Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Merry Sheils

Is the Stock Market Too High?


You would have to reside on Pluto not to notice the buckets of ink spent on warning investors that Armageddon looms as the stock market edges higher. It may well be that the market will correct—markets generally do at some point—but that doesn’t preclude profiting in the long run by adhering to solid investment principles.

What’s driving the stock market’s momentum? No matter which side of the political aisle an investor is on, few can dispute that the business climate has improved dramatically. Cutting the stranglehold of regulation has helped. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, legislators eager to ensure another one didn’t happen soon rushed to correct a financial services operating landscape that was fraught with abuse. Although their intentions were laudable, the execution, in terms of hoops companies where forced to jump through to comply with the rules, were time consuming and expensive. For example, employees who had no access to sensitive customer data often were forced to sit through training programs, periodic reviews, and be tested on protecting that data. A couple of hours out of a day, compounded by several training sessions a year, starts to adds up in lost productivity. More examples abound, all of which incur extra costs in hiring compliance personnel to enforce them. As some of the regulation was rolled back, savings have accrued to companies’ bottom line.

Prospects for passage of a tax bill have also helped buoy investors’ expectations for a stronger business environment. We the people pay for high corporate taxes, in terms of lower wages for workers, higher prices on the goods we purchase, and lower after-tax returns for investors, as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal points out. Although some may argue that the proposed tax bill benefits the wealthy to the detriment of the middle class, few can rebut the argument that higher wages that corporations can pay as a result of lower taxes will harm anyone.

Finally, inflation remains low, barely touching the Federal Reserve’s stated target of 2%. That means interest rate increases (barring an unforeseen geopolitical or domestic situation that could make them spike) will be modest and gradual for the near term. And because rates are low, investors have few options for investing, other than the stock market.

So, even though the stock market is high, it may have good reason, and at the top of the list are investors’ expectations that a better business outlook may make it continue. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t risk. Investing always carries risk, and the savvy investor knows how to mitigate it. So let’s review some solid investing principles that can help protect a portfolio and assuage concern about potential loss.


Crafting a portfolio with non-correlated asset classes is a key to long-term investment success. Various investment styles perform differently. Examples: small cap stocks often benefit when the economy is coming out of recession; dividend-paying stocks are an alternative to bonds that pay low interest rates. So a mix of assets, each performing differently depending on economic conditions, is a good strategy over time. Yes, there have been times when all asset classes fell (i.e., during the Great Recession), but investors who stayed the course not only recouped their losses but went on to participate in the market’s surge.

Don’t try to time the market

It’s tough to do it, and it can be a fool’s game. That’s because the investor has to make two decisions: when to get out and when to get back in. The annals of investing are replete with examples of investors who thought the market topped, sold out, only to watch it hit a new high, meaning buying back in cost them more. Although taking profits is never a bad thing, it gets expensive to buy back in when the market is moving up. Selling high and buying high is not a good formula.

Remember that stocks outperform over time

But the operative word is time. Investment returns seldom go in a straight line, and there will be periods when equities lose money, such as when a ‘flight to quality’ draws investors to the certainty of the fixed income market during periods of market duress. But those periods tend to be short, which is why it’s vital to rebalance a portfolio on an annual basis.

Have patience: What goes up goes down, and then back up (usually)

Investors who withstood October 19, 1987 saw their portfolios plush again a few months later. After the Great Recession in 2008-2009, it took a little longer, but the reward was higher. When the stock market begins to drop, many run for the exit, thus locking in losses that a bit of patience could have turned to profits. When panic sets in, its human nature to follow the herd, but that’s precisely when investors should exercise restraint. A portfolio comprising good companies with solid earnings will right itself in time.

