Tag Archives: investment advice

5 Smart 401(k) Moves to Make Now

financial freedomMy Comments: You say you don’t have a 401(k)? Maybe you have a 403(b), or an IRA with exposure to the market. If you are in or close to retirement and your investment portfolio goes to hell, you simply don’t have enough time to hope it recovers and gets back on track. Be defensive for a while and sleep better at night.

by Carolyn Bigda | September 26, 2016


Storm clouds are forming, so take your nest egg off autopilot and steer to clearer skies.

Blissfully, making your 401(k) grow hasn’t been that hard in recent years. Since March 2009, the S&P 500 index of U.S. stocks has more than tripled in value. And thanks to the Pension Protection Act—now celebrating its 10th anniversary—many workers are automatically enrolled in 401(k)s. “Inertia has led to some pretty powerful results,” says Katie Taylor, director of thought leadership at Fidelity.

But inertia works only as long as the winds are blowing in the right direction. Today there are signs that momentum could be shifting. U.S. equities, for one, are as frothy now as they were leading up to the 2007–09 bear market and the Great Depression in 1929. The S&P 500 trades at a price/earnings ratio of 27.3 based on 10 years of averaged profits, a 63% premium to historical averages.

Meanwhile, corporate profits have been declining for five consecutive quarters, the worst such streak since the financial panic. And worried fund managers have amassed large piles of cash, according to a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey.

None of this means your 401(k) needs a major overhaul. This is, after all, your long-term portfolio, meant to endure choppy air from time to time. But a few tweaks now can help ensure that inertia doesn’t work against you—and that you’re still on track no matter what happens in the market.

Get over your fear of bonds

If you haven’t rebalanced your 401(k) in a while, it probably looks different from what you remember. Without rebalancing, a moderate 60% U.S. stock/40% U.S. bond portfolio at the end of the last recession is now closer to an aggressive 80% equities/20% bond mix, according to Morningstar.

The rule of thumb: If your weightings are off-kilter by five percentage points or more from your desired mix, it’s time to take action.

Some investors, though, may be wary of rebalancing into bonds now, notes Maria Bruno, a senior investment analyst in Vanguard’s investment strategy group. That’s in part because fixed-income prices fall when interest rates rise, and the Federal Reserve could lift rates before the year is out.

But “rebalancing helps protect you from short-term volatility,” Bruno notes. Even if fixed-income prices fall, bonds can still serve as a cushion. The worst calendar-year loss for intermediate-term government bonds was 5.1%, in 1994. By contrast, the worst loss for blue-chip U.S. stocks was 43.3%, in 1931.

You can further reduce risk by choosing bond funds with an average “duration” of about five years or less, which are less sensitive to interest-rate moves, says Peter Mallouk, president of Creative Planning in Leawood, Kans. (A duration of five implies that if rates rise one percentage point, the fund could lose 5% in value.) You can look up this figure for your plan’s fixed-income offerings at Morningstar.com. If your 401(k) doesn’t offer a good low-duration option, go with a core fund such as Dodge & Cox Income DODIX 0% , with a duration of just four years, in your IRA. The fund, which has beaten more than 80% of its peers over the past five, 10, and 15 years, is in our MONEY 50 recommended list.
CONTINUE-READING

What All Bubbles Have In Common

My Comments: My brain is tired. Too much political angst, too much monetary crap, not enough positive feedback. And here’s some more monetary crap.

But if you are like me and are not expecting to win the lottery anytime soon, then bubbles become important. And like it or not, they tend to burst and create chaos. Look at this chart and read the article to determine where we are right now. Maybe.

bubbles

Sep. 16, 2016

Summary

  • By far, the main cause of bubbles is excessive monetary liquidity in the financial system.
  • Investors are showing signs of behavior consistent with asset bubbles such as herding, hindsight bias, confirmation bias, anchoring, overconfidence and greater fool.
  • We’re at the final stages of the bubble and the rise in the LIBOR and government bond yields are the first warning signs.

What causes a bubble?

