Tag Archives: Investment advisor

How to Pay Off Your Mortgage Before You Retire

My Comments: Retirement is the third stage of our lives. #1 is childhood when our needs are provided for by adults; #2 is adulthood when our needs are met by our efforts; and #3, retirement when you quit working for money and money has to work for you.

If you’re lucky, you don’t need to learn a new skill set to retire successfully. Or you understood what had to happen before you retired. One of those things is not having to pay more than necessary for shelter.

In a perfect world, you are happy with where you live and like whatever it is you live in. And before you retired, you figured out how much extra you had to pay each month to make the mortgage disappear just when you quit working.

Wendy Connick, Sep 28, 2017

Housing is the single biggest monthly expense for many families, so if you don’t have a housing payment to worry about during your retirement years your savings will last you a lot longer. Paying off your mortgage by the time you retire isn’t complicated; it just requires a little preparation.

Your repayment plan

If you know how much you owe on your mortgage, your interest rate, and how long it will be before you retire, figuring out how to get rid of the mortgage in time isn’t difficult. You can even use a mortgage payoff calculator to see the effect of adding extra payments.

For example, let’s say that you owe $220,000 on your mortgage at 5% interest, and it’s scheduled to be paid off in 25 years. However, you plan to retire in 20 years. Making an extra principal payment of $170 per month would get you paid off in 19 years and 11 months, and incidentally save you just over $38,000 of interest over the life of the loan.

Sticking to the plan

Coming up with a repayment plan is the easy part — sticking to it is a lot harder. Scraping up an extra $170 every month for the next 20 years can be a daunting task to undertake. Fortunately, there are ways to make saving that extra payment a lot easier.

First, make sure that the extra payments you make are to the mortgage’s principal, not a combination of principal and interest like your regular payments. Putting the extra money into the principal means that the loan will be paid down much faster, and you’ll save a lot more money on interest during the life of the loan.

Next, find a way to automate your extra payment. Ideally, this would mean setting up an automatic extra principal payment with your mortgage company, to happen along with your regular monthly payment. If the mortgage company can’t or won’t set this up for you, the next best option is to do an automatic transfer from your checking account to a special, dedicated savings account.

The biggest benefit of the second approach is that rather than taking a single large sum each month, you can spread your transfer out into multiple tiny transfers, which will be less disruptive to your checking account balance. For example, instead of doing one $170 transfer each month, you could transfer $5.70 every day from your checking to the special savings account. When it’s time for you to make your mortgage payment, you just make the extra principal payment straight from the savings account.

The biweekly payment option

Switching to a biweekly (every other week) payment system, instead of a monthly one, is another way to pay off a mortgage faster — assuming that it will take care of your loan balance in time. Splitting your monthly payment into two biweekly payments works because there are 52 weeks in a year, so it comes out to the equivalent of 13 monthly payments per year instead of just 12.

The main argument against biweekly payment schedules is that the extra money goes to both principal and interest, just like your normal payments. That means that your extra payment won’t go as far toward paying off the loan quickly as if you’d made the same extra payment toward principal only. Also, many lenders charge to make the switch from monthly to biweekly payments. So unless you have a significant reason to do so, stick with making extra principal payments. It’s the simplest way to have a retirement free from monthly housing bills.

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Don’t Screw Up Index Investing By Making These 3 Mistakes

My Comments: First, my thanks to all of you who wished us well during IRMA’s visit to Florida. We came through unscathed. We were without power for a number of days and believe me when I tell you cold showers every day are not much fun. And we are now watching Maria carefully.

Second, there is increasing evidence that active asset management is starting to pull ahead of passive investing, which is the focus of this article, written a year ago by Walter Updegrave. Some of the references may be out of date but not the underlying message.

Passive investing as a strategy is always ok for some of your money. Overlaying it with some tactical steps to add value is the next step, something that can be done effectively without going all in with skills you perhaps don’t have.

