Monthly Archives: September 2017

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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Before I Go

 

We were asked to speak to a group of retirees at a retirement home recently.  We took as our subject our book: Before I Go.

We wrote it based on the experience we had over three decades helping people deal with the aftermath of a death in the family.  Most often is was the death of a spouse.

When the deceased was the one who managed the family assets and paid the bills, we found that all too often the surviving spouse was at a loss.  Suddenly she was alone, and often had little or no guidance about the financial affairs for which she was now responsible.

Before I Go is a guide and a workbook for couples; a list of things that the other should know in anticipation that one of them will be left alone.

For a copy of the book and workbook, go HERE.  Sharing it with your spouse will be a labor or love.

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Answering the important retirement questions.

With over 100 million people in America closing in on retirement, big questions arise.  Most investment advisors are oriented toward providing advice on how to build assets, but lack the tools and experience to advise their clients about how to live well during decades of retirement.

The most common advice that retirees get involves invoking the “4% Rule.”  That number is based on a 60-year-old-study that may well be out of date.  Individuals and families should be getting better guidance because now retirement often spans decades.  Many people are retiring earlier and living longer.

There are many critical decisions that must be made before people leave their jobs and live on their savings and a fixed income.

  • When should I claim Social Security benefits?
  • What happens if I live too long? Will I run out of money?
  • What would happen to my income if my spouse died early?
  • Will I need life insurance once I retire? If so, how much?
  • What are the effects of Long-Term-Care on my retirement plans?
  • Can I afford the items on my “wish list?”
  • Will I leave some money to my heirs?

Some Registered Investment Firms (RIAs) have the sophisticated financial planning tools to answer these questions.  They are often CFPs® and focus on retirement planning.  Once a plan is prepared, these same RIAs, acting as fiduciaries, are often asked to help their clients manage their assets to meet their retirement income goals.

If you are approaching retirement and have questions or concerns, contact us.  We’ll be glad to provide you with the answers.

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Hurricane Economics

With with the cleanup beginning from the effects of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma threatening the East Coast, We wanted to share the commentary of Brain Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust.

The hits keep coming. Hurricane Harvey left destruction in its wake, and now, Hurricane Irma has Florida in its sights.

It’s been five years since Hurricane Sandy, nine years since Ike and twelve years since Katrina. As with all major weather events, personal tragedy, pain, suffering, and loss are left in their wake. We have prayed, and continue to pray, for those affected. But at the same time, in our job as economists we look toward rebuilding and economic restoration. This is where investors often make two different mistakes about how these massive weather events will affect the economy and markets.

Some might think that, as did Nouriel Roubini after Katrina, the damage itself will cause a recession. Others take the opposite tack and think rebuilding efforts might actually help the economy. Neither are correct. By themselves, the storms will not push the economy off its Plow Horse path.

In the face of disasters we should all be thankful for the (mostly) free markets that help the U.S. respond. These markets allow accumulated wealth and know-how to focus on recovery. The losses will never be fully replaced, but the sheer size and flexibility of the U.S.’s capitalist system allows resources to be shifted and directed toward recovery. The price system makes this happen. While some think no profit should be made from a disaster, it is those profits which allow overall “economic” recovery to occur in relatively quick order.

Some estimate that damage from Harvey could be close to the $108 billion estimate for Katrina (2005), certainly above the $75 billion cost of Hurricane Sandy (2012).

Neither of these previous storms caused a recession, and at the same time, the data show no real acceleration in growth either. Real GDP grew 4.9% at an annual rate in the first quarter of 2006 after Katrina, but never accelerated above 3% in the first two quarters after Sandy. For six and nine month periods before and after these storms, growth rates were similar. In other words, it’s hard to separate the impact of Katrina or Sandy from normal statistical noise. The U.S. grew over 4% annualized in Q1 2005 and in Q3 2014, with no major weather impact.

But even if the bump in real GDP growth in the first quarter of 2006 was due to Katrina, that doesn’t mean it was good news. It would be what Henry Hazlitt in his book “Economics in One Lesson” called the “fallacy of the broken window” – which we recommend all investors read.

Hazlitt told a story about a vandal who broke a shopkeeper’s window, which caused a glassmaker to get an additional order. But the shopkeeper was planning on eventually using that same money to buy a new suit, so the tailor lost an order. In other words, even though rebuilding appears to create new economic activity, fixing things that have been destroyed actually robs an economy over time of the benefits of growth. Repairing physical capital does not generate new wealth, it only replaces old wealth.

Before Harvey, the market consensus was that automakers would sell cars and light trucks at a 16.6 million annual rate in August. Instead, automakers reported late on Friday that they only sold at a 16.1 million rate. Harvey hit an area that represents about 5% of US auto demand and it did so for about 20% of August. This suggests Harvey cut roughly 1% off of August sales nationwide, or that autos would have sold at a 16.3 million annual pace in the absence of the storm.

Automakers should make those sales back up in the next few months. In addition, reports suggest the storms destroyed about 500,000 autos, which will also generate additional sales in the months ahead.

These sales might help make the GDP numbers look better late this year or early next year, but it just represents demand that would have eventually appeared elsewhere in other sectors.

The lesson is that these disasters, while a tragedy in so many ways, do not shift the fundamental path of the U.S. economy. Some think socialist economies can respond better, but this is not true; markets are the most efficient system for guiding resources to areas in need. Free people that get hit with a disaster will overcome and reach new highs, because that’s what people do when they’re free, disaster or not. Godspeed to all those affected directly, and to those helping in recovery.

Our clients and friends in Texas were spared from the worst effects of hurricane Harvey.  Pray for those who lost their lives, their homes and their possessions.  And we applaud those who selflessly came to the rescue of their neighbors.  This showed the best of America.

 

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Why market timing does not work

stock-market-timing

 

A paper published by a business professor ten years ago made this point emphatically.

The evidence from 15 international equity markets and over 160,000 daily returns indicates that a few outliers have a massive impact on long term performance. On average across all 15 markets, missing the best 10 days resulted in portfolios 50.8% less valuable than a passive investment; and avoiding the worst 10 days resulted in portfolios 150.4% more valuable than a passive investment. Given that 10 days represent less than 0.1% of the days considered in the average market, the odds against successful market timing are staggering.”

The odds of getting out of the market at just the right time and then getting back in at just the right time are roughly the same as winning the lottery.

This points out the reason why creating a portfolio that will allow you to invest for the long term is essential to creating wealth.  You can achieve a decent return and sleep well at night.  But in order to do this your portfolio has to match your personal risk tolerance (your Risk Number), one that differs with different people.

We are in a long-term Bull Market, but Bear Markets follow Bulls as night follows day, and some day the Bear will return.  That’s when having a properly diversified, risk-tolerant portfolio pays off.  Big time.

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