Market’s Long Overdue Correction Seems to Be Starting

8 04 2013

Jonathan N. Castle, CFP®, ChFC®

Jonathan N. Castle, CFP®, ChFC®

I thought I would take just a moment to let everyone know that we have been watching the market closely. It looks like the long upward sprint the market has taken over the last 4 months might be coming to a pause.

This is not unusual at all; billions of dollars have been fed into the capital markets over the last 4 months as the veil of uncertainly about taxes and fiscal policy has been lifted. Pension funds and individual investors have flooded the stock markets and stock mutual funds with more dollars this past quarter than we’ve seen in a long, long time. Wall Street’s traders have seen their target prices for stocks met, exceeded, and exceeded again. In general, the economic data we’ve see reported has been mostly positive, with just enough bad news to remind us that the stock market still has its dangers, but not enough to get investors worried that another recession is around the corner.

So, with the information we have at present, it looks like we are in for a regular, run-of-the-mill correction of about 3 to 7%. This happens, on average, 3 times per year, and is the normal breathing of a healthy and functioning market.

It is important to keep in mind that large, painful, and excessively long bear markets typically occur only during times of great economic upset (Great Depression, Great Recession, Tech Bubble Burst, Oil Embargo). We are monitoring all of our indicators and have far better warning systems in place than existed in 2007 and 2008, and expect to be able to sidestep a great deal of the damage that those “Perfect Storms” tend to dish out. At this time, Recession Alert(TM) places the odds of the United States economy entering a recession within the next 6 months at only 6.4% – indicating that the stock market remains the best place to be for investors trying to stay ahead of taxes and beat inflation.

However, unexpected or “surprise” events can turn a normal 5% correction into an abrupt harsh 20% correction. This occurs every 3-4 years, on average. Good examples are the stock market “crash” of 1987, the breakout of Desert Storm, minor recessions, the downgrading of the US debt in 2011, and other geopolitical occurrences. Currently, we have two primary concerns that would fall into this category – the prospective bailout of Cyprus (and the EU issues that seem to never end), and the possibility of Kim Jong-Un actually engaging in real military conflict for no apparent reason other than to appear as a strong leader to his people.

The risk of military conflict does not lie in Korea’s ability to hurt the US; that risk is minimal from a military confrontation perspective. While the North enjoys a huge advantage over the South in artillery abilities, those abilities would likely be quickly eradicated by the overwhelming air superiority the US and the South enjoys. The real risk lies in the possibility of China, South Korea, or Japan entering any such the conflict and creating massive instability in the Far East. I believe that China would likely rather see peace in the region, but so far, they have taken a wait-and-see approach.

Whatever happens, we will remain vigilant and observe events as they develop. Ultimately, I believe that normal market functions will continue and am very optimistic about some of the developments we see occurring within our economy – especially in the areas of energy production, rail, manufacturing, home-building, and electronic medical records. I feel it is likely that the decade-long “Secular Bear Market” we have been mired in for the last several years is approaching an end, and that now is a great time to be a long-term investor! However, it remains important to make sure that investors are aware of their risk tolerances – and that portfolios are constructed properly in order to weather those occasional unexpected thunderstorm that can blow in rapidly and give us an uncomfortable bump now and then.

S&P500 1 Year Chart

S&P500 1 Year Chart

Jon Castle

http://www.WealthGuards.com

This blog is for informational purposes only. This is neither an offer to purchase nor sell any securities. All investing involves the potential of loss – including invested principal. Indices quoted are general barometers of security price movement. You cannot invest directly in an index. All information is obtained from sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. No tax or legal advice is given nor intended.

Investment advisory services provided by Paragon Wealth Strategies, LLC, a registered investment advisor.

10245 Centurion Pkwy. N. Ste 105, Jacksonville FL 32256 (904) 861-0093 www.WealthGuards.com

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP(R), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm) and federally registered CFP (with flame logo) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements





Calm Before the Storm?

8 10 2012

Jonathan N. Castle, CFP®, ChFC®

The financial markets – both stocks and bonds – have been relatively calm for the last 4 months, nicely rewarding investors who avoided the urge to “Sell in May and Go Away,” and instead remained invested with a sound and prudent investment policy. Since the short but abrupt 10% correction that ended on June 2, the global stock markets have steadily advanced, packing on about 15% of value in the US markets and almost 18% in overseas trading. Our strategy of skewing portfolios heavily toward large stocks and high-yield bonds has generally paid off, allowing our investors to capture most of the market’s gains, commensurate with each individual’s risk tolerance.

