When Your Plan Ends…

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As our clients know, we use MoneyGuidePro (MGP) as our financial planning software tool and we generally review our clients’ particular plan with updates when we meet. This allows us the opportunity to discuss any changes in their lives, perhaps an upcoming life event, like retirement, or a new goal, like starting a 529 for a grandchild. We help to analyze all of the “known” factors and make some assumptions about the future, including when your time on earth may end. MGP euphemistically refers to this as the “plan end”, or in other words, the time when these variables, assets and concerns will no longer be yours!

Here is where good estate planning comes into play. At DWM, we think it is important to help you with the preparation for the end of your life, as well as your legacy after. We aren’t lawyers, but we work with some trusted estate attorneys and can use experienced insights and knowledge of your financial world to make sure that all of your wishes are properly addressed. We have helped many of our clients in this way, as well as many of their extended family members. We offer to carefully review your existing wills or trust in an effort to make sure your asset distributions and beneficiary designations are how you want them. We like to provide our own CliffsNotes version in a summarized Estate Flow for your convenience.   If things need updating, we can make some recommendations on how and also on who can help you with the legal paperwork and advice.

We also review all of your estate plan ancillary documents that discuss your end-of-life plan. These include the Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA), which designates an agent to represent you on health care decisions, the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), which designates a financial, legal and business representative on your behalf and the Living Will, which essentially outlines your care wishes in the event of incapacitation or when you can’t speak for yourself. Many of our clients come in not understanding how vitally important these documents can be for you and your family to have in place BEFORE there is a reason to need them! These documents are also state-specific and must be updated or kept current for where you spend time, either in a primary or secondary residence. Every situation is different – a terminal diagnosis may give you time to determine the answers for these questions and to generally get your affairs in order. However, a sudden, unexpected incident, especially for a younger person, can leave the people you love with decisions and demands that may be overwhelming.

An article in the WSJ recently talked about this issue of “Preparing for a good end of life”. Planning ahead and talking to your loved ones is important for everyone’s peace of mind. There are some fundamental pieces that should be considered to have a good plan ready. As the WSJ writer recommends, “Imagine what it would take to die in peace and work back from there.” This might include where you want to be and how you will manage the financial and physical obligation of your end-of-life. Would you want to be at home and perhaps have in-home care? Would you rather allow for in-patient hospice treatment so there is less demand on your family? The WSJ references a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study that suggests most people care much more about the burden on their families, both financially and emotionally, than about extending their own life.

The Living Will and HCPOA allow you to specify what kind of medical attention you want during a serious medical event or terminal situation. Will you want to be kept alive artificially while being treated so you can live as long as possible? These documents allow you to determine who will be your representative on these matters and what decisions for your care that you make ahead of time or ask that your representative decide for you. In some cases, the right choice might be someone more neutral than a close family member, as their judgement may be emotionally clouded. Either way, it allows you to make decisions now that will offer a guideline to follow for those who love you. Having these conversations ahead of time about who will make decisions and how you wish to be cared for will hopefully bring solace to your loved ones, as well as relieve any stress for you by knowing that this is in order.

It is also important to ensure that all of your legal affairs are in order. Make sure that all of your bequests to others and the timing for them to receive them are kept up to date. It is also important to make sure deeds and the beneficiary designations on other assets are current and titled the way you want them, whether in a trust to avoid probate or with named beneficiaries to make your wishes clear. Make sure to keep life insurance policy information in a safe place and the beneficiary designations current. Also, safely store a list of all important financial documents and social media passwords in at least one place to make it easier for your personal representative(s) to tie up your affairs. Prepare a business succession plan and keep all the documents current. Don’t put off assigning items of sentimental or financial value to those you want to receive them. Many people are now even planning their own memorial services and writing their own obituaries to lessen the obligation and make sure everything is how you would like it. We are happy to help you store some of these financial documents in our secure “vault” in our DWM cloud.

We may have all experienced or know about situations where no planning was in place or updates to wills, titles and/or beneficiary designations were missing or outdated. Your family and friends will be dealing with tremendous grief during this time, so making these preparations ahead of time will allow both you and them some comfort when it’s time. While it may be hard to have these conversations and make these decisions, it will certainly make it easier for everyone in the long run.

Please let us know if we can help you get these affairs in order. At DWM, we are always happy to help bring peace of mind to our clients and their families.

Tick, Tock…is it Time for Your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)?

“Time flies” was a recent quote that I had from a client.  Remember a long time ago…putting money aside in your retirement accounts, perhaps at work in a qualified traditional 401(k) or to an individual retirement account (IRA)?  It’s easy to ‘forget’ about it because, it was after all, meant to be used many years down the road.  It would be nice to keep your retirement funds indefinitely; unfortunately, that can’t happen, as the government wants to eventually collect the tax revenue from years of tax deferred contributions and growth.