Walter Updegrave – August 10, 2016

For consistently competitive returns, index funds and their ETF counterparts are the way to go. If you doubt that, just take a look at this new Vanguard research paper that lays out the case for indexing and check out the latest S&P Dow Jones Indices index vs. active scorecard, which shows that fewer than 20% of large-company stock funds beat the Standard & Poor’s 500 index over the five- and 10-year periods ending Dec. 31. But just buying index funds and ETFs doesn’t guarantee investing success. To do that, you’ll also need to steer clear of these three all-too-common indexing mistakes.

Mistake #1: Assuming all index funds are cheap. Since index funds simply buy the stocks or bonds that make up indexes like the Standard & Poor’s 500 or Barclays U.S. Aggregate bond index rather than spend millions on costly research and manpower to identify which securities might perform best, they’re able to pass those savings along to shareholders in the form of lower annual fees. Lower fees translate to higher returns and more wealth over the long term. That advantage is especially valuable today given the forecasts for lower-than-usual investment returns in the years ahead.

But not all index funds and ETFs are bargains. While many are available at an annual cost of 0.10% or less, others sometimes charge 10 times or more than that amount, according to Morningstar data. For example, one fund, Rydex S&P 500 Class C, levies a whopping 2.31% in annual expenses, prompting this headline on a recent post about the fund on the American Institute For Economic Research’s Daily Economy blog: “Is This the Worst Mutual Fund in the World?”

Before you invest in an index fund or ETF, make it a point to know how much it charges in annual fees, especially if you’re investing through a broker or other financial adviser. Then don’t buy unless its expenses compare favorably to funds or ETFs that track the same benchmark. You can gauge whether you’re overpaying by seeing how the expenses of the fund you’re considering stack up versus the expenses of the index funds and ETFs that made the cut for the Money 50, Money Magazine’s list of the best mutual funds and ETFs.

Mistake #2: Playing the niche index game. The beauty of index investing is that it allows you to easily and inexpensively create a well-balanced portfolio for retirement savings or other money you’re looking to invest. For example, by combining just three funds—a total U.S. stock market index fund, a total international stock index fund and a total U.S. bond market index fund (or their ETF counterparts)—you have the foundation for a broadly diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds that can get you to and through retirement.

But many investors fall into the trap of believing that the more bases they cover, the more diversified and better off they’ll be. And investment firms are all too willing to oblige them by marketing ever more specialized index offerings, allowing investors to invest in indexes that track everything from wind power and cyber security to obesity and organic foods.

Diversity is a good thing, but you don’t want to overdo it. Once you have a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, the extra benefit you get from venturing into investments that focus on narrow slices of the market or obscure niches can be minuscule or even disappear, since more arcane investments often carry higher fees. You also run the risk of ending up with an unwieldy and overlapping jumble of holdings that’s difficult to manage. And, let’s face it, a lot of what’s done in the name of broader diversification is really more about riding the latest fad.

In short, the more you stick to tried-and-true index funds that track wide swaths of the market at a low cost and resist the temptation to invest in every new indexing variation some firm churns out, the less likely you’ll end up “di-worse-ifying” rather than diversifying your portfolio.

Mistake #3: Using index funds to gamble rather than invest. When the indexing revolution got underway back in the 1970s, the idea was for investors to track the performance of broad market benchmarks like the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. The rationale was that since it’s so difficult to outperform the market, investors are better off trying to match the market’s return as much as possible.

Today, however, many investors see index funds as vehicles that can help them juice performance by quickly darting in and out of the stock or bond market as a whole or making bets on a sector they believe is poised to soar, be it growth, value, small stocks, energy, technology, whatever. ETFs are especially popular with such investors since, unlike regular index funds, ETFs are priced constantly throughout the day and can be traded the same as stocks.

Problem is, succeeding at this approach requires investors to have the foresight to know where the market or specific sectors are headed. That’s a dubious assumption at best. Consider how investors swarmed into tech and growth stocks at the end of the ’90s dot.com bubble, confident that double- or even triple-digit returns would continue, only to see shares crash and burn. Or, more recently, how pundits were predicting Armageddon for stocks in the wake of the Brexit vote, only to see the market climb to new highs.

