro-zone sovereign debt crisis along with China’s inflation/growth fight are the current biggest international concerns. Nevertheless, we continue to slowly grow and the S&P 500 is expected to earn a record $100 per share this year for the first time. California businesses are also recovering and many valuations are back to or nearing all time highs as well.

US Economy-

The US Economy continues to chug along, rising for seventh consecutive quarter, fueled by strong corporate earnings, a long awaited drop in unemployment, renewed consumer confidence and earnest attempts to focus on our out of control budget deficits – all of which caused the stock market to post its best first quarter since 1998 (after a 6.4% pull back, which fit neatly into our last quarter newsletter’s 5-7% pull back forecast). However, the news has not been all good. The CPI rose almost 2% (8% annualized) over the quarter as the dollar continued to fall and commodities, led by oil, rose swiftly. Inflation is heating up around the world and foreign central bankers are starting to raise interest rates. It is only a matter of time before our zero interest rate policy comes to an end.

US Economy-

The economic expansion we had forecast is finally in full swing. Market pundits and economists are continuing to raise GDP and profit expectations for 2011, while the stock market has followed with uninterrupted gains since the major structural shift in the financial markets in early November (see December 3, 2010 update). In fact, investor sentiment may soon get too far ahead of the economy, leaving the stock markets vulnerable to a pull back.

US Economy-

After a mid-year slow down, the economy is continuing to improve in an asymmetrical fashion. Manufacturing and housing are still very weak while technology, service and energy/commodities are gaining ground. The US dollar is in a global race for the weakest currency among western nations as the result of Z.I.R.P. (zero interest rate policies), continued massive Federal Reserve bond purchases and improving exports. This has caused a whiff of inflation, sending gold and base commodities higher, along with a potential peak in the price of Treasury Bonds.

Summary-

The US Economy is in the midst of a shaky hand off between the end of government stimulus spending and private sector’s slow growth. We expect this hand off will ultimately be successful, but anticipate a few more scares over the next 6-9 months that will provide additional market dips to be taken advantage of. Continued above average corporate spending should finally provide some much needed solid labor market gains by year-end. We expect low growth and low inflation in developed countries, and higher growth and higher inflation in the important and cannot gain much ground until construction picks up in 2011/12.

Summary-

A growing sense that our economic recovery could be stronger than anticipated has lead the US Stock Market up, close to our year-end target of 1225 on the S&P 500. Inflation continues to be mild and US businesses report better than expected profits due to near record productivity gains from a lean work force. Commercial real estate is finally following residential in a bounce from deeply depressed levels. However, the real growth continues to be in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and Asia in general, as their internal consumption for Western goods and services grows. While we will have our short-term setbacks, we are experiencing a better than expected recovery which will lead to a healthy economy in a few years.

Summary-

After the crash of ’08 and the vigorous rebound of ’09, we expect the economy and financial markets to spend most of 2010 moving sideways as they adjust to a slow “grind out” recovery. Jobs will be the key, as there can be little CPI inflation, rent growth, gain in consumer spending or main street improvements until unemployment is below 8% and falling. That is unlikely until well into 2011. Like the USC football team, it will be a building year, necessary before a healthy future economy can emerge.

Why Your Investment Return Targets Should Be Priority #3

January 2010

I have climbed mountains like the Matterhorn and El Capitan that most people have heard of, and many like the Dru, that most have not. On these long, multi-day adventures, I have always hired a local mountain guide. The old ones are the best. As the saying goes, “there are old guides and bold guides, but no old, bold guides.” The younger ones sometimes have the fastest ascents and have climbed the hardest routes, but I value and am more interested in experience and perspective.