In times of crisis and uncertainty, the potential need to access our savings seems to rise to the forefront. However, many of the accounts that we utilize for our savings are tied to certain restrictions. For example, the age 59.5 restriction for retirement account withdrawals without facing a 10% penalty, or HSAs and 529 accounts which must be used for medical expenses and education expenses respectively. These unique accounts are great tools to efficiently invest our savings given the tax deferred or tax-free growth. The issue though is what happens when we need funds to cover items that don’t meet the parameters and restrictions set forth by these accounts.
COVID-19 has me pondering my own finances and how well equipped they are to be flexible in times of need. These circumstances we’re in have produced many implications to our finances and society with a big one being the impact of education from pre-school age all the way through college.
We’ve seen a shift to more online educational resources in recent years and this has only escalated with the impacts of COVID-19. College students have spent the better part of their spring 2020 semester living at home and completing their coursework online. While certainly not the college experience these students anticipated, they’re still able to receive a quality education without the cost of living in a dorm room on campus or 3+ meals per day at the campus dining hall. We’ve even seen some refunds returned to students which if were withdrawn from a 529 account originally, then that money needs to go back into the 529 account to avoid taxes/penalties.
So what does this mean for our college savings strategy? For my two 2.5-year-old boys I’ve been saving monthly in a 529 account since they were born with intention to provide a portion of their college education from the 529 account. However, I’ve reconsidered this strategy this week and am shifting to utilizing a couple other accounts for their future savings. At Financial Symmetry we had many discussions with clients about not over-funding college savings accounts given the high taxes and penalty if not used for education along with discussions about savings for the parents own retirement and financial independence.
A great savings tool as the contributions can we withdrawn at any time tax-free, and the earnings grow tax free and can be withdrawn after age 59.5. This is the primary account I’ll now be using for future education needs for my twin boys as I’ll be able to withdraw the contributions for the education if needed. If for whatever reason they don’t need those funds for college then no worries as I can retain the Roth IRA for my own future financial needs. With a 529 plan though, I wouldn’t be able to do that as those funds would be restricted to education expenses.
I ran the numbers on the actual advantage 529 accounts do provide. Say my monthly contributions add up to $15k and earn $5k over the years to equate a $20k balance. Those earnings would be tax free in a 529 account for education expenses. If those funds were instead in a taxable brokerage account and assuming a 22% federal tax bracket this would be $1,100 of tax due on those earnings. You must weigh the flexibility of a non 529 account vs. the tax savings it can provide. Also consider that with proper tax planning in a brokerage account could mean even less taxes due given accessibility of tax efficient funds, tax loss harvesting, donating earnings to charity as ways to lower that tax bill.
Certainly nothing wrong with using a 529 account as you’re still saving for your children’s future needs, but just consider there are other vehicles that may be more appropriate given your financial situation. Also, depending on your financial situation there are other factors to consider such as financial aid.
Why is the stock market doing so well when the economy is not?
Short Youtube recap here: https://youtu.be/QubNZjHHN04
With headlines about skyrocketing unemployment and an impending recession, how has the stock market rebounded so quickly? Despite the historic drops in March, the S&P 500 is only hovering in a range 10-15% from its overall highs. While the stock market and the economy are influenced by each other, there are key differences that emerge during market extremes.
We have all heard the negative news surrounding the economy. It seems to be one of the only topics that news channels talk about. GDP declined 5% in the first quarter and is expected to decline by 20-30% in the second quarter. Unemployment has shot up at a historic pace from 5% to 15% in just a few short months. However, the Federal Reserve and the CARES Act have helped keep people and companies on their feet.
The stock market went through record-setting drops back in March but since then it has bounced in the 35-40% range off the lows. We are still nowhere near the all-time highs that preceded those March declines, but the S&P 500 continues to rise and has been trading in a range 10-15% below it's all time highs reach in February. This creates confusion for most in the face of terrible economic headlines. One reason is that companies and investors are constantly looking at what is to come. They aren’t making decisions based just on the next 6 months, instead, they are projecting the growth over the next 5-10 years. It’s also important to remember that for every distressed seller there is a buyer. Investors are considering their bets for the future and if they anticipate we've seen the worst, then better than expected potential outcomes can drive stocks higher.