Understand risk

A good rule of thumb is to contemplate a market drop of 20%. An investor who can weather that kind of loss for however it takes for the market to right itself is vastly different from one who shudders when the market brooks a triple-digit loss (even though that loss equates to just 1%). When a sell-off occurs, no one knows how deep it will become or how long it will last. It takes fortitude to stay invested. Those who aren’t comfortable in a volatile environment may be better off having a larger fixed income allocation, even though interest rates are low. At least their money will be there, and that can be a big source of comfort.

Keep some powder dry

Investors with cash at the ready can buy good companies on sale during a market correction. So although it’s a good idea to stay invested, a 5% – 10% allocation to cash means having some buying power. If the market were to drop by 15% – 20%, that’s an automatic 15% – 20% profit for investors who have the wherewithal to act, assuming the market turns around and reaches its previous high. Most times it does, and moves up even further.

In summary, the stock market is at a record high. In times past, “irrational exuberance”—to coin Alan Greenspan’s prophetic phrase—has been a precursor to a correction. And 2008’s market freefall began the worst recession most investors can recall. But investing is a function of understanding where opportunities lie and selecting among the choices available. The safety of fixed income may be where some investors feel most comfortable, and so long as they can live with low returns, that may be the answer for them, based on their circumstances and goals. For others who can accept the risk that investing in stocks entails, a strategy of diversification, exercising patience, and keeping some cash on hand to take advantage of a correction may be their answer.

*This article is meant as entertainment and is not to be considered investment advice. Consult your accountant or investment advisor before making any investment decisions. 

My Career Choice: Jeanie Knigin – Morgan Stanley


What could be a better way to ring in a new year than a sound investment plan?  And if so, and with the abundance of advice choices available, what’s the best avenue to pursue to find the right person to help?

Enter Jeanie Knigin—celebrating her 40th year as a financial advisor, serving mostly women. A First Vice President, Financial Planning Specialist, and Senior Investment Management Specialist at Morgan Stanley, she boasts an impressive roster of clients, ranging from couples, divorced or widowed women, to Park Avenue grand dames. One thing is apparent upon meeting Jeanie: With 40 years of sometimes-turbulent markets under her belt, she has helped her clients survive countless market cycles, a track record few robo advisors can claim.

Joining the business when there were few women in it, Jeanie’s not afraid to counsel clients to stay in cash when it makes sense to do so, nor will she push them to invest if they are not comfortable doing it. (Full disclosure: when she and I met over drinks, and I shared my fear about losing assets during a vulnerable time, her response was, “Then you shouldn’t invest until you’re more comfortable.”)  She’s about helping you define your goals and developing a path to achieving them. She doesn’t promise there won’t be bumps along the way—no reputable investment advisor would—but she’ll be there to hold your hand, take your call, and help you weather the storm should volatility rear its head.

If getting your financial life on track is among your New Year’s resolutions, you can contact Jeanie here.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
When my sister and I were children our mother gave us stock certificates as presents. Our father was career Navy so it was usually only 1 share of a particular company. One day when I was about 12-13 years old mother showed me how to read the stock tables and I realized I had accumulated $200+ which I thought was more money than existed in the world. I turned to her that day and announced this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I think the most appealing thing about this career choice is the ability to help people. I keep on my wall at work a quote from Bertha Von Suttner (first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize), “After the verb ‘to love,’ ‘to help is the most beautiful verb in the world.”

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
My undergraduate degree was in Economics and I then obtained an MBA in Finance and Investments. Along the way I have also obtained my CFP, CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor) and am currently working on my CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst).

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I don’t remember that either way.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
At one point I decided to go into management which was a mistake. I enjoy working with individual clients and helping them map out their financial futures.

When did your career reach a tipping point?
I do not believe it has reached a tipping point.

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I believe the biggest challenge we all face is internal which is why I keep quotes all over my walls both at work and at home.  My favorite woman is Eleanor Roosevelt and I have a lot of quotes from her.  My top three are:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I try to be an active listener. This means focusing on what the other person is saying.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am proud of the help I have been to others.

