Monthly Archives: December 2017

What are mutual fund share classes and why are they important

Mutual fund share classes are little understood by the investing public, but they are important because they determine how much the investor pays in fees.

Fund classes are identified by an alphabetical letter that follows a mutual fund’s name in most newspapers.

Mutual fund “A” share classes typically have a “front-end load,” a sales charge payable when you buy the fund. This fee is used to pay the brokerage firm and part of it goes to the broker who sells the fund.

The amount of the load depends on the kind of fund – bond funds generally have lower loads than stock funds – and the amount of money invested. The more money that’s invested, the lower the fee. Known as “break points,” they refer to points at which front-end charges go down. For example, the front-end load for the Growth Fund of America class A shares is 5.75% on investments up to $25,000. But if you invest $1 million dollars or more the front-end load is 0%.

Mutual fund “B” shares typically have a “back end load” payable when you redeem the shares. These decline over a period of years (usually 6 to 8 years) until they finally disappear.

Both “A” and “B” shares usually have an “12b-1” marketing fee, generally 0.25%, charged annually.

Class “C” shares have no front-end load, a small back end load, usually 1%, that goes away after 1 year. However, they have higher 12b-1 fees, typically 1%.

There are other share classes such as I, Y, F-1, F-1, F-2. In fact, some funds have as many as 18 share classes. They are all the same fund; the only difference is the fee charged to the investor.

Many fund families offer “institutional” share classes that are only available to certain investors. Institutional shares are purchased by businesses who are in the investing business such as banks, pension funds, insurance companies and registered investment advisors (RIAs) who buy them as agents for their clients. This is one of the benefits of working with an independent RIA who has access to lower cost funds, load waived funds and no-load funds that are often not offered by the major Wall Street firms.

Contact us for more information.

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Six Charitable Moves to Consider Before Year-End

The tax changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) are extensive and far-reaching.  The standard deduction will be raised starting in 2018, which means that going forward taxpayers will need to provide more itemized deductions in order to receive the tax benefit of excess deductions.  If you are charitably inclined, you should to consider these six charitable planning moves before the end of the year given the impending changes to the tax code.

 

If you itemize your taxes:

  1. Donate highly appreciated stocks or mutual funds. The stock market has been on a terrific run, and you may have highly appreciated stocks or mutual funds that you are holding on to because you do not want to pay capital gains taxes.  By donating appreciated investments, you avoid paying the capital gains tax and can take a deduction for the fair market value of the investments.  If you are considering gifting mutual funds, do so before they declare their year-end dividends and capital gains and you will save on taxes by avoiding that income as well.  While your deduction is limited to 50% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), you can carry the unused portion to future tax years.
  2. Consider bumping up this year’s contributions: essentially, make contributions that you would have made in 2018 before the end of 2017. The rationale here is that your tax rate is likely to be lower next year than it is this year due to the TCJA, so every additional dollar given this year is deducted against your higher current 2017 rate.
  3. If you want to create a legacy or are unsure of where to contribute, use a Community Foundation or Donor Advised Fund (DAF) to max out your contributions. For example, if you give $50,000 to a DAF, you can deduct the entire amount now but designate your gifts and charities over time.  You can invest the portion of your DAF that is not immediately donated to a specific charity, creating the potential for even greater giving in the future.
  4. If you are considering an even larger donation, or are interested in asset-protection, you may want to consider creating either a charitable lead or remainder trust. With a charitable remainder trust, you get a deduction for your gift now; generate an income stream for yourself for a determined period of time; and at the expiration of that term, the remainder of the donated assets is distributed to your favorite charity or charities.  A charitable lead trust is essentially the inverse of the remainder trust: you get a deduction for your gift now; generate an income stream for one or more charities of your choice for a determined period of time; and at the expiration of that term, you or your chosen beneficiaries receive the remaining principle.  The deduction you receive is based on an interest rate, and the low current rates makes the contribution value high.
  5. Donate your extra property, clothes, and household items to charity. Make time to clean out your closets, spare bedroom and garage, and donate those items to one of the many charitable organizations in our area.  CHKD, Salvation Army, Purple Heart, ForKids, Hope House are just a few organizations that will take old clothes, appliances, household items and furniture.  Some of them will even come to you to pick up items.  Make sure to ask the charity for a receipt and keep a thorough list of what you donated.  You can use garage sale or thrift store prices to assign fair market values to the donated items, or you can use online programs (such as itsdeductible.com) to figure out values.

 

If you are over age 70 ½:

  1. Make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).  Essentially a QCD allows you to donate all or a portion of your IRA Required Minimum Distribution to a qualifying charity.  The donated amount is not included in your taxable income and also helps to lower your income for certain “floors” like social security benefit taxation and Medicare Part B and Part D premiums.  QCDs are very tax-efficient ways to make charitable donations.

A prediction for 2018 from Brian Wesbury of First Trust

Last December we wrote “we finally have more than just hope to believe that this year, 2017, is the year the Plow Horse Economy finally gets a spring in its step.” We expected real GDP growth to accelerate from 2.0% in 2016 to “about 2.6%” in 2017. Our optimism was, in large part, based on our belief that the incoming Trump Administration would wield a lighter regulatory touch and move toward lower tax rates.

