Tag Archives: financial advisor

Guess Who’s Back? The Middle Class

My Comments: There is lots of handwringing about last Tuesdays election results. And lots of people looking for someone to blame if it didn’t meet hopes and expectations.

One of my long time concerns has been the growing inbalance between the haves and the have-nots. Statistically it’s very real with the middle class that evolved and grew after WW2 now faltering and fading. That has huge implications for all of us and the quality of our lives going forward.

This article has been on my post-it-someday list since this past summer. It suggests the middle class is making a comeback. What is so perverse for me about the election results is that while I understand why the “haves” are naturally Republican, I find it difficult to understand why so many of the “have-nots” vote Republican. They are the ones most likely to fall down the economic rabbit hole and yet they seem happy to do so.

posted by Jeffrey Dow Jones July 31,2014 in Cognitive Concord

This has been a very important week for economic data. I know everybody saw yesterday’s GDP report coming, but it’s great news nonetheless. It was a blowout, a 4% real increase in the second quarter.

There is no negative way to spin this one. Even personal consumption expenditures rose at a 2.5% rate. Housing bounced back in a big way, with a 7% increase in residential investment. The consumer is alive and well, and given the fact that inventories, durable goods, and other investment all shot much higher, the business world is betting he’ll stay healthy for a while longer.

What’s interesting is what happens when we marry that data to what we saw in the July consumer confidence report. Consumer confidence surged to yet another post-crisis high and is now officially back in the range that, before 2008, we would have called “normal”.
CONTINUE-READING

5 Reasons Why You Should Be Afraid Of A Bear Market

question-markMy Comments: Until I found this, I had never heard of hedgewise.com. I make absolutely no assertion that they know what they are talking about. My personal solution for you is quite different from what you read below, but this part of life is almost always a guessing game.

Oct. 30, 2014 http://www.hedgewise.com/

Summary
• The Fed officially just ended its bond buying program, marking the close of a financial era.
• With the bull market now in its 6th year, stocks may struggle to continue their run without the Fed’s help.
• Many significant warning signs are signaling an oncoming bear market.
• There are smart steps you can take to better hedge your portfolio.

1) There have only been 2 longer bull markets in recent history

Beginning in January 2009, this bull market is now in its 71st month. Only two bull markets have lasted longer in the past century, during the 1920s and the 1990s.


2) Price-to-earnings ratios are approaching 2006 levels

The widely-recognized “Shiller-PE” ratio compares average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years to the current price of the S&P 500. This helps to smooth out variance over time caused by natural fluctuations in the business cycle. The current level of the Shiller-PE ratio of over 25 is near that of 2006 and well above the mean of 16.5. While this does not indicate an imminent collapse, history would suggest that the stock market may not be the best investment for the next ten years.


3) The Fed is removing the punch bowl

Interest rates have been at historic lows for the past five years. This has created a sensational environment where stocks are one of the only reasonable investment options. However, the Fed just stopped their bond buying program altogether, and interest rates can only go in one direction. Moving forward, the market faces a cruel double-edged sword. If there is strong growth, it will prompt the Fed to begin raising rates, causing investors to demand higher returns and businesses to cut back. If there is weak growth, it will threaten corporate earnings and spark worries about another recession. Either way, stocks may fall.

4) The volume of the October rally has been light

October was a rollercoaster ride for the markets. While most of the losses have been offset here at month-end, the gains have occurred with relatively light trading volume. This suggests that the major players aren’t the ones buying.


5) Global growth is shaky

As recently studied by Larry Summers, India and China may be on the brink of a major slowdown. China has experienced a 32-year streak of extremely rapid growth, perhaps one of the longest streaks in all of history. Its economy is supported by approximately six trillion dollars of ‘shadow debt’, which may eventually create major systemic issues. While the US may not be the primary source of the next global slowdown, it would still certainly be a victim of the ripple effect.

How to Protect Your Portfolio (by hedgewise.com)

The two most likely scenarios for the economy are a rising interest rate environment with moderate growth, or a continued global slowdown which carries the risk of another recession. Unfortunately, US stocks face an uphill battle in both cases. If the Fed begins to raise rates, it will be a drag on both stocks and bonds. If rates remain low, it will probably only be due to a poor overall economic environment.

