First Quarter 2020

I have stated a number of times over the past two months that this COVID-19-induced lifestyle feels like stepping back in time to my childhood. Nights and weekends, normally filled during the Spring by kids’ sports and countless other obligations, have given way to activities such as family walks and bike rides, dinner at the table every night, and puzzles in the living room. No doubt exists for me that on a personal level there are some lessons around priorities that I will take away from the experience.

Meanwhile we have worked harder than ever to constantly ascertain what this environment means for investors, and to make adjustments to our portfolios in response. In March this was difficult because the market’s sheer volatility changed figures dramatically day-over-day and week-over-week. At this point in May one thing we know is that, regardless of how quick the “recovery” in our economy occurs, ripple effects from these events will be cascading around financial markets for quarters; not merely weeks or months.

Don Woodard wrote the following piece for Western’s 2010 first quarter letter. A decade later two things are clear to me: 1) printing his past letters is probably as close as I will get to talking him into reprising his former quarterly role, and 2) the below words are truer now than they were the day he wrote them. Enjoy.

Chris Pate
Managing Director

A Journey to an Unfamiliar Past

Ella Francis Bivens was born in rural Wise County, Texas in the year 1900. She would give birth to 13 babies – 11 survived – who, during her 92 years, would provide her with a collection of 38 grandchildren, more or less, of whom I was one. While my appearance was a mere 61 years removed, the nature and quality of our life experiences were separated by a vast and imponderable gulf not measurable by time.

My maternal grandmother had been born into a world driven by needs – concerned primarily with survival. I was born into a vastly different world – driven by wants and in relentless pursuit of entertainment to occupy hours that, in her youth, would have been consumed by manual labor. In yellowing black-and-white photographs, my grandmother’s appearance is reminiscent of those weary souls from prior centuries captured in the works of the Old Masters – their faces and hands betraying years of physical labor and hardship, slaves to a daily cycle of light and dark.

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