In general, once you reach the age of 70 ½, per the IRS, many of those qualified accounts are subject to a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) and you must begin withdrawing that minimum amount of money by April 1 of the year following the year that you turn 70 1/2.  Of course, there are a few exceptions with regards to qualified accounts, but as a rule, when you reach 70 ½, you must begin taking money from those accounts per IRS guidelines if you hold a traditional 401(k), profit sharing, 403(b) or other defined contribution plan, traditional IRA, Simple IRA, SEP IRA or Inherited IRA.  (Roth IRA withdrawals are deferred until the death of the owner and his or her spouse).   Inherited IRAs are more complicated and handled with a few options available to the beneficiary, either by taking lifetime distributions or over a 5 year period.  The importance here, is to be aware that a distribution is needed.  Another word of caution…In some cases, your defined contribution plan may or may not allow you to wait until the year you retire before taking the first distribution, so a review of the terms of the plan is necessary.  In contrast, if you are more than a 5% owner of the business sponsoring the plan, you are not exempt from delaying the first distribution; you must take the withdrawal beginning at age 70 1/2, regardless if you are still working.

The formula for determining the amount that must be taken is calculated using several factors.  Basically, your age and account value determine the amount you must withdraw.  As such, the December 31 prior year value of the account must be known and, second, the IRS Tables in Publication 590-B, which provides a life expectancy factor for either single life expectancy or joint life and last survivor expectancy, needs to be referenced.  The Uniform Lifetime expectancy table would be referenced for unmarried owners and the Joint Life and Last Survivor expectancy table would be used for owners who have spouses that are more than 10 years younger and are sole beneficiaries.  It comes down to a simple equation: The account value as of December 31 of the prior year is divided by your life expectancy.  For most individuals, the first RMD amount will be roughly 4% of the account value and will increase in percentage each year.

It all begins with the first distribution, which will be triggered in the year in which an individual owning a qualified account turns 70 ½.  For example, John Doe, who has an IRA, and has a birthdate of May 1, 1949, will turn 70 ½ this year in 2019 on November 1.  A distribution will need to be made then after November 1, because he will have needed to attain the age of 70 ½ first.  Therefore, the distribution can be taken after November 1 (for 2019), and up until April 1 of the following year in 2020.

Once the first distribution is withdrawn, subsequent annual RMDs need to be taken for life, and are due by December 31.  In this case, John Doe will need to next take his 2020 distribution, using the same formula that determined his first distribution.  This will become a regular obligation of John’s each year.

So, we’ve talked about who, what, why and when, now let’s talk about the where.  Once the distribution amount is calculated, an individual can then choose where he or she would like that money to go.  Depending on circumstances, if the money is not needed for living expenses, it is advised to keep the money invested within one of your other non-qualified accounts such as a trust, individual or joint account, i.e. you can elect to make an internal journal to one of your other investment accounts.  Alternatively, if you have another thought for the money, you can have it moved to a personal bank account or mailed to your home.  Keep in mind that these distributions are taxed as ordinary income, thus, depending on your income situation, you may wish to have federal or state taxes withheld from the distribution.  At DWM, we can help our clients determine if, and what amount, to be withheld.  One exception is the qualified charitable distribution or QCD, which is briefly discussed next.

Another idea that may be a possibility for some individuals is for the distribution amount to be considered a qualified charitable distribution (QCD).  Instead of the money going into one of your accounts, a direct transfer of funds would be payable to a qualified charity.  There are certain requirements to determine whether you can make a QCD.  For starters, the charity must be a 501 (c)(3) and eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions, and, in order for a QCD to count towards your current year’s RMD, the funds must come out of your IRA by the December 31 deadline.  The real beauty about this strategy is that the QCD amount is not taxed as ordinary income.  You would simplyprovide the QCD acknowledgement receipt(s) along with your 1099R(s) to your accountant for the correct reporting on your tax return.

It may be pretty scary to know how quickly time flies, but with DWM by your side, we can take the scare out of the situation!

Ask DWM: Should I Consider Investing in Marijuana?

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana. This began, for many, the first opportunity to legally invest in this industry. In 2012, both Colorado and Washington State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Both events were monumental for the development of marijuana investments but, arguably, the most momentous day in marijuana investments occurred on October 17th, 2018 with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada. In June of 2018, Canada voted “yes” to legalization and became the first major country to do so. Interest in these investments have soared ever since.