However, based upon our own observations of financial news, as well as multiple discussions with clients, there is a nagging feeling of unease that persists in the financial markets. Nearly every client we meet with displays at least some level of concern about the economy and the financial markets going forward, despite having reaped solid returns from investments so far this year.

The financial markets are merely a reflection of the perceptions of hundreds of millions of investors, some of whom are highly sophisticated and understand the implication of governmental policies and economic data, and others who invest more by feel or intuition. Recently, there has been lukewarm (but not upsetting) economic news on the domestic front, a continuation of monetary easing by the Fed, and some positive developments in Europe that have led to a generally positive experience in the capital markets. Despite the calm, past experience has taught us that investors behave like lemmings and the stock market typically sets itself up to hurt the most people at any given time. I am reminded of Murphy’s Laws of Combat. There are several that presently come to mind:

• Murphy’s Law Number 26: The easy way is always mined.
• Murphy’s Law Number 38: If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush.
• Murphy’s Law Number 32: In a crisis that forces people to choose among alternative courses of action, most people will choose the worst one possible (this one in particular may apply to Congress and the upcoming election)
• Murphy’s Law Number 44: After things have gone from bad to worse, the cycle will repeat itself.
• Murphy’s Law Number 145: Opportunity always knocks at the least opportune moment. (which takes courage to exploit…)

There are several very good reasons for unease – but it appears that there may also be a chance for opportunity to knock as well. Let’s take a look at the major issues that will be impactful on the economy and the financial markets over the next year or so.

Opportunities

Europe: The European Union seems to be finally getting its act together. The European Central Bank appears to be putting forth believable policies that may just keep the Union together and allow a “soft landing” for a number of the countries that are in deep fiscal trouble.

QE3 and Bernanke’s Printing Press:  The Fed’s announcement of QE3 is, in the short term, positive for the stock market and for the economy. Fortunately (for now) it does not appear that all of the ingredients for hyperinflation are present. QE3 does not cause the US to directly incur any more debt – but it does cause the Fed to print more money which can eventually lead to a weak dollar and inflation. Since other Central Banks are printing money as well, the Fed’s act of printing more money does not necessarily mean that the dollar will weaken against other currencies. So – for the short term, this is positive. For the long term – once the economy does truly begin to recover – this open-ended quantitative easing could be a catalyst for extreme inflation if fiscal tightening measures are implemented too slowly at some point in the future.

China:  It appears that China may have engineered a “soft landing.” If this is the case, it will have a positive impact upon our economy, as China is a significant trade partner with the US.

Dangers/Concerns

Fiscal Cliff:  The most dangerous upcoming challenge that we have to watch centers around the expiration of the Bush Era Tax Cuts. Originally scheduled to sunset in 2010, these tax cuts represent an aggregate economic impact of over $500 Billion dollars and are currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. If these tax cuts are allowed to expire abruptly, it would shock the economy and immediately push the US economy back into a harsh recession. It is likely that unemployment would rise quickly, every household in America would feel the impact, and the stock market would sharply pull back.

2012 Presidential Election:  Despite Romney’s good performance in the first debate, the markets currently still appear to be factoring an Obama victory. If Obama is reelected, then we believe that the markets will perhaps move sharply in one direction or another – but only for a very short period of time and for less than several percentage points, as amateur investors knee-jerk to the news. The impacts of governmental policy on industry sectors are some of the most widely studied economic subjects, and “bets” are placed months in advance. In fact, a number of studies have shown that the markets have a greater impact on presidential elections than presidential elections do on the markets. However – that being said, the consensus is that a Romney election will likely be better for the markets in the short term than would an Obama second term. Romney is a fiscal conservative, disagreeing with the Keynesian approach that the Obama administration is following. Historically, a Keynesian approach has not been particularly successful in creating economic prosperity, but has proven very effective at creating government debt and citizen’s dependency upon the government. Unfortunately, at some point, “production” must occur – which only occurs in the private sector and the free markets.

2012 Congressional Election:  It is likely that the Congressional and Senate elections will be more impactful to the economy than the Presidential election. If either side wins a mandate and can actually move forward with the responsible governance of the country, then we may see some of the more troublesome issues resolve themselves. It is our hope that Congress feels it has a mandate, and is empowered enough to move forward with “smoothing out” the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts to the point where the US economy can avoid the upcoming fiscal cliff. If that is the case, then we may avoid recession and reap significant profits from the capital markets over the next several years.

So – in short – what do we see and what do we plan to do?