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Follow the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Doll House by Fiona Davis


Heading out for the summer’s final hurrah? Be sure to pack The Doll House, a new novel by first-time author Fiona Davis, in your tote for a great read on the Hampton Jitney and at the beach.  Or give it as a house present—your hostess will love it.

Packed with New York City references and nuances, the book vacillates between 1952 and now, weaving a story of mystery and intrigue centered around our city’s iconic Barbizon Hotel for Women, a pre-war structure that once housed Sylvia Plath, (others), and lesser known ladies with proper pedigrees who came to New York and needed a safe, temporary oasis on the city’s tony Upper East Side.

The modern-day protagonist, Rose Lewin, faces several hurdles when confronted by her roommate/boyfriend Griff’s surprise announcement that he must leave their beautiful condominium in the newly renovated building, The Barbizon, so he can reconcile with his estranged wife “for the sake of his daughter,” a troubled teenager who evokes the ‘brat’ label with no problem.  Griff, a self-centered deputy mayor with barely disguised political ambitions of his own, rapidly vacates the expansive apartment (which he owns). But, shortly thereafter, he makes a sudden, drop-in appearance to inform Rose that he and his family are moving back there, and she must vacate immediately.  But where can she go? She gave up a prized West Village rent-controlled apartment when she moved in with Griff, assuming they were to be married.  (Hmmm.  Is there a lesson here)?

DOLLHOUSELife hasn’t been easy for Rose.  Her mother abandoned her when she was a teen, and may have passed away from drug addiction.  Her life is further complicated by her aged father’s dementia, and the care and concern she exhibits toward him in his final days is both touching and sad.  And although Rose had a promising career as an anchor for a major network, which may have figured in the wily Griff’s attraction to her, she resigned under a cloud (and took the fall for her female superior).  Now relegated to working for a twenty-something guy at a startup for much less money and no visibility, her job is shaky. An encounter with an elderly female resident in the building, Miss McLaughlin, gives Rose an idea for a story that promises to put her on better footing, and the video producer assigned to work with her opens up romantic possibilities.  Adding to the mix are several parallels between the two women, as the story flashes back to what New York City was like in the 1950s.

Despite displaying questionable ethics, Rose is impressive in her research for the piece—when was the last time we’ve read of journalists poring through microfilm at the New York Public Library—as she gleans facts and insights about the Barbizon’s past to support her story.  The denouement comes as a pleasant surprise, and anyone who now strolls by 63rd and Lexington can’t help but look at The Barbizon through different eyes.

The Doll House
Fiona Davis

Murrow – TV News’ Gold Standard


When this off-Broadway play was announced back in March, I rushed to get my name on the list of patrons. Like most people who write for a living, having a chance to peer into the head of one of the most renowned journalists in America held a certain sway.

Playing at The Wild Project through May 22, an intimate theatre deep in Alphabet City, at 195 East Third Street, the script by Joseph Vitale stars Joseph Menino, who has the look (and chain-smoking cigarette demeanor) of the eminent broadcaster, down to his slicked-back and pomaded coif, deep baritone, and trademark braces.

The set is simple—chair, table, and the 1940’s microphone, a far cry from the tiny buds we see pinned to broadcasters today. Menino did a good job of recapping Murrow’s rise to fame, which began on a farm in Polecat Creek, North Carolina, then a move, at age six, with his family to homestead in Washington State, where he excelled in debate under the tutelage of Ida Lou Anderson, his polio-ridden teacher.  Her guidance followed him well into his career—it was she who instructed him on the proper diction of his, “This is London” preamble to his broadcasts during the blitz while on foreign assignment for CBS.

Murrow2The actor-as-narrator also explained the genesis of “Good Night and Good Luck”, the phrase he used to sign off.  During war-time London’s incessant bombing by Berlin, citizens couldn’t be sure if their friends would be alive the next day following a raid. (Murrow and his wife, Janet Brewster, lost a dear friend in one particularly horrific one.)