So far, so good. Right now, we’re tracking fourth quarter real GDP growth at a 3.0% annual rate, which would mean 2.7% growth for 2017 and we expect some more acceleration in 2018.

The only question is: how much? Yes, a major corporate tax cut (which should have happened 20 years ago) is finally taking place. And, yes, the Trump Administration is cutting regulation. But, it has not reigned in government spending. As a result, we’re forecasting real GDP growth at a 3.0% rate in 2018, the fastest annual growth since 2005.

The only caveat to this forecast is that it seems as if the velocity of money is picking up. With $2 trillion of excess reserves in the banking system, the risk is highly tilted toward an upside surprise for growth, with little risk to the downside. Meanwhile, this easy monetary policy suggests inflation should pick up, as well. The consumer price index should be up about 2.5% in 2018, which would be the largest increase since 2011.

Unemployment already surprised to the downside in 2017. We forecast 4.4%; instead, it’s already dropped to 4.1% and looks poised to move even lower in the year ahead. Our best guess is that the jobless rate falls to 3.7%, which would be the lowest unemployment rate since the late 1960s.

A year ago, we expected the Fed to finally deliver multiple rate hikes in 2017. It did, and we expect that pattern will continue in 2018, with the Fed signaling three rate hikes and delivering at least that number, maybe four. Longer-term interest rates are heading up as well. Look for the 10-year Treasury yield to finish 2018 at 3.00%.

For the stock market, get ready for a continued bull market in 2018. Stocks will probably not climb as much as this year, and a correction is always possible, but we think investors would be wise to stay invested in equities throughout the year.

We use a Capitalized Profits Model (the government’s measure of profits from the GDP reports divided by interest rates) to measure fair value for stocks. Our traditional measure, using a current 10-year Treasury yield of 2.35% suggests the S&P 500 is still massively undervalued.

If we use our 2018 forecast of 3.0% for the 10-year yield, the model says fair value for the S&P 500 is 3351, which is 25% higher than Friday’s close. The model needs a 10-year yield of about 3.75% to conclude that the S&P 500 is already at fair value, with current profits.

As a result, we’re calling for the S&P 500 to finish at 3,100 next year, up almost 16% from Friday’s close. The Dow Jones Industrial Average should finish at 28,500.

Yes, this is optimistic, but a year ago we were forecasting the Dow would finish this year at 23,750 with the S&P 500 at 2,700. This was a much more bullish call than anyone else we’ve seen, but we stuck with the fundamentals over the relatively pessimistic calls of “conventional wisdom,” and we believe the same course is warranted for 2018. Those who have faith in free markets should continue to be richly rewarded in the year ahead.

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Me and my spouse are approaching retirement; how should we allocate our investments so that we can protect some and grow some?

This was a question asked by a visitor to Investopedia.
Several other advisors responded.  Here’s my contribution to the discussion.
 

You have gotten some good advice from the others who have responded.  The only advice I would add to theirs is that the years just prior to retirement and the first few years of retirement are the most critical years for you.  These are the years when significant investment losses have the biggest impact on your retirement assets.

That’s because of something referred to as “sequence of returns.”  “Sequence of returns” refers to the fact that market returns are never the same from year to year.  For example, here are the returns for the S&P 500 from 2000 to 2010.  That was a dangerous decade for retirees.

2000 -9.1%
2001 -11.9%
2002 -22.1%
2003 28.7%
2004 10.9%
2005 4.9%
2006 15.8%
2007 5.5%
2008 -37.0%
2009 26.5%
2010 15.1%

When you are accumulating assets, the sequence of returns has no impact on the amount of money you end up with.  But when you are taking money out, the sequence becomes very important.  That’s because taking money out of an account exaggerates the effect of a market decline.

If you retired in the year 2000 with $100,000 and took out 4% ($4000) to live on each year, by 2010 your account would have shrunk to about $66,200 and, if you continued to withdraw the same amount each year you would now be taking out 6%.  If you have another 30 years in retirement, that rate of withdrawal may not be sustainable.

For that reason, most financial advisors recommend creating a portfolio that can cushion the effect of poor market performance near your retirement date.

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How to Avoid Fumbling Your Retirement Money

NFL football player Marion Henry retired from football at age 28.  Professional athletes usually begin a second career after they give up the game, most because they have to.  Here’s his admission:

Eighty percent of retired NFL players go broke in their first three years out of the league, according to Sports Illustrated.

I was one of them.

Out of football and money at age 28, I saw the financial woes of big-money ballplayers as symptomatic of a larger problem plaguing average Americans – a retirement problem. Experts say many people are inadequately prepared or poorly advised when it comes to retirement planning. As a result, they outlive their funds.

 

He goes on to make the point that:

When I played football, we practiced against the worst-case scenario that we could face on game day. Many Americans are not planning for those worst-case scenarios in the fourth quarter of their lives, and some who believe they are prepared may have a false sense of security.

