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Margaret Starner

Margaret’s Musings

Here’s where you’ll find Margaret Starner’s thoughts and insights on developments that shape your community, your world – and your portfolio.

Margaret Starner

In the Chinese art of Feng Shui, the red door brings luck and positive energy to those who live behind it. Throughout our website, the red door is your portal to Margaret's Musings. “Red Door with Tassel” photograph appears courtesy of Julie Masterson Photography.

| November 17, 2013 – Roger and Me |

This Musing will be more personal than most.

Today is my 51st wedding anniversary. Before you say wow...let me say that getting from the 50th to the 51st is much easier than getting to the 15th anniversary or 20th anniversary. Both Lise and Dana, our two daughters just celebrated their 15th too.

We met while we were both working at United Airlines. Roger was next door in the engineering dept and I carpooled with the secretaries in the engineering dept. Every morning commuting on Hwy 101 (known as Bayshore) to the SF airport, you see the same drivers every was like we were creatures of habit. We waved and smiled each morning and afternoon to drivers we never knew just as I do now going up and down the elevators in my office building. One of those drivers was a handsome guy named Roger. The ladies in my car pool described Roger as the nicest guy with the prettiest blue eyes in engineering. Then I met him at a party...and the rest was history.

Except, we were not a likely pair. First, I had decided I didn't want to marry an engineer. Roger came from a mid-western (Moline, IL) blue collar background. His father (whom I adored) was proud and believed college and all that learning only made you weak and was going to ruin America...thus he was not impressed one bit by my Stanford degree. We became good friends after we discovered we both loved chicken wings...and had to share them. Roger's mom was worried that Roger was never going to get married...after all he was almost 30. Thus, she only had one question..."is she Christian?". Roger said Yes...and she said "about time you got married".

My parents were Chinese immigrants who started and built a successful grocery business in MS. They were also proud. However, to them, education and college were the key to a better future. I was sent to CA where there were many Chinese and I was more likely to find a Chinese husband. When I called my parents to announce our engagement, my mom asked "what's his name". When they heard "Starner", I heard a click on the phone...and they were gone. Next day at work, I received a call from my father...he was at the SF airport and said "come pick me up". He had flown from MS to see if I had lost my senses and to put a stop to my nonsense.

You already know the all ended well, despite the early dramas.

At that young age and a newly Stanford grad, I was pretty impressed with my seriousness. On our first date, I asked Roger what was his opinion of our national agricultural policies. He said he had no idea and wondered why it should be so important to me. However, to his credit, on our next date...he had an opinion. I don't think we have discussed US agricultural policies since. For most of our marriage we have argued and not agreed on politics. We agreed on the important things... raising our kids, money, and family.

"Behind every man is a woman" so the famous saying goes. Well, it goes both ways...and I know how fortunate I was that Roger made my career success possible...or should I say, easier. He easily adapted to the change when I went from being the wife at home to the wife at work. As anyone knows, it's not my nature to do anything half-way. Roger may have been happy just not to be my project! What started out as maybe a part time effort as a financial planner became a life time passion in a matter of days. I wanted to make a difference and have fun doing so. The freedom to make a difference without having to earn a living is a gift...and Roger provided that gift. Somehow we did it all...managed to make all of our daughters' school and life events, take wonderful vacations, survived Pan Am's bankruptcy, and enjoyed our extended families and many friends. Coincidentally our daughters married men who also shared our mutual interests. Lise married Bruce Cacho-Negrete who is a partner in the Starner Group. Dana married Kenji Hashimoto who is a top executive with American Airlines and soon to be the new American. So airline and finance talk still dominate our discussions.

Likely, you didn't anticipate reading so much about my family and such a long way to say "thanks" to Roger. I have learned after 51 years, one should remember to always give thanks...and the thanks will continue. In ending, we agree more on politics than when we began...but it's still not 100%. I learned, not so bad to listen to the dissenters.

| September 18, 2013 – Change, Friend or Foe? |

This week marks the 5 year anniversary since the fall of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent market free fall. Since then, the Dow has recovered from below 7000 to over 15,000. Unfortunately, this dramatic stock market recovery has not been accompanied by a similar recovery in jobs. Creating meaningful job growth is a regular headline topic...and a challenge globally as well as domestically.