If you are seeking alternatives for your portfolio, you may want to consider a few contrarian investment options. When the Fed does raise rates, it will probably be on the heels of stronger growth and higher inflation. In that environment, Treasury-Inflation Protected Bonds (NYSEARCA:TIP) can help keep you safe from the rising price level, and commodities like gold (NYSEARCA:GLD) and oil (NYSEARCA:USO) may outperform due to a weaker dollar and stronger demand. On the other hand, if a significant slowdown occurs, investors may flee back into the safety of Treasury bonds (NYSEARCA:TLT), sending interest rates down yet again. Since it is unclear how the future will unfold, it may be wise to hedge your portfolio with some or all of these investments for the time being.

Europe Must Act Now

My Comments: By now you may be tiring of my posts that say a market crash is coming and yet here we are moving along merrily. But like a broken clock that is correct at least twice every day, I’m confident that a crash will happen before long, and it won’t be a slow decline to the bottom. It might not last long, but it will be dramatic.

The latest economic news from Europe is not encouraging. They mostly took a different tack in their response to the economic meltdown that happened in 2008-09 and the result is a profound lack of liquidity. How do you reverse course and pump money into the system to make it work again if there is no money?

A version of this article first appeared in the Financial Times. By Scott Minerd, Guggenheim Investments

In recent conversations—whether with the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the U.S. Treasury, or the International Monetary Fund—one theme is playing large and loud: things in Europe are bad and policymakers appear already to have fallen behind the curve. Quantitative easing in Europe is coming, but too slowly to avert a severe slowdown and perhaps even a hard landing.

The depreciation of the euro, while welcome, will not be enough to lift the economy out of the doldrums and more must be done both in terms of monetary policy and fiscal reforms. In plain language, France must start taking significant steps to reduce social benefits and improve its fiscal balance (a bitter pill to swallow). Germany must reduce its fiscal surplus, which Chancellor Angela Merkel appears ready to do through increased military and infrastructure spending. Italy must move to reduce its fiscal structural imbalance. Others on the periphery must do their part too by staying the course on austerity and continuing with further structural reform. The European Investment Bank stands ready to support infrastructure investment, but at a scale that currently appears too small to make much of a difference.

In the meantime, the ECB will work as quickly as it can to expand its balance sheet. The problem is simply that there may not be enough assets to buy. Mario Draghi, ECB president, has made it clear that the ECB must increase its balance sheet by at least €1 trillion—a tough mandate as the balance sheet will continue to shrink in the coming year as the earlier longer-term refinancing operation assets roll off. The reality is the ECB will need to purchase at least another €1.5 trillion in assets, and even that may not be enough.

The much heralded asset-backed securities purchase program will only yield about €250 billion to €450 billion in assets over the next two years. More LTRO (or the newer targeted LTRO) will prove a challenge as sovereign bond yields in Europe are so low that a large balance sheet expansion through this means seems impractical. Perhaps there is another €500 billion to €750 billion to do over the next year or two. Outright purchases of sovereign debt would prove politically difficult, as many would interpret such purchases as violating the ECB’s mandate, and the matter would probably end up in the European courts.

Current Tools Will Not Get Job Done

The bottom line is that none of the tools currently on the table will get the job done. There are not enough assets to purchase or finance and the timetable to get anything done is too long. Policymakers do not have the luxury of a year or two to figure this out. The ECB balance sheet shrinks virtually daily and as it shrinks, the monetary base of Europe is contracting and putting downward pressure on prices. Europe is clearly in danger of falling into the liquidity trap, if it is not already there. The likelihood of a “lost decade” like that experienced in Japan is rapidly increasing. The ECB must act and act quickly.

How is this affecting the markets? The recent rally in U.S. fixed income is materially different than when rates last approached 2 percent. Previously, the Federal Reserve was actively managing the yield curve to reduce long-term borrowing costs in order to stimulate the economy. The current rally is caused by a massive deflationary wave unleashed upon the United States by beggar-thy-neighbor policies in Europe and Asia.

Rate Hike in 2016 or Later?

