October 2018
Market Update
(all values as of 05.31.2024)

Stock Indices:

Dow Jones 38,686
S&P 500 5,277
Nasdaq 16,735

Bond Sector Yields:

2 Yr Treasury 4.89%
10 Yr Treasury 4.51%
10 Yr Municipal 3.11%
High Yield 7.84%

YTD Market Returns:

Dow Jones 2.64%
S&P 500 10.64%
Nasdaq 11.48%
MSCI-EAFE 5.34%
MSCI-Europe 6.25%
MSCI-Pacific 3.57%
MSCI-Emg Mkt 2.46%
 
US Agg Bond -1.64%
US Corp Bond -1.12%
US Gov’t Bond -1.53%

Commodity Prices:

Gold 2,347
Silver 30.55
Oil (WTI) 77.16

Currencies:

Dollar / Euro 1.08
Dollar / Pound 1.27
Yen / Dollar 156.92
Canadian /Dollar 0.72

Macro Overview

The Fed raised rates for the third time this year, signaling it was on track for further hikes over the next few months. Rates moved higher across the fixed income spectrum, with the 10-year Treasury bond piercing the 3% mark, a level last reached in May of this year. The Federal Reserve also revised its estimates for GDP growth from 2.8% to 3.1% for 2018, with an eventual slowing to1.8% by 2021.

Newly imposed tariffs by the Department of Commerce on Chinese imports became effective in late September. The $200 billion worth of tariffs will begin at a 10% rate and increase to 25% by year end should the two countries not come to an agreement.

The Department of Commerce is incentivizing U.S. companies to shift production of goods in China to the U.S. by allowing companies to redirect production prior to year end before tariffs are scheduled to reach 25% on Chinese made products.

Equity markets brushed aside ongoing concerns over escalating international trade tensions and instead focused on economic expansion in the United States. Analysts are seeing the benefits of the recent tax cuts and deregulation translate into expanding earnings for U.S. companies. Economists are also citing the tax cuts as a monumental factor in economic expansion.

Preliminary damage estimates following the destruction caused by hurricane Florence are expected to reach between $38 billion and $50 billion.The cost of Florence is not expected to be anywhere near the cost of hurricanes Harvey, Maria, or Irma, yet will impose additional strain on an all ready straddled insurance industry. Damage estimates are compiled by Moody’s which tracks the claims paying ability of insurance companies, especially during periods of significant payment of claims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has thus far received over 8,000 claims for flood damage which allows for a $5,000 payment without an adjuster visit.

Oil prices headed higher in September topping levels not reached since 2014. Global energy markets reacted to limited production from OPEC, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States. The price for a barrel of Brent oil, which is priced internationally, reached $80 while the price of domestic oil priced as WTI surpassed $72. Adding to the supply strain were recently imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports along with production constraints in the U.S.

Consumer sentiment reached its second highest level since 2004, as tracked by the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index. Sentiment among consumers improved across all income categories with the expectation of higher wages and continued job growth. Modest levels of inflation also propelled confidence among consumers.

 

 
The OECD estimates U.S. economic growth at 2.9% for 2018, up from 2.2% in 2017

Economic Data Influences Stocks – U.S. Equity Update

Major equity indices all posted gains for the third quarter, with the S&P 500 advancing 7.2%, the Dow Jones Index gaining 9%, and the Nasdaq rising 7.1%. It was the single best quarter for stocks since 2013, buoyed by recent corporate tax cuts, improving earnings, and stable economic growth.

A notable shift occurred in the third quarter as equities surpassed real estate as the largest portion of household wealth. Real estate has out-valued equities as a percentage of household wealth for nearly 20 years.

Investments by companies in the S&P 500 Index increased to $341 billion in the first half of 2018, exceeding the same period last year by 19 percent. The increase in investments is on pace to be the most significant in nearly 25 years.

Several analysts are forecasting that the positive effects of the recent tax cuts will begin to fade as higher interest rates begin to inflate capital borrowing costs.

Growth estimates from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) place U.S. economic growth at 2.9% for 2018, up from 2.2% in 2017, making it the fastest pace of growth since 2005. (Sources: S&P, Bloomberg, OECD, Dow Jones, NASDAQ)

International Markets Struggle – International Equities

European markets reacted to a possible impasse regarding negotiations surrounding the exit of Britain from the EU, also known as Brexit. Six months remain before the formal separation between the two occurs.

Developed and emerging market equity indices are having a tough time keeping up with U.S. equities, with most major international indices posting negative returns for the year. Emerging markets welcomed a weaker dollar as trade tensions wore on the U.S. currency.

Rising oil prices levied an additional burden on larger developing nations including Turkey, India, the Philippines, and South Africa as these countries import the majority of their oil. Higher oil prices tend to spur inflation for countries dependent on imports and laden with debt payments.

Sources: Eurostat, Reuters

Rates On The Rise – Fixed Income Update

The Fed announced its third rate hike for the year, indicating another rate increase anticipated in December and three more to follow in 2019. The Fed’s key policy rate, the Federal Funds Rate, now stands at a range of 2% – 2.25%, the highest in ten years. Borrowing rates are gradually increasing in various consumer sectors including autos, appliances, and home mortgages. Many analysts believe that the current Fed Chairman, Jerome Powell, may have the ability to orchestrate a soft landing, meaning raising interest rates gradually without triggering a recession or economic slowdown.

