Monthly Archives: December 2014

Overview 2014

We end the year 2014 with the US markets near a record high. The rest of the “developed” world, less the US, is down about modestly this year. Emerging markets, with a few exceptions, are down more than developed markets. One of the exceptions is Shanghai, up about 50%.

Oil prices plunged 46% thanks in part to a surge in US oil production due to “fracking.”

The US market’s recovery since March of 2009 has now lasted nearly 5 years with only a few pullbacks. There has been some concern about the market’s rise as headlines bring reasons for concern. Worries about the Middle Class, the anemic economy, an $18 trillion (and counting) national debt, plus unrest here and abroad gave worriers plenty to talk about.

But stocks are driven by corporate profits and profits are rising.

spprofits

It’s too easy to get distracted by “noise.” While the issues that get the headlines are important, they may have little or no impact on the price of any one stock or the direction of the market. And in the investment business, that’s what counts.

This recovery is a testimony to the same things that boosted growth 150 years ago, 25 years ago and boost growth today. These are entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.

Despite the government mistakes that caused the 2008 crash and the mistakes that have retarded economic growth since then – TARP, QE, over-regulation – the U.S. entrepreneur has refused to be held back. Profits are at an all-time high and so are stocks. Yes, there are problems, but nothing that a free people and a (relatively) free market cannot overcome.

Happy New Year!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Now is the time to save

Early reports indicate that retailers had a record-setting Christmas, an indication that consumers are feeling more optimistic.

Via Money Anxiety:

Today, the Money Anxiety Index is at the lowest level it has been in the last six years, Geller said, “and that’s a very good thing.” Consumer spending is high, buoyed by strong economic data such as a much lower unemployment rate than in recent years and lower gasoline prices.

“Psychologically, people are getting a good boost and this is making them spend more money,” Geller said.

However, a decrease in financial anxiety coupled with increased spending and a decrease in saving can also have a negative impact on wise financial planning for the future.

“Because the Money Anxiety Index is so low, this is a good time to put money aside in a smart way. As such, the role of the financial planner now reverses and should become more about helping customers have a longer term view,” Geller said. “Financial advisors should work with their clients to overcome the natural instinct to spend everything lavishly, which is what most people do when things are getting better.

The stock market has been going up for nearly six years, and that’s providing a “wealth effect” for investors. But the same was true for homeowners during the period leading up to 2008. That was a time when many people believed that real estate could go nowhere but up, making it safe to use their home equity as a piggy bank. That did not turn out well.

Keep in mind that stock markets can go down as well as up, and just as quickly. The gains in the stock market are not an excuse to stop saving. In fact, it’s a good reason to save more. Remember Pharaoh’s dream from your Sunday school classes? The time to sock away money is during the “fat years” as a way of surviving the “lean years.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Rich People Need to Know

I ran across an article at Market Watch titled “Ten things rich people know that you don’t.”  It listed the usual things:

  • Start saving early
  • Automate your savings
  • Maximize contributions to 401(k)s
  • Don’t carry credit card debt
  • Live below your means
  • Educate yourself about investing
  • Diversify
  • Hire a qualified financial advisor

All of that is something to take to heart when you’re young and just starting in life.  But what do people who are already rich need to know?

Lots of people get rich without following the rules.  They may start a successful business, enter a highly compensated profession, climb the corporate ladder, win the lottery, become a sports star or inherit a fortune.   Once you are rich, the number one objective for most people is to stay rich.  One very successful financial advisor with just 28 very wealthy clients said

“People don’t come to me to get rich, they come to me to stay rich.”

That’s the role of a good financial advisor.   Their job is to  do more than manage their client’s portfolios, it’s to take care that all of the other boxes are checked off:  to diversify the client portfolio, to educate the client about investing, to see to it that they live within their means.  In many cases they take care of family issues, lifestyle issues; the kinds of things that family offices do.

It’s what we do.  It’s what our clients expect.

Have a wealth maintenance question?   Contact us.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are you flunking the retirement readiness test?

A recent article in Financial Advisor proposed an interesting analogy: “Imagine boarding a jet and heading for your seat, only to be told you’re needed in the cockpit to fly the plane.”

That’s the situation many people are finding themselves in today.  Once upon a time, employers set up pension plans managed by investment professionals.  You worked and when you retired the pension checks began coming for the rest of your life.

That ended when 401(k) plans began replacing defined benefit pension plans.

Once, employers made the contributions, investment pros handled the investments and the income part was simple: You retired, the checks started arriving and continued until you died. Now, you decide how much to invest, where to invest it and how to draw it down. In other words, you fuel the plane, you pilot the plane and you land it.