1. We are watchful. If we actually do hit the Fiscal Cliff, we will likely have time to react before everything goes to heck in a handbasket. In the event that the Bush Tax Cuts do expire, AND we begin to see the effects in the markets and on the economy, we will shift to Defensive Portfolios where appropriate. The Defensive Portfolios are designed to perform quite well under extreme market stress. However, if the stock market ends up providing a strong return, the Defensive Portfolio will miss out on most of it. Consequently, we do not want to shift to the Defensive Portfolio unless we feel that the odds of a serious market correction are high. Unfortunately, one cannot have it both ways. Safety and high returns rarely go together. Additionally, changing portfolio structure will have significant tax consequences on non-IRA type accounts.

2. In the event that we avoid the Fiscal Cliff, we expect several opportunities to arise if the situation in Europe continues to improve. Having reduced our exposure to international and emerging markets nearly 2 years ago, their impending recovery will likely present us with significant opportunity for profit. Currently the consensus from most analysts is that it is too early to buy into these markets – but perhaps soon.

3. High Yield Bonds and Large Growth Stocks continue to appear more attractive than usual. We intend to keep these in the portfolios in percentages well above what we would hold normally. So far, this has played out well for portfolio performance.

4. Interest rates: Rising interest rates are the least of our concerns right now. Yes, rising interest rates do cause the price of existing bonds to fall – but interest rates will only rise if the Fed does a complete 180 degree turn from its present policy of quantitative easing. Likely, we will have plenty of warning – and a very robust stock market – long before we need to adjust portfolios to protect against rising interest rates. Once that occurs, however, we will make the necessary adjustments to insulate portfolios against falling bond prices.

As always, we appreciate the faith that you have placed in us by allowing us to advise you during these most “interesting” times in our lives. It is our hope that our watchfulness and our attempts at distilling complex and often confusing information adds value to your overall financial situation.

Jon Castle

http://www.WealthGuards.com

This blog is for informational purposes only. This is neither an offer to purchase nor sell any securities. All investing involves the potential of loss – including invested principal. Indices quoted are general barometers of security price movement. You cannot invest directly in an index. All information is obtained from sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. No tax or legal advice is given nor intended.

Investment advisory services provided by Paragon Wealth Strategies, LLC, a registered investment advisor.

10245 Centurion Pkwy. N. Ste 105, Jacksonville FL 32256 (904) 861-0093 www.WealthGuards.com

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP(R), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm) and federally registered CFP (with flame logo) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements





Stock Market at a 4-year High… Again…

23 08 2012

While it has been an unusually long pause between market updates this time, I can assure you that we were not asleep at the wheel. In this instance, no news was good news, as the stock market has maintained its generally upward trend for the past several months with only moderate volatility for us to endure.

As of this writing, the United States stock market is approaching the high of 13279 on the DOW and 1419 on the S&P500 that it had previously reached on May 1st of this year, before the 10% correction that we went through during June and July. Since then, we have had generally uninteresting economic news on the domestic front, no real political unrest that has given us pause, and the Europeans continue to struggle through massive debt issues and one of the worst recessions that region of the world has had to face in several decades.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “something good” must actually happen for the stock markets to go up. This is actually not the case. Given the fact that bond markets have gone up continually over the last several years, the current prices of bonds are so high, that most investors have begun to realize that future returns of the bond market are likely to be disappointing. We are beginning to see a shift of capital from what is historically an asset of moderate risk and return (bonds) to an asset class that historically has been riskier – but is currently acknowledged to be undervalued (stocks – especially blue chips).

As a result – nothing spectacular is happening in the economy to move us measurably forward, but as money shifts from bonds to stocks (or from sideline cash to stocks) – the price of stocks will tend to move up simply as a result of supply and demand. In other words – beause more and more investors are dissatisfied with the expected returns from bonds in the forseeable future – stocks seem like a more attractive alternative, especially for long-term investors. The current owners of the stocks must be convinced to sell them – and this “convincing” is done by investors paying higher and higher prices for the stocks over time.

Approaching a new or previous high is not without danger, however. Those who have invested for a while also understand that when the market approaches a previous high mark, it may fail to break through – almost as if an invisible lid has been placed upon the market itself. Sometimes, even in bull markets, the market must pull back and “take a new run” at the “lid” to break through. Currently the market does not have a great deal of momentum; while investors are buying stocks, they are not doing so with enough gusto or wild abandon for us to be convinced that a breakthrough will occur. So… a potential correction may be in store for us.