Historically, the stock market tends to make a recovery before the economy. For example in 2009 the stock market hit its bottom in March, but the country continued in its recession until the second half of that year. World War II is another example. The stock market was up every year during that period, despite all the turmoil going on in the world and the restrictions that were put in place by the war.
Well, unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball. But there are plenty of opinions you can find from watching the headlines or talking to your neighbors. This type of information can be detrimental not only to your mental state but also to your pocketbook. Allowing your emotions to take the investing wheel, can leave you second-guessing your investment strategy. In fact, the next time you want to look at your investment statements, we'd suggest opening your financial plan instead. You’re better off focusing on what you can control, like your risk tolerance, your rate of saving and spending, and your tax situation. Evaluating how your personal economy has changed, can leave you better positioned for the long-term. This allows you to have the appropriate investment allocations, so your worry can be abated, no matter how wild the stock market or economy gets in the short-run.
We’re all surprised at the speed of changes the coronavirus has brought in our lives. Working from home, school closures, and social distancing have become our new norms. Stock markets have fallen in to a bear market in less than a month. Uncertainty related to COVID-19 grows daily, as we all know the amount of new cases are destined to rise.
It can be hard to find positives through the barrage of more disappointing news each day. But there are steps you can take to prepare your portfolio during this bear market. In today’s episode, we share 7 tips to help ease your worries during this challenging time.
We all feel nervous about stock market drops. Despite bear markets happening an average of every 6-7 years, it never gets easier to handle emotionally. During these times, investment behavior determines your returns more than the investments themselves.
Having an investment plan beforehand adds discipline to your decisions amidst the turmoil. If you’re questioning what you should do, then referring back to your plan will remind you of your highest priorities.
When you think about it, you only really have 3 options to choose from.
With the first one, being much more damaging long-term than the others. To cope with this, we’ve put together seven things you can do to help ease your worry so you are better prepared to make more sound financial decisions.
Cornoavirus concerns continue to impact the financial markets, as have all the numberless crises that have gone before it.
While the potential human and economic effects are very unsettling, what actions should a prudent investor take given this new development?
Short Video Recap Here: https://youtu.be/Wsy6OTuY-yI
It remains impossible to predict when and how this problem will be resolved. Likewise, it is impossible to know when and how the markets will anticipate (or react to) such a resolution.
In this episode of the Financial Symmetry show, hosts Chad Smith and Mike Eklund, evaluate all the available information to determine how you should approach your investment strategy.
Market declines are a regular occurrence and happen frequently. Selloffs provide an opportunity for investors to absorb new information, squeeze out excesses and reset values to more attractive levels.
For existing retirees, we set-up portfolios to include 5-7 years’ worth of high-quality bonds/cash to absorb market declines. For savers, market declines are great news as it allows you to buy stocks at lower prices through regular contributions.
We understand the desire to try to head off market declines by moving into safety. However, our view is that the only way to capture the full permanent returns of equities is to ride out their temporary declines.
The danger of trying to time the market is that you will sabotage your personal investment strategy by getting out at the wrong time and then compounding that by getting back in at the wrong time.
The Financial Symmetry Podcast is an original podcast from Financial Symmetry in Raleigh, NC. To learn more about the show or the past 105 episodes, visit https://www.financialsymmetry.com/retirement-podcast/.
The hosts and guests in this video do not render or offer to render personalized investment or tax advice in this podcast. This podcast is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice or a guarantee that you will achieve a desired result. You should consult with appropriate tax and financial advisors for advice specific to your situation.
How do you best invest at all-time market highs? In this episode, we are walking through the strategies and disciplines you'll need to be a successful long-term investor.
Short Youtube recap here: https://youtu.be/fEXnQ8GaCuk
Visit full article notes here: https://wp.me/p6NrVS-3i0
We often get the question of whether people should continue to invest given the all-time market highs. Well, let’s take a look back to just a year ago. At the end of 2018, the U.S. stock market declined by 20% and everyone was worried about a potential bear market. But it turned out that 2019 was a fantastic year despite all the worries.