By far, the main cause of bubbles is excessive monetary liquidity in the financial system. Axel Weber, former Deutsche Budesbank President puts it this way: “the past has shown that an overly generous provision of liquidity in global financial markets in connection with a very low level of interest rates promotes the formation of asset price bubbles.” This makes you think about today’s Central Banks’ ultra-loose monetary policy for several years, right?

In fact, when too much liquidity is given to normal citizens, it usually ends up in inflation whereas when that additional liquidity finds its way to the hands of the wealthiest, it usually ends up in bubbles. That is because poor people have a higher propensity to consume than rich people who have a higher propensity to save.

So, an extra buck on a poor guy’s wallet will probably end up in consumption while an extra buck on a rich guy’s bank account will more likely end up in savings. This supports the claim that Central Bank’s monetary policy is not reaching the real economy and is only making the rich (who own assets) even richer.

What about investor’s psychology?

Bubbles also have an emotional component. As Dan Ariely said “humans may be irrational, but they are predictably irrational.” Here are a few common behaviors that lead to the creation of bubbles.

Humans are biologically wired to mimic the actions of the group. While this behavior allows us to quickly absorb and react based on the intelligence of others around us, it also leads to self reinforcing cycles of aggregate behavior. This is called herding and it explains popular investment strategies such as momentum or trend following.

Investors also overestimate their ability to predict the future based on the recent past. This tendency to overemphasize recent performance is called hindsight bias and just like herding is one of the reasons behind the success of momentum and trend following investment strategies.

Both herding and hindsight bias, explain why a growing number of investors use technical analysis alone to make their investment decisions and fewer investors care about fundamental analysis and about the price they pay for a certain asset. This is why, when faced with the warning that valuations are currently at very high levels, many investors say this is not “actionable.” For them, what is “actionable” is 2 moving averages crossing on a chart.

People also tend to seek information that supports their own theories, and usually ignore information that disproves their points of view. This is called confirmation bias and can be found in today’s failed attempts to justify expensive valuations with the fact that stocks earnings yield and dividend yield is higher than government bond yields.

Anchoring consists in investors’ need to have references. So, if a stock trades today at $100, investors will perceive $90 as cheap and $110 as expensive.

People also tend to overestimate their intelligence and capabilities relative to others. For example, a 2006 study showed that 74% of professional fund managers believe they delivered above average performance. This overconfidence grows as the asset prices increase and is usually at its high before the crash. It is just like the story of the turkey whose trust in the farmer grows by the day because the farmer feeds him every day. And when the turkey’s trust in the farmer is greater than ever, that’s when the turkey loses his head.

This year has been all about buying the dips because anytime there were bad news on China (in January), on the US (May jobs report), on Europe (Brexit vote in June) or on disappointing earnings (it has now been 5 consecutive quarters of earnings decline), everyone followed the same reasoning: The ECB will ease further, the BOJ will add stimulus, the Fed won’t hike and/or the BOE will cut interest rates.

But the current selloff is about the Fed raising rates and the BOJ and ECB reducing monetary stimulus. Will anchoring and overconfidence make investors buy this dip?

Finally, there’s the greater fool theory that says rational people will buy into valuations that they don’t necessarily believe, as long as they think there is someone else more foolish who will buy it for an even higher value. Do negative yielding bonds ring a bell here?

In which phase of the bubble are we?

Jean-Paul Rodrigue says every bubble goes through 4 stages: stealth, awareness, mania and blow-off.

The way I see it, the S&P 500  took-off in 2009, went through a bear trap in 2012 and is now somewhere between Delusion and the New Paradigm, if not already at the beginning of the denial.

In Summary

There’s evidence of exceptional amounts of liquidity in the financial system today as investors are showing the behavior we see in the final stages of a bubble.

In fact, there are reasons to believe that Central Bank policy is changing and when that happens, the Bubble will pop. On the one hand, the libor rose to 83 basis points over the summer, the highest since 2009 and surpassing the levels seen at the peak of the European sovereign debt crisis and it seems to have already incorporated a potential 25 basis point rate increase by the Fed. On the other hand, Government bond yields in Germany, Japan and the US have been rising over the summer specially in the longer part of the curve.