Cannabidiol (“CBD”) is one of the major attractions in this story. CBD is a cannabis compound used primarily for medical purposes. CBD has been proven to provide benefits for pain management, sleep aid, and stress. The primary difference between marijuana and CBD is its lack of hallucinogenic properties. CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), the main hallucinogenic property found in marijuana. CBD is currently legal in all 50 states. As of February 2019, marijuana has been legalized in over 30 US states for medical purposes and ten, including Washington D.C., have approved it for recreational use.

Spending in the legal marijuana industry is expected to surge from $8.5 billion in 2017 to over $23 billion in 2022. As a side note and for comparison purposes, illegal sales of pot represented 87% of all North American sales and over $46 billion in 2016 according to Arcview Market Research. Hard to not get excited about those growth figures! Further, in a sign of credibility to the industry, major investments from some of the world’s largest beverage makers including Coca-Cola and Corona brewer Constellation Brands have created even more hype and have sent some pot stocks soaring. It’s not just Wall Street taking notice, but ordinary people are wondering if they should get in on the craze.

But just like Bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies, this upstart legal cannabis industry has many red flags and may lead to some scary results.

First off, “FOMO” or the Fear Of Missing Out is no reason to plow good money into a speculative area. It is prudent to do some serious research before dipping into the waters of an industry that faces many legal, regulatory and other hurdles. Further, beware of fraudsters on the internet claiming “this pot stock is the next big thing!” Investing in cannabis is like the wild, wild west and similar to the dot.com mania of the 90s with tons of extreme volatility and broken promises.

More specifically, there are a variety of risks associated with investing in this area. Marijuana is still not legal at the Federal level, which makes banking for marijuana companies within the US difficult and future issues uncertain. Second, most marijuana companies are considered “start-ups” where company revenues are low or nil, and they may be running at a loss. In addition to this, overall investments in marijuana continue to remain small, albeit growing, in comparison to developed industries. For example, the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (symbol: MJ), one of the largest marijuana funds available, holds just $1 billion in capital. Lastly, with only a handful of well-known “reputable” companies in this area, don’t get burned by loading up in just one or two names and thus becoming subjected to company-specific risk.

If you are still interested in investing in marijuana, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. As a general rule, you should not allocate more than a couple percent of your total investment portfolio to one company name. Further, prudent portfolio management suggests to limit your overall exposure to a speculative area like this to no more than 5% of your total investable assets. Avoid concentrated company-specific risk and diversify. A diversified mutual fund or ETF like the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (symbol: MJ) mentioned above is a great choice for those that aren’t good at research but “have to get in”…

At the end of the day, investments in marijuana should be considered widely speculative and highly susceptible to losses. Volatility in both specific companies and funds have been extremely high since their inception. Investments in these areas should be considered more like taking your money to Las Vegas. It’s a gamble and you could potentially lose your entire investment.

At DWM we consider ourselves to be financial advocates for our clients and we love being a part of all of our client’s financial decisions. Questions such as investments in marijuana have been a reoccurring theme as of late, eerily similar to those in 2017 about Bitcoin and we know what happened there….In other words, if you are still interested in this area, PROCEED WITH CAUTION!!!

At this time, DWM is not investing in marijuana for managed accounts due to the many issues mentioned above. For clients still interested in reviewing marijuana investments via a self-directed/unmanaged account, we welcome your calls.

Money and Time

 

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As the old saying goes, “Time is Money.” One of the great laws of business is that time equals money: The more time you can efficiently utilize, the less time you waste and the more money you make. Some may call this the opportunity cost of laziness. By being lazy you essentially give up the opportunity to make money. You’ve likely heard the phrase in some form or another a thousand times before, and it makes sense. However, have you ever considered it the other way around?

It may feel strange saying it out loud at first, but the saying can go both ways. Money is time. Time is one of the most valuable resources on earth. Thinking of money in terms of time is one of the best ways to adopt a healthy attitude about spending and stop splurge spending. If you know the true cost of your dollar you may be more inclined to save it.

To start, you must factor in all hours spent at or around the office, commuting, and at seminars over the course of a year. Once you’ve established the number of hours spent on work-related items, you will then have the denominator for your true hourly wage calculation.

The next step will be establishing any costs associated with your work. There are a lot of people who are unaware their job may actually have costs associated with it. Aside from the amount of time spent at work, most spend a considerable amount in preparation for their job. The cost associated with job preparation includes gas and care repairs for daily commuting, daycare costs, coffee, work clothes, and some may even include the occasional happy hour after work. Once you’ve established the amount of money you spend on your job on a weekly or annual basis, then subtract this number from your weekly or annual salary. Now subtract taxes to arrive at your net salary.