We can’t tell you when will be a good time to invest in the short-term. No one can. No one has a crystal ball that can predict those outcomes. It is important to formulate a decision-making process that is not outcome-based. Financial decisions should always be processed based instead.
Think about where you were in December 2009. You probably weren’t too optimistic about the economic future. But it turned out the S&P 500 was the best place to invest over the past 10 years. But in the 10 years preceding it was the worst place to invest.
There is never an easy time to be an investor. Investing always involves risk and many see that risk as a reason not to invest. There is always a risk and plenty of reasons not to invest. But when you look back, you’ll realize recessions, while painful, happen quickly but the market rises over the long run.
After the S&P’s strong run the past 10 years many people wonder why bother to invest internationally or why they should hold any bonds in their portfolio. Even though the S&P 500 performed quite well over the past 10 years, it was the worst place to invest during the previous 10 years. To protect yourself, you’ll need to be diversified. Bonds can not only provide diversification but they can provide income and capital preservation as well. They may not be the most exciting, but bonds will ensure you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket.
Once again we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty. There’s the threat of war, a presidential election, and who knows what else could happen next. Given this time of uncertainty, what changes should we be making to our portfolios? The only sure answer is that you should only be taking as much risk as you can handle. Don’t let recent market performance lull you into taking too much risk.
Listen in to hear the outlook for 2020 and beyond.
Our listeners and clients often ask: Is now a good time to invest? Or what should I invest in? We give feedback on both these questions in our 2019 Investment Outlook episode. Be sure to check out the show notes for this episode in particular as we provide detailed charts to help demonstrate our discussion. If you are curious as to whether now is the time to jump into the stock market, what role bonds play in your portfolio, or what the experts say about the future of the markets then you'll want to listen to this episode.
After logging strong returns in 2017, global equity markets delivered negative returns in US dollar terms in 2018. Common news stories in 2018 included reports on global economic growth, corporate earnings, record low unemployment in the US, the implementation of Brexit, US trade wars, and a flattening US Treasury yield curve.
Many are still wondering why should we invest overseas given returns in the US have been so strong? Investors should remember that non-US stocks help provide valuable diversification benefits, and that recent performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns. It is worth noting that if we look at the past 20 years going back to 1999, US equity markets have only outperformed in 10 of those years—the same expected by chance. We can examine the potential opportunity cost associated with failing to diversify globally by reflecting on the period in global markets from 2000-2009, commonly known as the “lost decade” among US investors. While the S&P 500 recorded its worst ever 10-year cumulative total return of –9.1%, the MSCI World ex USA Index returned 17.5%, and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index returned 154.3%. In periods such as this, investors were rewarded for holding a globally diversified portfolio.
Are there risks today to invest in the stock market? Yes. Have their been risks in the past? Yes. Through all these risks the global stock market has gone from $1 to $59 from 1970 to 2017
History has found certain periods have resulted in higher returns than others. Part of this can be explained by starting valuation. Valuation is one of the best indicators of long-term returns (i.e. 10 years), but it is a horrible short-term timing strategy. One popular valuation metric we’ve discussed in the past is the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio. Instead of dividing price by the past 12 months of earnings, the CAPE ratio divides price by the average inflation-adjusted earnings of the past ten years. The idea is to smooth out the good and bad years created by the business cycle.
Is the CAPE Ratio a good predictor of future returns? According to a study by Research Affiliates titled CAPE Fear: Why CAPE Naysayers are Wrong, starting CAPE Ratio has between a 48% to 91% correlation to future 10-year returns across 12 countries. So yes, starting valuations do matter over the subsequent 10-year period.
In addition, below Exhibit 4 is the average future 10-year real return based on starting US CAPE Ratio. As of December 31, 2018, below are the current CAPE ratios of the major equity markets:
As noted in our recent blog, Crystal Balls and CAPE, when one market (US or foreign) was trading at a material premium (such as today), the other market stock market outperformed over the subsequent 10-year period.
