The 24-Hour News Cycle moves from Impeachment to COVID-19 to the Primaries – What’s next?
In recent weeks, we’ve seen several major stories in the news. On the political front, in addition to the arrival of the presidential election through the 2020 caucuses and primaries, we have just experienced the third presidential impeachment in American history. In international news, the latest coronavirus outbreak has hit China, now referred to as COVID-19, leading to closed borders and heightened screening at hospitals worldwide.1
It’s not so much the facts of what’s going on that are unusual – none of these matters are unprecedented – but the way that they are reported in the media can be alarming. Even frightening.
How might this affect me? When major events make headlines, it’s easy to put yourself in the picture. Knowing, as well, how such events might affect the financial markets, it’s also easy to wonder how your investments and retirement strategy might fare.
The truth? Political ups and downs, virus outbreaks, and other circumstances might lead to some short-term volatility on Wall Street. But it’s important to remember two things: 1) Your portfolio is positioned to reflect your risk tolerance, time horizon, and goals. 2) The way we experience news has changed over the years, and not all of it for the better.
Never-ending news. On June 1, 1980, businessman and broadcaster Ted Turner debuted Cable News Network (CNN), the world’s first 24-hour television news channel. In the four decades since, other similar channels have emerged. Collectively, they changed how the world experiences news. Notably, it was the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle.2
Before 1980, news was very different. Major newspapers might have published several editions during a day, but most areas only had a morning or evening edition. Radio might offer news break updates at the top of the hour, with news programs in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Television followed a similar pattern.
The never-ending news cycle means that news organizations have an interest in continuing to report on the same news story even though little or nothing has changed. Twenty-four hours is a lot of time to fill, and they need ratings in order to be of value to advertisers. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the news has become inaccurate or sensationalistic, it might be perceived as repetitive.
It’s also becoming ubiquitous. With our smartphones, we’re often receiving news updates immediately throughout the day.
Keep informed, but don’t be rattled. Your investment and retirement strategy, which you have designed and put into place with your trusted financial professional, has considered big news events, both major and minor. Your professional knows the difference between something that may be a minor force in your financial life and something that might require you to make some changes. A good strategy gives you room for market changes that might see reactions that last a few days – even a few years. Staying the course is often the smartest move, partially because you aren’t reacting immediately to a dip, and you might benefit from a potential recovery.
So, keep yourself informed, but if you get too worried, have a conversation with your financial professional. They can help you understand what the news means for your financial life and offer you the context you need to remain confident in your strategy.
2 - history.com/this-day-in-history/cnn-launches 
See if you are prepared to begin your retirement by answering four key questions.
How do you know you are psychologically ready to retire? As a start, ask yourself four questions.
One, is your work meaningful? If it is emotionally and psychologically fulfilling, if it gives you a strong sense of purpose and identity, there may be a voice inside your head telling you not to retire yet. You may want to listen to it.
It can be tempting to see retirement as a “finish line”: no more long workdays, long commutes, or stressful deadlines. But it is really a starting line: the start of a new phase of life. Ideally, you cross the “finish line” knowing what comes next, what will be important to you in the future.
Two, do you value work or leisure more at this point in your life? If the answer is leisure, score one for retirement. If the answer is work, maybe you need a new job or a new way of working rather than an exit from your company or your profession.
An old saying says that retirement feels like “six Saturdays and a Sunday.” Fantastic, right? It is, as long you don’t miss Monday through Friday. Some people really enjoy their careers; you may be one of them.
Three, where do your friends come from? If very little of your social life involves the people you work with, then score another point for retirement. If your friends are mainly your coworkers, those friendships may be tested if you retire (and you may want to try to broaden your social circle for the future).
At a glance, it might seem that an enjoyable retirement requires just two things: sufficient income and sufficient return on your investments. These factors certainly promote a nice retirement, but there are also other important factors: your physical health, your mental health, your relationships with family and friends, your travels and adventures, and your outlets to express your creativity. Building a life away from work is a plus.
Four, what do you think your retirement will be like? If you think it will be spectacularly different from your current life, ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. If after further consideration they seem unrealistic, you may want to keep working for a while until you are in a better financial position to try and realize them or until your expectations shift.