The precipitous decline in energy and commodity prices, and competitive pressures on prices for traded goods, will probably push inflation, as measured by the Fed’s favored personal consumption expenditures index, back down toward 1 percent. This raises the likelihood that any increase in the policy rate by the Fed will be pushed into 2016 or later.

With inflationary expectations falling and the relative attractiveness of U.S. Treasury yields over German bunds and Japanese government bonds, U.S. long-term rates are likely to continue to be well supported with limited room to rise, a dynamic that could push them lower from here.

In the real economy, the decline in energy prices should offset the effect of reduced exports, which is supportive of U.S. growth in the near term. This should help equities recover from the recent storm of volatility as we move deeper into the fourth quarter, which is a time of seasonal strength for the stock market. However, this may prove to be the rally to sell. Results from currency translations for large, multinational companies will likely weigh heavily on S&P 500 earnings in the first half of 2015.

It is too early to be making decisions for next year, but the events overseas provide ominous portents of things to come. If we do get a sign of a bear market in U.S. equities, it could be that the events in Europe presage what lies ahead for the United States. Is it too late to change these shadows of dark foreboding? It is hard to tell but time is not on our side.

Banquo’s Grain and U.S. Interest Rates

My Comments: I had no idea what or who is/was Banquo. Nor why ‘grain’ has any relevance. But I like to share the thoughts of this writer from time to time as his insights are often right on the mark. Remember what I said last week about the possibility of rising interest rates in the next three years.

The U.S. economy is strong enough to suggest higher interest rates ahead, but a number of factors suggest U.S. Treasury yields could move lower.

October 02, 2014 - Commentary by Scott Minerd, Chairman of Investments and Global Chief Investment Officer for Guggenheim Investments

Early in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Lord Banquo asks the prophetic three witches, “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow, and which will not, speak then to me.” Banquo’s turn of phrase reminds us that if a farmer planted the wrong grain he could yield a poor harvest, or worse, he might even starve.

I thought about this recently when asked about the outlook for U.S. interest rates. Investors, like farmers, have a sense of the seasons that guides which grains, or investments, are more likely to yield favorable results. While I have no special divining powers, I can draw on our macroeconomic research team that employs the not-so-mystical forces of data and analysis.

Based on macroeconomic research, we estimate “normalized” real interest rates could justifiably be 100 basis points higher than they are today. The U.S. economy is certainly doing well enough to suggest higher interest rates ahead. With quantitative easing ending in the United States this month and the U.S. Federal Reserve preparing investors for a higher federal funds rate in 2015, the stage is set for U.S. interest rates to move higher. But that may not be the grain that grows: The reality is that, despite a strengthening U.S. economy, the greater risk is that interest rates head lower, not higher, in the near future.

Looking at the world today, there are a number of forces that could keep rates low. The first is the impact higher rates would have on the U.S. economy. Remember what happened following the “taper tantrum” last year? Before rates were able to reach historical norms, the average rate on a 30-year mortgage spiked almost a full percentage point in two months—the sharpest rise since the late 1990s—resulting in an abrupt housing slowdown, which slowed the U.S. economy materially. The impact of higher interest rates on the housing market and the broader U.S. economy is something the Fed is extremely mindful of, especially after the first quarter winter soft-patch where the U.S. economy contracted by 2.1 percent.

Next, U.S. Treasury yields are materially higher than those in any other developed market. The spread between 10-year U.S. Treasuries and comparable German bunds reached 157 basis points in September, its widest level since 1999. After inverting in late 2011, the Treasury/bund spread has steadily risen for the past three years as U.S. yields have moved higher while German rates have dropped. The spread between 10-year Treasuries and 10-year Japanese government bonds is now 189 basis points. With developments in the Middle East resembling something from the Bible’s New Testament Book of Revelation and turbulence continuing elsewhere from Ukraine to Hong Kong, the relative price value of U.S. government bonds versus other safe haven investments should continue to be a factor keeping U.S. interest rates low.

Elsewhere in financial markets, the U.S. stock market is vulnerable to higher volatility over the short term. I told my investment team in a meeting on Sept. 23 that, were I a trader, I would tell them to go short stocks, but I am not a trader, I am an investor, and the long-term trends of this bull market still look solid. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s witches, while in the near term something wicked may come this way to markets, the evil portends of this wicked season of volatility may sow new seeds of yet one more rally for U.S. stocks and bonds.

