Category Archives: Financial Advice

Most Americans Fail at Financial Literacy. Here Are 3 Concepts You Absolutely Need to Know

My Comments: A dilemma for many people is they find the language used by those of us in the world of finance and economics very hard to understand. It goes in one ear and comes out the other.

I’m about to launch an internet course that will help solve this problem. I call it Successful Retirement Secrets. Look for a blog post in the coming days and an opportunity for everyone to see a free preview.

In the meantime, here are three concepts to get you started.

Maurie Backman Mar 31, 2018

While Americans might have no problem spending money, managing it is a different story. In fact, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults can’t pass a basic financial literacy test, according to the FINRA Foundation. Specifically, Americans have a hard time calculating interest payments, answering questions about financial risk, and understanding the relationship between bond prices and interest rates (the former falls when the latter rises, and vice versa). With that in mind, here are a few basic financial concepts everyone should know.

1. Compounding
If you’re not familiar with compounding, you’re not alone — but you’ll also need a quick lesson, because this is a concept that can work both for you and against you. First, the positive. Compounding is the concept of earning interest on interest. Imagine you put $2,000 in a savings account paying 1% interest per year. Let’s also assume that interest compounds once a year. At the end of the first year, your account balance will be $2,020. But if you leave that money where it is and your interest rate stays the same, then during the second year, you’ll be earning 1% interest on $2,020, as opposed to just the $2,000 you initially put in.

Now here’s where compounding really gets interesting. Imagine you’re saving for retirement by socking away $300 a month in an IRA or 401(k). Over a 40-year period, that’s $144,000 in out-of-pocket contributions. But if your investments deliver a 7% average yearly return, then you’ll actually wind up with roughly $719,000 after 40 years, because your earnings will have compounded over time.

Sounds pretty great, right? Don’t get too excited, though, because compounding can also work against you. Any time you fail to pay off your credit card, for example, the balance you owe will accrue interest. But over time, you’ll be charged interest on top of that interest, and you’ll end up paying well more than the initial outstanding amount.

Imagine you rack up $2,000 of debt on a credit card charging 20% interest. If it takes you three years to pay off that sum, it’ll cost you a total of $2,675. But if you manage to pay it off in just six months, you’ll only spend $2,118. Why? Because you’ll be giving that interest less time to compound against you.

2. Inflation
In 1940, a loaf of bread cost just $0.10 on average. In 2013, it averaged $1.98. Why is this significant? Because it illustrates the point that a dollar today will have less buying power in the future. It’s a concept known as inflation, and it basically refers to the tendency of expenses to rise over time. This affects everything from housing to consumer goods to healthcare.

Why do you need to worry about inflation? It’s simple: If you’re eager to live comfortably in retirement (which you probably are), you’ll need to start setting money aside today. But the money you contribute to your IRA or 401(k) today won’t have the same buying power in 40 years as it does now. That’s why it’s crucial to grow your savings through smart investments — to take advantage of compounding and keep up with or outpace inflation.

In the above example, we saw that investing $3,600 a year at an average annual 7% return would result in $719,000. If you were to take those same $300 monthly contributions and house them in a savings account paying just 1% interest, then in 40 years, you’d have $176,000 — more than the $144,000 you originally put away, but still hardly any growth to keep up with inflation. As a result, that ending balance likely wouldn’t be enough to pay for your living expenses when you’re older, whereas $719,000 will more likely enable you to retain the buying power you had when you first set that money aside.

3. Diversification
We just saw how a 7% average annual return could turn a series of smaller contributions into a much larger sum. But why 7% and not another number? The truth is, it’s hard to say exactly what average return your investments might generate, but that 7% is a reasonable assumption for a stock-heavy portfolio based on the market’s historical performance. In fact, it’s for this reason that younger investors are typically advised to load up on stocks.

That said, you don’t want to put all of your money in stocks. Rather, it’s wise to spread your assets out over a variety of options, from stocks to bonds to cash to real estate. This way, if the stock market has a major downturn, you’ll have other assets to tap that won’t necessarily lose value the same way. It’s a concept known as diversification, and it basically means putting your eggs in different baskets to protect yourself from severe market conditions.