A Reverse Mortgage Can Save Your Retirement!

real estateMy Comments: Many of you may react negatively when you hear the term ‘reverse mortgage’. At one time that reaction was a reasonable response, but not any longer.

Reverse mortgages are now a legitimate financial planning tool that advisors like me employ when the circumstances are appropriate. As you will read below, they can be a life saver when cash flow is limited or we’re in the middle of a market crisis and you don’t want to sell your stocks and bonds and lose a ton of money.

They can be a critical element in your efforts to find find financial freedom.

07/31/2016 Robert Mauterstock

Reverse mortgages have been around for a long time. It’s a method that an individual can use to convert the equity built up in their home to a credit line or an income for as long as they remain in the home as their primary residence, without the burden of monthly mortgage payments. But up until recently the fees to establish one were very high. As a result, financial planners (including myself) did not recommend them to clients. In many cases our broker/dealer firms prohibited us from even talking about them.

But recently I met with Bob Tranchell, a senior VP at the Federal Savings Bank. Bob is a specialist in reverse mortgages. He explained to me all the changes that have occurred with reverse mortgages in the last few years. In 2010 and 2013 the federal govt. revised the Home Equity Conversion program (HECM) reduced its costs and made it more secure. Bob showed me how the reverse mortgage could become a very effective tool for aging baby boomers to give them security during their retirement years.

It is estimated that 87 percent of baby boomers will own a home in retirement, but 68 percent of them will still carry a mortgage. Research shows that the foreclosure rate for individuals between ages 65-74 increases by 920 percent. Often seniors who have a reduced income after retirement cannot maintain the payments they made while they were working.

In addition boomers may face the dangers of being in the sandwich generation. They might have to help their aging parents financially at the same time they have to support their children with student loans and no job. A Merrill Lynch survey indicated that more than 60 percent of boomers are considered the family bank, handing out funds to their parents or adult children.

Let’s look at an example of how a reverse mortgage can help a retired boomer. If he or she is at least 62 years old he can take out a reverse mortgage on the value of his home up to $625,000. The percentage available is based on his age, the appraised home value, the lender’s margin and the 10 year LIBOR rate (an interest rate index established by the Fed. Govt.). The 62-year-old will have access to 52.4 percent of the home value or $327,500.

He can take these funds as a lump sum, a fixed income for the rest of his life (Tenure), a term payment (fixed payment for a fixed period) or a credit line. The cost of the reverse mortgage is a 0.5 percent mortgage insurance premium, the loan origination fees and any closing costs. For the $327,500 amount the total costs would be between $6000-$14000 dollars. This can be wrapped into the mortgage. No loan payments are due as long as the individual keeps the home.

Payments that come from the reverse mortgage are received income tax free. If the individual does not tap into the mortgage the credit line increases each year based upon the lender’s margin, a 1.25 percent mortgage insurance premium and the value of the 1 year LIBOR rate. Currently it increases at more than 5 percent a year! Eventually the credit line can exceed the actual value of the home but the heirs of the borrower are only responsible for the value equal to 95 percent of the appraised value of the home. The rest is forgiven! They can chose to sell the home or take out a new mortgage and pay back the reverse mortgage.

Let’s assume the 62-year-old took out a reverse mortgage for $320,000 and didn’t touch it for 20 years. Based on current rates his credit line will have grown to $1,200,000 regardless of the value of the home. Assuming he wants to convert the loan into an income at age 82, he’d receive $10,103 per month for ten years and could still keep $300,000 in reserve as a line of credit (which will grow to $569,391 in another 10 years).

The reverse mortgage can also be used to pay off an existing mortgage and eliminate mortgage payments, pay for long term care or a long term care policy or assist children or parents with financial needs. It cannot be used to purchase an annuity or buy stock. If the borrower is concerned about leaving a legacy to his or her children he and his spouse can buy a second to die life insurance policy and pay the premium with some of the proceeds from the reverse mortgage. When the second spouse dies the kids will receive a tax free death benefit which they can use to pay off the reverse mortgage and own the home debt free.

