MLK Would Have Loved Finland

We hope everyone enjoyed the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday. We hope you spent at least a few minutes thinking of Dr. King and his legacy. His stirring words and writings remain as relevant today as they were 50 years when he was alive. I am always moved by his comments, particularly on equality, such as:

  • “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now,”
  • “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,”
  • “The time is always right to do what is right,” and
  • “In some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

As I thought about these quotes, it made me think of Finland, recently deemed a “Capitalist Paradise” by the NYT and lauded by the Economist for slashing homelessness while the rest of Europe is “failing.”

As many of you know, my maternal grandmother was Finnish and Elise and I spent a wonderful homecoming in Finland this past summer, meeting relatives and experiencing life first-hand in Finland. Dr. King certainly would have loved a country like Finland that provides a real-life example of a system that works to provide equality and happiness to all.

Finland hasn’t been operating independently all that long. Located between Sweden and Russia, Finland was under Swedish rule from 1250-1809. In 1809 it became a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire until it declared its independence in 1917. In 1918, Finland experienced the Finnish Civil War; the “whites” were primarily Swedish descendants who were anti-socialists and the “reds” who supported Russian socialism. The whites won and established a republic. World War II saw Finland under attack from Russia and ultimately joining forces with Germany.

After WW II, Finland did not want to become a socialist country. Its capitalists cooperated with government to map out long-term strategies and discussed these plans with unions to get workers on board. Finnish capitalists realized that it would be in their best interests to accept progressive tax hikes. The taxes would help pay for new governmental programs to keep workers and their families healthy, educated and productive. Fast forward to today, the capitalists are still paying higher taxes and outsourcing to the government the responsibility of keeping workers healthy and educated.

The NYT article “A Capitalist Paradise” was authored by a couple who moved from Brooklyn to Helsinki two years ago. Both are US citizens, experienced professionals and enjoyed a privileged life in the States. However, they were both independent consultants with uneven access to health insurance, and major concerns about funding for day-care, and education, including college. What may come as a surprise to some, is that they have experienced since the move an increase in personal freedom.

In Finland, everyone is covered by taxpayer-funded universal health-care that “equals coverage in the U.S. but without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills.”   Their child attends a “fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse” public day-care that costs about $300 per month. If they stay in Finland, their daughter will attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to them, regardless of the neighborhood they live in. College would also be tuition free.

Many Americans may consider the Finnish system strange, dysfunctional or authoritarian, but Finnish citizens report extraordinarily high levels of life satisfaction. The World Happiness Report announced recently that Finland was the happiest country in the world, for the second year in row, leading Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland in the poll.

Finland has also become one of the world’s wealthiest countries and, like other Nordic countries, home to many highly successful global companies. A spokesman for JPMorgan Asset Management recently concluded that “The Nordic region is not only ‘just as business friendly as the U.S,’ but also better on key free-market indices, including greater protection of private property, less impact on competition from government controls and more openness to trade and capital flows.” “Furthermore, children in Finland have a much better chance of escaping the economic class of their parents than do children in the U.S.”

Finland’s form of capitalism has worked for businesses and citizens alike. Since Independence, Finland has remained a country and economy committed to free markets, private businesses and capitalism. Its growth has been helped, not hurt, by the nation’s commitment to providing generous and universal public services that support basic human well-being. Finland and the Nordic countries as a whole, including their business elites, have arrived at a simple formula: “Capitalism works better if employees get paid decent wages and are supported by high-quality, democratically accountable public services that enable everyone to live healthy, dignified lives and to enjoy real equality of opportunity for themselves and their children.”

This system works. Over the last 50 years, if you had invested in a portfolio of Nordic equities, you would have earned a higher annual real return than the American stock market according to Credit Suisse research. It’s not a surprise since Nordic companies invest in “long-term stability and human flourishing while maintaining healthy profits.” We made a similar point in our September blog “Reinvent Capitalism?”

Dr. King’s quotes resonate loudly today. We Americans are a country of immigrants- “We came on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” In a time of tribal politics- “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” However, since “The time is always right to do what is right,” let’s keep optimistic that “In some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with their scintillating beauty.”

https://dwmgmt.com/

DWM’s 4Q19 Market Commentary & A Look Into 2020

Happy 2020! No doubt you have heard the term “20/20 vision” over the last several weeks as we enter this new decade and all of the imagery that comes with it. As you probably already know, 20/20 vision is synonymous with perfect vision. As financial Sherpas, we are always striving to provide our clients with that – to observe, to envision, to help foresee, to project, and to be on the lookout! We can’t guarantee that our outlook will be spot on, but we certainly can help our clients plan and make projections for what’s next on the horizon.

But before telescoping ahead, let’s look back on fourth quarter 2019 (“4Q19”) and calendar year 2019 and the bedazzling year it was! We’ve put the magnifying glass on this investment landscape panorama so you can visualize the details!