Speaking of global, I recently returned from a beautiful river cruise of the Douro River wine valley in Portugal. One of the advantages of river cruises is that they are relatively small, just over a 100 guests and all meals are together. I love meeting people from all over the world (though mostly English speaking countries) and learning their life stories. On this trip, I encountered a number of people who had major job/career changes brought upon them by sudden changes. I thought I would share a few of their stories.

The first night we sat at dinner with a couple (Vern and Miriam) from Toronto. Both mid-60's, they had spent 3 weeks touring all of Portugal before joining the river cruise. Vern recounted that at age 46, his company was bought out and he lost his job. Once unemployed, Vern decided that he wanted a job that involved golfing...a sport he loved. In fact, he had managed to golf every morning before going to work. So, Vern used his re-training funds to take a course in repairing and making golf clubs. That went pretty well and he discovered he was good with people too. So he took additional training and was soon certified as a teaching professional. Rather than work directly for a country club, Vern advertised for students and soon partnered with an older teaching pro who gave Vern his excess business and taught him some tricks of the trade. After 7 years, Vern took over the older coach's business...and has been in a successful career ever since! I would be remiss not to mention that Miriam was fully supportive of this career change. She went back to work immediately upon Vern's unemployment, and promised to "give him 5 years to make this work!".

Soon thereafter, we met a delightful couple from London (Sue and Stan) who had taken a 3 month cruise around the world before joining the river cruise. Stan started his career in the printing business...and as the years went by his future looked dimmer and dimmer as the digital revolution took over the printing business. Stan knew he had to begin thinking about another industry. One day, he responded to an ad for a carpet salesman.

When the manager asked Stan in the first interview - "What do you know about carpets?".

Stan answered confidently, "I know carpets go on the floor, and they come in many colors".

The manager asked why on earth Stan applied for a job he knew nothing about.

Stan replied, "I expect you can teach me about carpets, but I already understand people and why they buy". He got the job.

Stan went on to tell us that his customers taught him about carpet. See, his customers were retail stores and when they asked if he had "such and such" carpet, Stan would ask, "why do you want 'such and such' carpet?" Of course, they would tell him all the pros and cons, and in a short while, Stan became an expert. Again, Stan's wife had a good job with a law firm and made it possible for him to take the risk of a job change.

Stan and Sue have both retired and Vern is having too much fun to retire, even though he could. They were not victims of the recent recession, but both had career losses due to market forces change and technology...these changes have been going on for a long time and were made more noticeable during the recession. What's remarkable is that both of these stories involve rethinking skill sets and retraining at ages when change is not so easy. Vern and Stan were lucky in that they were able to tap into their passion/interests and had the patience to make the transition. They were also fortunate to have working wives, job assistant retraining program (for Vern) and an optimistic outlook. Their experiences also made them more sensitive to the need to be self-reliant and be financially prepared at all times.

I often encounter people who can't wait to retire because they are burned out or don't like what they are doing. Too often, these folks are still relatively young and will face years of "marking time" until retirement. Either from fear of change or inability to change their lifestyle, too many never realize their dreams and wishes. Instead they settle for "a job is better than no job".

There are exceptions. My father, an immigrant, would have rather been a teacher than running a grocery store. But he didn't have the education and wouldn't have been hired if he did. However, he was lucky to have a wife, my mom, who loved the business. That enabled my father to focus on marketing and making the relationships that ensured the success of their business.

In our many years of watching our clients' lives and careers evolve, we have learned that change is a guarantee. And as we see it, new change continues to come faster and faster. The challenge today is creating the foundation for adapting to change and still have a stable life and a secure future. After all, adapting to change can be disruptive and painful...but it also can be a rewarding adventure. Personally, I believe that two of the easier solutions to help Americans with this adventure are focus on better education and retraining programs. Good news - politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to agree on the need for quality education. However, they seem to have little focus on retraining and transitioning the work force to new skills programs. How well we adapt will determine our ability to create sustainable jobs and continue the financial health of our country. Survival depends upon adapting.

On this subject, I just read an exciting article "Taste-Testing a Second Career" about the opportunity to try out a career with a mentor before making a commitment. I think this is excellent reading for anyone contemplating a career change...and required reading for those who are too nervous to try.