Chart of the Week :Foreign investors will likely look to the United States for higher yields on government bonds as foreign central banks increase monetary accommodation in their own economies. Historically, rising foreign purchases of U.S. Treasuries have pushed U.S. yields lower. So far in 2014, foreign buying has accelerated—a trend likely to continue, putting downward pressure on U.S. Treasury yields.

The 3 Stages of Retirement

retirementMy Comments: I recently wrote about where we are now in the overall market cycle and the likely chance of a major disruption that will effect your financial future. My post was titled “Are We There Yet?

Most of us have visions of a successful retirement. Of course, “success” is dependent on your life today, your health, and countless other variables. My role is to help anyone and everyone achieve a level of financial freedom that allows you to live your life free from financial fear. (a lot of efs there!)

Not matter how successful you are or were during the accumulation of money phase of your life, you are now, or at some time will be, in the distribution of money phase. For most of us, this requires a different mind set. That in turn requires a different set of financial tools to get you where you want to go.

What you choose to do with your life in retirement falls into what I think of as three distinct phases. How long they last is completely unknown, but they are likely to follow this sequence.

The first I call the Go-Go years. This is when you are newly retired and you have a bucket list of things you want to do, can probably afford to do, but may be afraid to do. You hold back to keep from jeopardizing your future years if history repeats itself and the markets go haywire for a while. (does anyone know the origin of the expression “haywire”?)

The second phase I call the Slow-Go years. This is when the mind and body starts to slow you down, whether you want it to or not. Hopefully by then you’ll have spent some time in the Go-Go years and are OK and recognize your limitations.

The last phase is the No-Go years. This is when you find going slow is too much and you need the help of others to get from one day to the next. It’s not a pleasant prospect. But I’ve never met an active 90 year old in the Slow-Go phase who was ready to call it quits. Quite the opposite.

But bad things happen to good people from time to time. How you manage the distribution of money phase of life will have a telling effect on the quality of your life in the Go-Go phase, the Slow-Go phase and the No-Go phase.

No matter how successful you were in the accumulation of money phase, you have to focus time and energy if you want a successful distribution of money phase. Some of this involves the recognition of what I call existential risk.

Existential risk, in my world, is a phrase to describe things that might or might not happen. No one expects our house to burn down or be destroyed by a hurricane, but we buy homeowners insurance. We might have a wreck and damage or total our car, so we buy auto insurance. Some of us buy life insurance so that if we die unexpectedly, there is cash to help our family get on with their lives. All along, we determine how much of a threat such an event will have on our lives and we allocate resources to protect ourselves.

Some of the existential risks of retirement are catastrophic illness, like a stroke, or chronic illness like dementia. As life expectancy increases, a newly talked about risk is longevity risk, which is running out of money. None of hope these things will happen, but it makes sense to at least recognize the possibility and perhaps reposition our money to offset some of the risk.

How fast you withdraw funds on a monthly basis from your accumulated funds is a largely arbitrary decision. It matters less if you have already dealt with the existential risks you might face. The financial planning community is arguing constantly about what annual rate of withdrawal is appropriate.

It depends on you. If you are willing to experience the pain of dramatic declines in value, then the rate at which you withdraw money will have to be less. That’s largely because if your accounts go down hard, you have less time to recover. Meantime, you might be sweating bullets, and that’s not usually a good thing.

If you take appropriate steps to protect yourself, then a larger withdrawal rate may be appropriate. That translates to a more satisfying experience during the Go-Go years, knowing you have taken steps to allow a smoother and later transition into the Slow-Go and No-Go years.

It’s up to you what you do. But I encourage you to believe acting sooner rather than later will be in your best interest.

7 Things You Need to Know About Term Life Insurance

life insuranceMy Comments: It’s very easy for financial professionals of all stripes to get into heated arguments about the merits of life insurance. Or the lack of merits, depending on your perspective.

A story I tell is about someone who in all seriousness asked “When is the best time to buy life insurance?”. And the answer was “About three months before you die. When would you like for me to come by and take your application?”