Bottom line: Indexing works best when you use low-cost index funds that cover broad segments of the stock and bond markets as building blocks to create a diversified portfolio that matches your tolerance for risk—and that, aside from periodic rebalancing, you’ll stick with through good markets and bad. Remember that, and you’ll be more likely to benefit from all that indexing has to offer.

Disruption Of Confidence

Monday = Investing Money:

I’d like to think that my posts help someone, anyone? Professionally I’ve lived in the financial world for over 40 years and it pains me to say I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen next. What’s telling is that others, far more competent than I, don’t have a clue either.

Lance Roberts, whose comments I share this week, is a technician, attempting to glean clues from a rigorous adherence to mathematics and the signals that supposedly exist and reveal the future when correctly interpreted. Tread carefully.

Aug. 20, 2017 Lance Roberts Seeking Alpha

As noted last week:
“The weakness in the market previously, combined with the threats between the U.S. and North Korea, led to a fairly sharp unwinding in equities on Thursday which in turn triggered a short-term sell signal.

That sell-off has remained confined to the current bullish trend line but has threatened to violate the 50-dma (day/daily moving average). If the market is unable to regain the 50-dma on Monday, and remain above it for the balance of the coming week, the most likely move in the markets will be lower.”

I have updated the chart above (see HERE) through Friday afternoon. I followed that analysis up on Tuesday, stating:
“On Monday, the market surged out of the gate as headlines suggested ‘geopolitical risk’ had subsided. I find this particular explanation hard to digest, given the rising rhetoric of a potential trade war with China, violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, no resolution with North Korea, etc., so forth, and so on. I find little evidence of a global turn in geopolitical stresses currently.

Monday’s ‘buy the dip’ frenzy was no different. The question will be whether the market can both reverse the short-term ‘sell signal’ and climb above the previous resistance of the old highs? Such a reversal would end the current consolidation process and allow for additional capital to be invested.”

That was so last Tuesday…

The reversal, at least to this point, was not to be the case.

Exactly one week after last week’s sell-off, the market dumped again. This time it was the news of the complete dismemberment of President Trump’s “economic council” of CEOs along with the rumor that Gary Cohn would be exiting his position at the White House as well. While the latter turned out to be #FakeNews, the damage had already been done as market participants began to question the ability of the Administration to get its promised legislative action advanced.

Given the run-up in the markets since the election, which was based on tax cuts/reform, infrastructure spending, repatriation and repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the lack of progress on that agenda has left the markets pushing higher on “hope” and “promises.” The disbanding of the economic council has led to some disruption of that confidence.

Importantly, with the market currently on a weekly sell signal, it also compounded the bulls’ problems by breaking the bullish trend line that begins in February of last year.

This is not a “panic and sell everything” signal…yet.

It is, however, a potentially important change to the bullish backdrop of the market in the short-term particularly given the ongoing deterioration in the internal participation in the market. Note that when sell signals have been triggered from similarly high levels (vertical red dashed lines), subsequent corrections have been fairly brutal.

Previously, I questioned whether or not to “buy the dip?”

“My best guess currently is – probably. But not yet.”

I also stated the following two reasons for that sentiment:

1. Bull markets don’t typically end when the mainstream media is “peeing down both legs” over the 1.5% drop on Thursday.

2. The bullish uptrend remains intact and “fear” gauges remain confined to a downtrend.

This remains this week as well. The sell-off so far remains contained above the previous bullish breakout to new highs and remains above current price support levels. Furthermore, while volatility did pick up a bit on Thursday, it has not exceeded last week’s volatility spike, suggesting traders are less worried about a correction than media headlines makes it appear.

Capitalism’s excesses belong in the dustbin of history. What’s next is up to us

My Comments: Some of you will not bother to read this. Like when you’re in the car looking for a radio station and you hear classical music or country & western; you can’t stand either so you just move on.

But we all have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren. So, in my opinion, we need to better understand what we don’t like. Especially when their economic future is at stake.

So, do yourself a favor, especially those of you who recoil at the term ‘socialism’. There are forces at work like the tides at the beach. No amount of yelling will cause them to stop.

