Brexit: Is It Something to Worry About ?

Brexit: Is It Something to Worry About ?
The term Brexit refers to the referendum vote in the UK to decide whether their country should remain as a member of the European Union (EU). The June 23rd vote was subject to constant political and media campaigns designed to “inform” voters. Once tabulated, the “leavers” were victorious and the British exit was confirmed. It appeared that the leavers were sending a strong message–they wanted to recapture sovereignty and had grown intolerant of the immigration policies within the EU…and they were willing to swallow the sour economic pill that would ensue while in pursuit of change .
As unsavory as it sounds, global investors literally gambled on the outcome. By gauging the market reactions to the results of the vote, it was clear that powerful investors took positions on the wrong side of the equation. Accordingly, the global stock and bond markets became very volatile. Domestic stock markets dropped over 5% while indices fell over 10% in some countries. The British currency, the pound sterling, fell to 30 year lows while the US Dollar strengthened and Treasury bonds became sanctuary for nervous investors. Consequently, the yield on US Treasuries had dropped to record lows (as capital floods into Treasuries, yields drop). Within days of the financial spasms, many stock markets bounced back as investors parsed the possible immediate and longer-term impacts.
So a few weeks after the Brexit vote, what does it all mean to you? First, it’s probable that direct, adverse consequences may befall Britain for quite a while; most immediately because of the deflated value of the pound sterling. Also, imports and travel will become more expensive. The effect on commerce between Britain and the EU has yet to be seen, though many speculate that Britain will suffer some level of economic hardship for years to come. Early rumors have also surfaced that EU banks may face another crisis.
As implied above, it seems that US citizens will bear only indirect, yet material, effects. For example, complete separation from the EU could take two years or longer. Along the way, we should fully expect problems and hiccups that the investment markets will consider unsettling. US businesses that export products abroad may struggle with earnings since the strong dollar makes those products more expensive. Reverberations from the export issue could spread into many layers of our economy and will likely spill over to the stock market causing greater, chronic volatility. US imports and travelling, especially to Britain, should become more affordable. Very important short-term is that mortgage and financing rates have dropped as the falling Treasury yields have pulled those down, too. Brexit may evolve to become synonymous with Dunkirk. And like Dunkirk, positive catalysts for the future, while unrecognizable at the time, were nonetheless forged.

Stock Market Report 2016: Is This Another Bubble?

So January was an awful month for the global stock markets.  According to most reports, it was the worst start to the year ever.  In fact, the drop began on December 30th and just gained momentum into the new year.  Measured against recent market highs, several market indices had dropped by over 12 percent before mid-February.  That rapid loss of market value certainly reconstituted the fears and anxiety we experienced in 2000-2001 and 2008.  You probably recall that the former drop was the “tech” bubble and the latter was coined the “housing” bubble.  Has another yet-to-be named bubble formed since then?

Before I opine, let’s review a simple evolution of the market levels today and some contributing factors as to how we have arrived here.

By the end of the housing bubble, the broad market indices had been cut in half from recent highs.  The mortgage derivative and related products industries had collapsed and taken much of the economy and many jobs with them.  As we reflect, calling that a difficult time is a great understatement.

In an effort to support the economy and promote spending, the Federal Reserve undertook some unorthodox policies to maintain low interest rates which are still evident today. One result of the Fed actions was very low interest rates on treasury bonds, bank savings and similar accounts.  Simply stated, there was almost nowhere to earn interest for many years.  Now where would the multi-billion dollar pensions, trust accounts, mutual funds and Wall Street put money to at least earn dividends?  That’s right, the stock market.   In fact, I reference the size of the market since 2008.  Since the lows of 2009, the total value of the primary US index has roughly tripled…in 7-8 years!  One should ask, how and why has that happened and could it be justified?

