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Rocky Top and Rocky Times

Published by: Chris Kittrell Date: August 24, 2010

Only six more days until another season of Tennessee football begins. Like many who grew up in East Tennessee, my father began taking me to University of Tennessee football games at an early age. My memories of those fall Saturdays are ones filled with the traditions of Tennessee football. The crowds dressed in orange, the Pride of the Southland band making their way to the stadium, the smells coming from what seemed like endless tailgating parties, and the excitement I felt each and every Saturday as the Big Orange ran through the ‘T.’ Even now, thirty plus years later, each home game that I attend conjures up the same excitement that I experienced as a young boy.

The crazy thing is, I don’t remember the win-loss records of those teams I watched each and every Saturday, year in and year out. I remember the traditions. I don’t remember that “we” only won an average of 65% of our games in the decades of the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s but I do remember the excitement I felt when I would hear John Ward on the radio calling “Touchdown Tennessee!” I can recall the recent glory days of the 90s with the National Championship in 1998, but even more vivid is hearing 100,000 strong singing Rocky Top after another Tennessee score. Win or lose, the Tennessee traditions are the real reason I go.

We, as Tennessee fans, long to repeat the seasons of the 1990s. Seasons filled with SEC

Championships and a National Championship. As investors, we long to repeat the period of 1982-2000 when the S&P 500 averaged over 15%, annually. Whether it was cheering on the Vols through the 90s or cheering on your portfolio from 1982-2000, it was great. But it wasn’t the norm.

The outlook for the upcoming football season is one filled with the tough task of rebuilding. A new coach, a new quarterback, a depleted roster, and a tough schedule make it hard for some to envision a return to the glory days of the 90s. The economic environment we find ourselves experiencing today is comparable to the outlook for our football team. It has been coined the “New Normal” and depicted as one of slower growth and muted investment returns. Turn on any business channel or pick up any investment publication and you are likely to hear and read about the “lost decade” (2000-2009) in which the S&P 500 declined an annualized average of -3.4% (real total return). The “New Normal” is also one of higher unemployment, household deleveraging, and tight credit. Yet, people continue to make plans for their retirement.

Many ask, “How can anyone expect to retire successfully in the current economic back drop?” The answer lies in timeless traditions and principles that bring people to retirement success. The traditions and principles aren’t sexy or exciting. They don’t paint the picture of quick returns or immediate satisfaction. Instead they’re basic, they’re fundamental. They are the traditions of retirement success that you can always depend on, such as living below your means, having an emergency fund, preparing a family financial plan, investing in a globally diversified manner, and knowing the difference between risk tolerance and risk capacity.

I hope one day soon we experience seasons like the ones in the 90s but, if not, that’s okay too. I’ll still be there, tailgating, watching the band, and cheering as the team runs through the ‘T.’ I also hope for investment returns like the ones from 1982-2000 but, if not, I will continue to follow the “traditions” of retirement success and one day enjoy the reward.

Chris Kittrell is co-founder and a Senior Financial Advisor with Rather & Kittrell.  He is available at ckittrell@rkcapital.com