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.
Your financial future is up to you and no one else.
What will be your future? You know that solid retirement strategy takes your time horizon, an often unpredictable factor, into consideration. Your thinking must include an awareness of how long you must save for and what sort of expenditures may be ahead.
The most recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the average American male lives to age 76, while a female may live to 81. The numbers also take the quality of life into account, putting male and female Americans at “full health” for 67 and 70 years, respectively.
What do these numbers tell us? Women live longer, for one. Based on your age and the age of your spouse, you can make estimates; you may live longer or less, but averages offer us a window that can be used to plot that retirement strategy. One reality unnoticed in these numbers is that some women may live on their own for many years; if a woman has spent many years as part of a household, living alone shifts the responsibility from two people to one, removing any extra income their partner or spouse contributed.
According to the Social Security Administration, single women aged 65 and up (including both the unmarried and the widowed) rely on Social Security payments for 45% of their total income. This compares to 33% for single men of a similar age and 28% for the married couples in that bracket.
What does that come to in dollars and cents, per year? The most recent tally, based on a 2018 fact sheet, is $13,891. (Men: $17,663.) These are today’s numbers, but they underscore the importance for a retirement strategy that looks at your specific needs and goals – an approach that considers your future health expenses, your day-to-day expenses, as well as the things you want to do for enjoyment in retirement (travel, pastimes, family experiences, and more).
How do you create a strategy that can adapt to life's events? While your future may be unknown, working closely with your advisor may help you to create an approach that's based on your unique goals, risk tolerance and take into account your ever-changing time horizon. Follow up by meeting with a financial professional who can help you put a strategy into action.
Two recent court rulings may make you want to double-check.
How often do retirement plan sponsors check up on 401(k)s? Some small businesses may not be prepared to benchmark processes and continuously look for and reject unacceptable investments.
Do you have high-quality investment choices in your plan? While larger plan sponsors have more “pull” with plan providers, this does not relegate a small company sponsoring a 401(k) to a substandard investment selection. Employees are smart and will ask questions sooner or later. “Why does this 401(k) have only one bond fund?” “Where are the target-date funds?” “I went to Morningstar, and some of these funds have so-so ratings.” Questions and comments like these are reasonable and surface when a plan’s roster of investments is too short.
Are your plan’s investment fees reasonable? Employees can deduce this without checking up on the Form 5500 you file – there are websites that offer some general information as to what is and what is not acceptable. Most retirement savers read up on this with time, and most know (or will know) that a plan with administrative fees pushing 1% is less than ideal.
Are you using institutional share classes in your 401(k)? This was the key issue brought to light by the plan participants in Tibble v. Edison International. The Supreme Court noted that while Edison International’s investment committee and third-party advisors had offered a variety of mutual funds, the plans offered higher-priced options and didn’t offer plans that were similar, yet of a lower cost. The court ruled that “a trustee has a continuing duty—separate and apart from the duty to exercise prudence in selecting investments at the outset—to monitor, and remove imprudent, trust investments. So long as a plaintiff’s claim alleging breach of the continuing duty of prudence occurred within six years of suit, the claim is timely.”
Institutional share classes commonly have lower fees than retail share classes. To some observers, the difference in fees may seem trivial – but the impact on retirement savings over time may be significant.
When was the last time you reviewed your 401(k)-fund selection & share class? Was it a few years ago? Has it been longer than that? Why not review this today? Call in a financial professional to help you review your plan’s investment offering and investment fees.
Expect volatility, but avoid letting the headlines alter your plans.
Recent headlines have added volatility to the markets. There will always be new headlines, and any of them could mean turbulence for Wall Street.
As an investor and retirement saver, how much will this turmoil matter to you in the long run? Not as much as you may expect. There are many good reasons to remain in the market rather than attempting to intuit or guess when and where big shifts in fortune may arrive.