There’s even the potential to diversify within an asset type. For example, among your stock investments, you shouldn’t have 90% in, say, biotech. Rather, you should invest in different industries so that if a particular sector goes down, you’re not totally out of luck. Index funds are another great way to get some instant diversification in your stock portfolio, especially if you’re new to investing and don’t quite know how to choose individual stocks.

While you don’t need to be a financial wizard to successfully manage your money, it’s critical that you grasp these basic concepts and learn how to work them into your investment strategy. A little extra reading today could set the stage for a wealthier future.

Advertisements

The Fiduciary Rule Is Dead. What’s an Investor to Do Now?

My Comments: Under the Obama administration, a long awaited and necessary step was taken to introduce rules that protected consumers of investment advice. It created a fiduciary standard for licensed financial professionals that formalized a ‘best interest’ mindset for professionals when working with clients.

Very soon after Trump became president, he announced this idea was a waste of time, presumably responding to pressure from Wall Street firms. As someone who has embraced a fiduciary standard in my practice for over 40 years, I saw it as a way to better serve my clients and to level the playing field among financial professionals, some of whom choose to cheat.

Interestingly, many national and regional financial firms of every stripe chose to embrace the idea of a fiduciary standard, recognizing it’s value in an ever competitive world. My suspicion is that if and when Trump is gone from the scene, this valid idea will resurface. Finding ways to cheat and not be held accountable is not in my client’s best interest.

By Lisa Beilfuss Sept. 9, 2018

It is a tricky time to be working with an investment professional.

Regulation is in flux, and different types of professionals are held to different standards when it comes to giving advice and recommending products. So, it can be hard to know exactly what you’re paying for.

Muddying the waters, a U.S. Circuit Court in June threw out the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, an Obama-era regulation that sought to curb conflicts of interest in financial advice that the Obama administration said cost American families $17 billion a year and a percentage point in annual returns.

The decision was a final blow to a rule that the financial-services industry fought, saying it would make advice more costly, and that the Trump administration had put under review for revision or repeal.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, meanwhile, has been working on its own investor-protection measure. The agency’s version may wind up replacing the fiduciary rule, though it is shaping up to be less restrictive for brokers, and consumer advocates say that it would do little to raise the standard of care that is currently required.

Here are a few things investors should know as they navigate their financial relationships.

Names can be crucial
Financial pros can go by a number of titles: There is wealth manager, financial planner, broker, financial adviser—as well as “advisor” with an “o”—and more. The difference is sometimes semantics, but it is often much more.

For one, financial advisers, regulated by the SEC, have for decades been held to a fiduciary standard, meaning they have to put clients’ interests before their own. The requirement traces back to the stock-market crash of 1929 and subsequent Depression, which Congress in part blamed on abuses in the securities industry.

Brokers are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, the securities industry’s self-regulatory body. They must provide what the agency describes as “suitable” investment advice—short of the fiduciary care required of their adviser counterparts.

Where things get tricky is that some financial professionals are dually registered, and some have professional designations that carry requirements trumping the standards required by regulators. For example, a broker who’s also a certified financial planner has to serve as a fiduciary, when doing financial planning, to maintain the designation.

The best way to know whether your adviser is a registered investment adviser, broker or both is to search BrokerCheck, a database maintained by Finra. An individual’s profile will denote his or her title and regulatory overseer.

But industry professionals and consumer advocates say investors should confirm any information with their adviser. Even better, the experts say: Investors should ask a financial professional to put in writing whether he or she is a fiduciary in their particular relationship.

Location matters
When it comes to which standard of care is required of an investment professional, where he or she works matters. Advisers who are held to a fiduciary standard must choose products that are in the best interest of the client. But what products an adviser can pick varies from firm to firm.

For example, at stand-alone investment advisories—-those that aren’t connected to a bank or brokerage—advisers typically have access to the universe of investment products, including the cheapest index funds. Some brokers at firms connected to banks do too, but not always. Some firms have house funds and lucrative partnerships with fund companies, and their brokers have more limited menus of investment options from which to choose.

To understand any constraints and incentives an investment adviser might have in recommending products, consumer advocates suggest checking firms’ securities disclosures. Advisory firms regulated by the SEC have to spell out conflicts of interests in those.