As we have mentioned before, we are of the belief that the stock market will likely remain in a “trading range” for several years – with a slight slant to the upside (just enough to make investing worthwhile, I suspect) but not a roaring bull market that we enjoyed after the last recession. Instead, we are likely to enjoy several months of upmarkets, followed by several months of downmarkets… squeaking out 7 to 8% returns on an annualized basis, and paying for it with a good bit of volatility and lack of market direction. Dividends will likely play a significant role in creating portfolio growth. We have adjusted portfolios to try to maximize investor returns (within risk tolerance) for this scenario, and continue to admonish patience.

Most experts believe that we are unlikely to see any real economic or fiscal news between now and the election. While it is possible that world events may cause unrest, or that some good news may come out of Europe that bolsters markets for a while, in general it seems that most institutional investors are in a “wait and see” mood. Market movements, however, can give some insight into likely election results. A strong stock market during an election year has historically increased Presidential approval ratings and would likely increase the chance of the current President being reelected. If, on the other hand, the market should falter between now and November, incumbent approval ratings are likely to decline, thus increasing the odds of the Romney/Ryan ticket being successful on election day.

Jon Castle

http://www.WealthGuards.com

This blog is for informational purposes only.  This is neither an offer to purchase nor sell any securities.  All investing involves the potential of loss – including invested principal.  Indices quoted are general barometers of security price movement.  You cannot invest directly in an index.  All information is obtained from sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.  Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance.  No tax or legal advice is given nor intended.

Investment advisory services provided by Paragon Wealth Strategies, LLC, a registered investment advisor.

10245 Centurion Pkwy. N. Ste 105, Jacksonville FL 32256   (904) 861-0093  www.WealthGuards.com  Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP(R), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm) and federally registered CFP (with flame logo) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements





The Market feels a bit… “Toppy.”

5 03 2012

Jonathan N. Castle, CFP®, ChFC®

Where does the time go?  It is already nearly the end of February and it seems like 2012 is speeding along faster than last year!  So far this year, the financial markets have been reasonably good to all of us, with the S&P 500 up about 8.5%, the Dow up 6.6%, and the NASDAQ up an eye-popping 13.9% as of this writing.

The Dow Jones Industrial Index has broken through the psychological barrier of 13,000 – the highest it has been since March of 2008 a few times now.  In fact, the markets have been remarkably – almost eerily – calm for the last 3 months, quietly marching upward, shrugging off the occasional bad news (such as the Greek bailout nearly unwinding last week and the ever increasing tension over oil in the mideast) with little more than an occasional flinch. 

As we have said for the past 8 months, we remain cautiously optimistic.  “Moderately Bullish” is a term that I have used in the past.  Based upon historical behavior of Secular Bear Markets, we expect that over the next 3 years or so, we will see substantial ups (and downs) in the markets with a slight overall uptrend.  

As it pertains to the current rally, we believe this leg of the rally is probably due for a drawback of some kind.  The next chart shows our reasoning for this.  When the market approaches a point where it had difficulty breaking through previously (such as the Dow’s 13,000 level), this is known as “resistance.”  Typically, as a market index approaches a resistance level, it generally will pause, draw back, and then, IF the level is to be broken, will punch through that level to achieve new highs.  Similar to a person drawing back before breaking through a door, the market will generally draw back before “breaking out” to a new level.  As we are at that resistance level now, a drawback would be a natural – even necessary – part of a normal market rally. 

Despite the recent market rally, we do not feel it is time to break out any party hats on a new sustained bull market just yet.  There are a number of reasons to remain cautious about the markets:

  • According to the Investment Company Institute – the total inflows (new money) going into equity (stock) mutual funds from February 1st through February 15th was a little over 4.6 Billion Dollars.  While this seems like a lot, compared to the inflows to bond funds, which netted 15.2 Billion – it was just a trickle.  Clearly, investors are not ready to assume lots of stock market risk just yet, and the recent rally did not have the market breadth that would indicate the start of a new bull market.
  • The price of oil is going up.  Part of the reason is that US refineries shut down every May to retool to EPA requirements, so oil nearly always rises during this part of the year.  However – increased tensions in the mideast are also driving oil prices higher.  Higher oil prices mean slower economic growth.  As businesses must pay more for energy, they spend less on payrolls and other things which drive growth.
  • Europe’s financial situation is still quite a mess.  While it seems that the European Union is working feverishly to keep from imploding – and they may well succeed – the fact is that Europe is already mired in what appears to be a deep recession.  This will have a global impact, slowing growth in emerging markets as well as within the United States.
  • Our National Debt is a significant problem – and only getting worse.
  • We are in an election year, so significant economic policy will likely not be passed until next year.  Given the uncertain outcome of the 2012 elections, it is anyone’s guess as to whether any new policies will be helpful or harmful.
  • The Bush tax cuts are set to expire this year.  This expectation is curbing business spending.
  • And the list goes on… given the recency of the 2008 market crash, investors are not yet hungry enough for returns to take additional risks and dive head first into the markets. 