Martin Kirk/Aug 1, 2017

It’s time to dethrone capitalism’s single-minded directive and replace it with a more balanced logic, laying the foundations for a better, more equitable world

Back in February, a college sophomore called Trevor Hill stood up during a televised town hall meeting in New York and put a simple question to the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi.

Citing a study by Harvard University that showed that 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer support capitalism, Hill asked if the Democratic party would contemplate moving farther left and offering something distinctly different to dominant rightwing economics? Pelosi, visibly taken aback, said: “I thank you for your question,” she said, “but I’m sorry to say we’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.”

The footage went viral on both sides of the Atlantic. It was powerful because of the clear contrast: Trevor Hill is no hardened leftwinger. He’s just your average millennial – bright, well-informed, curious about the world and eager to imagine a better one. By contrast, Pelosi, a figurehead of establishment politics, seemed unable to even engage with the notion that capitalism itself might be the problem.

It’s not only young voters who feel this way. A YouGov poll in 2015 found that 64% of Britons believe that capitalism is unfair, that it makes inequality worse. Even in the US it’s as high as 55%, while in Germany a solid 77% are sceptical of capitalism. Meanwhile, a full three-quarters of people in major capitalist economies believe that big businesses are basically corrupt.

Why do people feel this way? Probably not because they want to travel back in time and live in the USSR. For millennials especially, the binaries of capitalism v socialism, or capitalism v communism, are hollow and old-fashioned. Far more likely is that people are realizing – either consciously or at some gut level – that there’s something fundamentally flawed about a system that has as its single goal turning natural and human resources into capital, and do so more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment.

Because that is what capitalism is all about; that’s the sum total of the plan. We can see it embodied in the imperative to increase GDP, everywhere, at an exponential rate, even though we know that GDP, on its own, does not reduce poverty or make people happier and healthier. Global GDP has grown 630% since 1980, and in that same time inequality, poverty and hunger have also risen.

The single-minded focus on the growth of the capital supply is why, for example, corporations have a fiduciary duty to grow their stock value before all other concerns. This prevents even well-meaning chief executives from voluntarily doing anything good, such as increasing wages or reducing pollution, when doing so might compromise the bottom line – As the American Airlines CEO, Doug Parker, found earlier this year when he tried to raise workers’ salaries and was immediately slapped down by Wall Street. Even in a highly profitable industry – which the airlines are, despite many warnings – it is seen as unacceptable to spread the wealth. Profits are seen as the natural property of the investor class. This is why JP Morgan criticized the pay rise as a “wealth transfer of nearly $1bn” to workers.

It certainly doesn’t have to be this way, and we don’t need to look backwards to socialism, or any other historical system, as an prebaked alternative. Instead, we need to evolve. The human capacity for innovation and fresh thinking is boundless; why would anyone want to denigrate that capacity by believing that capitalism is the final system we can come up with?

Martin Luther King spoke of a “higher synthesis”, that takes the best of historical systems, draws on this boundless capacity, and creates something new. There is no shortage of ideas. We can start by changing how we understand and measure progress. As Bobby Kennedy said, GDP “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. We can change that. We can adopt regenerative agricultural solutions to help us to live in balance with the environment on which we all depend for our survival. We can introduce potentially transformative measures like a crypto-currency-based universal basic income that could fundamentally improve the money system.

Measures like these and many others could dethrone capitalism’s single-minded prime directive and replace it with a more balanced logic. If done systematically enough, they could consign one-dimensional capitalism to the dustbin of history.

We need our political and business leaders to go from clinging on to the myth that growth will solve all our problems, to joining the conversations that social movements, progressive forces, and young people like Trevor Hill are having about how we can lay the foundations for a better, safer, more equitable post-capitalist world. ■

Trump Cannot Make America Govern Itself Again

My Comments: There is far more at stake here than making Trump become relevant again. Apart from my personal, visceral fear that we’ll find ourselves in another brutal and painful war, the standard of living across these United States is eroding.

Unfortunately, that erosion is like watching a car rust. It can sit in your driveway for months and you see nothing, but give it a few years, some rain, and holes will appear.