 

People often have a false sense of security because they have not really priced out all the expenses that they will incur during retirement, or considered the effects of inflation on the cost of living as they get older.  They also assume that their investments will continue to grow at the same rate as they have in the past.  And few retirees really plan for how they will pay for long-term care if they should develop serious long-term illnesses not covered by Medicare.

A good retirement planning program will take these issues into consideration.   Visit an dependent RIA who will prepare a retirement plan for you and take the guesswork out of retirement.

 

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Don’t Fear Higher Interest Rates

Here’s some weekly commentary from Brian Wesbury of First Trust 

The Federal Reserve has a problem.  At 4.1%, the jobless rate is already well below the 4.6% it thinks unemployment would/could/should average over the long run.  We think the unemployment rate should get to 3.5% by the end of 2019 and wouldn’t be shocked if it got that low in 2018, either.

Add in extra economic growth from tax cuts and the Fed will be worried that it is “behind the curve.”  As a result, we think the Fed will raise rates three times next year, on top of this year’s three rate hikes, counting the almost certain hike this month.  And a fourth rate hike in 2018 is still certainly on the table.  By contrast, the futures market is only pricing in one or two rate hikes next year – exactly as it did for 2017.  In other words, the futures markets are likely to be wrong for the second year in a row.

And as short-term interest rates head higher, we expect long-term interest rates to head up as well.  So, get ready, because the bears will seize on this rising rate environment as one more reason for the bull market in stocks to end.

They’ll be wrong again.  The bull market, and the US economy, have further to run.  Rising rates won’t kill the recovery or bull market anytime in the near future.

Higher interest rates reflect a higher after-tax return to capital, a natural result of cutting taxes on corporate investment via a lower tax rate on corporate profits as well as shifting to full expensing of equipment and away from depreciation for tax purposes.

Lower taxes on capital means business will more aggressively pursue investment opportunities, helping boost economic growth and the demand for labor – leading to more jobs and higher wages.  Stronger growth means higher rates.

For a recent example of why higher rates don’t mean the end of the bull market in stocks look no further than 2013.  Economic growth accelerated that year, with real GDP growing 2.7% versus 1.3% the year before.  Meanwhile, the yield on the 10-year Treasury Note jumped to 3.04% from 1.78%.  And during that year the S&P 500 jumped 29.6%, the best calendar year performance since 1997.

This was not a fluke.  The 10-year yield rose in 2003 and 2006, by 44 and 32 basis points, respectively.  How did the S&P 500 do those years: up 26.4% in 2003, up 13.8% in 2006.

Sure, in theory, if interest rates climb to reflect the risk of rising inflation, without any corresponding increase in real GDP growth, then higher interest rates would not be a good sign for equities.  That’d be like the late 1960s through the early 1980s.  But with Congress and the president likely to soon agree to major pro-growth changes in the tax code on top of an ongoing shift toward deregulation, we think the growth trend is positive, not negative.

It’s also true that interest on the national debt will rise as well.  But federal interest costs relative to both GDP and tax revenue are still hovering near the lowest levels of the past fifty years.  As we’ve argued, sensible debt financing that locks in today’s low rates would be prudent. However, it will take many years for higher interest rates to lift the cost of borrowing needed to finance the government back to the levels we saw for much of the 1980s and 1990s.  And as we all remember the 80s and 90s were not bad for stocks.

Bottom line: interest rates across the yield curve are headed higher.  But, for stocks, it’s just another wall of worry not a signal that the bull market is anywhere near an end.

 

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Harsh Lessons In Modern Con Art

There have been a lot of articles about the fact that Seniors are often the subject of financial fraud, and it’s true.  But you don’t have to be old to get scammed.  Most of Bernie Madoff’s victims were rich, successful and relatively sophisticated.

Here is the story of financial writer, public speaker and financial thought leader, Mitch Anthony, who was scammed out of $1 million and whose mother lost her life savings.  It’s an object lesson.

As I sit down to write this article, I know it will likely be the most difficult composition of my writing career—difficult because it dredges up a miasma of regret, embarrassment, sadness and anger like nothing else I’ve experienced in life. I was conned out of almost a million dollars.

I will survive. But my mother was also conned—out of every penny she had. Her journey would prove much more difficult. The recollection of what I’m about to detail makes me feel stupid and gullible, like a sucker who should have known better. Then there’s the exasperation and indignation of watching someone skirt justice for one simple reason: There wasn’t ample time to hold him accountable for the fortunes he destroyed and the lives he crushed.

The federal statute of limitations on financial crimes is five years. Once you discover you have been defrauded, very likely two to three years have passed. Legal proceedings will chew up a year or two. By the time prosecutors decide there is merit in proceeding, the time has almost run out, and they will cease their efforts knowing they are up against the statute. This was our exact experience. By the time I brought the fraud to the attention of the FBI, they informed me that the perpetrator was already “on their radar”—but at this point, there wasn’t enough time left to do anything, and they couldn’t afford the time and resources to waste their efforts.

The man’s name is Wendell Corey, and he touted himself as a “developer.” Continue reading

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