What is market timing? Michael Tanney, one of the directors at Magnus Financial Group, puts it plainly: “Market timing doesn't work […] Every bear market has historically given way to a bull market […] No one can predict the timing of these moments.” Market timing is the use of predictive tools and techniques to predict how the market may move and make investments accordingly.
When you work with your trusted financial professional and cultivate a financial strategy, your need to factor in market timing diminishes. You also don’t need to sit still if you have concerns. Instead, you have a strategy that is based on your goals, risk aversion, and time horizon. This balanced approach means that you won’t need to make hurried decisions when volatility arises.
There may well be a situation in which you may need to adjust your strategy, but it’s also possible that snap judgements might cause you to undercut yourself. The market reacts to headlines, but it’s just as common that quick dips might see fast relief.
Remember that many investors come to regret emotional decisions. The average recovery time for bear markets (meaning a downward swing of 20% or more), where equities return to bull market levels? About 3.2 years (measuring each recovery since 1900). For that reason, investing with the longer term in mind, with periodic and carefully considered rebalancing (alongside your trusted financial professional), may allow you to better weather headline-induced peaks and valleys.
Breaking news should not dissuade you from pursuing your long-term objectives. The stock market is always dynamic. Episodes of upward and downward volatility come and go. A wise investor acknowledges that downturns are expected and has patience when they do. Decisions made during market turbulence can backfire. While some of these ups and downs may be significant enough to signal a change in your asset allocation, they need not change the fundamentals of your investment policy.
What are your options? What are the benefits?
If you own an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), perhaps you have heard about Roth IRA conversions. Converting your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can make a lot of sense depending on your situation. But remember, consulting with your financial advisor before making financial decisions is never a bad idea. Ready to learn more? Read on.
Why go Roth? There is a belief behind every Roth IRA conversion that future income tax rates will be higher. If you are one of the believers, then you may be compelled to convert. After all, once you are age 59½ and have had your Roth IRA open for at least five calendar years, withdrawals of the earnings from your Roth IRA are exempt from federal income taxes. You can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions tax free and penalty free at any time.
As the law is currently written, you never have to make mandatory withdrawals from a Roth IRA, and if your income permits, you can make contributions to a Roth IRA as long as you live.
Currently, if your filing status is married and your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $193,000 or less you can contribute a maximum of $6,000 to your Roth IRA – $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older. The maximum contribution is also available to single filers with an AGI of $122,000 or less. Depending on how high your AGI is, the amount you are able to contribute may change. Consult with your financial advisor to discuss the latest limitations and potential contributions for your situation.
Why not go Roth? Two reasons: the tax hit could be substantial, and time may not be on your side.
A Roth IRA conversion is a one-time taxable event. The I.R.S. regards it as a payout from a traditional IRA prior to that money entering a Roth IRA, and the payout represents taxable income. That taxable income stemming from the conversion could send you into a higher income tax bracket in the year when the conversion occurs.
If you are nearing retirement age, going Roth may not be worth it. If you convert a large traditional IRA to a Roth when you are in your fifties or sixties, it could take a decade (or longer) for the IRA to recapture the dollars lost to taxes on the conversion.
In many respects, the earlier in life you convert a regular IRA to a Roth, the better. Your income should rise as you get older; you will likely finish your career in a higher tax bracket than you were in when you were first employed. Those conditions relate to a key argument for going Roth: it is better to pay taxes on IRA contributions today than on IRA withdrawals tomorrow.
On the other hand, since many retirees have lower income levels than their end salaries, they may retire to a lower tax rate. That is a key argument against Roth conversion.
You could choose to “have it both ways.” As no one can fully predict the future of American taxation, some people contribute to both Roth and traditional IRAs – figuring that they can be at least “half right” regardless of whether taxes increase or decrease.
If you do go Roth, your heirs may receive a tax-free inheritance. Lastly, Roth IRAs can prove to be very useful estate planning tools. If I.R.S. rules are followed, Roth IRA heirs may end up with a tax-free inheritance, paid out either annually or as a lump sum. In contrast, the distributions of inherited assets from a traditional IRA are routinely taxed.