Ideally, you retire when you are financially, emotionally, and psychologically ready. The era of the “organization man” retiring with a gold watch and a party at 65 is gone; the cultural forces that encouraged people to stop working at a certain age aren’t as strong as they once were.
Why you are retiring is as important as when you choose to retire. When you are motivated to retire, you see retirement as a beginning rather than an end.
More families should know about these tax-advantaged savings vehicles.
Families with special needs children have a new tax-deferred savings option. The ABLE account, also called a 529A savings account, is patterned after the popular 529 savings plan, created to help parents save for a child’s higher education. Like 529 plans, ABLE accounts are run by states rather than the federal government. These plans emerged after the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014.1
ABLE accounts address an underpublicized financial need. While some families open college savings accounts, comparatively few start discrete savings accounts or trusts for children with disabilities. That difference may be partly due to the presumption that “the money will be there” when the child becomes an adult.
The money may not be there; at least, not as much of it as many families hope. State agencies and nonprofit groups helping the disabled face ongoing funding challenges, including pressure to limit the “entitlements” they distribute. Social Security, which provides Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to millions of disabled adults, faces its own set of issues.
Financially and legally, what changes when a child with special needs turns 18? As an adult, a disabled person becomes eligible for Medicaid and monthly SSI payments, provided they meet the financial requirements, typically only available to those with $2,000 or less in assets. Some special needs adults have more than $2,000 in assets in their name by age 18. Savings accumulate, family gifts and investments are made on behalf of the child, and suddenly, that young person is ineligible for fundamental health care and income benefits.2
ABLE accounts nicely address this dilemma. Money accumulated in a tax-advantaged ABLE account does not count toward that $2,000 total. Even if funds in the account exceed $100,000, the account beneficiary will still be eligible for Medicaid (albeit, ineligible for SSI).1
How large can an ABLE account become? Current ABLE account maximums range from $235,000 to $529,000 (limits vary per state). Account contributions can be made by anyone.1,3
What if the state you live in has no ABLE accounts? Consider opening an account in another state. Some states allow out-of-state residents to participate in their ABLE programs. (It is also worth noting that some states have lower ABLE account fees than other states.)1,3
ABLE account holders have some new options, thanks to federal tax reform. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 brought notable changes for these accounts. While the basic annual account contribution limit is currently $15,000 for an individual, working ABLE account holders may now contribute employment income to their accounts in excess of that $15,000 threshold, up to the individual federal poverty level set for the preceding calendar year. In addition, some ABLE account beneficiaries may be eligible for the Saver’s Credit, a sizable federal tax break.1
You may now roll over up to $15,000 from a standard 529 plan into an ABLE account. One key condition must be met: the beneficiary of the standard 529 plan must either be the same person who is the beneficiary of the ABLE account or a member of the same family as the ABLE account holder.1
ABLE accounts are becoming an important component of special needs planning. The word worth emphasizing here is “component.” The money in an ABLE account alone may not be enough to cover lifetime care expenses for a disabled adult, even if the account is replenished. An ABLE account is usually not a financial “answer” for families with mentally or physically challenged children, but a part of a greater financial strategy that might include a supplemental needs trust or other savings vehicles.
These accounts do have their shortcomings. The biggest drawback of ABLE accounts is that they do nothing for people who become disabled after age 26. You cannot open one for someone older than 26, unless the individual became disabled prior to reaching that age. Another little-known demerit: states sponsoring ABLE accounts can seek repayment from those accounts for the cost of care covered by Medicaid if the beneficiary dies.1,3
ABLE account contributions are not tax-deductible at the federal level (some states do permit deductions). This tradeoff is made in exchange for tax-deferred earnings and tax-free withdrawals. Withdrawals go untaxed, so long as the money is spent on “qualified disability expenses,” which can range from education, housing, and transportation costs to job training and health care. Nonqualified withdrawals, naturally, are taxable.1
The bottom line? ABLE accounts give families with children who have special needs a new way to save and invest for future needs and expenses.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 - finra.org/investors/able-accounts-529-savings-plans [1/23/20]
2 - mn.db101.org/mn/situations/youthanddisability/benefitsforyoungpeople/program2c.htm [1/17/20]
3 - ablenrc.org/what-is-able/what-are-able-acounts/ [1/23/20]
In this month’s recap: the emerging coronavirus reins in the bulls on Wall Street, trade deals make headlines, the United Kingdom makes its Brexit, and confident U.S. households help the economy keep its pace.
THE MONTH IN BRIEF
Early January gains gave way to late January losses as the coronavirus emerged as a global health concern, and correspondingly, a concern for the investment markets. The S&P 500 ended up retreating 0.16% for the month. The coronavirus outbreak was just one of the big stories in January: President Trump signed one trade deal while Congress approved another, Brexit occurred, oil prices temporarily jumped as tensions between America and Iran heightened, and stocks hit record highs again.
Construction on new homes reached a 13-year high in December, according to the Census Bureau. New home buying, though, declined 0.4% in that month (and decreased in every month of the third quarter). Regardless, new home sales surged 23% for 2019.
DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH
On January 15, President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He signed the phase-one trade deal between the U.S. and China. The U.S. agreed to cut the existing 15% tariffs in half on certain Chinese goods, with the possibility of dismissing or reducing other import taxes on Chinese products in the coming months. China agreed to buy more U.S. crops, hard goods, and fuels, and to police counterfeiting of U.S. products and intellectual property to a greater degree. By mid-February, China is supposed to unveil an “action plan” for better intellectual property protection to U.S. trade officials.
The Senate passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and President Trump signed it into law on January 29. Mexico has also approved the USMCA; if Canada does so, it will be finalized and take effect in 90 days. Intended as a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the USMCA would boost wages for auto industry workers in all three countries and make auto manufacturing more reliant on parts made in the west. The USMCA would also extend and broaden copyright terms in the digital age.
January federal government reports showed 0.3% increases in household spending and retail sales in December. In addition to these positives, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index increased 3.4 points to 131.6, and the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index ended the month at 99.8, slightly above its December final mark of 99.3. Late in January, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said the economy grew 2.1% in the final quarter of 2019, the same as it did in the third quarter.
The Department of Labor’s latest jobs report showed unemployment at only 3.5%, and underemployment (defined by the U-6 rate, which also counts discouraged and part-time workers) at merely 6.7%. Net monthly job growth, however, was just 139,000, and hourly wages were growing at 2.9% annually in December, down from 3.1% in November.
Yearly inflation increased by 0.2% to 2.3% in January, according to the Consumer Price Index, which is maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Federal Reserve has sought to keep inflation at or near 2% for some time.
The manufacturing sector grew in January, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing Purchasing Manager Index. ISM’s manufacturing sector PMI jumped up to 50.9 from 47.8 in December; analysts polled by MarketWatch had forecast another month of sector contraction, and a reading of 48.5. In early January, ISM’s non-manufacturing PMI came in at 55.0 for December.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC HEALTH
Investors worldwide wondered if the flu-like coronavirus would hurt the powerful Chinese economy, where the disease was first reported in December. Nearly 10,000 Chinese citizens had been infected by the end of January, and the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency over the outbreak. If enough Chinese consumers are kept at home, corporate earnings could be hurt, and central banks might have to take action in response to slumping financial markets.
New data showed that China’s economy grew by 6.1% in 2019; the smallest seen in 29 years. Still, this figure fell into the Chinese government’s target range for GDP. It dwarfed the Eurozone’s 2019 economic expansion, which was only 1.2%.
On January 31, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union and entered a transition period set to end on December 31, 2020. During these eleven months, the U.K. faces the challenge of forging new trade pacts with the E.U. and other nations, with a U.K.-E.U. deal at the top of the list.
Anxieties about the coronavirus also dampened risk appetite in foreign markets. A few gains stood out from the monthly losses: Mexico’s Bolsa benchmark rose 1.30%, Australia’s All Ordinaries improved 4.69%, and the Shanghai Composite added 0.47%. But besides those gains there were numerous downturns.
