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2023 was a year of transitions for our moderate-aggressive eSAM Moderate-Aggressive Account. Following 2022, the worst year in the history of the bond market, 2023 was going to be a challenge given the Fed's aggressive interest rate policy that began in March 2022 to fight high inflation and end its Covid-19 emergency Quantitative Easing policy. In anticipation of ultimately winning that battle, particularly with steady signs of progress of reducing the rate of inflation towards the Fed's 2% target, we started reducing our rising interest rate defense in eSAM Moderate-Aggressive in December 2022 and continued into 2023Bond exposure in eSAM Moderate-Aggressive is strategically targeted at 20% of the portfolio and provides a modest ballast against stock volatility associated with the 80% invested in Stocks. In difficult market environments Bonds traditionally provide defense against stock downside risk. 

By the end of 2023, headline CPI inflation declined to 3.4% from its high of 9.1% in March of 2022. The Fed raised policy interest rates four times in 2023 for a total of 1.00%, with the last 0.25% hike in July. The bond market was negative for most of 2023; however, the Fed pivoted in early November following its FOMC meeting and acknowledged it was done with raising interest rates as inflation was trending towards its 2% goal. That messaging put a charge into the bond and stock market, and was the catalyst for a huge rally in November and December. The bond market finished up 5.5% for 2023, as measured by the Bloomberg Aggregate Bond index. 

This tactical shift in our Bond strategy has been a process we call a Duration Twist (a term borrowed from the Fed itself), gradually reducing our relative 40% Short-Term Bond allocation in relative 5% monthly increments and adding it to our Intermediate-Term allocation to pursue a Neutral Bond Allocation in eSAM Moderate-Aggressive for a normalized interest rate environment. We completed Phase 1 of the Duration Twist process in April, bringing our relative Short-Term Bond allocation to 17.5% and raising Intermediate-Term Bond to 82.5%. Phase 2 and progress toward the Neutral Bond Allocation, will consist of lowering our Short-Term Bond allocation to a relative 10% and further diversifying the portfolio. While the yield curve remains inverted, with short-term rates higher than longer-term and a leading indicator of a recession, we anticipate a return to a normal, positively sloped yield curve over time (short-term rates lower than longer-term) and we are prepping eSAM Moderate-Aggressive. The disruptive 2022 bond market created attractive total return expectations for bonds going forward and we want to be positioned to benefit.

The Stock side of the eSAM Moderate-Aggressive portfolio provided strong gains in 2023 and a welcomed rebound from a rough 2022. Stock markets around the globe began recalibrating the recession risk that prevailed in 2022 early in 2023 as those risks were reduced dramatically. After a very strong start to the year through July, stocks ran into a rough patch in the summer as the "higher for longer" narrative for Fed policy gripped the markets. However, when the Fed pivoted in early November, as noted above, stocks surged in November and December to cap a very good year for stocks overall. Not only did the widely forecasted recession never come, the US economy outperformed expectations all year and GDP hit all-time highs. Those gains extended overseas as well. We bumped up our International exposure about a net 1.5% in May 2023, and included a progressive sale of our iShares MSCI Global Minimum Volatility ETF. We have been slowly moving towards a Neutral International allocation in our eSAM Moderate-Aggressive Account since we started raising International exposure in 2017. We are now just one small move away from Neutral International. International markets remain very attractive from a valuation perspective.

Low investment expenses have always been a priority in our eSAM accounts by focusing exclusively ETFs. Since eSAM's inception in 2016, we've put a weighted expense cap at 0.10% for our eSAM accounts. At year-end 2023, our eSAM Moderate-Aggressive Model Weighted Expense Ratio was 0.05%! The eSAM Moderate-Aggressive Weighted Expense Ratio will fluctuate with allocation changes over time with a max cap of 0.10%.

The second transition in 2023, was the merger of TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab, which was completed September 5, 2023. Charles Schwab is now your Custodian and we will continue to manage your eSAM Moderate-Aggressive account as usual.  

To begin 2024, we continued our transition to a Neutral Bond Allocation in eSAM Moderate-Aggressive by reducing our Short-Term Bond exposure an additional 1% by selling the remainder of our iShares 0-5 Year TIPS ETF position, and adding it to Core Intermediate-Term Vanguard Intermediate-Term Bond ETF

Volatility remains in the forecast for interest rates and bond; however, a soft-landing for the economy in 2024 is now the prevailing narrative and we remain cautiously optimistic for 2024. US market indexes like the Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq have hit new all-time highs in 2024, as well as the MSCI World All-Cap index. The Fed is forecasting 3 interest rate cuts by the end of 2024, and while the market was expecting more at the end of 2023 it has modified its expectations more inline with the Fed. We will continue to prudently manage those risks with a long-term focus on capital appreciation for our eSAM Moderate-Aggressive Account

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Investor Note

ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) investment strategies, which include investing in specific sectors, foreign securities (both developed and developing markets), high yield securities, or small and medium sized securities may increase the risk and volatility of the ETFs. Changes in interest rates may affect the performance of fixed income (bond) ETFs; if rates increase, bond values decrease and vice versa. Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, and charges and expenses of the ETF carefully before investing.

The ETF prospectus (and summary prospectus, if available) contains this and other information. Please read carefully before investing. An ETF prospectus can be obtained by calling your Nelson Rep at 800-345-7593 or the ETF company directly.

Publisher: Nelson Securities, Inc.

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Information and historical market data contained within this newsletter are taken from sources we believe to be reliable but, we can not guarantee its accuracy. Nelson Securities, Inc., or the publisher, will not be held responsible for actions taken based wholly or partially on information contained herein. Recommendations are of a time-sensitive nature and not a substitute for a comprehensive plan for investing. Each investor must consider suitability with regard to risk prior to investing.