More than 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson charged Lewis and Clark with finding a route to connect the eastern United States to the Pacific using the known Missouri and Columbia rivers. Most of the potential overland routes they documented involved passes and river crossings, which would not allow for a wagon to make the entire trip, thus limiting their usefulness.
Eventually a route was discovered over the continental divide at South Pass (Wyoming) and, thirty years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the first migrant wagon train was organized to take settlers to what was then called the Oregon Country. For the next forty years, almost a half a million settlers followed the Oregon Trail – and its derivatives, the California and Utah Trails – to the West.
Despite the relative security of these known routes, the challenges and risks for these settlers were significant. Many of these people hailed from established cities in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska and had no idea what lay ahead. Diseases such as cholera claimed many lives on the trail as well as hypothermia from cold weather and drownings at rivers crossings. Attacks from Native Americans also were a risk. A guide was needed, especially in the early years, to avoid fatal errors in direction and judgment.
These risks did not deter early American settlers, because our forefathers dealt with uncertainty on a daily basis to a degree that we would find unfathomable today. The West was tamed without GPS devices, cell phones, rescue helicopters or any of the technologies or services we now take for granted. A single smartphone with inexpensive solar recharger can virtually eliminate the risk of getting lost and provides the ability to summon help from almost anywhere.
This technology has significantly improved our lives but one could argue that it has also impacted our ability to deal with uncertainty, both individually and as a society. We seem to be increasingly intolerant of uncertainty, believing that the unpredictable should be predicted and if bad things happen, someone must be blamed.
The reality is that despite all our technology and advancements in knowledge, we still have limited control over what happens in the world. This definitely remains true when it comes to the markets and investing. Federal Reserve Bank policies such as quantitative easing (QE) and its eventual tapering are things we haven’t experienced before and no one is certain what their ultimate impact will be on interest rates, bonds, stocks and the economy.
Much like those early settlers on the Oregon Trail, we look to guides to help us stay on the route and deal with the uncertainties encountered along the way. Your Baird Financial Advisor can help you navigate through the unpredictability of the markets and keep you on the path to your financial goals. We cannot be sure of exactly where the markets are headed, but we can remain both vigilant and diligent in helping you deal with the unforeseeable bumps in the road – or take advantage of the unexpected opportunities that arise.