I hope this fall finds you all well. As always, please don't hesitate to reach out to us with any and all of your financial questions....or if you just have a good summer story to tell!

| August 22, 2013 – We Care |

The end of summer is here, which means "back to school" time. The kids are busy figuring out their new teacher as well as what clothes to wear. Kendall, my granddaughter, is just eager to see her friends again. Interestingly, The Starner Group seems to be in "back to school" mode as well, as we prepare for the year-end activities, like tax planning, gifting decisions, and our holiday luncheon. This is also the time of the year when we give even greater scrutiny to all of our investments, as we analyze managers and sectors… both to identify outperformance and disappointments.

Speaking of disappointments, Peter Buffet (son of the famous Warren Buffet), recently penned a New York Times article, "The Charitable Industrial Complex" about his disappointment in the non-profit sector. Specifically, his column disparaged the "institutionalization of charities" and the factories of "doing good." In his opinion, "doing good" frequently result in little benefits…and even worse, unintended consequences. A fairly well-known example is the charity that sent 100,000 mosquito nets to an African village to prevent Malaria. A great idea in theory…EXCEPT a few villagers were mosquito net makers who employed family and friends. The free nets caused the mosquito makers to go out of business, thus creating unemployment for all those families and friends. Even worse, when the free mosquito nets eventually needed replacing, there were none to be bought.

One of Peter Buffet’s solutions was to "ask" and "see" more, rather than just assuming we know what’s best for those less fortunate than ourselves. I am proud to say that my daughter, Dana, already prescribes to this theory. Dana is on the board of the school foundation that raises money for her children’s school. The most common way to provide funds to the school is through the grant writing process. This process is onerous and time consuming, often making it impractical to help out the school with "small needs". So, Dana decided to ask her son’s teachers how to best help the kids in the classroom. The teacher said she had little time to teach the students spelling, despite that the school was one of the state’s best! Dana learned from the teacher that she could purchase a software program for $200 that would help the teacher customize spelling lessons for each student. Dana bought the software herself and immediately donated it to the teacher, then reduced her annual foundation contribution by $200. This year, I am proud to say that four children from Dana’s son’s class were finalists in the annual national spelling bee competition!

Ok, so I made that last part up…but it could happen! In all seriousness, every day, moms and dads are volunteering directly in classrooms to help out our nation’s children. Most of us who volunteer do so because we care about making a difference…even though we often don’t know the outcome. In all honesty, I have a hard time fully agreeing with Peter Buffet – I have seen the value of many charities first-hand. However, I think his column is a wake-up call. WE all have lessons to learn about providing helping hands and making informed decisions about what we do with our money AND our time. Though this musing is about charity, the same could be said about saving for retirement, long-term care, or your children’s/grandchildren’s college educations. We encourage you to "ask" and "see," not only to when it comes to your charitable endeavors, but also to help find the appropriate path for meeting your own financial goals. As always, we aspire to be your partners down that path, and available to talk/plan/strategize as frequently as you wish.

Happy end of summer!

| July 10, 2013 – Happy 4th of July |

As most of you know, the 4th of July is a special time for my family. The 4th is the shared birthday of my father and oldest granddaughter Micaela (Bruce's daughter), and also my daughter Dana's wedding anniversary. As always, we will be eating my dad's famous barbecue sauce and celebrating with family, friends, and fireworks.

Speaking of celebrations, the 4th of July is a time to celebrate all that is great about our country. Though we can sometimes be discouraged by the political environment, we should be equally encouraged that American ingenuity and spirit are alive and well. After all, we are the country that innovated Google, Facebook, and even Superman, who is making a nice comeback at the box office this summer. With this in mind, I wanted to share two stories that exemplify the spirit of July 4th. The first, oddly enough, comes to us from England circa World War II. The other is much more recent and closer to home.

Story 1 – The Monopoly Game Mystery of WW II

Starting in 1941, an increasing number of British Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape.

Now, obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing the locations of 'safe houses' where a POW on-the-lam could go for food and shelter.

Paper maps had some real drawbacks – they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush. Someone in MI-5 (similar to America's OSS) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It's durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatsoever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington, Ltd. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly. As it happened, 'games and pastimes' was a category of item qualified for insertion into 'CARE packages', dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war. Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were. When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's also managed to add:

  1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass
  2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together
  3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!

British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a 'rigged' Monopoly set – by means of a tiny red dot, one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.

The story wasn't declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington's, as well as the firm itself, were finally honored in a public ceremony.

It's always nice when you can play that 'Get Out of Jail' Free' card!