Now we are ready to calculate your true hourly wage. Take your net salary, add back any retirement plan contributions you may have been making, and divide this by the number of hours spent on work-related items to arrive at your true hourly wage.

Example:

Let’s assume an employee works 40 hours per week, spends 10 hours on work-related items. This employee gets paid $40,000 a year, spends $8,000 per year on work-related items, and pays about 20% ($8,000) in taxes between state and federal per year. The true hourly wage of this employee would be $9.23 per hour ($24,000 divided by 2,600 work hours per year). Compare this to a naked eye analysis of this employee’s salary, $19.23 per hour, and you will notice a $10 per hour difference for this employee. This means each dollar this employee spends costs him or her more than 6 minutes at work.

Knowing the true cost of your dollar, you may find yourself reluctant to splurge on that next big item. It’s important to remember that the relationship between your money and your time isn’t always that straightforward. While you can certainly calculate the cost per hour of use for a given splurge item, (a $160 chair used for 480 hours a year and used for five years will have a cost per hour of $0.06), this should not be the only consideration in spending. For both spending your time and your money, there is always at least one item we can all spend it on: That which makes you happy.

What will be Your Legacy?

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In the last few years, Elise and I have really gotten into our own family histories. Both sides of Elise’s family came from England, one in the 1830s and one at the turn of the century. My family tree is more diverse. I am 25% German, 25% Finnish, 25% Italian, and, I just recently found out, 25% Jewish. My German ancestors came to America in 1855 and the others came at the turn of the century.

As Elise and I looked back at not only the DNA of our forefathers and foremothers, but also the culture, traditions, stories and values passed on to us, we realize what wonderful legacies we have been given. In a way, we’re all standing on the shoulders of our ancestors.

In the past few years, there’s been a huge increase in people exploring their family history. Ancestry.com sold 1.5 million DNA kits a year ago on Black Friday. The DNA test uncovers your origins. And, Ancestry.com and others have huge online databases and have put together family trees that you can review and expand. This search has caused us to again look at our potential legacy and what it will be. Do you wonder what your legacy will be?

Legacy is defined as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past.” In the simplest terms, it is everything you have worked for in your life. Certainly, that includes money and property, but it’s much more than that. It includes what you have achieved in your work life and your family life, as well as other social relationships and achievements that you ultimately leave behind.

Your estate, on the other hand, is the sum total of everything you own-all of your property (real, tangible and intangible). Your estate requires an “estate plan” to provide for your desired succession of assets, while minimizing taxes and administrative hassles.   If you desire to pass on more than just your assets and transfer your spiritual, intellectual, relational and social capital, you need a “legacy plan.”

The question is not “Will you leave a legacy,” but “What kind of legacy will you leave?” Why not be proactive and intentional in creating your legacy? Why not structure your life in a manner that helps you achieve your purpose and greatest success and safeguards those accomplishments for transfer to future generations? Why not develop and maintain your legacy plan?

If we think of our legacy as a gift, it places an emphasis on the thoughtful, meaningful, and intentional aspects of legacy, as the consequences of what we do will outlive us. What we leave behind is the summation of the choices and actions we make in this life and our spiritual and moral values.

What do you want to leave for your family, the community, your partner or the world? Your legacy can be huge; perhaps a world-changing cause. But it doesn’t need to be a grandiose concept. Instead of wanting to leave a legacy that inspires people to help starving children in the world, you, for example, may relate more with leaving a legacy with your family and friends of how you were kind, accepting and open to others, which might help inspire them to do the same.

A good place to start is to think about the ancestors, mentors and associates whose legacy you admire. What actions can you take to inspire others in the same way?

We encourage you to give some thought to your legacy plan. We’re all creating our legacy every day, whether we realize it or not. And, here at DWM, we’re focused on protecting and enhancing not only your net worth, but your legacy as well.

 

 

“The Two Most Powerful Warriors are Time and Patience”- Leo Tolstoy

 

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Good investing can be boring, yet effective! Specifically, investors with a long investing timeline should build a diversified, low-cost portfolio with an appropriate asset allocation and stick with it. Rebalance regularly to sell high and buy low. Don’t try to time the markets by getting in and out. Yes, this is boring, particularly with the volatility we are enduring, but it’s what it takes to generate solid returns over the long haul. Patience and time are powerful warriors and our friends.