Equities: No, it wasn’t a hallucination… Equities, as evidenced by the MSCI AC World Index, rallied to close the year, up 9.0% for 4Q19 and an eye-popping 26.3% for the year! Domestic large cap stocks*, particularly the growth-oriented FAANG group**, kept outperforming, up 9.1% and 31.5%, 4q19 and YTD, respectively. International equities* also participated in the 4Q19 rally, +8.9% for the quarter, to finish the year +21.5%. Unlike the growth and momentum-driven environment of late, we and many other experts expect valuations to actually matter in 2020.

Fixed Income: Don’t get bleary-eyed just yet, as the positive readings keep coming! In a blink of the eye, the Fed went from a hawkish stance to a dovish one which amounts to massive liquidity support and lower rates, which in turn pushes bond prices up as evidenced by the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index & the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index turning in a solid quarter, up 0.2% and 0.5%, and an eye-catching year-to-date (“YTD”) return of 8.7% and 6.8% respectively!  The Fed appears to be on hold for the foreseeable future, thus barring a setback on trade, we expect Treasury yields to move higher as recession fears fade.

Alternatives: Sometimes this asset class goes unnoticed or invisible, but not in 2019 as alts produced some very good returns. In fact, the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, showed a 2.2% gain on the quarter and finished up 8.1% for the year! Standouts include infrastructure*** (+2.9% 4Q19 & +27.8% YTD) and gold**** (+2.8% on 4Q19 & +18.0% YTD). Such spectacles!

Recall that in 2018 almost every asset class and investment style went down; 2019 was pretty rare in the sense that it was just the total opposite of that – virtually everything went up, i.e. no blind spots! In fact, the balanced investor – those with sizable allocations to equities, fixed income, and alternatives – should be seeing double-digit returns in the teens! Pretty amazing! The key is not to be short-sighted and getting caught up in recency bias. One needs to be realistic when planning for the future. If you are thinking that the environment is as pretty as the light prism above, you have blinders on. Alas, here is some near term darkness:

Investor sentiment is really high now with all the recent good news. That typically is a leading indicator of less-than-stellar times. And because of this high investor sentiment and recent stock market rally, valuations in certain areas, particularly the S&P500, are getting uncomfortably high. The market seems almost priced to perfection. So far the market has shrugged off scary news like the recent US killing of Iran’s most famous military commander. But it’s only speculation that that can continue. Further, manufacturing and business investment is still struggling, which will most likely continue until we get a more comprehensive trade deal, more than the vague preliminary one being discussed now. The good news is that it appears that US and China are both working on a resolution, but don’t be dazed and confused if talks fall apart. And, of course, we have an upcoming Presidential election which brings more uncertainty into the mix.

In conclusion, it’s a beautiful scene right now with most investors’ portfolio values near all-time highs. But like rays of light, the direction of the markets and portfolios don’t forever stay the same. We are here to help now and also when the light ray inevitably bends.

DWM enjoyed watching out and doing all it could for its clients in the last decade. And as we now start into this new decade, we continue to be on the lookout over our clients, their portfolios, and their wealth management needs. Serving our clients make us smile. On the flash of light, we say “cheese”!

Cheeky Smiles

As always, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

*represented by the S&P500 Index

** FAANG = Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google

***represented by the Frontier MFG Core Infrastructure Fund

****represented by the iShares Gold Trust

 https://dwmgmt.com/

Breaking News- How the SECURE Act Will Impact Retirement Plans

Happy New Year!! We hope everyone had a great holiday. Everyone at DWM certainly did. In late December, Congress’s year-end spending package was signed into law and it included the SECURE Act which has made some significant changes to retirement plans. It’s a mixed bag. Major items impacted are 1) “stretching rules” for IRAs, including Roth IRAs, inherited by non-spouse beneficiaries 2) age limits for IRA contributions and 3) Required Beginning Date (“RBD”) for Required Minimum Distributions (“RMD”) for retirees.

In the past, owners of IRAs and Roth IRAs could leave them to much younger heirs, including grandchildren, who could “stretch” the IRA by taking out the minimum distribution, typically until they were 85 years. This was particularly valuable for Roth IRAs, where the income tax had already been paid and the account continued to grow tax-free for 50 years or more. For example, a grandchild who received a $100,000 Roth IRA from her deceased grandparent at age 30, who invested the money and earned 6% annually and withdrew only the required amount each year, could eventually receive $741,000 in distributions over 55 years, all tax-free. The same applied to IRAs, except there would be taxes to be paid on the distributions each year. This was a great wealth succession strategy.

Now, the “Big Stretch” is gone. The distribution period has been reduced generally to 10 years for non-spouse beneficiaries. Surviving spouses are still covered by the old rules. However, a non-spouse IRA or Roth IRA heir can postpone any distributions until the end of the 10 years to maximize tax-free or tax-deferred growth. A surviving spouse who inherits a Roth IRA can put the account in his or her name, not take any distributions in their lifetime and then leave the accounts to younger heirs who get a 10 year stretch.