The possibilities are endless. I have only touched on a few. Key to the program is that payments are received tax free, the loan is unsecured and the heirs are only responsible to pay back a maximum of 95 percent of the home’s value regardless of how much was taken out. It’s a win-win.

The Stock Market Is About To Have A ‘Final Melt Up’

roller coaster2My Comments: Anyone who suggests they know what is likely to happen to the markets in the coming days is probably just hoping they will be right. And that includes me.

A high percentage of significant market downturns have happened in August and September. This article suggests there is an event planned for the end of August that might be the trigger that starts the next one. Obviously we are now in September but the danger level is still high.

My suggestion is to either be in cash, or in a program designed to make money when the markets tump.

Bob Bryan – August 16, 2016

The market has one last run left.

Stocks could get a huge boost as investors worry about missing gains, according to Michael Hartnett, the chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

According to a note from Hartnett titled “The Final Melt Up,” the shift of investors from defensive stocks (such as industrials and telecoms) to more cyclical companies (retail, tech, and consumer goods) shows that investors’ appetite for risk is growing.

This will create demand for stocks and drive the market upward.

“Likelihood of melt up in risk assets into Jackson Hole growing … likely followed by jump in yields,” he wrote.

The chart below illustrates the rotation that Hartnett is noticing:

Essentially, a melt up by definition is a sudden leap in the market caused by investors rushing in because they fear missing out. It’s not a sign of improved fundamentals.

In other words, these companies and markets may not have higher earnings or be stronger investment opportunities.

Hartnett doesn’t go into the details of the end of the melt up, but the speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen at the Jackson Hole conference at the end of the month appears to be the catalyst that will stop the stampede.

ThrowBack Thursday: My College Days

33 60-62 CavingClub copyAbout this time some 57 years ago I arrived in Gainesville, Florida. I was a freshman with no clue yet what to study and no meaningful focus other than survive on my own with a vague sense of taking the next steps. I found myself enveloped in a group of non-conformists whose extra-curricular avocation was caving. If you were a sophisticate, you would have said spelunking, as performed by speleologists. At the time, we cavers were mostly sober and were prepared to spend much of the night in underground, sometimes muddy, bat infested caves, climbing walls and crawling through narrow passages. Never mind that you missed classes the next day. And on weekends, there were parties with purloined grain alcohol and folksongs. Some of us managed to graduate, despite having no real clue what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.

The link below will take you to a site where I have uploaded images of those days, along with comments that my now 75 year old brain thinks are relevant. Unfortunately, too many of the people shown have passed and exist only in our memories. Perhaps some of you will recognize these folks, or others with similar tastes whose lives touched yours. Good times were had and enjoyed.

Go HERE to see it all: https://goo.gl/09cPIv

Alternatively, I’ve created a PowerPoint slide show and uploaded it to dropbox.com  If you have problems with either of these let me know and I’ll try a new way to get you the stories and pictures.

Don’t Expect To Make Any Money In The Market For The Next 7 Years

InvestMy Comments: I have no idea whether this will prove to be true or not. But it sure enters my thinking whenever I talk about money with clients and how they are going to pay their future bills. And how I’m going to pay my bills.

John Mauldin,  Economics,  Jul. 28, 2016

The next recession is coming, and it will be severe.

My friend Ed Easterling of Crestmont Research just updated his Economic Cycle Dashboard and sent me a personal email with some of his thoughts.

The current expansion is the fourth longest since 1954… but also the weakest. Since 1950, average annual GDP growth in recovery periods has been 4.3%.

This time, average GDP growth has been only 2.1% for the seven years following the Great Recession. That means the economy has grown a mere 16% during this so-called “recovery.”

If this were an average recovery, total GDP growth would have been 34% by now… instead of 16%. So, it’s no wonder that wage growth, job creation, household income, and all kinds of other stats look so meager.

I think the next recovery will be even weaker than this one (the weakest in the last 60 years) because monetary policy is hindering growth.

Now, combine a weak recovery with Negative Interest Rate Policy or NIRP. Asset prices are a reflection of interest rates and economic growth. And both are just slightly above or below zero. So, how can we really expect stocks, commodities, and other assets to gain value?