However – there are numerous reasons to be bullish as well.  Institutional investors are slowly beginning to see the opportunity in stocks – and have publicly stated their plans to acquire more stocks in their portfolios over the next several years in preparation for a future bull market.  Some reasons to own stocks – and to expect the market will go up are: 

  • Stock valuations are more attractive than they have been in decades.  Based upon the price of stocks compared to company earnings, stocks are cheap.  In the past, investors who loaded up on stocks at current valuation levels were handsomely rewarded over the next 10 years.  Institutions know this – and their demand for stocks during this period may well keep the market afloat.
  • We are seeing a new “flurry” of IPO’s (Initial Public Offerings).  New companies – such as Facebook – offering publicly traded stock for the first time.  Historically, when there are a lot of IPO’s, the market does well.
  • We are seeing a significant increase in companies buying back their own stock.  Not only does this activity boost the stock market – but it is also an indication of what company insiders think of the future prospects of their companies.  Who would spend good money to buy their own company stock – unless they believed the company woud do well?
  • Corporations are hoarding more cash than ever.  While initially this might seem a bad sign – it is a an indicator of the huge potential that exists.  Eventually, this cash will be deployed.  When it is – there is enough of it to have an enormous impact upon virtually all parts of the economy.
  • Currently, the dividend yield on the Dow Jones is a very attractive 3.07%.  So, hypothetically if the market only goes up 5%, an investor who owned the Dow Jones would reap over 8% in total return.  It is only a matter of time before return-starved pension funds, institutions, and corporations currently investing in Treasuries earning less than 3% begin to move money to other assets to seek greater returns.  When this begins, the market has the potential to move up very quickly.

This balance between bullish and bearish factors is a normal part of the recovery process, but makes for a challenging investment environment. In summary, we remain cautiously bullish, with an expectation for occasional market corrections which may exceed 20% or more.  Likely, it will feel like taking three steps forward, only to take two steps back.  However, we feel that reasonable gains are available with the correct strategy.  The most successful investors that we have worked with have carefully chosen their risk tolerance, and then invested in portfolios scientifically designed around that risk tolerance – and remained focused on the long term.  

This blog post is not personal investment, financial, or tax advice.  Please consult your financial professional for personal, specific information.  Indexes mentioned are a general barometer of the stock or bond market they represent.  You cannot invest directly in an index.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.   

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP(R), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm) and federally registered CFP (with flame logo) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Investment advisory services offered by Paragon Wealth Strategies LLC, a registered investment adviser.  http://www.WealthGuards.com 





Our Expectations for 2012

19 01 2012

Jonathan N. Castle, CFP, ChFC

2011 has come and gone and we are rapidly working our way through 2012.  It seems that so far, a general sense of cautious optimism has taken over where only a few months ago, all we heard was gloom and doom.  We applaud what appears to be slightly more balanced reporting on the economic front.  While not all of the news is good, neither is it all bad as it seemed to be several months ago.  A sense of doom and gloom serves no good purpose for our economy, and we are pleased the mood appears to be lifting somewhat.

After reviewing a great deal of economic analysis and often conflicting opinions from our research providers, we have come to some general conclusions about what to expect for performance in the financial markets in 2012.  We have stated over the last several months that we are “cautiously optimistic,” or “moderately bullish.”  There is no substantive data that suggests we should change this outlook (details at the end of the article) – but that does not mean that we believe the road ahead to be easy, particularly for investors.  Nor does it mean that we are wearing rose-colored glasses, or our cups are always “half full.”  It simply means that we believe we will continue to improve – with occasional interruptions – from where we currently are NOW.  We also believe that it will take years for the economy to fully recover – but recover it will.

Our Major Concerns at this time are:

European Debt Crisis and Likely European Recession – Some experts believe that the European recession has already begun. Recent data points indicate that Germany’s economy contracted slightly last quarter, and it is likely that other economies will soon follow.  As we enjoy a globally integrated economy, European recession likely means slowing economic growth in the US and difficulty in achieving meaningful returns in international markets.