Story 2 – American Ingenuity Working for Teach For America

This portion of the musing was written by Ben Scott, a Teach for America Teacher at Booker T. Washington here in Miami. As you will learn, Ben has a deep love of art and wanted to find a way to share that love with his students....

I vividly remember walking through the gates of Booker T Washington for the first time last summer. Charged with Teach for America's mission to make a difference, yet completely unaware as to what this might look like, my eyes were searching for a sign of hope and a place for potential. Moments later, I found just the sign I was looking for: Mixed into a row of banners it read, "Visual Arts Academy at BTW." As a visual arts minor in college, I couldn't think of a better way to engage with my students than through the arts.

Immediately, I attempted to go see this space. Victor, our custodian, told me he could take me, but seemed puzzled as to why I'd want to go there. So, he led me over, opened the door, and there it was... a storage closet for ladders and construction materials. I asked him if he was sure this was the space. He confirmed by uncovering the pottery wheels, kilns, and easels that had been left behind several years ago, when the last art class closed down. While I was slightly confused and somewhat crushed, I felt as if I had found an abandoned toy store, fully stocked, just waiting for someone to put it back in business.

For the last year, I've been hinting to my principal that I'd like to teach an art class this coming year. Of course, the major determining factor is funding, as our budgets continue to be reduced and reallocated towards "core" programs. As an art student throughout high school and college, I know how essential exposure to creativity and the arts are. The art studio is a haven for most students, especially young adults, no matter what their background is.

Our students at Booker T are about the most talented and creative young adults I've ever encountered. Whether they're performing in the street at Wynwood's art walk, doing renditions of the Nutcracker Ballet at our holiday show, or participating in our phenomenal marching band, it is obvious these students are remarkably talented. I'm literally awe struck every time I come upon one of their performing events.

Unfortunately, we're still missing an essential outlet for them... the visual arts. So, in order to ensure that this happens, I decided to find a way to raise money quickly this summer. Of course I'm applying to grants and foundations... but I want to make sure that I have the funding in time to pull the program together and steer its success myself.

The solution seemed obvious. I have a real estate license and we have around 200 incoming corps members moving to Miami this summer. Through my TFA Miami mentor, Evelyn Greer, I was connected to a very generous broker who allowed me to activate my license with his business at no cost. Because of local business and social pioneers like Evelyn and my broker, I can donate 100% of my commission profits to the visual art program. The corps members love the idea, since obtaining housing is a difficult process for non-locals, plus we're raising a ton of money and having a lot of fun!

I can now say with confidence that I will bring life back to the visual arts academy at Booker T and provide our students with an outlet for their self expression. When I walk back down that hall this August, I will look upon that banner and see the passion, pride, and creativity that the new visual arts academy will bring to the students at Booker T.

Hopefully, those two stories can provide some inspiration as we head into the 4th of July. Please feel free to share any inspiring stories that you have...and as always, please continue to contact us with any and all financial questions that you may have. Happy 4th!

| June 27, 2013 – Messages From Hawaii |

Every year, we travel with the Chairman of RJF, Tom James, and the CEO, Paul Reilly, plus a select group of advisors and other divisions of Raymond James. The trips alternate between the Americas and an international location. This year our trip was to Hawaii. Hawaii is about as close to heaven as I can imagine. The weather is perfect, the scenery is lush and beautiful, and the Hawaiians are amazing hosts for their state. It's a great place to relax and play while working.

We meet each morning to discuss various topics and pepper our leaders with questions that range from their thoughts on investments to the future of the firm. Two important themes that emerged were 1) The future of US as an energy independent economy and 2) Preparing for the rise in interest rates. I thought I would take a moment to discuss both of the themes.

Energy Independence

Many experts now believe that we are less than a decade away from being energy independent. The impact of the US regaining its independence in oil and gas will be an enormous catalyst for growth and employment in the US in the next decade. Not too long ago, we were bemoaning our dependence on foreign oil. Energy development is truly a testament to the technological ingenuity of America. The political implications are just as great and will create future challenges. We continue to monitor this situation closely....and where appropriate, have begun to allocate capital to the energy sector.

Rising Interest Rates

For the past three years, market pundits have been talking about the inevitable rise in interest rates. Though we view rising rates as a challenge, we actually believe this challenge is less difficult to address than the press would have you think. The bigger risk today is to reach for yield by taking undue risk. Rising rates means it will cost more to finance a mortgage or finance your business, but at last, income investors will be able to get a decent income for conservative investing. In general, rising rates will imply an improving economy since the rates have been kept low by the Fed.