Take a look at the average risk and returns for various asset styles over the last 20 years, which includes the 2008-09 financial crisis and 2018. The best performers, with higher returns and lower risk, are in the upper left hand corner:

 

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Bonds have relatively low risk and have produced decent returns over the period, particularly the first 15 years. Small cap and mid cap stocks have outpaced large cap stocks (e.g. Dow Jones and S&P 500) over time, with better returns and similar volatility (risk). Non-US stocks have trailed US stocks. Emerging markets stocks have produced very good returns, but with larger volatility swings. REITs have produced a 10% annual return with a risk factor about equal to U.S. stocks. The diversified composite “12 Index Portfolio” has produced a nice return of 6.8% annually (better than large cap stocks with 5.6%) with about 2/3 the risk of stocks.  Please note that during this 20 year period, the inflation rate was 3.2% per year. So, the 12 Index Portfolio produced an annual “real return” of 3.6% over the last 20 years.

Investors get in trouble when they lose faith in the markets and their allocation, react to the current market pain and go all cash or move to the “hot” asset classes for better returns. That approach generally ends badly for investors as the markets will correct themselves over time (as we have seen December 2018 losses recovered in January 2019) and hot asset classes go “cold” as the pendulum swings to the next “hot” asset style right after they jump in.

The 12 Index portfolio in this chart is composed of all the asset styles shown, equally weighted. Overall, this allocation is 50% equities, 33% fixed income and cash, and 17% alternatives; what we would term a “balanced asset allocation,’ appropriate for a “balanced risk profile.”

This balanced allocation will never be the top performer in any year. And, it won’t be the worst. It is designed to deliver middle-of-the-road, steady returns. Patience and time produce the results.

Investors need to also understand that time is their friend. “Time in the market beats timing the market.” Here’s another chart showing the growth of $1 since 1990, all invested in the S&P 500:

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The black line represents an investor who stayed in the market every day and turned her $1 into $14. The red line represents the investor who missed the 25 best days (roughly one a year) and turned her $1 into $4. The gray line represents the return an investor could have received by simply investing in five-year treasury notes, turning $1 into $4.

Getting out of the market is easy; getting back in at the right time is very difficult. In the last couple of months, for example, the equity markets (using the MSCI AC World Index) are about level from December 1, 2018 until last Friday, February 8th. However, if an investor got cold feet and got out in mid-December and waited to get back in until mid-January, they would have lost 3.5% on their equity returns. Timing the market is not a good idea- unless you own a crystal ball, can implement perfect end of day execution on buys and sells, have no transaction costs, and don’t mind paying taxes on realized gains.

Patience and Time are two powerful warriors-they are your friends. Let them do the heavy lifting.  Invest for the long-term. Yes, slow and steady wins the race. It may not make for great cocktail conversation, but boring investing can be very effective.

FIREd up about Early Retirement

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There is a recent trend among Millennials and younger Gen Xers that is generating a great deal of interest. The concept is defined by the acronym FIRE – financial independence/retire early. A WSJ article from November follows the rigid budget and sacrifices of Sylvia, who wants to retire in 2020 with $2 Million at age 40. The current rage to extreme early-retire by using frugality, intense saving and/or
investment strategies to achieve financial independence is becoming a popular notion. This purportedly comes from the 20 to 40 somethings who have a ‘burning’ desire to not be chained to a job, but rather want to freely choose how they spend their time. The FIRE followers want the freedom of financial independence to allow comfortable “retirement” at an earlier than usual age.

FIRE and the discussion around it has inspired many recent blogs, podcasts, articles, books and even a documentary coming out this year called “Playing with FIRE”. Playing with Fire follows a family as they “test their willingness to reject the standard narrative of adult life, which basically prescribes: go to college, take out tons of student loans, buy a new car, take on a mortgage, buy another car and lots more stuff you don’t need, then work for 40+ years to pay for it all. If you’re lucky, you might be able to retire at 65 and not have to eat cat food.” Now that is cynical!

On the surface, however, retiring early sounds like a reasonable goal… we are all striving for some level of financial independence, after all. At DWM and as financial advisors, we definitely believe that controlling spending and sticking to savings goals are the keys to reaching financial independence. Most of us would consider these good money habits to be a common sense approach to life – live below your means, save more, be less materialistic- but what does it take to actually achieve an extreme early retirement in your early 40s or even 30s and make sure you have enough money for the rest of your life? FIRE followers believe extreme saving and frugality is the path. As the Investment News article describes it “Followers of FIRE amass savings voraciously and live on bare-bones budgets. They aim to stockpile enough money to fund a retirement lasting roughly double that of the average American.” Apparently, the retirement savings number that they strive for is based on a future 3-4% percent withdrawal rate that might have to last 60 years!

FIRE followers advocate aggressive savings goals of 50-75% of earnings and following strict budgets to achieve this. They focus on cutting back or even cutting out all non-essential spending like going out to eat, vacations or bigger houses and newer cars. Or like Sylvia from theWSJ article reportedly does, search for the brown bananas and borrow Netflix passwords. This might be where we should talk about quality of life!