Our belief is that high quality bonds in your portfolio provide the following benefits:
Bond returns are largely driven by the term and credit quality of a bond. Long-term bonds experience bigger price movements for a given change in interest rates. Investor are expected to be compensated for taking that extra risk as a result. The same can be said for lower credit quality bonds such as high yield bonds. As the current time the spreads – the gap between the yield on credit and Treasuries – have remained narrow by historical standards. For bond investors, that means the compensation for taking on credit risk is relatively low, and the upside from here could be quite limited.
Future returns of bonds are highly correlated to the starting yield. Therefore, as of 12/31/2018 the yield on the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index was approximately 3.28% which is depicted in the exhibit below. Therefore, over the next 7-10 years investors can expect returns similar to starting yield levels. Overall, bond yields have increased over the last couple years, but remain low compared to historical levels.
The Federal Reserve raised rates four times in 2018 and nine total adjustments over the past four years. The benchmark interest rate is in a range of 2.25% to 2.5%. The benefit of this is many investors have seen higher returns from their bank accounts but borrowing costs have also increased. What will the Federal Reserve do next? I have no idea, but below are the current market/Fed expectations as of December 31, 2018. You’ll notice the Federal Reserve and market is not expecting material rate increases from this point forward.
To summarize, with low returns expected for US stocks and bonds many investors allocated primarily to US stocks will be disappointed with returns over the next ten years. As a result, individuals may need to either work longer or spend less than expected to reach their financial goals.
For current savers a market decline should be viewed positively as it allows them to buy stocks at cheaper prices. For existing or soon-to-be-retirees it is important to understand your risk capacity and risk tolerance and adjust your asset allocation accordingly. You’ll need equity for long-term growth, but it is important to have high-quality bonds for current spending.
What can you do about potential lower returns? First, focus on what you can control (spending, taxes, estate planning, etc.) and your long-term financial plan. If you don’t have a financial plan in place, it’s the perfect time to contact a fee-only financial planner such as Financial Symmetry. Second, implement a long-term, disciplined investment strategy. And no, buying the mutual fund/ETF/stock that has done the best over the last three years is not a strategy. If you don’t have a disciplined strategy or want to learn more about our process click here to download our white paper.
2018 gave us a December to remember, with the S&P 500 index losing 9% for the month, locking in the worst December performance since 1931.
From peak to the most recent bottom, the S&P 500 has fallen more than 20%, marking the first bear market since 2008-09. Now the bear market is here, are you prepared to deal with it?
This most recent drop has given us all a scare. Does the drop have you worried?
Did you prepare for the bear market beforehand?
Preparing for stock market drops prior to experiencing one, helps you digest results when it occurs. It doesn't change the fact that disciplined investing is difficult. And while you'll never be excited about stock market declines, you can be prepared.
On this episode, we clue you in on the tricks for surviving a bear market. You’ll learn what a bear market is, the questions people typically ask when the markets drop, how to prepare for a bear market, and how to recognize a bargain when you see one. The markets are always changing, are you ready for what’s ahead? Listen to this episode to help you weather the storms that bear markets bring.
In long and strong bull markets, overconfidence is plentiful as positive returns inflate our perception of our investing skill-sets. But when the markets drop, we are quick to question our investment strategy. People ask themselves:
We feel the need to act when we see our nest egg evaporating. The biggest question people ask is: what do I need to do to preserve my money? If you feel like you need to sell and go to cash then you could be taking to much risk. Risk tolerance can be thrown out the window when things are going well. It’s when things go south, you learn your true risk tolerance levels. A poor decision in a bear market can often take years or even decades to recover from. Listen to this episode to help you learn how to make the right decisions in a bear market.
A bear market occurs when there’s a drop of 20% in a particular stock market. This differs from a recession which is declared after there are 2 consecutive quarters of negative GDP. Many people think there must be a recession to have a bear market, but not every bear market results in a recession. However, they do tend to work together. There’s about a 50/50 chance of having a bear market coincide with a recession. As painful, as bear markets can feel, they do happen much quicker than bull markets. The average length of your typical bear market is 1.4 years, contrasted with an average bull market at 4.5 years.