Rising Dollar – As the Euro weakens, other currencies, (including ours) strengthen against it.  A strengthening dollar makes it more difficult for US companies to export goods and may make it more attractive for US companies to outsource jobs overseas.  However, a strong dollar does have the benefit of making US debt more attractive to foreign investors looking for security.

Political Stagnation – The past 2 years have been a display of an embarrassingly dysfunctional government. Unfortunately, with 2012 being an election year, we believe it unlikely that any real policy change will occur until 2013 or beyond.

Overwhelming US Debt – this may be the most dangerous long-term economic issue we have to face. At some point, we must face the inevitable belt-tightening that will be necessary to keep the US afloat.  Either government spending must decrease, or taxes must increase – or both.  Neither option is good for the economy or financial markets.

The Fed is Out of Bullets – The Fed has reduced interest rates to the lowest that we have ever seen, and pumped trillions of dollars into our economy trying to stimulate economic growth.  However, the damage done to the economy during the Great Recession was so severe that most of the Fed’s actions served only to limit damage – not to create the opportunity for recovery that we were hoping for.  At this time, it appears that the Fed is nearly out of ammo and has few options left.  Fortunately, inflation has not been severe; if it were, the Fed would be forced to raise interest rates again, which would slow economic growth even more and investors holding bonds would see the market values of their bonds decrease.

US Consumer Belt-Tightening – A large part of our economy is based upon the American consumer.  While it is a bit embarrassing to say that our economy runs on us buying things we don’t really need – it is partly true.  As more Americans learn that they can, in fact, live without many of these luxuries, these dollars no longer stimulate the economy.  On a personal level, a reversion to thrift is positive and one that we wholeheartedly support.  On an economic level, however – especially as a service based economy, consumer thrift forebodes even slower growth than previously hoped for.

Rays of Hope and Sunshine

Receding Unemployment – ever so slowly, and certainly not in a straight line, unemployment figures are receding. This is a fact; there are jobs out there to be had.  Many are in small businesses where people are hired one at a time.  Some disbelievers say that unemployment is dropping “only because discouraged workers have given up looking for jobs.”  This argument is hogwash – new workers enter the job market on a daily basis, which offsets discouraged workers leaving or retiring early.  While the jobs may not be the premium top paying jobs that were available before – they ARE indicators of economic expansion from where we were two years ago.

Increased Home Sales – According to the most recent National Association of Realtors (NAR), housing sales appear to have stabilized.  Total housing inventory fell from an 11 month supply to a 7 month supply during 2011. Housing starts and permits are increasing, albeit slowly.  As the housing sector directly impacts over 17% of the entire US economy, this news – however tepid – is hopeful.

US Corporate Profits – US corporate profits are at a high not seen since before the tech-bubble crash.  While much of the profit results from cost-cutting, it is still meaningful. Increasing profits mean that most of the major US firms are on a solid fiscal footing, and are in a much better position to pay attractive dividends to shareholders and fund future expansions.  From a yield perspective – high quality stocks are now more attractive than bonds at current levels.

Improving Manufacturing Data – The December Manufacturing Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Report topped expectations with the factory sector barometer (known as the PMI) increasing to the best level in six months. The raw data of the PMI also indicates that the manufacturing sector has grown for 29 consecutive months, which is generally a good indicator of the future direction of the economy. ALL 3 major US automakers reported profits for 2011.

What to do?

“Buy Low, Sell High.”  We all know this.  Yet, many people are only comfortable investing when the economy is humming along smoothly and all the news is positive.  Unfortunately for these emotionally driven investors, periods of economic boom are often the most dangerous times to invest, because by then, markets are usually overvalued. (Buy High, Sell Low).  Remember – when everyone is already invested, there are no new investors to bid prices up further.  Being invested in portfolios designed to your personal risk tolerance – especially when markets are undervalued – has been proven to be a key to long term investor success.

Typical Bear Market Behavior

For the last 100 years, based upon a study done by Morgan Stanley in 2009 called “The Aftermath of Secular Bear Markets,” major bear markets typically behave as follows.  (Dates for our current bear market in parentheses).

  • Market Crash/Bear Market: -56% for 29 Months, on average (Oct 2007 – Mar 2009)
  • Rebound Rally: +70% for 17 Months, on average (Mar 2009 – Apr 2010)
  • Mid Cycle Correction: -25% for 13 Months on average (Apr 2010 – Aug 2011)
  • Trading Range: Sideways (but slightly UP) with 15-20% whipsaw behavior for 5.6 years, on average (Aug 2011 – ?)