The Big Stretch is gone but Roth conversions can still make lots of sense, in the right circumstances. Here’s a real life example of a program we are just putting into place with clients. A Roth conversion is where you voluntarily move all or a portion of an IRA to a Roth account and pay income tax on the amount transferred. The Roth account is tax-free thereafter. Over a 10 year period one of our client couples is converting $1 million of traditional “pre-tax” IRA money to Roth. We do an installment Roth conversion each year, with larger amounts in the beginning. At the end of the conversion, using a 6% annual investment growth, their Roth accounts total $2 million. It has cost about $250,000 of federal tax (they live in a state with no income tax) to do the conversion. At that point, our clients are 70 years old. They have no RMD requirements on their Roth accounts and, assuming the second to die of the couple passes away at 95 years of age, the $2 million would have grown to $8.5 million over those 25 years. After that, the beneficiaries can allow the money to grow for 10 more years under the new rules and then take tax-free distributions on the roughly $15 million of Roth money. The effective tax rate on the conversion and growth was less than 2% tax ($1 million of IRA money eventually became $15 million of Roth money). Conversions don’t work for everyone but for the right situation, it is a key part of the legacy and wealth succession strategy, even without the Big Stretch.

Under the SECURE ACT, savers can continue to make contributions to a Traditional IRA past the age of 70 ½ (the age limit of 70 ½ has been repealed). Roth contributions were never subject to an age limit. They still have to meet the requirements of earned income to make contributions.

Lastly, starting dates, or RBDs, have been revised from 70 ½ to age 72 for RMDs. Obviously, people are living longer and many would prefer to start their RMDs later. Again, traditional IRAs have RMDs so that the IRS can finally start collecting tax on the money. The initial withdrawal rate is 3.6% and the withdrawal rate increases each year to 16% at age 100, for example. Roth IRAs have no RMDs for owners and their spouses. Now, if the owner reaches 70 ½ after 12/31/19, the first RMD year is the year in which the owner reaches 72. The RBD is April 1 of the year that follows the year in which the owner reaches 72 ½. Here’s an example, IRA owner was born in April, 1950. She will be 70 ½ in October, 2020 (after 12/31/19). So, she can take his first RMD either in 2022 or by April, 2023 (under the old rules she would have had a RBD of 2020 or April 2021.) However, if the first RMD is taken in April 2023, then the 2023 RMD for her will be taken that year as well. Doubling up may not be advantageous, as it may push you into a higher tax bracket.

Those are the key issues in the SECURE ACT. If you have any questions, please let us know. We love working with retirement plans, traditional IRAs and particularly Roth IRAs. Even with the new changes in the SECURE Act, there are still some great planning opportunities available.

https://dwmgmt.com/

Is “Free” Stock Trading Really Free?

Is “Free” Stock Trading Really Free?

 Press Release: On December 3rd, SC Public Radio Host interviewed Les Detterbeck. This message, that there is no ‘Free Lunch,’ is extremely important.

 Click here to listen to the audio, and or please read the transcript below.

Mike Switzer: Since 1975, when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, deregulated stock broker commissions, rates have been falling. Recently several major discount firms have announced completely free stock trading, but our next guest says that you should beware of any offer of a free ‘lunch’. Les Detterbeck is a Chartered Financial Analyst in Charleston, South Carolina, and a member of the South Carolina chapter of the CFA society, we have him on the phone! Les, welcome back to the program.

Les Detterbeck: Thank you Mike it’s a pleasure to be here!

Mike Switzer: So let’s just dive right in. Do you have plenty of clients now who are taking advantage of this free lunch?

Les Detterbeck: Many of our clients use Schwab, in fact we use Schwab as our main custodian. The equity trades are now at zero, but Schwab and others have been offering Mutual Fund trades at zero for some time. To make the major announcement about stocks and exchange funds going to zero was a pretty major one in the industry, and we have been using that yes.

Mike Switzer: Are you expecting this to spread industry wide?

Les Detterbeck: Yes, we expect that it will. That’s what has been happening over the last decades as the cost of commissions went down from $50 to $20 dollars, then $10 dollars to $4.95, so it’s not a surprise that this area of income for the brokers for much of their business that the commissions are going to be down to zero.

Mike Switzer: Does this mean then that they are making money in other ways once they have you as a client, or are there hidden fees somewhere that you are paying and don’t realize?

Les Detterbeck: No, I don’t know that there are hidden fees but there are three basic sources of income from the brokerage firms. In the beginning 30, 40, even 50 years ago, the trade commissions were the majority of their income; now it’s a very small amount. The other area has been operating expense ratios that is on Mutual Funds that they trade. There are expenses included in there and there is a portion of that fee that brokers can obtain. The last major item would be in the area of uninvested cash, the cash that’s within brokerage accounts that is not invested in specific securities.