The challenge with rising rates is when and how the Fed will relax their bond buying. The Starner Group has multiple options for managing the timing and the please call if you want to discuss ideas that we have been and will be implementing.

More Good news!

Barron's recently included me on their annual "Top 100 Women Financial Advisors" list...actually I am in the top 50. This marks the sixth consecutive year I have been on the list.

This achievement would not have been possible without your continued trust and support. Milestones like this reinforce my belief that putting our clients (you!) first is still the best way to do business. And, of course, I have to thank and recognize the entire Starner Group...Scott, Bruce, Josh, Lauren, Yami, and Toni.

Since my last Musing, there has been other good news... graduations, summer vacation for kids and grandkids, and the Miami Heat won the NBA championship!

Conversely, the equity markets have been turbulent in June, though still up nicely for the year. As always, we are here to address any and all of your financial questions. Happy summer and we look forward to speaking with you soon.

| May 1, 2013 – A Helping Hand Can Make A Difference |

Today is May Day. Though not a widely celebrated holiday, May Day always brings back memories of my childhood, when May 1st signified the "home stretch" towards the end of school and the start of summer vacation. Of course, May was also the time when we started to worry about final exams, though those did not begin in earnest until high school. When I was grade school age, late April and early May were spent staring out the school window, counting the minutes until summer vacation.

Today’s grade school children do not have the same luxury. Starting at a young age, children begin standardized examinations, which are often used by federal and state governments to determine funding for various school districts. In Florida, these exams are called the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

I’ve never thought much about the FCATs, since they were first administered in 1998, long after my girls had graduated from high school. Recently, however, I had a chance conversation with Rosemary, a single mom from Peru. Rosemary works hard to make sure her daughter, Christine, does well in school and participates as much as possible in the joys of childhood experiences. However, Rosemary’s resources and English are limited, and as we chatted, I could tell she was worried about Christine.

Apparently, Christine was earning "D’s" and "F’s" on all of her reading assignments. Though Christine attended a charter school and had always been a fine student, I was not entirely surprised. As a first generation immigrant, I am well aware of the difficulties of learning English in a non-English speaking household. Making matters worse, FCATs were coming, and Christine’s teacher was not optimistic about Christine doing well.

Rosemary told me she was working a lot of overtime to raise money for a tutor. Knowing this, I called my friend, Ellen Kaywin - a tutor and specialist in reading. While Ellen was already fully booked, she agreed to at least make an assessment. At the first meeting, Ellen determined that Christine was bright and capable. However, her vocabulary was extremely limited, which limited her reading comprehension. Thankfully, Ellen taught Christine a specific process for learning the definition of a word:

  1. Look for context of the story. If that didn’t work...
  2. Ask someone. Of course, at home, the only person was her mother, who didn’t know either, so...
  3. Check on the computer. But Christine didn’t have a computer! On to the final step...
  4. Check a children’s dictionary. She didn’t have one, so I quickly bought her one...and that was a big step forward

All together, Christine had only 4 sessions with Ellen before the FCATs. Still Christine went into the test with a positive attitude and a high degree of confidence that she knew what to do. We won’t know the results of the tests until later this month. However, I spoke with Rosemary this morning, and she was very excited to tell me that Christine was now getting all "A’s" on all of her homework, including her reading. Regardless of her eventual test scores....we knew Christine was back on track with her reading. How lucky we were that I knew Ellen who could make such a difference in one child’s learning.

Stories like the one above are why I am such a strong supporter of organizations like Teach for America. Call me old fashioned, but I truly believe in the old adage "Knowledge is Power." Most children like Christine have neither the resources nor social network to hire a tutor like Ellen. Hence, many rely almost solely on their teachers for their educational needs. If their teachers are not adequately engaged, the children inevitably suffer. Thankfully for Christine, Ellen has helped give her the tools to continue on the road towards educational success...and this should be a happy May Day for Rosemary and her family.

Another piece of rewarding news....on April 11, The Financial Times named me to their inaugural list of Top 400 Advisors. This is in addition to being on Barron’s top 1000 advisors.

Happy May Day!

| March 26, 2013 – The Wonderful Month of March |

Normally, March is a mixed bag for many of us. Yes, March marks the beginning of spring, but it also marks the beginning of tax season, which means lots of moaning and groaning as we all dig around for proper tax documentation. This year, however, we at the Starner Group also had a lot to celebrate during March…and the world does as well. I wanted to share our good news with you.