So has a bubble formed in the stock market as a result of a huge demand imbalance of stock buyers who arguably had nowhere else to go for well over 5 years?  I believe the answer is yes and further, I cannot see how a bubble doesn’t exist.  Although much evidence can be cited in addition to the demand rationale above, I would direct you to locate a chart of the US stock market that covers at least a 30-year timeframe.  Pay close attention to the period from 2008 until today vis a vis any other time frame and you should become very concerned, especially when superimposing the true state of our economy during that same time.  Again, what could have supported the market values tripling in that period when most folks agree that things were not that great?  And will we look back in a few years and just say that things were fine?  Certainly,  that’s possible.  But I think it is very clear that some added caution should be exercised as we move through the next year or two.

Unwrap The Gifts Hidden Inside Your Retirement Plan

As we start the new year, I wonder how many people have taken advantage of the various types of retirement plans that were available to them during the previous year. Whether employer-sponsored plans or the various iterations of Individual Retirement Accounts, it is clear to me that most people do not optimize those plans. This is likely a function of not really understanding how they work. So hopefully, this will help you learn how you can get the most from your retirement plan.

I would like to discuss the retirement plan that is most commonly offered by employers. That plan is known as a 401(k) account. The name 401(k) refers to an IRS code section that describes the account. A 401(k) plan is a retirement savings account that allows employees to “defer” receipt of a portion of their salary and redirect it to their 401(k) account. The employee can choose how their contributions are invested from the choices in the plan. That’s a nice and convenient way for you to save for retirement, right?

Well allow me to unwrap the real gifts of these plans. First, if you have a typical 401(k), your contributions will not be assessed federal or state tax-withholdings. For many employees, that translates into saving 8-15% per-dollar of contributions that you make into your 401(k) as opposed to receiving that money in your paycheck. And while the account grows through the years, there will be no income tax on the increase or profits in the account. So if Kris Kringle contributes $5000 to his 401(k), he could save $750 by eliminating tax-withholding and if he makes $2000 in earnings he will not pay any current income taxes on them either. That means your account earnings compound in three ways; on your contributions, on the prior earnings and on tax dollars you haven’t paid. If your employer likes playing Santa, then some of your own contributions may be matched, as well. With or without the match, if you do not direct as much of your salary into the 401(k) as possible, you are electing to pay more in taxes and, of course, choosing to save less for your retirement years.

Although 401(k) plans can have a wide array of features, the primary benefits mentioned above are invaluable year-over-year and will make a tremendous difference during your retirement.

The Surviving Spouse

Though it is one of the most emotional tasks I must initiate, I commonly work very closely with clients whose spouse’s have recently passed on. This is certainly a very difficult time for everyone. Yet, I feel it is my professional responsibility to help the survivor understand the potentially serious financial implications which accompany the death of a spouse. In fact, many clients have chosen to work with me because of my experience in this area.

Essentially, it is important to realize that many tax and estate planning benefits exist between a husband and wife. But when one of them is no longer with us, those benefits cease….And only having a simple will probably won’t provide the best results for you. Therefore, new strategies must be examined and employed which will protect your survivors. It is very probable that if you do nothing, your children and other heirs will pay a significant price to inherit your assets some day….what’s worse, if you become ill or need nursing home care, there may be nothing left for them to inherit.

Some of the looming problems involve probate, nursing homes and medicaid, income taxation, retirement plans, and insurance. I have helped many of my clients mitigate these concerns by completing the necessary steps to protect both themselves and their families. And once I have done the same for you, you will be confident that you won’t be leaving a “mess” for the family. I hope you give me a call so I can help.

Roth IRA Conversions

Have you heard of a Roth Conversion? Well, it is the process by which a traditional (regular) IRA is exchanged to a Roth IRA regardless of income levels. So why would you do this? Basically, a regular IRA is an account designated for retirement that was typically funded with pre-tax (tax-deductible) contributions*…and distributions from the account are considered taxable income during retirement. A Roth IRA provides no tax-deduction for contributions, but under current law, you will NOT pay taxes on any distributions*.

Since 1998 regular IRA’s could be converted into Roth IRA’s…the IRA owner included all pre-tax contributions and earnings from the IRA on the tax return. So if the converted IRA was worth $20,000 and was comprised entirely of pre-tax contributions and earnings, the $20,000 would be included as income on the tax return. But subsequent gains on the new Roth account would not be taxable*….the goal is to pay tax on today’s dollars but avoid taxes on hopefully a much larger account later.