Mike Switzer: And so they are basically able to make enough then to drop trading costs for the consumer to zero?

Les Detterbeck: Yes, that’s exactly right. None of us can begrudge them the opportunity to make a profit. They’re doing a good job, we expect they need to make income, they’re just getting it from other sources these days.

Mike Switzer: So, is this going to stay in the discount broker arena, or spread to the full service brokerage firms?

Les Detterbeck: It’s spreading although it’s going slowly that way, Mike. Obviously the big name full service brokerages have people and have brands that people love causing them to stay with them. So, we have seen some of that but it may still be a while before that changes.

Mike Switzer: Now are the firms that are offering this putting any conditions in place, like you have to have this level of account investment $100,000? 1 Million?

Les Detterbeck: We are not aware that they have that. In fact the general idea, one of the main areas as I’ve mentioned, is the uninvested cash and Schwab, that we know so well, one of their business strategies to collect more deposits, for example. A portion of those deposits will likely be in cash and they can use and invest that cash to make money there, so I think it will be something they will look at obtaining deposits in whatever size those might be.

Mike Switzer: And so Les, it sounds like that managing the cash portion of one’s portfolio might be becoming more important?

Les Detterbeck: Most definitely! Certain people may have cash; 5, 6, 7, or 10% of their portfolios, and that money is not working for them. So if the balance of their portfolio is earning 10% a year for example, but 10% of the portfolio is sitting in cash, their return is 9% under those circumstances. The result should be that investors should look at maintaining a small amount of cash, 1-2%, stay invested, stay with an appropriate asset allocation, and make sure your money is working for you.

Mike Switzer:  Well Les, as always, thank you so much for your time.

Les Detterbeck: Thank you so much, Mike.

https://dwmgmt.com/

The “Nastiest, Hardest Problem” in Retirement

Running out of money in retirement is, according to Nobel Prize winning economist William Sharpe, the “nastiest, hardest problem” in retirement. Professor Sharpe has spent his career thinking about risk. His work on the Capital Asset Pricing Model and systemic risk produced in 1966 the Sharpe ratio, which measures risk-adjusted returns. Now, he’s tackling a much broader subject, extremely important to everyone, about possibly outliving your money in retirement. Similar to the Monte Carlo analysis that DWM uses to provide a probability of success for your financial plan, Dr. Sharpe created a computer program with 100,000 retirement-income scenarios to calculate the probability of not running out of money. He’s published a free 730 page e-book “Retirement Income Scenario Matrices.”

In short, there are three key variables that impact your retirement income; your spending, your investment returns and your eventual age (when your plan “ends.”)

The first variable, spending, is the one you can most control. Your spending before retirement will generally determine how much money you accumulate while working. What you don’t spend becomes savings/investments and these annual additions and their appreciation increase your investment portfolio overtime. Your spending in retirement will determine how much you need to withdraw from your investment pot. As your earnings during the working years increase, you need to save a larger percentage of your income in order to accumulate an investment pot at retirement time that will support the lifestyle you’ve created. Withdrawals from your investment portfolio during retirement typically should not exceed 4% of the total investment pot. It’s an easy calculation. For example, if you determine you will need to withdraw $100,000 from the portfolio in your first year of retirement, you’ll need a portfolio of $2.5 million.

Now let’s look at investment returns. No one can predict the future. Historically, we know there is a relationship between inflation, asset allocation and returns. Hypothetically, let’s assume that a diversified fixed income portfolio over the long term would produce a return of 1% above inflation. The return above inflation is called the “real return.” Equities, because of their higher risk, have earned an “equity risk premium” of roughly 3 to 7% above the inflation rate over the long term. Again, hypothetically, let’s assume that in the long-run equities earn 5% above inflation. Alternatives have a shorter historical track record but are designed to produce returns comparable to fixed income returns over time. Therefore, a portfolio with 50% fixed income holdings and 50% equity holdings might hypothetically produce a 3% real return over time. If long-term inflation is expected to be 2.5%, the nominal return could be expected to be 5.5%. A larger allocation to equities will likely produce a larger real return and a smaller (more defensive) allocation of equities would likely produce a smaller real return.

Lastly, longevity. Certainly, we can look at actuarial tables, such as those used by insurance companies and social security, to calculate life expectancy. These charts show that a male age 60 might be expected to live another 22 years; a female age 60, another 25 years. However, we suggest you not use these actuarial tables. Harvard Professor David Sinclair‘s “Lifespan- Why we Age- and Why We Don’t Have To” shows that the increases in technology and medicine are going to give those individuals who want to live a longer and healthier life the opportunity to do so. It is very possible that many of our clients and friends will live a healthy 100 plus years and younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Z, may live to 110 or longer. Accordingly, we suggest using an eventual age of at least 100 when doing your financial planning.