On top of that, the unknowns in this strategy could wreak havoc on the best-laid plans. Some in the FIRE movement live austere lives now and plan to continue the austerity into the future to maximize
their savings. All well and good as long as nothing unexpected happens. How about the often unforeseen or underestimated expenses that come from having kids or running into health problems? We can try to predict the impact on our portfolios from inflation, the economy, the markets, investments, but we really can’t say absolutely what will happen in the future. We know that healthcare costs are increasing and becoming a large spending item in normal retirement, especially before Medicare begins. We know that we can’t predict what will happen to Social Security. We certainly can’t predict our life spans – whether short or long – nor are we ever as ready as we would like for emergencies and crises like natural catastrophes, death of a loved one or chronic illness. We just don’t have a crystal ball!

There is also an underlying degree of cynicism in this mindset that our working life is focused solely on the goal of amassing “more stuff”. What about the satisfaction and connection that comes from building a career and a level of accomplishment and expertise in a field? Many of us have had several varying career paths and, had we jumped off after the first one, what would we have missed? What inventions or discoveries or achievements would humanity miss out on if the productivity and challenges that are gained from a lifelong career were cut short?

Successful financial independence does come from hard work, discipline and a measure of frugality and sacrifice – we can all agree on this. At DWM, our goal is to help guide you toward achieving your goal of financial independence, whether you keep “working” or spend your time in other ways – as you wish. We try to minimize some of the risks by planning for as many of the “What Ifs” as we can and hope that, by charting a course, we can help you breathe easier as you plan for the future. We want you to be “fired up” for your whole life and find satisfaction and quality of life during your saving and accumulating days, as well as your spending and legacy days. We think this is possible by following a balanced, moderate and careful financial plan. We can certainly get fired up about that!

THE PIONEER OF INDEX INVESTING: JOHN BOGLE’S LEGACY

John C. Bogle was one of the most recognized and respected names in the investment community when he passed away this January. His research and intellect drove him to found one of the world’s largest investment companies, Vanguard, which operates as a leader in cost-efficient, diversified mutual fund and ETF markets.

And how did Vanguard get to be such an influential company in the marketplace? Among many other factors, it stemmed from John Bogle’s view of the financial landscape, and how he could make it better for investors. In 1974, when John first started Vanguard, he brought with him a passion for affordable, smart investing; he theorized that in a market that consisted solely of active managers seeking to beat benchmarks, he could succeed by simply being the benchmark (or closely following it). From this, he would generate the strategy of index investing, which consists of passively managing a fund that closely mirrors a common index, such as the S&P 500, the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate, or many others. This development revolutionized the investment industry by letting investors participate in the market without paying expensive management fees that go towards attempting to beat the market. Instead of paying operating expense ratios (which represents all management fees and operating expenses for a security) of somewhere on average of 0.5% to 2.5% or higher for an actively managed mutual fund, these passive index funds on average have operating expense ratios of only 0.2%! As a result, investors returns would no longer be dulled from these high management costs.

His unique and interesting idea soon caught on. In fact, as of today, these index followers now make up 43% of all stock funds in the market! Index funds seemingly create an opportunity for anyone to jump in and be a part of the markets with little to no investment costs, almost complete transparency, and simplicity, which has led to their widespread popularity, all because of John Bogle’s innovative mind.

Beyond this, John was an active member in the community, often sharing his opinion and advice through his speeches and TV appearances, and brought with him a great deal of philanthropy through his service work and his charity (notably donating much of his salary to charities).

All encompassing, John Bogle was a great man that will be missed in the world as a whole. However, he did leave behind a legacy of inspirational writings, teachings, and actions that we can all learn from. He also left behind the core ideas of his investment philosophy:

  • A focus on simplicity in investment strategy
  • The reductions of costs and expenses
  • Consideration of the long-term investment horizon
  • A reliance on rational analysis and an avoidance of emotions in the investment decision-making process
  • The universality of index investing as an appropriate strategy for individual investors

At DWM, we keep all of these, as well as many other factors, in mind when we develop our portfolios and investment strategies. While we always attempt to keep transaction costs down, we are also always looking at the other options in the market to reduce costs, increase portfolio simplicity, and maximize diversity to protect our clients first and participate in market earnings second.

Furthermore, we analyze all holdings as well as client allocations to ensure their long-term goals are achievable not only through their portfolios, but also through our various other value-added DWM services such as tax planning, estate planning collaboration, risk management reviews, etc. Through these, we hope to put our clients’ long-term financial plans in focus, and help ease their worries about the market and their economic situation.