Therein lies the crux of the matter. And it is further complicated by the fact that even if I come by and take your application, three months before you die, there is no assurance the insurance company will accept your application and make an offer to insure your life. It only becomes a contract when the legally competent parties to the contract meet all the criteria of a legally binding agreement.

Now add in all the likely variables today, such as your health, your family health history, your age, your ability to pay premiums, the different kinds of life insurance, the tax consequences, your credit history, for how long you want or think you need coverage. All these variable conspire to make a problematical decision process.

But you have to start somewhere. I recently posted an article on Whole Life Insurance; here is another, this time about Term Life Insurance.

Sep 26, 2014 | By Stephan R. Leimberg, Robert J. Doyle Jr., Keith A. Buck

The two principal characteristics of term insurance are: the insured must die for any benefits to be paid and, by definition, the contract expires at the end of the term. Stated more specifically, a term life insurance policy promises to pay a death benefit to a beneficiary only if the insured dies during a specified term.

The contract makes no promise to pay anything if the insured lives beyond the specified term.

Generally, no cash values are payable under a term life insurance contract. If the insured survives the specified term, the contract expires and provides no payment of any kind to the policyowner.

1) When should term life be sold?

In general, some type of life insurance is indicated when a person needs or wants to provide an immediate estate upon his or her death. This need or desire typically stems from one or more of the following reasons:

A. Providing income for dependent family members until they become self-supporting after the head of household dies.
B. Liquidating consumer or business debts, or to create a fund, enabling the surviving family members to do the same when the head of household dies.
C. Providing large amounts of cash at death for children’s college expenses or other capital needs.
D. Providing cash for federal estate and state inheritance taxes, funeral expenses, and administration costs.
E. Providing funds for the continuation of a business through a buy-sell agreement.
F. Indemnifying a business for the loss of a key employee.
G. Helping recruit, retain, or retire one or more key employees through a salary continuation plan, and finance the company’s obligations to the dependents of a deceased key employee under that plan.
H. Funding bequests of capital to children, grandchildren, or others without the erosion often caused by probate costs, inheritance taxes, income taxes, federal estate taxes, transfer fees, or the generation-skipping tax.
I. Funding charitable bequests.
J. Preserving confidentiality of financial affairs. Life insurance proceeds payable to someone other than the deceased’s estate are not part of the probate estate and are not a matter of public record. It is not unusual for a beneficiary to be a lover, illegitimate child, faithful domestic servant, or have some other type of relationship with the insured that he or she may not want to be publicly acknowledged.
K. Assuring nearly instant access to cash for surviving dependents. Life insurance proceeds are generally paid to beneficiaries within days of the claim. There is no delay, as might be the case with other types of assets, because of the intervention of state or other governmental bodies due to settlement of tax issues, or because of claims by the decedent’s creditors.
L. Directing family assets to family members in a way that minimizes state, local, and federal taxes.

Generally, term insurance is not the most effective type of life insurance for all of these death benefit needs. However, term insurance may serve the insured’s needs in many circumstances. Because term insurance is not just one product, but rather many variations on a general theme different types of term insurance are indicated for different types of needs.

Keep in mind, term insurance, more than any other type of insurance, is pure death protection with little or no ancillary or lifetime benefits. Therefore, the two overriding considerations in the use of term insurance, regardless of the specific application, are:
• Will death protection alone meet the need?
• Will the coverage last as long as the need?

In short, with term — as with any other decision about the appropriate type of coverage — the product must match the problem.
CONTINUE-READING

Stop Tinkering With Your Retirement Portfolio

InvestMy Comments: I can’t tell you how many times over the past 40 years that a client has talked with me suggesting something is wrong with his investments. It usually comes after a long run up in the markets and he or she thinks his portfolio is lagging. And almost every time we’ve made a change, it has resulted in something worse. We moved away from good stuff into bad stuff.

That’s not to say that changes should never be made. Some changes are for the best, like when you think the markets are likely to crash and you want some assurance that the manager you’ve chosen has the ability to move to cash when the you know what hits the fan. Most of them use the tactics described below.

My management team of choice these days will definitely miss some of the upside. But they will also miss most of the downside. That’s why they are my team of choice. If you want guarantees, you have to move your money to insurance company products, and for that you will pay a price in restricted access. But for some of your money, it’s very OK, as it allows the rest of your money to go with the flow.