Dr. Sharpe’s final section in the book is about advice. He indicates that many people will need help. He outlines the “ideal financial advisor” and compares a “good financial advisor” to a “fine family doctor” who has “deep scientific knowledge, can assess client needs, habits and willpower and is able to provide scientific diagnoses and can communicate results to the client in simple terms so that the best treatments can be applied.” We like the analogy, we use it all the time.

Yes, running out of money in retirement would be a nasty, hard problem. It’s doesn’t have to be that way. You need a solid financial plan based on realistic values for investment returns and longevity. You also need to focus on spending and savings.   And, you might need some help from a “good financial advisor” that operates like a “fine family doctor,” a firm like DWM.

https://dwmgmt.com/

History of Veterans Day

Happy belated Veterans Day! We hope everyone had a nice and safe Holiday! It is always great to bundle up this time of year and spend time reflecting on the sacrifices these men and women have made for us. As we enter the big holiday season, we should stay conscious of our Veterans while we enjoy time off and celebrate with our families.

My name is Penn Boatwright, and I am the new Client Services Associate for DWM Charleston. I recently graduated from Charleston Southern University with a Marketing degree, and feel so blessed to be a member of the Detterbeck team. I spend my free time dancing, teaching dance classes, volunteering and ‘learning’ to cook. I look forward to meeting some of you face-to-face, but today, I will be discussing the history of Veterans Day!

World War I, back then known as ‘The Great War’, ended on June 28, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in France. However, the fighting came to a halt months earlier when an armistice (temporary cessation of hostilities) between the Allied Nations and Germany went into action. This happened on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, making November 11 the ‘End of the war, to end all wars.’

In November 1919, President Wilson introduced November 11 as the first celebration of Armistice Day with the following quote: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude of the victory. Both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…’

In 1938, Armistice Day became an official legal holiday dedicated to the cause of world peace, escalating from the original concept of parades and celebrations for the soldiers. The holiday was created to honor the veterans of World War I, but after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of military in US history, Congress amended the act and changed it in 1954 to honor all veterans as “Veterans Day!”

Veterans Day continues to be celebrated on November 11, staying true to the significant date that changed the world back in 1918. It is important we always remember that Veterans Day is a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices, brave hearts, and willingness to serve. A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL OF OUR VETERANS!

https://dwmgmt.com/

DAFS, QCDS, ROTHS AND 2019 TAX PLANNING-2020 IS COMING

Hope everyone had a great Halloween. Now, it’s time to finish your 2019 Tax Planning. You know the drill. You can’t extend December 31st– it’s the last day to get major tax planning resolved and implemented. This year we will focus on three key areas; Donor Advised Funds, Qualified Charitable Distributions and Roth accounts. And, then finish with some overall points to remember.

Donor Advised Funds (“DAFs”). For charitable gifts, this simple, tax-smart investment solution has become a real favorite, particularly starting in 2018. The concept of DAFs is that taxpayers can contribute to an investment account now and get a current deduction yet determine in the future where and when the money will go.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the standard deduction (up to $24,400 in 2019 for married couples). Couples with itemized deductions less than the standard deduction receive no tax benefit from their contributions. However, they could get a benefit by “bunching” their contributions using a DAF.   For example, if a couple made annual charitable contributions of $10,000 per year, they could contribute $40,000 to the DAF in 2019, e.g., and certainly, in that case, their itemized deductions would exceed the standard. The $40,000 would be used as their charity funding source over the next four years. In this manner, they would receive the full $40,000 tax deduction in 2019 for the contribution to the account, though they will not receive a deduction in the years after for the donations made from this account.

Now, what’s really great about a DAF is that if long-term appreciated securities are contributed to the DAF, you won’t have to pay capital gains taxes on them and the full fair market value (not cost) qualifies as an itemized deduction, up to 30% of your AGI. Why use after tax dollars for charity, when you can use appreciated securities?

Within the DAF, your fund grows tax-free. You or your wealth manager can manage the funds. The funds are not part of your estate. However, you advise your custodian, such as Schwab, the timing and amounts of the charitable donations. In general, your recommendations as donor will be accepted unless the payment is being made to fulfill an existing pledge or in a circumstance where you would receive benefit or value from the charity, such as a dinner, greens fees, etc.

Many taxpayers are using the DAF as part of their long-term charitable giving and estate planning strategy. They annually transfer long-term appreciated securities to a DAF, get a nice tax deduction, allow the funds to grow (unlike Foundations which have a 5% minimum distribution, there are no minimum distributions for DAFs) and then before or after their passing, the charities they support receive the benefits.

Qualified Charitable Distributions (“QCDs”). A QCD is a direct transfer of funds from your IRA to a qualified charity. These payments count towards satisfying your required minimum distribution (“RMD”) for the year. You must be 70 ½ years or older, you can give up to $100,000 (regardless of the RMD required) and the funds must come out of your IRA by December 31. You don’t get a tax deduction, but you make charitable contributions with pre-tax dollars. Each dollar in QCDs reduces the taxable portion of your RMD, up to your full RMD amount.