It’s no surprise that many people, especially middle- and lower-income households, crash. The Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances, released in September, found that ownership of retirement plans has fallen sharply in recent years, and that low-income households have almost no savings.

But it’s not only the low-income workers who lack basic financial wisdom.

Eighty percent of Americans with nest eggs of at least $100,000 got an “F” on a test about managing retirement savings put together recently by the American College of Financial Services. The college, which trains financial planners, asked over 1,000 60- to 75-year-olds about topics like safe retirement withdrawal rates, investment and longevity risk.

Seven in 10 had never heard of the “4 percent rule,” which holds that you can safely withdraw that amount annually in retirement.

Very few understood the risk of investing in bonds. Only 39 percent knew that a bond’s value falls when interest rates rise – a key risk for bondholders in this ultra-low-rate environment.

If you fall into this category and want to find out what help is available, contact us.  We’ll be glad to chat; no sales pitch and no pressure.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Greedy Innkeeper or Generous Capitalist?

This is the Christmas story as seen from an economic perspective, courtesy of Brian Westbury, Chief Economist of First Trust. 

The Bible story of the virgin birth is at the center of much of the holiday cheer at this time of year. The book of Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decreed a census should be taken. Mary gave birth after arriving in Bethlehem and placed baby Jesus in a manger because there was “no room for them in the inn.”

Some people believe Mary and Joseph were mistreated by a greedy innkeeper, who only cared about profits and decided the couple was not “worth” his normal accommodations. This version of the story (narrative) has been repeated many times in plays, skits, and sermons. It fits an anti-capitalist mentality that paints business owners as greedy, or even evil.

It persists even though the Bible records no complaints and there was apparently no charge for the stable. It may be the stable was the only place available. Bethlehem was over-crowded with people forced to return to their ancestral home for a census – ordered by the Romans – for the purpose of levying taxes. If there was a problem, it was due to unintended consequences of government policy. In this narrative, the government caused the problem.

The innkeeper was generous to a fault – a hero even. He was over-booked, but he charitably offered his stable, a facility he built with unknowing foresight. The innkeeper was willing and able to offer this facility even as government officials, who ordered and administered the census, slept in their own beds with little care for the well-being of those who had to travel regardless of their difficult life circumstances.

If you must find “evil” in either of these narratives, remember that evil is ultimately perpetrated by individuals, not the institutions in which they operate. And this is why it’s important to favor economic and political systems that limit the use and abuse of power over others. In the story of baby Jesus, a government law that requires innkeepers to always have extra rooms, or to take in anyone who asks, would “fix” the problem.

But these laws would also have unintended consequences. Fewer investors would back hotels because the cost of these regulations would reduce returns on investment. A hotel big enough to handle the rare census would be way too big in normal times. Even a bed and breakfast would face the potential of being sued. There would be fewer hotel rooms, prices would rise, and innkeepers would once again be called greedy. And if history is our guide, government would chastise them for price-gouging and then try to regulate prices.

This does not mean free markets are perfect or create utopia; they aren’t and they don’t. But businesses can’t force you to buy a service or product. You have a choice – even if it’s not exactly what you want. And good business people try to make you happy in creative and industrious ways.

Government doesn’t always care. In fact, if you happen to live in North Korea or Cuba, and are not happy about the way things are going, you can’t leave. And just in case you try, armed guards will help you think things through.

This is why the framers of the US Constitution made sure there were “checks and balances” in our system of government. These checks and balances don’t always lead to good outcomes; we can think of many times when some wanted to ignore these safeguards. But, over time, the checks and balances help prevent the kinds of despotism we’ve seen develop elsewhere.

Neither free market capitalism, nor the checks and balances of the Constitution are the equivalent of having a true Savior. But they should give us all hope that things won’t be as bad as so many seem to think they will be.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Korving & Company.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

It’s about making people’s lives better

It’s not just about money.

In most people’s minds the term “financial advisor” has all the emphasis on “financial” and very little about “advisor.” We disagree. We think of ourselves as advisors to the family, helping guide families with a whole range of issues. Some don’t have anything to do with investing.

We have gone car shopping for a client who didn’t want to deal with car salesmen. We have helped people choose the right retirement community.  We help educate young people about investing to make sure they get a good start in life.  We explore vacation destinations for our clients. We review our clients’ estate plans and beneficiary designations to make sure that they are in line with their wishes. We wrote a book designed to help people provide critical information to their heirs before they pass on (Before I Go).