Our first celebration came on March 2, when Scott’s oldest son, Dylan, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Honestly, as he was giving his Torah reading and speech, I could have mistaken Dylan for Scott. Dylan’s voice was so confident and strong – he never showed an ounce of nervousness. This was my grandson Cole’s first time to a Temple and his first Bar Mitzvah. I was very concerned that he could sit through a 90 minute service and much in Hebrew. I thought to take a toy or something to keep him from getting antsy or maybe take a little pillow so he could nap. Instead, he was very excited and interested in this "first" experience…and literally took in every word. Of course at the party…he managed to dance the entire evening…at least until he removed the centerpiece from our table (a football) and started tossing it around the room with Scott’s youngest son, Jesse.

Celebration number two came exactly a week later on March 9. On that day, Josh Espinosa married Alisa Pavlick. As many of you know, Josh is our analyst who does the reviews and investment research. Alisa is a recent law school graduate who passed the bar last year. She began her new job with the Florida State Attorney’s office this past Monday, only one day after returning from their honeymoon in Brazil! The ceremony was beautiful and we wish our newlyweds nothing but happiness as they embark on their life together.

The remainder of our March news is not "Starner Group" specific, but still reason to celebrate…these items include:

  • March 17 announcement of new pope Francis I from Argentina…not only the first Pope Francis, but also the first Pope ever from the Americas.
  • March 25 begins the week of Passover
  • Also, the Dow has continued to hit new highs throughout the month of March, ignoring Sequestration

As March comes to a close, we begin the stretch run towards the end of tax season on April 15. As always, Bruce, Scott, and I, as well as our entire team, are available to answer any questions that you and/or your tax professionals may have…with one caveat, March 29 is Good Friday and our office will be closed.

I wanted to leave you with a quote that Scott and I heard during an Alternative Investments conference we recently attended in New York:

"We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in 10 years."

In other words, things take time…and don’t beat yourself up so much over short-term hurdles or obstacles…you can do anything if you give yourself enough time.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter.

| February 9, 2013 – The Year of the Snake |

Feb 10th marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year. New Year is celebrated for 15 days by eating great food with friends and families. It is the longest and most important holiday (festival) of the year and is filled with many myths and traditions.

A favorite pastime at Chinese New Year is to figure out one's fortune or misfortune for the coming year. The Feng Shui predictions begin to fly. Feng Shui is the Chinese practice of arranging objects and choosing dates to improve luck. While predictions are light-hearted, many Chinese carefully follow Feng Shui principles in the belief they will seriously boost their wealth.

The Chinese zodiac repeats every 12 years and a full cycle is 60 years. Each year is identified by both an animal (12 in all) and an element (4 in all). Hence, through a full cycle, each animal will appear four times with different elements (Metal, Earth, Fire, Wood, or Water). This year is the year of the Water Snake.

Each year, I receive predictions from sources in Hong Kong and I always enjoy sharing these predictions with clients and friends. Here is what I have been told:

The Water Snake paves the path for re-birth, new beginnings, and transformation as she sheds her skin. The Water Snake is known for her incredibly deep and beautiful eyes that denote wisdom, but are also hypnotic. According to the Chinese Astrologers, people will see the world through the water snake's eyes in 2013. This means that they will see a world of beauty and splendor, however this beauty may be an illusion....hence they may be in for a year of mystery and surprises.

From a practical perspective, this means that 2013 will be a year for people to determine the difference between illusion and reality. Certainly, this applies in the financial world, as many are trying to determine if the January bull market was "for real."

At the end of this year, we will be half way thru this 60 year cycle. I wanted to share with you the notable events of the past snake years:

2001 - Metal Snake

  • Sept 11 terrorist attacks
  • Enron files for bankruptcy
  • China becomes member of WTO
  • Euro replaces currencies of 12 nations

1989 - Earth Snake

  • Tim Berners-Lee invents World Wide Web (www.)
  • Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska
  • Fall of Berlin Wall
  • Japan's asset bubble peaks...lost decade follows

1977 - Fire Snake

  • Commercial phone calls carried over optic-fiber for first time
  • Insulin first produced in laboratory
  • Elvis dies
  • Deng Xiaoping officially restored to power after expulsion of Gang of Four
  • USA, USSR, and 13 other nations sign nuclear non-proliferation pact