For taxpayers 70 ½ or older, their annual charitable contributions generally should be QCDs and if their gifting exceeds their RMDs, they can either do QCDs up to $100,000 annually or, instead of QCDs,fund a DAF with long-term appreciated securities and bunch the contributions to maximize the tax deduction.

Roth Accounts. A Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged, retirement savings account that allows you to withdraw your savings tax-free. Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars. They grow tax-free and distributions of both principal and interest are tax-free. Roth IRAs do not have RMD requirements that traditional pre-tax IRAs have. They can be stretched by spouses and beneficiaries without tax. They are the best type of account that a beneficiary could receive upon your passing.

A taxpayer can convert an IRA to a Roth account anytime, regardless of age or income level- the IRS is happy to get your money. A Roth conversion is especially appealing if you expect to be in a higher marginal tax bracket in retirement. Conversions make sense when taxable income is low or negative. In addition, some couples interested in Roth conversions make DAFs in the same year to keep their taxes where they would have been without the conversion or the DAF.

2020 is coming. You still have almost two months to resolve your 2019 tax planning and get it implemented. Make sure you and your CPA review your situation before year-end to make sure you understand your likely tax status and review possible strategies that could help you. At DWM, we don’t prepare tax returns. However, we do prepare projections for our clients based on our experience and knowledge to help them identify key elements and potential strategies to reduce surprises and save taxes. Time is running out on 2019. Don’t forget to do your year-end tax planning. And, of course, contact us if you have any questions.

https://dwmgmt.com/

Old Adages Die Hard: What Worked in the Past May Not Work Today!

More people are renting (not buying) houses, particularly millennials. The old adage that “paying rent is foolish, own your house as soon as you can” is no longer being universally followed.  Lots of reasons: cost of college education, student debt, relative cost of houses, flat wages, more flexibility and others.  Today we 327 million Americans live in 124 million households, of which 64% (or 79 million) are owner-occupied and 36% (or 45 million) are renter-occupied. In 2008, homeownership hit 69% and has been declining ever since.

It starts with the increasing cost of college.  Back in the mid 1960s, in-state tuition, fees, room and board for one year at the University of Illinois was $1,100.  Annual Inflation from 1965 to now has been 4.4% meaning $1,100 would have increased 10 times to $11,000 in current dollars.  Yet, today’s in-state tuition, room & board at Champaign is $31,000, a 28 times (or 7.9% average annual) increase.  Yes, students often get scholarships and don’t pay full price, but even a $22,000 price tag would represent a 20 times increase.

It’s no surprise that in the last 20 years, many students following the old adage “get a college education at any price” found it necessary to incur debt to complete college.  Today over 44 million students and/or their parents owe $1.6 trillion in student debt.  Among the class of 2018, 69% took out student loans with the average debt being $37,000, up $20,000 each since 2005.  And here is the sad part: according to the NY Fed Reserve, 4 in 10 recent college graduates are in jobs that don’t require degrees.  Ouch. In today’s changing economy, taking on “good debt” to get a degree doesn’t work for everyone, like it did 50 years ago.

At the same time, houses in many communities have increased in value greater than general inflation.  Elise and I bought our first house in Arlington Heights, IL in 1970 when we were 22.   It was 1,300 sq. ft., 3 bedrooms and one bath and cost $21,000.  I was making $13,000 a year as a starting CPA and Elise made $8,000 teaching.  Today that same house is shown on Zillow at $315,000.  That’s a 15 times increase in 50 years. At the same time, the first year salary for a CPA in public accounting is now, according to Robert Half, about $50,000-$60,000. Let’s use $60,000.  That’s less than a 5x increase.  Houses, on the other hand, have increased at 5.6% per year. CPA salaries have increased 3.1%.  The cost of living in that 50 years went up 3.8%. Wages, even in good occupations, have lagged inflation. Our house 50 years ago represented about one times our annual income.  Today the average home is over 4 times the owners’ income.  That makes housing a huge cost of the family budget.

In addition, today it is so much more difficult to assemble the down payment. We needed 20% or $4,200; which came from $3,500 savings we accumulated during our first year working full-time and a $700 gift from my mother. A “starter” house today can cost $250,000 or more.  20% is $50,000, which for many is more than their first year gross income.  And, from that income, they have taxes, rent, food and other expenses and, in many cases, student debt, to pay before they have money for savings. Saving 10% is great, 20% is phenomenal.  But even at 20%, that’s only $10,000 per year and they would need five years to get to $50,000.  No surprise that it is estimated the 2/3 of millennials would require at least 2 decades to accumulate a 20% down payment.

Certainly, houses can become wealth builders because of the leverage of the mortgage.  If your $250,000 house appreciates 2% a year, that is a 10% or $5,000 increase on your theoretical $50,000 down payment. But what happens when real estate markets go down as they did after the 2008 financial crisis?  The loss is increased.  Many young people saw siblings or parents suffer a big downturn in equity 10 years ago and are not ready to jump in.