I have no magic bullet to solve our national dilemma. There probably isn’t one to be had. All I know to do is somehow keep pushing to support the values I hold dear, and maybe, just maybe, there’ll be enough of us to bring it around.

Edward Luce on July 19, 2017

Let us give Donald Trump a pass. The last time Congress enacted a serious law was more than seven years ago, which was well before he turned up. That was Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, which is turning into Mr Trump’s nightmare. He just cannot get that law off the books.

Congress is a sausage factory that has forgotten how to make sausages. Now Mr Trump wants it to make the largest sausage imaginable: a big tax reform package. But what does Mr Trump know about sausages?

The answer is little. Passing serious bills requires the clarity of Ronald Reagan, the grit of Lyndon Johnson and the patience of Job. Mr Trump lacks all three qualities. In contrast to his attacks on critics, such as what he describes as the Fake News media, Mr Trump’s promotional skills are limited.

It is hard to think of a memorable Trump tweet on tax reform. Mr Trump is better at tearing opponents down than building the case for change. The chances are that he will fail to pass tax reform, just as he has failed to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But the blame for this does not rest solely on the current president’s shoulders. His election followed Capitol Hill’s six most fallow years since the Reconstruction era after the civil war. Though it is America’s first branch of government, Congress has ceased to function in a serious way since 2010. The Republican party, which saw its role as stopping Mr Obama from passing anything, even if he had gone more than halfway to meet them, bears most of the responsibility. Failed initiatives include an immigration overhaul and fiscal reform.

Having acquired a habit of blocking, Republicans have forgotten how to score. But the one thing that unites Republicans of all kinds, Mr Trump included, is the strong desire to cut taxes. It does not matter much how they are cut, or which ones are targeted. The party’s sole ideological glue is a desire to lower them. Other pieties, such as balancing budgets, are easily dispensed with. It ought to be a simple matter, therefore, for Mr Trump to build momentum around a big tax cut and damn the consequences. Yet his chances of success are slim. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that Mr Trump has no appetite for the intricate horse-trading required to win. This is true even at the best of times. But these are the worst. Mr Trump is increasingly distracted by the Russia investigations, which absorb most of his bandwidth. According to aides, Mr Trump spends most of his evenings watching recordings of cable news shows just as obsessed with Russia as he is. He then calls around friends in New York, Florida and elsewhere to comment on how unfairly he is being treated. Mr Trump’s obsession with “Fake News” criticism is his first, second and third priority. Anyone who doubts that should analyse his tweets and the odd hours at which he sends them. Tax reform does not feature.

The second is that Republicans are no longer a governing party. To be fair, this holds only at the federal level. There are plenty of Republican mayors and governors who do a good job of solving practical concerns at the local level. But the national party knows only how to stop things from happening. In the past six years, Republicans voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare in the safe knowledge Mr Obama would veto their bill. Not once did Republicans sit down and work out a plan of their own. Healthcare is a dull subject to anyone who lacks interest in policy. Republicans have no interest in policy.

Instead of a party of sausage makers, Republicans have become a party of vandals. Words such as “abolish”, “repeal”, “smash” and “erase” trip off the party’s tongue. That is what comes from a habit of shutting down government and taking the US to brink of debt default. Terms such as “build”, “consult”, “trade-off” and “draft” are rare indeed.

Even something as simple-sounding as cutting taxes requires coalition-building. Besides, Republicans have to increase the US debt ceiling before they can turn to tax cuts. Mr Trump, who would have most to lose from a sovereign default, is unclear how to do this. Steven Mnuchin, his Treasury secretary, wants a “clean bill” to increase the ceiling. But Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s budget director, wants to attach spending cuts, which would ensure no Democratic votes. Mr Trump cannot even negotiate with himself.

Students of history could tell Mr Trump that Rome was not built in a day. Yet the vandals were able to demolish Rome pretty quickly. Is Mr Trump a Roman or a vandal? Sadly that question answers itself.

Protectionists Are Wrong About Unemployment

My Comments: This doesn’t tell the whole story. But it helps. And, yes, this does have political implications.