With the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule dead, brokers don’t have to disclose conflicts the way they did under the rule. Observers say potential rules from the SEC requiring that brokers serve clients’ best interest may emphasize disclosing conflicts over mitigating them.

For now, the best way to understand conflicts and constraints is to ask your broker, and to have him or her explain product selections.
“Never own something you don’t understand,” says Patti Houlihan, who heads the advocacy group Committee for the Fiduciary Standard. “If you can’t understand [a product] after reading a few pages on it, you shouldn’t be buying it,” she says, suggesting investors walk away from anything that is confusing or sounds too good to be true.

Fees don’t necessarily mean ‘best interest’
Many investment advisers, already required to act as fiduciaries, charge investors a percentage of their assets under management. Doing so eliminates commissions, which can cause conflicts of interest by pushing an adviser to recommend one product over another to the detriment of the client.

After the fiduciary rule was unveiled—and then went into temporary effect—many brokerages accelerated moving clients toward fee-paying accounts from commission accounts. They said it made compliance with the new regulation easier, because charging commissions under the fiduciary rule would require disclosures and contracts that executives said were too onerous and costly.

Fee accounts are regulated by the SEC, meaning once you’re in one, the adviser needs to act as a fiduciary. But that doesn’t mean being put into one was actually in your best interest.

A fee account “doesn’t keep your fees from being way higher than they should be,” says Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America.

“The fee-based accounts at brokerage firms still incorporate the conflicts of the broker-dealer model,” Ms. Roper says, such as revenue derived from fund companies, proprietary products and incentives meant to encourage broker behavior.

Ms. Roper encourages investors to ask their financial professionals for detailed fee breakdowns. For example, is a 1% advisory fee all-inclusive, or is that separate from underlying product fees? Investors with more complicated financial pictures might pay more to get more service, but even they should be wary of paying much more than 1%, Ms. Roper says.

“That’s a hole you have to dig out of,” she says, referring to the long-term effect of fees on investment returns.

By the same logic, paying commissions doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a fiduciary. In the spirit of the obligation, investment professionals are expected to evaluate on an individual basis what type of model is best.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fiduciary-rule-is-dead-whats-an-investor-to-do-now-1536548266

7 Myths About Variable Annuities: Exposing Their Dark Side

My Comments: Anyone now retired or thinking about retirement spends time and energy coming to terms with how to manage their money.

Increasingly, fees charged by advisors and/or their companies are perceived as a threat somewhere along the way. However, unless you have the skills to do it all yourself, you are necessarily going to have to pay fees to gain the peace of mind you crave.

But there are fees and there are fees. My experience with variable annuities suggests they are generally excessive and you can gain the same positive outcome at a lower cost using a different approach.

These comments from Craig Kirsner are not definitive. But if you have variable annuities in your portfolio or are being encourage to buy one, I advise you to think again.

by Craig Kirsner, July 31, 2018

One of the most misunderstood investment strategies I’ve come across over the past 25 years is the variable annuity. When I audit existing variable annuities, I get the facts about them by calling the insurance company directly rather than the broker who sold them. Why? Because I believe you should trust but verify, and I like to get my information directly from the horse’s mouth.

When I call the insurance company, among other questions, I ask: What are all the fees? What is the risk? What are the features? After going through that drill numerous times, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Based on my experiences over the past 25 years, the following are the seven most common myths I’ve learned about variable annuities and the facts dispelling those myths:

Myth #1: A variable annuity is a suitable investment for a retiree

I typically work with high-net worth clients, but regardless of your means, your investing goals and strategies evolve as you grow older.

Early in life, you were probably happy to ride with the ebb and flow of the market, waiting and hoping to hit that investment “home run.” And why not? Suffering a loss now and then didn’t bother you because you were certain of a rebound, and you knew you had plenty of time to recover, long before retirement.

But years pass and investing approaches change. Entering retirement, most people start thinking about protecting and preserving what they have, not making a big splash in the market.
You may have heard it said that these days the return OF your principal is more important than the return ON your principal, and that is definitely true for most of our clients. That’s why the variable annuities some retirees count on for a regular income may not be the best route to take. Which brings us directly to Myth #2.