Roth conversions enable potentially huge tax benefits for your future…after you make the money back you lost to taxation. If I may offer my humble and longstanding opinions: Almost NEVER volunteer to pay taxes today for a promise of tomorrow and expect them to change the taxation of Roths down the road (as they did, for example, with Social Security).

*exceptions and other details apply; please refer to IRS rules and guidelines

Medicaid Rule Changes Seem Painful

The rules impacting nursing home confinements and asset protection guidelines continue to evolve. Though most of you have heard that the look-back period (the historic timeframe within which the system asks about asset transfers before Medicaid application) has been increased to five years, it is unfortunately only one of the changes.

Here are some other provisions:

* Asset transfers which occurred during the five years prior to Medicaid application will likely prevent you from receiving state assistance for many months. The number of months you would wait for state help (the so-called penalty period) will be based upon the value of the transfers made
* Those of you who own an annuity may regret it. For annuities to be most beneficial under the Medicaid microscope, very specific criteria must be observed. The state can actually take become your primary beneficiary if the rules are not followed. That is, it will stand to recover monies paid on your behalf directly from your annuities, presumably in lieu of your children.
* Those with home equity in excess of $828,000 may be denied benefits.

Other changes have also been enacted and of course, more details for the above are available. But suffice it to say that the changes have drastically altered planning strategies which means you should revisit this aspect of your financial plan. If you are exploring Medicaid Planning or currently own an annuity, I would strongly suggest that you give us a call.

Employers: Are You Managing the Company Pension ?

If you are the proprietor of your own business, you may have established a profit sharing or money purchase plan, or perhaps a hybrid plan. And for convenience and cost savings you may have elected to bear the difficult responsibility and risk of enlisting yourself as the investment manager.

Well, as time has gone on you may have realized that this task is another “job” and maybe you’ve become concerned that you just can’t spend the proper amount of time to provide the best possible results for yourself and your employees. Additionally, you are uncomfortable with accepting the risks associated with managing the assets. I have spoken with many employers who have expressed these concerns, and more.

You should be thrilled to know that the management platform we have operated for years is a superior alternative to managing the assets in your retirement plans. Our daily oversight platform is designed to provide diversification, control risk and costs. Typical investment commissions are a thing of the past in our portfolio models and all aspects of allocation and oversight become our responsibility. As well, since the plan is tax-qualified, the current plan assets can be converted to the model system without tax consequences.

Any employer who can identify with these concerns should take a look at our system. We’re absolutely confident you’ll share my enthusiasm. This platform is also available to IRA’s, old 401(k) plans, SIMPLE and SEP plans !!

I Am a Fiduciary

So I looked up the definition of “fiduciary” online. Even though the interpretations of a fiduciary can vary amongst different professional engagements, it is fair to state that a fiduciary must legally put your interests before their own. The “fiduciary standard” is extremely important in the world of financial and legal activities, not the least of which includes those with investment brokers, financial planners or similar titles.

You may be surprised to learn that your own financial representative MAY NOT BE a fiduciary….Not kidding!
So you may be working with a person or firm that has no legal requirement to put your needs and objectives first. Let’s compare that to a different relationship. What if you went to buy a new, big-screen television. And let’s say that one store only employed fiduciary salespeople who were legally required to provide disclosures and all the pro’s and con’s to help you make the best decisions. Contrarily, the other competing store didn’t require a fiduciary duty…which store are you going to? Now I understand that a financial relationship is not identical to buying a TV, but I do stress the expectation of absolute trust and objectivity one must have in financial engagements…that person who always acts as if they were doing things for themselves. And over the past decade or so, many industry lobbying firms have rigorously fought to prevent the imposition of a uniform fiduciary standard….I’ll let you ponder over that one.

So, maybe a good question to ask a current or potential financial adviser is “are YOU a fiduciary?”