Of the various fixed income sectors, U.S. corporate high-yield bonds had the least amount of price declines in September, outperforming both government and investment grade debt. Some analysts view this as a validation of improving financial conditions for U.S. companies and their ability to repay debt. (Sources: Treasury Dept., Federal Reserve, Bloomberg)

 
Retirement Tax Planning - Social Security

Tax on Social Security In Retirement – Retirement Tax Planning

A prudent and effective tax strategy during your employment years will mostly likely need to be modified in retirement. Once earned income ceases and income from retirement plans, investments, and Social Security commences, tax liabilities change.

The impact of the changes is primarily driven by the assets that we have little tax control over once we reach 70.5, which include IRAs, 401ks, and pensions. Reaching age 70.5 triggers RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions). Distributions from tax deferred retirement accounts such as an IRA or a 401k are generally taxed at the ordinary tax rate. Distributions from a Roth IRA or Roth 401k are income tax free as long as the account has been opened for at least five years and the account holder is 59.5.

Investment income such as stock dividends and bond interest are taxed differently, especially when they are held outside of a retirement account. Realizing gains on stocks that have been held for one year or more can be taxed at a more favorable rate than the ordinary rate. Interest on bonds and gains realized on short-term positions less than one year, are taxed at the ordinary rate.

Retirement also introduces us to Social Security which, contrary to popular belief, can be taxed. Eligibility for Social Security benefit payments begins at age 62, but can be postponed until age 70. A key determinant as to when to start receiving Social Security may be contingent on the amount of retirement assets in retirement accounts subject to RMDs. This is where tax strategies can vary dramatically.

Retirees with excessive assets in retirement accounts subject to RMDs and with non-retirement investment income may want to confer with a tax professional to help determine when to take Social Security. Conversely, retirees with minimal assets in retirement accounts and investments may have little concern about paying taxes on their Social Security benefits.

The IRS determines if and how taxes are owed on Social Security by the “provisional income” measure. Provisional income includes gross income, tax-free interest, and 50% of Social Security benefits. If the provisional income is above a certain amount, then a portion of the Social Security income becomes taxable.

One way to potentially lower taxes in retirement is to start taking distributions from tax-deferred accounts before it’s required. Again, once you reach age 59½, you can withdraw funds from those accounts without paying the 10% early withdrawal penalty. The withdrawals are still taxed as ordinary income, but over time they reduce the size of tax deferred accounts, and thus the size of your RMDs. Another reason to access those funds before 70½ is that it could help you delay taking your social Security benefit, which increases in size the later you take it, up to age 70.

Another strategy for reducing the potential tax consequences of RMDs is converting a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan into a Roth IRA before the age of 70½. A Roth conversion may make sense when you’re certain you’ll be in a higher bracket when you eventually withdraw the money, which is often the case once RMDs and Social Security are factored in.

Sources: Social Security Admin., IRS, Tax Policy Center

 
Retirement Planning Topics

Benefits of A Trust Versus a Will – Estate Planning

A properly drafted will or trust is essential for anyone that has assets to leave to heirs. Either a will or a trust allow you to designate anyone you wish as beneficiaries. Both a will and a “revocable living trust” allow you to identify who the heirs to your assets will be.

The main difference between the two is that assets held in a trust will avoid probate upon your passing, which is inhibitive to the heirs and costly. A trust structured as a revocable living trust can help shelter family assets from taxes by properly placing assets within the trust. Currently, the first $11.18 million is excluded from estate taxes with any assets over that amount taxed at the Federal Estate Tax rate.

If you own property in another state, a living trust eliminates the need to probate that property in that state. A living trust can immediately transfer management of your property if you become incapacitated either physically or mentally. There is no need to go to court to appoint a guardian or conservator.

If you choose to create a living trust, you should also create what is called a pour-over will. It provides for the distribution of any property that is not included in the trust. It will also allow you to name a guardian for any minor children.

Source: IRS

Senior Bankruptcy – Retirement Planning

The rate at which seniors file for bankruptcy has more than tripled since 1991 amid reductions in retirement and benefit payments. Of the people that are filing for bankruptcy each year, 12.2% are aged 65-74 versus 2.1% for the same age group in 1991.

Medical debt is the leading cause for bankruptcy filings nationwide, accounting for roughly 62% of all bankruptcies, as a growing number of medical procedures are not covered by insurance or Medicare.

Should bankruptcy become unquestionable, then assets need to be taken into careful consideration. Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows one to discharge most if not all debts and turn over nonexempt assets to the court. Determining whether or not Chapter 7 is an option is based on income. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows one to keep assets, such as a home, and repay debt via a court approved payment schedule.

The most significant asset for many seniors happens to be their home, which in many circumstances, have large amounts of accumulated equity. Whether or not that equity is vulnerable to creditors in a bankruptcy filing is contingent on the state of residence. Some states have a homestead exemption provision, which excludes a home and home equity from creditor access. Homestead exemption rules vary from state to state and should be reviewed carefully before making any final decisions.

Social Security income can be a factor when filing for bankruptcy. With a Charter 7 bankruptcy, income received from Social Security is not counted and is protected from creditors. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy does include Social Security income when calculating what the arranged debt payments are.

Sources: American Bankruptcy Institute, National Council On Aging