Our current bear market appears to be slightly shortening the cycles, but, in light of current political dysfunction and the European Debt Crisis, we believe the “trading range” portion of the market cycle will likely last several years at a minimum.

For 2012, we believe the following:

  • Markets will continue to be choppy, sometimes uncomfortably so
  • We DO expect to see some growth out of stocks, but not particularly impressive growth
  • Larger, dividend paying stocks should play a large role in the equity portions of portfolios (as compared to mid- or small-cap stocks)
  • US markets will be less volatile, and return more, than developed international markets. Emerging Markets will suffer from the European recession.
  • Interest rates (and bond prices) will remain relatively stable
  • The US Dollar will strengthen compared to the Euro

Our suggestion is that investors focus on other issues over which they have control:

  • Maximize IRA, 401(k), Roth, and other retirement plan contributions.
  • Reduce debt wherever possible.
  • Cut back on unnecessary luxuries (cook at home more, examine utility bills, etc).
  • Examine opportunities for mortgage refinance or other strategies to lock in low interest rates.
  • Closely examine your tax strategies (Roth Conversions, capital gains realization, business sales, etc) to include the expectation that taxes will be higher in future years.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it is a good place to start.  If we can offer you assistance in making the decisions necessary to maximize your odds of success during these uncertain times, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

This blog article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or personal financial advice.  Please consult your own financial professional for personal, specific information.  PAST PERFORMANCE IS NO GUARANTEE OF FUTURE RESULTS.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP(R), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm) and federally registered CFP (with flame logo) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Investment advisory services provided by Paragon Wealth Strategies, LLC., a registered investment advisor.  http://www.WealthGuards.com






What’s Your Retirement Number? Higher than You Might Think!

7 09 2011

by Michelle Ash,  CFP®, CDFA™

As I start to write this article, I feel like maybe I should give readers a caution like you see at the start of some TV shows:  “The program you are about to watch contains disturbing images. Viewer discretion advised.”  This message is important!!!, but the telling of it isn’t necessarily going to be pretty.

Recently I have had the opportunity to experience a new phenomena in my career.  In the past couple of months, much by happenstance, our firm has had a number of younger individuals engage our services.  By younger, I mean they are generally of or near my own age demographic:  late 30’s to mid-40’s.  These individuals have generally been contemplating their future retirement, among other financial goals, and have hired us to put together a retirement plan to see how they’re progressing on that path.

Previously, our firm has primarily worked only with individuals ages 50 and above, who are often in what I call the “final chute” towards reaching retirement.

I have long observed the unpleasant circumstances that loom ahead for individuals who have not planned and saved well for retirement.  But since I was usually seeing those individuals at or near the age at which they had hoped to retire, I wasn’t necessarily able to understand what decisions might have led to their current status.

Having the opportunity to work with individuals who are twenty or even more years away from retirement, I can see the habits that cause success, or prevent one from achieving it.  In the process of that observation, I am also noticing an extremely disturbing trend.

The issue is thisI notice a general assumption that contributing the maximum funding to one’s 401(k) plan is all that really needs to be done to fund a retirement.

Now, I realize and agree that for some people, getting to the point where they can actually save $15,500 per year of their salary, the current maximum funding allowed for an employee under age 50, is a fabulous goal in and of itself.

But what bothers me is when I see individuals or couples making $150,000 per year, $200,000 per year, sometimes even more than that, and they think that just maxing their 401(k) is all they really need to do in order to be able to retire at age 60, live a long retirement, and have a lifestyle largely commensurate with that they currently live.

I guess I just have one thing to say to these people:  WAKE UP.  You are living in a fantasy, and if you stay there, the reality you are faced with once you get to retirement is NOT going to be a pleasant one.

Let’s run what I’ll call an “average” desired retirement.  It’s a standard many clients describe to me as “comfortable” but is certainly not lavish by most accounts.

• Retire at age 60
• Have $48,000 per year for expenses and budget needs (in today’s dollars)
• Have their house paid off by retirement
• Dollars for Property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, health insurance, and Medicare supplements are extra expenses above the base $48K
• Spend an extra $5,000 per year on travels or other hobbies while healthy
• Upgrade their vehicle every 7 years or so
• Have enough money to cover emergencies, home repairs, and medical emergencies
• Have enough money to last the rest of life no matter how long that lasts

After factoring in inflation, this scenario results in retirement costing approximately $96,000 in year one and $346,000 in the final year (assuming death at the age of 95).  Imagine if, just like going out to eat where your waiter hands you a final bill at the end of the meal for all of the different courses you ate, someone were to hand you the bill for your retirement at the very end of it.  If someone were to add up year by year the total cost of this retirement, the “number” that would result would be $8,905,800. **(Assumptions are listed below.)