Myth #2: Your money is safe

People are often led to believe by their brokers that with variable annuities their money is safe, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Your money is invested in mutual funds with no real protection of your principal.

The name of the annuity pretty much sums it up: “Variable,” as in the principal varies, unlike a fixed annuity, where the principal is guaranteed by the insurance company.

Continue reading HERE: https://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T003-C032-S014-7-myths-about-variable-annuities.html

The market will crash this year — and there’s a good reason why

My Comments: Frankly, I have no idea if it will or not, but I tend to pay attention when people smarter than I start talking about stuff that is clearly an existential threat to my financial well being and that of my clients, family and friends.

If the money you have saved is critical in terms of being able to pay your bills in the future, there are ways to protect yourself against downside risk and still participate in the upside promise of the markets.

Thomas H. Kee Jr. / President and CEO of Stock Traders Daily / April 25, 2018

The market is going to crash this year, and there is a very good reason why. The amount of money chasing stocks is drying up considerably, natural conditions are prevailing, and it is happening on the heels of the most expensive bull market in history.

The stimulus efforts of global central banks created a fabricated demand for stocks, bonds, and real estate, ever since the credit crisis, but as of April 2018 those combined efforts are now a drain on liquidity. As recently as last September the combined effort of the ECB and the FOMC was infusing $60 billion per month into these asset classes, like they had almost every month since the credit crisis — but now they are effectively selling $30 billion of assets per month. That is a $90 billion decline in the monthly demand for assets in seven short months.

Central banks are now a drain on liquidity, and it is happening when natural demand levels are significantly lower than where current demand for stocks, bonds, and real estate appears to be.

According to The Investment Rate — an indicator that measures lifetime investment cycles based on ingrained societal norms to identify longer term stock market and economic cycles in advance — we are currently in the third major down period in US history. The rate of change in the amount of new money available to be invested into the U.S. economy declines every year throughout this down cycle, just like it did during the Great Depression and stagflation. This down cycle also started in December of 2007.

Although the market began to decline directly in line with The Investment Rate’s leading indicator, the declines did not last very long. The Investment Rate tells us that the down period lasts much longer than just the credit crisis, and the declines The Investment Rate suggests are rooted in material changes to natural demand levels based on how we as people invest our money, so it identifies natural demand. The natural demand levels identified by The Investment Rate are much lower, and they decline consistently from 2007.

As much as The Investment Rate serves to identify natural demand levels, when stimulus was introduced by Ben Bernanke a second source of new money was born. The stimulus efforts by the FOMC and the ECB added new money to the demand side of stocks, bonds, and real estate, with the intention of spurring prices higher to induce the wealth affect. The policies were successful, asset prices have increased aggressively, but there are repercussions.

Asset prices increased so much that the valuation of the S&P 500, Dow Jones industrial average, Russell 2000, and NASDAQ 100 at the end of last year made them more expensive than in any other bull market in history. In other words, we just experienced the most expensive bull market in history, and the PE multiple of 25 times earnings on the S&P 500 was driven by the constant capital infusions coming from central bank stimulus programs.

Not only were these programs unprecedented given their size, but they also told us what they were going to buy, when they were going to buy it, and how much they were going to buy, every month, in advance, every year since the credit crisis. At no time in history has Wall Street been able to identify when buyers were going to come in like they have during this stimulus phase.

However, now the stimulus phase is over and not only are these central banks no longer a positive influence on liquidity, but they are now removing liquidity from the financial system as well.

This is happening at a time when natural demand levels as those are defined by The Investment Rate are also significantly lower than where demand currently seems to be, and that creates a double whammy on liquidity. The demand for equities this year is far less than it was last year as a result of these two demand side factors. Because price is based on supply and demand, and because demand is cratering, prices are likely to fall. This applies to stocks, bonds, and real estate.

What’s Next For Investments???

My Comments: You have not heard much from me lately. That’s because I’ve been spending hours and hours building an internet course on retirement planning. I’m not there yet but soon will be. Keep following this blog and you’ll get an announcement when it’s ready.