Murrow’s World War II broadcasts were so effective in drumming up support for Britain that Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked him to join the BBC. (He demurred, although he carried on a public affair with the Prime Minister’s daughter-in-law, Pamela Churchill, a fact not mentioned in the play, but including it would have done a great deal to liven it up and move it beyond a staged biopic.)

His war-time reporting culminated with being embedded in Patton’s Third Army and Murrow’s broadcasting of the horrors witnessed at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Menino delivered it with the ringing tone of abject disgust, including the reference to “bodies stacked up like cordwood,” which still repels us (and rightfully so) 71 years hence.

Murrow3Murrow returned to the United States after the War, and continued to work for Bill Paley and CBS in the pioneering days of television, culminating with his “See It Now” series. One segment, which showcased Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red scare, is often credited with leading to the senator’s ultimate censure and downward spiral to his death from alcoholism.

Murrow’s hard-hitting reporting was a double-edged sword, clueing his viewers on sordid details, but frequently offending the network brass (and its advertisers) in the process, and then permanently destroying his close friendship with Paley. His resignation from CBS led to leadership of the United States Information Agency under President John F. Kennedy.

Although the play would benefit from more insight into Murrow’s personality, for those who admire the man and his work, Murrow is a good start. Given today’s backdrop of political correctness, Murrow reminds us of a time when broadcasters spoke their mind—and were willing to accept the consequences.

Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein

What Lies Ahead—and What It May Mean For Your Portfolio


As the stock market has recovered from its February 11 low (and posted a modest gain), many of us wonder what lies ahead. Given the Federal Reserve’s recent decision not to hike interest rates now, low-risk investors are looking elsewhere for return, and many are questioning whether the stock market is their only option.

At a recent economic forecast presentation hosted by Denver-based AMG National Trust Bank, insights were offered that could be a guideline. Themed, “growth with a speed bump”, the speakers were careful to point out both the positives and negatives that may be in store. On the plus side, consumer spending, which accounts for around 67% of our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), looks to be running in the range of 3%. Add to that figures for rising home prices, low energy costs, an improved labor market, and expectations for GDP growth ranging from 1.5% to 3.2%. (Although that figure may be a tad optimistic: Other analysts put it at 2%-2.5%).

On the other side of the ledger is declining business investment, particularly capital spending in the energy industry, which has seen sharp declines. A few other risks could cloud the picture: high domestic inventories, an increase in foreign imports, and weakening credit standards. High inventories mean that businesses won’t produce goods while they are drawing down inventories. Increased foreign imports mean we are buying more from other countries than from our own US manufacturing base. Deteriorating credit standards are reflected in troubled real estate and construction loans, which may compress banks’ interest income and margins. These things combined make for a somewhat murky outlook.

The credit picture is further complicated by high-yield debt, currently yielding around 7%. Although improved from the higher rates seen in December and January (primarily because of an improving picture for oil prices that caused those bonds to rally), the spread between these rates and the risk-free rate of the US 10-Year Treasury remains fairly wide compared to a couple of years ago.

investment 2016

So what does this mean for investors? First, valuations for stocks are high: A current price/earnings ratio of 17 (versus the long-term average of 15) for our stock market suggests that it may be tough for the market to have a significant rise. According to another analyst, Vinny Catalano, President of Blue Marble Research, either interest rates need to drop or earnings have to accelerate for stocks to rise much more. Interest rates can’t drop much (they are already low: just .50%), and first quarter earnings for 2016 are expected to decline by more than -7% over last year, and fall another -2% for the second quarter versus a year ago, before turning positive for the third and fourth quarters. These forecasts amount to a projected overall increase of a mere 1.49% for the year. Not exactly a rosy scenario.

But the outlook for European stocks may be better, given their lower market valuations. The European Central Bank (ECB) also recently expanded (and extended) its quantitative easing program, by which it will purchase more bonds, thereby putting more money in circulation. The ECB also introduced negative interest rates (that encourage savers to spend), and the Eurozone is enjoying a strengthening currency.