While we and countless others inside and outside of this industry mourn John’s passing, we also seek to celebrate his life and his impact on our lives. And we believe the best way we can do this is to embrace some of these ideals John shared with us, through helping our clients manager their financial plans and keep their long-term goals on track through simple, low-cost, efficient investment choices.

U.S. Housing Market: Not Hot Everywhere

us housing market

Zillow just reported that the U.S. Housing Market is up 49% overall since 2012. That’s roughly 6% per year in that time period-though, to be fair, 2012 was when the housing market hit bottom after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The U.S. Housing Market is huge- $33 trillion (“T”). It’s larger than the value of all U.S. stocks and is about equal to the Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) of the U.S. ($19T), China ($12T) and Canada ($2T). Commercial real estate, including retail, hotels, office buildings, apartment buildings and industrial is about $6T.

The U.S. housing market has had some big winners and some big losers in the last 7 years. Almost 1/3 of the gain of $11T since 2012 has occurred in California. Four of the country’s 10 most valuable markets are in California; LA (5% increase in value in 2018), San Francisco (9.6% increase), San Jose (10% increase) and San Diego (3% increase). New York Metro itself has $3T of housing. The Washington, D.C. metro housing is worth $900 billion. DC itself has more housing value than 40 states, including Colorado, Arizona, Ohio and Oregon.

Unfortunately, housing in some areas hasn’t done so well. Illinois has many state-specific issues which makes it one of the worst housing markets areas. In fact, among the nation’s top 100 metro areas, Chicago is expected to be the weakest housing market of them all in 2019. With mortgage interest rates possibly causing a likely national homes sales slowdown of 2% in the U.S. in 2019, Chicago metro, including Naperville and Elgin, is expected to have an 8% decline in home sales this year. Taxes are a big problem in Illinois. Illinois homeowners are subject to the highest overall tax burden in the country, including the second highest property taxes in the U.S. Since 1996, Illinois property taxes have grown 43% faster than home values and 76% faster than home values in Cook County (Chicago). Worse yet, less than 50% of the tax increases have gone to pay for services. Most of the increase has gone for teacher and other governmental pensions and debt service on bonds.

In 2017, Illinois raised income taxes- the largest permanent state hike in history. Add in a sluggish state economy and outbound migration and the Illinois housing market is hurting. Even so, the Illinois Association of Realtors expects the median value of houses in IL to rise in 2019 by 4%, to roughly $196,000 for the state and $241,000 for Chicago.

The Lowcountry in SC is faring much better. Charleston Metro is now home to 700,000 people. Ongoing job growth means continued housing demand. The median home value in Charleston is now about $320,000 and Charleston home values went up 8% in 2018. The forecast for 2019 is 3% growth. Buyers outnumber sellers. A typical home in Charleston receives only one offer. However, homes sell for only 3% less of the listing price on average with 73 days on the market.

Charleston has many reasons for its housing growth:

  • A booming job market with an unemployment rate under 3% and one of the least unionized states in the nation
  • Wages are low
  • South Carolina’s overall tax burden is among the lowest, particularly for retirees.
  • Huge Tourism industry including being the most sought after wedding destination in the country
  • Home Appreciation is strong- 31% over the last 10 years

Overall, the U.S. Housing market is strong for now. Many winners, but some losers. Mortgage rates, after jumping to 5% and more on 30 year mortgages just a few months ago, are now down in the low 4% range. If they stay there, 2019 could be a pretty good year again for the U.S. Housing Market. But, with many areas coming off a strong run overall the last several years, a cool-down on housing prices wouldn’t be surprising. We’ll continue to watch how the events unfold and keep our clients and readers informed as conditions warrant.

DWM 4Q18 & YEAR-END MARKET COMMENTARY

Fantasy Football and portfolio management may be more similar than one would think. Over the past weekend, I drafted a playoff fantasy football team which I’m hoping will amass more points than the other five “owners” in my league. Fantasy football drafting for both the regular season and playoffs is similar in that you want to take the NFL players that get the most touchdowns and the best stats in turn for rewarding you with higher points. The team with the most collective points wins! However, playoff fantasy drafting is much different than a regular season fantasy draft, with the key difference being one doesn’t know how many games that a player will actually play! Patrick Mahommes may be the best player available per game on paper; but if his KC Chiefs lose in their first game, a middle-of-the-road player like Julian Edelman from the Patriots who is expected to play multiple games, can be superior. Thus, the key is trying to pick not only the best available player, but also the one who will play the most games.

It’s sort of like investing, where picking NFL players and their teams become synonymous with picking companies. You want a collective bunch of players/securities that outperform others which ultimately leads to higher values. I looked at this draft pool of players like I would constructing a portfolio: diversifying my picks by player positions and teams.