Have you ever seen that commercial where people are walking around carrying their retirement “number”?  I have heard many people say they’ve been frightened by the size of some of the numbers.  Guess what – unfortunately those numbers can be very real!

Fortunately, there is a potential income source to help offset that need:  social security.  (As a sidebar, the cynical Gen X’er in me wants to say “yeah right, like we can count on that!)  We’ll assume there is no pension income, since a majority of Americans today, particularly younger ones, are no longer eligible for corporate pensions.  Using current rules, social security would account for approximately 39% of the overall need mentioned above. **

But that still leaves us over $5 Million dollars of future money needed in retirement that is unaccounted for.  This is not, of course – the “number” that needs to be accumulated prior to retirement, since accumulated dollars will likely earn a return during retirement.  However, it does accurately reflect the total likely cost of retirement – and can give insight to the size of the number which would need to be accumulated prior to retiring.

Let’s assume our hypothetical family has already saved $100,000 in 401(k)’s, which is the average amount we tend to see amongst individuals around age 40.  Solving this equation to determine how much money this family needs to save from this point forward, from age 40 until retirement at age 60, results in needing to fully fund each of their 401(k)’s at $15,500 per year each, PLUS save an additional $1,445 per month, or $17,340 per year.

Is this possible?  Especially if this requires them to save a good bit more than the maximum contribution allowed for most employer plans, it requires getting serious about their financial goals – and doing something about them – or… accepting something less.  Many people don’t like to hear advice like that, but please understand that it is not a judgment – it is just math.

I realize that at this point, some people reading this article might just want to throw in the towel and give up altogether.  As I said earlier, for many people, just getting to the point of contributing the maximum amount to a 401(k) can be a great goal.  I do not mean to diminish that accomplishment.  Ultimately, any savings you do will be better than nothing.  But what I do hope to do is cause people to realize that it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of saving to get to the point of a comfortable retirement.

With that in mind, my general suggestion to people working towards retirement, regardless of age, would be to save, save, and then save a little more.  That, or work with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional who can help you determine what your actual “number” is, and then make sure you’re doing everything you can to achieve it.

Expense Assumptions: 

  • House is assumed to be paid off prior to retirement.
  • Property taxes and homeowner’s insurance = $5,000 per year, inflating from today at 3.71%
  • Travel/Other Hobbies Budget of $5,000 per year inflates from today at 3.71% and ends at “advanced age” of 82 when many seniors no longer travel or pursue other hobbies as much.
  • Car upgrades begin in year 3 of retirement, occur every 7 years, and cost the equivalent of $20,000 today inflated at 3.71%.
  • Age at death = 95 for both spouses
  • Emergency savings, home repairs, and medical emergencies not accounted for since they are not quantifiable in this fact pattern.

Income Assumptions:

  • Social Security income is drawn at age 62 for both spouses.
  • Benefit amount = $18,960 per spouse, based on earnings that equal or exceed the current earnings cap of $106,800 throughout both spouses’ entire working history for 38 years (age 22 to 60).  (Source:  http://www.ssa.gov)
  • Inflation rate of 2.5% assumed on social security benefits, since Social Security benefits have not historically kept up with the rate of inflation.
  • Both spouses are assumed to live until the age of 95, meaning the family receives both social security incomes throughout retirement.

 Additional Savings Needed Assumptions:

  • Rate of Return = 7% annually.  This 7% is a mathematical figure, is hypothetical, and does not represent the returns of any particular investment or product.  Rate of return is applied to both existing accumulated dollars and future invested dollars.
  • Starting investment assets accumulated equal $100,000 in 401(k) plans.
  • Need reflected ($17,340 per year) is a total additional savings need , above 401(k) contributions of $15,500 per spouse ($31,000 total combined).  Total annual savings needed is therefore $48,340.
  • Investment time horizon:  Age 40 (current age) to age 95 (age at death).
  • Assets accumulated are assumed to be fully invested for the full lifespan of our hypothetical couple.  Both income and principal are consumed to meet retirement needs.

This blog article does not constitute legal, tax, or personal financial advice.  Please consult your own financial professional for personal, specific information.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP(R), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm) and federally registered CFP (with flame logo) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Investment advisory services provided by Paragon Wealth Strategies, LLC., a registered investment advisor.