The outlook for oil is not clear. Although its price peaked at $41 per barrel before retreating slightly to around $39, it still represents around a 50% increase from the $26-per-barrel low reached in February. As a commodity, oil prices are determined by supply and demand, and several factors have affected both sides of the equation. Demand from emerging markets (China, among others), has contracted, and at the same time, we have more supply from US oil producers. As low prices prompted domestic producers to cut back production, Saudi Arabia and other global producers continued to pump to preserve their market share. In addition, now that we have an agreement with them to remove sanctions in return for their adopting a more acceptable nuclear policy, Iran is now a factor, and is expected to add substantially to the supply. Given these facts, oil may trade between $40 and $60 per barrel—higher than the rock-bottom low we saw earlier this year, but still a far cry from the $82-per- barrel-price of 2014.

For the time being, talk of recession seems muted, given the improving economic data and how well the stock market is performing. But economists do draw some interesting parallels. According to their findings, recessions that occurred during a bear market (defined as a drop of 20% or more), typically lasted 500 days. Contrast that scenario with historical trends for recessions that occur outside a bear market lasting around 136 days.

So how can we use this data to our advantage? Most professional investors view market timing to be a fool’s game, because it demands making two correct decisions: when to sell out, and when to buy back in. A more prudent stance is to have a well-diversified portfolio that is in line with your comfort level with risk. In the short term, it is tough to get meaningful return in bonds, as the US 10-Year Treasury yields under 2%, and once interest rates begin to rise, capital will be risk (as bonds with higher rates are more attractive to an investor). That reality has spawned much ink in the financial press about how standard equity/fixed income asset allocations for conservative investors and retirees may be passé´. It has also pushed many investors to invest in the stock market without adequately understanding, much less being comfortable with, the added risk.

Risk has many connotations, among which are the degree to which you can “sleep at night”; the likelihood that your portfolio will lose value; and the possibility that you may need to make withdrawals to cover retirement living expenses at a time when the market is in decline. Depending on the severity of the decline, you may have insufficient time for your portfolio to recover, meaning your assets could be substantially depleted while you still need income. That degree of equity exposure may be uncharted territory for you, and you should understand the risk. One study showed disastrous results for a portfolio that was invested entirely in stocks for the 15-year period 2000-2015.

Building a portfolio with a mix of different types of equities, including those in international developed countries, along with some exposure to bonds for stability, may be a more acceptable strategy. Stocks with dividends are one option, as typically—but not always—dividend-paying stocks do not suffer as much during a market selloff. Another option is to select a balanced fund with a mix of both equities and bonds. Although investors generally purchase bonds for their income characteristics, fixed income investments also stabilize a portfolio, as the underlying capital is a loan to the corporate issuer. An issuer with solid credit is unlikely to default on the obligation. Having bonds in your portfolio will help preserve your capital should the market suffer a decline.

You also should realize that in an election year, fiscal policy and market behavior can have an impact on how your portfolio performs. When election campaign rhetoric is leading the charge, the outcome may be beyond your control. But you can control how you react, and having a properly diversified portfolio is one way to counter the chaos.

Robin Weaver: The President of the Women’s National Republican Club Is on a Mission


Robin Weaver (top photo on left with Campbell Brown) dashes into the Women’s National Republican Club in a whirlwind – she’s allotted an hour for our breakfast interview prior to dashing to Brooklyn for her next appointment. Recently elected President, she’s on a mission to transform the Club by raising political awareness and making it a forum for debate and discussion. “Although our membership adheres to Republican principles, especially lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, we want to make it a welcome place for all. As a matter of fact, a number of my friends who are Democrats attend our events,” she notes. Her goal is to make the Club a place where everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, feels comfortable, a go to spot for political and social events, and a destination for banquets and weddings. In office since May 2015, Robin already has made big strides, making the Club a mecca for New York men and women to exchange ideas, dine, and socialize.