In the meantime, we’re at the end of Quarter 1 of 2018 and it was an interesting quarter for a lot of reasons. For those of you with time on your hands and sufficient interest to explore the details, the following article from The Heisenberg Report is revealing. Whether it helps you make money or helps you not lose money remains to be seen.

Go HERE if you are ready to wade through 8 pages of commentary and graphs. The conclusion you will discern is that market complacency is diminishing rapidly and that something uncomfortable is likely to happen soon.

A Time for Courage

My Comments: In past blog posts I’ve shared the words, and wisdom, of Scott Minerd. He’s one of the principal brains at Guggenheim Partners, a major player on the world stage when it comes to investing money. (BTW, this pic of Scott is from 12/21/2015)

Right now many of you are rightly worried by the fall in equity prices on Wall Street, if not across the planet. Don’t equate a crash on Wall Street with the American economy. What it means is there are strong feelings about the high valuations that we see in the DOW and the S&P500.

Is it time to bail out and wait for the bottom to appear? Probably not. But don’t take my word for it. Read below what Scott is saying and then sit back. From a strategic perspective, you need to decide how much of your overall portfolio is exposed to the markets and how much of it should be protected against severe downside movements. There are insurance policies available that make this possible and the price is reasonable.

By Scott Minerd, Chairman of Investments and Global CIO – 02/06/2018

In what otherwise might have been another quiet Monday with investors lulled to sleep by the low volatility world of the past year, I was surprised to be suddenly overwhelmed with a deluge of calls late in the day from clients and the media asking for an explanation of the collapse in equity prices. My answer in a word was simply “rates.”

The backup in bond yields has been significant, with the 10-year Treasury rising 23 basis points in the last month, and hitting a recent peak of 2.88 percent. The tax cut euphoria drove stocks up at an unsustainable pace, but concerns have been building about bond market supply congestion following the Treasury Department’s refunding announcement, and Friday’s employment report has increased speculation that the Fed may need to become more aggressive to head off potential inflationary concerns.

Contributing to inflation worries is impressive wage growth. Hourly earnings were up 0.3 percent in January and upwardly revised for December to 0.4 percent, supporting the concept of wage growth of 4 percent or more for 2018. These data are trending up even before we fully digest changes to the minimum wage and the effect of wage increases and bonuses related to the new tax plan. These are likely to give a lift to consumption, which will reinforce more labor demand, and thus drive unemployment lower.

Dare I say that some in the market are becoming concerned that the Federal Reserve may be falling behind the curve, especially as evidenced by the recent steepening in bond yields? This is also a possibility. The consensus for future rate hikes, was moving to four rate increases in 2018, and possibly more.

I think that the setback (the largest one-day point decline in history) is not over but we are approaching a bottom. This correction is a healthy development for the markets in the long run, and the equity bull market, while bloodied, is not broken. The lower bond yields will help but the curve steepening speaks more of flight to safety in times of market turmoil than concerns over the economy.

Ultimately, my previously held market views are intact. I still hold the opinion that the favorable economic fundamentals that are in place, where we are in the business cycle, the breadth of the market, and levels of current valuations are supportive of equities. Buying here will probably make investors happy campers later in the year, but the tug of war between stocks and bonds is just getting under way. This may be the big investment story for 2018.

The Perfect Storm (Of The Coming Market Crisis)

My Comments: We do not live in a perfect world. Flaws are all around us. As responsible adults, we always try to make good decisions, and mostly we succeed. Until we don’t.

If you expect to live another 20 or 30 years, the money you’ll need to pay your bills has to come from somewhere. If you’ve already turned off the ‘work for money’ switch and retired, you’re dependent on work credits and saved resources. Maybe you have a pension that sends you money every month. Good for you.

If you are still working, you’re probably setting aside some of what you earn so you can someday retire and get on with the rest of your life without financial stress. At least that should be your plan.

This article from Lance Roberts, a professional money manager, needs to be read and understood. I’m not going to copy everything he says, but I do encourage you to follow the link I’ve put below. Make an effort to understand what he’s telling us. Your financial life may depend on it.

Know also there are ways to shift the risk of loss to a third party. For a fee, you get to enjoy the upside and avoid the downside. If you do live for another 20 – 30 years, where is your money going to come from?

Lance Roberts published this today, November 28th, and it can be found HERE.