Furthermore, young people who can scrape up the down payment and recognize the long term benefits of home ownership, may not be willing to commit to one house or one location for six to seven years.  With closing costs and commissions, buying, owning and selling a house in too short a period can be costly and not produce positive returns.

Lastly, many people want flexibility and don’t want to be tied to a house. They want flexibility to change locations and jobs.  They want flexibility with their time and don’t want to spend their weekends mowing the grass or perform continual repairs on the house. In changing states like Illinois, with a shrinking population and less likelihood of significant appreciation, their house can be a burden.  For them, renting provides them flexibility and peace of mind.

It’s no surprise then that the WSJ reported last week that a record number of families earning $100,000 a year or more are renting.  In 2019, 19% of households with six-figure income rented their house, up from 12% in 2006.  Rentals are not only apartment buildings around city centers, but also single-family houses.  The big home-rental companies are betting that high earners will continue renting.

Yes, the world has changed greatly in the last 50 years and it will keep changing.  When I look back, I realize we baby boomers had it awfully good.  The old adages worked for us. But today, buying a house is not the “slam dunk” decision we had years ago, nor is a college degree.  The personal financial playbook followed by past generations doesn’t add up for many people these days.  It’s time for a new plan customized for new generations and that’s exactly what we do at DWM.

Equity Trades are Free – But there is no Free Lunch

Broker price wars

Before 1975, brokers had it really good. Commissions were fixed and regulated-at very high levels. It would sometimes cost hundreds of dollars to buy 500 shares of a blue-chip stock. That changed in 1975 when the SEC opened commissions to market competition.   A young Chuck Schwab and others became discount brokers- often charging ½ or less of the old rates. Since then, fees have continued to fall and earlier this year, trades could be made for $5 or less. Now, Charles Schwab & Co. as well as TD Ameritrade, E*TRADE and others have cut stock and ETF trades to zero. Free trading of equities has arrived.   Please be advised, though, that there is no free lunch- brokers profit from you even if they don’t charge for equity trades.

Here are some the main sources of income for brokerage firms:

  • Trade commissions
  • Brokerage fee- to hold the account
  • Mutual fund transaction fee-charges when you buy or sell a fund
  • Operating Expense Ratio-an annual fee charged by mutual funds, index funds and exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”)
  • Sales load- A sales charge or commission on some mutual funds paid to the broker or salesperson who sold the fund
  • Uninvested cash- brokers become bankers and lend it out

Let’s focus first on uninvested cash. In 2018, 57% of Schwab’s income came from loaning out its customers’ cash. As is typical in the brokerage business, uninvested cash is swept to an interest bearing account. However, sweep accounts typically earn almost nothing- usually ½ to ¼ of 1% or lower to the investor.

Schwab had a total of $3.7 trillion of deposits, with about 7% of it ($265 billion) in cash earning nice returns for them. Assuming a return of 2.5 % on the uninvested cash, that’s a return of $6.6 billion. The cost of that money was likely ½% or about $1 billion, with Schwab netting about 2%. $5.7 billion of Schwab’s $10 billion net revenue in 2018 was earned on its customers’ cash. Virtually all the brokers use the same model with uninvested cash.

Robo- advisors generally use the same format. Virtually all of them charge lower fees but require a certain amount of cash, between 4% and 30% in their pre-set asset allocations. Yes, there is a small sweep account interest paid on those funds, but not much. And, this is all typically disclosed. The rate paid on clients’ cash “may be higher or lower than on comparable deposit accounts at other banks” is a typical warning.

The use of uninvested cash is income for the brokers and reduction in performance for the investors. Let’s say your portfolio has 10% cash generating a 0% return. If your annual return on the invested 90% in your portfolio is 6%, then the return on 100% of the account is only 5.4%. A huge difference over time. As an example, the difference between earning 5% per year versus 6% a year on $100,000 for 30 years is $142,000.

Now, let’s look at the operating expense ratio (OER). OERs are charged by mutual funds, index funds and ETFs. If a fund has an expense ratio of 1%, that means you pay $1 annually for each $100 invested. If your portfolio was up 6% for the year, but you paid 1% in operating expenses, your return is actually only 5%. The OER is designed to cover operating costs including management and administration.

The first mutual funds were actively traded, meaning that the portfolio manager tried to beat the market by picking and choosing investments. Operating expenses for actively managed funds include research, marketing and significant administration with OERs often at 1% or more. Index funds are considered passive. The manager of an index fund tries to mimic the return of a given benchmark, e.g. the S&P 500 Index. Index funds should have significantly lower operating expense ratios. Evidence shows that actively managed funds, as a whole, don’t beat the indices. In fact, as a group, they underperform by the amount of their OER.