And, of course, we have provided peace of mind to clients who worried about running out of money in their retirement years. This allowed them to do the things they wanted such as travel, spend time with their grandchildren or just relax with a good book.

We do more than manage portfolios. We assist the people who come to us for advice with the deeply personal things in their lives. Making people’s lives better is our goal.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Financial tips for corporate executives

The December 2014 issue of Financial Planning magazine had an article about “Strategies for Wealthy Execs.” It begins:

Just because your clients are successful executives doesn’t mean they understand their own finances.

And that’s true. Successful executives are good at running businesses or giant corporations. But that does not make them experts in personal finance.

One of the ways executives are compensated is with stock options. But options must be exercised or they will expire. Yet 11% of in-the-money stock options are allowed to expire each year. That’s usually because they don’t pay attention to their stock option statements.

Executives usually end up with concentrated positions in their company’s stock. Prudence requires that everyone, especially including corporate executives, have to be properly diversified. Their shares may be restricted and can only be sold under the SEC’s Rule 144. To prevent charges of insider trading, many executives sell their company stock under Rule 10b5-1.

An additional consideration for executives is charitable giving. Higher income and capital gains tax rates make it beneficial for richer executives to set up donor-advised funds, charitable lead trusts, charitable remainder trusts, or family foundations.

For more information on these strategies, consult a knowledgeable financial planner.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The retirement savings crisis

Banker’s Life commissioned a survey that’s troubling for baby boomers, people aged 50 to 68. The survey says that middle income boomers have saved too little. Only 13 percent have investable assets of $500,000 or more. More than half (54 percent) have less than $100,000, and one-third (34 percent) have assets of less than $25,000.

What does this mean for boomers? Many will have only Social Security income after retirement. Some will also have pensions. And over half expect to continue working after age 65.

This should be a wake-up call for people younger than baby boomers. When boomers entered the work force many of the big companies offered pension plans. That number is fast dwindling. So younger workers will be even more dependent that their elders on their own savings.

Social security is also a problem. The number of workers contributing to the system has been declining relative to those receiving benefits. At some point in the future, benefits will have to be cut or taxes will have to go up to levels that will be politically unsustainable.

The lesson for the children and grandchildren of the baby boomers is to save more and invest wisely. And begin now.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The use and abuse of securities based lending

According to a recent article in Fortune magazine, the latest push by the big investment firms is to get as many of their clients as possible to borrow against the value of their portfolios.  Clients can borrow from 50% to 95% of their portfolio’s value.

Securities-based lending, also known as non-purpose lending, is Wall Street’s hottest business. From UBS to Bank of America Merrill Lynch to JPMorgan, high net worth investors are being enticed to take out loans against their brokerage accounts at a blistering pace. A May 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal told the story of Jason Katz, a UBS broker who has arranged portfolio loans for 21 of his clients in the prior year, a four-fold jump from the year before. The Journal reported that portfolio lending jumped by 28% at UBS between 2011 and 2013.

The loan has an interest rate, which may be either higher or lower than a bank loan.  But what many borrowers may not realize is that their portfolio can be sold out without their approval.

Supposed someone “has” to have $100,000 for a new boat.  With a stock portfolio worth $200,000, that individual can get a quick loan without a single transaction taking place.   But if the value of the portfolio drops, the firm has the right to sell the portfolio instantly, without notice.

Should market volatility result in a capital call, securities held directly by wealth management customers can be liquidated instantly with very little risk to the brokerages who’ve extended the credit. In essence, we’re seeing re-leveraging amongst the 10% of America that owns 80% of the stock market, while the other 90% of the country has been forced to deleverage in recent years.

As a fiduciary, it is our job to advise our clients on risks.  While taking an occasional short-term loan may be the right thing to do in special circumstances, borrowing against a portfolio, especially near the limits is very, very dangerous.  Wall Street is pushing these loans to fatten it’s bottom line.  Don’t get hooked.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

General Electric (GE) dividend increase disappoints

General Electric announced a 4 cent increase in its annual dividend, from $0.88 ($0.22/per quarter) to $0.92 ($0.23/quarter). The x-dividend date is December 18th and the pay date is January 26, 2015.

A number of analysts were looking for a bigger increase. The smaller-than-expected rise in the dividend is attributed to the drop in oil prices. GE has made a big bet in energy infrastructure including wind, as well as in more energy efficient transportation such as fuel efficient jet engines and locomotives. Lower oil prices make investments in these items less compelling.

It looks as if it will be some time before GE gets back to the $1.24 annual dividend it paid prior to 2009.

Tagged , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: