5 Critical Facts You Need to Know About Bear Markets
The post-2009 bull market marks the longest one in U.S. history (by one definition). This amazing run started in March 2009 and lasted well over 3,600 days.1
Of course, it's impossible to predict exactly when a bear market will happen or what will cause it. We do know that they are inevitable, and that they're a natural part of the market cycle.
Whether or not you've been an investor during a bear market in the past, the more you know about them and how people behave during them, the better prepared you'll be to successfully endure them.
Why do so many people choose them over traditional IRAs?
The IRA that changed the whole retirement savings perspective. Since the Roth IRA was introduced in 1998, its popularity has soared. It has become a fixture in many retirement planning strategies because it offers savers so many potential advantages.
The key argument for going Roth can be summed up in a sentence: Paying taxes on your retirement contributions today may be better than paying taxes on your retirement savings tomorrow.1
Think about it. Would you rather pay taxes today or wait 10 years and see where the tax rates end up? With that in question in mind, here are some of the potential benefits associated with opening and contributing to a Roth IRA.
What you see is what you get. Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars, and any potential earnings on investments within a Roth IRA are not subject to income tax or included in the account owner's income. Instead, they accumulate on a tax-deferred basis and are tax-free when withdrawn from the Roth if the distribution is qualified.2
You can arrange tax-free retirement income. Roth IRA earnings can be withdrawn tax-free as long as you are 59½ or older and have owned the account for at least 5 years. The IRS calls such tax-free withdrawals qualified distributions.3
Withdrawals don’t affect taxation of Social Security benefits. If your provisional income is between $25,000 and $34,000 — or $32,000 and $44,000 for joint filers — then your Social Security benefits may be taxed if you take withdrawals before your full retirement age. Luckily, a qualified distribution from a Roth IRA doesn’t count as taxable income, which may be a means of avoiding taxation on your social security benefit.4,5
You have until your tax-filing deadline to make a Roth IRA contribution for a given tax year. For example, IRA contributions for the 2019 tax year may be made up until April 15, 2020. While April 15 is the annual deadline, many IRA owners who make lump sum contributions for a given tax year make them as soon as that year begins, not in the following year. Making your Roth IRA contributions earlier gives the funds in the account more time to potentially grow. Remember, though that Roth IRA contributions cannot be made by taxpayers with high incomes. In 2019, the income phaseout limit was $137,000 for single filers and $203,000 for married couples who file jointly.6
Who can open a Roth IRA? Anyone with earned income (and that includes a minor).
How much can you contribute to a Roth IRA annually? The combined annual contribution limit to all of your traditional and Roth IRAs is $6,000 for 2019 and 2020 ($7,000 if you're age 50 or older), but income limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute. To sweeten the deal even further, you can keep making annual Roth IRA contributions all your life.7
All this may have you thinking about opening up a Roth IRA. A chat with the financial professional you know and trust may help you evaluate whether a Roth IRA is right for you, given your particular tax situation and retirement horizon.
The Roth IRA offers tax deferral on any earnings in the account. Withdrawals from the account may be tax free, as long as they are considered qualified. Limitations and restrictions may apply. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ or prior to the account being opened for 5 years, whichever is later, may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax. Future tax laws can change at any time and may impact the benefits of Roth IRAs. Their tax treatment may change.
1 - https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/traditional-and-roth-iras [1/28/20]
2– https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/traditional-and-roth-iras [1/28/20]
3- https://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/T055-S001-how-retirement-income-is-taxed/index.html [1/27/20]
4 - https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/traditional-and-roth-iras [1/28/20]
5 – https://www.morningstar.com/articles/852560/20-ira-mistakes-to-avoid [2/10/20]
6 – https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/traditional-and-roth-iras [1/28/20]
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 
Changes for 2020.
The I.R.S. just increased the annual contribution limits on IRAs, 401(k)s, and other widely used retirement plan accounts for 2020. Here’s a quick look at the changes.
*Next year, you can put up to $6,000 in any type of IRA. The limit is $7,000 if you will be 50 or older at any time in 2020.1,2
*Annual contribution limits for 401(k)s, 403(b)s, the federal Thrift Savings Plan, and most 457 plans also get a $500 boost for 2020. The new annual limit on contributions is $19,500. If you are 50 or older at any time in 2020, your yearly contribution limit for one of these accounts is $26,000.1,2
*Are you self-employed, or do you own a small business? You may have a solo 401(k) or a SEP IRA, which allows you to make both an employer and employee contribution. The ceiling on total solo 401(k) and SEP IRA contributions rises $1,000 in 2020, reaching $57,000.3
*If you have a SIMPLE retirement account, next year’s contribution limit is $13,500, up $500 from the 2019 level. If you are 50 or older in 2020, your annual SIMPLE plan contribution cap is $16,500.3
*Yearly contribution limits have also been set a bit higher for Health Savings Accounts (which may be used to save for retirement medical expenses). The 2020 limits: $3,550 for individuals with single medical coverage and $7,100 for those covered under qualifying family plans. If you are 55 or older next year, those respective limits are $1,000 higher.4
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 the purpose of 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 - irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-topics-ira-contribution-limits [11/8/19]
2 - irs.gov/newsroom/401k-contribution-limit-increases-to-19500-for-2020-catch-up-limit-rises-to-6500 [11/6/19]
3 - forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2019/11/06/irs-announces-higher-2020-retirement-plan-contribution-limits-for-401ks-and-more/ [11/6/19]
4 - cnbc.com/2019/06/03/these-are-the-new-hsa-limits-for-2020.html [6/4/19]
How global returns and proper diversification are affecting overall returns.
“Why is my portfolio underperforming the market?” This question may be on your mind. It is a question that investors sometimes ask after stocks shatter records or return exceptionally well in a quarter.
The short answer is that even when Wall Street rallies, international markets and intermediate and long-term bonds may underperform and exert a drag on overall portfolio performance. A little elaboration will help explain things further.
A diversified portfolio necessarily includes a range of asset classes. This will always be the case, and while investors may wish for an all-equities portfolio when stocks are surging, a 100% stock allocation is obviously fraught with risk.
Because the stock market has advanced so much over the past decade, some investors now have larger positions in equities than they originally planned, and that may leave them exposed to an uncomfortable degree of market risk. A portfolio held evenly in equities and fixed income ten years ago may now have a clear majority of its assets in equities, with the performance of stock markets influencing its return to a greater degree.
Yes, stock markets – not just here, but abroad. U.S. investors have more global exposure than they once did. International holdings represented about 5% of the typical investor’s portfolio back in the 1990s. Today, they account for around 15%. If overseas markets struggle, the impact on portfolio performance may be noticeable.
In addition, a sudden change in sector performance can have an impact. At one point in 2018, tech stocks accounted for 25% of the weight of the S&P 500. While the recent restructuring of S&P sectors lowered that by a few percentage points, portfolios can still be greatly affected when tech shares slide, as investors witnessed in late 2018.
The state of the fixed-income market can also potentially impact portfolio performance. Bond prices commonly fall when interest rates rise, which presents a short-term concern for an investor. If a bond is held to maturity, though, the investor will receive the promised principal and interest (assuming no default on the part of the issuer). Moreover, a rising interest rate environment may help the fixed-income segment of the portfolio’s long-term performance. New bonds issued in a rising interest rate environment have the potential to generate more yield than the older bonds of similar duration that they replace.
This year, U.S. stocks have done well. A portfolio 100% invested in the U.S. stock market in 2019 would have a year-to-date return approximating that of the S&P 500. But who invests entirely in stocks, let alone without any exposure to international and emerging markets?
Just as an illustration, assume that there actually is a hypothetical investor this year who is 100% invested in equities, as follows: 50% domestic, 35% developed foreign markets, and 15% emerging markets.
In this illustration, the S&P 500 will serve as the model for the U.S. market, MSCI’s EAFE index will stand in for developed foreign markets, and MSCI’s Emerging Markets index will represent the emerging markets. Through the end of July, the S&P was +18.89% year-to-date, the EAFE +10.31% YTD, and the Emerging Markets just +7.38% YTD. As foreign and domestic stocks have equal weight in this hypothetical portfolio, it is easy to see that its overall YTD gain would have been less than 18.9% as of the July 31 closing bell.
Your portfolio is not the market – and vice versa. Your investments may return less than the S&P 500 (or another benchmark) in a particular year due to various factors, including the behavior of the investment markets. Those markets are ever-changing. In some years, you may get a double-digit return. In other years, your return may be much smaller.
When your portfolio is diversified across asset classes, the highs may not be so high – but the lows may not be so low, either. If things turn volatile, diversification may help insulate you from some of the ups and downs that come with investing.
Avoid these situations, if you can.
Pursuing your retirement dreams is challenging enough without making some common, and very avoidable, mistakes. Here are eight big mistakes to steer clear of, if possible.
No Strategy. Yes, the biggest mistake is having no strategy at all. Without a strategy, you may have no goals, leaving you no way of knowing how you’ll get there – and if you’ve even arrived. Creating a strategy may increase your potential for success, both before and after retirement.
Frequent Trading. Chasing “hot” investments often leads to despair. Create an asset allocation strategy that is properly diversified to reflect your objectives, risk tolerance, and time horizon; then, make adjustments based on changes in your personal situation, not due to market ups and downs. (The return and principal value of stock prices will fluctuate as market conditions change. And shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Asset allocation and diversification are approaches to help manage investment risk. Asset allocation and diversification do not guarantee against investment loss. Past performance does not guarantee future results.)
Not Maximizing Tax-Deferred Savings. Workers have tax-advantaged ways to save for retirement. Not participating in your workplace retirement plan may be a mistake, especially when you’re passing up free money in the form of employer-matching contributions. (Distributions from most employer-sponsored retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income, and if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Generally, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions.)
Prioritizing College Funding over Retirement. Your kids’ college education is important, but you may not want to sacrifice your retirement for it. Remember, you can get loans and grants for college, but you can’t for your retirement.
Overlooking Health Care Costs. Extended care may be an expense that can undermine your financial strategy for retirement if you don’t prepare for it.
Not Adjusting Your Investment Approach Well Before Retirement. The last thing your retirement portfolio can afford is a sharp fall in stock prices and a sustained bear market at the moment you’re ready to stop working. Consider adjusting your asset allocation in advance of tapping your savings so you’re not selling stocks when prices are depressed. (The return and principal value of stock prices will fluctuate as market conditions change. And shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Asset allocation is an approach to help manage investment risk. Asset allocation does not guarantee against investment loss. Past performance does not guarantee future results.)
Retiring with Too Much Debt. If too much debt is bad when you’re making money, it can be especially harmful when you’re living in retirement. Consider managing or reducing your debt level before you retire.
It’s Not Only About Money. Above all, a rewarding retirement requires good health. So, maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, stay socially involved, and remain intellectually active.
Three important factors when it comes to your financial life.
Regardless of how the markets may perform, consider making the following part of your investment philosophy:
Diversification. The saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has real value when it comes to investing. In a bear or bull market, certain asset classes may perform better than others. If your assets are mostly held in one kind of investment (say, mostly in mutual funds or mostly in CDs or money market accounts), you could be hit hard by stock market losses, or alternately, lose out on potential gains that other kinds of investments may be experiencing. There is an opportunity cost as well as risk.
Asset allocation strategies are used in portfolio management. A financial professional can ask you about your goals, tolerance for risk, and assign percentages of your assets to different classes of investments. This diversification is designed to suit your preferred investment style and your objectives.
Patience. Impatient investors obsess on the day-to-day doings of the stock market. Have you ever heard of “stock picking” or “market timing”? How about “day trading”? These are all attempts to exploit short-term fluctuations in value. These investing methods might seem fun and exciting if you like to micromanage, but they could add stress and anxiety to your life, and they may be a poor alternative to a long-range investment strategy built around your life goals.
Consistency. Most people invest a little at a time, within their budget, and with regularity. They invest $50 or $100 or more per month in their 401(k) and similar investments through payroll deduction or automatic withdrawal. They are investing on “autopilot” to help themselves build wealth for retirement and for long-range goals. Investing regularly (and earlier in life) helps you to take advantage of the power of compounding as well.
If you don’t have a long-range investment strategy, talk to a qualified financial professional today.
In this month’s recap: the Federal Reserve eases, stocks reach historic peaks, and face-to-face U.S.-China trade talks formally resume.
THE MONTH IN BRIEF
July was a positive month for stocks and a notable month for news impacting the financial markets. The S&P 500 topped the 3,000 level for the first time. The Federal Reserve cut the country’s benchmark interest rate. Consumer confidence remained strong. Trade representatives from China and the U.S. once again sat down at the negotiating table, as new data showed China’s economy lagging. In Europe, Brexit advocate Boris Johnson was elected as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the European Central Bank indicated that it was open to using various options to stimulate economic activity.
DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH
On July 31, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time in more than a decade. The Federal Open Market Committee approved a quarter-point reduction to the federal funds rate by a vote of 8-2. Typically, the central bank eases borrowing costs when it senses the business cycle is slowing. As the country has gone ten years without a recession, some analysts viewed this rate cut as a preventative measure. Speaking to the media, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell characterized the cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment.”
The latest hiring and consumer spending reports from the federal government suggested an economy in good shape, and the latest data on consumer prices showed no great inflation pressure. Employers had expanded their payrolls with 224,000 net new jobs in June, a rebound from the paltry 72,000 gain in May. Both the headline jobless rate and the U-6 rate (a broader measure of joblessness that includes the unemployed and underemployed) ticked up 0.1% to a respective 3.7% and 7.2%. Personal spending was up 0.3% in July, and the pace of retail sales increased 0.4%, taking the yearly gain to 3.4%. Annualized inflation was running at just 1.6% through June, down from 1.8% in May.
The Conference Board’s monthly Consumer Confidence Index reached a year-to-date peak in July: 135.7, a gain of 11.4 points from June. (The final July University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index had yet to be released when the month ended.)
The pace of American manufacturing had slowed in June, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s latest monthly Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for the sector. It declined 0.4 points to 51.7. ISM’s Non-Manufacturing PMI came in at 55.1, 1.8 points lower than it was in May. On a positive note, the federal government said that hard goods orders rose 2.0% in June, and industrial production had improved 0.9% in May.
In late July, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that the economy grew at a 2.1% rate in the second quarter. This was the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) number seen since Q1 2017; it was also 1.0% lower than the previous quarter. The drop was primarily attributable to reduced business spending. Consumer spending increased at a 4.3% pace in Q2.5
By the end of July, China and the U.S. had resumed face-to-face negotiations on trade matters. A new trade pact did not appear to be quickly forthcoming: Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin told the media in late July that he expected there would be “a few more meetings before we get a deal done.” On July 31, Chinese state media agency Xinhua reported that high-level discussions would resume in September.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC HEALTH
On July 25, the European Central Bank stated its expectation that borrowing costs would likely remain at current levels or “lower” through the second quarter of 2020. The ECB also stated that it would examine its “options for the size and composition of potential new net asset purchases” – in other words, it was leaving the door open to possibly restarting the monetary stimulus campaign it had ended only months before. Economists polled by Bloomberg see the ECB making a minor rate cut in September and resuming its bond-buying program in January.
One day earlier and just 99 days prior to the European Union’s Brexit deadline, Boris Johnson assumed the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. When Parliament returns from its summer break in September, Johnson will be tasked with motivating lawmakers to approve a Brexit deal – which, in his words, will be “a new deal, a better deal” than those proposed by his predecessor, Teresa May. That said, he also told the media that a no-deal Brexit could occur if the E.U. leadership “refuses any further to negotiate.”
China’s gross domestic product declined to 6.2% in the second quarter. That was a 27-year low. This implies some present and near-term difficulties for other Asia-Pacific economies, as China imports large quantities of electronics, palm oil, iron, copper, and petroleum products from nations within the region, and less economic activity means less demand.
Major foreign benchmarks were mixed. Three of the biggest losses came in Asia: India’s Nifty 50 dropped 5.69%; South Korea’s Kospi, 4.98%; India’s Sensex, 4.86%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 2.68%; China’s Shanghai Composite, 1.56%. MSCI’s Emerging Markets index lost 1.69%. MSCI’s World index rose 0.42%, however. Japan’s Nikkei 225 improved 1.15%; Taiwan’s TSE 50, 1.47%; Australia’s All Ordinaries, 2.95%. In Brazil, the Bovespa rose 0.92%. In Mexico, the Bolsa slumped 5.32%.11,12
July was quite positive for the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 index, which added 2.17%. Spain’s IBEX 35 surrendered 2.48%. In between, the FTSE Eurofirst 300 posted a 0.36% advance, while France’s CAC 40 and Germany’s DAX respectively lost 0.36% and 1.69%.
Silver made the biggest ascent of all the major commodities in July, rising 6.61% to a month-end price of $16.28 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Meanwhile, gold added only 0.23%, settling at $1,413.30 on July 31. Platinum advanced 3.83%, but copper took a 2.07% July loss.
Outside the major metals, monthly retreats were common; although, the U.S. Dollar Index rose 2.02%, and heating oil gained 1.14%. West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell 0.53% for the month to $57.89 on the NYMEX. The list of July losses in crop and energy futures is long: sugar declined 3.03%; natural gas, 3.32%; unleaded gas, 3.98%; soybeans, 4.19%; cotton, 4.38%; cocoa, 4.61%; corn, 5.32%; wheat, 7.69%; coffee, 8.67%.13,14
Both new and existing home sales reversed direction in June. The National Association of Realtors announced a 1.7% retreat in residential resales, following a 2.9% May advance; the median sales price was $285,700. The Census Bureau said that new home sales rose 7.0% in the sixth month of 2019, after an 8.2% setback in May.
By late July, interest rates on home loans had crept up just a bit from late June. According to mortgage reseller Freddie Mac, a 30-year, fixed-rate home loan carried an average of 3.73% interest on June 27, while 15-year, fixed mortgages had an average interest rate of 3.16%. By Freddie’s July 25 Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the mean interest rate for a 30-year FRM was 0.02% higher at 3.75%; for a 15-year FRM, it was also 0.02% higher at 3.18%.16
30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages are conventional home loans generally featuring a limit of $484,350 ($726,525 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.
The Census Bureau’s latest monthly recap of residential construction activity showed June declines for both housing starts (0.9%) and building permits (6.1%).
T I P O F T H E M O N T H
When a student and a parent are cosigners on a private college loan, they must recognize that they are equally liable and responsible for paying the debt back.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
The S&P 500 recorded its highest-ever close during the month: 3,025.86, on July 26. It drifted downward from there. On July 31, the day of the Fed’s rate cut, it fell more than 1%.17
While the major equity indices advanced less in July than they did in June, the gains were still solid. July brought a 1.31% rise for the S&P, and respective improvements of 0.99% and 2.11% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite. Where did these benchmarks settle at the closing bell on July 31? S&P, 2,980.38; Nasdaq, 8,175.42; Dow, 26,864.27.14
Sources: barchart.com, wsj.com, treasury.gov - 7/31/1914,18,19
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.
You may have heard the Wall Street saying, “Sell in May and go away.” That expression is based on the idea that investors would be better off out of the financial markets in the summer months. This assertion has been disproven again and again over the years, and that may end up being the case this year (witness the market’s July performance). This is a good time to remember another frequently heard assertion – time in the market often proves more important than timing the market. Any summer doldrums or losses may possibly precede fall gains.
Q U O T E O F T H E M O N T H
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ELEANOR ROOSEVELT
During the rest of August, key items in the economic news stream are scheduled as follows: the July Institute for Supply Management non-manufacturing index (8/5), the July wholesale inflation reading (8/9), July consumer inflation data (8/13), July retail sales (8/15), a new snapshot of housing starts from the Census Bureau plus the University of Michigan’s preliminary August Consumer Sentiment Index (8/16), July existing home sales (8/21), the Conference Board’s latest index of leading economic indicators (8/22), July new home sales (8/23), July durable goods orders (8/26), the Conference Board’s August Consumer Confidence Index (8/27), the second estimate of Q2 gross domestic product from the Bureau of Economic analysis (8/29), and lastly, the final August University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and July consumer spending data (8/30).
T H E M O N T H L Y R I D D L E
I am very strong and tough, but never rigid. I can be broken, but only in a certain sense. What am I?
LAST MONTH’S RIDDLE: There is a five-letter word that means “nice” in English, and all of the four letters used within this word are also Roman numerals. What is this word? ANSWER: Civil.
If passed, it would change some long-established retirement account rules.
If you follow national news, you may have heard of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. Although the SECURE Act has yet to clear the Senate, it saw broad, bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.
This legislation could make Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) a more attractive component of retirement strategies and create a path for more annuities to be offered in retirement plans – which could mean a lifetime income stream for retirees. However, it would also change the withdrawal rules on inherited “stretch IRAs,” which may impact retirement and estate strategies, nationwide.
Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the SECURE Act.
The SECURE Act’s potential consequences. Currently, traditional IRA owners must take annual withdrawals from their IRAs after age 70½. Once reaching that age, they can no longer contribute to these accounts. These mandatory age-linked withdrawals can make saving especially difficult for an older worker. However, if the SECURE Act passes the Senate and is signed into law, that cutoff will vanish, allowing people of any age to keep making contributions to traditional IRAs, provided they continue to earn income.
(A traditional IRA differs from a Roth IRA, which allows contributions at any age as long as your income is below a certain level: at present, less than $122,000 for single-filer households and less than $193,000 for married joint filers.)
If the SECURE Act becomes law, you won’t have to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from a traditional IRA until age 72. You could actually take an RMD from your traditional IRA and contribute to it in the same year after reaching age 70½.
The SECURE Act would also effectively close the door on “stretch” IRAs. Currently, non-spouse beneficiaries of IRAs and retirement plans may elect to “stretch” the required withdrawals from an inherited IRA or retirement plan – that is, instead of withdrawing the whole account balance at once, they can take gradual withdrawals over a period of time or even their entire lifetime. This strategy may help them manage the taxes linked to the inherited assets. If the SECURE Act becomes law, it would set a 10-year deadline for such asset distributions.
What’s next? The SECURE Act has now reached the Senate. This means it could move into committee for debate or it could end up attached to the next budget bill, as a way to circumvent further delays. Regardless, if the SECURE Act becomes law, it could change retirement goals for many, making this a great time to talk to a financial professional.
We’ve all heard it said: “Records are made to be broken.” We celebrate record-breaking winning streaks from our favorite teams. Conversely, we hope to avoid a long string of losses.
The bull market that began in 2009 is not the best performing since WWII. That title still resides with the long-running bull market of the 1990s. But it is the longest running since WWII (St. Louis Federal Reserve, Yahoo Finance, LPL Research–as measured by the S&P 500 Index).
In the same vein, the current economic expansion is poised to become the longest running expansion since WWII. For that matter, it’s about to become the longest on record.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is considered the official arbiter of recessions and economic expansions, the current expansion began in July 2009. It has run exactly 10 years, or 120 months, matching the 1990s expansion–see Table 1.
Barring an unforeseen event, the current period is headed for the record books.
While the economic recovery is about to enter a record-setting phase, it has been the slowest since at least WWII, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
For example, starting in the second quarter of 1996, U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic growth, exceeded an annualized pace of 3% for 14 of 15 quarters. It exceeded 4% in nine of those quarters (St. Louis Federal Reserve).
Growth was much more robust in the 1960s, and we experienced a strong recovery from the deep 1981-82 recession.
Yet, economic booms and long-running expansions can encourage risky behavior. People forget the lessons learned in prior recessions and overextend themselves.
Consumers can take on too much debt. Businesses may over-invest and build out too much capacity. We saw euphoria take hold in the stock market in the late 1990s and speculation run wild in housing not too long ago.
That brings us to the silver lining of the lazy pace of today’s economic environment.
Slow and steady has prevented speculative excesses from building up in much of the economy. In other words, a mistaken realization that the good times will last forever has not taken hold in today’s economic environment.
Causes of recessions
The long-running expansions of the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s led to a mistaken belief that various policy tools could prevent a recession.
Yet, expansions don’t die of old age. A downturn can be triggered by various events. So, let’s look at the most common causes and see where we stand today.
Where are we today?
Inflation is low, the Fed is signaling a possible rate cut, and credit conditions are easy as measured by various gauges of credit. For the most part, speculative excesses aren’t building to dangerous levels.
While stock prices are near records, valuations remain well below levels seen in the late 1990s (Using the forward price-earnings ratio for the S&P 500 as a guide). Besides, interest rates are much lower today, which lends support to richer valuations.
Now, that’s not to say we can’t see market volatility. Stocks have a long-term upward bias, but the upward march has never been and never will be a straight line higher.
This is why we emphasize an investment process that is rooted in a personalized financial plan. A financial plan is designed, in part, to keep you grounded during the short periods when volatility may tempt you to make a decision based on emotions. Such reactions are rarely profitable.
A sneak peek at the rest of the year
The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index, which has had a good record of predicting (if not timing) a recession, isn’t signaling a contraction through year end.
But one potential worry: a protracted trade war and its impact on the global/U.S. economy, business confidence, and business spending.
Exports account for almost 14% of U.S. GDP (U.S. BEA). It’s risen over the last 20 years, but we’ve never experienced a U.S. recession caused by global weakness.
By itself, trade barriers with China are unlikely to tip the economy into a recession. Per U.S. BEA and U.S. Census data, total exports to China account for just under 1% of U.S. GDP. Even with higher tariffs, exports to China won’t grind to a halt and erase 1% of GDP.
What’s difficult to model is the impact on business confidence and business spending, which in turn could slow hiring, pressuring consumer confidence and consumer spending.
Simply put, there isn’t a modern historical precedent to construct a credible model. Hence, the heightened uncertainty we’ve seen among investors.
Is a recession inevitable?
Earlier in June, the Wall Street Journal highlighted, “Australia is enjoying its 28th straight year of growth. Canada, the U.K., Spain and Sweden had expansions that reached 15 years and beyond between the early 1990s and 2008. Without the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. might have, too.”
If trade tensions begin to subside (still a big “if”) and if the fruits of deregulation and corporate tax reform kick in, we could see economic growth well into 2020 (and with some luck, into 2021 and beyond).
But, we caution, few have accurately and consistently called economic turning points.
The Fed to the rescue
Rising major market indexes for much of the year can be traced to positive U.S.-China trade headlines (at least through early May), a pivot by the Fed, and general economic growth at home.
We witnessed a modest pullback in May after trade negotiations with China hit a snag. The threat of tariffs against Mexico added to the uncertain mood until June 4th, when Fed Chief Jerome Powell signaled the Fed would consider cutting interest rates to counter any negative economic headwinds.
While Powell’s not promising to deliver any rate cuts, one key gauge from the CME Group that measures fed funds probabilities puts odds of a rate cut at the July 31st meeting at 100% (as of June 28 – probabilities subject to change).
We'll keep it simple and spare you the academic theory explaining why lower interest rates are often a tailwind for stocks. In a nutshell, stocks face less competition from interest-bearing assets such as bonds.
But let’s add one more wrinkle–economic growth.
Falling rates in 2001 and 2008 failed to stem the outflow out of stocks as economic growth faltered. And, rising rates between late 2015 and September 2018 didn’t squash the bull market.
During the mid-1980s, mid-1990s, and late 1990s, rate cuts by the Fed, coupled with economic growth, fueled market gains.
It’s not a coincidence that bear markets coincide with recessions and the bulls are inspired by economic expansions. Ultimately, steady economic growth has historically been an important ingredient for stock market gains.
Control what you can control.
You can’t control the stock market, you can’t control headlines, and timing the market isn’t a realistic tool. But, you can control your portfolio.
Your plan should consider your time horizon, risk tolerance, and financial goals. There is always risk when investing, but we tailor recommendations to our clients with their financial goals in mind.
If you’re unsure or have questions, let’s have a conversation. That’s what we’re here for.
This research material has been prepared by Horsesmouth.
Securities offered through SCF Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC • Investment advisory services offered through SCF Investment Advisors Inc.• 155 E. Shaw Ave., Suite 102, Fresno, CA 93710 • 800.955.2517 • 559.456.6109 FAX. SCF Securities, Inc. and Blom & Associates are independently owned and operated.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial advisor.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.