Foreign markets are soaring

The US markets are reaching new highs daily and many investors are happy with the returns their portfolios have generated.  According to the Wall Street Journal the S&P 500 is up 13.9% year-to-date.

 But some foreign markets are doing even better.

For example, the Hang Seng (Hong Kong) index is up 29.4%.

Chile is up 28%

Brazil up 27.3%

South Korea up 22.1%

Italy up 16.4%

Taiwan up 15.8%

Singapore up 14.7%

As part of our asset allocation strategy we always include a foreign component in our diversified portfolios.  Over long periods of time international diversification has had a positive effect on portfolio performance.  That’s because the US economy is mature.  It’s harder to generate the kind of economic growth that smaller, newer, and less developed economies can generate.

There is, however, a level of risk as well as reward to global diversification.  It’s said that when the US catches a cold, foreign markets get pneumonia.

The U.K. market is up only 5.8% this year, Shanghai +9.1%, Mexico +9.5%, Japan +9.6% and France +10.3%.  It’s difficult for the average investor to do the research to pick and choose their own foreign stocks.  So it’s even more important when investing overseas to use experienced portfolio managers with years of experience and an established track record.

We have done the research and we choose the best mutual funds with experienced managers to give our clients exposure to foreign markets.

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Monday Morning Outlook

Our favorite economist Brian Wesbury on the Economy:

GDP Growth Looking Good 

Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 10/16/2017
Next week, government statisticians will release the first estimate for third quarter real GDP growth. In spite of hurricanes, and continued negativity by conventional wisdom, we expect 2.8% growth.

If we’re right about the third quarter, real GDP will be up 2.2% from a year ago, which is exactly equal to the growth rate since the beginning of this recovery back in 2009. Looking at these four-quarter or eight-year growth rates, many people argue that the economy is still stuck in the mud.

But, we think looking in the rearview mirror misses positive developments. The economy hasn’t turned into a thoroughbred, but the plowing is easier. Regulations are being reduced, federal employment growth has slowed (even declined) and monetary policy remains extremely loose with some evidence that a more friendly business environment is lifting monetary velocity.

Early signs suggest solid near 3% growth in the fourth quarter as well. Put it all together and we may be seeing an acceleration toward the 2.5 – 3.0% range for underlying trend economic growth. Less government interference frees up entrepreneurship and productivity growth powered by new technology. Yes, the Fed is starting to normalize policy and, yes, Congress can’t seem to legislate itself out of a paper bag, but fiscal and monetary policy together are still pointing toward a good environment for growth.

Here’s how we get to 2.8% for Q3.

Consumption: Automakers reported car and light truck sales rose at a 7.6% annual rate in Q3. “Real” (inflation-adjusted) retail sales outside the auto sector grew at a 2% rate, and growth in services was moderate. Our models suggest real personal consumption of goods and services, combined, grew at a 2.3% annual rate in Q3, contributing 1.6 points to the real GDP growth rate (2.3 times the consumption share of GDP, which is 69%, equals 1.6).

Business Investment: Looks like another quarter of growth in overall business investment in Q3, with investment in equipment growing at about a 9% annual rate, investment in intellectual property growing at a trend rate of 5%, but with commercial constriction declining for the first time this year. Combined, it looks like they grew at a 4.9% rate, which should add 0.6 points to the real GDP growth. (4.9 times the 13% business investment share of GDP equals 0.6).

Home Building: Home building was likely hurt by the major storms in Q3 and should bounce back in the fourth quarter and remain on an upward trend for at least the next couple of years. In the meantime, we anticipate a drop at a 2.6% annual rate in Q3, which would subtract from the real GDP growth rate. (-2.6 times the home building share of GDP, which is 4%, equals -0.1).

Government: Military spending was up in Q3 but public construction projects were soft for the quarter. On net, we’re estimating that real government purchases were down at a 1.2% annual rate in Q3, which would subtract 0.2 points from the real GDP growth rate. (1.2 times the government purchase share of GDP, which is 17%, equals -0.2).

Trade: At this point, we only have trade data through August. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks like net exports should subtract 0.2 points from the real GDP growth rate in Q3.

Inventories: We have even less information on inventories than we do on trade, but what we have so far suggests companies are stocking shelves and showrooms at a much faster pace in Q3 than they were in Q2, which should add 1.1 points to the real GDP growth rate.

More data this week – on industrial production, durable goods, trade deficits, and inventories – could change our forecast. But, for now, we get an estimate of 2.8%. Not bad at all.

I like the way he puts it: The economy hasn’t turned into a thoroughbred, but the plowing is easier.