Some of the other owners didn’t follow this disciplined approach, instead opting at throwing all of their marbles into the fate of one team and hoping it would lead them to the Fantasy Football Holy Land. And just like investing all or the majority of your dollars into one stock, this type of “coaching” can lead to utmost failure. Case in point: one owner loaded up on one team, taking several players on the Houston Texans. Ouch. (If you’re an NFL fan, you know that the Texans were squashed by the Colts and are out of the playoffs, just like this “owner” is now out of contention in our Fantasy League!) The morale of this story is: there is no silver bullet in football or investing; stay disciplined and diversified and reap the rewards over the long term.

And now onto the year-end market commentary…

Unfortunately, there were not many good draft picks this year. In fact, as stated in one of our previous blogs, around 90% of asset styles were in the red this year. And I don’t mean the Red Zone! Let’s see how the major asset classes fared in 4q18 and calendar year 2018:

Equities: Stocks were driving down the field, reaching record highs right before the 4th quarter began and then…well, let’s just say: “FUMBLE!” with the MSCI AC World Index & the S&P500 both dropping over 13%! This was the steepest annual decline for stocks since the financial crisis. Yes, investors were heavily penalized in 4Q18 for several infractions, the biggest being:

  • The slowing of economic growth
  • The ongoing withdrawal of monetary policy accommodation, i.e. the Fed raising rates and until recently, signaling more raises to come
  • Trade tensions continuing to escalate
  • The uncertainty of a prolonged US Government shut-down
  • Geopolitical risk

None of these risks above justify the severe market sell-off, which brought the MSCI AC World Index to a -10.2% return for 2018. This is in stark contrast to 2017, when it was up 24.0%! “Turnover!” Frankly, the stock market probably overdid it on the upside then and now has overdone it to the downside.

Fixed Income: The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index & the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index “advanced the ball” in the fourth quarter, up 1.6% and 1.2%, respectively. Still, it wasn’t enough to produce any “first downs” with the US Agg essentially flat and the Barclays Global down 1.2% on the year. Bad play: In December, the Fed raised rates another quarter-point and indicated they may do more. Good play: within the last week, they may have completed the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” by signaling a much more dovish stance – it certainly made the stock market happy, now up 7 out of the last 9 days at the time of this writing.

Alternatives:  Like an ordinary offense playing against the mighty Chicago Bears D, alts were “sacked” in the fourth quarter as evidenced by the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, falling 4.0% for the quarter and finishing the year down 5.1%. This is the worst showing ever for this alternative benchmark. Frankly, we are shocked with this draw-down, chalking it up to 2018 going down as the year where there was no place to hide. Gold*, Managed Futures**, and Merger Arbitrage*** proved to be good diversifiers in 4q18, up 7.5%, 3.6%, 2.4%, respectively; but not many “W’s” (aka “wins”) for the year in alts or any asset class for that matter.

Put it all together and a balanced investor is looking at negative single-digit percentage losses on the year. Yes, 2018, in particular the fourth quarter, was a brutal one for investors. It was like we were in the Red Zone about to score an exhilarating touchdown, only for a “Pick 6” to happen. (Pick 6 is when the football is intercepted and returned into the opposing end zone.) What we learned is that “L’s” (aka “losses”) or corrections can still happen. Going into this year, many had forgotten that markets actually can and do go down. Further, markets can be volatile, down big one day, and up big the next. So what is one to do now, besides putting the rally caps on?

The answer is: essentially nothing. Be disciplined and stay the course. Or, if your asset allocation mix has fallen far out-of-line of your long-term asset allocation target mix, you should rebalance back to target buying in relatively cheap areas and selling in relatively expensive areas. Or, if you happen to have come into cash recently, by all means put it to work into the stock market. This may not be the absolute bottom, but it sure appears to be a nice entry point after an almost 20% decline from top to bottom for most stock indices. From a valuation standpoint, equities haven’t looked this attractive in years, with valuations both here in the US and around the globe below the 25-year average.

And speaking of football, it’s easy to be a back-seat quarterback and say, “maybe we should’ve done something differently” before this latest correction. But we need to remember that empirical studies show that trying to time the market does NOT work. You have to make not just one good decision, but two: when to get out and when to get back in. By pulling an audible and being out of the market for just a few days, one can miss the best of all days as evidenced by the day after Christmas when the Dow Jones went up over 1000 points. In conclusion, if you can take the emotion out of it and stay fully invested through the ups and downs; at the end of your football career, you give yourself the best chance to make it to the Super Bowl.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

 

*represented by the iShares Gold Trust

**represented by the Credit Suisse Managed Futures Strategy Fund

***represented by the Vivaldi Merger Arbitrage Fund