The volunteer role of running any organization can be a thankless job—demanding time, energy, and the skills to manage the various personalities to get things done.  Robin faces a big challenge—but her can-do attitude, fresh ideas, and attention to detail appear to be working.

Robin’s interest in politics was inspired by her father, now deceased, with whom she watched William F. Buckley’s Firing Line every week growing up in the Pittsburgh area. She joined the Young Republicans in high school, and her yearbook from that time attests to her involvement, sprinkled with comments from classmates acknowledging her extracurricular political activities. Her curiosity carried over to college (where she majored in political science and economics) and then law school, where she joined the Federalist Society, and now serves as Vice President of the New York Chapter. When she moved to New York City in the 1980s, Robin began attending social and political events at the WNRC, and became an official member four years ago. She also attended both political conventions in our city: the Democratic Convention, at which Bill Clinton received the nod, and the Republican one in 2004 at which George W. Bush was re-nominated.

In most cases, success in running an organization is measured by the numbers, and Robin’s gig is no different. Increasing its existing $5.5 million revenue is a primary objective, and she’s going full force with two initiatives:  broadening membership and promoting its 3 West Club’s banquet and catering capabilities. “It’s also important that we tap into Republican organizations in the city, as Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats by about six to one. I have a special focus on young people, as they often bring innovative ideas that in the long term will help our Club flourish.”

GBR East

Grand Ballroom

The Club’s banquet facilities are impressive. Located on 51st Street, just a few steps west of Fifth Avenue, it boasts two ballrooms sizable enough to accommodate weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate events. Under Robin’s stewardship, banquet revenue is on the rise. The Club also has 27 prettily appointed rooms (including two suites) available both to members and non-members alike. Visitors would be hard pressed to find a better value: rates range from $140 to $220 per night, depending on the season. And its prime location, in the heart of the city’s prestigious shopping district, and within walking distance to the theatre, is an added attraction.

Solarium - Conference 6


The Club’s pub and dining room, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails, are accessible to anyone with a credit card (and are a great value, with prices ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent lower than other private clubs). Robin plans to host social events on the 9th Floor’s solarium, which has a terrace, once warmer weather arrives.

She’s already attracted a stirring roster of Republican speakers, including Dana Perino, Peggy Noonan, Judith Miller, and Margaret Hoover. Judith will be honored on April 11 at the Club’s 95th Annual Awards Dinner, along with Jack Pritchard, the NYC Fire Department’s most highly decorated fire fighter.  Other honorees at the dinner include Michael Mukasey, the country’s 81st Attorney General, as well as Congresswoman Martha McSally of Arizona (who was elected to the seat previously held by Gaby Gifford).

Among the Club’s members are Candy Straight, previously a Wall Street executive, whose film Equity starring Anna Gunn was previewed at the Sundance Film Festival and just sold to Sony Pictures; and Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey Governor and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration.


Alice LaBrie and Robin Weaver

An election cycle creates buzz, and Robin has cleverly capitalized on it by organizing a Debate Watch Party for each of the Republican debates. (Full disclosure:  I’ve attended most of them, and they are colorful, fun-filled, and spirited).  Our talk of the slate of presidential candidates quickly turns to Republicans whom she admires: Speaker Paul Ryan, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and Maine Senator Susan Collins. She also includes four Congresswomen in her list: Virginia Foxx (North Carolina), Kathy McMorris Rogers (Washington), Elise Stefanik (New York, and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress), and the aforementioned Martha McSally.

Right on cue, our time is up, but Robin makes one final observation: “We’re committed to recruiting from a broad demographic of all ages, especially younger women, men who can serve as associate members, and as diverse a group as possible. Although male members can’t vote, nor serve on the Club Board, we want them to join and participate in our programs and events. It’s part of our plan to make the Club a welcome spot for all Republicans in New York.”