Bear markets can be scary to watch and unfortunately, the news channels cover them constantly. People pay more attention to bear markets since they are sensationalized by the news media. The most important thing to remember is to follow your strategy. If you feel like you need to get out immediately and go to cash then you are likely taking too much risk. Unfortunately, we can’t follow our intellect and instinct when it comes to investing. Our instincts influence us to stop the bleeding and sell stocks to hold more cash. The problem with that strategy is big up days occur very close to big down days. So when volatility spikes, your time in the market matters than trying to time the market.
The silver lining of a bear market, is the buying opportunity they create. For many investors that are steadily saving in their investment accounts, bear markets present bargains for higher long-term returns. But how do you know the best time to invest more in stock? How do you ensure that you are not buying too early? Studies show the best strategy is to invest a lump sum upon receiving, as your average long-term returns are higher with stocks vs. other alternatives. Our emotions tell a different story. Catching a falling knife is a risky game. This is where personal circumstances matter most. What does your future income, spending and savings rates look like? When will you need your savings? Answering questions like these gives you a head start on the best choices for your life. Because “knowing” what will happen in the short-term is a fool’s game. Understanding the historical context can help, if it gives you the confidence to begin and stay invested through potential worsening conditions.
Warren Buffet once said, “widespread fear is your friend as an investor because it serves up bargain purchases. Personal fear is your enemy and it will also be unwarranted.”
When it comes to investments, too many people take a haphazard approach when what they need is an investment decision process that makes the most of a number of different available resources. This episode of the podcast is aimed at helping you understand what goes into a good investment decision process and how the team at Financial Symmetry approaches investments for its clients. Chad and Mike discuss market indicators and how they impact a good investing strategy, how consumer sentiment figures in, and why it's important to make use of the technical data available. You're going to get an inside look into the way the Financial Symmetry team helps their clients make the best investment decisions possible.
Too often, individuals make their financial planning decisions based only on what looks attractive in the moment. The fear of missing out is real. But there are many resources and data points available that take historical trends and other factors into consideration in a way that could enable your investment decision process to be much more helpful. One of the points that Chad and Mike make in this episode is that a good investment decision process can help you avoid the big mistakes that will sink your long-term strategy. It's those spontaneous decisions based on what looks hot at the moment that we're talking about, so make sure you listen and learn what you can do to avoid those kinds of pitfalls.
One of the things that should be a part of every investment decision process in consideration of short-term market indicators. What are they? They are the things we can see at the present moment that give us clues as to where the economy might be headed. For example: Are we coming out of or going into a recession? What is the current consumer sentiment about the economy? Are there technical trends and stats that inform us of what may be coming? These are things the average person doesn't take time to look into or consider but are vital components of the investment strategy that the Financial Symmetry team brings to bear on its client's investment decisions. You can hear the unique approach that the team takes, on this episode.
On many of the talk news programs and in some of the high-profile financial publications you hear talk about warning signs that the economy may be about to go down the tubes. Of course, they could be right with their predictions but making decisions based on fear is one of the weakest options for the smart investor. It's easy to sell fear, but it's not always the best way to determine how to invest your hard-earned money. In this episode of the podcast, Mike and Chad discuss why fear is not the best motivator for good financial decisions and how you can take a different approach that enables you to create a long-term strategy that actually works.
Even though this episode is focused on making the best investment decisions possible through a good investment decision process, that process and strategy won't do you much good if the rest of your financial life is a mess. What are those areas? - Do you have enough life insurance? How are you spending compared to the spending plan you've made? Do you have an adequate estate plan in place? Are you being tax-efficient? These are only some of the fundamental questions you need to address before you get too involved in making a long-term investment strategy. If you don't, you can wind up wasting a lot of time with no benefit to show for it.
CHART TO GO INTO SHOW NOTES?
One of the most asked questions we receive centers around the HSA. It's also one of the largest missed opportunities for tax savings we see people are missing, if they are eligible. Health Savings Accounts, known also as HSA, are gaining more and more popularity. But there is still a lot of confusion on how this account is different.
Join us this week, as we break down the ins and outs of all you need to know about how an HSA can benefit you and your family. We address why so many are still not using these accounts to their full capacity. Also, we break down how the HSA provides triple tax savings, or the hat trick as Mike likes to call it.
For more, check out show notes here.