1965 - Wood Snake

  • USA abandons 25% gold-reserve requirement for Fed deposit liabilities.
  • First official US combat troops arrive in South Vietnam
  • First Spacewalk (Russian)
  • Tokyo tops NYC as world's largest city

1953 - Water Snake...full circle

  • James Watson and Francis Crick reveal discovery of DNA
  • Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin dies
  • Jonas Salk reveals success of polio vaccine
  • Ian Fleming publishes first novel, "Casino Royale" featuring 007 James Bond
  • End of Korean War leading to a 10 month recession

According to the astrologers, the Snake will shed its skin differently for each of us. Since this is the case, we are happy to share the Feng Shui information we received from Hong Kong to give you a "personal prediction." If interested, please call/email us - we will need your month, day, and year of birth.... Results are not guaranteed :-)

The Starner Group wishes you all good fortune in the Year of the Snake.

| January 31, 2013 – More Pie |

Resolve, Resolve ……beats wishing and doing nothing.

Traditionally, the New Year marks a time for new beginnings. We resolve and wish for better things and better outcomes. We make New Year resolutions — exercise more, eat better, spend more time with family. Yes, January is all about resolve, resolve, resolve…not only for us, but our government, too. Given this fact, I thought it would be interesting to review the actual meaning of the word “Resolve:”

  • As a noun, resolve means “a determination to do something.”
  • As a verb, resolve means “to find a solution.”
  • Doing something and finding solutions.

Well, these are two things that our government has not been accused of doing in recent memory. Interestingly, despite our divided government, both sides say that they want to solve our major economic dilemma — reducing the national debt without enormous damage to the long term growth of the economy. In fact, I would say there is consensus on this goal.

Unfortunately, this consensus is merely conceptual, and it quickly diverges as our leaders discuss the “winners and losers” from solving our problems. Some focus primarily on dividing the pie to protect the poor. Others say, we must increase the size of the pie…and this will protect and strengthen the middle class. Some believe government should be more active in delivering solutions…others say, this will only increase regulations and stifle innovation, thus shrinking the pie.

I believe there is truth on all sides. These are complex problems that cannot be defined in black and white, only shades of grey. I believe too much government is a huge obstacle to risk taking and bold thinking. I also think that too little government is detrimental to safety, stability and more importantly - the trust of the electorate. Why is meeting in the middle so difficult? The polarization of ideas has become a deterrent to progress.

We all know the world is rapidly changing. Economies are more global and more interconnected than ever before. Yet, our policies and perspective have been shaped and implemented based upon a world view that was formed decades ago. We must meet the challenges of the new world while preserving the benefits of “yesterday” in some form…and this may take us years to do. We all fear impairment to our freedom and the government taking too much. But I also believe that we should be equally fearful of having millions of American citizens at risk of inferior education and lack of job opportunities. So how do we lend a helping hand to the unfortunate without enabling the “lazy” or “takers?” How do we tackle the national debt and still have a growth policy to grow the national pie and protect the unfortunate?

I hear adamant statements like “we need to Fix/Focus on the economy!”

What does that mean? Do you mean “fix” for the long run or for the next year? What is the proper mix of unemployment benefit versus re-training? Should we have requirements for extended unemployment benefits? Does 2-3 years make sense? When is enough, enough? What is the tipping point between helping and enabling?

Ladies and gentleman…I don't profess to have the answers. However, I believe we have to begin to go from “resolve” to “solve.” We have to move forward and take some risk to both increase the pie and divide the pie. We may not be able to take bold steps right away, but we need to take some steps.

I would love to lose 20 pounds in 2013…but will settle for 5 or 10 rather than nothing.

The Starner Group will be open to providing experts to explore ideas on education, health, creating a healthy infrastructure. Let us know what you would like to learn more about.

Finally, I am very optimistic that solutions will be found. Americans, by nature, love solving problems and finding a better way to build a mouse trap. Some may call this wishful thinking, but I prefer to echo Warren Buffet's quote: “It's never paid to bet against America…we come through things, but it's not always a smooth ride.”

Link to an interesting article by Thomas Friedman - it may provide additional perspective on the subject.

| January 28, 2013 – Raymond James – 100 Consecutive Quarters of Profitability |

Raymond James - 100 Consecutive Quarters of Profitability