Make America Great Again is a very complicated matter. What a surprise. And you thought it would be easy and would happen overnight after we drained the swamp. Well…

Donald Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University. He writes:

What I think is missed is the average income for those employed. We know there is an increasing disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom. We have to find a way to turn this around, or there will be more than just rioting in the streets. It’s in our best interest to do this, not just for those in the middle and the bottom, but also for those at the top. If no one can afford what those at the top are offering, no one will buy it.

The following quote is from pages 30-31 of my Mercatus Center colleague Daniel Griswold’s excellent 2009 volume, Mad About Trade (footnotes excluded):

In the past four decades, during a time of expanding trade and globalization, the U.S. workforce and total employment have each roughly doubled…. Since 1970, the number of people employed in the U.S. economy has increased at an average annual rate of 2.22 percent, virtually the same as the 2.25 percent average annual growth in the labor force. Despite fears of lost jobs from trade, total employment in the U.S. economy during the recession year of 2008 was still 8.4 million workers higher than during the 2001 recession, 27.6 million more than during the 1991 recession, and 45.8 million more than the 1981-82 downturn.

Nor is there any long-term, upward trend in the unemployment rate. In fact, even counting the recession year of 2008, the average unemployment rate during the decade of the 2000s has been 5.1 percent. That rate compares to an average jobless rate of 5.8 percent in the go-go 1990s and 7.3 percent in the 1980s.

After decades of demographic upheaval, technological transformations, rising levels of trade, and recessions and recoveries, the U.S. economy has continued to add jobs, and the unemployment rate shows no long-term trend upward. Obviously, an increasingly globalized U.S. economy is perfectly compatible with a growing number of jobs and full employment.

Are You Ready For The Next Crash?

My Comments: Dr. Doom here once again! Fundamentally, I’m an optimist, except when the shadows of doom are clearly in the wings. If your money is exposed to the markets, I encourage you to read this.

If you can, look carefully at the chart and note the changes in key metrics for our economy between the two time periods.

In part, this explains why the Tea Party in Washington wants to kill any improvements to health care. But without explaining and encouraging an understanding of these metrics, whatever legitimacy the current Congress has for limiting money spent on health care goes down the drain.

I choose to ignore the author’s recommendations about what stocks to buy; I’m more interested in the coming fundamental upheaval in our ability to sustain our standards of living.

by SHAWN LANGLOIS Mar 4, 2017

The man behind the iBankCoin blog on Thursday morning asked his readers: “Where were you when Snap ripped off America?”

While his rant focused on the wild valuation the Snapchat parent SNAP, -7.95% reached in its debut, others may see the booming IPO as a last gasp before the bubble pops like it did back in the days of Pets.com and Webvan.

But the truth is, this market climate — which has seen record runups for the Dow DJIA, +0.07% , S&P 500 SPX, -0.01% and Nasdaq COMP, +0.17% — is nothing like we saw during the dot-com hey day. By many measures, it’s actually worse, according to numbers crunched this week by 720 Global’s Michael Lebowitz.

“Even though current valuation measures are not as extreme as in 1999, today’s economic underpinnings are not as robust as they were then,” he wrote. “Such perspective allows for a unique quantification, a comparison of valuations and economic activity, to show that today’s P/E ratio might be more overvalued than those observed in 1999.”

In this chart, Lebowitz stacks up the metrics from the years running up to the dot-com explosion versus what we’ve seen since 2012:

Lebowitz acknowledged, of course, that equity valuations back in 1999 were, as proven after the fact, “grossly elevated.”

But when put up against a backdrop of economic factors, he says those numbers appear to be relatively tame compared with today.

“Some will likely argue with this analysis and claim that Donald Trump’s pro-growth agenda will invigorate the outlook for the economy and corporate earnings,” he wrote. “While that is a possibility, that argument is highly speculative as such policies face numerous headwinds along the path to implementation. Economic, demographic and productivity trends all portend stagnation.”

His bottom line: “There is little justification for paying such a historically steep premium for what could likely be feeble earnings growth for years to come.”