The upshot is that traditional investment strategies will stop working soon. Ask European pension income recipients about their fears.

Welcome to 0% returns for the next 7 years

All bets may be off if the latest long-term return forecasts are correct. Here’s a chart from my friends at GMO showing the latest 7-year asset class forecast.


See that dotted line, the one that not a single asset class gets anywhere near? That’s the 6.5% long-term stock return that many supposedly wise investors tell us is reasonable to expect.

GMO doesn’t think it’s reasonable at all, at least not for the next seven years.

If GMO is right—and they usually are—and you’re a devotee of passive or semi-passive asset allocation strategy, you can expect somewhere around 0% returns over the next seven years… if you’re lucky.

See that nearly invisible -0.2% yellow bar for “U.S. Cash?” It’s not your eyes. Welcome to NIRP, American-style.

The Fed’s fantasies notwithstanding, NIRP is not conducive to “normal” returns in any asset class. GMO says the best bets are emerging-market stocks and timber.

Those also happen to be thin markets. Not everyone can hold them at once.

Prepare to be stuck.

10 Retirement Decisions You Will Regret Forever

My Comments: This list comes from Kiplinger, and is relevant to many of the people I talk with daily. I’ve only include two of the ten here. To to find the rest you’ll need to click on any of the images which will take you to the Kiplinger site. If for any reason, they block you out, let me know and I’ll figure out a work around for you.

By Bob Niedt

As more and more baby boomers start eyeing the coastline of retirement, thoughts turn from the daily worry over the Monday-through-Friday commute to concerns about how to fund the golden years.

How prepared are you? Do you know the ins and outs of your pension (if you’re lucky enough to have one)? How about your 401(k), IRA and other retirement accounts that make up your nest egg? Do you have a good handle on when to claim Social Security benefits? These are some of the questions you will have to contemplate as the work days wind down. But long before you punch out, make sure you are making the right choices.
To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of retirement decisions some of you may regret forever. Take a look to see if any sound familiar.

Planning to work indefinitely
Many baby boomers like me have every intention of staying on the job until 70, either because we want to, we have to, or we desire to maximize our Social Security checks. But that plan could backfire. You could be forced to retire early for any number of reasons.

Consider this: One in four U.S. workers expects to work beyond age 70 to make ends meet, according to a recent Willis Towers Watson survey. Yet, you can’t count on being able to bring in a paycheck if you need it. While 51% of workers expect to continue working some in retirement, found a separate 2015 survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, only 6% of actual retirees report working in retirement as a source of income.

Whether you work is not always up to you. Three out of five retirees left the workforce earlier than planned, according to Transamerica. Of those, 66% did so because of employment-related issues, including organizational changes at their companies, losing their jobs and taking buyouts. Health-related issues—either their own ill health or that of a loved one—was cited by 37%.

The actionable advice: Assume the worst, and save early and often.

Putting off saving for retirement

The single biggest financial regret of Americans surveyed by Bankrate was waiting too long to start saving for retirement. Not surprisingly, respondents 50 and older expressed this regret at a much higher rate than younger respondents.

“Many people do not start to aggressively save for retirement until they reach their 40s or 50s,’’ says Ajay Kaisth, a certified financial planner with KAI Advisors in Princeton Junction, N.J. “The good news for these investors is that they may still have enough time to change their savings behavior and achieve their goals, but they will need to take action quickly and be extremely disciplined about their savings.”

Morningstar calculated how much you need to sock away monthly to reach the magic number of $1 million saved by age 65. Assuming a 7% annual rate of return, you’d need to save $381 a month if you start at age 25; $820 monthly, starting at 35; $1,920, starting at 45; and $5,778, starting at 55.

Uncle Sam offers incentives to procrastinators. Once you turn 50, you can start making catch-up contributions to your retirement accounts. In 2016, that means older savers can contribute an extra $6,000 to a 401(k) on top of the standard $18,000. The catch-up amount for IRAs is $1,000 on top of the standard $5,500.

CONTINUE-READING