Operating expense ratios, primarily because of increased use of index funds and ETFs to minimize costs, have been getting smaller and smaller. In fact, we have seen some funds at a zero operating expense ratio. However, for these funds, a substantial amount (10% to 20%) of cash is maintained in the fund.

Conclusion: Set a target of 1-2% cash in your portfolio. Stay invested for the long term.   In addition, the investments in your portfolio should have very low OERs, wherever possible. However, in selecting investments, you need to look at both the OERs and the typical cash position of the mutual fund, index or ETF. Even if the OER is zero and the security holds 10% in cash, your performance on that holding will likely only be 90% of the benchmark, at best. Remember, when equity trades are free, brokers will continue to look for ways to make money, often at your expense.

DWM 3Q19 Market Commentary

“Fancy a cuppa’?” “Anyone for tea?” Even though our beloved Chicago Bears were “bloody” unsuccessful in their visit to London this past weekend, I’m “chuffed to bits” to put a little “cheeky” British spin on this quarter’s market commentary… Let’s “smash it”!

After a volatile three months, the third quarter of 2019 is officially in the history books. The S&P500 finished only 1.6% below its all-time high, bonds rallied as yields lowered, and alternatives such as commodities and real estate rallied. It’s been a rather “blimey” year for investor returns so far, but there’s a lot of uncertainty out there about if these “mint” times can last. Let’s look at how the asset classes fared first before turning to what’s next.

Equities: Equities were about unchanged for the quarter, as evidenced by the MSCI AC World Index -0.2% reading for the quarter.  Domestic large cap stocks represented by the S&P500 did the best relatively, up 1.7%, but underperformed in the final weeks of the quarter. Recent trends show that traders are gravitating toward stocks with cheaper valuations instead of pricey, growth ones. International equities* underperformed for the quarter, down -1.8% but had a strong showing in September. Even with this so-so quarter, stocks, in general, are up over 15%** Year-to-Date (“YTD”)! Yes, “mate”, this bull market – the longest on record – continues, but at times looking “quite knackered”.

Fixed Income: The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index & the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index ascended even higher, up 0.7% and 2.3%, respectively for the quarter and now up 6.3 & 8.5%, respectively YTD. “Brilliant!” Yields continue to fall which pushes bond prices up. But how far can they fall? The 10-year US Treasury finished the quarter at 1.68%, a full percentage point below where it started the year. For yield seekers, at least it’s still positive here in the States as the amount of negatively yielding debt around the world swells. Sixteen global central banks lowered rates during the quarter including the US Fed, all of them hoping to prop up their economies. As long as they’re successful, all is good. But what if our slowing US economy actually stalls? We could be “bloody snookered”…

Alternatives: The Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, showed a +0.3% gain and now up 6.1% YTD. Lots of winners in this space. “Lovely!” For example, there is a lot of money flowing into gold***, +4.4% on 3q19 & +14.7% YTD, as it is seen as a safe haven. And real estate, +6.3% 3Q19 and +23.5% YTD, has rallied from investors looking for yields that are more than the bonds like those mentioned above.

Frankly, it’s been a pretty great year for the balanced investor who’s now looking at YTD returns that around double-digits. But it’s not all “hunky-dory”. The main worries are the following:

  • The US-China trade war continues affecting the global economy. Sure, since the US exports less than every other major country, this shouldn’t affect us as much. But given the uncertainty, many companies are choosing to hold off on capital expenditure until we get clarity on this issue. Reports earlier this week that US manufacturing momentum has seriously slowed down led to one of the worst fourth quarter starts for the stock market in years. Politics will continue to make it volatile.
  • The Fed’s path of monetary easing. It’s gotten “mad” – it seems every time there is bad news, it’s good news for the stock market because traders are betting on the central banks around the world to support the markets. Seems “dodgy”, right?!? So the Fed must play this balancing act, always wanting to keep the economy humming along. Quite frankly, there really is no economic reason for a rate cut right now if it weren’t for the trade conflict. Figure we’ll have at least one more cut, possibly two, in 4Q19 and hopefully that’s it. Otherwise, if they keep lowering, it means we have fallen into a recession.

It’s in a lot of peoples’ interest to get a trade deal done. If it does, markets will celebrate it. The longer a deal plays out, the more volatility we’ll see and the higher the risk of recession becomes. The US economy is not “going down the loo”, but it won’t continue to go bonkers with everything mentioned above as well as the Tax Reform stimulus fading away in the rear-view mirror as quickly as a Guinness at the Ye Olde Cheshire.

This all isn’t “rubbish”. Actually, there is a lot of turmoil out there. So don’t be a “sorry bloke”. In challenging times like this, you want to make sure you’re working with an experienced wealth manager like DWM to guide you through.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with any “lovely” questions or “brilliant” comments, and Go Bears!

“Cheerio!”

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

 

*represented by the MSCI AC World Index Ex-USA

** represented by the MSCI AC World Index

***represented by the iShares Gold Trust

****represented by the iShares Global REIT ETF