Monthly Archives: January 2018

Savers vs. Investors

The last two decades has been devastating for savers, especially retirees.

A Wall Street Journal article noted that retirees continue to get squeezed and are concerned about making their savings last. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) index has tripled since the trough of the financial crisis, the average one-year CD has not paid more than 1 percent since 2009.

The DJIA stood at 26,405 (as of 1/25/2018), a more than 20 percent increase since the 2016 election, and the value of the digital currency. As a result of a strong stock market performance, stocks may have become an outsized portion of investors’ portfolios, thereby necessitating some rebalancing.

This means that investors who have benefited from the stock markets rise may find themselves taking more risk than they realize.

If you are concerned about stock market risk, call us.

 

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The Great Wealth Transfer: Husband to Wife

Let’s face it, women outlive men. We’ve heard this before, but this presents a unique challenge for planners.

In the traditional family the husband is often responsible for investments. Many financial planners never talk to the wife until the husband dies. That’s when we find out how much or how little the wife knows about the family finances.

While the financial services industry focuses on the transfer of wealth from parents to children, the greatest wealth transfer is from husband to wife.

Approximately 76 million baby boomers are steamrolling toward retirement, and among them 58 percent of women of retirement age are going to need financial guidance. This is especially true of the do-it-yourself investor. In too many of these cases, the wife is just unaware of the husband’s investment strategy. She may not even know the value of the family investments or even where they are located.

Sometimes the situation is complicated by children still living at home, and by ageing parents who depend of the surviving spouse for care and support.

These are just some of the reasons we published a set of books: Before I Go, and the Before I Go Workbook.

Copies of these books are available at Amazon.com or you can contact us.

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Required Minimum Distributions

In 2017, the oldest baby boomers, who turned age 70 in 2016, reached the required beginning date (RBD) for taking withdrawals from traditional IRAs and employer retirement savings plans: April 1, 2017. The RBD, the latest possible date allowed to take a mandatory required minimum distribution (RMD) from traditional IRAs and tax-deferred plans, is April 1 of the year following the year that an individual reaches age 70½ and baby boomers are there now. At this time, retirees are required to spend down these accounts, whether they need the money or not, and withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income.

A 2017 article in the AAII Journal noted that the RMD schedule does not fit retirees’ spending patterns. The first RMD at age 70½ is 3.65 percent of the account balance and the RMD at age 90 is 8.77 percent of the account balance, which looks like a “waterfall” when plotted on a graph. About $10 trillion is sitting in baby boomers’ tax-deferred accounts. If they do not calculate the amount of their RMD correctly, the penalty is 50 percent of the amount that they failed to withdraw.

Call us for more information.

 

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Getting a written retirement plan makes you twice as likely to succeed.

A study by the Charles Schwab brokerage firm found that people with a written retirement plan are 60 percent more likely to increase their 401(k) contributions and twice as likely than others to stick to a monthly savings goal. But only 24 percent of Americans have a financial plan in writing, according to the study. Those with a plan are also more likely to have a budget and an emergency fund.

Call us for a customized written retirement plan just for you.

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Saving and Retirement

The Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College, found that 52 percent of working-age U.S. households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Many recognize the possibility of a shortfall but 19 percent do not. Contributing factors include increased life expectancy, declining Social Security income replacement, and the shift from pensions to defined contribution savings plans. Older Americans are entering retirement carrying more debt. According to a paper by the Retirement Research Center at the University of Michigan, more Americans between ages 56 to 61 are carrying more debt than any time in recent history. Another retirement problem receiving increasing attention is the social isolation of retirees, which has been deemed a risk equal to or greater than major health problems such as obesity.

Studies about retirement savings plan contributions indicate a lack of participation by many American workers. A study by the PEW Charitable Trusts found that 25 percent of millennial adults participate in employer-sponsored defined contribution retirement plans versus 40 percent of Generation X and 43 percent of baby boomers. Stated another way, a large majority of millennials have no retirement savings plan.

If you are concerned about having the money to retire, call us.

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Avoiding Bad Advisors

Some good advice from SeekingAlpha:

The elephant standing in the room in all discussions of financial advice is the unethical advisor who offers bad, or not good, advice. Many commentators prefer not to dignify such people with the term “advisor.” I completely agree that the gulf is wide between these folks and those who genuinely possess advisory credentials; the trouble is that they typically call themselves advisors and they often give advice – it’s just that such advice is conflicted!

At their most extreme, bad advisors are the sharks sitting down in a Long Island boiler room pushing some pump-and-dump microcrap to widows lacking a companion to speak with. They talk about how their stock (or any other money-making device) is poised to shoot for the moon, and try to make you feel stupid for not handing over everything you’ve got.

Most people can recognize such wolves in sheep’s clothing, but seniors are not infrequently taken in, not because of their age certainly, but because of the growing problem of cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s and the like. A major national survey conducted two years ago by Public Policy Polling on behalf of nonprofit Investor Protection Trust found that nearly one in five Americans aged 65 and older had been victims of a financial swindle.