 

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What a Nobel Prize Winner tells us about Investor Behavior

University of Chicago’s  Richard H. Thaler, one of the founders of behavioral finance, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics for shedding light on how human weaknesses such as a lack of rationality and self-control can ultimately affect markets.

People who are not financial experts frequently turn to investment advisors to manage their portfolios.     But many smart people use advisors to overcome very common psychological obstacles to financial success.

The 72-year-old “has incorporated psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision-making,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on Monday.

“By exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control, he has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes,” it said.

Thaler developed the theory of “mental accounting,” explaining how people make financial decisions by creating separate accounts in their minds, focusing on the narrow impact rather than the overall effect.

….

He shed light on how people succumb to short-term temptations, which is why many people fail to plan and save for old age.

 

It does not take a Nobel Prize to understand that people often make decisions based on emotion.  We do it all the time.  We judge people based on first impressions.  We buy things not because we need them but because of how they make us feel.  We go along with the crowd because we seek the approval of the people around us.  When markets rise we persuade ourselves to take risks we should not take.  When markets decline and our investments go down we allow fear to overcome our judgment and we sell out, afraid that we’ll lose all of our money.

Professional investment managers have systems in place that allow them to overcome the emotional barriers to successful investing.  It begins by creating portfolios that are appropriate for their clients.  Then, in times of stress, they use their discipline and stick to their models, often selling what others are buying or buying what others are selling.  This is the secret to the old Wall Street adage that the way to make money is to “buy low and sell high.”  By taking emotion out of investment decisions professional managers take a lot of the risk out of investing.

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Questions and answers about retirement

A couple facing retirement asks:

I will retire in the Spring of 2018 (by then I will have turned 65). My wife is a teacher and will retire in June of 2018. When we chose 2018 as our retirement date, we paid off our house. At the same time we replaced one of our older cars with a new one and paid cash. We have no debt. We will begin drawing down on our investments shortly after my wife retires. Also we both plan to wait until we are 66 to draw on Social Security. Our current nest egg is divided 50/50 in retirement accounts and regular brokerage accounts. About 60% are in equities and mutual funds. The rest is in bonds and cash. I’ve read about the 4% rule, adjusting annually up depending on inflation, expenses and market performance. As of today, based on our retirement budget, we can generate enough cash only using our dividends to live on. In our case this approach would have us taking interest and dividends from all accounts, including IRA, 457 B and 403 B before we are 70 years old. Seems that this approach would make it easier to deal with market volatility, yet it does not seem to be favored by the experts.

My answer:

There are a number of different strategies for generating retirement income. The 4% rule is based on a study by Bill Bengen in 1994. He was a young financial planner who wanted to determine – using historical data – the rate at which a retiree could withdraw money in retirement and have it last for 30 years. The rule has been widely adopted and also widely criticized. It’s a rule of thumb, not a law of nature and there are concerns that times have changed.

Based on your question you have determined that the dividends from your investments have generated the kind of income you need to live on in retirement. Like the 4% rule, there is no guarantee that the dividends your portfolio produces in the future will be the same as they have in the past. Dividends change. Prior to the market melt-down in 2008 some of the highest dividend paying stocks were banks. During the crash, the banks that survived slashed their dividends. Those that depended on this income had to put off retirement because their retirement income disappeared.

I would suggest that this is an ideal time to consult a certified financial planner who will prepare a retirement plan for you. A comprehensive plan should include your income sources, such as pensions and social security. The expense side should include your basic living expenses in addition to things you would like to do. This includes the cost of new cars, travel and entertainment, home repair and improvement, provisions for medical expenses, and all the other things you want to do in retirement. It will also show you the effects of inflation on your expenses, something that shocks many people who are not aware of the effects of inflation over a 30-year retirement span.

Most sophisticated financial planning programs forecast the chances of meeting your goals based on a “total return” assumption for your investments. Of course, the assumptions of total return are not guaranteed. Many plans include a “Monte Carlo” analysis which takes sequence of returns into consideration.

That’s why the advice of a financial advisor who specializes in retirement may be the most important decision you will make. An advisor who is a fiduciary (like an RIA) will monitor your income, expenses and your investments on a regular basis and recommend changes that give you the best chance of living well in retirement.

Finally, tax considerations enter into your decision. Most retirees prefer to leave their tax sheltered accounts alone until they are required to begin taking distributions at age 70 ½. Doing this reduces their taxable income and their tax bill.

I hope this helps.

If you have questions about retirement, give us a call.

 

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The Billy Joel Social Security Benefit

Billy Joel returns to SiriusXM Canada

Here’s something that you may not know.  Billy Joel, also known as the Piano Man, has had numerous wives and two children.  His latest wife was 33 and Billy Joel was 66 when they had a daughter.  This made the daughter, named Della Rose, eligible for Social Security benefits.