By George Sisti, CFP (oncoursefp.com ) / Oct 9, 2014

Having just attended the annual convention of the Financial Planning Association, I think it’s appropriate to compare goal focused financial planning to the market focused, no-plan, portfolio tinkering strategy that most investors employ.

Good financial planning starts with the assumption that the future is uncertain, future rates of return are unpredictable and that diversification is the essential element of any prudent investment strategy.

Good financial planning takes time. Gathering and analyzing client data, discussing financial goals and developing a plan to attain them shouldn’t be rushed. An analysis of risk tolerance, insurance coverage, income, expenses and employee benefits should precede any portfolio allocation recommendations. Finally, clients should receive an Investment Policy Statement which summarizes what has been accomplished and explains the investment strategy being employed.

Upon completion of this process I am often asked, “How often will you look at my portfolio?” Many clients are bewildered when I answer, “As infrequently as possible.” The never ending babble coming from the financial media leads many investors to believe that their portfolios require constant tinkering. Most don’t realize that allowing their adviser to tinker with their portfolio will likely do more harm than good.

Perhaps it would sound more reassuring if I answered, “As often as I look at my own.” My portfolio consists solely of index exchange-traded funds, ETFs, and is designed to meet my financial goals at an acceptable level of expected volatility. Consequently, I never tinker with it and ponder its allocation only during its annual rebalancing.

You can control your portfolio’s inputs but not its performance; which will be determined primarily by its asset allocation. Its growth will be directly proportional to how well it was funded and inversely proportional to how much you tinkered with it. Like a good employee, it shouldn’t require continual oversight.

I can compare this to two automobiles I have owned — a 1974 Chevrolet Vega and a 2007 Acura. By 1978, the Vega was burning a quart of oil every 250 miles. I had my head under its hood every week to add oil or tinker with something that wasn’t working. Thankfully, those days are over. I’ve never opened the Acura’s hood. It runs flawlessly and has had no mechanical problems. About once a year, I take it to the dealer for service. He opens the hood and tinkers as required. I drive the car home and am content to keep the hood closed for another year.

Unless there are major changes in your personal circumstances, an annual portfolio review and rebalance should be sufficient. For the next 12 months you can concentrate on the more important and enjoyable things in life. Excess portfolio peeking leads to excess portfolio tinkering which inevitably leads to lower portfolio performance.

To many investors this sounds too simple, too good to be true. (It is simple, but it isn’t simplistic — there’s a difference.) Many believe that stock investing is a rigged game. Institutional money managers use elaborate software and powerful computers that constantly monitor a multitude of market indicators to generate buy and sell orders.

Misguided investors believe that they have to adopt similar strategies to level the playing field. But whether you count on your fingers or use sophisticated software, attempting to predict the market’s next move is a loser’s game — for both amateur and professional investors.

Instead of goals based financial planning, many financial advisers offer products and trading strategies that turn retirement investors into short-term speculators. This despite the fact that study after study shows that more frequent trading leads to lower returns. Too often the big winners in the “outsmart the market” game are, in John Bogle’s words, the croupiers in the Wall Street Casino.

Today, many investors are frightened and confused by the noise and conflicting advice emanating from the financial media. Consequently many are underfunding or poorly allocating their retirement accounts. A good financial plan containing a comprehensible investment strategy is the best defense against our natural tendency to make shortsighted, emotional investment decisions. Most financially secure retirees will admit that they rarely looked at their portfolios during their accumulation years.

Like it or not, most of us are our own pension plan managers. It’s a difficult task that few investors are capable of accomplishing without professional help. Unfortunately, this professional help is rarely client focused. Too often it is market focused and characterized by frequent portfolio tinkering based on forecasts of questionable value. It’s time for investors to say, “Enough already!”

You need a personal financial plan; one containing a comprehensible investment strategy that is based on your personal goals, not what the market did yesterday or what someone thinks it will do tomorrow. Take a pass on the continuing barrage of new products offered by the Wall Street Promise Machine.

Use low-cost index funds to create a diversified portfolio. By doing so, you’ll give less money to Wall Street’s asset eating dragon; you’ll have more working on your behalf and maximize your chances of attaining a comfortable retirement.