It is relevant to point out that a good financial advisor is often the first line of defense against such predators, as are adult children with sufficient awareness of the issue and, increasingly, doctors now trained to check for signs of financial exploitation when treating patients experiencing cognitive decline. It is also critical to note that a big source of vulnerability is the lack of awareness (of seniors and their adult children) of such decline.

Beyond the outright looting of bank accounts and the like, there are advisors who, on their own initiative or as a result of pressure from their firms, operate like used-car dealers are reputed to do; that is, they try to “put you in” a product today. And the firms we’re talking about, it is important to note, are not just large full-service brokerage firms that have been embroiled in past scandals, but also the discount brokerage firms of saintly reputation that are associated in the public mind as pro-consumer. Here’s a quote from an article by Bloomberg’s Nir Kaiser, citing a recent Wall Street Journal report:

Fidelity representatives are paid 0.04% of the assets clients invest in most types of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds,” but they earn 0.1% on investments that “generate higher annual fees for Fidelity, such as managed accounts, annuities and referrals to independent financial advisors.”

I think the above quote gets to the nub of the problem of unethical advice. Anyone who has any interest other than the client’s best interest should be automatically disqualified from offering you advice. The reason is simply that the person cannot be trusted. Maybe he is generally an upstanding citizen but the day you need his advice, he’s got a big bill to pay at home and convinces himself, first, that the product that will put the biggest jingle in his pocket is just the thing you need. Or, maybe the advisor faces no personal financial pressure whatsoever, but faces pressure to “perform” at work, and wants to keep his job. A 2015 survey from whistleblower securities law firm Labaton Sucharow found that nearly one in five financial industry respondents felt that financial services professionals must at least sometimes engage in illegal or unethical practices.

Such pressures exist in every field, but perverse incentives increase where large sums of money are involved. Many honest advisors seeking to break away from what they see as a conflicted corporate environment have undertaken fiduciary responsibilities, banded with an organization that imposes ethical standards and very often set up their practices as registered independent advisors, or RIAs. These are all good ideas, and favor good advice, but it bears mentioning that there are honest advisors outside of this framework, and that this framework doesn’t guarantee honest advice. Ultimately, it is incumbent on every individual who could benefit from professional financial advice to hone his own ability to detect integrity or the lack thereof, and to find an honest and capable advisors whose advice will help them succeed beyond the cost they are paying for the service.

Getting financial guidance is more important than ever, but be careful who you take advice from.  If you have questions, feel free to ask us.

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No More Plow Horse

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist of First Trust gives his take on the economy under the Trump Administration.

We’ve called the slow, plodding economic recovery from mid-2009 through early 2017 a Plow Horse. It wasn’t a thoroughbred, but it wasn’t going to keel over and die either. Growth trudged along at a sluggish – but steady – 2.1% average annual rate.

Thanks to improved policy out of Washington, the Plow Horse has picked up its gait. Under new management, real GDP grew at a 3.1% annualized rate in the second quarter of 2017 and 3.2% in the third quarter. There were two straight quarters of 3%+ growth in 2013 and 2014, but then growth petered out. Now, it looks like Q4 clocked in at a 3.3% annual rate, which would make it the first time we’ve had three straight quarters of 3%+ growth since 2004-5.

Some say a government shutdown would make it tough to get another 3% quarter to start 2018, but we disagree. Yes, some “nonessential” government workers might pull back on their spending temporarily, but there’s no historical link between government shutdowns and economic growth.

The economy grew at a 2.8% annual rate in late 1995 and early 1996 during the two quarters that include the prolonged standoff under President Clinton. That’s essentially no different than the 2.7% pace the economy grew in the year before the shutdowns. The last time we had a prolonged standoff was in late 2013, under President Obama. The economy grew at a 4% rate that quarter, one of the fastest of his presidency.

Right now, taxes are falling, regulations are being reduced, and monetary policy remains loose. With these tailwinds, the acceleration of growth in 2017 should continue into 2018.

 

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General Electric News

General Electric, once one of the world’s biggest conglomerates, may be on the verge of breaking up.

GE was the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) in 2017. From Yahoo Finance:

2017 was a painful year for investors in General Electric (NYSE: GE) as they watched shares of the industrial stalwart crumble. The last quarter of the year was particularly difficult when GE stock lost nearly 28% in value, ending 2017 down a whopping 44.8%. Dismal numbers, top management churn, a dividend cut, a major portfolio restructuring in the works …

GE investors who depended on the dividend saw their income cut by 50%.

Despite the dividend cut, thanks to an equally sharp drop in the price of the stock, GE remains one of the top 10 yielding stocks in the DJIA.

And now there is talk about breaking GE up into separate companies. From CNBC:

“GE has started down the road to breaking itself up,” tweets CNBC’s David Faber, noting the CEO’s comments this morning on the investor call. “People close to the company tell me that outcome is likely with an announcement possible as soon as this Spring.”