From the Social Security website:

When you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits on your record. Your eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child or stepchild. A dependent grandchild may also qualify.

To receive benefits, the child must:

  • be unmarried; and
  • be under age 18; or
  • be 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12); or
  • be 18 or older and disabled from a disability that started before age 22.

Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

Benefits paid for your child will not decrease your retirement benefit. In fact, the value of the benefits they may receive, added to your own, may help you decide if taking your benefits sooner may be more advantageous.

Note that the child does not have to be your biological offspring.  An adopted child, a stepchild or dependent grandchild is also eligible.

There are limits to what Social Security pays.

The total varies, but generally the total amount you and your family can receive is about 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit.

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What is the right amount to save when aiming for a certain retirement goal?

Question from middle-aged worker to Investopedia:

I am 58 years old earning $100,000 per year and have investments in multiple retirement accounts totaling $686,250. I’m retiring at the age of 65. I am currently investing $16,000 per year in my accounts. I project to have $848,819 in my retirement accounts at the age of 65. I will be collecting $2,200 in Social Security when I retire. I also do not own my home due to my divorce. How much money will I need to hit my projection? Should I be saving more?

My answer:

I believe that you may be asking the wrong question. For most people, a retirement goal is the ability to live in a certain lifestyle. To afford a nice place to live, travel; buy a new car from time to time, etc. By viewing retirement goals from that perspective you can “back into” the amount of money you need to have at retirement.

To do that correctly you need a retirement plan that takes all those factors into consideration. At age 65 you probably have 20 to 30 years of retirement ahead of you. During that time inflation will affect the amount of income it takes to maintain your lifestyle. You will also have to estimate the return on your investment assets. As you can see, there are lots of moving parts in your decision making process. You need the guidance of an experienced financial planner who has access to a sophisticated financial planning program. Check out his or her credentials and ask if, at the end of the process, you will get just a written plan or have access to the program so that you can play “what if” and see if there are any hidden surprises in your future.

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Should I roll over my 401(k) from my previous employer?

Question from young investor to Investopedia:

I am currently 21 years old and a senior in college. I started working at a job back in December of 2016 and opened up a 401(k) with the company. I did this so I could begin saving for future expenses. This job was only meant to be temporary. Within the next month, I will be starting my new career at a different company. Should I roll over my 401(k)? Are there any other options other than this?

My answer:

There are three things you can do with an orphan 401(k).

  1. Leave it where it is.
  2. Transfer it to you new employer’s 401(k)
  3. Roll it into a Rollover IRA.

I prefer option #3 because it gives you several orders of magnitude more investment options.

The problem with #1 is that you may simply forget about it.  In addition, you may find that the account is small enough that your old employer may terminate your account and send you a check, triggering several kinds of taxes and penalties.

Option #2 is better than #1 but it still locks you into the investment options offered by your employer, many of which are poor.

You mentioned that you started your 401(k) to “save for future expenses.”  That’s not the purpose of a 401(k).  Its role, like an IRA, is to save for retirement.  I realize that a 21-year-old starting his first real job is not focused on retirement, but that’s a mistake.  The biggest advantage that you have is time.  If you give time the ability to work for you, you can overcome lots of investment mistakes and end up much richer than someone who starts later in life, even if they save more money.

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Time To Drain The Fed Swamp

The Panic of 2008 is widely misunderstood.  Part of this is due to the fact that financial issues are complicated.  How many people, after all, know what “mark to market accounting” is?  Part of it is due to politics.  Government policies encouraged home ownership by lowering lending standards, leading to NINA (“No Income No Assets”) loans.  At one time home prices were rising so fast that people believed that no matter what they paid for a house they could always sell it for more.

A thought-provoking article by Brian Wesbury of First Trust expands on this issue.

 Time To Drain The Fed Swamp

The Panic of 2008 was damaging in more ways than people think. Yes, there were dramatic losses for investors and homeowners, but these markets have recovered. What hasn’t gone back to normal is the size and scope of Washington DC, especially the Federal Reserve. It’s time for that to change.

D.C. institutions got away with blaming the crisis on the private sector, and used this narrative to grow their influence, budgets, and size. They also created the narrative that government saved the US economy, but that is highly questionable.

Without going too much in depth, one thing no one talks about is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, at the direction of HUD, were forced to buy subprime loans in order to meet politically-driven, social policy objectives. In 2007, they owned 76% of all subprime paper (See Peter Wallison: Hidden in Plain Sight).

At the same time, the real reason the crisis spread so rapidly and expanded so greatly was not derivatives, but mark-to-market accounting.