The MSCI EAFE index, a broad benchmark for developed stock markets outside of North America, fell by 2.12%. Losses were felt elsewhere as well; France’s CAC 40 lost 2.87%, Germany’s DAX 2.02%, Spain’s IBEX 35 1.90%, and Russia’s RTS 2.06%. Losses were also seen across Asia. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slid 6.66%, India’s Nifty 50 1.70%, Japan’s Nikkei 225 1.91%, South Korea’s Kospi 3.58%, Taiwan’s TWSE 4.18%, and Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite 5.71%.
After surging in early January following a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, oil prices fell steadily across the month. West Texas Intermediate crude settled at $51.38 on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) on January 31, down 15.61% year-to-date. Gold gained value: 4.01% on the NYMEX, to be precise. NYMEX Silver was flat (down 0.04%) for the month.
Turning to other commodities, energy futures followed oil’s path and posted double-digit declines: heating oil dropped 19.73%, natural gas 13.47%, and unleaded gas 12.44%. Platinum was off 3.11%, copper 10.94%. Wheat lost 1.97%, corn 2.43%, cotton 2.56%, soybeans 7.47%, and coffee 19.66%. On the other hand, cocoa improved 9.20% and sugar gained 11.27%. The U.S. Dollar Index rose 1.04% for the month.
In January, the National Association of Realtors said that existing home sales improved by 10.0% in 2019. This happened despite the median sale price of a single-family home rising 7.8% over the year, to $274,500 in December.
Residential resales increased by 3.6% during the last month of 2019, reaching a pace not seen since February 2018. The NAR’s pending home sales index, however, fell 4.9% for December. One possible factor influencing that pending home sales dip: a record-low 1.4 million listings were on the market.
Mortgages grew less expensive in January. Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey (PMMS), released on January 30, showed that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are averaging a 3.51% interest rate and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages are averaging a 3.00% interest rate. The PMMS released on January 2 showed that 30-year home loans bore an average interest rate of 3.72%, while 15-year home loans had an average interest rate of 3.16%.
30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages are conventional home loans generally featuring a limit of $510,400 ($765,600 in high-cost areas) that meet the lending requirements of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but they are not mortgages guaranteed or insured by any government agency. Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, is required for any conventional loan with less than a 20% down payment.
T I P O F T H E M O N T H
If you are considering disability insurance, seek coverage with a benefit approximating 60% or more of your current income.
Disability insurance is issued by participating insurance companies. Not all policy types and product features are available in all states. Any obligations are dependent on the ability of the issuing insurance company to continue making claim payments.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
The S&P 500 settled at a new record of 3,329.62 on January 17 and then descended. Its January loss was but a fraction of that of the Dow Jones Industrial Average while the Nasdaq Composite advanced for the month. The S&P ended January at 3,225.52, the Dow at 28,256.03, and the Nasdaq at 9,150.94.
Sources: wsj.com, barchart.com, treasury.gov – 2/2/2020
Indices are unmanaged, do not incur fees or expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. These returns do not include dividends. 10-year Treasury yield = projected return on investment, expressed as a percentage, on the U.S. government’s 10-year bond.
The markets (and central banks) are watching to see how far the coronavirus might spread and wondering what impact it may ultimately have on global commerce. If there are signs the outbreak is slowing, markets may breathe a collective sigh of relief. Meanwhile, U.S. economic data has been good as of late, especially regarding consumers, factories, and service industries. Still, traders might pay as much attention to the coronavirus this month as they do to earnings and fundamental indicators.
Q U O T E O F T H E M O N T H
“Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”
Here are the scheduled economic news items Wall Street is expected to have an eye on this month: the Institute for Supply Management’s latest non-manufacturing purchasing managers index (2/5), the January jobs report from the Department of Labor (2/7), January’s Consumer Price Index (2/13), the initial February University of Michigan consumer sentiment index and January retail sales (2/14), January housing starts, building permits, and wholesale inflation (2/19), January existing home sales (2/21), the Conference Board’s February snapshot of consumer confidence (2/25), January new home sales (2/26), January durable goods orders (2/27), and then January personal spending and the final February University of Michigan consumer sentiment index (2/28).
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