From Seeking Alpha:

Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management, which has seen its investment in GE decline 30% since when he bought into the company in 2015, is pushing the conglomerate to explore possible sales or spinoff of many of its businesses, including those in health and power, sources told the New York Post.
Trian founding partner and GE director Ed Garden has been spending much time recently with GE Chief Executive John Flannery, and it’s Trian that is behind GE’s decision to explore such sales.

What does this mean for GE shareholders? Management and the Board of Directors are working hard to enhance shareholder value. It remains to be seen if they are successful.

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Don’t Time a Correction

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist, First Trust:

The stock market is on a tear. The S&P 500 rose 19.4% in 2017 excluding dividends, and is already up over 4% in 2018. It’s not a bubble or a sugar high. Our capitalized profits model, says the broad U.S. stock market, is, and was, undervalued.

We never believed the “sugar high” theory that QE was driving stocks. So, slowly unwinding QE and slowly raising the federal funds rate, as the Fed did in 2017, was never a worry. But, now a truly positive fundamental has changed – the Trump Tax Cut, particularly the long-awaited cut in business tax rates. With it in place, we think our forecast for 3,100 on the S&P 500 by year-end is not only in reach, but could be eclipsed.

Before you consider us overly optimistic, we did not expect the stock market to surge like it has so early in the year. In fact, we would not have been surprised if the market experienced a correction after the tax cut. There’s an old saying; “buy on rumor, sell on fact.” So, with tax cuts approaching, optimism could build, but once they became law, the market would be left hanging for better news.

We would never forecast a correction, because we’re not traders. We’re investors. Anyone lucky enough to pick the beginning of a bear market never knows exactly when to get back in. In 2016, it happened twice and we know many investors are still bandaging up their wounds from being whipsawed.

The market got off to a terrible start in 2016, one of the worst in years. The pouting pundits were talking recession and bear market, only to experience a head-snapping rebound. Then, during the Brexit vote, the stock market fell 5% in two days – which was seen as another indicator of recession. But, it turned out to be a great buying opportunity, like every sell-off since March 2009.

The better strategy for most investors is don’t sell. Some sort of correction is inevitable but no one knows for sure when it will happen and few have the discipline to take advantage of the situation.

This is particularly true when risks to the economy remain low and the stock market is undervalued, which is exactly how we see the world today.

Earnings are strong (even with charge-offs related to tax reform), and according to Factset, since the tax law passed analysts have lifted 2018 profit estimates more rapidly than at any time in the past decade. Even the political opponents of the tax cuts are saying it will likely lift economic growth for at least the next couple of years.

Continuing unemployment claims are the lowest since 1973, payrolls are still growing at a robust pace, and wages are growing faster for workers at the lower end of the income spectrum than the top. Auto sales are trending down, but home building has much further to grow to keep up with population growth and the inevitable need to scrap older homes. Consumer debts remain very low relative to assets, while financial obligations are less than average relative to incomes.

In addition, monetary policy isn’t remotely tight and there is evidence that the velocity of money is picking up. Banks are in solid financial shape, and deregulation is going to increase their willingness to take more lending risk. The fiscal policy pendulum has swung and the U.S. is not about to embark on a series of new Great Society-style social programs. In fact, some fiscal discipline on the entitlement side of the fiscal ledger may finally be imposed.

Bottom line: This is not a recipe for recession.

It’s true, rising protectionism remains a possibility, but we think there’s going to be much more smoke than fire on this issue, and that deals will be cut to keep the good parts of NAFTA in place.

Put it all together, and we think the stock market, is set for much higher highs in 2018. If you’re brave enough to attempt trading the inevitable ups and downs of markets, more power to you, but as hedge fund performance shows, even the so-called pros have a hard time doing this. Stay bullish!

 

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Can you answer these basic money questions?

The NY Post published an article Most Americans can’t answer these 4 basic money questions.   They questioned “Millennials” and “Boomers” to see who were most knowledgeable about investing.

Here are the questions – see how well you do.

  1. Which of the following statements describes the main function of the stock market?
    A) The stock market brings people who want to buy stocks together with people who want to sell stocks.
    B) The stock market helps predict stock earnings
    C) The stock market results in an increase in the price of stocks
    D) None of the above
    E) Not sure
  2. If you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2 percent per year, after 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow?
    A) Exactly $102
    B) Less than $102
    C) More than $102
    D) Not sure
  3. If the interest rate on your savings account was 1 percent per year and inflation was 2 percent per year, after 1 year, how much would you be able to buy with the money in this account?
    A) More than today
    B) Exactly the same as today
    C) Less than today
    D) Not sure
  4. Which provides a safer return, buying a single company’s stock or a mutual fund?
    A) Single company’s stock
    B) Mutual fund
    C) Not sure
    D) Not sure

 

 

The correct answers are

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. B

If you had trouble getting the right answers you could benefit from the guidance of a good RIA (Registered Investment Advisor).

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