It wasn’t government that saved the economy. Quantitative Easing was started in September 2008. TARP was passed on October 3, 2008. Yet, for the next five months markets continued to implode, the economy plummeted and private money did not flow to private banks.

On March 9, 2009, with the announcement that insanely rigid mark-to-market accounting rules would be changed, the markets stopped falling, the economy turned toward growth and private investors started investing in banks. All this happened immediately when the accounting rule was changed. No longer could these crazy rules wipe out bank capital by marking down asset values despite little to no change in cash flows. Changing this rule was the key to recovery, not QE, TARP or “stress tests.”

The Fed, and supporters of government intervention, ignore all these facts. They never address them. Why? First, institutions protect themselves even if it’s at the expense of the truth. Second, human nature doesn’t like to admit mistakes. Third, Washington DC always uses crises to grow. Admitting that their policies haven’t worked would lead to a smaller government with less power.

The Fed has become massive. Its balance sheet is nearly 25% of GDP. Never before has it been this large. And yet, the economy has grown relatively slowly. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, with a much smaller Fed balance sheet, the economy grew far more rapidly.

So how do you drain the Fed? By not appointing anyone that is already waiting in D.C.’s revolving door of career elites. We need someone willing to challenge Fed and D.C. orthodoxy. If we had our pick to fill the chair and vice chair positions (with Stanley Fischer announcing his departure) we would be focused on the likes of John Taylor, Peter Wallison, or Bill Isaac.

They would bring new blood to the Fed and hold it to account for its mistakes. It’s time for the Fed to own up and stop defending the nonsensical story that government, and not entrepreneurs, saved the US economy. Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen have never fracked a well or written an App. We need a government that is willing to support the private sector and stop acting as if the “swamp” itself creates wealth.

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Retirement Planning 101

An Investopedia reader from Indiana asks this question:

 I have $1,000,000 in my 401(k) and am 48 years old. My wife and I have a $550,000 house paid off with no debt. We have $200,000 in CD’s and cash. I have a pension that assures I will receive $1,200 per month for life. Currently, I maxed out on my 401(k). We save $35,000 per year on top of both of our 401(k)’s. My wife is 50 and she also maxed out her 401(k), but plans to retire at 52. My question is when can I or should I retire? 

Here’s my answer:

That is a great question.  Congratulations on having accumulated much more savings than most people your age.  To answer your question I would have to know a great deal more about you.   For example:

  • How much does it take you to live the lifestyle you would like in retirement?
  • How long will you and your wife live?
  • How do you plan to pay for medical expenses?
  • When will you and your wife apply for Social Security benefits and how much will those be?
  • What is your estimate for inflation as it affects the cost of living?
  • Is your pension fixed or indexed for inflation?
  • How will you invest your savings?
  • Can you live in your pension and savings until you are 59 ½ and begin drawing on your 401(k) without a penalty?

These are just a few of the questions that need answering.

A million dollars is quite a bit of money.  At your age your life expectancy is 36 years.  Using the inflation rate (2.9%) for the past 36 years, something that costs $1.00 today will take $2.80 by the end of you actuarial life.

There are a lot of factors that need to be considered before you can get a good answer to your question.  I would strongly recommend that you sit down with a financial planner who will provide you with a realistic retirement projection.  The last thing you want to do once you retire is to find out that you have to go back to work to make ends meet.

If you are thinking about retiring, doing some serious planning is an absolute must, especially if you plan to retire early.  Call us for an appointment.

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Recovery of Emerging Markets

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index, up 28.09%, is the best performing major index year-to-date – better than the DASDAQ, better than the S&P 500, better than the DJIA.  That’s an amazing reversal.

Emerging Markets have lagged the other major indexes over the last decade.

  • 2.21% for 3 years (vs. 9.57% for the S&P 500)
  • 5.56% for 5 years (vs. 14.36% for the S&P 500)
  • 2.76% for 10 years (vs. 7.61% for the S&P 500)

Why do we mention this?  A well diversified portfolio often includes an allocation to Emerging Markets.  Emerging Markets represent the economies of countries that have grown more rapidly than mature economies like the US and Europe.

Countries in the index include Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.  Some of these countries have economic problems but economic growth in countries like India, China, and Mexico are higher than in the U.S.

Between 2003 and 2007 Emerging Markets grew 375% while the S&P 500 only advanced 85%.  As a result of the economic crisis of 2008, Emerging Markets suffered major losses.  It is possible that these economies may now have moved past that economic shock and may be poised to resume the kind of growth that they have exhibited in the past.  Portfolios that include an allocation to Emerging Markets can benefit from this recovery.

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